Archive for the ‘beginnings’ Category

I’m particularly shocked by how bad our hearing is — all of us. People talk, we miss so much.

The environment speaks; we walk through it uninformed of what it is telling us.

What to do? Stop paying so much attention to words.

The numbers are debatable when it comes to communication, but all the experts agree that tone and body language communicate more than words do.

Words are a small part of communication in our world.

The wind is blowing the leaves my orange jubilee trees outside my window. This tells me the sun is at work heating the earth, and that warmer air is rising and cooler air is moving underneath. The dancing leaves are telling me that the consistencies of our solar powered planet are functioning well.

“Yea, says the plant, life will go on!” But there are no words.

This is consistent with scripture:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19

It is fundamental to the universe to communicate without words. Yet voices surround us from the stars, from the galaxies, from our sun. The earth itself is filled with unheard voices. Even the rocks will praise, said Jesus, if we don’t.

So much more hearing needs to take place, the nonverbal kind.

My wife came home from a medical appointment today where she waited for more than an hour to get a few stitches out and left with no help.  Her first words upon arriving home conveyed frustration. Her tone told me most of what she wanted to communicate.

People speak far more in feelings than in words. Look closely and you can hear.

Liars will often deliberately hold eye contact in an attempt to cover up the fact that they’re lying.

Raised eyebrows signal discomfort.

Exaggerated nodding signals anxiety about approval.

A clenched jaw, a tightened neck, or a furrowed brow are all signs of stress. Crossed legs or arms signal that a person is mentally, emotionally, and physically blocked off from what’s in front of them. It’s not intentional, which is why it’s so revealing.

We can hear what isn’t said; it’s spoken in the eyes, whispered by the muscles, shouted by tell tale legs and arms and hands. 

One can hear without ears, speak with no tongue.

I think of the deaf and hard of hearing community.  There are many in this community who resent that idea that to have a normal life, a good life, they need hearing, for example cochlear implants, small, complex electronic devices that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. 

Some deaf find the pushing of cochlear implants on themselves and their children as  insulting, biased, discriminatory. We who think sounds and words rule need to listen to them.

Deadness is not a disability in need of an oralist’s prescription; it has created a fully-gifted culture of it’s own facilitated by sign language and sign culture. Oralism, the system of teaching deaf people to communicate by the use of speech and lip-reading rather than sign language is sometimes pushed on the deaf community. But sound is no more superior to sign than male is superior to female.  

Our biases may make this hard to understand, but we are so confused about disability and normalcy. What is normal is usually simply the way we live, but their are other normals. The signing community is a fully-gifted community. They are enriched. They have enough.

Why so much emphasis on words, talk, sounds. So much of the universe communicates in silence, in sign. We all need to learn the sign language.

I want to become a student of sign, universal sign, of silence, a listener to behavior, a watcher of movement, an interpreter of tone, being, essence, identity.

To do this I must open to listening with my mind, listening with my eyes, listening with my fingers, listening with my nose, listening with my taste buds. I must let the plants, the wind, the sun, the people who are different from me teach me. I must listen with my spirit. I must listen with my soul.

Everything and everyone is saying something. How exciting to begin to try to hear using different modalities.

Everything is speaking; are we listening?

Flicker, flame, fire — conflagration!

That’s how it goes.

You have the flickering of an idea —  in the car, in the bathroom, in a conversation, in the night.


“I could go back to school.”

What if I start a business and market my passion?”

“I’ll start a blog about my struggle with my struggle.”

I’ll lose weight. I’ll have a baby. I’ll retire and start a nonprofit. I’ll reconnect with my dad. I’ll change the organization I work in.  I’ll change my attitude.”

A passion for such illuminations can seize you, overtake you, inspire you! Then out you rush to tell others, to formulate a plan. You boldly ask others to go along with you; you work your bushy, smushy, tushie off  — and boom!



Life, is different!

That is how we renew our lives, how we get to the good future, how we have no regrets. We do what falls into our heart to do, and we do it hard.

I wrote my first article for publication after the flicker and flame of an idea about the value of children smoldered in me for a few years. I switched careers in the middle of my life on the flicker of an idea that a pastor wasn’t that different from a professor. “It’s all mind control,” quipped my zippy, quippy wife. I helped renew the church I now pastor on the flicker and flame and fire of the ideas that beauty, humility, integrity and authenticity and God matter — most!

I’ve seen a bunch of this lately. A woman becomes a professional gardener in her fifties. Another begins a new marketing career in her seventies. Another, at eighty, takes on a volunteer pastoral care role at her church.

A disabled woman moves to a new neighborhood that is much safer and yet cheaper than where she lived!

A young woman becomes a youth group leader when she has never done anything like that before.

A girl moves to another city to see if her long-distance relationship with her boyfriend will work out. It does!

They are getting married this spring.

Think it up, get fired up, do it!

Flicker, flame, fire, explode!

The myth of the alone, insane, artistic genius runs deep in Western culture.

Vincent Van Gogh.

It isn’t so.

I just finished reading Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s fascinating, well-researched, thought-provoking biography of Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent fought with everyone he knew, sabotaged every close relationship, longed for family, but lived alone even when he had house companions like Gauguin. And yet not.

He suffered deep social pain, rejection and abandonment, and at times he was isolated by mental illness,  but he was not unconnected from other people.

His art, his letters, his paintings all reveal a profound link to others. They reveal the wars with his parents, the parasitic relationship with his brother Theo, his attempts at pastoring, his efforts to build family with with his prostitutes, his effort to create family with his fellow artists.

Gauguin, Pissarro, Monet, Bernard, Rembrandt, Millet, Delacroix  — all these and many others influenced Vincent.  He lived inside his own inner dialogue with them.

Vincent’s art was a product of his relationships.

Even when Vincent was an island, cut off from others in a locked room at St. Remy, struggling with his mental demons, he was in reality connected by great techtonic plates — below the surface of  deep water — to those he knew on the mainland of rationality. They were always in his head, his heart, his paint.

Anyone of us, with our various versions of insanity, can retreat from others because of relational pain and hurt, and yet even there we will not be alone. We will always bring with us the voices of our community, our critics, our family, our friends, and our self.

What is insanity? What was Vincent’s mental illness? I’m not at all sure. But perhaps insanity has something to do with us not being able to work out our relationships with our community, family and sweet ones.

We are connected, and we are all a bit whacked; the issue of life seems to lie in how we mangage to come to terms with that.

That struggle, that deep longing for connection, that is one of the great forces of life that results in great art, in great pain, and in great love.

“Love,” commanded Jesus.

All beauty comes from that.

DSC00814“What class would you like to teach?” she asked me at the end of the interview. I hadn’t expected that.

I had only walked into the English Department office at this California community college a few days before, and now I was being given a chance to choose the class I wanted. I left the campus excited, surprised, thrilled!

Opportunity knocks; perspicuity answers. I choose to teach “Critical Thinking About Literature,” because I wanted to think and read stories and teach students to do that with me. I choose well, looking back, because I thrived on teaching this class, and by doing so, I realized a long-standing passion — to teach college students literature.

Sometimes we get to knock out the opportunity-that-knocks.

How does that happen? We usually have to belly up to the fact that life’s opportunities don’t come knocking that much, particularly early on, when we are new to the game, young, or a novice, so we have to go knocking.

A few years earlier, on a trip to Brazil with some students from my church, I got to talking to a pastor I worked with about how important children are to a church. I enthused, I gushed, I fired him up, and myself too, and I made a decision right there to write a piece on how to creatively ramp up the positive attention given to children in churches. When I got home, I wrote the article, and then I sent it out to the best magazine in the field. They bought it, to my surprise, and I realized another dream I had been sheltering for years — to be a published writer.

It’s tough when we are young to figure out how to do what we ache inside to do but aren’t sure we can but want to try anyway even when we haven’t tried yet. What to do, what to try, are we good enough? Will it be a mistake, can we live with failure, do we  really want to do it? Does it sound to good to ever be true, are we worth it, can we cut it?  The questions mount, and sometimes come to loom high, like formidable Annapurnas jutting into skies of impossibility.

We should knock anyway. It is worth moving, in a particular direction, when we think we can. By an approach march, we test what is possible. Every journey has its uncertainties, its headwind, its steep pitches, but we don’t know if we can push past these until we try. Trying is not overrated. By trying, even by failing, we learn what we can do and what we can’t, at least at that particular time.

I’ve applied for teaching jobs I didn’t get. I’ve written articles that were rejected by editors. I have sometimes even felt that in these very special areas of personal giftedness, I couldn’t cut it. And I’ve come to see that this is normal. In every area we attempt to succeed in, at some point we will feel inadequate, temporarily frustrated, even done.  And yet,  despite some set backs and disappointments, my chosen careers — teaching and writing — have been my sweet spots, my personal playgrounds, my lovely battlefields, my sacred spaces for thriving and succeeding and making a difference.

I play the guitar; I’ve done so for years. I’ve written songs; I’ve led worship, but the guitar has never been a sweet spot for me.  I have never been paid for my modest guitar skills, I don’t have a good singing voice, and I have never had a song published. I’ve had fun with the guitar, and enjoyed playing on my own, but through experience, I’ve learned my musical limits, and I’ve come to see song as a sidebar for me,  a fun diversion, not the main thing, an appetizer, not an entrée, and this realization has been good for me. It has kept me from wasting too much time with a pick,  and set me to spending more time with a pen, and yet my awareness of the  place of music in my life has still allowed me a fair of amount of pleasure banging out some minor, partial, and power chords at home.

Opportunity — I’m still knocking. These days I’m thinking about what is next, creatively, and I’m looking inside the developing me within the very me of the quintessential me. What can I still do? Where should I yet knock?

The best place to find this answer lies inside of each of us. Other friends and family and counselors can help, but it is crucial that we come to own our own passions. We must, to be genuine, to be authentic, to keep moving toward an inward sense of success,  honor our own unique skills, treasure and safeguard our talents, and resource the opportunities we secretly burn for.

We all will do best when we begin to move towards what we want to do that no one has to tell us to want to do. We must trek toward the thing that gives us pleasure while at the same time that scares us like crazy.  We must go ask for what is reasonably possible and yet is so beyond what we have ever done before that we  fear  that we will not have the energy, intelligence, skill or opportunity to do it.

Our passions, I’m for taking a swing at them.

We just might knock out the next opportunity we knock on.

What could make you so excited that if you began

it you could hardly wait to get up in the morning to complete it?

Do that!

I like uninhibited short people who enjoy being told a good story.

This week at a party I sat down with Abigail, my nephew’s daughter, and invented a story for her. Abigail is six. Oddly enough the little girl in the story that I told her was six, and had a dog named Obi, and strangely enough Abigail herself has a dog named Obi, named after Obi Wan Kenobi.

Abigail sat still beside me and listened intently. She loved it when Obi went out on  a bike ride with her, riding his “platform bike,” which her dad had invented for him, and Abigail loved it, when after Obi’s disastrous bike crash, he was comforted at home with chicken nuggets that looked like dinosaurs. Chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs are her favorite food.

Later, at the party, I found Abigail’s dad,  Roger, and  outlined the story to him, how Obi, the adventuresome dog, rode a “platform bike,” and crashed and was dramatically rescued by him from the sewer under the street. Then and there I and gave Roger some pointers on the next installments of the story so he could continue it, if he wanted . The next thing, I think for Obi, the adventure dog to do, is to enter a bike race. After all Roger owns a bike show and has himself raced competitively.

It’s all about timing, when you race, and when you tell little girls stories about racing dogs.  Being in the right place at the right time with the right information and “bingo,” a good time is had by two!

When I was in Brazil a few years ago, I told the leaders I was working with that I thought that in institutions such as churches and schools, children should be treated as the entrée, the main course and  the absolute, riveting, uncompromising center of it all.  I believe that, and practice it.  I believe that children should never be babysat or watched; they should be engaged, challenged, centered on and introduced to new things — dogs that ride bikes and such.

I came home from the Brazil  sick and weary of not saying enough about the value of children,  and so I wrote an article on children and spirituality that was published in a magazine for people who thought the same thing. It lobbied for creating super-meaningful experiences for kids.

I’m still all over this. In the beginning, we must teach children to begin thinking creatively or they’ll grow up to be adults who are blindly fascinated with the same thing, over and over and over and over again.

Know a child?

Then begin a beginning.

Are you a child?

Yes,  you are, even if you are an adult  you are still a child in some deep and mysterious cabinet of wonders within the psyche that exists hidden in your child-like psyche? Yes, you all are, children!

And because I love you, I want to encourage you, to begin beginning what you have in your heart to begin.

Think about it.

If you don’t begin a new story, and tell it to someone else, then how will you ever end that story so you can begin another one and tell it to another one who is so much like yourself.

So, just begin it and keep going on from there —  together.

You’ll like that!