The Former Glory

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It was disgusting.

It was beautiful, with a touch of the former glory in it.

When we pulled up the carpet in the old chapel last week, we discovered a lovely, old oak floor — coated with ugly, thick carpet glue.

Floors go through phases; this one had. When the oak was put in, it must have radiated the glossy, unmarred sheen that graces new hardwood flooring, showing off its deep, rich contrasting colors, its lovely grain, burls, knots and rays.

But then years later, when the wood had lost it’s appeal to someone, they apparently got quite excited, with the glue, and put on lots and pulled shag carpet over the fading glory.

When the chapel received its carpet, it was because it had become a worship venue for young people, excited about the Holy Spirit, living the Christian charismatic movement of the seventies, acting out a kind of Southern California, hippy-pentecostal, glory-driven, praise-infused vibe with the Holy. I know; I was in my twenties then, and I was there. I sat on that shag carpet — it was a lonely time in my life — and yet I too worshipped. It was good, that season of the church; however, it ended badly, in a relational wreck, caused by the pastor.

And now, oddly enough, forty years later, on a hot evening in July, here I was sitting on that same floor, with carpet glue all over my hands, beside my friend Glen, who had been there too. He helped put in the carpet.

The glue lay in loops and broad bands on the floor in front of us — at odds with the wood’s lines, unnaturally strewn, unhappily paired, poorly synced, at odds with the wood — a tar-based, sickly gray, denatured, skulking industrial gunk. We were there to get it off, to make the room shine again, with the former glory.

An hour earlier, I had poured Krud Kutter on the floor, a nontoxic, biodegradable multipurpose cleaner. It softened the glue, kind of, but not enough.

So following a tip for a construction guy, we poured KIngsford orderless lighter fluid on top of the glue. That worked — kind of — and turned it into something like what originally came out of the can or plastic bottle or what ever evil hole this gray-green-brown gunk oozed out of. And so, with some hard scraping and scratching, the glue came off.

Glen and I sat together and talked and scraped glue, and wiped it on the edge of a plastic bucket. Then we rubbed the residual glue off the floor with white, clean, dry clothes. The white cloths turned a nasty-looking brown.

I asked Glen about his son, who is estranged from him. There is pain there, I know, I know the story, I know the son, and I know Glen. Glen is a good dad, with some great kids and grandkids, but with this one son, there is history — relational gunk not easily scraped off.

I changed the topic. I asked him about the ultralight plane he is building. That got him talking. Glen talked about the beauty of flying. He was eloquent on lift, speed, thrust, stalls, gliding. It made me want to fly, without a license, fast, with nothing around me but a frame, and an engine with some good horsepower, and some light wings, and to take chances, and do some serious sliding, across the wind.

I asked him if he had recovered from wrecking his former ultralight plane. He had totaled his last one, hitting the top of a tree when he was trying to land, yelling “Jesus” just before he hit the ground, then driving himself home, not going to the ER until later, finding out from the scans that he was really quite smashed up. It took him months to recover. He told me there were still some aches and pains, but he was eager to get into the air again.

We scraped glue, sitting side-by-side, and poured lighter fluid, and talked on into the evening. Maybe it was the lighter fluid fumes, maybe it was the passion of two men trying to make an impossibly marred floor shine again, maybe it was the shared pain, maybe the shared vision to bring praise back to the room — maybe the old praise songs are still in the wood — maybe, maybe, maybe, but as we finished up our few feet of progress, we both felt a deep calm, and tiredness and a kind of aching peace.

And sitting, scraping, it was as if Glen and I were up in the sky together, above all the gunk and all the pain, above all the wreckage of the church and of our lives, in the ultralight, defying space and time, and the floor seemed to me like the wind, with us together, gliding over it, not alone, praising once again, flying fast now, over the glory.

Unity

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Recently, I avoided bringing up politics with a friend.

Recently, I didn’t insert my opinion into an animated discussion taking place in front of me about religion.

Recently, I forgave a person who rejected me, intentionally and put aside in my mind the things they did to harm me.

I performed these mental disciplines for one reason — for the sake of unity.

Unity is oneness of mind and feeling among persons. It is concord, getting along, working together, having harmony, being in agreement.

I didn’t, in my recent efforts to create unity, deny or ignore the differences I have with others. I know what the differences are, and I have spoken and written about them in the past, but in these cases I choose unifying behaviors in the face of disunifying factors.

Often unity is choosing concord and team work and harmony, even when this doesn’t entirely exist. Unity is something we choose in the face of difference, tension and conflict. To chose to be united does not mean that we deny our conflicts, no, simply that we honor our relationships more than our differences at singularly significant junctures.

Of course this isn’t universal. There are some relationships that will not be repaired, some discussions during which we will not choose to overlook our differences, some points of view we will give not quarter to, some people we simply will not agree with, be in concert with, team up with, be married to or resolve conflict with — ever. But that aside, unity is still a huge core value for humanity.

Unity is a passion that puts aside a good to achieve a greater good.

Jesus’s passion for unity healed the bridge between Jew and Greek.

Abraham Lincoln’s passion for a United States of America saved the nation during its horrible civil war.

Unity, on a German soccer team, won the World Cup in 2014.

Great leaders and great teams have always trafficked in a profound sense of unity.

I have friends who are very conservative. I have friends who are extremely liberal. They are all friends, by my choice. I choose to be with people I don’t share basic points of view in common with. I share something greater than that with them. I share mutual respect, friendship, an honoring of differences, a common pursuit of the love of love and the love of God.

Through a passion for unity my friends and I amalgamate, consolidate, cooperate and affiliate around what we have in common. Through our eagerness for oneness we diminish, put aside, nullify and forget the things that divide us. Our humility — which springs from our awareness of our own ignorance and incompleteness without each other — this is a kind of divine miscibility. Through it, we mix.

Religion has a long history of division, conflict and war. Religious people have tended to be the most judgmental people on earth. It should not and need not be so. The truly spiritual were meant to be, even commanded to be bridge builders, gate openers, way-makers, love-makers, peace-makers and unity mongers.

“Blessed are the peace makers,” said Jesus, “for they are the children of God.”

Check out some of my modern proverbs, aphorism and epigrams about unity on my blog at http://www.modernproverbs.net

Joy

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Divers exploring a maze of underwater caves on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula have identified what may be the longest underground river in the world. The underground water they found runs for 95 miles through the Mexico’s limestone caves.

Cool!

The Christian concept of joy is like that underground river. On the surface life may be hot and dry, but underground, deep within, lies God, a river of life, watering our world.

Joy is not happiness; happiness is a surface thing — superficial, based on circumstances, evaporating easily. But Christian joy is deeply rooted in the idea that God is a cool, pure, constant refreshing water and that because of that, everything is going to be okay.

How good is that! Joy transcends the other emotions We can be sad or beaten down by life on the surface, and yet experience the deeper, inner river of joy by trusting that God will come through for us.

“Take joy in God, all the time,” writes Paul, “He is always there.”

Making The Dead Things Go

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I dumped the appendages into the trash bin, and went back for more. Dismembering is a lot of work.

I used a big pair of loppers.

Snip, snap!

I had to break out the sawzall on some of the bigger ones.

When I was done, no dead things remained, only living things, bright green leaves — orange, yellow, red and purple flowers.

I had cut, trimmed, lopped and plucked all the dead branches, dead leaves and dry flower heads from every plant in my back yard. And I had mucked out my backyard pond, dragging out the green algae and dead water lily leaves.

Done! Only good things remained.

The whole thing now looked a bit like Monet’s garden — the effect stunning — green, red, yellow, purple efflorescence everywhere.

And this is how it is.

What is dead and dying is best cropped, lopped and dumpstered, so what is alive and growing can thrive.

It’s the same with my thoughts. They need lopping.

My mental pond constantly needs mucking out. And my mental flowers constantly need dead-heading. I beautify by cutting off my old fears, dumping my regrets, lopping off my unrealistic aspirations, dumpstering my inveterate dissatisfactions, dismembering all my unforgivenesses, beheading all of the negative unlovelies dying on my eager-to-thrive green branches.

Today I spent some time with someone who needed help getting her head filled up with true thoughts, with mental beauty commensurate with her value. We talked. It helped. We were pruning her thoughts. I hope she can keep hauling out the lies and telling herself the truth and when I’m not there. Maturity lies in the ability to garden ones own mind.

Mental beautification — for all of us — it is so much about making the dead things go.

Grieving Rituals

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Last night we sat by the fire with chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers. We weren’t camping; we were grieving. We reveled in the joy of grieving.

We laughed, cried, remembered and forgot the loss of a good friend.

Perhaps we grieve best with family and friends — and food and fire.

This morning I got up and had my morning quiet on a big, soft couch, with a cat and coffee and a blanket. I’ve quit drinking coffee — except when grieving.

I love the early morning, and the late mourning too. I spoke with one of my friends who is a therapist last week. I asked her, “How do you grieve?”

“I don’t know,” she said. I felt better right away. If the expert didn’t know, maybe I wasn’t so lame. I don’t know either. I suppose it is kind of like breathing; you just do it, to stay alive.

“I eat macaroni and cheese” she said. “And go somewhere different from my normal hangouts.”

I started getting the idea. We grieve using grieving rituals.

I’m off, on a mission, to establish some rituals, for when I’m sad. Eating sounds really good, and taking time in the backyard, with fire, and family, and couches and writing — and drinking strong coffee.

This morning I wrote some proverbs, about grief. Here they are for your instruction in grief, and for your pleasure — in thinking.

Grief is the finest proof that we love.

Love is a poem; grief is a novel.

Grief has a peak, straight streak, oblique.

What’s past help isn’t past hurt.

Grieve when you hurt; heal with dessert.

Joy needs a mouth; grief needs an ear.

Grieving rituals are our victuals.

Simmer your losses in silence and sauces.

Grieve all your ouches with blankets and couches.

Sleep’s a respite for the desperate.

Loss instructs wavering minds to steady.

Weep — then make a fiery launch into the future.

Resilience is our super-human brilliance.

I feel so much better. I think I’ll celebrate today — my gains!

You can find more of my thought proverbs, axioms and epigrams on a wide variety of topics at http://www.modernproverbs.net

Flowers On The Water

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Friday night I motored out to sea with about twenty other people to throw ashes and flowers out of boxes onto the smooth water, the setting sun above, the calico bass below, white flower petals floating in a line out behind the boat.

It was a moment. I had trouble knowing what to feel. We rode home through the sloshing sea in the dark. An orange bonfire glowed on the shore. I sat alone for part of the trip.

What remains — a sense of the sea, an image of a pelican floating on the air beside the boat, a swirl of bright color in the water as a bass took a small fish on the surface, a swell picking up the boat and softly letting it down again, the flowers on the surface of the sea.

Monday night I talked to my daughter for a long time. We were both ruffled a bit by the day — picked up, set down, taken on the rise, sloshing in the dark and to each other we were a small bonfire on the shore, a splash of warmth and color on a small phone screen as we video chatted each other back up. We prayed for each other before we hung up.

Sunday after church I hugged some people and made a couple of lunch appointments for next week. Bonfires.

Life is loss and gain, up and down, moving close and then farther off, riding together, riding alone, thinking about it.

We are grass, caper and vapor, flowers on a tree, flowers in a box, flowers in the air, flowers floating in a saline sea.

I don’t like losing people. Nobody does. I don’t much like being close and then not being close anymore.

I think I’ll make more phone calls and lunch appointments, and do what people ask me to do for them, even when it is hard, and pray more, and grow flowers and not pick them, as much as I can.

I remain hopeful.

Buy Something Red For The Turtle

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As I left the house today for the grocery store, my wife called out, “Buy something red for the turtle.”

“Really,” I thought, “for the turtle!” It didn’t make sense. Then I realized she wanted me to get Celine some thing red to eat. I imagined strawberries and thought, “I’m not wasting our money on strawberries for a turtle.”

Then it occurred to me that the turtle might be hungry and really enjoy some red, juicy watermelon, and watermelon is cheap, and so I dropped the stinginess in my heart and went out gladly, questing for the good of the turtle. I came home with a small watermelon.

I sensed no gratitude on the part of the turtle and was tempted to eat most of it myself.

I’m naturally like this, begrudgingly generous, with turtles. I’m working on it.

I have, in a reformative spirit, taken to refusing money — sometimes. I used to charge for the public speaking skills I brought to weddings and funerals. I don’t anymore. I no longer have a stomach for profiting from other people’s grief — or joy. As a result, my rhetoric has improved. Since no one is paying, I only aim to please myself with my remarks, and as a result, I am more pleased. My not-for-sale humor makes me laugh, and my nonprofit pathos keeps me emotionally congruent. I like myself better — serving others — for free.

This is needed. My first instincts have almost always been greedy. I’m learning to go more now with my second and third instincts. Recently I paid people more than they asked for to do work on my house. I knew them. I didn’t want them to think I was cheap, and I truly wanted to benefit them.

I’m no saint. My motives about all kinds of things fluctuate from benevolent to self-interested, and everything in between. I am, like most of us, complex, bi-motivated, tri-motived, quadra-inspired. Even when I do something good, there is often, lurking just on the other side of love — which is the best motive in the universe — a less noble instigator. I am motivated by love, but also by others’ expectations, by their appreciation, by guilt, obligation and gain.

What I am learning is that my motives warrant examination. Why do I do what I do? What is in my heart? I want to know. I want to be more honest about this. Because if I can at least name these co-conspirators, then I can put them to the side, mitigate them, even refuse their influence. What I can name I can defeat.

I can defeat selfishness. I can choose to be generous. I can choose to not use people for my gain. I can choose to say no, or yes or later or never or, “I’ll do whatever you need me to do,” with no praise, profit or power-grubbing motive dragging along like dead and dying weight behind us.

I can choose, to buy the turtle something red, and not eat it myself.

Hidden Beauty!

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God is wasteful — with beauty.

He creates beauty, for no one to see, tossing a planet in an unknown corner of space here, a flower in an unseen field over there, a rare fish in an unreachable depth, a rare galaxy at an unthinkable distance — strewn, random, gorgeous, precious stuff (gold, diatoms, astroids and bromeliads) literally tossed everywhere across the planes and peaks and drops and seams of the universe.

We didn’t discover the rings of Saturn until Galileo spotted them in 1610 or really until Christian Huygen sorted them out in 1655. Those majestic, bright curves — so long wasted on no one.

A mile below the ocean surface lives the Viper fish, Chauliodus danae.

The deep sea vipers are hidden from us, the beautiful, iridescent green, silver and black fish with the huge, bulging eyes. On their backs they carry long dorsal spines with lights at the end called photophores to trick other creatures to come close — for dinner!

Or the corpse flower, Rafflesia arnoldii. — this rare, fascinating endangered bloom is found in the low lying tropical rainforests of Indonesia, its flower, more than a meter wide.

Most of the sea vipers and corpse flowers which have existed, strange and gorgeous and wonderful, were never seen by human eyes. In fact, more beautiful things have been not seen by us than have been seen.

Think of the universe, the vast reaches beyond our galaxy, beyond our local group, beyond our super galaxy, the billions of stars, their unseen planets, the supernovas we will never witness, the vast, lovely gas clouds, the great dark matter — all unseen.

Beauty, complexity, wonders, mysteries — never witnessed by any, but God. Why?

Because God himself — and this too has often gone unnoticed — must revel in beauty!

Ordinary!

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Normal is a miracle!

You know that when you don’t have it.

Today I talked to my brother on the phone. He has multiple-myeloma, a form of cancer. He is taking twenty medications — or so. That’s not normal.

His doctor asked him if one of his pain medication was working.

“How would I know?” he mused. He has three medications that he takes for his pain.

Today I talked to a friend who is in the hospital for three weeks, waiting for her baby to be born. Her water broke a few weeks ago. At thirty-four weeks, next week, they’ll induce her.

She’s waiting, for normal, for home, for nights not in the hospital, for food you get out of the refrigerator and make yourself. She is waiting to take her baby home. That’s normal, and good, for her and her husband.

This week I came down with a killer flu-cold! Brutal! Knocked me out for two days. I’m just blinking now, at the sunlight, “What the heck just happened to me?” thinking about just getting back to ordinary, beautiful, everyday normal — breathing!

We overrate the big deal, the miracle, the win, the triumph, the conquest, the lottery, the promotion, domination, the big kahuna.

For most men, just keeping their zippers up is a win. For most women just liking themselves for a day is a win.

Ordinary morals, ordinary self-love, the ordinary paying of the bills, an ordinary dinner that you make after work, an ordinary breath, an ordinary day where you can leave your house, an ordinary day when you are not locked up in a hospital room, an ordinary day where you aren’t on twenty medications — ordinary is extraordinary!

Unnamed

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Most of reality is unnamed.

Consider the lack of names for various and odd spaces. A balbis is an H shaped thing, but what is a simple, one-word name for an empty space between a bed and a dresser? We see such a space often, but we have no name for it. A squircle is a combined square and circle, the shape of iPhone apps, but what do we call the space between two tree trunks?

Some languages do better than others at getting at unnamed stuff. In German, the excess weight gained due to emotional overeating is called kummerspeck, literally, “grief bacon.” But what do we call the last bite of a delicious food that tempts us to have one more bite?

The Japanese note a difference between what one must claim to think and feel in order to fit in with society, and what one privately thinks and feels. They call this tatemae and honne. But what do we call the thoughts we borrow from others and then mingle with our own tangential thoughts to produce something neither ours nor theirs?

The Scotts call the moment of panic when you are introducing someone and realise you’ve forgotten their name a tartle. But what do we call that moment of panic when we call them by their name and then realize we have gotten it wrong?

It may be argued that the realities we don’t name we don’t discriminate from other realities. Generalizations gloss over nuances and leave them hidden. Space is an inadequate word for the area between our fingers, and because we don’t have a common name for this, and because we don’t talk about this space much, we may actually see it without really seeing it.

Life is filled with this kind of seeing what we don’t see, seeing background, seeing empty space between objects, seeing pieces of things not noted by the name we have for their whole.

What is the word for the space inside the fold of a fabric? This is such a beautiful space, so common, so lovely in a Vermeer, so delicate on a sleeve, so gorgeous in a curtain in a breeze-blown window.

I love the unnamed spaces of life with a love that I can’t name or define. The space under an umbrella — it has a safe, fun, social, protected feel to it. The space within a cat’s fur — it has a soft, dense, silky, warm feel. The space between two people when they are having a good talk — it has a close, combined, focused, secure feel.

Perhaps, to be less bored, to be more aware, to see more beauty, we should go looking for what’s unnamed.

What’s in a nameless thing? A nameless flower by no name still smells as sweet,or does it?

Everyday, in every moment, there is a possible adventure, the essence of so many unnamed realities waiting to be discovered, both spiritual and physical, emotional and social waiting to be noticed, waiting for us to softly and reverently enter in to — and name.

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