Archive for the ‘friends’ Category

“What’s left?” I asked my friend Tim McConnell as we sat eating lunch at Roberto’s in Del Mar today. “What else do you want out of life?”

He paused, then said, “To be meaningfully connected to people.”

I like it.

I agree with Tim, and would like connection even more if I wasn’t also hard wired to adore places, plants and planetaries — plus various, sundry and other unspoken pleaseries and delightifications.

My friend Tim has it right, however, and nicely dialed in: To be with people — that’s the good stuff.

Last Saturday night I attended the wedding of two friends  — Violet Mendez and Mathew Opdycke — in the REFINERY Church courtyard.

After the ceremony — which was full of laughter and love —  the inner patio of the church was transformed as it filled with people laughing, drinking, eating, dancing and celebrating this new couple’s relationship.

In the warm, spring evening air we were suddenly living large, whooping it up with two beautifully connected young people who had just made one of the ultimate connectivity choices —  to get married, to fuse lives, to become union, unit and united force.

Several years ago, I hired the building of the stage that Matthew and Violet married on last Saturday night. I remember designing the stage, pouring over the plans, negotiating with the contractor, making it happen.  I knew it would become something good, but little did I know how good.

I didn’t anticipate something this gently gorgeous — the two lovers, my good friends, these two adorable aspirants — these two moving together, heads close, giggling, twirling  bonding there. As they danced — and we all watched in hushed reverence — the stage became sacred space for love.

Then later that same evening, on the same pavered stage we all danced, wedding party and guests, mutual celebrants, romping in the church courtyard, shaking sacred booty in the holy place, moving as one to the music — alive, happy, connected.

I love places — planned, planted, planet-making places — but like Tim, I love people more. To hold a lover’s hand and walk together through a park, to sit in the evening on a couch and read to a child, to kiss your grandma’s cheek, to sing with your friends, to lift a glass with mutual revelers, to dance with anyone — this is the good within the good of the unremittingly good.

Today I munched tasty Greek food with my leadership team and staff, fifteen of us overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, California.

It’s a gorgeous spot — sculpted sand cliffs, beautiful sand beaches, peak breaks, a lovely little cove, sleeping seals, snorklers, divers, surfers and tourists from all over the world.

We talked about all the cool innovations we had initiated at the church this year, and all the new stuff we had in mind for the second half of the year. It is crazy fun how much we have done, and how much we have planned for the near future.

1 Peter 1:5 speaks of building on “reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love.” In our team, we have all this and more.

When all is said and done in an organization like ours, it isn’t all about the innovation and change, although innovation is fun, and necessary and very, very healthy, to keep things moving forward in a God-honoring way. But it is really all about the reverent wonder, for God and each other.

It is a reverent wonder to work with such amazing people. They are beautiful, and they make these some of the best years of our lives.

Warm affection — I have that for each one of them.

With several of them I ventured to Nicaragua. With one I share a love of art, with another a passion for ideas, with another a fun, laughing, teasing warmth, to several I am an empowering mentor. One of them is one of the safest people I have ever known, another one of the most loyal, another is one of the kindest most empathetic persons possible. Another I have known since she was a child, another was the best man in my wedding, another is a financial guru of my ilk — responsible.

We must not overlook the value of such relationships. Perhaps we don’t see how good such relationships are, until we lose them. Several members of our team will move next year. That’s the kind of world we live in, transient, mobile, changing, metamorphic. We shed people; I don’t want to.

I like to find them, and keep them. Good luck with that. We won’t keep them all, and yet, nothing is lost from what has been found. Each one completes us, each one adds to us, each one is a wonder, each one a treasure, given by God, for the time we have them.

Warm affection — you can’t beat it, even if it is just for now.

Generous love — nothing is better!

I can’t wait to see what and who is next!

Having different kinds of friends — so very interesting.

I have a bounce-off-of friend. I bounce stuff off him to see what it looks like coming back toward me with his spin on it. It’s helpful, the curve my ideas take on the rebound.  Yesterday we spent an hour on the phone debating the growth curve of organizations. Fascinating.

I have a never-let-go friend. She is my stick-tight friend. We have waded through years and yards of stuff, and she is still there. I love the safety of such a friend.  This week we reflect on a relational train wreck we both witnessed and survived. I totally adore, her loyalty — to me.

I have a calls-when-he needs-help friend. I don’t mind. I like being the go-to-guy for him. I like how he trust that what I say, or that what I don’t say,  is good. It’s good for me to be there for him,  in the sacred moment, when the masks come off. This week he told me that when he drove away from the house, after the fight, it was as if he was moving through a dream. “I couldn’t believe that I was doing,” he told me, “what  I could see myself doing, leaving, like that.” It was good, to deconstruct the dream, that was really — reality.

I have a conceptual friend. When we meet, ideas meet. We talk insights, theories, axioms, intellectual constructs. We discourse on aesthetics, theology, history, sociality. Recently we explored the kind of creativity that can arise out of devastation. Our friendship exists within the universe of our ideations. I love an abstraction, that we invent and then that we event. It  becomes other people’s reality. Fine, so very fine!

The other day I thought about a friend who is not longer a friend. We went through something hard and this friend didn’t understand what was to be understood within the thin and quickly ripping fabric of possible understanding and so we went on down the road with the clothing that had previously covered us, ripped completely off, and I found myself traveling alone. It happens. I recovered myself with the warm embrace of new friends.

It’s very interesting, the variation of sociality.

It is very interesting, the morph, the seed, the stalk, the bloom, and the sometimes surprisingly quick wilt of togetherness, the amazing sustainability of real love.

What to do?

Enjoy, the sweet ones you have been  given.

Grieve, the once dear ones, occasionally lost.

Look forward to the precious ones still to come.

friend

Posted: December 29, 2010 in friends
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Mostly we shot each other, with every kind of gun we could get our dirty little violent hands on. We often shot each other on Christmas day, after we had gotten a new kind of firearm. The best weapon I remember for blowing away family was a small hand gun that you filled with round silver bullets about three times as big as bb’s. Endless killing! You just kept pulling the trigger and watching your brothers fall. At a recent Christmas party in Los Angeles where everyone came and some were nasty, I thought of the old days and longed to fire away again, with perhaps a tranquilizing dart gun. But it wouldn’t work; I’ve lost my passion for sustained violence.

We also  found fellowship in riding things, like the day my brother herded a small steer into the corral, his friend Lonnie working the critter with him. Inside the fence they trapped the beastly transport system in a corner; Steve edged close and jumped — onto its back. The response was immediate. The steer, as if fired from a rifle, charged out of the small enclosure, into the woods, and toad’s wild ride was on.

Steve bounced on along the bucking steer’s spinal column, into the wild, green woods, past one then another then another and then they were scraping his legs on both sides, and the steer went scooching through and “bam” Steve was on the ground, downed by trees too tight on both sides, and Lonnie was yelling, “Yahoo!” It was a ride to be repeated, and repeat it we did.

Some of the best rides were on our pet steer, Moosehead. The difficulty with Moosehead was that he was broad, and so the rides were spread-legged, rodeo wild and short. He was a fun guy, a hairy  brother who we had nursed with a bottle, so he loved us, and getting on him was easy. He was friend. I now think, after years of studying the science of friendship that perhaps steers and dogs and cats make the best friends. Looking back, I’ve had more fun with of my cats, in the shower, my pet fish in the pond filter, my dogs and their puppies than some of my friends, but who is really to say for sure. Eventually we all come to realize that no friends last forever. The Moosester didn’t. One day he was present, the next  gone! It’s like that with friends, especially on a farm, here and then gone, and we never knew why or where.

Growing up my two brothers were my best friends. Think brother steer.  This is because they were my only friends, and my only options for friends, most of the time. In rural Missouri, the nearest house was a half-mile away, and the nearest house with children who went to our school, was miles and miles away. There was no neighborhood, just  brothers. Someone once said that friends are family you choose for yourself. They were, literally, for me; I chose my family when there was no other choice. And we chose to have fun. C. S. Lewis speaks of friends as being people not focused on each other, but on a thing between them that they both find fascinating. That was us.

We focused on rideable things, things mobile, each other, the Shetland ponies kept at the farm for camp children to ride in the summer, the  rideable cows, goats, dogs, skateboards with metal wheels, bikes,  coasters we constructed, sleds, a toboggan dad pulled behind the boat, water skis and eventually the ultimate ride — cars. The ponies were an obvious choice to ride, but they weren’t that much fun; they had to be led away from the barn, threatened, goaded and yanked. You’d think that unlike Moosehead, they knew they were being led to the end, but they weren’t. It got better when you headed them back home. Suddenly they were all animated and joyful; they began to trot and then grow younger and  sprint when they saw the barn, and then at the end they would become deadly serious and risk their lives in the home stretch as they flattened out in a dead run for the goal of life —  no saddle and rest.

We also drove cars and trucks before we had driver’s licences. We drove the Timber Wolf, a big old truck used to haul logs for firewood.  Especially crazy and fun was the old car my dad cut the body from. When he was done, the thing was just a hood, front fenders, a motor, and an open frame from the dash back, no roof, no doors, no trunk, no rear fenders and no floorboard.  My dad welded a folding chair onto the frame behind the steering wheel, and we drove it around the campgrounds for errands and fun. Crazy! If we had fallen off the chair, we would run over ourselves with the back tires.

Friends are people who have wrecks together or know each other’s wreck stories. We brothers crashed. One evening, on our way home, on our bikes, flying down the dirt drive, dodging the rocks, I hit a big one, straight on with my front tire. One moment I was pedaling hard, the next moment I ascended through the evening air, up over the handle bars and down again,  into the dust, hit hard and rolled.  I remember sitting up, feeling sick, looking at my bloodied arms in surprise and then grabbing my bike and heading on home with the brothers, but not fast. It was no big deal, it happened, to all of us, the battering, the bloodied skin —  it changed nothing, our speed, our wild abandon, nothing. I remember later, when my brother’s moved on to cars, and smashed up several in a row, we took it all in stride too, except my dad, who didn’t like it. But he was in on it, destroying stuff. It’s friend and family glue.

One day dad decided to haul a steer to town, so we could have steaks again, and not having a truck, he ran the steer up a dirt ramp and into the back of a jeep station wagon. Not so good. Half-way to town the steer decided that he was tired of looking at the radio, six inches from his nose, and he turned around. That didn’t quite work out as  he had planned, and he broke out all the side windows of the jeep. Fearing for his own life, dad stopped at a little country store where a real farmer was consulted, and he explained that a truck with side rails was best for this kind of job, so they completed the trip thus. I think at that point they should have let the steer go. He’d made a point. I’m sure, he would have beaten the horses back to the barn. The other day, when my family was together for breakfast, my dad told this story again. We laughed and hooted and spoke of his decision-making during that era, how he had almost burned down the town we lived near during a brush clearing project and how he had put buckets of coals in the back of the jeep, on the floor board, to keep us warm on cold night when we were driving to church. This is how family and friendship are defined —  people with crazy stories that they have in common.

The other day, my dad told  us again the story of  how he’d gotten the job on the campground in Missouri. Dad and mom had both grown up in California, and early in their marriage they bought a little track house in Torrance. There they attended a small church where Maurice Vanderberg, back from the war and recently married, was their pastor. After a time, Maurice moved back to Kansas City to run the Union Rescue Mission that his wife’s mom  had founded, but then needing help, he called  and invited my dad to join him in the work. So my parents moved. Moves change things, for families, for kids, but they are never consulted in such matters. Old friends lost,  new ones gained — no choice. The  move to the midwest eventually put us on the campground, which was owned by the rescue mission, and put my mom and us boys in a  isolated place that profoundly shaped our family, our friendships and more. My mom suffered badly, a California city girl transported to a small rural cabin without a bathroom, kitchen, or heat or neighbors to raise three little children. She lost some years there. No friends were present for her, except the boys and we were way too male.  Significant stuff — my brother Steve married a Missouri girl, Joyce, who turned out to be a good deal.  When we did leave Missouri, and returned to California, it was because another pastor, who my dad knew from the old Torrance church, invited my dad to move to El Cajon to work him. Friendships form the web on which we move, and catch food and are ourselves caught and eaten.

Part of the reason why the family didn’t always work for my mom was that destruction and violence provided most of the fun with my father and my brothers. I think that violence brought us closer to each other but  not to mom.  We blew up our little green toy soldiers with fire crackers, we killed the little clay spacemen by throwing their clay space ships onto the floor hard, we hit each other in the arms daily, we wrestled on the big, round braded rug in the living room until we either knocked over a lamp or somebody cried, and we eventually shot every kind of creature living in the woods nearby and caught, killed and ate every species of fish.

As I child, my favorite killing posture was not western style, the standing back-to-back, taking three steps, turning, quick drawing and firing. That cut the violence too short. I liked hunt-down-and-kill approach. It began with one of brother in one end of the house, another in the furthest extreme, the call, “Ready?” and both of us moving silently toward each other. Then the shooting commenced and proceeded until death. Shot in the arm, you had to switch your weapon to the other hand, shot in the leg, you were left with one hopper, shot in the torso or head, dead. I loved the final, trapped stand, both of us wounded, immobilized, having it at at close range, one behind the bed and the other shielded by the dresser. I loved it when a brother’s head peeked over the top of a bed and caught a round perfectly between the eyes. Then I would see him fall back, to the floor, man down and out with a final death rattle. You had to make a sound. “Cool, I just killed my brother.” True friends and loyal family are the people you can kill and then shortly after sit down to dinner with as if nothing happened. Your average American family does this regularly, the verbal assassinations followed by the evening meal.

When I got married and had my daughters, I continued in the same vein; I made my wife and daughters my best friends, built around our shared narratives,  games, interests and arguments. The thing missing was the violence, mostly. My girls and I did play shoot ’em up a few times. But mostly, in my own family, we gentilized. My wife and daughters and I have always shared a love for “getting out,” for water in all its playful forms,  for print and food and coffee and conversation in all their various addictive and nonadictive forms and we really like God, a lot.  There are other things, but fun has tended to glue us together. I see families where the members aren’t friends and it doesn’t look much fun to me. Some parents say you can’t be friends with your kids. I know what they mean, that you have to be a parent, which means sometimes being mean and saying “no” and doing things friends just don’t do. I know all that, and I’ve done it, and still do at times, but here is the deal. You can go back and forth, be parent, then friend; you don’t have to always play the same role with your children. I really like the times my girls and I are friends.

I took my daughter Rosalind to see the Little Mermaid for our first movie together when she was three years old. Outstanding fun, great Disney film, superb enduring memory for us. We still love the song “Kiss The Girl” and we love “Down by the Sea” and Sebastian the crab these many years later. Magical, the movie, our first father-daughter date, the many times since that we’ve reprised that kind of thing, gone out to eat, watched a football game together, played Yahtzee, taken a walk, talked long, wrestled on the floor and knocked over a lamp. The thing with friendship is not to define it too narrowly, within family or outside of family. We need it, we want it, in all its forms odd and familiar and normal and not.

I have a lot of different kinds of friends now, besides family.  I have friends from school. I have friends from work. I have friends from church.  I have friends in other countries. I have friends who are dead. I have friends who are not but pretend to be. I have friends who I meet for a tête-à-tête at Starbucks, and I have friends who add me on Facebook.

By friends we mean a lot of different things — people we got drunk with in high school but now have nothing in common with, a checker at Costco whose line we often choose, people who dabble in what we also waste time on, people who “get us” and leggo-people who used to get us but have now snapped off and don’t, furry friends, literary friends, our favorite dead poets, painters, novelists or philosophers, and lastly and most importantly, our real friends, the cherished soul-mates who hang on through it all and just won’t let go, like Taylor in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Pigs in Heaven, who won’t let go of little Turtle —  the mythic, profoundly archetypal lost child, “six pigs in heaven and the mother who wouldn’t let go.”  We all need a bit of this,  the will-not-let-go friend.

I’ve told my girls. There are all kinds of friends, from casual, even momentary, to life-long. There are all kinds of levels, and they change over time even with the same person. You can be close, then not close, then close again. And just because you are close, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. It’s okay to let friendships change, even to let them go. Sometimes you have to.

Recently, my brother and I drove to a Idllywild, a mountain town half-way between our homes, about two hours away for each of us. We rented a room in a bed and breakfast and stayed overnight together. We talked shop, both of us being pastors, and we talked family and we ate good food. He had just bought a new sports car, a Mazda RX-8 with a 240 horse power rotary engine and so we took it out on the mountain roads to test its potential. It was the good old high-school days all over again, except we were driving fast Japanese rather than fast American, and  we weren’t drunk and there were no girls with us. What a shame, but maybe not. I’ve owned several sports cars and my wife claims that she doesn’t like being thrown against the doors in the sharp turns. So I slammed by brother against the door and went a bit too fast into a corner and missed a shift. It was all the same game again, flirting with danger, riding the steers, driving the cars.

In the morning, we broke out a plastic bat and whiffle ball and played a few innings of baseball.  It was fun. Depending on how you held the ball and because off the holes in one side of it, you could throw a slider, a curve a sinker and a rising fast ball. But we weren’t practiced up, and so after I hammered a few of his hanging curve balls up over the limb of the nearest pine tree for home runs, he started pouting and didn’t try as hard. It seemed like we had returned to our childhood again, two brothers killing and being killed in mock battle. But then in a short while he regained his form and struck me out and slammed a few of  my sliders that didn’t slide out of the park, and we both cheered up again. Brothers, friends, in combat and not — still.

Other friends in life, interesting.  Why did I make the friends I did?  What does it say about me? Having left our families, most of us find people who function as family. We meet them anywhere, somewhere, and talk, and touch, in time, on the same web, the same thread of the web, and then we climb along together for a bit. In high school it was John, Lonnie and Jim. We fished, hunted, drove fast, avoided girls, and engaged in boy-brother wildness-mayhem. Upon my move back to California, those relationships ended. In California I met a college student named Steve, and we surfed together and philosophized. I also met Jim, and we shared an apartment together with two other guys. It was cheap rent. He was an artist, using clay, me an artist, using words. I still have some of his art pieces, but not him. After college I met Tim, a won’t-let-go friend. We bonded over insight, books, faith. He became family, so to speak, and was the best man at my wedding.  We are still close. We go to the same church and we share a common passion for truth and radical love and justice for our community.

Fishing, wilding, cars, surfing, art, books, faith — my friends have often been my playmates, but more and more they have become my thought-mates. Time makes philosophers of most all of  us, clowns and killers alike. My friendships are now conversations. We  meet over coffee, books and food, and we talk, and talk and talk, but not always. A few years ago, my friend Tim and I fired off some loud, flashing fireworks near the house, and then ran when the police came. We hid in a fast food restaurant, bought cokes for camouflage, laughed like boys and  then headed for home to brag to our wives and children over what we  had done.

Friendship is and always will be a bit of safe violence together, a fast ride,  fast run, or fast pitch together, a laugh, a movie shared, a book discussed, a trip together,  a home run, a crash and a fire and a story to tell again and again until it gets good.

As I grow older, and fascinate more and more over  life, its people and problems and beauty, I find myself making more and more and more friends, of all kinds, in all  places. I am shamefully indiscriminate. Most anyone can be my friend, execpt a few former assaasins. Want to talk? You are my friend. Have something fun you like to do?  Tell me about it; you are my friend. Have a problem? Let’s explore it! I love a problem and the typical nearby solution.

What am I doing?  I don’t like living alone. The friend thing is now under my control, mostly; no one is moving me.

And so Iam adding friends. They are the family I am choosing for myself.