Nothing endures like helplessness.

Yup, helplessness just hangs in there and suffers, hopelessly, without taking any action, repeating the same narratives to explain the past, arguing for what happened, because helplessness believes it couldn’t and can’t change anything.

This morning I talked to a young woman trying to recover from her family’s bad choices —  substance abuse, addiction, divorce.

She said something like, “I am done with playing the victim.”

“Me too,” I told her. “I’m looking ahead not back, focusing on what I can do, not judging other people for what they did, or do. I’m done with judging people.”

She gave the “Amen” to that. I prayed for her. I believe God is all about moving on toward a good future.

But interestingly, last night I had a dream where I was trying to make clear to someone why a past relationship I had, failed, and I found myself explaining that in that particularly complicated version of bad blood — while I had clearly made mistakes — I had almost always been a positive force, an idea-crafter, a problem-at-hand-solver, a way-forward pointer, and that this was never, ever ungrudingly acknowledged by the other person. Instead it was turned to blame.

It’s a victim’s mantra, my explanation to someone else, my story retold, that narrative about what wasn’t acknowledged, what someone did to me or didn’t do for me or wouldn’t admit or hid so that they could villainize me.  My narrative may be true, (actually it is),  the damage done may have been real (it was), but it won’t help me much to tell it to that person.

I was reading in the Bible this morning and a verse stood out, “Do everything without arguing.” 


I don’t have to stand toe-to-toe with those who have offended me and argue my perspective in order for me to be okay, for me to move on, for my story to be validated.  Neither do you. And that wouldn’t likely work anyway.  Head-to-head, we most likely wouldn’t be heard by the other side — the two differing stories would compete, there would only be noise. Loud voices only deepen divides. I know. I’ve stood by and watched people do this.

In other words, I don’t need to argue for my version of my past. I don’t need someone else to affirm this. If my story is true, then it is true, and if it helps me to see it, then it helps me, but I don’t need to convince anyone else of it. There is no vindication in that.

This is not to say that victims don’t need to tell their stories in court or confront their abusers. They do. But when court is impossible and victimizers won’t listen, at some point it becomes counterproductive to keep going over and over the same narrative and not moving forward

What I need is to be self-affirming, to know who I am, and to keep building on that. I have always been a leader, a problem solve, an idea sharer. I always have been that. That is who I am. This is who I always will be. I am a vision leader, a path finder, a good team player, and my current role at my job totally affirms that.

I help other people be successful by seeing what is possible for them, by seeing what is next, for them, by seeing what is next, for us.

What I need to do is just keep doing that.

While nothing endures like helplessness, it is also true that nothing endures like essential character, and not playing the victim, and hope and authenticity, and knowing oneself and moving on.

I’m not helpless. I am not stuck in the past.

I like myself like that.

We don’t do two things well — grieve and die.

No practice.


Most of us shopped-out, played-out, TV-ed-out and worked-out Americans — this includes me — put a lot of time into living.

We lack experience in dying.

We shield ourselves from death by means of caregivers, professional death-watchers, CNA’s, CHHA’s, RN’s, LVN’s, who often spend more time with our loved ones in their last few years than we do.

We turn death into entertainment nightly. It’s product; we shop it, on Amazon and Netflix. It makes the movie thrilling, the TV series worth binge watching. We love a “Who done it?” not a “How goes it?” Death for us is as thin as film — fast-paced, shot fired, falling body — actors and stunt men playing hit men, victims and corpses for our evening’s entertainment — with popcorn on the side.

We need help.

Help is at hand.

We all know the sick, and the dying — we will become them soon enough ourselves — and so we can all choose to enter into their real experiences more.

This week I read Nina Riggs, One Bright Hour. It’s death alright, up-close-and-personal —  hilarious, tragic, beautiful, brutal, not sentimentalized, touching. I cried when she died, a young mom, leaving her husband and two boys behind, with no one to show them “how to find the orange juice in the refrigerator.”

It was better than a murder mystery, and it reminded me that life will murder us all — slowly. It takes longer to die in life than in the movies, there are more moments, to suffer, and thrill — many more. I needed that reminder.

Nina Riggs was 39 when she died in February of this year, 2017, of breast cancer.  She left us with her death memoir. It is wickedly funny, real — honest. I loved all this in her. Like all of us after the scary lab report, she runs between frightened-out-of-her-mind-and-can’t-breathe in a doctor’s office to happy-in-the-moment-back-at-home-with-the-dog-and-the-kids. Going through this with her, through her book, was therapy for me.

“How intensely I love this imperfect world, how grateful I am to be in it,” she said in an interview before she died.

We all need reminders of the wisdom of embracing the bright hours, and the dark ones too, of what it means to live and how it feels to die. We need to get up close to death more in order to better understand life, which always hovers on the edge of death.

“I am reminded,” she wrote,”  of an image … that living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more — sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.”

What do books like this do for us?

What does spending time with dying ones do for us?

Rehearsal, it’s rehearsal, for when our close ones die, and we do.

Living closer to death is walking within something that we will all walk through, it is accepting, it is learning, it is practicing, our own tightrope walk.

I am planning to drive up to LA again soon to see my parents, both now 90, both walking the tightrope, and to see my brother, who has cancer.

I want to get closer.

It might help me live better, love more, and one day die better too.

There is a some angst in the United States these days and it surfaces in the fear of strangers, and it takes on the language of “us” and “them,” and the language of our national “greatness.”

People say things like “We Americans need take care of ourselves first, we need to do what is best for us, we need protect our interests so we can be great again.” This makes sense to many people who aren’t doing well economically and to people who feel that they have lost power or place or status.

As a result our national sentiment has grown in being against those who aren’t like us. It is in vogue to suspect the stranger. The thinking is that they keep us from being great.

People of another color, people from another religion, people from another socio-economic background, people from another country — too often, these days, they are suspect. If they are not of us then perhaps they are not for us.


But the facts are this; we are one humanity, one human family, all cut from the same cloth, all bearing the same needs, wanting many of the same things, and in truth — to be quite spiritual about this —  we are made, according to holy writ, in the same image.

I’m am not suggesting that there are not people to fear, dangerous ones  — there are — but I am suggesting that difference in culture, color, cult or cannon, doesn’t not mean that we can’t — even if we are strange to each other — respect one another, live close to each other, and even benefit from each other, and even help each other avoid harm from dangerous ones.

And, in fact, we do, benefit from each other.

I ran across a really interesting book a while back, The Necessity of Strangers. In it, the author, Alan Gregerman, asks the question, “What if strangers are more important than friends?”

He then explains that the advantage to strangers is that they can fill in the gaps in our knowledge. They can teach us stuff, and thus help us be more innovative and help us create more value and help us make our world great.

Is this true?

It has been for me.

At two points in my life, I have been overwhelmed by difficulty.  At both those times, I have gone to counseling for therapy. The two best counselors of my life were both Chinese women, both with PhD’s, one a Christian, one not. They helped move toward greatness, if my greatness is defined as surviving and triumphing in the face of difficulty, if greatness is defined as being more loving, if greatness is defined as being more understanding of emotions and becoming more skilled in handling conflict.

These strangers, these wise, educated women, from other countries, helped healed my heart. They did me much good. Professional counseling — think about it  —  it is the knowing and unburdening our hearts, to strangers, who can perhaps be more objective than family and fiends, who have been trained to have more skill in responding to relational hurt and difficulty.

This is not all. This is not the sole example of strangers who help, who have helped me, who help all of us.

Many, many strangers, people very different from us, have benefited each of us in the United States.

Strangers, in the form of farmers, grow our food. Strangers, in the form of doctors — virtual strangers, many from other countries — have treated and healed our diseases. Strangers from other countries — and strangers here in America  —   they have made and perfected the the technology we drive and the advanced tech we work with and communicate with. Strangers, from the past and present, have written the books that have influenced our thinking, they have made the great discoveries that has given us better lives, advanced the best political systems, furthered civilization, done us all much good.

It is endless. Our lives are enriched and sustained by strangers. Our scientific, philosophical, cultural, psychological, sociological, historical and spiritual knowledge has been built up and perfected by the work of strangers, both in other countries and in ours

And economic peace and prosperity —  if that is one of our standards of greatness in our now globally dependent system — will very much hinge on the cooperation of strangers.

I have nothing against striving for greatness, but as we do, we would do well to remember this: strangers, they have made us great, again and again.

Finally it was my turn.

I knelt down on the concrete, balanced on one knee, and put my eye up to the glass lens.

There it was!

The refulgent sun was being eclipsed by a revenant moon.


And in that moment —  that perfectly rare and gorgeous moment of looking at a great sphere, the sun, 400 times bigger than the other sphere, the moon, but also 400 times further away — I was transfixed.

It was a moment of profound seeing, and of profound forgetting, because to focus on the moon crossing the sun, to concentrate, to see the thing, I was at that time relentlessly forgetting a million other things, massively and momentarily forgetting most of my life.

And this is the thing, this is the wonder within the wonder. To be in the present, we must forget the past. To see with all our might, we must not be anticipating the future.

To see is to be, present.

We tend to think of forgetting as a negative. I forgot my wallet when I drove away from the house today, and I had to go back. But forgetting is the sensory virtue that allows us to escape the thunderous cascade of memory that crowds our minds each and every day.

Looking at the sun eclipsing, I forgot about bushing my teeth earlier today, forgot about driving to the park, forgot about walking to the science center, forgot about every little and big detail that has previously filled up my life.

What a relief.

To lose oneself in the moment is to have respite from the exhausting mountain of sensory impression that we pile up everyday, and relief from all the failures and hurts and losses of life too.

To wonder, at a marvel, in a  moment  — it marvelously hinges on forgetting!

Thank God for forgetting!

This week I noted that in the news there was the usual hustle, activity and commotion around the country  — a new electric car on the market, some political wrangling, the usual celebrity gossip, the leaks about a new high-end smart phone, an incredible dinosaur discovery and some news about the latest self-appointed church apostles. There was also the Dow at a new high and the numbers concerning the cash raked in by the new block-buster movies.

The people get bored, and so there is the new stuff, in the news.

Sometime I guess we all want to live “the life” — or at least to hear about the life  —   the fast, fun, cutting edge, shocking, resourced, healed, powerful, cool life. We seem to have a ubiquitous interest in the best boost, the latest break, the newest go-to gadget, Gidget or gaggle. We seemed to be manic for the latest mission, mansion, murder, miracle or marketing “Wow!”

From business to government to church it sometimes seems as if the most common ambition is to get the next great thing, get the next good deal, aim for the next nearest star, to get rich or powerful — spirit-slain or financially insane in our own jet plane.

We seem to want to power up and move on out — a lot. We Americans are a fairly ambitious sort.

But a few days ago, digging around in my Bible for personal sanity, I ran across this line, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

Hmm, “ambition,” to “lead a quiet life”?

Don’t usually put those two together.

I think I like it, and need it, because I also get bored and I too fall into wanting more, or else or other-better-bigger-digger-jigger.

But it helped me, this idea, this admonition to go for quietness. And so this week I worked on taking pleasure and quiet satisfaction in the small, simple things that I needed to do.

I helped an older disabled woman pay her rent. Interesting, driving her to the bank, giving her the money, talking to her about her limited budget, working with her on getting more affordable housing. Simple, quiet, good.

I also took someone who I wanted to to keep in a leadership loop out to lunch. She is super-special to me. We’ve made quiet history together, empowering women in the church. She was the first female elder I had the privilege to appoint and work with. Cool!

This week I also helped an NA group get established in a new location. Very mundane perhaps —  a new room — but very good for a whole group of people trying to recover.  Good for them!

Quiet things.

There were more, some very humble activities.

I took a person with special needs out to coffee; she had asked for some special attention. I took some time to drive her to Starbucks, to sit and talk to her, to ask questions and listen. She left smiling. I knew that was time well-spent.

At home, more of the mundane. I washed my cat, I paid my bills, I made dinner two nights, I washed dishes. One evening, I had a nice quiet dinner with just my wife. Then we watched some favorite TV together.  After that, I drove out and picked up my daughter and a disable friend from a late evening event.

I must say, upon reflection, that I like doing these kind of quiet things. Today, alone in my office,  I laid out a schedule at work for the things that we will deal with and talk about at church for the rest of the year, including Christmas. I like thinking ahead about Christmas. Looking ahead, thinking ahead, alone, in a peaceful room — for the good of some other people —  hmm, nice.

What is a quiet life? What does it mean to be ambitious for a quiet life?

It is this: it is simply being wiling and open and even eager to be doing what needs to be done, what is next, what is needed, what is helpful, what is gentle, what is loving, what others need. It means doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

I don’t mean to demean progress or vision or big dreams or big successes or stages or lights or healings or awards or news.  I’ve dreamed. I’ve surged forward. I’ve gone for more. I’ve had public successes, good moments on the stage of life. It was fun. Some of it was good.

And yet, and yet, and yet-by-yet, what deep peace, what excellent feelings of integrity, what quiet satisfaction lies in small, silent, simple everyday, unselfish things.

I think about it. I breathe this in. Today, after a simple, quiet week, I  breathe as if breathing a great, deep, calming silence.

Yeah, go for it when you can — if you must —  but the scripture does say to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.

I think that this is in part, because God loves us so much, and because he wants us to love each other so much, and because God himself is deep and quiet and simply good — and because he wants us to experience great satisfaction.

It seems to me, considering some of the final options — say heaven or hell —  that in the end of the very end, we will all get what we really want, make our own bed, choose our favorite flavor, like the bright eternal hotel we end up in and feel right at home there.

Heaven — I think —  will be perfect for the jaded, the faded, the doubters and the flouters. It will be an excellent place for all those who have been wounded by religion, by church, by false church leaders and by well-meaning but terribly damaging Christian do-gooders.

How so?

Heaven will begin with a long silence; this will be to heal us from church.

And hell?

Hell will begin with a call to worship, so that it is clear that the church endures forever there.



Think about it.

With all the pastors, elders and church leaders that end up in hell, for sure there will be church. In hell, they’ll be some slayin’ and prayin’ and capital improvements and passin’ the offering.  Churches — large and small — will thrive in fierce competition with each other, on fire to win the faithful into the fiery fold.

And what about heaven?

Well, it isn’t that there won’t be worship in heaven, it will just look more like a party than a church service.

I take this very personally.

I am confident that if I get to heaven (and perhaps being a pastor makes it somewhat questionable), I will be assigned a very low place there — far from the throne —  down by the river with the others who barely got in.

I’ll like that.

There down by the river, eating and drinking and telling jokes. We will be using some strikingly earthy language, (one of the things that will remain), and Jesus won’t mind. We will party hearty —  sing, laugh, dance, prance and spiritually enhance.


Think about it.

A good heart isn’t proven by the use of good words.

True worship isn’t church music. It is much more than that. I think it has a lot more in common with sharing your food with the hungry, and “weeping with those who weep.”

And spiritual  healing and the redemption of souls  — that has more in common with silence than sermons.

Church doesn’t make you a Christian. It won’t get anybody into heaven, I think Jesus does that, makes us fit for heaven — right?

Don’t get me wrong!

I love church, my church, all the true churches on earth. I love them, and the people in them, with all their flaws and claws, (well, not that so much), but what we are doing here is so much different than will will happen there that it isn’t even funny.

Ahead, in heaven, is healing, and peace and adventure and exploration of the stars and fun and laughter and good gardens and good food and outlandish creativity and joy that will utterly and totally eclipse and shadow and end all our feeble efforts to get it right here.

I can hardly wait.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.”

Ecc. 4:6

I sat in the backyard today listening to the waterfall, watching the green summer leaves fall out of my Ficus tree, pondering the white waterlilies in my pond and  reveling in quietness. It took some time, to get quiet. I had to wait, and let the wind come to me, and it eventually did, off the ocean, San Diegoesque, the way I like it.

Thus and so I slothified, lazificated and specifically and intentionally settlified on a handful of quietness. Later I made up some fresh food, sat out back again, and firmly and resolutely decided not to sort the bills or paint the wall in the family room — both on the docket for someday.

Better a handful of quietness on a holiday at home than the hard-driving, high-output, hyper-accomplishification of my everyday life.  Sure, I love that too, my — work — but rest, home, garden, reflection, “Ahh, so very good. ”

I think of my artists, the ones I love, my beauty makers, Pizzaro, Monet, Chagall, Pollock.

Pizzaro estblishished a family home outside of Paris in Pontoise and later in Louveciennes, both inspired many of his paintings including scenes of village life, along with rivers, woods, and people at work.

Monet had Giverny, his lily pond and garden, and you know what came of that amplitude of quietness. Visit the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

Marc Chagall had his Vitebsk in Russia, and it remained for life his little Jewish town, steeped in floating donkeys and flying Rabbi’s and levitating angels.

Jackson Pollock had his wood-frame house in East Hampton on the south shore of Long Island. For Jackson, that wasn’t enough. He tried, I’ll give him that but quietness wasn’t to be his.  Home may heal some insanity; it doesn’t heal it all.

A handful of quietness is a choice, to heal and to recover and to chew a bit too.  It’s better than chasing wind —  thus sayeth the seer — better than chasing accounts and awards and titles and fame, and if we chose it, if we stop doing and spend more time being, dawdling in patio chairs, lollygagging on lawns, lazing in poolside lounges then we just might, out of reverie, live more wisely — and also, eventually get up and go out and paint something wonderful.

“Thanks for your openness to fix this issue,” I said, “It’s refreshing.”

“You make it easy,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied

I could feel us both relax, sooth and groove into a glassy-smooth pool of safe relating   — which, by the way —  we had generated by not letting relational anxiety ruffle our water.

It was two bullfrogs, easing off a low rock together, and slipping into a calm pond for a good swim.

Our conversation involved fixing something that wasn’t working well, it involved change, it involved moving from a mildly shaky and a-tad-bit-risky to more orderly, professional and reliable.

And we did move there, without criticism, hurt, blame or drama.

Conclusions can be drawn from this.

When anyone makes a mistake, fails to perform, does something other than what is the best practice, the way forward is though simple honesty about what didn’t work, and simple candor about what we can do together to improve the situation.

To all supervisors, bosses, spouses, teachers, parents and various and sundry knuckle-headed leaders of all kinds —  as you oversee your team, your family, your staff, as they make mistakes, as you make mistakes, as all of us forget to do things or fail to act out the organizational culture that we want fostered —  do the following ten things to keep things good:

  1. Stay calm; quell anxiety; slow down; slow time.  
  2. Avoid making quick assumptions and impulsive responses.
  3. Proactively and bravely initiate face-to face discussions of problems; ask questions; understand what happened; circle up and investigate together.   
  4. Through the use of neutral verbal tones and a relaxed verbal gaits, create a conversational atmosphere where it is safe to be imperfect and safe to talk about that. 
  5. Don’t blame or criticize, rather be gentle, be kind.
  6.  Own the problem together, suffer it with each other, take it on as a team.  
  7. Look forward, not back. You can’t change the past; you can change the future. 
  8. Explore and suggest solutions that work best for everyone. 
  9. Stay humble; be reasonable; keep in mind that better (not perfect) is still good. 
  10. Finally, keep it real, keep it located on the planet, no one is perfect — not even you. 

Recently, a most precious family member and I dove into a common problem of precarious proportion.

We were very honest about our feelings, and our preferences, and we were very tender with each other regarding our imperfections.

We made it easy on each other, or as easy as possible.

Partial solutions came to mind over several days — not several minutes — they were coated in kindness, drizzled with gentleness, and baked in love.

We were pilfering old wisdom, plundering ancient relational truth, “above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Colossians 3:14

Time. What to do with it?

“My God!”

“What do I do with the child flying down the yellow and red waterslide headfirst into the bright blue pool below?”

“It so beautiful, I want to stop time, and just sit and treasure the water, the child, the sunlight, the smile, the blue and the yellow and red for just a moment.”

“Can I, please?”

But instead at this very moment in time —  I am not in the waterslide moment in time — but I am seated on my couch at home and I am typing, the sound of the keys slipping from the immediate present into the immediate past,  and yet the present is so instantly transformed into the past that I am not at all sure that I can detect the flow.

I just finished that sentence that ended in “flow,” and the refrigerator just started humming, and the cat just left the couch beside me but as soon as I type out these events they are past.

What you are reading right now — in the present — are words I created in the past, and even as your eyes move to the next word, that word is transformed into the past for you. My past writing — as you read it in the present — immediately enters your past.

In essence: My present becomes my past becomes your present becomes your past while rushing toward the future — this is time.





Time is the progression of existence and events rushing in a seemingly irreversible  direction, the past gobbling up the present and the future opening its mouth to gobble up them both.

Time is an arrow dragging us with us through the air as we fly over the landscape of existence.

Or is the arrow only in our minds? We don’t know, for sure.

What to do?

For one — although we cannot seem to hunt time down, put it in a box or bank or test tube and stop its flow in order to examine it — we can enjoy it.


By leaning into every moment, by slowing time down so to speak by focusing on what is right in front of us and deep seeing it for what it is and what it does in the immediate moment in which it occurs.

Time brings reality to our doorstep, but it is our choice, and our honor, and our privilege to shake hands with it and hug it and appreciate it — or not. Time brings loss and gain, well-being and pain, beauty and ugliness near and then makes it the past. Our privilege is to peer in on it intently. Our gain is in experiencing time deeply, and in savoring it deeply, and in noticing it keenly.

Earlier this week I saw a child on a waterslide, flying down a rubber slope, splashing into a clean pool below, fingers extended to slow the ending, face lighting up with sheer water-good, safe-and-well, time-immersed joy. The child, for me, was the arrow of time slicing through good air, earth, fire and water toward the good and persistent future.

I saw it! I was there.

I saw her — the lovely child — sliding down the slide as the culmination of my recent work, my current life, my immediate purpose. I was on the team that built the wall that inclosed the courtyard, that sheltered the grass that held the waterslide that slid the child that made the gorgeous, lovely, happy moment possible!

And to the extent that I was hyper-attentive, and saw the smile framed by the flying water droplets that flew through safe-air that rose high into the divine and holy moment at the amazingly beautiful REFINERY  Church — to that extent I truly experienced and understood time.

Time — that bright, sharp, fast arrow just keeps flying — and here I am, finishing my ruminations this morning, and then I am off to work, and you too, moving on now, to something else besides reading what I have written for you.

And yet, it is good, it is all good, and it is ours, our existence, our door to keep opening, our arrow, our child, our experience to love, and to savor.

Do that, savor time, luxuriate in time, splash in time, dive into time even as it dives into you, and even as it flows now into the next savory moment of your existence, for in it, in time — and in Him, in God, the creator and the master of time — you live and move and have your beautiful ever-flowing being.

For the good life, do this: Deep savor time today — and keep an eye out for joyful children on water slides.

We see through a lens — always.

I’ve gone to three weddings this summer. They were most beautiful with their fresh white table cloths, hanging cafe lights,  layered cakes and dancing bridal parties, at the edge of the good life, perhaps — and perhaps also — at the edge of what is absolutely and stupifyingly terrifying.

At each lovely wedding, the bride was filled with hope, the groom most proud. She had found someone who loves her. He had found the one within the one of the most holy one. And I hoped with them, and felt proud with them. It was happening again. The beautiful life I have lived was happening again — to them.

What lies ahead for these new, hopeful voyagers? What lies ahead as they peer into the clear, bright future through clean, freshly crafted, personal lenses? For them, the greatest adventure is what lies ahead, but it is also in what lies behind what lies ahead. What lies behind what lies ahead is them, their family history, the things that have influenced them, their DNA and their choices.

Ahead they will see perfect little baby girls and boys — perhaps; a new home in a good school district — perhaps; beautiful vacations in beautiful places — perhaps; good jobs and needed income — perhaps; a deeply maturing love and acceptance — perhaps; but also, just perhaps, they may find disability and disfigurement — perhaps; spousal betrayal — perhaps; loss of jobs and income — perhaps; unimaginably broken moments on cracked and broken floors — just perhaps.

I so hope not. God have mercy! Christ have mercy!

But this is for sure: youth is the lens which time will bend.

In beauty and in its loss, and in hope and in disappointment, in sickness and in health we all will live and more and have our hyper-definitive, super-retentive and revised-inventive being.

And time will bend the lens.

My hope, for myself and for all of my gorgeous, smooth-skinned, shinning-hair, bright-eyed lovelies is that age may increase magnification — and gentleness.