Archive for the ‘people’ Category

A person is a space heater; a group is a bonfire, an event is a conflagration

Recently, I had a friend over. He grew up in Zimbabwe, worked for some time in London, then in Montana, and now lives here in San Diego. He’s been around. I like that.

We watched a rugby match together and warmed ourselves with discussions of scrums, rucks and mauls. He is a big New Zealand rugby fan and so we viewed a match between New Zealand and Australia on Youtube that began with a fearsome haka. The quivering hands and intense war cries of the Maori people were awesome.

My new friend schooled me in the fine art of the rough art. As he was out the door I invited him back another weekend to watch some Cricket. We are socia-sportifying, internationalizing, warming up the place.

Every person close to every person is the potential for a cozy hearth fire. Every race, tribe, nation and people breaching, teaching and reaching every other people is the good within the transcendent social good. We were meant to warm each other up, made for congeniality, created for affability, programmed for closeness.

The problems seem to arise when we team up against each other. when we stereotype each other, label each other and hatefully oppose each other. The solutions come when we sit down together, focus on the same thing, explain stuff to each other, do something fun tougher, play together, laugh together.

My current thoughts, find someone from somewhere else, treat them as your personal space heater, fire them up with your own curiosity, ask questions, learn from each other and  warm up the place.

I could hear him, just outside my office window, talking loudly to someone in the church parking lot as the Narcotics Anonymous group was letting out.

“Hey, you can talk to Pastor Randy!”

He continued, “Really man, you can talk to him. He is a normal person, just like us.”

I laughed. To me it was a compliment of the highest order. I am a normal person.

We educated, professional muckety-mucks. We stage-loving, microphone-hugging, hyper attentive, drive-to-the-top-of-the-mountain spiritual maniacs. The truth is that we are just like them, like everyone!

Some of my pastoral colleagues aspire to be prophets, some to be great speakers, some to be great reformers, some to be miracle workers, some to be powerful leaders of large organizations. I get this. Good for them.

I aspire to many things too, always have, always will. I hope for much, but the reality is that I have everything in common with the members of the AA Group that meets at the church I help lead.

I have never had a life-ruining addiction, but I am one of them, like them, normal, just another person trying to figure out life. Like them, I have been though stuff, been weak, gotten better, dealt with my issues, found out that I am tough. I too am in recovery — from myself.

It’s fine to aspire to much, but know this: None of us will ever rise above — the rest of us. We are all wonderfully, similarly human.

“O life,” she said.

We’ve all said it, or thought it, or felt it.

It means, “O life, you’re so beautiful, you promise so much, and yet, you little traitor, you’ve let us down a bit now, you cad, you flit, you flipper flopper.”

The ancient turn, the classical about-face, the emotive “O,” the wistful, apostrophic, exclamatory sigh into the void — it gets precisely at the exacting ambiguity of life’s blissful-distrubatory.

I’m in the people business —  the nonprofit kind.  My young, optimistic staff and I people farm — daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.  We sow, irrigate, harvest, bundle, haul, barn, transport and distribute people — sometimes, mostly, kind of, always very gently.  It’s good work —  messy, fun, disappointing, fulfilling, exhausting.

Yesterday, I gave a talk to a room of biomes concerning the happy navigation of the various and sundry vicissitudes of the culture wars. This morning I set up a plan to pay for a disabled child’s therapy. Tomorrow I’ll work on the buildout of a new counseling center. Next week I’ll give a talk on mental illness and suicide.

It goes well. It doesn’t.

Yesterday a person I’ve been helping turned on me. Someone else I have high hopes for didn’t show. Another slept during one of my talks. Another seems to be on track to perpetually ignore reality.

Today, I am in need of some serious ice cream.  It’s an “Oh life” kind of business. They come they go; they shrink they grow.

I think that for me, the hardest thing is how life — and choices —  carry them away, like the bright orange and yellow fall leaves floating on an inclining mountain stream.

My particular brand of dysfunctional co-dependence needs people-permanence. I used  to teach full-time — in the humanities — and I used to grieve like a doleful poet when my students graduated.  My current role is better, they stay longer in a church, but not long enough.

And so it is, “O life!”

They ebb, they flow, they come, they go.

And yet, there isn’t an option; there isn’t any other kind of life, the kind without the “Hi,” the sigh and the “Goodbye.”

This life is the good life, but it’s the next one that will be more stable. Can’t wait!

“Hmm, nothing seems to be as constant as change.”

As part of my survival strategy, I’m beginning to make friends with that.

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.

“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.

Life is a series of choices about what we value.

What do you value? What about me? I like the advice in Matthew 6:19

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This is a challenging, powerful teaching. It is a good word about our hearts

In Matthew 6, Jesus is challenging you and me with a provocative question, “Where is your heart?”

Jesus says our heart is where our treasures is.

This week Tasia, my office manger and I worked on the REFINERY Church youth center. We bought wood, and paint, and furniture.

We assembled a big black farm table and bench we bought for the youth. We carried out trash. We nailed some decorative wood on the walls. On Friday, we swept the floor, so the youth could have an nice environment for their Sunday group.

You could say, what we bought and worked on is the stuff that rots. The room and it’s furniture will age over time. The youth will sit on that new table, stand on that table, jump on that table. They will break the windows with game balls.  They will trash that room!

But remodeling the youth center isn’t about the stuff, it is about valuing young people, loving our youth, creating a safe attractive space for them, about attracting more of them to church so they can know God.

That matters. They matter. That they have a good place to meet matters.

They are the treasure that we use our treasure for. This is what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6. Keep straight on what the treasure is. Treasure the true treasure, not the lesser treasure.

If we treasure only temporary stuff that rots, stuff that people steal, stuff that goes up and down in value — cars, clothes, food, houses, money, although those aren’t bad — if we put them in the center of our hearts, then our hearts will be filled with insecurity.

The recent great recession, 2007 to 2009, showed us how insecure our earthly treasure is.

But If we treasures stuff that which lasts on into heaven — eternal stuff like young people, all people, Christian community, virtue, beauty, love, God himself — then our hearts will be secure, for these things were made to last.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.

God has put eternity in us. God has set a desire for what lasts in us. Our souls are eternal, our hearts are eternal, the kingdom of God is eternal. The Bible is clear on this, go for the gold Christians. Pursue what lasts!

Question. Hard question. One Christians have always struggled with.

Does God hate stuff? Is God anti-material? Does God hate earth? Does only heaven have value?

No, no, no. That is not what Jesus is saying here.

The church fathers, our best theologians, the famous historic church councils, the best Christian thinkers have always answered:God loves his creation, God loves nature, God loves earth — in fact heaven will be a new earth. God loves humans, and God loves buildings that his people can be safe in, live in and worship in.

God himself oversaw the building of the beautiful Jewish temple.

In fact I think our need and longing for a place to worship, and a safe place to live is our longing for heaven. It is the old Gnostic heresy that God hates evil flesh and evil material things and that only heaven and spirit are good. That is heresy. It is false.

The whole book of Matthew is about Jesus healing bodies, feeding crowds, loving humans, honoring the temple, teaching with examples from creation.

NT Wright puts it well, “God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was ‘very good.’ Rather, he intends to remake it.”

The beautiful thing of this world, nature, flowers, bodies, the beautiful accomplishments of human beings, art, music, literature, dance, our God loves and revels in these things and they are part of the kingdom of God and they will be a part of heaven.

In Matthew 6, Jesus isn’t directing us to be weirdly anti-material and super-spiritual, he is directing us to wrap our hearts around kingdom values, around what is most important:

People, not money
God, not stuff
The body of Christ, not our separated individual lives.

Jesus us saying, “I really care about your hearts. I want them to choose the best things. Matthew 6:19 is Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well  spring of life.”

In my family, when it comes to technology we use Apple products.

Once, my daughter’s Apple device was stolen by a participant in her day program. But we had turned on the app Find My IPhone on the device. So we saw where the IPod went.

It was in Santee. At a shopping mall. Then a house. We contacted the director of her program. He knew the student who lived in Santee. The director called the mom. Surprise! Your son has a stolen iPod. Busted!

The iPod was guarded and protected by it’s finding app and it’s GPS system.

In a similar way, guard your heart. Turn on the GPS in your heart. Watch where your heart goes. Protect it,  don’t let it get stolen away by temporary things, by keeping it focused on that which lasts.

Jesus was so serious about this, he came at it again in Matthew 6:22

Matthew 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is very confrontational here, very strong. The over-valuing of the kingdom of the world can darken our eyes, and darken our hearts, master and rule us.

Money can rule us. And keep us insecure.

How do we avoid this?

How to keep I keep my eye healthy? How do I serve the right master? How do I guard my heart?

Three simple ways.

1. Put the most important things first.

Put God first, not money.

Put people first, not things.

I like things. I have things. But to keep myself balanced, every month I give money to support a missionary, every month I pay for children’s education in TJ, every month I pay for my parents food at their rest home, every month I give generously to my church.

I tend toward being materialistic, but I purposefully counter this by choosing to use a significant portion of my money for eternal things.

2. To guard your heart, invest in the kingdom.

Invest in people. Invest in friends, invest in youth, and children and old people too.Place the value of relationships higher than the value of material things.

Use your time to stop and talk to people. Build up your relationships at church.Use your house or apartment for hospitality.Use your personal skills to volunteer.

Invest in your kids. Invest in family. Spend more time with them that with stuff. If you are a leader in the church, mentor someone, apprentice someone, disciple someone. Build into the life of a younger person

3. Finally, thirdly, go beyond using money for God. Use your skills for God.

N. T. Wright again gets at this perfectly, “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself— that will last into God’s future.

These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether.They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Here is how we have good hearts. Here is how we have secure hearts.

We remain clear on what the treasure is.

We put up-and-down things second, and we put lasting, eternal things first.

“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!

I love old ladies.

Take my friend Claudene for instance. She recently had another hip sergery.  Not a whimper or a whine — just surgery and then nothing but tough.

I asked her, “Why don’t you whine?”

“Wouldn’t do any good,” she replies.

There you go.

She recovered so fast after her surgery that I didn’t get out to see her at the hospital like I did for her first hip surgery. She didn’t have a word of complaint or criticism about that.  I like old people who are easy on you, who have learned to keep their mouths shut a lot.

Take my friend Louise.

She had a stroke awhile back. Tough go of it. She couldn’t talk for some time after the stroke which must have been hard for her because she is world class talker.  She is a super talker — funny, dry, wry and fly.

Indeed, Louise is one of the smartest, coolest conversationalists  I know —  liberal, fiesty, free of spirit, spunky even sassy. I like those kind of women; they keep it  real, and fun.

Louise doesn’t spar like she used to, but that twinkle is still in her eyes and I know those flip comments are still running through her head.

Of course not all old ladies are like these two; there are some cranky, negative, narrow-mined octogenarians.

But the ones I know are mostly calm — they don’t carry weapons — and they seem to be at peace with themselves and others.

What is it? What is the good the years can do to us?

I think it is this: we are better when we are old enough that we have nothing much left to prove — but we still wear a little lipstick. I think we are better when  we don’t care so much what others think — except when we watch the news at night and humph a little.  I believe we are better when we have seen and done pretty much everything — short of stuff that would have put us in prison — and when we know we didn’t do anthing perfectly and so we don’t expect anyone else to either.

What I like is the well-seasoned wisdom that isn’t interested in telling other people what to do but more into just enjoying people as they are.

Some of the old ladies I know, Claudene and Louise are among them, meet together for Bible study and fun. They talk, and they learn, and they take care of each other a bit, and laugh a lot. They are led by one of my very gracious friends, Glee, a real lover of people, another one who knows how to  speak only positive things, a wise woman among wise women.

I don’t know a more fun bunch of people than this group.

Well-seasoned ladies, who have been through it, who don’t whine much, who have outlived their more fragile men —  well most of them — and who know how to shut up a lot and how to talk a lot and how to eat heartily — and stay off a bathroom scale mostly — and  poke fun a lot with out being critical or mean — I love them!

 

I looked at the steps above and below me. All the available space was covered — with people.

The concrete steps were literally paved with seated people — something like you might see at the Spanish steps in Rome, but different —  people with dirt on their arms and water bottles beside them, people smiling and laughing.

And moreover and thusly, they were eating pizza, set out in boxes, stacked in the center of the steps.

It was a volunteer earth care team, and we sitting on the church entry steps, after work, on a mid-week evening. We had just been digging grass out of the yard, building a decorative retaining wall and constructing a pretty, curving, decomposed granite pathway.

Why?

Earth care, water saving and beauty — and community. The new plants that will be planted at the church will use less water, flower more, inspire us and the people who walk or drive by.

And that’s the thing, the people. On the steps that evening — laughing about goofy horror movies we have seen, woofing down tasty pizza, taking a break from work — we were a collection, a collaboration, a unit, an entity, a team, a people, a family. This is good church.

This is in fact, the highest social good, our best moment.  When we refuse to stay home, when we defeat isolationism, when we come out, when we team up to care for the earth and each other, when we have social discourse, when we become a pod, a murmuration,  a collaborative — this is deep, satisfiying good-good.

Want to live well? Want to please God?

Want the best experiences life can offer?

Find people, do earth care work with them, get pizza, put the pizza in the center of the group, eat, hobnob, laugh and then look around at the beauty you are celebrating.

This is your earth; this is your human family.

It was Friday night after work and we were at Bino’s Bistro and Crêperie in Hillcrest feasting on crêpes, tiredness, love and goofiness — trying to reprise us four years ago in Paris, recovering from too much San Diego this last week and indulging in the elemental and eternal concoction of comfort food and comfort family to stave off mental dysfunction, work ennui and certain death.

Diner came to our table as bacon, tomato, avocado, mozzarella cheese and spicy Chipotle sauce on a fresh, tender slightly chewy crêpe — it was a California Crêpe.

Dessert consisted of orange-Grand Marnier sauce, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on a tender fluffy crêpe — it was Crêpe Suzette, and we clashed forks over it.

Here is the deal for us humans — food and people, never leaving out the people are necessary to thrive.

At Bino’s the owner came to our table and confabulated with us about his former restaurant in Coronado, his five black cats who take walks with him, his many and varied crêpe recipes and his repository of odd and desultory memories. He was charming.

And that’s it, people are charming, mostly, or not, but we love them, need them and ought to feed them a dose of our attention and warmth and appreciation for being the crêperie inside of the crêperie of the very essential ice cream and whipped creme crêperie of them!

I had lunch last week with a sweet friend who brought fresh veggie sandwiches for us to inhale. “People,” she mused, “teach us stuff, all of them.”

It’s true and beautiful to see life this way. The ones who fail teach us how to fail or remind us not to fail in precisely the gruesome and horrible ways in which they fail. The ones who succeed teach us how to succeed, in precisely the terrible and horrific ways in which they succeed.

Each person is a meal to us, each one a dessert!

So here is my human-restaurant recommendation. Yelp people, find people, visit people, consort with people and consume all of them!

People are the crêpes of life, and life is better if we munch on as many of them as we possible can.