Proofs

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It’s spring. It’s almost Easter.

Every morning now I wake up hopeful.

Reality seems good to me. I accept what is.

I accept the the proofs that God is good. I am not offended.

One of the most compelling proofs for me is sunlight, another starlight, another shadow, another color.

I am astonished by these simple realities. Everyday among the miracles of reality I find a renewal; every second alive I happen again upon my own resurrection from the dead, from the death found in unawareness.

I’ve taken to writing fables, about what is true. Here are is one for you.

 

The Sun

Looking south, the sun cast one arm over the Amazon basin.

Looking north, it put the other, covered with golden bracelets, lightly on the Sierra Nevada. It draped itself upon the earth.

Sliding through the jungle and slipping off the peaks it withdrew to the rumpled Pacific, and pausing there, and reaching its hands down to the west coast beaches, it ran its fingers through the tidal pools. They turned pure gold.

“And there, and there and also there,” the sun said softly, and it laid tender fingers of light across the stirring sand.

We are the best,” said the mountains, always first and last to warm and be warmed.“

Then the palms and pines along the western beaches whispered, running their fingers through their lovely hair.

“What about us? What about us?” they called out.

The sun flipped its fingers playfully and splashed sunlight up into all of the leafy trees lining the beaches, and seeing this they rose up on their pointy root toes, grabbed pieces of the light and fixed it in their hair.

Suddenly, each wore a sparkling tiara.

“Oh,” the trees murmured softly. “Give us more!”

But there was too much for them to hold.

Big pieces of the sun broke free and sailed toward the east.

The great sun slid along, pulling a shade across the Pacific ocean. It rans fast now towards Asia and Australia, crying out for Europe, calling out for Africa.

It ran, singing out for the Himalayas, the Tien Shan, the Urals, laying itself down upon the Tibetan Plateau and the West Siberian Plain.

“I’m coming now,” it whispered softly to Lake Baikal, to the Bay of Bengal and to the great Sundarbans.

“We are waiting,” they called back, “for you.”

Jealous, the great peninsulas of Europe, the Iberian, Italian, and Balkan, beckoned to the light. “But us, but us, but what about all of us!”

“Fall on our peaks too!” called the Alps, Pyrenees, Apennines, Dinaric Alps, Balkans, and Carpathians,

And the sun, with a total, complete and utter equanimity, sang out softly to the glowing earth, “But you know so well my precious ones from all my time with you, that I … I have no favorites.”

And then it fell with a laughing, loyal, lasting love upon the whole of the great Serengeti.

 

You can find more fables like this at one of my blogs, http://www.antifables.com

 

 

Did You Think You Weren’t Supposed to Be Strong?

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I woke up this morning with a choice. We all do —  ambivalent or focused, bifurcated or fired up for a kind of single-minded success.

I chose, just what I wanted to, and not what I didn’t. I finished the book of Proverbs along with my chai tea latte and steel cut oatmeal. Super-cool wise stuff is found in Proverbs, like, “The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength.”  Proverbs 24:4-5

Kathy Korman Frey, Harvard MBA, a kind of confidence guardian, has posited that successful women benefit from their experiences of mastery, choosing to find things they do well that build confidence to do other things well.

Tea, oats, proverbs — it’s is smart to choose to grow in power. The use of power, the mustering of  strength — this is not merely the heady stuff of tyrants and despots but also the way of the godly wise. The godly wise proceed with things that build up their strength; they move forward in ways that build up their confidence.

After my reading, I went out back to my lily pond and mucked it out. I threw my aluminum ladder across the pond, crawled out on it, lay down and began pulling the last year’s cattails out.

The long webbed, fleshy roots came out with a sucking sound. The water was cold, but the day was hot and under the gaze of a gorgeous Santa Anna wind and a cornflower blue sky I mucked and tucked and chucked out my pond. Monet-like, I gently lifted my lily pads, gave them space to thrive, flipped them back upright, left just enough cattails to grace the water with height again this spring.

Then I set on the papyrus growing at both ends, cutting back the dead brown stalks, leaving the bright green new shoots to poke out of the water like exclamation points with fireworks at the ends.

Then, there, thus — I set back and soaked in, my pond, lake, sea; my strength, my chosen yard of life, my several meters of canvass to paint, my long, limned, lovely, lined, lipped, lopped confidence.

And thus it is so that this and that and those like these will lead to more and more and more of that — power! Exploding! Like papyrus in the Nile, and lily pads in my backyard pond.

I know this about myself: it makes me strong to fix things, and it really fires me up when I create beauty — a backyard pond, a school in Southeast San Diego, a school in Tijuana, a community center in Nicaragua, a church in South Africa, a church in Brazil, a church in Chula Vista.

This afternoon I write on my iPad, under the same sun that I labored under this morning, the same sun the pharaohs built the pyramids under, the sun filtered through the shade in the window at a Starbucks near my house.

I’m here because ponds and pages and the music and the smell of coffee just do it perfectly for me. Mucking out lily ponds and jungles and schools and writing blog posts — these are my mastery experiences. So too are my sermons, and my modern proverbs, my fables and modern soliloquies too.

This is what builds up my confidence — what about you?

I suggest you do things that fill you up inside.

Go grow — in strength!

By doing things!

That build mastery!

Things that decrease ambivalence.

Things that increase confidence.

Did you think that you weren’t supposed to be strong?

 

Perfect For The Dwarfs

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The hole went right through the beautiful wood cabinet door and out the other side. I could see that the metal had pierced the wood cleanly, splintering only slightly upon its exit inside the interior space.

I tried the lock. Perfect. The communion bread — safe.

We hit the switch and slid the glass. Light splashed down onto the owl, perched inside the oak cabinet, and lit it up. As we pushed each button — more light, for more art.  Perfect.

I slid my eyes across the case. Fourteen pieces, shining there like the finest art in the finest museums in the finest world.

I looked up to the ceiling inside the shower. The drywall was broken out at least a foot wide and eighteen inches long. It looked like someone was trying to escape. I peered up into the opening — a rusted drain, a new rubber sleeve and a shinny black plastic ninety swept up to the floor above. Perfect.

Not a drop of water anywhere! I love a toilet that actually works, especially just before I go on stage.

We put the tiny round table in place in room four, then the little chairs around it. The toys, the changing table, the rug, the step stool. It looked like a great setup for dwarfs. It was. Perfect.

494 — at an angle on the baked potato stucco wall. We stood back. The silicon was still drying in the holes, but the numbers were staying put. The first building had been put up here in 1927. Almost ninety years later, we were sticking numbers on site. Awesome.

Perfect.

Perfect and perfect and perfect. After all, you want people to find the place where the holy communion bread, the sacred art, the little table and the sacred water chambers reside –  right?

You do. You want them to find what you have done for them. You want them to find the beautiful church and all the good waiting for them there.

You do. That is why you do it.

For the dwarfs, and their parents — perfect. Because they are coming!

 

 

 

Inherit People

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Every person is a network; every new relationship is a World Wide Web.

We are all social systems; only our pets come with no leashes. People are always tethered to other friends and family.

When we get a boyfriend, we inherit his cousin. When we make a new friend we get to meet their friends. When we marry a wife, we marry her father.

Arranged marriages in India bank on this reality. One family courts, woos, shops another. They know what they are getting into –a lot. More than the adored one at hand. They are merging clans.

When I married my wife, I got her mother. It was a little rough, then better, then downright family. I went from flinching to hugging. I helped her buy a car, a condo and a new son — me.

For this very reason we should choose well, and choose often and choose with our hearts and eyes open. Life is best lived as a collector — of people. Everyone we add adds others to us. I just picked a new dentist. Now I’m getting to know and have fun with her whole staff.

Teresa is one of my many new friends from church. With Teresa I get her beautiful children. Summer is my colleague and friend at work. With her, I get her amazingly insightful husband Will. Laurel is my awesome, super-accomplished daughter. Through her I get a relationship with her cool boyfriend Justin.

This is the summum bonum within the crystalline sphere of the primum mobile.

Relate; inherit supreme good — more precious people.

It’s Not Optional!

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“Do you catch the tone of this?” David asked me.

“What’s the tone?” I asked him. I had memorized this piece when I was four years old. I had never forgotten it. I had brought it to mind again and again over the years, sucking some kind of truth sap and meaning from it, some kind of rational safety from it, but I had never, ever once thought about its tone.

“The tone indicates that this is not optional,” he said. “It says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all you heart.‘ Do you see that? ‘And lean not on your own understanding.’ It isn’t an option, to trust or not; we are commanded to trust, and it says ‘in all your ways acknowledge him.‘ This is really serious. It’s about being humble enough to not think just anything we want, but to trust God and his thinking.”

I had never thought about Proverbs 3:5 quite like this before, never seen the demand it put on me in quite this way. To me this proverb has always been a kind of map for how to live, but I haven’t really thought of it as a command for how to live.  It is a command — to join the rationality of God!

David and I were doing a study together. I was the mentor; he was the student. But suddenly, with his keep powers of perception and insight, the roles were reversed, as they so often are when we try to teach someone something, and he, a new Christian, was mentoring me, a crusty old professional seer.

Cool!

“And it has a promise in it,” he said. “He’ll make your path straight.”

“I’ve experience that part,” I thought. Then a complication passed through my head. “Does this mean we stop thinking?” I asked, “that our mind is supposed to follow God blindly, and be a blank slate?”

“Not at all,” he insisted immediately. “God still expects us to apply what he has shown us”

A kind of picture passed before me. A person, entering into a whole different mindset than what existed within their own circle of thoughts, a person encountering intense rationality —  wise, clear, rational thinking, from God —  and  beginning to think in his vein, thinking straight-up, thinking super meticulously, thinking with impeccable logic, with super sanity, with a fascinating perspicacity, because they were thinking along with the best mind in the cosmos — God’s.

Here’s the deal, from David, the new guy who knows how to think.

It’s not optional, as a Christian, to not be rational with the very rationality of God. It is not optional to not trust in the kind of thinking that God is thinking.

Think with God! It’s a command. I’m good with that.

 

 

 

The Real Trick is Paying Attention — and Not Worrying!

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Just before we left the house I remembered my binoculars. “What the heck?”

That was the whole point of the thing — the swirling, milky Andromeda galaxy; the flaming red Ocotillo against the cornflower blue sky; a crisp, white quarter moon; a perfectly pink, finely needled pincushion cactus — and not thinking about my dental appointment next week.

Sometimes it is so freakin’ deliciously and precisely, so fix-brainedly, knob-focusedly, fine-tunedly all about paying attention, which means not remembering and not imagining.

Sitting around the fire that evening I assembled Dale’s telescope on my lap. It was operating-room team work.

“Mount.”

“Diagonal.”

“Finder.”

“20 mm lens — no not the 9mm — too much for the optics.”

I honored each piece of technology with nomenclature, a moments-techno-touch, a loving-looking-pause.

We know the names of what we take the time to see.

We flipped a lawn chair on its side and made a table for the telescope.

Boom — there were the mountains and craters of our mad-circling moon, in crisp, blazing white — always there, seldom wooed, never won.

And then later, after we had talked the dry dust, desert wind and gas fire into oblivion — sighting the scope off the car hood — we ogled the moons of Jupiter, glittering in a row next to the giant planet, posing there for us in a way we could take in, the size of an @ in an email address.

Gorgeous — drop-dead-come-back-alive gorgeous!

Awareness is the thing, conscious, woken-up, fix-eyed, mind-sighted, calibrated awareness, in the moment — not tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

As we sat over dinner earlier in the evening, I made a conscious decision to take in the moment — the pianist, hunched over his swirling, finger-tipped atmosphere, the mushroom crusted scallop posing on my fork, our friends all holding knives while spinning stories of the children we have named, of calving glaciers and orca whales.

We weren’t thinking about the possibility of any of us getting cancer.

The other day I noticed that when I post a set of my freshly crafted modern proverbs on my website, I do so by touching the screen of my iPad, copying them from my “notes” program with my finger tip and then springing them — again from the tip of my finger — into a new post! Bam! — my finger-wand casts word-wisdom into the waiting world.

I reach out, riding on a cloud, finger extended — and living in that moment and no other possible one — I create, my world!

This morning my wife and I sat outside our room and watched the sun come up on the mountains in the Anza Borrego desert. Bright light flooded the alluvials and tipped the peaks.

The real trick is paying attention — and not worrying.

The Gorgeous, Quilted Masterpiece of Self-quieting Work

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“She’s a liar,” he yelled, staring at me super-intently, as if intensity would convince.

It didn’t.

“Do you have any issues?” I asked as calmly as I could manage.

“We all have issues!” he yelled back in a tone that implied, “You are so stupid for even asking me that; everybody knows that we all have issues!”

I paused thinking fast, taking a slow-fast motion pan over the entire scene in front of me.

It is interesting how much tone communicates.

It is also interesting how we can speak to it without even conscious awareness of what we are doing. In my brain there was a kind of automatic voice that told me, “He just deflected your attempt to help him, so you better try again.

I asked, “Might your issues be affecting your relationship with her?”

He blew.

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fun, and what he said next wasn’t true.

Standing there in the doorway of the church office, looking out at him — him so angry, in attack mode — it was vaguely clear to me that he was trying to get some truth out. So I helped him.

“I think she’s doing a good job,” I said, keeping my voice quiet. He waved me off, frustrated, threw up his hands, turned his back on me and strode off across the parking lot.

“Bless you!” I called after him. He just kept walking. I felt kind of stupid saying that, it was so cliched, but I was grasping for some way to end this well, to show that I wanted his good, that I wasn’t really mad at him, and that he did belong in our organization. I got it that he so badly wanted a bit of power and dignity. Who doesn’t? I don’t want him to lose value.

It was a conflict. I was mildly rattled — not much.

I have been thinking about this kind of thing lately. I want to learn how to go through conflict like I go through a good night’s sleep — turning over softly — so as not to wake my wife — breathing regularly, resting on my own firm but comfortable relational mattress.

How do I manage conflict well? How do any us?

First, in conflict with someone, it is essential to remain calm, so that we might do our best to bring them and ourselves no harm — or as little harm as possible — by always offering up careful, simple, helpful words — mostly questions.

We must figure out the truth together, gently, so we can at least remain at rest. And we must not duck, the way most humans instinctively do, and go get other people to do our work for us. We are responsible to enter into our own conflicts, thinking well.

This week I sat in my office looking at a letter I had just received from someone I am trying to help. Here it was again. Conflict. This person had their own issue to work out, but they were turning on our organization!

It’s interesting. If you try to help some people, they bite you! You become the problem — so they can avoid their problem.

In the moment, in the first wave of emotion, harsh responses to them easily come to mind. I am learning to dismiss those.

If I have learned anything about conflict, I have learned that my first reaction to people is usually one that needs some work. I am responsible to do well by them, no matter how hostile I initially feel.

In conflict, at first I am upset. That’s normal. I have learned not to act on that kind of normal. My upset needs time, and self-coaching — sometimes just seconds, sometimes days — to cool. I need just a bit of time to sort out how I should best respond.

I am learning, slowly, through managing conflicts in several organizations which I now help lead — churches and counseling entities– how to do the work, in the moment and later, required to stay calm and clear-headed.

Having a good conflict is like repainting an old room — the prep, the self-prep once you get going, is the biggest part of the job.

This week a high-level leader I work with made a decision that limited another one of the many young leaders I oversee. I was frustrated by how this might cause several of our organizations to lose traction.

I wasn’t sure what to do, so I shared the issue with several of my colleagues, several wise, business-savvy, senior leaders. It was good. Nothing is yet settled, but we are starting some good process to bring a win-win solution to the many different professional organizations these matters effects.

A big part of the work needed in successful conflict resolution comes in creating calm space in which we can all clarify the real issues, focusing only on the areas that really need renewing, and then proceeding very carefully, with the good of all in mind — and with lots of clarifying questions handy.

In conflict, I must ever remain the learner, learning as I go how to bring healing words to everyone.

In tension with people, back-door work, stair-work, padded-room work, reflective-work protects us and everyone else from the stupidity of blaming and shaming each other.

Good process, in the midst of conflict, process well done, with skill, is something that minimizes harm, maximizes healing and becomes something we can later stand back and admire.

I’ve seen poor conflict resolution. The root issues were never even mentioned. People didn’t process their own emotions or each other’s. There was only an effort to blame each other for some superficial problems, to cover up the real problems and to ultimately create a loser and a winner. Nobody took much responsibility for themselves. I hated it. I think it can go better than that.

It helped me, however, learn to adore slow-motion, good-outcome, self-reflective, completely candid, win-win conflict resolution.

Here is the bottom line. To have a struggle between us go well, we must first do the work inside ourselves, we must take control of ourselves, and we must learn to sit back — in a relational easy chair that we pull up to the conflict — and relax, and gather self-knowledge and wise words and discover good questions.

In tension with others, we must first cover, we must first softly blanket the struggle with the gorgeous, quilted masterpiece our own self-quieting work.

Fixing the Latch

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A while back, the latch on my side gate fell off. Don’t you hate it when you lose your latch?

The wood two-by-four that the metal latch was screwed on to had rotted. The gate wouldn’t stay closed.

So I went to work. I knocked off the old wood, replaced it with new wood, screwed back on the latch — all good. My gate stays closed again — nice and solid.

I was talking to a friend a few years ago who had a conflict with someone else I knew. The latch was coming off their relationship.

She said to me, “I’m a runner!”

What she meant was that when relationships got hard, she ran from the conflict. This time, true to form, she ran — clear across the country. When she came back, it wasn’t to the same place. I miss her.

I was talking to someone else this week. There is conflict on the team which she oversees in our organization. She told me, “Don’t worry! I’m not going anywhere!” She’s a stayer. She is willing to mend a latch.

Rot, difficulty, conflict — it’s normal, expected, certain to come, at home, work, community and church. But usually, with courage and some skill, and the willingness to stay through it, something broken can be repaired.

What is absolutely necessary to get a fix is to not run. To mend our relational gates we must stay for honest conversations, risk expressing underlying emotions, come to workable solutions, craft action plans that create win-win solutions.

The other day I spent some time deleting some contacts from my mobile phone. Many of them had moved. People come and go. We always have a few special ones to delete from our contacts, maybe even some people who have harmed us, whom we shouldn’t talk to anymore. They don’t get us. They limit us. Perhaps they dominate us. We delete them. That’s okay. Its protection.

But here is the deal: Delete who you must. Especially be courageous in deleting those who bring you ruin with their bad choices, but don’t delete the precious people who God has given you to love — family, team, coworkers, therapists, fellow students, friends — even when they aren’t perfect. With them, be a stayer!

Your people, those within your yard, those protected by your gate, your magnificent messes, all your sweet ones, all your fragile precious ones whom God has given you, when it comes to them — mend the latch.

Get On Down The Road

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Life can be a bit of a slog.

I counted my calories again today on my iPhone app, MyFitnessPal. My pal allows me 1620 per day. I treasure everyone of them.

My Healthy Choice Premium fudge bars were helpful in keeping the numbers down (100 calories), and my Laughing Cow cheese came to my rescue, (35) and my popsicles (20) and all my lovely veggie friends pitched in too.

I got a few calories added back to my account by going to the gym this morning. MyPal gave me 105 for that. She’s kind of stingy.

The water heater broke this morning. Perry Plumbing wanted $1275 for a new one — installed. Yikes! I went to Lowes. They wanted $1025 to put in a new one; so I bought one myself for $529, stuffed it in the back of my Juke, and brought it home. A plumber friend agreed to put it in tomorrow for $200. Cool!

It’s interesting how it goes along.

I have three pounds to go to reach my weight goal, and I have a few hundred dollars to go to restore the amount spent out of my savings.

Slog, slog slog; choose, choose, choose; lose, lose, lose; restore, restore, restore and you kind of get there.

I watched the cross country skiers at the Olympics recently. They plod, slog, plough, and thump along a lot, and they pound through the snow up hill for a long time. It’s a lot of the same thing, over and over.

And that is pretty much the way most of reality gets along, time and space and the whole merry continuum — hopping along one nanosecond after another, one fresh birthed star after another and one dandelion seed after another too.

By just this kind of cosmic stuttering, this rampantly boring echoing, this gonging metronomic inanity — the world gets on down the road.

And so do I.

By each good food choice my body is healthier. By each thing fixed at the house I don’t live in a ruin. By each weight lifted at the gym and each step run on the elliptical I ward off weakness and loss.

To keep going, to make healthy choices, to not spend all we make, to step, bite, lift, slide, spend, save, run and choose carefully — by just this kind of inane, brute, slogified redundancy, we live and thrive!

Orange and Blue, Very Bright!

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Once a large-conked, great blue snock found a small-conked, slightly orange felid on a wall. The orange felid’s eyes were swollen shut.

The blue snock picked up the orange felid and snoozled it, just a bit.

The little one put her flanges back and let loose a snoganeme.

The blue snock promptly took the small creature home.

The snock put some theracleanse in the little ones eyes, washed her body, put her in a small flufenhouser, made her a little round-a-soft and left her alone to fuzzifify. She turned a deep orange and began to make a light woozling sound.

The next week the snock left the door to the flufenhouser open, and the orange creature came out on her own. The following week the little one sidled up to the big one and arched her buffenwack and the blue one rubbed her fuzzafur. The big snock turned a deep shade of blue.

That night they snuggled up on the riffen together, the little one curled up on the big one. They slept there through the nicheway, and by nuufenstar both glowed orange and blue, very bright.

The next day the felid brought the snock a massive purple whale.

Together, they thunked it.

To read more of my fables, please visit http://www.antifables.com

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