I rounded the corner and stopped — tuffs of building insulation were blowing throughout the Refinery Church’s beautiful new wedding venue courtyard like little bits of yellow cotton candy, or maybe baby’s breath blown off the blushing bride’s veil.

My mind couldn’t make sense of it for a moment — as always happens when reality goes sideways — and I found myself looking at what I never expected to be looking at.

There is that pause —the stunned sentience before the implacable incomprehensible — the blank brain, then the neurons go to work, chug, chug, chug, and “Ahhhh! — I know what happened.”

Only a week before we had pulled a whole truck load of roof insulation out of the youth center, piled it alongside of the classroom building, and the coming rain storm — with its sweet, gusty, moist breath — had blown it around the corner, blown it into pieces along the backside of the building and was now coating our beautiful green lawn with it.

Yikes! Building insulation everywhere — you don’t want it!

I spent the next hour — as the wind picked up even more — chasing down insulation, stuffing it in the trash dumpsters, running back for more, and pining the rest of the pile down with some mobile fences. Little pieces covered my coat. I could feel my skin begin to itch. It wasn’t clear who was winning. A brawl with a crazed mob of building insulation in a winter storm — I was King Lear on the heath, all was lost, or not. Who would have thought?

But, that is how it has been. Over the last seven years we have brawled with the REFINERY Church buildings — all fifty plus rooms, in our effort to restore the site. The place has been blown apart by the winds of change, by the winds of the Holy Spirit of God himself, and we have put it back together again — better!

Bang, bang, bang — we have pounded the littered, dirty, broken, neglected status out of the church. We have beaten the ugly out of God’s house! Everything used to be blue, dirty blue carpet, filthy dirty blue pews, dirty blue walls, dirty gray tile floors, dirty blue dirt. Blue was once good. Then it wasn’t. Everything has it’s time. We banished blue — just in time.

With a divine passion for the gorgeous exquisite, with a burning and holy love for the consecrated excellent, with an adoration of the holy appealing, with a incurable addiction to the sacrosanct handsome, with beauty burning down our brains we have run down the supernatural good.

Our new courtyard, our new children’s play yard, our new landscaping (flowers and more flowers!), our new attractive name, our new sign, our new canopies, our new offices, new youth center, our new lights (everywhere — decorative lights and LED lights!), our new stucco, our new pavers, our new paint (fresh color, color, color), our new pews (not blue), our old-new oak floors, our new artwork, our new curtains, our new couches, even our new water-saving toilets.

Our new staff, our new leadership team, our new finance team, our new decor team, our new counseling ministry, our new Lifegroup team, our new children’s team, our new youth group team, our new food ministry, our new support group ministry, our new community outreach programs and then this — our new beautiful and generous and diverse congregation with its upcoming weddings and its on-the-way new babies!

New — for God — it’s good!

Zeal for your house has consumed me!

May zeal for God’s house consume you too!

I urge you — coming alongside of us — to brawl for God’s house to be beautiful! Chase down the good. Do whatever it takes.

God wants it, and in truth, it is God who does it.

How fun is that?

Really fun!

My Infinity G37 stopped accelerating properly last week. I really like it to knock me back in the seat and roar from 0-60 in the low 5’s. It didn’t, and so it was a must-fix for me because very fast is stress therapy.

I took it to the Infinity dealer today. Fortunately it was still under warranty, so it was fixed for free, which involved reprograming the transmission. I waited for three hours — so it did cost me something — but on the plus side, they also fixed the motor mounts that were under a recall and tightened up a lose mirror, except that they couldn’t because it had been previous broken, and slapped back together in a make-shift fashion. Sounds like life. Sounds like me

Life lessens, leaks, lacks, loosens and putts and sputs and mirrors on imperfectly — except when it doesn’t — but it sometimes does with our cars and bodies.

Today my feet hurt. I should not have jumped off that scaffolding last week. Also my neck hurts. I should not have been hit from behind in a car accident a few years ago. Somebody wan’t paying attention. Yesterday my tooth may have stopped hurting— at least it is better — from the recent dental treatment.

And by the way, today, I got a cold.

But here is the amazing thing about this potentially gorgonizing mélange of imperfection. I have a car. I am mobile. I have a body. I have agency. I have eyes. I am sentient.

I have teeth. I can eat. I have feet; I can move. I have lungs and a nose — albeit a sore one. I can breathe.

It is such an incredible thing (a gorgeous, broken and somewhat fixed thing); it is such a good gift (a sick, sniffling, sensuous, torturous, italized sweetness) to have being, to have space and time, to have a brief, bright, barreling, biting 0-60 dash through the thin air of this amazing, spinning, sun-smacked, slap-dashed, broken and mashed, poxed and rashed blue planet, to live and move and stand and have our being within the joyful one, to lean over and into and beyond our imperfect lives and to be stunningly out of our minds, and wonderfully-terribly in, over our grace-filled, love-healed, God-milled heads.

“12,000!” she replied.

It was the number of steps she had on her Fitbit, and it was only 9 am in the morning.

I had asked. I did so after noticing the black rubber Fitbit, on her right wrist — lurking among her fine jewelry — bobbing up and down as she deposited the checks from my renters.

It is surprising what a little observation — and a dash and splash, and dip and blip of friendliness — can accomplish.

I love my bank tellers! They tell — if I ask.

We moved from exercise to food — she eats mostly veggies and fish — to her mom and grandma. Intimacy grows, when we hang out and talk. There was no one in the line at the bank, so why not?

Her grandma died at 107! Her mom is 105. How long will she live? We laughed about it — 120?

There are people, interesting people, people who are different from us, to be discovered in our world everyday.

Only  a few days before, I stopped at a craft vendor’s jewelry stand in front of a market place in Liberty Station. More people riches! He was from West Africa. I shared that I have traveled in South Africa, and Swaziland. We connected. We confabulated. I asked for advice on a bracelet I was trying to reconstruct. He gave me an idea.

We parted, with warmth between us and a handshake — Africa and America slightly bridged. Before I left, I asked him what the wealth of Africa was. He wasn’t sure. I shared my observation, “Her brilliant, beautiful people, especially her young people.” He agreed.

This is the wealth of the world, the wealth of life, the best investment that you and I can make — people. People are our gold, our diamonds. They are not to be feared; they are to be loved.

I don’t think I’ll live to 120, but I wonder what cool people I might befriend today.

I  can hardly wait!

Last week, one night for dinner, my wife made homemade stew.

The stew was very savory, full of sweet onions, fresh carrots, tangy celery and hearty beef chunks.We topped the stew with a sprinkling of sea salt and the flavors just popped out of it. The salt crystals were little flavor bombs that exploded with pungent delectability in your mouth.

Well they explode in my mouth, not yours, because you weren’t there.

Also, my wife made some fluffy home-made biscuits to go with the stew. We cut them in half and put butter and honey on the hot, steaming bread. The honey melted into the butter, and made the top of the biscuit a sweet gooey mess while the bottom of the biscuit was still floury and crispy.

The savory stew combined with the honey-sweet biscuits like shooting stars in my mouth — to even remember it makes me salivate.

Salt is king of the taste buds! Sugar is its gorgeous queen!

Matthew 5:13

“You are the salt of the earth.”

I want to remind you of something important that Jesus said about you. You Christians are the salt in the savory stew. We, as Christians, are the honey on top of the fluffy biscuit.

You season your community, you season the world.

How? Where? When salty?

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

According to scripture, you can be salt, when you speak. How you talk.

By letting your words be encouraging, gracious and helpful to others — that’s salt.

So lets be clear. It is expected of you and me by Christ is to speak with grace our mouths.

We are to open our mouths, and pour out grace on others.
I was in Home Depot once. The checker was super slow. It took several decades for him … to process the person in front of me.

I waited, and waited and waited.

So when I got to the checker, I said, my heart was exposed when I said, “Could you possibly just go a little slower.”

That was of course before I was a Christian. Actually it was last week. Not really.

Negativity is so distasteful, in me, nasty sarcasm, it is yuck, it is embarrassing, it is life-sucking. When I said that, I felt shame.

With a positive mouth, we season the world; with a negative, unattractive mouth, our value is lost. Jesus said we might as well throw out the salt that has lost it’s saltiness.

This is straight up Jesus.

If you want influence, if you want to be heard, if you want a voice, for God, you must commit to being gracious. Otherwise, God will only see you as,  needing to go.

I have an uncle.

We went to his house for Thanksgiving a few years ago. We all brought food. My young nephew brought bread.

My uncle claimed it was the wrong kind, and got he so upset he went to the store for his choice of bread.

It crushed my young nephew. My uncle made a scene, over the bread.

To be truthful, I don’t like to go to my uncle’s house much.

Negativity — it demolishes hospitality, and it can ruin family relationships.

This was so important, this thing of being gracious, to Jesus, that he communicated a second image to talk to us about it.

Jesus went on to say, in Matthew 5::14

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

What did Jesus say? He said be quiet more, let your actions talk for you.

Yesterday, two of the plumbers in our church came down and spent five hours putting eight new toilets in the church.

If you go in the women’s bathroom, you might have the honor of being the first one …

I like plumbers. They typically don’t say much. They just shut up, and create a good flush.

For being quiet and doing their jobs, these guys make like $60-$80 per hour, but yesterday we were the recipients of their work — for free.

That’s light; that’s kingdom light.

The light goes on, said Jesus, when we shut up more and just serve others.

What can we do to be salt and light.  To be so, a few things seem obvious:

Stop complaining.

Stop complaining about your job and be grateful you have one.

Stop complaining about those who think differently than you and be grateful that they and you have freedom of speech.

Stop complaining about your family and just love them. Be glad you have a family. Some people don’t.

Research shows that simply smiling at others produces chemicals in them that make them feel better.

Be grateful.

I have been realizing what a privilege it is to have people do things for me, make my food in a restaurant, make my coffee, wait on me at the bank.

So, I have a new line. it isn’t hurry up and serve me. It is “Thank you so much for making my coffee drink today, or thank you very much or serving me today.”

Listen more, and try to understand.

You can do that  with the people you disagree with by asking lots of questions, before spouting your answers.

As of course you know, there is lots of political conflict these days.

It is okay to disagree, even to protest, (lets uphold the right of free speech in America), but Christians, let’s not hate and make villains out of the other side, whatever the other side is for you.

What we need is more dialogue, more understanding … not more putting each other down

I called a friend this week who I think voted the opposite of me in the last election.

He told me he appreciated me, because of my willingness to be open, to always be trying to understand.

Graciousness, openness to try to understand others, that is salt and light. To keep friends, who you disagree with, that is maturity, that is the honey on the fluffy biscuit, the tangy salt on the savory stew.

And another thing …

Apologize when you are wrong.

I know people who never admit they are wrong. They don’t say I’m sorry.

But you can’t be salt and light if you won’t own up to your mistakes and apologize.

I was working with someone recently and we got tangled up over who was in charge. So immediately, after, I called them.

Why? I wanted to understand their side.

Then I apologized for over-stepping my role.

It helped.

Lastly, compliment people more.

I have been realizing what a privilege it is to have people do things for me, make my food in a restaurant, make my coffee, wait on me at the bank.

So, I have a new line, “Thank you so much for making my coffee drink today, or thank you very much or serving me today.”

Yesterday, I  bought pizza for the volunteers at the church. When asked what kind they wanted, the plumbers, who don’t say much, said anything, with meat. So I got the works: savory sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, salty sauce, flaky crust. It tasted so good, someone asked me where I got it.

That’s it! That is what we want, to be so delicious people ask us,  where did you get that from?

Then we can show them.

Places please us; they also make us who we are.

You are where you are from — you are all the places you are from — in part.

I was born in Long Beach, California. My family lived during my early years nearby, in Torrance. My later years — about two-third of my life — I have lived in San Diego. Thus, I am California-ized. I am a coastal, beached, palm-treed, coastal, diversified, somewhat edge-of-the-ocean liberalized.

When I was five my parents, my two brothers and I moved to Missouri, first to Kansas City, then to Warsaw, Missouri. I lived there for 15 years. Thus, I am a woodsy, lake-loving, landed, middled, Bible-belted, ruralized, familialed  — raised as a farmed-fed fellow.

I was twenty, when we moved to San Diego. I might say my formative years were in the Midwest — they were — but all years are formative years and all the places I have lived, or been, have added to me.

We are where we live, and we are where we have lived

I have lived in Missouri — five miles from Warsaw on State Highway 7, where it meets county road Z. During my years, there were woods, streams, farms and a town of 1,000 people there. Near Warsaw — at the Christian campground I grew up on — I hunted wild mushrooms around musty rotting logs after spring rains, picked and ate wild strawberries in the fields behind R-10 — my rural, consolidated grade school — copied art master-pieces for Mrs. Myers —my revered grade school teacher — fished for large mouth bass on small streams over-hung with trees, chased lightening bugs in front of the house on warm summer evenings with my brothers, watched huge bright flashes of lightening rip the roiling Midwest sky apart, water skied on smooth evening water on the Osage River, sledded in winter down a favorite hill to a small pond through trees sparkling with ice and worked in the local grocery store and threw hay into barns for two cents a bale to earn money for my first car.

I learned stuff there. How farmers live, how small towns function, what localism feels like, what natural beauty looks like, how the woods function as a refuge, how water feels under your feet, how snow tastes, what fish feel like at the end of a line, how a gun smells when fired, how the planet feels when it is only one-hundred miles in diameter, what if feels like to live one-mile from the nearest neighbor, how to read a lot on snowy winter days, to have dogs for friends and how to have your brothers as your best friends and favorite playmates.

And then I lived in San Diego, the city of Chula Vista, eleven miles from the border of Mexico, on Highway 5, in a bedroom community, on the San Diego bay, in the California inland hills, in a racially diverse community, in a desert — with yards and median planters made to look like the Midwest — and in a beautiful master-planned community called Eastlake, built around an artificial lake.

In Chula Vista I have watched winter winds whip the pepper trees into a wild street dance, attended San Diego State University and UCSD to earn degrees in literature, met my wife at a church, bogey boarded in the Pacific Ocean at Coronado and La Jolla Shores with my two little daughters, enjoyed Shakespeare at the Festival Stage in Balboa Park every summer, surfed the blue, curling waves of Tourmaline and Del Mar, tramped the bright blooming Torrey Pines State Beach Park, the gorgeous Anza Borrego desert and lovely Cuyamaca Mountains, taught in an inner city high school in Southeast San Diego and at a diverse community college in Chula Vista, pastored two churches, bought four homes, became a writer, became a traveler, began to know who I was — perhaps a little, a lover of beauty, a lover of places, a lover of the city and a lover of the country. I am, just perhaps, an odd and unique combination of two places — the Midwest and the West Coast.

On top of this, California became a bit of a launching pad for me, for from there I have traveled to Sequoia, to Yosemite, to San Francisco, to Lasen, to Portland, to Seattle, to South Carolina, to Georgia, to Hawaii (three times), to Alaska, to Arizona, to Washington DC, to New York, to Massachusetts, to Kansas City, to Montana, to Wyoming, to Maine and to many other US destinations too many to name, and also to other countries, to Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Nicaragua, South Africa, England (twice), to France, to Italy and other countries too.

I am my places — in part — and they have all shaped my perspectives on life.

Rural Missouri taught me to love oaks. San Diego taught me to love palms. Missouri taught me to love forests. California taught me to love parks. The Ozarks taught me to love streams and lakes and farms, San Diego to love the ocean. Warsaw showed me small and slow-paced; San Diego showed me large, and fast. Warsaw taught me cultural similarity; San Diego taught me cultural diversity. In Missouri I feel in love with the countryside; in California I fell in love with cities. At at the edge of the continent — voyaging out — I fell in love with the world, and the world taught me to love the world.

Who am I? I’m not sure. Perhaps I am everywhere I have lived, everywhere I have been, who I have met and how they have influenced me.

Because I have lived more than one place, perhaps I am able to see some differences in places — perhaps not always accurately — but I do have a point of comparison. Because I have traveled to still other places, I am able to notice more of what is similar, and sometime different in people an places.

The effect this has had on me, is mostly likely unique, different than the effect would have had on anyone else. We are each one a custom filter. We are each one a special geographical sponge. We soak up different things from our environments. I do not think of myself as a Missourian, or a Californian. Although I am very California, I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world. I want to be cosmopolitan. I want to be international. I long, ache and pine to be universal.

I want to live in other places, meet other people, meet exotic people of the world. Indeed, there are no other kind. All people are exotic to me, all are interesting, all are maps, all may be read as a place, all are places or combinations of places, all add to me, all add to us.

In a time when some of my fellow American want to isolate, be with only their own kind, expel outsiders, mistrust foreigners, become provincial again, put up walls, get safe, I don’t.

I know I am an North American, I know I am most comfortable here, probably in California, I know this is a good home for me, but I know that I want to be from more than one place, and know more than one kind of person and value more than one town, state, country, culture and continent.

I want to be from everywhere — well almost. Let’s be honest. I have been places and read about more places that I don’t want to be from. But I do want to know everyone — well, mostly, kind of, growing towards this, wanting to adventure out more, getting there, on my way.

I’m excited to plan the next trip, buy the next plane ticket, make the next move — outward.

I am, in part — where I go next.

“I process my pain alone; you process your pain with other people. We’re different,” he said. “I’m an introvert and you are an extrovert. You like to talk to other people. I don’t.”

He said it so plainly that I was a bit taken back. I had never distinguished our differences in precisely this way, but it was a fair point, and it got me thinking. It’s interesting, but many of us — even within the same family — have processing preferences.

Some of us process life within ourselves; some of us do so with others, out loud — mostly.

Is one way better?

I think not. We need both ways — musing and effusing — to see our lives clearly.

I’ve recently been thinking about the family I grew up in. On my own, I remember many defining moments, I have given them symbolic value, created a family narrative, told it to others. I have processed my life in public, and out loud. For me it is fun, helpful, meaningful.

When I tell about growing up I tell the chased-by-the-billy-goat story, the I-shot-my-brother story, the we-ate-Moosehead story, the very-tragic-baseball-game story, the newspaper-in-the-pants story, the my-brother-taught-me-to-hide-my-shirt-under-the-bed story, the we-were-so-poor-we-all-ate-one-Dilly-bar story.

I have written them, I have embellished them, they have become myth, they make people laugh. My mom has always said about me, “You were a funny boy.” I was. I have always survived, though story, and humor. I am a narrator.

In the mornings, I used to tell my family my dreams. They would laugh at me. “You can’t have dreamed all that.” The dreams were too elaborate, but the family was wrong. I did dream all that — and more. I held back, so as not to astonish them. I was Joseph — kind of, or not. Even my subconscious mind was in the business of embellishment. It still is. The truth is always better — out of the bag, and slightly expanded.

My brothers have different stories, different memories, they have crafted a different family narrative. Perhaps they are more private about it all. They are. It is almost as if we grew up in different families — and in a way we did. We matured in different seasons of family life. We had different experiences of our parents. We had different personalities. It helps me to hear their stories. They don’t subtract from my story; they add to it.

So when it comes to processing life, to processing our families I believe that we need both — privacy and publicity, our stories and theirs. It is very helpful to ask other family members what they remembered. It fills in some of the gaps. Memory is malleable. Memory is unreliable. We need the heuristic of the other. We keep rewriting the story. We all do, even if only in our own minds.

We need our own below-the-surface processing, our own underground burrowing, our own ratting and mousing about in our own shredded nests. We each need to validate our own hunt, chew on our own kill, commune at night with own tortured souls, craft our own family myths, elaborate our own familial veracities, embroider our own sun-and-moon-and-eleven-star dreams. This is how we discover who were really are and what we really feel.

But we also need the other’s stories, their perspectives, their memories. If we don’t get these we may remain stay stuck with an incomplete hagiography — or in iconoclasty.

I command thee, my gentle readers: Go process, alone, and together.

This creates agency.

This is how we thrive.

I ran across a fascinating question lately regarding how I view my life, and perhaps how you view yours.

How has disruption shaped us, you and me, during the various stages of our lives?

When I was in my very formative years, my family experienced significant disruption.

We were in fact, living during this time as a dislocated family, transplanted from Los Angles, California in 1957, to rural Missouri for my dad’s work. He took a job overseeing a Christian campground in the Lake of the Ozarks. We moved when I was five.

From the start, and always, we were outsiders in the Midwest. We were Californians, people from somewhere else, and there was always a sense of not belonging. My parents tried to join a local church. They were denied membership because they had been baptized in another denomination. They refused to be re-baptized. We attended. We were not in the circle.

I lived in Missouri from first grade through high-school, and I adapted, I fit in, but early on, my mom hated the experience. She was removed from her new house in Torrance, California and plopped down in a series of cold, small camp cabins, raising three boys in a foreign culture on little money while my dad immersed himself in his work. In the first few cabins we lived in, we didn’t even have indoor bathrooms. We went outside, we tramped through the snow, to outhouses. It was grim.

My mom made it work. She was tough. She was a very attentive and affectionate mother to us three boys, but the dislocation from her California city life to a rural campground was a bitter pill for her to swallow. In some ways she never recovered, and the painful legacy of those years, the forced march in foreign territory, influenced her perspective for years afterwards.

Our early years in Missouri were quite stable, my parents eventually built a home there, but in 1962 my older brother was sent away by my parents to attend better schools in other parts of the country, and he was gone from our family for two and one-half years. My dad and mom thought the small, rural schools in our community wouldn’t provide a good enough education. Again, as with church, so with education — it wasn’t our community.

Then in the mid-to-late sixties things began to unravel. My dad developed a serious back issue. He was in significant pain. I remember him sleeping in a chair at night with a board across the arms to rest his head on. Finally, he could take it no more and he underwent surgery. As a result of this, he simply couldn’t do the physical work that was a part of his job, repairing and building up the campground. Through the late sixties, struggling with his changing physical ability, he went through — in his own words — a “mid-life crisis.” He would have to change jobs. During this time I can remember him working hard during the week and sleeping through the weekends. I know now that he had anxiety and depression, about money, and he suffered significant uncertainty about his future identity.

In 1965, my older brother came home, and he finished school in our community. He had become unbearably homesick. The education he had received at California and New York schools had been great, but homesickness did him in. He finished his junior and senior years in our local community schools. In 1968 he got married to an amazingly fun, intelligent and cool local girl and they had a baby. Getting out —it hadn’t worked for him.

Who were we? Where did we fit?

For years after this, I wondered why my parent didn’t send me away to school. School was my thing. It was where I thrived. For years, I thought that they preferred my older brother in this choice. Now I know they simply gave up, on getting us out. My plight would have been the same as my brother’s. I needed home too, I need a safe place, I needed my family.

Shortly after my brother married, we found out that my mom had cancer. This was an unsettling shock to us all. Would we lose her? What would happen if we did? She went through a psychologically and physically painful treatment process. She had a very painful surgery. I remember sitting by her bed in her dark bedroom, wondering if she would die. She didn’t, but it was only later in life that I learned from her how much mental pain she suffered over this in the many years that followed.

In the summer of 1969, I moved away from home to work, to earn money for college, and then in the fall I moved into a dorm in Springfield, Missouri and begin studying at the University there.

Finally, in 1970, my father could take it no more, and offered a job at a church in San Diego, he finally left his job at the campground and my dad, mom, and younger brother moved from the midwestern United States back to California, our home state. We went home. It was heartbreaking for my dad. He lost the job he loved the most. It was relief, a homecoming, a restoration, for my mom.

In early 1971, I followed them. They had gone home. I wanted to go too. Even though California was a foreign place to me, I too wanted out of the Midwest. I wanted more. I inherited that from my mom, and from my first year at college. I wanted a bigger world. And I wanted my family. I think most of all, I wanted my family. I got it, somewhat, in California, because eventually both my brothers and their families relocated to there.

What had happened to us? In relatively short time frame, from 1962 to 1971, we experienced major disruption — illness, stress, anxiety, failure, relocation. We experienced the unknown; we experienced life in extremis.

The social backdrop for all this played an important role too. In the United States, during these years, a counter-culture revolution took place. I lived through this and became a part of this, this time when long‐held values and norms of behavior broke down, particularly among my generation. We — the youth of the 1960’s and the 1970’s — became experimental with music, politics, philosophy, drugs, religion, politics and lifestyle. We became political activists. We took on the establishment. We became a driving force behind both civil rights and antiwar movements. We increased the power and expanded the voice of the young.

I was a part of this. In my first year in college, 1969-70, I wore a torn white protest arm band — with a blue dove on it. It was an antiwar statement. I wrote a freshman paper on the war-ravaged children of Vietnam. I immersed myself in the new radical protest music. I eventually, from 1975 to 1978, lived in a church commune, I almost completely abandoned a materialistic lifestyle, I pursued as much education as I could get and opened my mind to new ideas and beliefs. I became a teacher — of literature and history — at the high school and college levels.

Looking back now, I can see from the advantage of time, that in my family, and in my world, there was a huge amount of change and disruption, during some very crucial years of my life.

How did this affect me?

For years I have never processed this adequately, I haven’t looked closely at the disruption — the events, the chronology of these events, the spacing of these events — the elongation and compaction of my experience — the experiences of my other family members, the social movements of my time. These, collectively, affected me during my adolescence and early adult years. Until recently, I hadn’t taken into account, just how much disruption took place in our lives during those years. But lately, through some questions my wife and my brother have asked me, I have begun to put it together

So much change — during the formative years when I was developing my early sense of self — left me a bit on my own to try to figure out my life, my identity, my relationships and my core beliefs. There was a high dosage of instability. My parent’s stay in the San Diego area was short. Only two year after moving there, they moved on to the Los Angles area, leaving me alone again — in San Diego. I suffered. I was a dislocated person.

As a result of all this transition, I had several years of insecurity, of uncertainty, of lostness, of alienation and of loneliness. I lost social and relational confidence. One thing was missing, someone to talk to, to completely and honestly open up to, about my emotions, about our family losses, about my philosophical questions, about how to handle pain, about how to process life, about what to believe. I simply didn’t know — on my own— what to do with the changes in myself, in my family and in my world.

Certainly I got some help at the universities I attended. There I developed a better understanding of history, literature, psychology, sociology, science, philosophy and politics, at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In these places of learning, I greatly expanded my knowledge and experience of a bigger world, and I explored new and exciting concepts with my teachers. I came to understand social change, how it is initiated and how it morphs into mainstream culture over time, and I morphed with it.

Certainly, I also processed life during this time with my family, with my father in particular, as I questioned Christianity — the narrow, legalistic Christianity I was brought up with in the midwest. My dad defended his faith with a relational, authentic and personal experience. This helped me. And I processed my faith more when I returned to church in the mid-seventies, to a different, more radical, open, emotional, inclusive church — one I discovered with the help of my father.

But what I didn’t get, and needed, during some of my most formative years, was someone who was able to draw out my feelings, to process my pain, to help me develop my emotional and relational IQ, to understand how the events in our family were effecting me and us, our family identity, our shared history.

It would have been helpful back then to have had someone — a therapist, a parent, a sibling, a friend, anyone — ask me, “How is your family processing the pain they are experiencing? How are you processing this pain? Is what you are doing, to cope, working for you? Is it healthy? What are you feeling about your mom’s cancer? What do you think your dad is going through right now in his career? What do you think your brothers are feeling? What losses are all of you experiencing?”

It would have been helpful to have someone say, about my loneliness, my feelings of uncertainty, “The feelings you are having are normal. You are feeling alone because you are more alone than when you were younger. You are uncertain because you are questioning the beliefs you were raised with. Your whole generation is questioning these beliefs. This is okay, this is normal. You will work it through. You are afraid because you fear you may lose your mom. You are more alone now because your father is in crisis. He is anxious and afraid he won’t find a new job. Your dad is hurting. Your mom is hurting. They are experiencing loss and dislocation. This is not your fault, but it is hard for them to be there for you right now.”

In transition, during seasons of disruption, we are often deprived of needed emotional resources. In times of trouble, emotive issues are often not the focus of the family. Experiencing disruption, most families do not have the awareness, the knowledge, the time or even the money to get the emotional and relational support they need, particularly in the past. During the late sixties and early seventies, my parents were barely able to manage their own emotions; they certainly didn’t know how to talk about these; they didn’t even have the language to do this, and understandably they weren’t equipped to help me process mine. They were experiencing depression, anxiety, fear and uncertainty. They didn’t know what to do.

But what could they do? How could they know what to do? They were caught in health issues beyond their control. They were swept along by life. They too were caught in a changing 
American culture. They were not equipped to process all they were experiencing. They came from parents who pretty much shut up and put up. From what I can tell from stories my parents have told me, my grand parents handled psychological pain by working more, and by talking less, by being stoic, and by being strong. This a good model for survival, its a good modeling of toughness in a tough world. It does not, however, lead to the self-understanding necessary for good emotional and relational health.

So what happened, how did my family come through this?

It’s fascinating how things turned out. We came through it pretty well. My parents stayed married — no easy feat, and retired well. My brothers and I all graduated from college. We found good spouses, had children, accumulated wealth, developed good friends, developed careers. And yet these events too were disruptions, these success, and with each one, we were again faced with change, transition, pain, process and recovery.

What to do?

What got me through it all — particularly on an emotional and personal level — was that eventually, I found places to talk, to process, to understand, to recover, to develop emotional understanding, authenticity and psychological congruency.

I found this at church, where my Christian community accepted me, valued me, and gave me places too develop and define.

And I found this in my wife — my very intelligent and very emotionally rich wife — and to her I give most of the credit for my recovery. She literally — over time — erased my loneliness and my relational awkwardness through her deep connection with me. Through her candor, her authenticity, her own emotional freedom, her willingness to be who she was and feel what she felt — I healed. She was much more open than anyone I grew up with. With her, no emotion was or is alien, taboo, hidden, unacceptable, inexpressible. She opened me back up, to process pain, to talk about emotions and thus to understand disruption and what it does to us.

And I also found great help in my therapists, the many counselors and doctors I have gone to through the years who have taught me how to take off the masks, how to process pain, how to identify my emotions, how to be congruent, how to reveal to people on the outside what is going on with me on the inside, how to talk about feelings, how to grieve and how to celebrate too.

Through talk therapy, through education — and through more disruption, for example, the learning and developmental disabilities of my oldest daughter, my own medical issues, my significant career change from teacher to pastor, my painful transition from pastor of one church to pastor of another — I have over a long period of time become more human, more accepting of differences, more understanding of emotions, less likely to be critical, more likely to ask questions, more able to accept differences, more able to understand the pain of others and my own too.

Disruption, pain, dislocation, transition — it’s normal, and we can learn from it, and we can get through it — and grow and mature in it — if we can understand it, and understand what it does to us and to the loved ones we carry along with us, and particularly if we can talk about it.

Increasingly I am making friends with reality, with disruption — with failure and success.

I am becoming more than ever, an advocate for emotional honesty, for personal openness, for relational authenticity, for psychological congruency, for the talking cure.

Is life hard?

Have we succeeded?

Have we been knocked for a loop?

Are we making a come back?

Let’s talk.

The room was full of people, the candles glowed in most every hand. The place was baked in yellow candle light, it was relationally warm, it was psycho-cozy, and I only wanted to stay in that moment — the Christmas Eve service at the REFINERY Church, at the end of a good year, surrounded by people who love me — a long time.

Only the weekend before this, I had been in another similar space, a church in Pasadena, at my brother’s last service of his career, where the love was similarly palpable, a veritable stratosphere of appreciation and care for him as the pastor. I didn’t want that to end either, but it was the end, he was leaving and yet it was warm, and also cold, like the the days and  nights in the fall.

Life — it’s together, and then apart, and then together again, warm and then cold, and I like both. I better like both because this is reality and there is no other. We are close, those moments pass, we are alone again, and then we move back close.

Yesterday, when I came downstairs, I found my iPhone singing, and I was happy. It was my friend Tony, in Maine, Face-timing me.

Cool! And then it was warm.

I  answered, I wanted to connect with Maine, and I wanted to connect with Japan too, and Hawaii, New York, Florida, Colorado, Missouri, Illinois and everywhere else my transplanted people live, my migrating friends, my military family, those Navy and Army folks and nonmilitaries who became my family at church, then moved away.

So Tony and Melissa and I chatted up the Maine snow, the California sun, the family cats and our mental states while I could see via Facetime that one of their kids was running around — just out of his bath — naked.

Life, meaning, health, sanity, good, God — it’ s in the connectedness, in community, the movement from being alone and then being with people again.There is no good life outside of this movement. There is no mental health outside of relationships, the moments of togetherness, and the moments of recovery after being together — the musings and processings alone, and then the mixing, learning and loving together.

We live move and have our best being within the the communal dance, in and out, close then far and close again.

I love my people, my brother, my family, my church friends, and my extended military family too, my Tony’s and my Nate’s, my Jen’s, my Megan’s, my Melissa’s and all the others I know.

And there it is, the best life, a bondedness, a befriendedness, an emotionally naked and unashamed witness.

We need to be alone sometimes, but we are best, always and forever befamilied.

It’s interesting, people’s reactions, their choices. Sometimes I wish I could manage them. Sometimes it would be nice to just manage my own.

Neither of those work — much. I’ve got the anti-Midas touch.

We are all inextricably connected  — all befriended, enemied, spoused, familied, churched, vocationed, ganged, communitied, nationed, planeted, universed.

There is no my way, only our many ways all waying along with each other down a wayward road. We live roped together, stringed, tangled — like fishing line. Life is a snarled mess of togetherness.

We show up, they don’t. We are late, they are early. They say thank you, they don’t. They get offended, we don’t — or we do. We like, we love; we hit, we shove. The immediate and particular status, motive, inclination, sincerity, immorality and civility of the heart  — it’s a mystery. We lack social acutance.

What to do?

I’m abulic; I’m not.


Do I pick at people, or shut up mostly?

Do I chill, chomp, churn, chuff or chew?

Do I get over it, look over it, look under it, or blow it up with an IED, an Incendiary Emotional Device — twice?

Lately I’m tying to shut up more. It’s not working totally, but accepting imperfection, allowing for error, being good with less-than-what-I-want — in others, in myself — it has a kind of cracked beauty to it, a dented loveliness, a rusted sheen.  It’s ameliorative.

It’s a bit like God — robust graciousness.

Forget the akrasia. Forget harsh judgment. Staying calm, nobody getting dinged up much more than they already are — that is kind of working for me lately.

Being good with a bent-fork, cracked-mug, chipped-plate humanity — it’s easier on me than the alternative.

And the other people in my life — they are liking it just fine too.

What passes through our eyes and into our heads, this is what we have to think with, and this is also — at least in part — what comes out of us.

In November, I read that Black Friday would have some good sales. It did, so I bought a iPad for my daughter. They fished; I bit.

What I read controls my behavior. If I read that life is a shopping cart, I shop.

This is how it works for most of us. We put limited information in our heads, we think in a limited way. We put in biased information; we think biased thoughts.

Consider the news. The news is booze. We are mostly just high on it — or low.

The American news media told us Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 Presidential election. They were wrong.

They predicted that American housing prices would continue to rise in 2006. Wrong again.

We feast ourselves regularly on blind print.

As I consider this, I think one of the main problems here  is that there is a myopic dipping, again and again into small, single-focused, partisan bubbles of information.  This is the thing. American news is so provincial, so narrow, so limited. It ignores so much of life in the rest of the world.

The local news feeds us local stuff — local fires, local robberies and local wrecks. It’s micro-woes and micro-climates in a world full of huge weather systems, of massive accomplishments and massive disasters. The local news is life, it’s important, but it’s a small feeding trough.

The national news is no better, because it feeds us from an only slightly larger bowl, a standard, tried-and-not-so-true menu — Washington, Wall Street, and Walmart. It’s our government, our economy, our business,  as if it was the only one in the world.

Provincial news, nationalistic news, incomplete news, inaccurate news, fake news, biased news — news based on our previous viewing habits — sensationalized news, ad driven news, we get a ton of that.  It’s half the story, not the story, the government’s story. News wise, we get had, all the time, in our brains.

To some extent, you are what you read. We buy what is put in front of us.Many Americans feed daily on a limited, Americanized, party-line, sound-bite version of the news. If we have a political bias, and most of us do, we limit ourselves to one or two news channel — the ones that share our bias. If we are conservative, we may get all our news from Fox News. If we are liberal from MSNBC/NBC. If we stick to these, we may show that we don’t want a report on reality; we simply  want to hear someone repeat what we already believe. It’s the post-truth thing — in us.

I am tired of it. Particularly as a Christian thinker. It’s not responsible. I don’t think God wants our minds controlled by incomplete, inaccurate sources. I think God wants us to be wise, unbiased, fair, knowledgeable. I believe he wants us to know people  — all the people of the world — to know their issues, to care for them, and to pray for people all over the world.

We can’t do that by only consuming only a standard, limited, local, American diet of news.

As a result, I have recently attempted to internationalize my input, read more widely, exposed myself to different sources, connect with the wider world, to care for the whole world, to see life though their eyes.

I’ve been reading from some of the following online sources. They aren’t unbiased, they too have limits, sometimes they too are selling a point of view, but by exposing my mind to different perspectives, to the news from different parts of the world, I am better able to understand competing mindsets, to see biases, to think with a broader base of information, to know a broader world.

I encourage us all to do the same, especially Christians, because we have a history of getting stuck in narrow perspectives. Because of the internet, we don’t have to be ignorant, we don’t have to limit our input to a few sources, we don’t have to get cramped into small, provincial, egocentric points of view.

I encourage you, my friends, read widely; consider your whole world. Here are some possible sources. You can find more sources like these by researching.

The Center for Public Integrity https://www.publicintegrity.org

The Christian Science Monitor http://www.csmonitor.com

The Russian Times https://www.rt.com

The Asian Times http://www.atimes.com

The British Broadcasting Corporation http://www.bbc.com/news

The Latin American Post  http://www.latinamericanpost.com

Aljazerra – Middle East News http://www.aljazeera.com

It’s been said that no news is good news. With that, we might avoid the news altogether.

But no news isn’t good news; no news is terrifying, because no news leaves us ignorant, and completely unaware of all the amazing people on our planet, and all the amazing and horrible things they are living through.

We are at our best when we are truth mongers — always after what is ampliative, honest, accurate and complete.