Monday, December 22, 2008

Dazed and Confused

Wow... you ever have those days (or weeks or months or - God forbid - years) when you just feel dazed and confused by the maelstrom of life you're faced with? I'm (hopefully) coming out of one of those weeks that started as a day and stretched to a month or two.

It seems I spend a lot of my life trying to just "get through" things. I'll look at the landscape and think "Boy, if I can just make it until July 1st I'll be okay." But then of course July 1st rolls around and I'm already thinking "Boy, if I can just make it until August 1st I'll be okay." Or, "If I can just make it to vacation I'll be okay." And when the vacation comes along of course I'm frantically trying to take care of things so I can "enjoy" the vacation, and I go on vacation and I'm running around like a maniac because I feel compelled to DO things so that I can properly "enjoy" my vacation, and then it's over and I'm panicked because I have to step back into the maelstrom of my working life and then I'm counting the days and thinking "Boy, if I can just make it until September 1st..."

We've forgotten how to relax, how to let go, how to just BE. Our culture instills in us the mentality that we have to be busy, we have to be doing things. Even when I have a day off - like this coming Saturday - instead of just relaxing, not doing anything, I'm planning on how I can squeeze 10 activities in so that by the end of the day I'm thoroughly exhausted and wondering where my weekend went.

The pressure builds. And builds and builds. And builds some more. Where does it stop?

Well, I know soon enough I have to jump back into the maelstrom. A short respite, but the waters call and suck me in...

God's Embroidery

This has always been one of my favorite ministry illustrations...

When I was a little boy, my mother used to embroider a great deal. I would sit at her knee and look up from the floor and ask what she was doing. She informed me that she was embroidering. I told her that it looked like a mess from where I was. As from the underside I watched her work within the boundaries of the little round hoop that she held in her hand, I complained to her that it sure looked messy from where I sat.

She would smile at me, look down and gently say, "My son, you go about your playing for a while, and when I am finished with my embroidering, I will put you on my knee and let you see it from my side."

I would wonder why she was using some dark threads along with the bright ones and why they seemed so jumbled from my view. A few minutes would pass and then I would hear Mother's voice say, "Son, come and sit on my knee." This I did only to be surprised and thrilled to see a beautiful flower or a sunset. I could not believe it, because from underneath it looked so messy.

Then Mother would say to me, "My son, from underneath it did look messy and jumbled, but you did not realize that there was a pre-drawn plan on the top. It was a design. I was only following it. Now look at it from my side and you will see what I was doing."

Many times through the years I have looked up to my Heavenly Father and said, "Father, what are You doing?"

He has answered, "I am embroidering your life."

I say, "But it looks like a mess to me. It seems so jumbled. The threads seem so dark. Why can't they all be bright?"

The Father seems to tell me, "'My child, you go about your business of doing My business, and one day I will bring you to Heaven and put you on My knee and you will see the plan from My side."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Trust in the Lord

Some time ago I took my children to the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. to see their exhibit of works by Japanese artist Hokusai, who most will recognize as the artist of the painting "Beneath the Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa." While there I picked up a wonderful book titled "Opening to You - Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms." This one comes from that book, Psalm 4, a psalm of trust in the Lord...

Because I call
You answer
For you are fitting
Because I am small
You enlarge me
For you are gracious
You hear my song

How long will the others
Darken my light
How long will they
Live in uselessness
Lies and seduction
Knowing you set aside
The good for your own
And answer me when I call

People, tremble
And be upright
Commune with your hearts
In the deep of the night
Awake on your beds

Be still:
Offer that
For it is fitting
Trust it
For it is the rightness
Of all that is

People say
Who will bring us
What we need?
Who will beam
Heaven's light
On us?

But already My heart has more joy
Than full granaries
And wineries
Could provide

And I will lie down
To sleep
With a deep peace
For in you
I find my completion

A Poem for Today

A few years ago I was working on a project with three other artists. Our focus was creating an exhibit that through our art reflected how cultural influences and pressures have become like a cacophony of sound that batter us into submission. In the planning of that exhibit I came across this wonderful poem by William Wordsworth. Even though he wrote the poem in 1807, it seems every bit as appropriate to us in our world today. Enjoy...

"The World is Too Much With Us"

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Terabithia, Pt. 2

Sometimes we just need to get away...

I love the Internet. I love to do research, and read, and meet new people, and have discussions, and keep up with the latest news, and all the other things that the Internet is wonderful for. I first plugged in around 1990 when bulletin board services (BBS) were the primary connection for people wanting to reach others through the Internet. There were no fancy graphics or colors, just basic text-based messaging, very similar to today's blogs and journals.

When America Online really got going in the early '90's I was there, and it wasn't long before I was moderating chat rooms and running two groups for AOL. As the '90's wore on I moved from AOL to a regular Internet service provider (ISP) and soon found myself subscribed to more than a dozen discussion groups as well as moderating a few of my own. It was exhilarating in many ways, but also the source of a great deal of anxiety in my life because there were always problems, arguments, hurt feelings and the like, and often on multiple fronts at once. By the turn of the century I was probably spending 8-10 hours a day on the 'net. Not just browsing, not just connected while I was doing something else, but actually absorbed in email discussions and chat rooms and IMs. And often more than one at once.

I didn't really understand how I had become consumed - addicted, really - by this little glowing box in the corner of my bedroom (I was using an iMac at the time, which was an all-in-one glowing box - mine was orange). But consumed I was and like any addict it was difficult to give up - until I had to give it up cold turkey.

In September of 2003 Baltimore and many areas of the east coast were hit by Hurricane Isabel. It was devastating for many. For us, some siding and gutters ripped off the house, an enormous amount of leaves and twigs and branches strewn about the yard, but no serious damage. We did, however, lose our electricty - for five days.

Five long days. No TV, no radio, and no Internet. During those five days I spent a lot of time sitting on my back porch, marveling at the quiet. Now I live right on the city line, and it's never completely quiet (except, perhaps, when we get the occasional heavy snow). But it was for a short time in September of 2003. And being there in the quiet really gave me a lot of time to think, and a lot of time to assess who I was and how I was letting the Internet control my life.

When the power returned after five days I immediately unsubscribed from every discussion group I had been a part of, and even removed the IM software from the computer. It was amazing what a relief it was! And suddenly I came to appreciate a lot of things that I had been neglecting in my life.

There on the back porch in September of 2003 I reached my Terabithia. And what I discovered was I could go back to Terabithia any time, and anywhere. Sometimes it's through music. Sometimes it's through prayer. Sometimes it's through meditation. Terabithia awaits.


A few years ago someone said something to me about trying to get to Terabithia, and me, not wanting to appear to be completely out of the loop didn't mention that I had no idea what they were talking about. It was one of those moments where you just kind of nod and say something like "Yeah, I know just what you mean" and then move on hoping they don't expect you to elaborate.

Of course, as soon as I got home I hopped on the Internet and found there was a children's book titled "The Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Patterson. Not familiar with it I asked my daughter - who at that point in her life was probably consuming two or three books a day - if she was familiar with it. "Oh, yeah, I read that years ago - it was pretty good" she said. "Do you have a copy?" "No." So, I sort of shoved it into the back of the drawer of my mind for the time being.

Not long after I was working with a church that was reorganizing their library and was packing up a number of books to give away to make room for new materials. As I was packing, my hands came across a copy of "The Bridge to Terabithia." I expressed that I had been wanting to read it and was told to please feel free to take it home.

Suffice to say I went home, started the book and could not put it down. It touched me in a really profound way. And through the book, I came to think of "Terabithia" as a place we can retreat to, a place where we can get away from the world, and where we can feel safe.

This community is my own little Terabithia on the Internet. I plan on visiting here often, and hope others do, too. And if you have a book that's touched you in such a way, please let me know.



Welcome to my little blog on the Internet - a place to come apart, rest awhile (Mark 6:31) and enjoy conversation, sharing, spirituality and more. This is the new location of a blog I had previously published at LiveJournal. Many of the posts are reflections I have given at communion services at St. William of York Church, the parish where I work.

I want this to be a place that is non-confrontational, a place where people can share what's in their hearts, look for help, and feel safe. I love exploring the things that touch us spiritually. Not just scripture, and liturgy, which are wonderful. But also books and movies and television and music and the Internet and all the things we encounter every day.

I am a youth minister by vocation, but spent nearly 25 years working in the film and television industry. I am a convert to Catholicism, grew up in a home that promoted Protestant fundamentalist values (not necessarily a bad thing) and currently work very closely with pastoral leaders of many faith practices through an ecumenical clergy collegium. My brother is a Baptist minister, and my father often preaches and helps lead services in the Methodist church I grew up in. I have a rich faith tradition in my life and many experiences across the board in areas of spirituality, conflict resolution, ecumenism, social justice, and crisis intervention (among others). I am always willing to share, and always feel I have much to learn from others.

So again, welcome. Put up your feet, relax, and I hope you find something here that speaks to you...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Why "Touch the Flame?"

The title comes ostensibly from the U2 song "Where the Streets Have No Name"...

I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

But the idea of "touching the flame" - reaching out, taking chances, embracing inspiration, giving in to temptation - has always intrigued me. I remember as a young child visiting my grandmother and being fascinated by a burning candle on the table. "Don't touch it" she cautioned. "It'll hurt." But of course, when her attention was away I slowly moved my finger closer and closer to the flame, until I touched it and was burned. Despite that early lesson in fascination and trust and danger and pain I still desire to touch the flame.