Control

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We have control; we do not.

Evidence abounds.

On 12 November 2014, ESA’s Rosetta mission — which was launched all the way back in 2004 — soft-landed its Philae probe on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It is the first time in history that such an extraordinary feat has been achieved.

The images and information Rosetta is producing — stunning!

Such control — the math, the calculations concerning speed, distance, gravity, the guiding of the craft for ten years, the landing on a comet traveling up to 135,000 kilometres per hour — extraordinary!

And equally extraordinary — all the things we can’t control — this comet’s destiny, or our own emotions, our family members’ choices, disease, the economy, death.

What to do?

I’m stuck lately with the need to apply wisdom to control.

I’m currently thinking: Control what you can; ride out what you can’t.

It’s common sense, but the trick involves discerning when to push or pull and when to ride the wind, wave or fastly flying comet.

I can’t control the interest rate on mortgages and credit cards; I can control my spending. I can’t control other people’s lack of integrity; I can control my own. I can’t control other people’s thoughts or behaviors; I can control my reactions to them. I can’t control God: I can love him and ask him to guide me.  I can jump on and ride the fast, joyful, flying comet of what he is doing.

 We have not taken control of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by finding it, naming it, and landing on it, but we have taken a giant first step — once thought impossible — toward understanding it and perhaps understanding something about our origins as well. And we have exhibited our vast and amazing power to exercise control.

So, here is the deal the best I can see it.

Calculate life, fly Rosetta missions of your own, ride comets, decipher the past, take charge of stuff, especially yourself — and stay humble.

Sometimes you are in the saddle and have the reins, and sometimes you are just along for the terrifying, joyful, fateful ride!

Birdman

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Birdman, the film that just won an Oscar for best picture is interesting, enigmatic, provocative and discussion-worthy.

Life and death are illusions,” says Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman’s director, “We are in a constant state of transformation.”

Birdman gets at that; it approaches the transformational questions of life, “How do we live so as to matter? How do we come to see ourselves as important? How do we win the affections of others?”

The bird man, like all of us, can’t quite figure that out. The movie presents identity and and success and mental health as elusive, especially for a has-been like the Birdman. Our unique sense of self, existing in our minds, existing in our fantasies of success, in the eyes of our family members, our friends, the press, our fans — vanity, vanity, vanity, says the bird man, except in my fantasy!

For you who are squeamish about the ugliness of the ego’s personal angst, any of you suffering identity bifurcation, for you who hate movies where the ending leaves you going “What the heck just happened?” skip it.

But for you who do not require a movie to have a logical, sequential, expected flow of events, you who like to chew on the cud of the ever-shifting human condition, who have dreamed of flying your way to success, for any of you who love to grapple with our tentative sense of self, for any of you who wrestle over our constantly morphing awareness of self-value, our craving for love and our willingness to do most anything to get it, you might want to check it out.

Birdman is as beautiful as Michael Keaton’s dreamy flight over New York, as terrifyingly gorgeous his career falling like a fireball though heavy clouds, as lovely as a few touching scenes of tenderness with his ex-wife and his daughter, and as ugly as the narrow, concrete underground halls of an aging theatre, a string of angry “f” words, brutal competition for attention, unfulfilled emotional need and mental illness.

For me, I get it. We all wonder, “Do I matter?” and we all grapple with ways to answer, “Yes, maybe, for the moment, I hope.”

Why Brian Williams Lied

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It looks a lot like Brian Williams, popular NBC News anchor has lied — which is not the best thing for someone trusted to report the news — and that then he lied about lying.

Why?

Why would a guy who makes ten million dollars a year and is super well-respected as a celebrity news anchor lie about taking fire in a helicopter in Iraq when it didn’t happen and then lie again by saying he misremembered the incident and accidentally tangled up the facts? It isn’t like he needs to make up accomplishments because he lacks accomplishments or affirmation — or does he?

Actually, perhaps the simplest explanation for Brian’s behavior is that he is needy, that he doesn’t feel complete, that he doesn’t feel good enough, that he is insecure about his reputation and his accomplishments. There is a good chance that wealthy Brian is hungry, for love.

Of course I could be wrong. Brian may just be a spoiled brat and a narcissist. But even if that is so, or a bit so, even such a condition as that may arise out of deprivation, from not really getting or understanding or living a life of real love.

This is so human its painful, and yet not. It is not unusual for a powerful man to be needy. Actually, I think Brian represents most all of us, whatever our status . He is somewhat insecure; he is hungry for love and attention.

In a way it’s helpful seeing him like this. It is enlightening. Fame and fortune don’t fill our tanks, not when we come into celebrity and wealth already on empty or even half-full. It is pretty much the thing with us that we never seem to get enough attention or valor or respect or love. We are all love hungry.

What to do?

What we need to do to avoid falseness, to not have to be the hero who took fire is to be fine with being needy and to make good friends with being non-heroic, at least a good deal of the time.

It’s okay to want valor that you don’t have, and it’s okay to be less accomplished than you are, but its also best to avoid lying to people who put their trust in you. It’s a really sad to lose people’s trust, and it definitely doesn’t do much for your reputation or your self-esteem.

For all or most of us, hunger for valor or simply for love will remain, but we can probably get a perfectly good meal now and again, just by being our selves.

People — The Crêpes of Life!

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It was Friday night after work and we were at Bino’s Bistro and Crêperie in Hillcrest feasting on crêpes, tiredness, love and goofiness — trying to reprise us four years ago in Paris, recovering from too much San Diego this last week and indulging in the elemental and eternal concoction of comfort food and comfort family to stave off mental dysfunction, work ennui and certain death.

Diner came to our table as bacon, tomato, avocado, mozzarella cheese and spicy Chipotle sauce on a fresh, tender slightly chewy crêpe — it was a California Crêpe.

Dessert consisted of orange-Grand Marnier sauce, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on a tender fluffy crêpe — it was Crêpe Suzette, and we clashed forks over it.

Here is the deal for us humans — food and people, never leaving out the people are necessary to thrive.

At Bino’s the owner came to our table and confabulated with us about his former restaurant in Coronado, his five black cats who take walks with him, his many and varied crêpe recipes and his repository of odd and desultory memories. He was charming.

And that’s it, people are charming, mostly, or not, but we love them, need them and ought to feed them a dose of our attention and warmth and appreciation for being the crêperie inside of the crêperie of the very essential ice cream and whipped creme crêperie of them!

I had lunch last week with a sweet friend who brought fresh veggie sandwiches for us to inhale. “People,” she mused, “teach us stuff, all of them.”

It’s true and beautiful to see life this way. The ones who fail teach us how to fail or remind us not to fail in precisely the gruesome and horrible ways in which they fail. The ones who succeed teach us how to succeed, in precisely the terrible and horrific ways in which they succeed.

Each person is a meal to us, each one a dessert!

So here is my human-restaurant recommendation. Yelp people, find people, visit people, consort with people and consume all of them!

People are the crêpes of life, and life is better if we munch on as many of them as we possible can.

The Spaces To Which We have Grown Accustom

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Life is complicated — my life, your life, the lives of the people we talk to.

What do we do with this?

Fortunately, there is a very simple, useful approach to complications. It’s doing the one next good thing that we can think of to advance health and progress.

We best manage complication by doing the next simple thing we can do.

Today I made a phone call I had been putting off. It got results. Yesterday I bought materials for future project. It’s now a step closer to getting it done. On Monday I fixed something broken at the house. That’s how you keep your stuff from turning into Junk.

I wonder, what keeps us from doing the obvious thing? Fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, past failures, apathy — such things paralyze us and keep us from realizing amazing possibilities.

I wonder how many of us are living lives which ignore our potential and our giftedness. Are we, perhaps, even refusing a future God is offering us.

To explore this concept I wrote a fable about a woman stuck in a small world of her own choosing.

…..

The Spaces To Which We have Grown Accustom

You could move to the larger room,” he suggested.

“Well, I have never really thought much about that,” she said. “I guess I could.

He walked into the smaller of the two bedrooms in her condo. It was crowded, a small bed, desk, book shelves, old books.

There was twice the space in the empty master suite just a few feet down the hall. Years had past since her roommate, living in this master suite, had moved out of the condo.

The larger master bedroom included a dressing room, two walk-in closets and a master bathroom. It was a much bigger and brighter space, with a large window opening out onto the patio.

“I could help you move your stuff,” he said. “It wouldn’t take long, and this smaller room would make a perfect office. He paused. She look stunningly unexcited, so he added. “I think the bigger space would be so much more luxurious for you. You could even have a bigger bed.”

“Well, that is so nice of you,” she replied. “I have been thinking about a new bed.”

They stood in silence for a moment, as if contemplating an insurmountable possibility lying on a divine plateau somewhere between his mind and hers.

“Well, just give me a call,” he said to break the awkwardness.

She didn’t, but instead left things as they were — bricked and mortared within the dim interior of the tiny cubicle to which she had grown accustom.

After he left, she retreated to her small room and muttered to herself, “I never did much believe in heaven.”

More of my fables and antifables may be found at http://www.antifables.com

My proverbs about taking next steps may be found at http://www.modernproverbs.net

places

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The world is a labyrinth of places. Not all of them are hard not all of them easy. This morning families are hungry and cold in refugee camps in the Middle East. Others are basking on the beaches in Southern California.

In one place people hover around monitors and make deals; in another fires, and give up. Some hang off walls, free climbing; some pulled the covers up in warm, safe beds.

I’m given to thinking about places. Think with me. Here are my aphorisms, epigrams, and proverbs about places.

What places will you live in, build up or ruin today? Be mindful. Tread gently.

……

We become where we are.

Places make persons.

We are looking for safe places; we find them in risky places.

Bombs fall; places are ruined; people remain.

Places are handles; by them we carry reality with us.

Disrupt your space; disrupt your face.

We are defined by the spaces we make — and the ones we ruin.

Nature is best left the way we found her.

We eat from places we abhor; we drink in ones which we adore.

High is where we fall, low a place from which we crawl.

The unsafe space we create for ourselves is an adventure; the unsafe space we create for others is a horror.

God gave us nature to help us recover from the place we would turn it into.

From more of my epigrams, aphorisms and proverbs visit http://www.modernproverbs.net

2014

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It’s the last day of the year, December 31, 2014.

This afternoon, I ate whole blueberries, dipped in dark chocolate, at home in the quiet of my living room, snoozed on the couch with the cat, bought a few song I like on iTunes and wrote several blog posts.

I luxuriated in choices, and in hand-picked inertia.

The greatest wealth, reward, benefit, gift, prize this year offered?

The most meaningful life I lived was the life I did not live in the hospital, in jail or on chemo. The life I did not live in congress, the one I did not live in entertainment magazines and the one I did not live within people’s opinions of me – this was the good life. My best life was the personal life I lived with my friends, with my staff, at work, in my church, with my daughters and wife.

To have time and space and resources to think, to brood, to study, to read, to converse, to write, to travel, to work, to worship, to futz over what I do well, to reflect – this is the good life.

This year I rejoice that I had the time and strength to make my own bed – to even have a bed — to garden, to cook soup, to do the dishes, to play with children, to talk to my loved ones, to fluff the cat, to shop, to fish in Montana with a friend, to write blog posts, to write sermons, to write my precious proverbs and my dear fables, to eat my way through San Francisco with my family, to fix stuff, to refinish stuff, to tend to my investments, to dream, to make new spaces, to refinish wood floors with friends, to lunch and coffee with people I like – this was the best life I lived this year.

We make too much of much. We should make too much of little.

To be able to choose who you are with and when, and where you will go and with whom, to choose who you will admit to your presence and why – this the good stuff, and it is not to be overlooked. Many people can’t do that.

To be safe, private, secure, social when you choose, not publicly abused, not sought after, not traumatized, not exploited, not lionized, not hated, not sick, employed but not too much, vacationed but not too much, this is good, this is more than enough to satisfy — this is to live well.

The freedom to manage ones own self, to manage ones own opinion of ones self, to be more famous to oneself that to anyone else, to live within the sunshine of ones own acceptance, to live within the limits of time and chance and luck and guidance and all this brings to us that we end up with, to affirm oneself in the same way as one is affirmed by the great Creator, the one who made all small, self-governing, self-nurturing things – this is very good.

To be free to choose to live with ones own goals, to live with morals traditional and yet freely chosen, chosen so as to not harm others, and to nurture kindness and to enjoy small treats and moments alone with God and moments together with my wife and daughters and cats and foods and drinks and friends – it does not get better than this.

Tonight, on New Years Eve, I’ll make bean soup for dinner, and drink hot tea and relax at home, and not party and not stay up late and not want more and lounge with my wife and daughter in peace, and sleep well with my cats around me.

I’m good with that — and just and only and merely and completely and amazingly and gorgeously that-this-that which is my very own personal that.

Not Growing Beyond Who You Are

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The ficus tree in my backyard is huge, and it provides good shade for my whole yard, my pond and my house.

It can get bigger, and I can trim it, I can even cut it too the ground, but as long as it lives it can never go back to being a seed, a first sprout, a simple sapling, a young tree again. It’s roots go deep and spread wide now. At the base the trunk is thick and scared. Such is nature. Once organisms grow, they may reproduce, but they themselves don’t return to their original state and size.

And so too it is with humans. We are physically age-size specific. This also seems to go for our emotional, psychological and spiritual development also. When we have grown out of an immature view of life, then we see with experienced, shaded eyes. When we have surpassed simplistic views, then our concepts will become deep and complex.

This seems to make sense, but it isn’t necessarily alway so.

The other day I was looking through some old journals, the records of my thoughts fifteen years ago.

Fifteen years ago I wrote in a journal that it is “important to take a gentle look in one’s own direction. We are greatly in need of a tolerant, gracious, forgiving attitude toward ourselves. To be able to overlook others imperfections, we must be able to overlook our own.”

Odd, or not, but I have spoken and written the exact same thing, even recently. This idea concerning the importance of self-love is part of my tree, and it has been so for some time. Perhaps, I apply this idea now just a little better than when I first wrote it, but I don’t know. It is still something I am working on, and what began in me has grown to be me, and is still part of the me I am becoming.

Like the trees, we change, we enlarged, we scar, but for the healthy, some things remain the same. We are, when we age well, a compilation of the truths we have gathered along the way. We don’t grow past them, and they don’t necessarily expand on us. With true things, with the best things, “was” tends to be “is,” and “will be.”

I’m not done, not fully grown yet, and I am looking these days to keep changing, to provide more shade for other people, but I want, I plan, and I think it extremely important, to keep my roots, my trunk, my core, my simple, young, beautiful truths always about me.

A mature person — that person shelters within themselves the incipient, pure, stable essence of all they once were that makes them who they are becoming.

Of the best things I have learned this is one — not to let go of gentleness toward myself and others.

The Reality Foundry of the Divine

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When I walked around the corner of the back entrance to the courtyard I laughed.

The base material was already in the walkways. “What? Really? Cool!”

John had gone crazy, imagined the future with me — an idea in my head, an landscape architects plan, a couple of muddy measurements, a scribble with a pencil, a photocopy, and there it was, a venue worthy of an event, a celebration, a bride.

Metal stakes, dirt, red string lines, subgrade, grade, top of grade, finish grade, party grade, parade grade, life-changing grade — it was a virtual outdoor cathedral in the making.

The bobcat was scooping up base, the compactor was thumping it down, and I was living it up.

Then I went inside the chapel, passing over the newly refinished oak floors, and into the worship center.

I laughed again.

The recovered pews were in, fabricated in dark, rich brown — clean, smooth, shinny, elegance. The worship center remodel was entering it’s final stages. From the lovely pendant lights to the upscale wood floors, from the newly clear-glassed arch windows to the freshly carpeted stage, the place glowed with a new-found self-esteem anchored in original Spanish Revival glory.

What is it?

It is nothing less than the reality-foundry of the divine at work.

It is not less than the God-thumping laugh-making, hope-crafting, power-mongering energy forever resident in the world’s grand, eloquent, spiritual renewal, its lovely, numinous, reviviscent and effortless renovation.

Corrected

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“Look at you,” I said, “Joseph, the carpenter.”

“Do you know why I do this?” he asked me looking up from his logs and sticks.

“No, why?” I asked. As I was thinking of why someone might do this, in that moment I was surprised by his answer.

“I do this for God,” he said, with a little water in his eyes. “He gave me back my life, and so I do this is for him.”

His answer wasn’t cliched, nor was it said for any effect. It was one of those moments when the sincerity of the person, their honest core breaks through on you as a touching, moving, authentic force.

He looked down at the manger he was building for the Christmas Eve service at the church.

I felt suddenly as if in the presence of a sage.

“People say to me, ‘You did this and you did that'” he said, “but that’s not why I do this. It gives me a really simple, good feeling when I am here, working alone, doing this for God.

Colossians 3:23 came to mind, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.”

In that moment I felt an odd but familiar feeling — realigned, brought back to focus, corrected.

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