Storms

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2017 by thecrossingchicago

Storms make me think.  Not that I’m contemplating the storm itself nor the awesome byproducts that shake the land and light the skies.  But, because inside the house is the best place to be and the weather isn’t conducive to running around outside, it forces me to sit inside and be still.

During such times of contemplation I find a great peace and clarity that can’t be found in racing around and chasing after things I “need” to get done.  It is in such moments that I catch a glimpse of myself – the real me, the me that doesn’t need to prove anything to others, the me that doesn’t have to get something done that has nothing to do with me just so I can feel that others approve of me, the me that knows who and what I am.  That me is much simpler and needs much less than the me “out in the world.”

We sing of a land of unclouded days and the time when the storms will pass, but sometimes the storm is just what we need to make us stop, sit still, and be.

Sure, it was frustrating when I ran up to the doors at Aldi and they were locked due to the power being out.  I got drenched and ran back to the car feeling cold and drenched.  But, as I said, there was also something redemptive in the rain.

Don’t fret over the things that aren’t getting done when you are stuck in the house.  Don’t lament the storm that rages outside.  Instead, note and appreciate the storm’s majesty.  And then, just sit and be and meet someone whom you may have not met in quite some time, or perhaps have never met – yourself.

Another Tale of Adam and Eve

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 29, 2017 by thecrossingchicago
I once read an intriguing book by Patti Smith called M Train.  It is a wonderful memoir and in some ways, a treatise on life and all of its wonders.  In a chapter called Clock with No Hands, I came across this gem:
In the beginning was real time.  A woman enters a garden that is bursting with color.  She has no memory, only a burgeoning curiosity.  She approaches the man.  He is not curious.  He stands before a tree.  Within the tree is a word that becomes a name.  He receives the name of every living thing.  At one with the present he has neither ambition nor dream.  The woman reaches toward him, gripped by the mystery of sensation.

When I envision this scene, I see Adam and Eve.  Adam is disinterested.  He’s an automaton.  He doesn’t have much wonder or feeling.  He’s just created out of dust and has no capacity to feel.  Eve, on the other hand, was born of humankind.  She came from flesh, not dirt.  She has an innate capacity for curiosity and awareness of mystery.  She ponders, she explores.  In so doing, there are of course risks and the potential for causing or receiving harm is there, but it’s worth it.  Much better than not living.

 
Adam has the names.  He receives them and it gives him some sensation of power and, for him, that is enough.  He doesn’t feel the need to explore – even within his own mind.  He has control – or at least the illusion of it – and holds on to what he “knows,” e.g. the names, for dear life.  He becomes infatuated with the tree and likens it to his life and meaning when it was the names that were important, not the tree. In his unceasing grip on that tree he fails to understand what the names mean and they become for him a mere means to assigning purpose to his life, albeit a false one.

 
Eve has no memory.  Even if she does “remember” things, she chooses to not let them become a hindrance in discovery.  She still wears the scars and the bruises from past mistakes, failures, abuses.  But she moves forward with arms open to embrace life.
 
In essence, Eve has what Thich Naht Hanh calls a “beginners mind.”  She doesn’t come to the dance thinking, “Yeah, I’ve seen this movie before.  I’m not going to get in and get hurt again.”  Instead, she views each experience as a new one.  She doesn’t bring her preconceived notions that will hold her back or lead her to assume she already knows the outcome.

 
This idea of choosing to live with all of its risks reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.  This one is from Teddy Roosevelt:

 
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
 
Indeed life is not easy.  It can be downright dangerous and offending.  It can leave you beat up and broken.  But if you don’t choose to live it and take the risks, then you will never taste the sweetness of victory nor the elation of discovering new worlds.

What They Didn’t Tell You

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2017 by thecrossingchicago

At the writer’s conference that I mentioned in my last post, we were challenged in one of the individual workshops with writing prompts.  Sometimes the prompts can be downright hokey, but I thought that most of those given at the conference were genuinely thought- and reflection-provoking.  The final prompt that was given to take back with us to our respective homes and writing desks was, “What they don’t tell you about.”  So, I will stick with the theme and see how it goes.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

They.  The pronoun that represents anyone and no one.  I guess “they” are grandparents, parents, the wise elders of society, talking heads, preachers, and gurus.  They tell you that you can get whatever you want as long as you work hard enough for it.  They tell you to never give up.  They tell you that if you get a college education that everything will go smoothly.  They even tell you that there will be some pain in life, but there is nothing that God gives us that we can’t handle. Yeah, they tell you a lot, but there’s plenty that they don’t tell you.

For one thing, they don’t tell you about how unfair life can sometimes be – that life really is like a box of chocolates.  That, although you think you know,  you have no idea what you are biting in to and there’s a good chance that you might crack a tooth on an unexpected almond.  Or that you may put the whole piece in your mouth while in unfamiliar company just to realize it’s coconut when you can’t stand the taste of coconut and it makes you want to puke,  but you can’t spit it out so you swallow it trying to keep the wince imperceptible.

They also don’t mention that regardless of the taste of the filling or the texture of the inside, life is encapsulated in sweetness.  You’ll sometimes draw some that aren’t the most appealing or tasty or even downright disgusting, but there is still some deliciousness even in that single bite and if you only focus on it, the experience can still be enjoyable.

Another thing they don’t tell you is that order of things is really just a fabrication to make ourselves feel better.  Babies will die before their mothers and grandparents will live to see their grandchildren perish.  The true order is that there is none.  We are made to believe that as long as we treat people nicely, we will live long lives and never experience the pain of loss.  But we all know that this is a fairy tale.

The flip side to this is another thing that they don’t teach you – that there is healing on the other side.  That things will somehow be ok despite the fact that they never will be.  There’s nothing anyone can say to make it better and you will hear many utterances that will make matters worse instead of better, even though the one saying them means well.  You will even be guilty of making such comments yourself.  You will learn, though, that there is such a thing as “holding space” and that the mere compassionate presence of another will do wonders to help you see that indeed God is with you though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  They don’t tell you that, as painful as it may be, you will sometimes be situated at the right place and time to be that compassionate presence for another.

They tell you that you can be and do anything you want to in life as long as you work hard.  If you go to school and get a good education, then the world is your oyster and nothing can stop you.  They tell you that you can make as much money as you want and have any job that you want as long as you keep your nose to the grindstone and go to the right schools.

What they don’t tell you is that your grade A education can never be a substitute for passion.  They don’t mention that you can get that great job and then be laid off in a flash of restructuring.  They forget to teach you that all of your book studies will never prepare you for the realities of life and that compassion and mindfulness will always supersede knowledge.  They also forgot to impart to you that money isn’t and never will be everything and that you can become a prisoner in a cell of your own construction.

Even with all of this, they don’t tell you that there is such a thing as joy.  Being caught up in the “important things,” they forget to mention the euphoria that comes from feeding a hungry child or the feeling of wet sand between your toes as you walk barefoot at the beach or the sound of rain on leaves and freshly bloomed flowers.  They overlook sharing that there are sacred spaces and music that stirs the soul and good wine.  They didn’t deem it worthwhile to mention that the sound of laughter can move you more than any pithy quote and that there is more peace to be found in a single breath than in all the sacred texts ever written.

They forgot to teach you a lot.  But despite that, you have learned.  Life taught you what they couldn’t and you have been a good student because at some point you realized that the key to understanding wasn’t how much you studied or where you went to school, but how well you listened and how aware you were about how things really are.  Well done good and faithful student.  And let’s not blame them.  Maybe they never did learn or maybe they forgot or perhaps they were just too afraid to let go of the way they think things ought to be.  You have done and occasionally still do that.  So do I.

 

With a Lump in My Throat

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 10, 2017 by thecrossingchicago

For the past few days, I was at Princeton Seminary for the Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop – something so worthwhile that I have made it into an annual pilgrimage.  Listening to geniuses such as Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, and the master himself through other greats speak of the craft is exhilarating.  It always serves as the catalyst that I need to get out of a slump and begin to write again with more passion.

Buechner has written volume after volume about religion and spirituality.  In speaking of the word itself, he says that

[r]eligion as a word points to that area of human experience where in one way or another man comes upon mystery as a summons to pilgrimage; where he senses meanings no less overwhelming because they can only be hinted at in myth and ritual; where he glimpses a destination that he can never know fully until he reaches it.

I often find myself allergic to the word “religion”.  When someone launches on a diatribe around religion, I feel my throat swelling, my arms begin to itch, and a sneeze tickle its way out.  Anaphylaxis sets in and my breathing becomes belabored.  The word “spirituality” seems to connote, for me, a more approachable reality that allows for the movement of the spirit and not a mere assent to intellectual understanding or belief.  Buechner provides for me an antihistamine with unfathomable efficacy.

For Buechner, writing  is and was a religious practice.  It is a ritual for the writer to express his or her encounter with the divine.  It is, although often inadequate, an attempt to reveal to the rest of the world what the mystic has perhaps accidentally stumbled upon.  Sitting down to convey such an experience is akin to chanting an ancient liturgy or presenting bread and wine in the hopes that those gathered at the altar can see it as body and blood as clearly as the one who is giving it.

In order to write, to create, to do religion, to actually see beyond the veil, one must acknowledge whatever it is he or she has come upon.  Unfortunately, few of us give ourselves enough credit to be able to see in such a way that our souls converse with the whispers and sighs that are beyond words.  Buechner says:

We are all of us more mystics than we believe or choose to believe—life is complicated enough as it is, after all. We have seen more than we let on, even to ourselves. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of our lives, we catch glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by; only then, unlike the saints, we tend to go on as though nothing has happened. To go on as though something has happened, even though we are not sure what it was or just where we are supposed to go with it, is to enter the dimension of life that religion is a word for.

“To enter the dimension of life that religion is a word for.”  And there it is.  The redemption, for me, of the word “religion.”  That’s all it is.  Simply a word that struggles in its simplicity to describe a reality beyond description.  Sacred space, thin places, the setting where the Spirit can faintly be heard dancing over the face of the deep causing ripples that seem to hum something so beautiful that not even Barber could have conceived it.

Some do, however, dare to undertake the impossible.  Those who create art are those who listen for the voice of the muses and attempt to translate their message for the rest of us.  Buechner said that those creative souls who set about this work of holy interpretation are driven by a fire not unlike that of Jeremiah when he said that “the word is in my bones and if I do not speak it, it will consume me.”  The labor of imagination and awareness of an unseen place plants the seeds that allow for the birth of the sacred amidst the mundane.

Buechner shows us what this process looks like for the writer as he or she sits down to create as the experience they seek to record is recalled:

First the lump in the throat, the stranger’s face unfurling like a flower, and then the clatter of the keys, the ting-a-ling of the right-hand margin. One thinks of Pascal sewing into his jacket, where after his death a servant found it, his “since about half past ten in the evening until about half past midnight. Fire. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace,” stammering it out like a child because he had to. Fire, fire, and then the scratch of pen on paper. There are always some who have to set it down in black and white.

Sitting on the Orange Line train from Midway Airport, alone with my thoughts and having nothing better to do than reflect over the wisdom imparted while hoping that with me it didn’t fall futilely like seeds on barren land, something occurred to me.  Those brave souls like Buechner, Lamott, Taylor, Norris, O’Donohue, and many others who came before and after them make visible for us what is otherwise invisible.  Things like the flutter of angels’ wings behind an oak tree whose leaves are set ablaze by the sinking sun.

For us, these courageous ones who use urim and thummim to see beyond the substance of things unseen all the way through to the true essence of creation and being itself are creative mystics.  They use their tools – pen and paper, computer, typewriter, brush and easel, score paper – and open a door to the place where dreams are birthed from the tehom.

They are like the great scientists who challenge us to imagine that the impossible is possible and that hope is more than ephemeral.  Grabbing us gently by the shoulders and leading us over to peer down into life itself through their microscope or out through their telescope where the heavens expand and Browning’s reach exceeds his grasp, they show us.

“Do you see it?” they ask us.

“No.  What is it?” we say.

“There!  Look there.  You’re looking right at it, but not seeing it.”

And then suddenly we gasp as it becomes visible.  Our eyes wide open followed by a smile so vast that it almost hurts our face.  It comes into focus for the first time.  The sacred.  The mystery.  The burning bush that is engulfed in flames, but not consumed.  And silently we remove our shoes and weep.

 

* Quotes are from Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner

 

The Road

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2017 by thecrossingchicago

I like to think of myself as being perceptive – both when it comes to people and my surroundings.  But, like anyone else, I inevitably miss the occasional cue here and there.  On life’s road, there are many things that I have missed only to become aware of them when they were in the rearview mirror.  Occasionally, this was because someone pointed them out to me and other times it was because I had a brief flash of insight.  It’s usually been the former.

Throughout my formative years I have been like what my mom would call “a fart in a frying pan.”  I would have a “great” idea to make money and then I would chase it down the rabbit hole until I was either burned out or just disinterested.  This led to numerous scholastic endeavors – psychology, law school, MBA, Masters in Geriatrics, Master of Divinity, Professional Coaching certification, blah, blah, blah.  Looking at it linearly from above, it looks like the Google Maps directions for someone heading for Nowhere.  Looking at it from the other side, though, it looks like the process of being formed for something that I couldn’t have anticipated.

In your own life, you will find yourself doing things that seem utterly meaningless.  You may be in that place of your own volition, or maybe because you just followed along with someone else’s hair-brained idea.  You will likely ask yourself many times, “What the heck am I doing here?”  But be careful not to count the experience as useless.

Yes, there are many things that we do that seem like a waste of time and often they are exactly that.  Wrong choices, lack of foresight, not paying attention – all things that can lead us to be someplace that we don’t need to be.  We end up spinning our wheels until we get burned out, rest a bit, and then hopefully get back on the right path.  Even in such places, however, we can glean wisdom about life and begin to see our own path unfold before us.

Today, as a pastor and Professional Coach, I see that every single experience in life has honed me for who and what I am today.  The failures, the victories, even the utter screw-ups that left me and others emotionally scraped and bruised prepared me for “a time such as this.”  The mindfulness and compassion that I hopefully developed along the way have made me a more empathic listener.  The education and experience have made it easier for me to walk in another’s moccasins.  Even experiences that I discounted as meaningless at the time, have come back and enabled me to share in and truly understand another who had a similar experience.  I never saw that coming when it was happening.

You will have many seemingly meaningless experiences.  Some will be painful, some will be apparently pointless, and others will be enriching.  Regardless of how the experience seems at the time or if you embark on a business or educational journey that is never carried to fruition, don’t discount it.  You will most likely need and use those experiences one day.

As you travel your own path of life and are deciding what to do next, look back in the rearview mirror and see where you have been.  It’s likely that something you did in the past can qualify you better than others for the future.  In this backward glance you will find learned skills that you didn’t even know you had which will give you insight into what you’re qualified to do.  Then, turn your glance forward, keep moving, and put those skills to work because only you can do it.

Inertia

Posted in Uncategorized on May 10, 2017 by thecrossingchicago

Inertia:

1.

a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.

“the bureaucratic inertia of government”

2.

PHYSICS

a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.

Thank God for Google.  You can find just about anything you need plus a whole lot that you don’t.  I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic today and the list of things that I need/want to get done was paralyzingly daunting.  Such a feeling tends to lead to complete inaction.

Today, though, I decided I’m going to do one very simple thing.  One of the projects that I wanted to get done was getting rid of the bed in the downstairs guest room and moving one of the couches in there to make it a sitting/reading room.  I figured if I strip the bedding and even leave it on the floor it will motivate me eventually to finish the job as the sheets and comforter collecting dust will drive me nuts.  Well, it worked.

The funny thing was that it worked faster than I imagined.  No sooner had the bedding hit the floor than I gathered it up and took it down to put in the washer.  By the time I made it back up from the basement I was feeling my energy increasing and my capacity for achievement growing in direct relation to it.  So, I grabbed the mattress, flipped it up and headed for the alley.  The box spring went right after it and then I vacuumed under where the bed had been, grabbed the sofa I wanted to move from the living room and man-handled it into the guest-room-turned-sitting-room.

And there it was.  All done.  Well, actually not.  I vacuumed under where that couch had been, rearranged the living room furniture, went to my upstairs office in the church and dusted, vacuumed, wrote a little, meditated, made some phone calls that I’d been putting off and then sat down to write this.

Now, if you’re feeling jealous right about now – it’s ok.  There’s a support group for that.  Just kidding.  I’m actually not writing all this to brag, but rather to share my realization: as I was getting things done, the word inertia came to mind.

I was thinking how inertia is the continuous motion of an object until an opposing force acts upon to make it slow down, stop, or change direction.  Interestingly, it wasn’t until I searched the definition on good ‘ol Google that the “other” definition caught my eye: “a tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged.”

Eureka!  While I was caught up in the great awareness that merely by doing one very simple thing, I could build momentum to complete much more, I failed to be cognizant of another truth: doing nothing is also inertia!  That is, unless I take action, everything will remain unchanged and my to-do list will only grow while tasks become more and more daunting.

So, one moral of this story is as our friend Phil Knight (or more accurately his marketers at Nike) encourages us: Just Do It!  If you have a list of things to do that would put the U.S. Tax Code to shame, it’s ok!  Just pick one very simple thing and do it.  By taking action, you will not only stop the inertia of stagnation, but will set into motion something much more worthwhile and fulfilling – most likely for you and those around.

This basic principle can be applied to just about any facet of life.  From cleaning your house to changing your neighborhood or even the world, all you have to do is start and the laws of physics, the universe, and the Creator of all that is will make the path before you unfold.

Blessings on the Journey,

Brandyn

Lazarus

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2017 by thecrossingchicago

I wonder how long the pause was.  I can see Jesus gulping as he held his breath waiting to see what would happen.  From that moment when he said, “Lazarus!  Come out!” to the point when Lazarus appeared in the doorway of the dark tomb must have felt like an eternity.  I’d like to say that Jesus knew that Lazarus would come out, but I’m more convinced that he didn’t.

For Jesus, it was personal.  He loved Lazarus and his family and Mary and Martha both pointed out that had Jesus come right away when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he wouldn’t have died.

The text says that Jesus felt angry.  He must have been angry with himself for not coming sooner and for the stench that was coming out of the tomb.  So, with clenched fists he cried into the darkness, “Come out!”  It was a plea that he desperately needed answered.  Jesus could call out all he wanted, but it was Lazarus’s choice if he was going to comply.

I don’t think we really consider Lazarus much in this narrative.  What must it have been like for him?  Being at peace in the sweet embrace of death and hearing this voice coming to him through the ether.  Was he angry for being disturbed?  Did he ask himself what good it would do to rise up?  I can imagine how he may have dreaded the bright sun in his eyes and the discomfort that would follow.  It’s likely that he even wondered if he would regret his decision to leave his solace and go back to the mundane and sometimes painful reality of existence.  What he was thinking, though, we will never know because Lazarus remains silent throughout the ordeal.

Jesus wept.  For him it was personal.  I wept.  For me it was personal, too.  We pleaded and begged my grandma to come out of her tomb and allow herself to live.  No matter how much we told her that she was ruining her life and ours, she still chose the bottle over our version of stability.  A couple of forced shots at rehab didn’t do the trick.

I wept.  That Mother’s Day in 1996 when I was driving past her house, I had a strange feeling.  Something inside told me that I needed to stop in and say good bye.  I was leaving the next day to fly to Utah and see my dad for the first time in 12 years.  So, when I went in and bid her farewell, finding her on the floor next to the fireplace (she couldn’t barely move by then and I would have to carry her to the bathroom), she asked me where I was going and her sister replied that I was going to Utah to see my dad.

“Nope,” I thought to myself.  “That’s not what I mean at all.  I’m telling you good bye.”

That night when I came home I was surprised to find that the house was dark and nobody was home.  The red light from the answering machine intermittently lit up the shadowy living room and I pushed the play button.

“Brandyn, I’m sorry to hear about your grandma,” the voice said.  So was I.  We didn’t have cell phones back then, so I had no idea that my mother had gone to tell her mom Happy Mother’s Day and found her dead on the floor where I had left her.  I wept.  It was personal.

As we read stories from the Bible (especially the NT), we subconsciously insert ourselves into the story.  In the story of Lazarus and Jesus, I had cast myself in the role of Jesus calling my grandma out of her tomb and back into the light of day.  Little did I know, I was actually Lazarus.  It was me in the tomb and Jesus was calling me out.  I didn’t realize that I had allowed her addiction to put me in the throes of a feeble attempt at control as I lied on my pall and let the stone be rolled over the door.  Just like it was Lazarus’s choice to come out of the tomb or not, it was my grandma’s choice to seek help for her addiction and my choice to let go.  I could no more control her than I could anybody else and I had to give up on that futile endeavor, thereby allowing myself to live.

It seems blasphemous to say that Jesus didn’t know if Lazarus would appear in that doorway or not.  We naturally want to believe that Jesus can make anything happen.  But when we look at the story of Ezekiel in the Valley of the Dry Bones, God asks him, “Mortal, will these dry bones live?”  Ezekiel replies, “You know, Lord.”  But God didn’t know.  He was telling Ezekiel and Israel that it was their choice whether they live or remain lifeless as the blanket of complacency was pulled up over their head.

Maybe Jesus didn’t know what the outcome would be and for some that may play with their sense of hope.  I think the hope comes after the decision, though.  When Lazarus appeared in that doorway and stepped out into the daylight, it was then that Jesus told the bystanders to unwrap him.  He didn’t tell them to go in and drag him out.  He didn’t go in himself and pull him up.  He let the choice remain with Lazarus, but when Lazarus made his decision, Jesus was right there with the community to give him the strength he needed to make it the best life possible.