I answered, “Love death!”

She laughed.

We do, we will, we want to.

The whole thing began when my wife broached the topic of a new name for the cat.

“Yep, we need a new name,” I said. The cat has had a good six or eight names in it’s life already so why not switch again. In the beginning we called her “Babies,” because she was the runt of the litter, the most baby of the baby kittens.

Here at the end, “Death” also fits nicely – – because she is almost there.

As an old-old cat “Babies” or “Nina” or “Nay-Nay” or whatever she has been called, now perfectly symbolizes the final stage, so much so that recently I told my daughter that she looked like the specter of death.

Mishearing that, she started calling her the “spectrum of death.”


This cat is somewhere on the spectrum of death, somewhere close to the far right end.

Silhouetted against the front room window — black, matted and poky fur sticking at at odd, ungroomed angles — she looks like Halloween. When she moves her rail thin, humped old frame goes slowly. She can’t actually jump on to the bed anymore.

“Ah, poor kitty!”

She is indeed, death incarnate.

So, here at the end, we are loving “Death.” She just wants to be held, so we hold her. She just wants to be on someone, so she is on us.

This makes for the hilarious, the ridiculous, for laughter in the presence of the ultimate unwanted.

We live with Death and the Spectrum of Death lives in our house.

And so we hold Death.

We wash Death.

We feed Death.

We comfort Death.

And we will love Death to the end!

Poor Death!

Vivas to those who have fail’d!
And to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea!
And to those themselves who sank in the sea!
And to all generals that lost engagements, and all overcome heroes!
And the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known!

Walt Whitman

In the United States we have some fairly standard ways of defining success and failure. Success is a good position. Success is a good salary. Success is power. Success is being the boss, the big fish.

Success in America is also often defined by vibrancy. It is being healthy — on the youngish side — strong, beautiful.

Success is also things. It is stuff — good clothing, a good house, a good neighborhood, a luxury car, expensive jewelry, a brag-worthy vacation.

And success in the U.S. is people, families, spouses, marriages, children. It includes “our people,” as if we could still own them  — housekeepers, maids, lawyers, shoppers, perhaps a trailing retinue of admiring and secretly jealous friends, perhaps some fleshly conquests.

Failure — it is not having these things.

By such definitions many of the people that I know are not successes.

Not to vilify the middle class or the wealthy — there are numerous super excellent people with stuff  and fluff and family enough — but many of the smartest, bravest, hardiest, kindest, funniest people I know are unemployed, or formerly employed. They are not wealthy. They are old. They are moms, grandmas, widows, divorced, sick, perhaps lonely. They live in rooms in small houses. They live in small apartments, in other people’s houses — in less than desirable neighborhoods —  some are in and out of hospitals. They have little, they know relatively few people in the grand scheme of things, they run nothing. People they pay do not prop them up.

And yet, and yet, just yet — how lovely they are.

Bill Holm has put it eloquently. The sunk, lost, unimportant, Whitman’s “numberless” — they play a kind of beautiful music. They play the gorgeous, melodic, halting and yet lovely “music of failure.” Perhaps they are failures as defined by our pre-paid, power-laid, beauty-bade, family-weighed American dream. But when these lesser lights are judged by their resilience, their good humor, their kindness, their godliness, their grit and their gumption — they play gorgeous music.

Bill has written that the “music of failure“ sounds “like Bach” to him, played by a so-called “failed” family friend.  Then he asks, “What does it sound like to you?”

To me it sounds like the voices of some of my most brave, fun, resilient friends.

Jealousy —  it is the reaction no one admits but everyone has. It is like an old, ugly piece of clothing that we refuse to throw away. We keep it at the back of our closet. A few of us have tossed it under the bed. It is still there.

I lost a friendship once — jealousy. I myself once ran over the top of another person. My steamroller? It came thundering out of my own ugly jealousy. It feels shameful to admit this.

A young woman told me last week that one of her bridesmaids was throwing a fit about the dress that she was being asked to wear to the wedding. We talked about where the girl is at in life, what she doesn’t have that she wants to have. Her little hissy fit? It is about more than the dress.

I asked a friend recently,  “What do you think the cure for jealousy is?” I expected a platitude about humility, but she surprised me by saying, “Success.”

The cure for jealousy is success.

When we get to attending to what we want to do, what we need to do, with working out our happy hopes and exciting dreams, we will be too focused on our work to be jealous. True, but I think the curative doesn’t not merely lie within the distraction of focus, although that helps, it also lies within the abandoning of comparisons.

Someone will always be more favored, prettier, more powerful, wealthier,  smarter — no matter how much we succeed. We must refuse the comparison.

We must because we are not them, we are us, and we are where we are at, and we are who we are, and we will do well to  make the most of that, with no furtive glances — tinged with enviafication — to either side.

Gratitude lies in minutiae.

Yesterday, I dug a splinter out of my finger — better.

Yesterday, I painted the downstair’s bathroom, good. I ate chocolate covered peanuts and hired a plumber to fix a problem I couldn’t. Small holds the rank of swank. I also fed the cats. I consider everything as if it counts because it does.

In the evening, I was thankful for rock ballads, and spent time listening to “Always” by Bon Jovi, “Forever Love” by X Japan and “Wind of Change” by Scorpions.

The big picture is confusing to me. Is it to you? My daughter has some big decisions to make, but sometimes I think we only know that we made the right big decision, or were led, or had wisdom, when looking back. That’s fun!

Yesterday, I did the laundry and so today I have clean clothes. Cool! I knew I was doing the right thing when I did it, as we often do with the small stuff.

“Thank you.”

This morning I am relaxing, strenuously, with coffee. That is correct. Good!


“You are so kind!”

The smallest — it is the greatest, our mightiest moment, this quick and quarky nanosecond’s “is.”

“This is really good for you!” she said brightly, and then she squatted down, pulled open the glass door of the cold case and pulled out a bottle.”

I didn’t see what it was, but she was so sure, so confident, so convivial that right there in the aisle of the store  my hypothalamus brightened and the neurons involved in the homeostatic regulation of feeding lit up.

Eating behavior — it’s critical for the acquisition of energy substrates and thus — and so then — what we choose matters.

At home that afternoon I made a blueberry, honey and almond milk smoothy. For dinner I grilled fish and cooked up fresh green beans. In the evening we ate popcorn.

I needed what was really good for me because I have overworked lately —  and my mom died a couple of weeks ago — and my daughter is getting married in May, and I am selling the home I live in over the summer, and then after all that I am moving into and renovating another home I own.

Here at the beginning of what looks to be a fairly high-stress year — a year that could raddle and fray me — I am inspired to do what is really good for me. What is really good for me is hanging our with my super-wife, my lovely daughters and my good friends. What is good for me is napping with cats. What’s good for me is quite a bit of writing and reading, the kind that helps me better understand the tragio-amazic world we live in. What’s good for me is working hard. What’s good for me is resting hard —  and reflecting.

Thoughtful quiescence — that’s good for me. That is actually close to my best elixir, my mental ambrosia.

Thinking and brooding while writing — that is my primio-medico, my superlio-therapatico. It is my reviviscence. It is my that-that that zhooshes me up and zhashes me out. Writing is my delicious, soothing, healing blueberry smoothy.

What about you?

What’s good for you?

How about if you do that?

“I haven’t heard from him much lately,” that’s what I would say if I was asked.

But saying that — like that — I feel guilty about it, like it’s my fault, and I feel less than the the great ones.

We haven’t talked on the phone — we don’t do that, but of course nobody does that even though some act like they do — and we haven’t sat down and just had it out. I mean, we have sat down, every day, but he hasn’t been that forthcoming. With me he never is. He is never very obvious, never blunt, never commanding.

Some people are like, “God told me this, or God told me that.” Some people are like “I felt like God wanted me to do this, or I felt like God wanted me to do that.”

I’m more like, we pretty much hang out most of the time, and I really want to do the right things — make good choices, puzzle out what to do, please him, ask others what they think —  so I just assume that I am always hearing, always being led, always pretty much in step, except when I know I’m not because I do something so selfish it’s obvious it’s wrong.

For me it’s kind of like, “I haven’t heard from him lately, because I have been hearing from him constantly lately,” if that makes any sense at all. It’s like the voice is so constant that it is never absent so it is not that obvious! It may seem arrogant to say that it is like that for me, but it is really a very humble and ordinary thing. Wisdom shouts, constantly,  to all of us, from every corner. Isn’t that what the Bible says? Tozer says it this way, “God is continuously articulate.”

On Saturday, I took an unlikely moment to ask someone how they were doing, listened a lot, affirmed their perspectives and prayed with them in a parking lot. It was ordinary in the sense that it was normal for me, just what I do, but perhaps it was more than that too.

Was it led? Did it come from God? I’ll leave that to the super-spiritual to determine, but I don’t need to decide that to make it spiritual or special or to claim that I’m special.  Like you, like all of us, I live and move and have my being within the divine ambit, the supernatural circle and the profound ambience of God.

My read on this is that it’s all led — except when it isn’t, and we mostly know when it isn’t. The rest — it is pure God.

I’m good with that. We are not hearing that much because we are always hearing.

The everyday good, the common care, the normal love — it’s all spiritual.

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.

We sleep.
We eat.
We work.
We rest.

Life has rhythms.

We start.
We finish.
We love.
We lose.
We cry.
We laugh.

Life has seasons.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

There is a time for everything,
 and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
 a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
 a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
 a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
 a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
 a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
 a time for war and a time for peace.

Here we find an important subject from the teacher of Ecclesiastes, the rhythms and seasons of life.

The writer, or Teacher, has experienced it all, had it all — big houses, lovely gardens, fancy cars, delightful relationships, entertainments and wealth, and he has come away both delighted and disillusioned, realizing it is all transient, it passes, we die.

Perhaps more than anywhere in the Bible Ecclesiastes embraces the complexities of experience and the paradoxes of living.

Life is wonderful; it is painful. We dance; we don’t.

Yesterday my daughter Laurel was down from Costa Mesa to try on her wedding dress.

What? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was born? Only yesterday she wore her first dress, and tomorrow she puts on her wedding dress.

Children move in, children move out, they move in again — thankfully they eventually move out, that’s the goal, to get someone else to take them.

“Oh life!” — the ironies, the intricacies, the nuances — all that happens “under the sun.” Life is both delightful, and a chasing after the wind.

Peace and war, love and hate, tearing and mending — all these contras and contrasts exist “under the sun.”

What to do with this?

Be aware of rhythm.

We do well to accept the rhythm and season of life we are in. It helps to be philosophic, reflective, to make friends with reality. Life is young; it gets old. Life brings us close to people; it rips them away from us. We build things; they wear out and we demo them, we build again.

“Didn’t we just paint the bathroom?”

“It needs painting again?”

We must accept it, all, the first painting, the smudges, the painting again. Life has both one and the other, and everything is “beautiful in it’s time.”

Take the season of old age.

Not working, not competing, not playing the game — retirement sometimes feel empty, lost, lacking purpose. But there is a place for being, for not pushing anymore, for not having to justify your existence with work, with chasing wind.

Better one handful with tranquillity
    than two handfuls with toil
    and chasing after the wind.

Two years ago, we vacationed in the San Juan Islands. We took a boat trip to the Salish Sea, to see the Orca whales. When we arrived at the pod, they shut off the boat, we just sat among them, enjoying the massive, splashing black and white wonders. We had no other place to go, we were there. It was good. It was the season to just turn the motor off and sit amid the wonders.

Some of us want so much.

The Teacher speaks of the “miserable” striving and craving of life.

But, right now, today, we each have only have what is right in front of us. It is okay in any season to turn off the motor, to sit with our Orcas, to see what is present, to take that and just enjoy that, even if it is not perfectly balanced.

It is good to revel in those quiet moments, because life won’t always be in balanced, even, calm seas. This too it is good to accept. We must face and accept the reality that we won’t always have perfect balance and rhythm. It is normal to experience times of disequilibrium.

All the kids and grandkids go through smooth, calm periods, and then they go into other periods where they unsettled, get upset, experience failure, break down.

At eighteen month old the little ones often sometimes stop minding, stop being reasonable. At two and one-half they can take over your house. It’s called autonomy.

I heard a mom told her daughter recently, “I love you.” The little girl was like, “I love me too!”

That’s cute, until she dominates the rest of the household with her self-love!

And it isn’t just kids. All of us experience cycles, mood swings, times.

I think I experienced some disequilibrium last week. Change is all around me. My mom died recently. We are moving soon. My daughter is getting married.  Last week, I couldn’t be told anything.

My wife was like, “Take care of yourself; eat more fruit.”

I was like, “Fruit? Really, back off! I had fruit loops for breakfast.”

It’s okay.

We won’t have balance in every season, we won’t alway be on. We will get off, our kids will get off — not to panic. We will do well to just love ourselves and others through our seasons of disequilibrium.

This too, will pass.

Lastly, it is good to see God, there, in every season.

Despite his disequilibrium, his Biblical cynicism, the writer of Ecclesiastes was very God-centered — “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.”

The message of the book is that life is messy and yet — God. We moderns have come to think in our world that it’s all about us pursuing fulfillment on our own, but the author of Ecclesiastes has a powerful message for us: fulfillment is God’s business.

“To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life–this is indeed a gift from God.”

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!

Last week, we hung art in our new REFINERY Church and Center For Enriching Relationships Counseling Center.

It was the end of a process.

First we prepared the walls — dusting, wiping, sanding, re-texturing, applying primer. Next, we installed new French doors in every room, black wood with gorgeous etched glass squares. Then, in went the floors — unifying, lightening, pulling the rooms together from below with a warm, clean, modern look. After that, we went after the application of wall color — a beautiful warm grey, perfectly matching the flooring — then a second coat, then touching up, installing white baseboards, caulking the baseboards, more touching up.

After all that, we choose the art. That was a wild boar hunt and more — a hunt for color, content, matting, framing, cost, size, style, feel. It had dead ends, stone walls, frustrating web searches, super-vetoes from our passionate decor team members.  Too small, too cliched, too expensive, too cheap, too orange, too realistic, too abstract — too not just the right blue.

We finally bought some gorgeous stuff, just the right colors and lines and splashes of creativity for a place dedicated to healing.

Then there was the measuring-of-the-wall, the establishing-of-an-attractive-hang-point —  not to low, not to high, midway between to lateral points. Borrow a hammer-drill, buy a masonry bit  — the walls are solid concrete! — drill a hole, drill deeper, put in an insert, pull it out, drill again, insert, screw in the screw, adjust the screw, adjust again.

Hang the picture off one side while holding the other side up, put a level on top, mark a second hole, drill, insert, screw, hang, check with the level, right on  — “Ah!”


It was all work, it was all plan; it took more steps and more time than expected; it wasn’t exciting; it was! This will be sacred, healing space.

Wow, that art, on that wall, it’s subtle, just the right feel, medicinal, except for that one on that wall — that one just pops with curative warmth!

Fitting, restorative, salutary, soothing, perfect. “I love it!”  I knew we would get to this point, this end-of-the-line, this excitification, exultifaction, soothosity, satismongering.

Life — it is a series of steps.  Life is a process, life is preparing, finding, drilling, hanging, finishing. Life is pushing through, pounding through, so we can get to solid, to good, to admiration, to satisfaction, to gratitude, to beauty. God himself knows that, and he himself took steps, many steps, to get to beautiful earth, to very good, to just right, for us.

Sometimes we want instant. Instant money, instant status, instant skill, instant comfort, instant art, instant food, instant healing. We want to take step one — and be there.

Not so, not reality, not how things work, not how the good life gets hung. Everyone healed from psyche wounds in the new counseling center will themselves engage in a process, will heal over time, will heal step-by-step.

Do this.

Do this to thrive.

Take the first, second, fifth and tenths steps that you need to take toward the exultant good surging within you. Step, and step again over the crumbling sea wall of your own immediophila, your single-stepiditude, your skulking sloth.

Resistance to hard work —  and to process, and to steps — has for too long been restraining the swelling passion for healing, and for beauty surging within us all.