Archive for the ‘journey’ Category

“What if you just yack your way through the rest of your life?” I asked one of my good friends today.

“That would work,” she said. “That’s what I do best.”

I agree. She’s a yacker, and I love listening to her yackety yak. She goes on — and off, delightfully. I can only hope and pray she ardently devotes herself to it.

She told me today, “There are no bad words; there is only bad timing.” I’m good with that. I am always looking for the wrong word at the right time. It makes people laugh.

I took my time at the credit union today to talk to three different staff members, yacking it up about family, the holidays, church. It was a bit of verbal delectation — I tossed in a few bon mots — for me and for them. Like my friend, it’s what I do. More of that, in print, that’s what’s next for me.

What’s next? For any of us?

What’s next is what has been that wants to be more so —  but that which will take intention, choice and courage — and will come at a cost — really.

There must be a shedding of what has been that wants to be less so and a filling of that empty space with what wants to be that hasn’t been yet.

We wait too long.

We wait until the garage is full. We delay until someone has to call the doctor for us — or the therapist. We put off applying for the new job until we are sick to death of the old one. We delay the art project until it is too late to do it. We retire to late. It is easier to drift, to float than to act out something new. We hawk the past to ourselves to avoid buying our tickets to the good future.

We neglect our craft. We slouch toward the future.

I wonder. Is it time for you and me to stop doing what we are doing so we can start doing what we really want and need to be doing. — the good stuff, like more yacking?

What isn’t working?

What might be better?

Don’t slouch toward Bethlehem; don’t amble toward the future.

Run toward it!

We Americans have a penchant for authenticity, but in reality most of us (me too!) copy, mimic and ape each other constantly. We are  surrounded by each other’s appeals for the authentic (“Get real!”), but we keep selecting the same  cliches, smart phone emojis, Frappuccino drinks, cool Blazers from H&M, semi-serious “Oh my God’s” and binge-watched TV shows as each other.

We tend to fall in line.

What is authenticity? It is psychological and social congruency — a robust personal consistency — between what is inside us and what comes out of us. Authentic people are what they profess to be. They are true to themselves, and they are open, real and honest with others. They buy, say, offer and proffer what they truly value.

Lately I’m wanting more and more authenticity — from myself and others. To get that, I’ve been talking to myself, admitting to myself what is true about me, and others, especially being open to admitting my fears, fumblings, successes and regresses so that I can admit them to others.

I like coffee, cars, cats, books, fixing things, staff teams, history, literature, cold cereal and all manner of high-quality verbage. I am afraid of diseases, extremists and old age. I love my job as a pastor. I am so glad I have a resourcer-wife and two lovely daughters. I worry that they will not always be safe. I adore God. I also love myself — sometimes too much. I love to talk to people and make new friends. I love being alone.

To grow in desired authenticity, I’ve also been talking to others without editing as much as I used to. Instead I am trying to tap into what is really going on when I am with them, what I am feeling, what they are feeling, what we are intuiting, what we are apprehending. I am aiming at nothing less than the freedom to say what is semi-true and quasi-tolerable at any given moment, but in ways that are modest, gentle and even loving. Being authentic is no excuse for being cruel, or rude.

Saturday I encougaged a friend to go to counseling. I recently had a conflict with someone who is judgmental. It ended well.  I was patient with a person with memory loss, and I was patient with myself when I locked my keys in my office.

I can be deep; I am capable of crass superficiality. Today I bought a new casual-style blazer at H&M. I too am a member of the fast-fashion herd. At some level, I too am a copycat. Sometimes I buy clothes so that I won’t have to go around naked; sometimes I buy them so that I just might — to some other materialistic person like me — look cool, acceptable, maybe, kind of, like I (perhaps) used to?

The new blazer will look good with my blue and white checked shirt, (the one I used lighter fluid on today to get the gum out out the pocket), my Guess jeans that I bought because I couldn’t fit in my favorite Ring of Fire pair, and my black wingtips that I just had to have last Christmas because my other semi-dressy black shoe had a hole in the sole and someone might see that when I crossed my legs at an event.

I am trying, to live out me, with a modicum of honesty mixed with a preferred style. I drive a high-performance sports car because I really, really, really honestly and truly love to go very fast surrounded by eleven Bose speakers cranked up to full volume, the air conditioner blasting my face off, the mirrors vibrating to the bass, the exhaust growling at the cars I am blowing past and the curbs flying by like party streamers. I’m a resolute car sinner.

I also follow God as hard as I can, reveling in the nonpareil salvation God has offered me in the inimitable Christ and telling everybody I can that God absolutely adores them. At my core I an exhilarated by my everyday experience of God’s super-fast empowerment, his luxurious love, his bright streaming grace and his cranked up favor! God is so cool to me!

What do I recommend to you, you pop culture fanatics, you want-a-be coolios, you flawed authentics, you semi-valid truthers, you fellow hopeful reality-mongers — all you my godly and quasi-godly lovelies?

Be you; no less.

Unperson; you’ll worsen.

Sync, with God — and yourself.

The ficus tree in my backyard is huge, and it provides good shade for my whole yard, my pond and my house.

It can get bigger, and I can trim it, I can even cut it too the ground, but as long as it lives it can never go back to being a seed, a first sprout, a simple sapling, a young tree again. It’s roots go deep and spread wide now. At the base the trunk is thick and scared. Such is nature. Once organisms grow, they may reproduce, but they themselves don’t return to their original state and size.

And so too it is with humans. We are physically age-size specific. This also seems to go for our emotional, psychological and spiritual development also. When we have grown out of an immature view of life, then we see with experienced, shaded eyes. When we have surpassed simplistic views, then our concepts will become deep and complex.

This seems to make sense, but it isn’t necessarily alway so.

The other day I was looking through some old journals, the records of my thoughts fifteen years ago.

Fifteen years ago I wrote in a journal that it is “important to take a gentle look in one’s own direction. We are greatly in need of a tolerant, gracious, forgiving attitude toward ourselves. To be able to overlook others imperfections, we must be able to overlook our own.”

Odd, or not, but I have spoken and written the exact same thing, even recently. This idea concerning the importance of self-love is part of my tree, and it has been so for some time. Perhaps, I apply this idea now just a little better than when I first wrote it, but I don’t know. It is still something I am working on, and what began in me has grown to be me, and is still part of the me I am becoming.

Like the trees, we change, we enlarged, we scar, but for the healthy, some things remain the same. We are, when we age well, a compilation of the truths we have gathered along the way. We don’t grow past them, and they don’t necessarily expand on us. With true things, with the best things, “was” tends to be “is,” and “will be.”

I’m not done, not fully grown yet, and I am looking these days to keep changing, to provide more shade for other people, but I want, I plan, and I think it extremely important, to keep my roots, my trunk, my core, my simple, young, beautiful truths always about me.

A mature person — that person shelters within themselves the incipient, pure, stable essence of all they once were that makes them who they are becoming.

Of the best things I have learned this is one — not to let go of gentleness toward myself and others.

Reality is stubborn. It’s freakin’ abyssopelagic!

The deep water creatures close to my face mask — a friend’s pointy, bright-red critique here, a community member’s spiny orange glance there, a suddenly uncloaked pearly-white shark’s tooth of judgment dead ahead — and everything starts getting that dim, damned, dangerous, depthy look fast.

I find life to be blurry, even in the sunny, splash zone of consciousness, and dsfluency takes over upon every attempt to spear reality — and eat it.

I drag out my standard armamentarium — a gut feeling, a Ted’s talk, yesterday’s brilliant observation had while driving in heavy traffic, the book my friend just told me I have to read, a bit of early morning arm-chair theory mongering, the Holy Bible, what my wife thinks, what my financial consultant thinks — and then I get to thinking about my brother’s multiple myeloma, my daughter’s trenchant anxiety, my own ripped rag of insecurity over aging, what I might be doing 10 seconds from now and I’m gone — mesopelagic again.

I dive hard into the depths of what it means to have daughters, a cat, new friends, a second career, old eyes, a discriminating appetite, a healthy relationship with God, passions. I check out what it means to own a shiny piece of new technology, a butchered piece of Augustinian candor, a broken chunk of twenty-first century philosophy, a fresh slice of true love, a green tea frappuccino and I find my arms flailing and my legs kicking to get back to the surface.

I float on the top of the water and take a break.

I love life, especially, exactly the way I find it on the surface, and below.

It’s a splish and a splash, a miss and a mash, an up the boat ladder and a down again, a drop into the sea and an a soggy trip out, a rorty romp through a designer-made microbiome, a perfect drop into a custom-fitted, deep-sea-diving birthday suit, a flit and flop in my lovely skin, my healthy bones, my intact, updated, autonomic nervous system, my glorious gallimaufry of emotions, my mental buggy, my sublime, submersible brain, where I can futz about however I want, to pick and choose and have clarity — and not.

I stopped for a moment yesterday at my daughter’s day program, got out of my car — in my workout clothes — and went up to the director of the program and one of the job coaches and thanked them for doing what they do every day that they do it, taking care of disabled adults, giving them something meaningful to do.

They lit up. I lit them up. I walked away smiling. For a moment, anyway, I had seen which way to flail next.

In occurred to me recently in Oxford, as I walked through the spaces formerly walked by Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. Tolkien,  that the children’s stories that I love most are all about  journeys, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind In the Willows, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Lord of the Ring.

The journey is one of the great motifs of art and literature and of life,  Alice traveling in wonderland, Mole and Rat down the river, the children through the painting and then onto the ship, the Dawn Treader, Frodo carrying the ring away from the shire to the mountain.

I want to get at this, the structure, the essence of the stories that I love. Paul Serusier, a French pioneer in abstract art, was interested in a new gospel of painting. His ideas help me.  Serusier sought to honor, I think, the shape and the idea behind things.  He was fascinated not by literal depictions of reality, but by the structure of certain motifs. With Gauguin, he was part of a group that dubbed  themselves Les Nabis, the prophets. They favored flat planes and bright colors.  I am with them. I lean toward wanting to see and understand the deeper things that can be shown by paintings, and I favor understanding the structure of  motifs when it comes to literature too.

In the  journey motif present in some of the best children’s literature,  the shape of the motif  is something like this: The departure of  travelers from home, their transport to a new place, their encounter with  new realities, the challenges and conflicts they experience, the changes that occur within them, and their eventual return to home as different people.  This shape of course is specifically the space drawn for the traveling characters. It does not necessarily get at the shape of the setting, plot, mood, theme or language of the stories.

But in itself, I find this extremely fascinating. It is really an invigorating question:  How do travels affect travelers?

There are so many ways to come at this. We all travel so much. There are our travels through the stages of life, our travels through our careers, our relational travels, our mental travels. They are all so amazing. There is also simply the travels we might take, if we are so inclined to new places, our vacations, our trips, our forays out.

We didn’t travel too far when I was young but we did get out. I remember a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. As we drove into mountains I remember the thrill of knowing ahead, we would find Mount Rushmore. And when we did, “Wow!” It was worth the miles. I remember the first drive into the Grand Canyon, the pinyon pines, the expectation that just around the corner was, and there it was, “Wow!” It was so eye-opening, so grand, so deep, so far across, so beautiful. I remember watching a storm form over the canyon, the cumulus clouds, the slanting rain, the chance to see the shape and structure of the storm, from a uniquely distant vantage point. And there it is, the chance to see. We travel, for the chance to see, what we haven’t seen, that defines, explains, and brings wonder to life.

The family I grew up in didn’t travel as a family to another country, but the travels we took were enough. I got the idea. And I found it a seed that I wanted to grow into something bigger.

And so when I got married, and I married, by no accident, someone interested in seeing too.  My wife Linda doesn’t like to stay home too much, even less than I and so together, Mole and Rat. We got out of our home in San Diego, California  to Chicago on our honey moon, and then we just kept going from there — to Sequoia National Park, (the place I fell in love with her) to see the big trees, to Lassen Volcanic Park to see the hot springs, to Tucson to see the saguaro,  to Seattle to see the water falls, to Alaska to see the orcas and the grizzly bears,  to Cape Cod  to see the horseshoe crabs,  to Hawaii to see the sea turtles, to  Rome  to see St. Peters,  to Johannesburg, South Africa to be with people in Soweto, to Mumbai, Swaziland to see new friends, to London to see the wonders in the British Museum, to Paris to see the art in the Muse d’ Orsay.  And because of my job, I have traveled too without her, to Rio de Janeiro  and to Mexico City  and to Washington, D. C.  These journeys, and others like them, have changed us, embedded as they are within the more central journey of our lives.

I wonder how.

Today,  I sit in  a house in West Finchey, in London. We have come to see our daughter Laurel who has been studying literature in London this last semester. We came so she could show us what she has seen. We have been to London before, but by coming again, we can see differently because we are seeing it with and through her. She ferries us around, through he tube, one tunnel to another, one station to another, we fly, following her, to see War Horse, Lion King, The British Museum, the British Library, Covent Garden to eat at “Food for Thought,” to Saint Paul’s, to Whole Foods. We fly down the tube from West Finchley each day, and zip back and forth through the city, and stream in a straight line back to Finchley at night. When she was little, we always told her, “We will take you to Europe when you are old enough to enjoy it. We were right and wrong. We are here together, but she is taking us.

We are exploring the world together. We have come here, as we have lived, as a family, together. Roz didn’t come; she didn’t want to. We respected that. Her disability needs familiarity. And when it journeys, it needs time to adapt, to reorient, to understand the new spaces. The tube wouldn’t work for her, the rush up and down the stairs, the terrifyingly steep and long escalators, the push of the crowd through the doors, the standing back-to-back, the coming out above ground in a new place each time, people and cars and buses everywhere. Nightmare, for the learning disabled.

 And so we skype her yesterday, and she told us about home,  and how the cats are doing, home where we go back in just a few days, to life with her and the cats and what is familiar. This is the journey, to do life together, to travel together, or if not to skype,  to  build shared experiences, to share the structure of the motif. We tell her about the big kitties, the lions, that we have seen in London and in Paris, sitting  happy with themselves in The Muse d Orsay, winged and magnificent in the British Museum, screaming off the side of Notre Dame. We get close, by talking. And we talk about what we have experienced and what we have seen because these things help make us who we are.

The changes that come with travel,  come through the people we go with, the people we that we tell of our travels and the people that we encounter when we travel.  I love the people I meet in  new places. They change me, define me and renew me. When I travel I find my own. I will never forget my  trip to Washington DC a few years ago.  I  went there for a Christian conference. But I had been reading Smithsonian Magazine  and my Bible, and so I had discovered that the American Art Museum was featuring an exhibition of the painter Charles Burchfield. A the beginning of the conference I saw an opportunity and made my way to the museum.  I attended later attended the conference don’t remember anything that was said; I can only remember the Burchfields in the museum. They were a revelation to me.  In the museum I woke up. I gawked. I wrote in my journal.  I didn’t want to leave.  I could see what Burchfield had seen the cathedral in the woods and God in the sun and the mystery of mysteries in the oncoming spring, and I saw it through him and with him, his way of seeing, his seeing the structure of the spiritual motif running through nature. 

This is it; this is why I want to travel.  It is about the people I meet,  in the  art museums of the world and on the streets of the world.  They renew me; they help define me; they remind me who I am and what I value. In them I encounter a new river, a new mountain, a wonderland and I go home different. In London and Paris I met Renoir. Renoir and I bounded, because Renoir is like me and so he adds affirmation to who I am. He loved children, and so do I.  He valued his own children, enough to paint them,  and so do I. In his La Lecture, the little girls, dressed with love and care, are bent over their book, focus, studying, learning. I love them. They are mine. This is my reality, teaching little girls, my daughters, bending over books, putting books and stories in front of them.  I have painted my daughters too, not with paint, but with words, and in that way I have valued them as Renoir did his own.

This is the part of the journey that matters, the part where in the new place, we meet  new people and  these people who are like us add to us and help us define what we value and who we are. Some of them are dead, and some of them are not yet.

Today I walked up to a market in Finchley to grab lunch. I bought some humos, some pita, some couscous, some brea and apple juice. The owner of the market was Turkish. We talked. I love to talk to people when I travel. We spoke of the weather in today in London. As newsman said yesterday on the tele, it is “bitterly, bitterly cold.” We compared the weathers in Turkey and in Southern California. I asked if he had family.

“Yes, I have two daughters,” he said, “five and eight years old.

 “Me too; I have two daughters too,” I said. “It’s good because daughters love their daddies,” I said.

  The space between us went small. We smiled knowingly at each other. Then we had to disconnect; someone was now waiting to pay. I wanted to keep on.

He gave me my change. He said, “Good to talk to you.”  I turned to go. I looked back at him over my shoulder as I went out into the bitter cold.  He was looking toward me again smiling. Our eyes caught, warm.  We knew each other. We knew each other’s reality, daughters. It was good; it was the deep structure of the motif.

I don’t know much from my travels. They have been too few and too short. But I learned a  few things.

When I was in Brazil, I met a little woman in Campinas, in a very impoverished part of town. She was standing in front of her unfinished home. She told me her son had epilepsy. I told her that my daughter Rosalind did too.  I could feel her pain, she could feel mine. We smiled at each other. The space between us grew small. I didn’t want to go.

This is it,  the trip down the rabbit hole,  what we find at the bottom, the queens and kings there,  the way they change us. And through such encounters, we begin to see what is true in us, and what moves toward the universal, and the planes and the colors that repeat, the central  themes of the piece.

The journeys change us.

We travel and then we come home and each time, we have met others and we have met ourselves and we are, because of this, slightly different.