The Lunch That Conquered Defeat

(A repost of some of my earlier blogging on other sites.  I am occasionally re-posting ones that I think are interesting.  Originally posted December 17, 2008)

When I woke up this morning I knew it wasn’t any better.

lunch_bagMy lady wife has been asking me for days if something was wrong and I kept telling her no, I was fine. I knew that wasn’t true but I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was either. So there was no good answer.

I felt sad. I felt tired. Mentally, physically and especially spiritually. I felt defeated.

Yes, there, at last, was the word I’d searched for.

Defeated.

Defeated in my life. Defeated in my ministry. Defeated in my marriage (through my failings no one else’s). Defeated in my career.

I work hard. I do good work. But it just wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t living anything close to the dreams I’d had. I wasn’t providing what I wanted to provide for my family. I wasn’t producing what I thought I should be able to produce in my work and ministry.

Defeated. Not incompetent just not competent enough. Not untalented just not talented enough. Not unintelligent just not intelligent enough.

I stopped by my rector’s office to follow up on some work and we chatted. I admitted that I was deeply into a bout of the (pardon the language) “I just don’t give a shit anymores”. Nice that I can say that to my rector. No other words would quite carry the emotional content as well. I just didn’t give a shit anymore.

Why bother? I’ve been the guy who says “Good enough, isn’t”. I’ve been the guy who said “The company has given us all the tools we need. If we can’t perform under these circumstances they ought to fire us”. I’ve been that idealistic, eyes shining as they gaze at the glorious future idiot. And what did it get me? Fired from my last job because I wouldn’t play those stupid office politics and focused on doing my job.

And my rector said, “Can I buy you lunch?”

So we went to lunch. And he never told me that I was wrong. In fact, he told me that I had a right to feel that way. Then he told me that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture.

We talked about a bunch of stuff and I remembered that I’ve done a lot of things of which I’m justifiably (I think) proud. I’ve made tough decisions and put myself second to care for my family. There’s not one of those decisions, looking back, that I regret. They were right. Then and now.

There are plenty of folks who would look at my life and see a steady stream of success. I’ve had jobs where I’ve made an honest to God difference in people’s lives. And yes people like me, they really, really like me. Some of them even respect me and pay attention to what I say.

I’ve made sacrifices. I’ve put my career on hold several times to make sure my family was OK. My life isn’t perfect but it’s still pretty darn good. The bad parts can still be worked on even at my “advanced age” (He really said that to me. Terrible thing to have a rector younger than yourself).

An hour, two chicken fajitas and some refried beans later and I no longer felt defeated. It’s at least the second time my rector has gotten me turned around when things seemed pretty dark. There are still things to work on but at least it’s not quite so dark in my heart anymore

He’s pretty sharp, my rector.

(The Rev. Eric Williams is no longer my rector.  Happily he is still my friend.  Everyone needs more friends like this)

Peace

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Creativity and Faith

I’m not sure I have spent as much time on anything in my life as I have on the time topics in the title.  Once upon a time, the Christian church was one of the great supporters of artistic creation.  Today, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that one of the great stumbling blocks facing the future of the institutional church is that it has largely turned away from creativity.

Some, I know, will instantly say that the sooner the institutional church dies, the better the faith (and the world) will be.  While I am often a vocal critic of the institution, its politics and inertia inspired blindness, I’m not quite ready to give up on it just yet.  We are called together in our life in faith.  When two or more are gathered together in one place, there had better be some kind of structure.  Otherwise, nothing gets done.

Some will also raise the cry that there’s plenty of creativity in the church, right now.  To that I’m afraid I have to say while there are pockets of creativity, I’m not seeing the creative being celebrated in large swathes of my faith.  Creativity does not thrive in places where absolute fidelity to tradition, history and “how it’s always been done” is paramount.

I love classic church architecture, far more than most of the modern church design I’ve seen.  There is a church not far from where I used to live that I thought was a warehouse for years, till they finally got the sign up on the highway side of the building.  Once buildings were built to symbolize the glory of God.  Today they could easily be movie theaters or warehouses.  There is lots of fine church music that has been around for years.  Too often it is treated like a museum piece, to be carefully preserved just the way it has always been.  There is some fine modern music as well, but there’s plenty that isn’t.  Being old doesn’t make something good, but neither does being new.

The classic example (one of many) can be found in my own tradition.  As Episcopalians, we are part of the Anglican tradition.  We are largely defined by our Book of Common Prayer.  It provides the pattern of our life in faith and worship.  And it is real easy for us to treat that book like Holy Writ, never to be changed, never to be interpreted in any way other than the way it was by our predecessors.  If we are not careful we will be permanently turned towards the past.  And there is now new creativity there.

Creativity is a matter of weaving together what has gone before with what is available now.  It’s not easy.  Being creative never is.  It’s trial and error.  It’s an ongoing process.  That makes people uncomfortable.  But that’s an important part of creativity as well.

Let me give you an example of what I see as a great  creative response to worship space.  It combines the traditional and the new.  If you ever get the chance to visit or worship at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.  It draws on the architecture of a fourth-century basilica with some amazing modern touches.

philadelphia-cathedral-600-587x0

The basic form is classic church architecture but without traditional pews.  This allows all kinds of unusual options for worship.  Note the raised chancel area in the back of the photo.  The curved benches can serve as choir or for a variety of other uses.  Note the high-tech lighting that creates an almost starfield effect.  I’ve been in some fabulous churches and cathedrals.  None have affected me the way this one did.

Here’s a slightly different view, note the rectangular box on the right.  That’s a baptismal font.  One that the person being baptized can kneel in the water.  Next to it, and if memory serves, with the water able to flow from the traditional basin font into the larger font.  Again, the intersection of the ancient and the new.

CATHEDRALEVENTPHOTOS20102011a027_lg

 

Imagine if we took the same approach to our music, our worship, our liturgy, our teaching, and preaching.  Creativity is a gift of God.  Might be nice if we shared it with Him occasionally.

Just a thought.

 

A Little Heart

(A repost of some of my earlier blogging on other sites.  I am occasionally re-posting ones that I think are interesting)

I thought I’d share this story. Some folks have heard me tell it before. It began with “one of those days”. The kind of day when everything seems to go wrong. When it doesn’t matter how hard you try it stills comes out wrong in the end. I had spent the day struggling with a couple of projects that simply did not want to cooperate. None of them were complicated all were things that I had done before but they just wouldn’t play. With each passing minute, I grew more and more frustrated.Thanksgivingw I knew I could do this stuff but somehow I kept dropping the ball. The final straw was a printing job that kept getting lost in my computer. I couldn’t take it anymore! The computer was stupid. I was stupid. The world was stupid. I was incompetent. God was obviously ticked off at me and my Momma probably didn’t love me anymore too. Suddenly my printer whirred into life. This was a little startling because I hadn’t asked it to print anything! Great! Stupid piece of technological (dirty words, dirty words, dirty words) won’t work when I need it and does when I don’t! When I turned to look at the page it spat out it looked like it was blank. Looking again I realized it had printed a single symbol in the upper corner of the page.

A single heart.

I just sat there staring at it, almost afraid to touch it. It was like a direct answer to my thoughts at that moment. Of all the random symbols the printer might have kicked out it was that one. I had to laugh. I also had to say a little prayer of thanks.

Today that piece of paper still sits in my printer tray. If you dig down under all the pages that sit on the output tray you’ll find it there. It’s a reminder that God (and Mom) love me. Even on the days when I can’t get the machines to work for me. Even on the days when I think, I’m stupid and incompetent. Even on my worst days.

It’s kinda nice to have the reminder sometimes.

Peace

(Sadly that piece of paper was lost in one of our moves)

I Hope You Fail

(I am bringing back some posts from a previous blog I no longer maintain.  They are pieces that I am proud of and that I believe still have value.  This was first published in March of 2006)

It goes against everything we seem to hear about how to deal with you these days. We’re supposed to enable you and validate you and set you up to succeed. And the more I think about it the more I think you, my young brothers and sisters, are being set up for a failure of monumental proportions. I think we need to make sure that you’re given every opportunity to fall flat on your face. To auger in, to crash and burn, to have the wheels come off. In short to fail. Maybe even spectacularly.

I know, you thought I was your friend. I really am.

That’s why I want you to fail. Actually, I want you to be given the opportunity to fail. The real problem is that adults spend a lot of time and energy trying to make sure that you are given opportunities to succeed. When you were little the “circle of protection” needed to be very tight around you. Little kids don’t have any idea what can be real trouble for them so their parents and families and teachers need to watch over them pretty closely. Trouble is that a lot of adults are continuing that same process even as you grow older. While you don’t want to hear this either there is still a need for some adult supervision even for 14,15,16,17 and 18 -year-olds. If we’re really trying to prepare you to become adults capable of going out and surviving on your own we need to let you fail. And we need to let you figure your own way out of a goodly portion of those failures too. Because it’s not enough just to try and fail. You need to know that you can work your way out of it, figure out the solution and make it work.

FailwDon’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of success. I won’t kid you either, failing really stinks. It hurts and it can hurt for a long time. But it’s necessary so that you know that it’s survivable. You know what can be the strongest part of a bone? The place where it was once broken. The time is coming very quickly for you when you won’t be able to rely on Mommy or Daddy or whoever to pull you out of every problem. You’re going to find yourself out there on your own, there won’t be a convenient adult to step in and “fix” things. Yes, I know the general consensus among youth is that all these “meddling” adults are a pain and you wish they’d go away. But let’s be honest, that’s really only when things are going well, right? It’s kinda nice to have them around to take charge (and responsibility) when things go whacko, isn’t it? There have been plenty of times when I’d LOVE to have someone step in and fix up a few details for me. Trust me it doesn’t happen. The success that comes easily doesn’t feel nearly as good as the success that you know you’ve really earned.

For my fellow parents, teachers, youth ministers I need to acknowledge that we have the hardest part in all of this. We have to be willing to step back a little farther, NOT run in at the first (or second, or maybe even third) sign of trouble. Worst of all we’ll have to deal with their pain after the failure. And that is really hard. In the end, we need to remember that we really are preparing them to thrive on their own. It’s no surprise to us that it can be a cold, hard world out there. What we can do is make sure that we’re always there to help our youth figure out what went wrong, to ensure that failures don’t become too calamitous and to let them know that failure is not the end of the world. We can’t (and shouldn’t try to) prevent them from falling. We can make sure that they always have a safe place to fall. In the long run, I believe that we’ll see them succeed more often, growing more confident and able to deal with anything that life can throw at them.

So let the opportunity to fail begin.

My Hugging Dilemma

(A repost of some of my earlier blogging on other sites.  I am occassionally re-posting ones that I think are interesting.  Originally posted February 6, 2009)

(I still struggle with this – 2015)

Today is National Hug an Episcopalian Day.

Having hugged my favorite Episcopalian, my lady wife, I feel I have filled my quota.

Of course there is that other thing.

HugIt’s really rather embarrassing.

But here goes…

I’m not a natural hugger.

Which is NOT to say I’m some kind of UN-natural hugger.

Oh dear, this does get complicated doesn’t it?

Let me try again.

I am a relatively shy person who grew up in a house where we were not real physically demonstrative. So hugging doesn’t come easily for me.

Now at this point some of you are thinking “Well then great googly moogly son just don’t hug! It’s not like there’s a law requiring it. Heck, some of us would prefer that all this hugging nonsense toned itself down anyway”

But you see you miss the point.

I LIKE hugs.

The problem you get into is the whole “Do I know you well enough?” and “Are you one of those anti-hug people?” and “Oh my God,I’m going to mess this all up!” and “Is this too long a hug, is this too short a hug, am I offending them?” stuff.

Maybe you don’t want to be hugged cause you don’t like hugging.

Maybe you don’t want to be hugged cause you don’t like ME.

Maybe you would love to have a hug but wonder why I seem to be rather reluctant and what does THAT mean?

(Bet you never knew that hugging was so complicated, did you?)

I envy folks who can just hug the stuffing out of life.

I’ve gotten better over the years. Most of my best friends, male and female, seem to be into giving me (and getting) a big hug. My brothers still hug a little awkwardly but we hug. My youth are big huggers. I don’t have to do much, just wait for it from them. My bishop is a BIG hugger. You meet my bish, you’re gonna get hugged.

There was a great moment late last year in my hugging history. A male adult leader that I was just getting to know better was at a meeting with me (and a bunch of other folks). At the end I was caught in my hugging dilemma and stuck out my hand to shake hands as we left. He looked right at me and said:

“I prefer a hug”

Now I know exactly where I stand with him.

And that’s SO cool!

So I’m willing to practice my hugging with willing partners. (I’ll shake hands with anyone else. Heck, I’m easy) Just let me know.

(((HUG)))

Peace

Reports From the Travelling Circus

(July 13, 2014) – My friends know that I bear a curse.  Often the first words out of their mouths are “Any trouble this time?”.  And then they laugh.

You see, I have a travelling curse.

It’s been going on for years now.  I get delayed, bumped and re-routed.  If there is any bad weather in the area it will lodge between me and my destination.  The curse operates pretty much everywhere but it does have two primary loci – Philadelphia and Denver.  If my travels take me through either of those locations I am guaranteed to have some kind of an adventure.

I’ve learned a certain zen like calm about it all.

It’s either that or I just stopped worrying about it.  Pretty much the same thing, I think.

So today I am travelling home from the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE), a once every three years gathering of teens from all around the Episcopal Church.  As I have done several times in the past I was serving as a member of the team running the event.

Did I mention that this year’s EYE was being held IN Philadelphia?

(That’s called foreshadowing.  Pretty spiffy little writing trick there.  You should be impressed)

The trip into Philly went without any significant trouble at all.  That should have warned me.

There was some kerfluffle about just how I was supposed to get from the Villanova University campus to the airport on departure day.  That’s not really surprising as a thousand people have to be moved off the campus in a matter of 12 hours.  Planes, trains, buses, private automobiles.  They all have to be coordinated, loaded and leave, preferably without leaving anyone behind.  Since I was something of a supernumerary I was going to fit in where I could.  Between midnight and noon that plan changed five times.  It was frustrating but was really only a tiny quiver in the energy of the travel universe.

A tiny quiver of WARNING.  (FORESHADOWING!!!!)

I got to the airport with plenty of time to check-in, go through security, grab a leisurely lunch and make it to the departure gate.

Almost immediately there came an announcement that the plane was over booked and needed 4 volunteers to take a later flight.  Since I’m not in a huge hurry today (and after consulting my lady wife) I went up to volunteer.  A moment later it was all set.

Then something curious happened.  There were three young people seated just a row away from me in the waiting area.  A young woman who looked to be in her late teens/early 20s, a tall young man of high school age and an elementary aged little brother.  As I got back to my seat I saw the two older young people exchange a quick word of what was obviously very good news.  Then all three of them turned toward me, looked right at me and said “Thank You!”

The only logical response was  “What did I do?”

Turns out these three siblings had missed an earlier flight and it didn’t look like all three of them could fly home on the same flight.  With me volunteering a seat opened up and they would be able to travel together.

As a youth minister, the fact that I could help them out, even inadvertently, was the greatest gift I could have received at that moment.  It felt really, really wonderful to see the joy on their face.  All three of them thanked me and I told them I couldn’t be happier to have been able to help.

I even thought “Maybe the curse has been broken”.

Never disrespect a curse.  Never tempt one.

In a matter of minutes my cell phone rang to tell me that the 5:30 flight I had been bumped to was now delayed to 6:05.  Then the original flight was delayed (there was a small chance they might have gotten me on that flight if someone else hadn’t shown up), followed almost immediately by the flight being cancelled.

So now I’ll be here till at least 6 o’clock.

The travelling circus rolls on.

Travelling in a Craxy, Mized Up World

So here’s the first thing you need to know about traveling with me.

You don’t want to travel with me.

Seriously.  You don’t want to travel with me.  At least when I’m travelling to church functions.  Why?  Because….adventures happen.

I am in St. Louis MO for the next couple days for meetings to set up the next three years of work for the Standing Commission on Ministry Development.  I’ve served on this SC for the last three years.   Good people and some interesting work to be done.

But the adventure began virtually immediately.  As I pulled into a parking slot at Tom Ridge Field in Erie I saw a plane flying perfectly level just a couple hundred feet off the ground.  Clearly NOT landing or taking off, just doing a flyby.  That struck me as passing strange.  I’ve never seen anything like that before when I’ve flown.  I shrugged it off and made my way inside and through security.  As I settled in to wait for my flight time the announcement came over the PA that my flight had been diverted to Buffalo because of high winds in Erie.  Seems that plane I’d seen on my way in had been mine.  They were going to re-fuel in Buffalo and then try to come back.  Since that would mess up connecting flights everyone on the flight needed to go back out to the Delta desk and re-book.  (FYI – all the folks at Delta throughout the day were wonderful.  My thanks to them all)   We all line up and everyone waited with great patience.  We were offered the chance to call the toll free Delta number and do the re-booking.  I decided to hedge my bets and stayed in line WHILE I called Delta (clever, right?).  Got through, decided to stay with my flight out of Erie but pushed back my connecting flight in Detroit.  Quick and easy.  With that I left the line and went over to a kiosk to get my new boarding passes feeling very much the veteran traveler in control of his destiny.  Literally as I set my bags down at the kiosk Delta announced that the original flight was not going to be able to land due to the wind and the flight was cancelled.

Great.

The guy who had been in line behind me was very gracious and let me back into my previous slot.  We were nearly at the front of the line at that point so I waited my turn and spoke with the agent.  Only to be told that there were no available seats left on any flight out of Erie that day.  NONE.  Choices?  Come back tomorrow or get a flight out of a different airport.  Choosing to fly out of Pittsburgh the agent scheduled my flights (through Memphis instead of Detroit) and then worked very hard to fix my return flight too.  Flying back to Erie when my car was in Pittsburgh would have been a problem.  It was noon when she was done and my flight out of Pittsburgh wasn’t till 5:40 so I was golden.

On the road again…

Nothing to report on the drive.  Got to Pittsburgh with hours to spare.  Sat around bored till flight time.  Aaaaaaaaand the plane is late.  Not real late but late enough.  Late enough that my connecting flight is scheduled to begin boarding at 7PM for a 7:40 departure.  And at 7:10PM I’m still in the air.  When we finally land most of the folks in front of me were gracious enough to let me go before they stood up.  Most.  I will refrain from commenting on the lady who not only stood up but wasn’t even ready to leave.  So she spent what seemed like forever fussing with stuff.  Sigh.

Off the plane, meet the agent at the terminal and got my gate.  Which is at the other end of the freaking airport!  So I ran.  OK I ran until my middle aged lungs began to scream.  Then I walked as fast as I could.  The agent at the other end was looking for those of us who were running late so I got on board.  Wasn’t even the last one.

Eventually I got to St. Louis (where the airport is in major re-build mode.  A very tidy disaster area), waited out in the cold for the shuttle and arrived at the hotel.  Usually that’s when the adventures settle down.

Except that the clock in my room has never been reset from Daylight Savings Time.  Which was a bit of a jolt this morning.  Got to breakfast a little early.  Yeah.

And this kind of stuff happens to me ALL THE TIME!

And that’s why rule number one for traveling with me is – Don’t.

Peace