Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.”

Ecc. 4:6

I sat in the backyard today listening to the waterfall, watching the green summer leaves fall out of my Ficus tree, pondering the white waterlilies in my pond and  reveling in quietness. It took some time, to get quiet. I had to wait, and let the wind come to me, and it eventually did, off the ocean, San Diegoesque, the way I like it.

Thus and so I slothified, lazificated and specifically and intentionally settlified on a handful of quietness. Later I made up some fresh food, sat out back again, and firmly and resolutely decided not to sort the bills or paint the wall in the family room — both on the docket for someday.

Better a handful of quietness on a holiday at home than the hard-driving, high-output, hyper-accomplishification of my everyday life.  Sure, I love that too, my — work — but rest, home, garden, reflection, “Ahh, so very good. ”

I think of my artists, the ones I love, my beauty makers, Pizzaro, Monet, Chagall, Pollock.

Pizzaro estblishished a family home outside of Paris in Pontoise and later in Louveciennes, both inspired many of his paintings including scenes of village life, along with rivers, woods, and people at work.

Monet had Giverny, his lily pond and garden, and you know what came of that amplitude of quietness. Visit the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

Marc Chagall had his Vitebsk in Russia, and it remained for life his little Jewish town, steeped in floating donkeys and flying Rabbi’s and levitating angels.

Jackson Pollock had his wood-frame house in East Hampton on the south shore of Long Island. For Jackson, that wasn’t enough. He tried, I’ll give him that but quietness wasn’t to be his.  Home may heal some insanity; it doesn’t heal it all.

A handful of quietness is a choice, to heal and to recover and to chew a bit too.  It’s better than chasing wind —  thus sayeth the seer — better than chasing accounts and awards and titles and fame, and if we chose it, if we stop doing and spend more time being, dawdling in patio chairs, lollygagging on lawns, lazing in poolside lounges then we just might, out of reverie, live more wisely — and also, eventually get up and go out and paint something wonderful.

“Thanks for your openness to fix this issue,” I said, “It’s refreshing.”

“You make it easy,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied

I could feel us both relax, sooth and groove into a glassy-smooth pool of safe relating   — which, by the way —  we had generated by not letting relational anxiety ruffle our water.

It was two bullfrogs, easing off a low rock together, and slipping into a calm pond for a good swim.

Our conversation involved fixing something that wasn’t working well, it involved change, it involved moving from a mildly shaky and a-tad-bit-risky to more orderly, professional and reliable.

And we did move there, without criticism, hurt, blame or drama.

Conclusions can be drawn from this.

When anyone makes a mistake, fails to perform, does something other than what is the best practice, the way forward is though simple honesty about what didn’t work, and simple candor about what we can do together to improve the situation.

To all supervisors, bosses, spouses, teachers, parents and various and sundry knuckle-headed leaders of all kinds —  as you oversee your team, your family, your staff, as they make mistakes, as you make mistakes, as all of us forget to do things or fail to act out the organizational culture that we want fostered —  do the following ten things to keep things good:

  1. Stay calm; quell anxiety; slow down; slow time.  
  2. Avoid making quick assumptions and impulsive responses.
  3. Proactively and bravely initiate face-to face discussions of problems; ask questions; understand what happened; circle up and investigate together.   
  4. Through the use of neutral verbal tones and a relaxed verbal gaits, create a conversational atmosphere where it is safe to be imperfect and safe to talk about that. 
  5. Don’t blame or criticize, rather be gentle, be kind.
  6.  Own the problem together, suffer it with each other, take it on as a team.  
  7. Look forward, not back. You can’t change the past; you can change the future. 
  8. Explore and suggest solutions that work best for everyone. 
  9. Stay humble; be reasonable; keep in mind that better (not perfect) is still good. 
  10. Finally, keep it real, keep it located on the planet, no one is perfect — not even you. 

Recently, a most precious family member and I dove into a common problem of precarious proportion.

We were very honest about our feelings, and our preferences, and we were very tender with each other regarding our imperfections.

We made it easy on each other, or as easy as possible.

Partial solutions came to mind over several days — not several minutes — they were coated in kindness, drizzled with gentleness, and baked in love.

We were pilfering old wisdom, plundering ancient relational truth, “above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Colossians 3:14

Time. What to do with it?

“My God!”

“What do I do with the child flying down the yellow and red waterslide headfirst into the bright blue pool below?”

“It so beautiful, I want to stop time, and just sit and treasure the water, the child, the sunlight, the smile, the blue and the yellow and red for just a moment.”

“Can I, please?”

But instead at this very moment in time —  I am not in the waterslide moment in time — but I am seated on my couch at home and I am typing, the sound of the keys slipping from the immediate present into the immediate past,  and yet the present is so instantly transformed into the past that I am not at all sure that I can detect the flow.

I just finished that sentence that ended in “flow,” and the refrigerator just started humming, and the cat just left the couch beside me but as soon as I type out these events they are past.

What you are reading right now — in the present — are words I created in the past, and even as your eyes move to the next word, that word is transformed into the past for you. My past writing — as you read it in the present — immediately enters your past.

In essence: My present becomes my past becomes your present becomes your past while rushing toward the future — this is time.

Odd.

Amazing.

Slippery.

Fascinating.

Time is the progression of existence and events rushing in a seemingly irreversible  direction, the past gobbling up the present and the future opening its mouth to gobble up them both.

Time is an arrow dragging us with us through the air as we fly over the landscape of existence.

Or is the arrow only in our minds? We don’t know, for sure.

What to do?

For one — although we cannot seem to hunt time down, put it in a box or bank or test tube and stop its flow in order to examine it — we can enjoy it.

How?

By leaning into every moment, by slowing time down so to speak by focusing on what is right in front of us and deep seeing it for what it is and what it does in the immediate moment in which it occurs.

Time brings reality to our doorstep, but it is our choice, and our honor, and our privilege to shake hands with it and hug it and appreciate it — or not. Time brings loss and gain, well-being and pain, beauty and ugliness near and then makes it the past. Our privilege is to peer in on it intently. Our gain is in experiencing time deeply, and in savoring it deeply, and in noticing it keenly.

Earlier this week I saw a child on a waterslide, flying down a rubber slope, splashing into a clean pool below, fingers extended to slow the ending, face lighting up with sheer water-good, safe-and-well, time-immersed joy. The child, for me, was the arrow of time slicing through good air, earth, fire and water toward the good and persistent future.

I saw it! I was there.

I saw her — the lovely child — sliding down the slide as the culmination of my recent work, my current life, my immediate purpose. I was on the team that built the wall that inclosed the courtyard, that sheltered the grass that held the waterslide that slid the child that made the gorgeous, lovely, happy moment possible!

And to the extent that I was hyper-attentive, and saw the smile framed by the flying water droplets that flew through safe-air that rose high into the divine and holy moment at the amazingly beautiful REFINERY  Church — to that extent I truly experienced and understood time.

Time — that bright, sharp, fast arrow just keeps flying — and here I am, finishing my ruminations this morning, and then I am off to work, and you too, moving on now, to something else besides reading what I have written for you.

And yet, it is good, it is all good, and it is ours, our existence, our door to keep opening, our arrow, our child, our experience to love, and to savor.

Do that, savor time, luxuriate in time, splash in time, dive into time even as it dives into you, and even as it flows now into the next savory moment of your existence, for in it, in time — and in Him, in God, the creator and the master of time — you live and move and have your beautiful ever-flowing being.

For the good life, do this: Deep savor time today — and keep an eye out for joyful children on water slides.

We see through a lens — always.

I’ve gone to three weddings this summer. They were most beautiful with their fresh white table cloths, hanging cafe lights,  layered cakes and dancing bridal parties, at the edge of the good life, perhaps — and perhaps also — at the edge of what is absolutely and stupifyingly terrifying.

At each lovely wedding, the bride was filled with hope, the groom most proud. She had found someone who loves her. He had found the one within the one of the most holy one. And I hoped with them, and felt proud with them. It was happening again. The beautiful life I have lived was happening again — to them.

What lies ahead for these new, hopeful voyagers? What lies ahead as they peer into the clear, bright future through clean, freshly crafted, personal lenses? For them, the greatest adventure is what lies ahead, but it is also in what lies behind what lies ahead. What lies behind what lies ahead is them, their family history, the things that have influenced them, their DNA and their choices.

Ahead they will see perfect little baby girls and boys — perhaps; a new home in a good school district — perhaps; beautiful vacations in beautiful places — perhaps; good jobs and needed income — perhaps; a deeply maturing love and acceptance — perhaps; but also, just perhaps, they may find disability and disfigurement — perhaps; spousal betrayal — perhaps; loss of jobs and income — perhaps; unimaginably broken moments on cracked and broken floors — just perhaps.

I so hope not. God have mercy! Christ have mercy!

But this is for sure: youth is the lens which time will bend.

In beauty and in its loss, and in hope and in disappointment, in sickness and in health we all will live and more and have our hyper-definitive, super-retentive and revised-inventive being.

And time will bend the lens.

My hope, for myself and for all of my gorgeous, smooth-skinned, shinning-hair, bright-eyed lovelies is that age may increase magnification — and gentleness.

Katy Perry cut her hair short. She is trying to find the person underneath the persona. She said so herself. I heard her say it. She’s looking for her authentic self. She wonders if she will be loved for who she really is. I get it.

Last night I went to my room about 9 am to watch the most recent episode of “Dr. Blake” on Netflix. He found out how his mother died, and he got on the bus with Jean, she leaned against him, he held her hand.

This morning when I came downstairs, I brewed a couple of strong shots of espresso,  then I petted my cat Megan until she purred, then I held my wife’s hand.

“Would you cry for me, would you spend your life with me? Tell me honestly, if I couldn’t be strong would you still love me the same?” We all wonder this, along every other creature on the planet, and I wonder this, along with Adam Levine, singing “Locked Away,” on my iPad.

We want to be loved as we are, for who we are, weak and strong, right and wrong. The thing is, this is a moving target. Who we are keeps changing, what we look like keeps changing, where we are keeps changing, what we do keeps changing and so we keep being a bit insecure which leads to the question, “If I got locked away, and we lost it all today, tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?”

Okay Adam, okay iTunes, okay iPad, okay listening audience, this is the constant state of we-fragile, we-insecure, we-ever-fluctuating human beings.

But, and yet … God … nonstop

God  …

                    is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

One lump of insecurity mixed with one lump of certainty.

“Yes, I am telling you, yes! Yes, you fragile God seekers — Katie, Adam, all of you — yes, I am telling you honestly — lost, locked away, found or abandoned, or not, yet again and again  — you will still certainly, yes, be loved the same, by God, yes, he will get on the bus with you that is going nowhere that you know for sure and hold your hand too, yes   — and with gentle effect.”

Who am I?

I can’t always tell you for sure, because I keep changing.

But yesterday, I noticed that I pretty much operated as a dad.

Who am I?

I am a dad.

Yesterday, I ate lunch with one of my daughters at the Chi Thai Kitchen in San Diego. It’s near her home and a favorite eatery of hers. We both had the Red Curry with Chicken — her recommendation, and a delicious one — then we went back to her house and played with her cats and sat on the couch and confabulated twicely.

She was super-vulnerable with me — as she always is — and I was super-open with her, as I always am, listening to her carefully and respectfully, affirming her thoughts and emotions as valid. I prayed with her before we parted company, her head on my chest, much like when she was little, but different because she isn’t anymore. She is an adult, and I treat her like one. She prayed for me too.

Because we had discussed her career options, I told her, “Listen, you don’t have to be any certain thing to win my love. I love you completely and totally, and I always will. You don’t have to choose a particular career to win my approval —  like teaching at the University. You already have all of my approval. Do what you want. I love you. I will never stop loving you.” I have told my girls that all their lives.

Later that evening my daughter who I had lunch with came over to my house, and she and my other daughter and my wife and I ate dinner together, then we played Mille Bornes, a French card game, then Catch Phrase, a wild, fun guessing game. We laughed and hooted and helped each other and didn’t, as when we threw nasty cards on each other’s “Go” pile — like flat tires and speed limits — or when we helped each other guess the desired catch phrase, even across the teams.

There were some touching moments in the evening, as when one daughter helped the other daughter read the catch phrases. This was done because one can’t read. We make no big deal about this in our family, because in our family brain damage is something we live with, always have. We know we are all a bit brain damaged so it’s normal for us to help each other.

All day yesterday, I was a dad, eating with my daughters, talking with daughters, playing games with daughters. At the end of the day we all sat on the couch together and watched the end of a baseball game. We like team sports; we are a team.

Being a dad is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I love it. It’s easy for me — really it always has been. It has been one of the most natural things in my life. Being a dad is simply being there for another human being, well one that came out of you, which is kind of wonderfully weird. Really, it’s a great thing, a noble thing, a supreme thing. Having a child ennobles us. Being there for a child, any child, ennobles us — you didn’t have to have had the child for it to ennoble you. Caring for a child, any child, or any adult for that matter, is the best way I know to get free from being overly occupied with yourself, which is also easy to do, and not entirely good.

What does it mean to be a good dad?

Being a good dad is simply wanting someone else’s good and acting on that — lovingly and consistently. It is holding on tight! And it is letting go! And it is doing both these things at the same time! It is doing what needs doing and saying what needs saying when it needs saying or doing. It is praising one daughter for being accomplished, another for being loving and fun. It is eating lunch with one, going to a ballgame with another. It is doing something that is needed — with no strings attached.

I was a dad yesterday, and again today.

Of all the things I have been, this is me at my best.

I have a simple request for you, God, this morning.

I’m asking for the good.

It isn’t because I am so much good as that I ache for good, but I do ache for more good, and less evil.

God will you encourage, protect, prosper and generally and in every possible known way to heaven empower anyone on earth who is doing good today?

Leaders, teachers, pastors, therapists, nurses, homemakers, business people, entertainers, sports figures, doctors, parents, grandparents, siblings — will you please greatly encourage and help anyone who is in a role where they are doing good?

Being gentle,

Being moral,

Being loving,

Being kind,

Bringing justice.

Giving to others,

Protecting the innocent.

Not shaming,

Not blaming,

Not being greedy,

Not oppressing,

Not being violent,

Not being sexually inappropriate,

Protecting little ones,

Protecting powerless ones.

 

God, we beg you, will you live super- duper-powerfully today in those who are making our world better?

We ask you to defeat evil and prosper good in and by and for those who are …

Buiding something good,

Restoring something good,

Adding value,

Inspiring hope.

Loving love.

 

This is our simple.

Immediate.

Appropriate.

Request.

Today.

This last weekend I attended a wedding rehearsal, a wedding rehearsal dinner, a wedding, a Sunday church service and a graduation party.  I also hosted old friends in my home, friends who were visiting from Colorado for the wedding.

In all the social groups I was in this last weekend, I consumed a few sumptuous eats — yummy tacos, savory hamburgers, spicy spinach salads, tender grilled veggies  — laughed several delicious laughs, drank IPA’s moderately, guffawed considerably, confabulated consistently and semi-solidly connectified — modestly.

My friends and I talked about home flooring, Ferraris, Paris, a cat’s ability to recognize individuals, other people’s girlfriends and our favorite European cities.

Thus, I am a known collaborator and identifiable social accomplice. I am a knownificant. I am a partakiphant. I am a card-carrying memberaphile of a group bonded by God, church, friendship and family.

As a result, I see myself through the lens of the normalized socialized collectively identifiable.

This is all fine, but sometimes it feels just weird to belong —  and yet to not always feel like you belong —  to feel a part and apart.

I think you know what I mean.

Last weekend I spent a good deal of time alone, I ate cold cereal alone, I finished up two public speeches on my laptop — alone, I watched a B rated western on my iPad — in bed —  alone, and I drove alone to the events I attended in my car. I also stayed one night on my side of the bed — alone — because my wife didn’t feel good.

I am a known alone.

I am socialized.

And I am a hermit.

I love people.

I love solitude.

I love to read, eat, think, write, wash my cat and hang out with her —  alone.  In fact, I often prepare for being in community by being solitary, and yet not completely because when I am alone I am often thinking about what to say to them when I am with them.

And yet, skin — it is a wall, a file folder, a divider. I persist as a bag of skin, meeting and greeting other bags of skin. We are separated from each other by skin, hung on bones. We are autonomous skin-and-bone bags, variously greeting and meeting and eating with other individuated skin-and-bone bags.

Even when I am with you, I sense that I am not you. I am walled within my skin, I am walled within my experience, I am corralled within my emotions, I am high-fenced within my perspectives.

Who am I?

Who are you?

We are shards — struck from the same vase, but we have fallen into different places on the ground.

We are connected.

Many things unite us, food, faith, fondness, family.

We are alone.

Many things divide us — food preferences, types of faith, lack of fondness, family conflict.

I am both connected and alone. You are the same. We are one. We are not.

I am thinking about it. I exist severally and jointly, even with the human being that I am the most one with — my dear wife.

And yet, all this considered, I want to be more so —  connected and individuated  — bothly.

I want to be better with people — my wife, my daughters, my friends, my church community, the whole world.

I want to better be alone, with me, not them, just me, not them, good with me, nothing to do with them.

What about you?

I’m grateful.

Brains may default, choices may go rogue, ethics may atrophy, protective labels be ripped off, relationships come unmoored, hard surfaces crack, beautiful floorings stains — muck and yuck and lots of cluck — and yet …

After deformation, deterioration, defamation and detonation —  your basic buck and duck and chuck the muck  —  extraordinarily, new options may sprout, miraculous opportunities recrudesce, redemptive chances break through and the good within the good of the persistent good pop it’s beauteous head back up to the surface like a gorgeous baby Hippo surfacing in a becalmed African river.

Last week, on Saturday,  I watched my 89 year old mom cut her 70th wedding anniversary carrot cake while my little nieces Ruby and Rose chased each other through my brother’s house screaming, while one of my brothers sat and sweet-confabulated with my wife, while my lovely daughter and her boyfriend hung out laughing in the backyard with my nephew and his wife.

Last week at The REFINERY Church — the place I love and care for and have worked so very hard to esteem and redeem —  I watched new white base boards go into the youth room, new warm-yellow, mason jar, Edison bulb lights go up on the youth stage, a pretty new wood and glass door being placed into the opening between the courtyard and the Gallery and new lavender trumpet vines being planted on the big trellises framing the classroom building.

Good — all good, all positive, curative, redemptive good — for everyone who goes there, ever will go there or who still watches from afar — or up close.

Next Saturday I’ll go to a very fun, super-dooper-trooper, post-emptive-redemptive and ultra-moltra-resultra wedding in the new REFINERY Church courtyard. Two-hundred or so of my friends, neighbors and fellow congregants will be there. We will snoot, hoot, and root-the-reboot —  together!

It will be the good within the good of the pre-existent, mid-resistant ever-persistent good.

I am so grateful!

They came to me, five or so gentlemen in suits, across the square, one bringing his iPhone 5 and handing it to me, gesturing toward the men who were with him, “Would you please take our picture?”

I did. Twice, because the first picture wasn’t right; the pyramid of the Louvre wasn’t in the backdrop.

Then they were happy.

I asked them where they were from. They were from Iran. I told them I was from the US. Then I said, “You are welcome in my country.”

“And you are welcome in ours!” they replied.

I have the right.

I have the right to go out into the world, as I am apt to do, and welcome the world to myself. That doesn’t mean they can come. Many of them probably can’t. It just means that they know that someone from there, here welcomes them.

I am not naive — but neither do I live in fear. I am a citizen of the world. I choose to be. I have no permanent home — I know that, none of us do — I have no exclusive people. I am welcoming to myself, and I welcome everyone I can.

I am not a government. I respect government, I respect and understand law, I participate in government, but I am also myself, a being existing apart from government, cosmopolitan, international by nature, universal by soul.

Yesterday on Rue de Renne in Paris, I walked by an Eastern looking woman with a dirty paper cup, sitting on the sidewalk, begging. I thought about the nice shops I had just visited, about how much I am able to indulge myself. Then I went back to her, and I put a couple of Euros in her cup.

I am not telling anyone else what they should do, or feel. I am not saying I solved a problem with a couple of Euros, I am not feeling virtuous, I am just saying what I did, I am just being honest about what I want to do, what I feel urged to do, inside.

I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I am not a protect-and-defend conservative. I am a person trying to live my life as a follower of someone with a bigger vision than I have, to live by two great commands, one to love God, another to love others, to live by the radical spiritual reality that everyone is my neighbor, by the super-radical idea that I should do to others as I want them to do to me.

On my current stay in Paris, I have snapped pictures of the Iranians at the Louvre, I have eaten food with the French in Les Philosophes — a small crowded restaurant in Le Marais — I have gawked at art in the Museo de Orsay with the Japanese and the Chinese, I have peered up at the windows of San Chapelle with the Canadians, I have ridden the bus to Versailles with Muslims, and from the cathedrals with Nuns.

I know who I am. I love my country, I understand why it exists, I am very grateful to have grown up there, made a home, raised my children in peace, and I value it, and soon I will return to it, but I also love other countries, and I value them, and I value other cultures, and I value their people.

They are my people, all these people, and I know that. Deep inside I have an affinity with all creatures and with all people and with all plants and with all minerals, all stars and all galaxies too.

I love, I ache to love, I want to love more, to the edge of my familiarity — and past that.

I know that you do too.

I love you for that.