Monday, June 25, 2012

The Bay

Sittin' on a dock at the bay. Had to say it. I'm looking out at Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, the morning silhouette of the city under some broken gray clouds. Who knew how many free wi fi networks you can get on the edge of a dock in Sausalito? Makes me want to sing. Not really.

So I've started this blog thing. I like it because I don't have to open a Word or Pages program to start writing. And I don't feel the expectation to compose and edit, because it doesn't really matter if any of it is read. It's like I have this unruly permission to throw out some thoughts, and throwing up, I mean out, my thoughts feels kind of good. Maybe I'll have less lower back pain. Fewer headaches. Or not.

One of my fears is the failure to appear, or actually be, consistent in my living and thinking. And this blog thing, as I'm reflecting this last few days, is sure to expose my inconsistencies. Already I'm second-guessing some of the stuff I wrote about dreams. Not that I disagree with myself (yet); it's just that the thoughts aren't finished. There's a lot more to it. Dreams shouldn't be abandoned for common work. A lot character and growth happens while you pursue a dream, and, in fact, you've got to roll up your sleeves and get bruised up along the journey, because this is what the dream will demand. It never comes easy. And in the end, you may never see its fruition. You make work and push and grind your whole life to make your dream real, but it may still lie a few years beyond your last day. All you did was prepare and pursue. But I think the preparing and pursuing can breed wisdom, just as much as the dream itself. Don't let the need to accomplish and arrive be the ultimate goal. (All this can be found in your dentist's office on a rectangular framed portrait of the ocean at dusk with the slogan "Life's about the journey, not the destination.") Thank God for some brevity. Let's go eat.

 Wait, one last thought on dreams (for now). If you're forcing the dream, or trying to find one or latch on to one because a twenty-something hamburger flipper just won a singing award and gave what he thought was an original and inspiring yak about following your dream, then go back to work and do good. But if you can't shake the calling because it's a burden on your back (think Pilgrim from Pilgrim's Progress), then maybe you should get on your knees and ask God for the humility to receive more.

I'm still at the bay. I can't believe it. The white coast guard boat (looks just like my son's lego). the red barge getting smaller beyond the bridge, Guiradelli's chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone (can't see that yet, but I will in a bit), and the Giant's game tonight. Maybe another coffee from Sausalito before I go wake up the family. Yeah, it's vacation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

no more dreams

I used to think my dreams were right around the corner. If I just hold out, just work harder, just surround myself with wiser people, I can make it. Yeah, no. Sometimes you've got to ditch your dream. Or better yet, don't get started with one. I read a sign today saying "it's easier to stay well than to get well." That's wisdom. It's about prevention. There are better things to pursue than your dreams. Dreams may not kill you, but they'll keep you in prison your whole life until you realize that everyone close to you has ridden this roller coaster long enough and it's led to nowhere.

Try something old, like common work, which has much better odds at forming character than the sickened heart from hope deferred. Get rid of the romantic notion that dreams will fulfill you. They won't. In fact, most things in this world won't, not because they aren't things of worth and beauty and such, but because the human heart simply won't allow itself to be satisfied by anything less than the eternal. The heart was created, not to be attached to its quests, but to be inhabited by its Creator. This is the only way it can know true and lasting fulfillment.

So try it out. Lay down your dreams, your quests for happiness, even for a little while. If the dream comes back someday to find you, great. Deal with it then. After all, if it's really a dream, then it's a lot bigger than you, so it's not your call when it comes to pass. In the meantime, don't follow your heart, just check in with it. See if it's trying to attach to something or someone, or if it has some space to spare for its Creator. Fulfillment might be right around the corner.

More thoughts from Medocino

I grew up in Belmont Shore, a small division of East Long Beach in California. We lived in a house with hardwood floors built in the 1920's just a few skips from the wall that divided Ocean Blvd. from the sand. Concrete alleys divided the one-way streets in this former salt marsh, and the smell of charcoal  barbecues wafted in the late afternoon as we'd dig up shells in our postage stamp front yard. It was the mid-1970's and it was simple and I was loved and I wasn't afraid. But sooner or later you grow up, go to college, get responsible, and embrace the joys and trials that await.
Some people don't think twice about the trajectories of their life, or maybe even once. They take things as they come, realign, readjust, achieve some goals, do good to themselves and their families. They live a pretty balanced life. But I can never wrap my mind around balance, at least the kind that lasts more than a few days. And here's the reason: it's just not enough. Balance doesn't satisfy. If it does, then you've succumbed to distractions and substitutes, like fake coffees and artificial grass. Balance tends to insulate, but the soul is too wonderful and wild and stubborn and can't settle for balance. It's much to restless for that, because it's created to pursue and rest in its Creator, and anything less is fake coffee and artificial grass.

After college, my wife and I moved inland to pursue graduate work in theology and psychology. That's when I started painting houses so we could pay the school bills along the way and avoid an avalanche of delayed debt. It was supposed to be temporary, living away from the ocean, just until we finished getting the academic requirements and enough CEU's to start our professional life. That was 18 years ago. I've realigned, readjusted, achieved some goals, done some good, and, quite honestly, I am filled with deep gratitude and joy at the gifts of my life, my family, the way we live. I can sleep tonight knowing I am richly blessed.  And yet my soul is not completely satisfied. I'm not sure it ever will be, or should be in this life. But here's the thing. When I'm lingering somewhere on a foggy coast long enough to see the waterline along the rocks change with the tides, I'm at peace. I realize I don't need much of anything, just the basics. Kind of like Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift of the Sea.  I'm back to the trajectory that began in the salty days of seagulls and clanking masts and shells on the kitchen window sill. It's the peace of deep aligned with deep. It's a pretty good place to be.

 But it's not the norm. We've lived away from this place for 18 years now, and I want to be back. Not just a vacation or visit, but a way of life, again. Think of a kid who grew up on a 10,000 acre ranch in Montana. His life was about long days raising cattle and setting fences. Whether he spent his time working the land or working in the local small town, he knew his place. This is where he belonged. He might visit relatives in Miami for a week, but this could never be his home. He has a primitive need, a hard-wiring, to live and breath the mountains and pastures. It's his way of life, no matter what trade or career he embraces.  On a soul level, the value of place supersedes the value of vocation, and if he trades them out, his soul will stay restless, waiting to return home, resisting the insulating pursuit of balance.

The soul can not acclimate, only tolerate. I've learned this over the last 18 years, trying to make my home away from the coast, away from the place that defines me. And that's the key assumption, that place defines a man more than vocation. That's the way I see it. I want to live in that rugged coastal place where the deepest parts of my being can rest and rejuvenate. I've tried acclimating, adjusting, finding some balance. It just doesn't work. It doesn't satisfy in the long run. The best the soul can do is tolerate until it returns. As T.S. Eliot said, "we shall never cease from exploring. And the end of all our exploring will be to find the place from which we began, but to know it for the first time."

It's about coming home. Living undivided. It's the hard work of deep rest.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mendocino, June 2012

I studied languages in school, twenty years ago. They were never meant as objects, or ends, but rather as tools for delving deeper into truth. Like buying a shovel or pick axe, they were supposed to help dig deep for some treasure that God had buried, and if I had the tools, I could find what other people couldn't. Knowing Greek, Hebrew, and cutting-edge theology were the tools that would allow my mind to probe the Scriptures and give me an angle of understanding that might get me on a good path. Formal education, for me, was the way to spiritual and lifestyle security. If I dug deep enough, I'd find something of worth, and surely God or a wealthy investor would wrap his arms of benevolence around me and pay me to keep uncovering the hidden gems. 

Education is overrated, at least the liberal arts kind. 

Twenty years later, my hands are wrinkled from making manual labor a business. I'm not as interesting as I thought, and I'm one of the last to know. I've used those theology tools some, dug holes along the way, discovered some blessings, but mostly it's been about making ends meet week to week. I run a small painting operation. I've ventured out on side paths, hoping they would be the bridge from this temporary setback to the right career, or calling, or purpose, or whatever the latest reframe the experts are using to name the thing you're doing, but they seem to be short lived. I was an adjunct professor at APU teaching ethics and world views. I was a hospice counselor and chaplain. I was a worship pastor. I was an unanswered applicant at the local college for teaching philosophy. So I kept painting. I still paint. What began as a temporary means to sustain my family while attending graduate school has followed me like a shadow for twenty years.

And now, as I look back, I'm grateful. I no longer have to prove that I am more than what you see. I've been at this manual labor thing long enough to realize that hard, blistering work can shape a man in ways that sedentary academic or church work can not. I'm tired in the deep places of the soul as well as my hands. My head hurts a lot of the time. But in those deeper places there's a longing for rest that even the best and most current education can't satisfy. And here's what I've come to know: the one with a weary soul and a broken body needs to find rest. I might have said this twenty years ago, but it would have been cheap. What do you know when you're twenty? Like that scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon gets called out by Robin Williams about Michael Angelo's Sisteen Chapel painting. He knows all about it, but not really, because he's never left Boston. He's never crossed the Atlantic. He's never gazed at the arched ceilings and felt small in the iconic magnitude of that chapel in Italy. He's just read articles.  Twenty years ago I had just read articles and heard sermons on hard work and the soul's craving for rest, beauty, connection. Since then my journey, in large part, has been unwelcomed, and yet I'm strangely grateful for it. I have a deeper appreciation for the struggle in life and for the yearning to rest, to take a breather. And I respect those who have labored longer because they've had to, like my late father-in-law, who didn't have time to tinker, as do so many in my generation, with finding his path, or his purpose. He just worked, provided, endured, and tried his best to believe in God like a child would, despite the onslaught of injustices. He gave credibility to character, and I only wish he had more moments of rest along the way. 

So I believe in work and in rest. I don't balance the two very well. But I've acquired a new language that's taken a lot of years to learn. It's still very rough, inarticulate, offensive at times, even reactive, but it's real, at least it's becoming more real to me. It's what I've lived. It's a tool I won't waste or put on a shelf.