Posts Tagged ‘change’

October Trumpets 7

These bright little trumpet-shaped flowers appeared on my fence last year in early October. This afternoon while walking around the yard, I found them on the same fence again. More buds than flowers but no less beautiful. I had forgotten all about them, and it amazes me that they bloom defiantly at this odd time of the year. They hid throughout spring and survived the withering heat of a Louisiana summer. It just so happens that today is the first cool day we’ve had at the end of the summer, a sign of things to come later but not here to stay just yet.

Summer in Louisiana is Ordinary Time in every sense. “Winter never feels truly at home in New Orleans. An unwelcomed visitor that shows up long enough to remind us of what we’re missing, then leaves us just in time for us to forget again.” (A Love Song for Bobby Long) I guess that’s part of the reason that the changing of seasons has always been sacred to me. It affects me deeply. As much as I love springtime, the new colors, and digging in the dirt with my hands, I think I’ve always loved fall the most.

By the time summer finally wanes everything and everyone is parched and wilting. For some reason my soul usually feels that way by now. Every chance I get I have the windows in my house and car wide open during spring and fall. For a few days this week I’ll get to soak it in as we go from summer to fall to summer to fall again finally. I suppose the main reason the changing seasons affect me so much is that they mark time for me in a way the calendar never can. I feel and know for myself that time is passing. It gives me sacred time to reflect, to take in, to breath out, to mourn, to look forward, to wonder…

The school year is getting underway. The Fair will be coming round before long ushering in the holiday season earlier and earlier every year. While the long awaited ball games kick off and the post-season plays out, the parched leaves will give up their color in a brilliant show and fall slowly to the ground, over and over making room for memories. This is a time for remembering, and I don’t want to rush it. September, take your sweet time.

Driving down the interstate cruise on 75 and Springsteen on shuffle my imagination takes the wheel. I push the throttle in, gently pulling back on the steering wheel with two left fingers as the wheels below me come off the ground. I push the nose over hard and trim it out, flying just off the ground. Watching the highway stripes fly by below my window and the airspeed indicator climb I keep my eye on the power line crossing the highway just ahead. The yoke is pushing back. These wings want to fly. Too soon and I might stall, too late and the wheels may clip the line. Hold it… hold it. As soon as I clear the line, all that speed is going to shoot this plane up like a rocket. I’ll let her climb fast and steep trimming it out just before I stall, bank left and head into the sunset.

I have no idea how many times I’ve caught myself daydreaming about flying over the years on the road. I haven’t flown since December 20, 2004. Fuel prices shot up, work slowed down, “I just won’t fly as often, but I’ll still go,” I told myself. Before I knew it a year went by and I was due for my physical and check ride to stay airborne. “Whenever I get the time, I’ll go get that physical done and schedule my check ride. Maybe in a month or two,” I thought. Life happened, work didn’t, and neither did flying.

I’ve met a few older guys who told me they had their pilot’s license but hadn’t flown in decades. I used to think there’s no way I could go that long without flying. You sit and listen to them. It’s in their blood. They talk about it with a romantic glare in their eyes, like they’re somewhere else outside the conversation. “How did you become a pilot who doesn’t fly?” I ask.  “How did you become a preacher who doesn’t preach?” They ask.

I don’t think I planned on it anymore than I decided to stop flying. I was going to work for a living. I had a family to support, and the longer I stayed in full time pastoral ministry the more I became convinced that something about the whole way we do church just isn’t right. I took a few months off, then began pastoring part-time while building a business. There was only so much of me to go around. I wasn’t doing the pastorate justice. The church deserved more attention than I could or wanted to give. I left. Within a few weeks I was getting phone calls to fill in for a Sunday or two. That turned into an interim position with no end in sight. A few months later they found a pastor. I was relieved in every sense of the word. Another church called. I went and for the first time in a long time really enjoyed going. A few months later they wanted me to stay for good. I knew it wasn’t meant to be and slipped out gracefully, opening the door for restoration between the church and its founding pastor who had desperately needed a sabbatical to take care of himself and his family.

The phone gradually stopped ringing, perhaps, because I always had “other obligations” that kept me from filling in. I had changed. A lot. I never felt compelled to drag people with me. I took no pleasure in telling people they were wrong and I was right. I always felt it most polite to avoid confrontation and let them believe whatever gave them peace. It just wasn’t for me any longer. It’s been a couple years since the last interim pastorate, but I don’t daydream about pastoring.

Although I don’t fly anymore and I don’t preach anymore, I still consider myself a pilot and a preacher. I haven’t vowed to never do it again. I just don’t know when I will again or how. I saw a book title yesterday, “Be Yourself Because Everybody Else is Already Taken.” I’m trying real hard just to be me. I really like it. It suits me. For a long time I was somebody else, anyone else. Everything and everyone shaped me into who they wanted me to be. No longer.

I never craved the spotlight. I ran from it when I could. Let me do what I need to do, say what I must say, then I’m out the door. Preaching was never about being center stage for me. I was the lens and the conduit through which the message was delivered, but I never wanted to make it about me. I started reading the Bible when I was 15. I mean really reading it, studying it, contemplating it. For some reason I understood it and could explain it simply. People began recognizing this and starting giving me opportunities to speak and teach. I just wanted people to see what I saw, hear what I heard. It was up to them what they wanted to do with it.

I still don’t miss the pulpit, but I do miss sharing things with people, showing them what I’ve found. I get excited over ideas and possibilities, like a new rock or a new bug I found in the yard as a toddler. Everyone must see it and be amazed like me. A lot of people aren’t amazed though. Most people, it seems, want someone to tell them what they already believe. They don’t want to be challenged. They’re not comfortable with having their imaginations stretched or their assumptions second guessed. No, sir. No, thank you. I’ve never been confrontational and would rather people go on in their delusions if that’s what makes them happy, but what do I do? What about this amazing, shiny, colorful rock I found? Doesn’t anyone want to see it?

I have to rethink community and what it means to me. I’ve had to rethink friendships and wonder who they really are to me. I think about sages and mystics from long ago. They didn’t climb a box in the middle of town and shout to the world. They were alone in their thoughts and those who craved to know more and to be more sought them out like moths to a flame. Like minds, like spirits attract one another. So, I’ve learned to find kindred spirits in unlikely places.

I don’t regret my time as a pastor. It’s part of who I am. It was another step on the journey. I don’t see my task as a pastor any different than my passion today. I have an innate desire to know and be known. I am working out my salvation and my humanity with fear and trembling. I am participating in my own evolution. That is the highest calling I believe we have.

“People are People” has been playing in my head the last few days and sort of sums up my experiences out on the road working this week. I’m in sales by the way, in case you haven’t deducted that from following this blog any length of time. I’ve found that in sales, in particular, your attitude has a tremendous influence on the outcome. I think that’s true with many things in life. It’s not simply that having a better mindset improves your own outlook and makes you more effective, but I’ve also found that it has a tremendous impact on those you encounter.

Despite having several days in a row of bad news and being generally disgusted with my job and the current economic plight we find ourselves in, I woke up feeling pretty good yesterday morning. (Thanks to the extra-long good morning hug from a four year old.) I had a few stops in South Louisiana which were really pleasant conversations. Yesterday evening when I got to the hotel on the North Shore where I was staying, there was a guy talking to the front desk clerk who seemed rather frustrated. As I waited in line, I heard that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to check in now or go into New Orleans and come back later that night. The clerk was growing impatient and didn’t want to answer his questions.  I talk to strangers all day long everywhere I go and interjected myself into the conversation. I learned that he was a farmer from Illinois and his landlord recommended he stay on the North Shore while he was in the area rather than New Orleans.

He asked me very nervously, “what’s it like?”

I said, “Well, today is Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras ended last night and most of the tourists are clearing out today. I just came from New Orleans this afternoon and the traffic was fine. You won’t have a problem getting a hotel there if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m staying in New Orleans tomorrow night and had no problem making a reservation, so you should be fine.”

He still looked frustrated and told me his landlord recommended he stay here but he and his wife were thinking about going into New Orleans but wasn’t sure if they should.

“Oh, are you worried about whether it’s safe?”

He said, “Yeah, I mean I don’t know where to go, and I’m not sure if it’s a good idea.”

“I work down here two to three months a year since Katrina. It’s fine. The French Quarter is a tourist trap and one of the safer areas you can visit. I took my wife and kids to New Orleans last summer. They had so much fun my kids are begging to go back. I think you’ll be fine.”

So he left the hotel and headed to his car where his wife look exasperated from waiting in the car, waiting on her husband to make up his mind, or both.

This morning I was up early and loading my stuff before heading off to a meeting. As always in south Louisiana, there are a lot of laborers leaving for a job in the morning loading their gear into trucks next to mine. I went back to the room to steal a phone book and left the door open. An older weathered hispanic worker stopped by the room and asked, “Hey, are you staying another night?”

Thinking he was one of the guys doing the remodeling on the hotel I said, “No, I’ll be out of here in just a minute.”

“Do you have any coffee left?” he asked.

“Well, I drank both regular packs, but I got some decaf left. You want it.”

“Oh yeah, if you don’t mind, I’d love to have some more,” he said gratefully with a smile as I handed him the coffee.

As I followed him out to the parking lot he said, “We’re headin’ up to Seattle, and this will come in handy,” he explained as he stuffed the decaf coffee into a black garbage bag in the back of a small pickup and climbed in the cab with three other guys.

I could tell those same stories about the waiter today, the cashier at the drive thru, the hotel clerk tonight, and on and on. I finished the day eating chargrilled oysters with my supervisor. We talked for an hour and a half about just how screwed up things have gotten with our company and how fed up I was with all of it. We talked about how each of us and the powers that be see things differently but also about how we can work to make the necessary changes to improve things for everyone. I appreciate that he listened and that we found common ground to move forward on, even though many things have yet to be resolved. If you look people in the eye, listen to them, and talk to them like they matter, their entire disposition changes, including mine. We can even disagree with one another without destroying one another. Whenever we encounter people in different places or people who are different from us, too often we do so with the baggage of suspicions and sterotypes.

So we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people
Have different needs
Its obvious you hate me
Though I’ve done nothing wrong
I’ve never even met you
So what could I have done
I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully

Since January I’ve worked in some pretty rough neighborhoods in a few cities. I’m a fish out of water in a big urban town with all the traffic and the one way, no u-turn, four lane roads, but I’m naive enough to be the only white guy in a McDonalds and make small talk with the cashier. I’m brass enough to ask a stranger if he needs help with directions. I’m also considerate enough to realize that a migratory hispanic laborer enjoys a good cup of coffee just as much as I do, whether he’s legal or not. I also realize that a young gay black guy working a drive-thru window is working just as hard as I am to make it in this world.

Coincidentally enough, I just watched Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine film on tv this past weekend. I’ve heard all the trash talk about him and his movies, but I was curious. I actually enjoyed the movie. It’s just clips of Michael talking to people. Yeah, just talking and asking simple questions. No brain washing. No arm twisting. He actually asked a lot of the same questions that I would have. He stood on a street corner in South Central Los Angeles with an expert talking about actual crime statistics versus our misconceptions. Which I thought about when I met the farmer worried about going to New Orleans for a night on the town. What I realized most from watching it was just how much people are being manipulated by fear in this country. Fear of terrorism, of aids, of crime, of young black men, someone taking your money, of being sick, and on and on. Worst of all is that we’ve been conditioned to be afraid of each other. That same fear drove the last election cycle and cost John McCain the presidency. (That point was driven home again by an HBO documentary that I stayed up too late to finish last night called Right America: Feeling Wronged | Some Voices from the Campaign Trail, which I highly recommend you watch if you can.)

Worst yet, that same fear could cost us our very way of life and all that is decent and right in this country… each other. I hope that if any good can come out of this economic depression we are facing, it will make us realize, like after September 11, 2001, that we are all in this together. We rise or fall together.

I say all that to say this. People are people wherever you go. I refuse to be afraid. I refuse to be manipulated. I choose to hope. I choose to listen. Will you?

Wow! Leann Rimes has really come into her own. Her latest song “What I Cannot Change” shows the depth and maturity of her voice with rich and delicate reflections on life. Her voice is as tender as the lyrics are profound.

It is a tremendous step forward in life to recognize the truth that “all the rest is out of my hands.” We cannot fix everything, nor do I believe everything is meant to be fixed. Some things just are. The sooner we stop trying to resist the “divine flow” (to borrow from Chopra) and learn to embrace complexity, mystery, and wonder, we will find an enormous source of peace.

When we come head to head with what we cannot change, we have a choice to let it go, to forgive, or to love. Perhaps the latter is the hardest for most to understand. I think it’s wise of the songwriter to say “I will learn [to let go, to forgive, to love] what I cannot change.” It is not easy. It is a process, and one that we may not fully understand until we’ve been there and come out on the other side. It is possible to love what you cannot change, to embrace it, and to find beauty and truth in even the smallest of joys and heartaches. Read on »

It never ceases to amaze me to hear what my kids come up with. My five-year old Timothy and I stopped by Sonic a few days ago to pick up a couple happy meals for he and his younger brother Andrew.  The attendant said the total was $6.08 and would be out shortly. I pulled out six $1 bills, dug in my console for loose change, and found a dime. I asked Timothy if he knew what a dime was, but he didn’t. I told him it was the same as 10 pennies. He laughed and said, “you’re so silly, Daddy.”

“No, I’m serious. It’s just like giving somebody 10 pennies,” I told him. Thinking I might quiz him while we were waiting, I asked him, “They said it costs $6 and 8 cents. So if I give her six dollars and 10 cents, how much change will she give me back?”

Without hesitation he said, “two pennies.”

Wow! That’s pretty cool. I know they didn’t talk much about money in Pre-K last year. I thought it was amazing that he did basic math in his head without any visual aids to play with. I decided to try again, “If it costs $6 and I gave her a $10 bill, how much change would she give me back?”

“Four dollars,” he spit out laughing.

Well, I’ll be dang. “You’re just too smart, Timothy. You’re gonna be the smartest kindergartner ever.”

“Yeah, I know,” he grinned all over himself.

I asked him a couple other math questions because it took forever to get our order, but the game quickly broke down because he was tired of it. When the attendant finally brought our happy meals, I gave her my $6 and my dime. She fumbled around with her change dispenser and her money apron. I really wasn’t sure if she didn’t know how much change to give me or was fresh out of pennies. She said, “I’ll be right back.”

I kind of laughed, “No, really I don’t need it. Keep the change.”

Kids can be a lot of fun. They can also be a lot of work and quite a challenge at times, but overall they’re a blast. My boys are at such a fun age and fairly independent. Even Andrew who’s 3 has the whole potty training thing down, can get his own snacks, and dress himself too. He’s even mastering the remote like his brother and his daddy. The boys even play really well together most of the time. Often when it’s really good, I wish I could just freeze time and keep them at this age forever. Who needs acne, girls, and graduation? You can keep the change.

Because they’re my kids, they don’t have to do anything to make me love them and can’t do anything to make me stop, but some things they do just really get me. I thought a lot about what makes them such a joy. I think more than anything I can see myself in them and relive parts of my childhood through them, but the greatest joy is seeing them do new things, learning, and growing. Everyday there’s something new to be amazed by. I guess I can’t imagine keeping them the same. I don’t want china dolls on the shelf.

I think they’re growing up way too fast, and I know it will only get faster. As much as I love these moments, I don’t really want to freeze time. I want to make each moment count, even if it is only two cents. On second thought, I’ll take the change.