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Friday, May 27, 2011

The brain follows the body...

Something happened three times this last week. Writing is about logging and cataloging. Logging is writing thoughts down; Cataloging is about thinking through those thoughts and putting them into different categories to be easily accessed should you need them for future reference. Kind of like putting items in a box and then placing them in the attic. That is logging. But when you label the boxes and stack them in particular places it makes it easier to find what you’re looking for, say, come Christmas. How many times have you crammed something in a box, lost your short term memory and then been left standing there in your point of need not knowing what “unmarked boxes” to begin to look through. It’s frustrating.

But this is reason of logging and cataloging, in case you ever cared to know.

There is something I wanted to log that has happened quite a bit over the last week. It has been shocking enough to want to “think about my thoughts” to get to the bottom of where it’s coming from.

I don’t know how to set this up, so I’ll just crash into the point of it all.

Three times in the last week, I’ve been minding my own business and out of nowhere (out of somewhere) God has placed on my heart an urge to go to someone’s house, knock on the door, and see how they’re doing. It’s as profound and as simple as that.

Whenever I’ve done it, I stand there wondering why I didn’t think through it a little more before I “just did it”. Usually I screen the process vigorously reasoning through the scenario with a fine-tooth comb. 9 times out of ten (and this is being very liberal), I talk myself out of doing it due to the multiple justified reasons of why this would be an irresponsible decision causing more harm than good.

Yet two times last week when filled with an urge to stop by to see how my neighbor was doing, my car started pulling in the driveway before I had “made up my mind”. The one time I started walking across the yard long before I had a “plan of action”. I found myself knocking on those two doors with my heart pounding because I didn’t honestly know “my script”. What was I gonna say? “Hey, I just thought I’d check in on you.” What? What am I, a parole officer? “Hey man, I’ve been thinking about you lately and thought I’d drop by.” What? That sounds like I have a man-crush! Anything my brain thought to say sounded silly or creepy.

And then…the door opens…and you’re standing there with an unprepared brain couched in an overly eager body. The body led the brain to “do something”.

This happened again just this week. I was sitting at the coffee shop sipping my cup of Joe and beginning my message for this week on caring for people who are going through deep suffering, and low and behold, a woman comes in the shop weeping with her stoic husband. I mean, tears streaming down her face, puffy eyes, runny makeup, the whole enchilada. She grabbed a seat at the table right next to me and her husband made his way to the counter to purchase their coffee.

I looked over at her and she was looking out the window with big tears streaming down her face and falling off her chin onto the high-top table making a little saline pool in front of her. I looked away and told myself to just “mind my own business” so as to not make a “bad situation worse”. My brain kept telling me, “It’s not your problem and besides, you don’t want to make her feel more awkward. Let she and her husband work out whatever seems to be the problem and you just steer clear of the situation. It will be better for both parties, cause you don’t have time and she doesn’t have composure. You will embarrass her and yourself. Back down.”

I’m only sharing a few of the 100 excuses that made getting up and going over to see how she was doing sound almost sinful. “What will her husband think as he looks across the room and sees a grown man talking to his shattered wife? You’re gonna get beat up, son! She needs her space right now. It’s probably a private issue that needs to be kept private. Don’t make her have to tell you to bug off and leave her alone. We all know what it feels like to have a stranger insert himself or herself into your life and not knowing how to tell them to ‘go away’. Don’t make her have to spend her already depleted energy levels on figuring out how to get rid of you.”

My mind was hard at work thinking up a thousands reasons why not to get out of my chair, walk four steps to her table, and ask her the simple question, “Is everything ok?” Even that question sounded so stupid. “Of course everything’s not ok, you idiot, or I wouldn’t be bawling my brains out in a local coffee shop. Thanks for your astute question, Captain Obvious!” All these thoughts and many more caused me to settle back into my seat after being on the edge of it for about a minute. I started working on my message again trying to block out of my mind the woman weeping off to my left. My heart wouldn’t let this happen.

Before I knew what was happening, my body got out of my seat and started heading toward the woman. Here’s where I felt something I don’t know as I’ve every felt before.

My brain was scrambling to catch up to my body so that when I stood next to the woman I would have something logical to say. The decisiveness of my body was throwing the indecisiveness of my brain into a tailspin. This was the third time this week where my body started toward something without getting permission from my brain. Before I knew what I was going to do or say, I was standing in front of someone who was fully expecting me to have a reason from being there. This is a panicky feeling in case you haven’t ever done this before.

It got me to wondering if God has had enough of my “brain”. I wonder if he’s tired of watching my mind stop my body from acting on stabs of pain, promptings to move, or inklings to engage. It’s as if God was saying, “Because your brain has proven it’s inept ability to respond correctly time and time again to situations of need, I am now eliminating the middle man of your mind and going right to your body with my desires. I don’t trust your mind anymore, it talks you into wasteful things and out of meaningful things far too often. I can’t have this anymore.”

And that is what he’s doing, bypassing my brain and dispatching my body to move toward meaning.

It is clear that God wants by body to move toward needs right now, and it is also very clear that he has come to realize that my brain will stop me in debilitating deliberations, second-guessing games, self-perseveration biases, and twisted lines of logic that actually make you feel like it helps people more to “leave them be”.

So God has done something very clever, he isn’t even consulting my brain lately. I mean, he starts to, but when I start in with my excuses he just lifts my body off the chair or out of my yard and before I know what to say, I’m standing in front of a human who is fully expecting me to know why I decided to place myself in front of them. What they don’t know is that I didn’t actually decide. My mouth starts to open and my tongue forms some words and strings together some sentences, many of which sound every bit like a 3-year-old asking questions. “How are you doing?” “Is everything going ok?” “What is that?” “Do you need anything?” “I just wanted to say hi.” And you know what? People respond.

When I went over to the crying lady in the coffee shop I asked her if everything was ok. She said, “Yes, thank you.” My brain told me to take that answer and move on, my body probed deeper. “Is there anything you need right now?” She replied, “No, thank you, I’m alright.” Again, my brain said, “You heard her, dude, leave her alone, she’s just fine, I told you this was going to be stupid.” But my body wouldn’t relent, “Are you sure? Cause if you need anything, I’m at that table over there and you can let me know. I just wanted you to know that I’ll be praying for you.” “Thank you” she replied. I turned and went back to my table.

As I sat back down to type on my computer my hands were shaking so violently it was like I just had a “near-death” experience. It took almost 10 minutes to calm down so that I could stroke the keys on my Mac. My adrenaline was pumping through my blood stream like water in a garden hose. This is what happens when your brain is in the back seat and your body is in the front seat. Your body apparently doesn’t wait to “feel in control” or to “know what to say” or to “plan the perfect encounter”. Your body realizes that you will never do anything if you wait to align those stars. Sometimes you just gotta move toward the need and see what happens.

I think God is growing tired of our “brains” always talking us out of stuff. He knows that most of the time it’s a bunch of bunk. We just don’t want to risk, so we avoid the unknown and the uncontrolled.

To God, it’s a “no-brainer”.

And honestly, it’s been refreshing to follow my body into the fray for a change instead of letting my mind “talk me in to or out of things”. It’s actually really funny watching my mind panic to catch up to my body on the way to the front door of the house, or in the 4 steps in between me and the nearby table. My brain has been under such trauma lately from being drug into danger-zones. It’s been good for it, because it’s always been used to running the show.

God has figured out how to get the job done and it goes something like this:

“Give the brain one, maybe two chances to do what’s right. If it doesn’t respond based on the dodges of its own clever cognitions or terms and conditions, promptly go to the top and just make the body go forward without the minds approval. It won’t be long before the intellectual will submit to the actual and what’s actually right will finally be the victor over what’s intellectually reasonable. In the end, when it comes to the body interacting with the brain, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.”

This philosophy, though traumatic, actually feels pretty good after your blood pressure goes down, your hands stop violently trembling and you recover from the near-death experience.

Because in my mind, the gospel means nothing if it isn’t moving nearer to death and further from comfort. Absolutely nothing.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Slow Church...

There is something inside of me that is quickly moving to “the slow life”. My verse to memorize for this year is found in Ecclesiastes which says…

Ecclesiastes 5:19-20

19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. 20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

This is what I long for and if I have anything to do with it, this is what I will find to me my new normal.

I found a book called Slow Food and it started with a Manifesto that blew me away. Take this in…

Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model.

We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods. To be worthy of the name, Homo Sapiens should rid himself of speed before it reduces him to a species in danger of extinction.

A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life. May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.

Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food. In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer.

That is what real culture is all about: developing taste rather than demeaning it. And what better way to set about this than an international exchange of experiences, knowledge, projects? Slow Food guarantees a better future. Slow Food is an idea that needs plenty of qualified supporters who can help turn this (slow) motion into an international movement, with the little snail as its symbol.”

John Pattison, who is the co-author of "Besides the Bible”, states that “all these Slow Food principles have (or could have) corollaries in the church: the table, hospitality, pleasure, justice, real connections, conversation, local knowledge and identity, shared traditions and shared space, consumers as co-producers, manageable scale, an unhurried pace that is profoundly countercultural, and a focus on the abundance of Time rather than the oppressiveness of Time.

Alice Waters talks about the Slow Food movement as a “re-education of the senses.” Slow Church is about…what?"

Just some food for thought…hehehe. This is where I’m going, you’re welcome to join me if you’ve got it in ya.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The "Actual" Leader...

When you say something, some think you should have said less, while others would argue that you didn’t say enough. This is the danger of saying anything at all.

When you decide to do something, be prepared to get mixed reviews on those your “doings”. The other option is to never say you’re going to do anything, so that when you don’t, you never said you would, and when you do, you exceeding everyone’s expectation, which was nothing in the first place.

When you try to change, how do you know whether it is for the right reason or for the right kinds of changes? If you don’t know for sure, the temptation is to simply not make the attempt in the first place. Saying nothing about how changing makes people around you feel like you’re trying to make them look bad.

I’m learning that almost every decision I make, word I say, or action I take will please one person and displease another. It makes it very tempting to just be indecisive and indifferent so as to remain practically irrelevant and beautifully invisible. Very, very appealing on days when it seems like you’re being parsed like a Greek vocabulary word. You have to resist the urge to withdraw and withhold, showing your cards to no one, sharing your thoughts with no one.

But what will become of me and the world around me if I never say, do or be anything for fear of disappointment, misinterpretation, rejection and criticism? The temptation of silence and inaction and accommodation seduce me regularly. They whisper into my ear that they will take care of me and protect me if I stay close to their side. If I didn’t know better, they spin a pretty convincing web making you wonder if it’s a hammock to rest in or a net to be snared by. It’s hard to tell on some days.

But my heart screams, “Live, speak, share, cry, yell, move, be, expose, disclose, make known, dream out loud…and let the onlookers say what they will.” Let them make sport of your idealism and your dreamy desires. Let them kick around your heart like a hacky sack. Let them make fun of your failure to do what you set out to do, for you “set out”. Let them conspire with others regarding your speed and stride commenting on the manner with which you’re running the race, for while they sit in the grandstand grandstanding, you are “in the race” and you are actually “try to run”. Let them point out missteps and mistakes in the execution of your “to do list”, for you are unashamedly about the business of acting on your ambitions. Let others cast lots and cast stones, for you know that most decisions don’t need lots cast to find the unlucky elected leader, they need a person who says, “I’ll do it, no need to draw straws today, the rest of you are off the hook.”

So today, I celebrate the people who actually act. I honor the ones who take the hits for the cause. You inspire me. Thank you for speaking up, stepping up and standing up knowing—completely and painfully knowing—that you are going to be watched and listened to by people half of whom will love you and half of whom will hate you in the same moment for the same reason.

I don’t know how you do it, but I’m glad that you “do”.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cut and Paste & Copycatting...

To be honest, as I have an opportunity to look back upon my short life, I think I've spent a good bit of it copy-catting, as little children call it. You learn to do this from the earliest of years, before you know there are things like "age" and "years" you're being measured by. You take in what you see, hear and sense around you, and unknowingly mimic the things that get attention and affirmation, seeking to avoid/coverup the stuff that doesn't make the best impression.

By the time you realize what is happening, it's so instinctive that you can hardly help it. You see who gets invited places and who is placed on promotional brochures to sell the college to prospective students and who is given raises at work and who gets playing time on Friday night and who adults speak highly of to other adults. "Oh, he's wise beyond his years." "Why, yes he is! I look forward to seeing how he turns out." You make like you don't hear, but you're sucking it in like a siphon. You take your cues from body language and non-verbals. You catch people's smiles and scowls. You listen to people comment on other people's good or bad behaviors, attitudes and performances. As you gather intel, you assemble a way of life that becomes a state of being. Largely, this state of being is nothing more than "cut and paste", plastic and queer as a "spork".

Lately, I've been wondering who I really am. If I were to peal away all of the duplicitous duct tape that is holding me together, what kind of man would be standing there? What do I really, really like to do? What kind of personality do I really have? Am I funny, or is that made up? Am I actually quite shy enjoying the fringes? Am I talkative or taciturn? Am I a people person or a loner? Who knows? So many days of my life are spent living out an edited script of so many different stories that I'm not sure what is actually my story and what is a cornucopia of a bunch of other people's stories smashed together.

I really want to get about the business of being me at some point, though. Whoever I am, whether interesting or not, I want to be that man. Even if it turns out quite disappointing when all is said and done, I would rather know that now.

Like I said, I'm somewhat confused as to what is actually me and what is someone I've unknowingly become along the way that is a collage I've pieced together of "noteworthy" news clippings. This isn't all bad, but it seems you can get lost in the process of piecing together who you really are.

I know God knows who I am, so I suppose the closer I get to Him the better chance I have of getting closer to me.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A few more of my favorite things...

Things that I love:

Watching my daughters as they sleep just before I go to bed.

Going to the movies with my wife...like we are going to do tonight!

Happening upon a random river while walking leisurely with my family on a bike path.

Listening to water slap and slurp as the stream's current pushes it over and around rocks.

Watching robins furiously mate in my front yard as I walk out my front door in the morning.

Looking at the tire swing hanging there motionless waiting to be mounted by my daughters.

Playing on the trampoline with my girls.

Making my wife laugh with a brilliant play on words that catches her off guard.

Living in a community where restaurants feature Frog Leg entrées.

Taking Aly to the Backwater cafe' and sharing a Big Breakfast with her.

Listening to Taylor read 4th grade books struggling to pronounce words like "gnat".

Smelling the rain evaporate off the blacktop.

Sitting around a campfire with my friends talking about literature.

Listening to NPR and closing my eyes while stopped at a traffic light taking in the sounds.

Dreaming about things that don't yet exist as if they did.

Icy-pops.

The fact that my girls still don't mind being naked around me. (innocence)

Watching ducks land in the river with a violent furry.

Riding my scooter home from work and feeling the breeze blow my peach fuzz arm hair.

Smelling the cherry smoke the wafts across my path from a nearby pipe.

Joining my wife as she orchestrates a way for a single mom to get beds for her kids to sleep on.

Watching American Idol with my daughters draped on my lap like loose blankets.

Writing messages from God for people. This is a privilege of the highest honor.

Giving away money to people who are really in need.

Sipping in a moment like fine wine and letting it hit my soul's taste buds with explosive wonder.

These are a few of my favorite things...


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Hallowed Scooter...

I rode my scooter to work yesterday. The electric start wouldn't work, so I kick started it and away I went.

The morning was cool and crisp, like taking a bite out of a macintosh apple just plucked from its leafy umbilical chord. Sweet. Delicious. Cool.

The air had the feel of velvet and the breeze kicked up under my helmet with my slow acceleration tasted of pollen and evaporating dew. For some reason my instinct is to inhale through my nose and exhale through my pursed lips. I don't know that I'm getting more or less oxygen, it just feels that way, and that's all that matters when you're riding a scooter, what you feel.

You certainly don't ride a scooter because you care about how you look. I know this because I saw myself in a storefront window yesterday as I parallel-parked. My helmet is over-sized, my gloves are made for 20 below zero and my sandals put the finishing touches on a pretty dissimilar wardrobe of mismatching articles. I care not, because as I said in the aforementioned paragraph, you ride a scooter for the feel, not the look.

The feel is transcendent. You can gaze upon the farming fields and spot wild game roaming about. You can feel the cracks in the pavement as you coast down the road. Train tracks are slowly crossed, so slowly, in fact, that you get a chance to look back and forth down the almost cryptic corridors from whence they come and go feeling eerily sucked into their enchanting hallows like the Bermuda Triangle. Train tracks are among the few remaining relics of the past that still put a spell on me. I feel like I could explore them like Tom Sawyer and Huck Fin until dusk settled like an undertakers shroud.

I tilt my head back and take in the ride like a junkie savoring his fix on a tattered couch. Life doesn't pass in minutes, it passes in moments. Your senses are quickened with steroidal vigor and your heart is awakened in their wake. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing.

Little brooks flood with water needing to get somewhere, frantically rushing wherever gravity sees fit to take it. Last years planting of alfalfa is greener than your most vivid vision of the color green filling your mind even now. Trees begin their budding. Forsythia are among the first to make their yellow presence known. Birds are chasing each other like playground children at recess. Ahhhh...this is the good life.

Who would have thought a scooter could bring such shafts of joy into your cloud-covered heart? Who could have ever known?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Beauty, have you way with us.

Oh, beauty, vast and true beauty, shine on me and touch me with the warmth of your ray. Brush up against my unsuspecting soul and tickle me. Tickle me until I'm ticked, Oh beautiful nuisance! Don't stop if I tell you to, cause deep down--really deep down--I need you to make me laugh. Please don't relent even if it seems like I'm serious. I will not hold your persistent pricks of pleasure against you. I promise.

Though in the moment beauty feels bothersome, in time, it awakens the slumbering internal soft tissue that rises from the dead to appreciate it. Depending on the length and depth of the stupor I might put up a good fight, but don't be scared off. Keep pestering and poking around where I'm telling you you don't belong, cause you do. You more than do.

Oh, beauty, simple and silent though you are at times, take this inkling and breath it into being. I'm tired of premonitions and predilections and proclivities getting pushed aside for unreasonable reasons. I can feel your tug today, beauty. The nudge goes unnoticed on most days as I'm caught in a crowded street heading aimlessly wherever the congestion seems to be taking us, taking me. But the "touch on the garment's hem" is felt and acknowledged. I feel the power going out of me, that's how I know. Jesus' story is making more sense to me as I stroke these keys.

Even as the disciples responded, "The crowds are pressing in, of course you felt 'something'" I say with you, "Someone touched me." Don't let me explain it away as I am likely to do without your encouragement.

Beauty, oh swelling and bourgeoning beauty, teem within me or without me, teem with a tempest's tide of joy. Overcome and overflow the water's edges of my heart and bounce over bounds I've placed around you like picket fencing. Burst through, blow out! Get in if I've kept you out! Get out if I've kept you in! Don't stay where you are, move! Move about and recreate yourself in the life you're bound to encounter, that you've bound to encounter.

Beautify and let the beautification spread like a virus until all sneeze your apostolic allergy. Unlock, oh keys of the kingdom, every locked door, every caged core. Lead us into the unknown, we are listless and restless of the known...our breath is dying to be taken away and you're the only one big enough, beautiful enough to do it. So do it. For Pete's sake, do it. For God's sake, do it. For Goodness sake, do it.

For Goodness sake, Beauty, have your way with us.

Tay's first writing...'a little bit of daddy in my eye'.

Taylor wrote her first story this past week. There are several raptures that fill my soul concerning this "writing" discipline she is exploring that I believe in so deeply. But more than anything, I just love looking at life through her eyes and hearing her little heart being expressed in the broken language of a toddler. I feel God's heart beating in her words. I see God playing in the sandbox of life and making new things with little buckets and shovels. I hear God's voice and it has the tone of a nasally 7 year old sharing a story with flared nostrils and overexcited stutters.

Here is the story she wrote:

"i am taylor and I have a little daddy in my eye. i have a little brown in it from my dad. one day we found it in my eye. sometimes I say "daddy, look in my eye and right away he says, 'yep, there it is a little brown from me'. it is a little fun having a little daddy in my eye. i have a lot of mommy in my eye. i am writing in the van my first story ever. 7 years old. i have blue eyes and my mom and my sister aly do, too. kami and my dad have brown eyes."

Heidi has blue eyes. I have brown eyes. Taylor has blue eyes with a little fleck of brown in her right eye. This is what she means when she says, "I have a little daddy in my eye". What a powerful way of saying something so simple.

There are days when God grabs you by the cheeks, turns your face toward His and says, "Hey, listen to me. You have a very good life. Enjoy that thought today." I feel like He's done that again through my daughter in this moment.

'a little bit of daddy in my eye'...

thanks, Tay, for your tender little soul.

I love you, princess.

Monday, May 02, 2011

being present...

I can hardly think about anything else other than the idea of being "present". It is such an all-consuming thought to me this morning that I'm having a hard time "doing anything". I want to just sit still and dwell in the moment I'm smack dab in the middle of so badly that I'm nursing a slow-boiling anger at the details and deadlines that demand my "presence" in the not-too-distant future.

I watched "The Last Samurai" last night and I had to shut it off because I was biting off more than I could chew, let alone digest. The idea of being devout was so gripping to me that I just couldn't take it anymore. But not the kind of "I-couldn't-take-it" that leads to normal defaults of resignation and retreat, but the kind that awakens you so suddenly and shockingly that you have to stop in the middle of it with the "knowledge" (the deep knowing) that you will return to it when you have the honorability to absorb it.

I want to be present. As I said before, I can't stand the thought of being anything else, really. I feel like I would give my left arm to achieve this place of honor. I would trade almost anything I have for the confidence that I am aligned in body, mind, and spirit. This solidarity is the pining passion of my searching soul. Life is moving at such breakneck speed that I have trouble keeping up with it most days, and honestly, I couldn't care less.

There are simple themes that feed me and I'm learning to lean into them, despite my feelings of "being left behind" or "missing out". These myths have held people hostage in concentration camps of small-mindedness for too long. They have done so for me the better part of my life. I know better now. It's whether I will enact this "better knowing" or continue to be driven by the drivel of my base urges. Ughh.

But I can taste it in the wind today. My taste buds are picking up on nuances of flavor long forgotten. Now to get myself to savor those flavors. And now I'm back to where I started. Being present.