Monday, July 31, 2006

Facing Fear, Silent Sentinels

The photo at left is the place I sit, to camp off a neighbor's wireless, so that I can post here, while on vacation. I know, I need to get a life, but blogging is a form of relaxation and therapy for me.

Silent Sentinels
In the midst of loss, and change, and moving forward, I have been thinking. Thinking about the quiet, subtle forces in my life that keep me from trying new things, working harder at relationships and friendships, and keep me from being a better man and a more loving parent. These forces, they act like silent sentinels that stand at points of change or opportunity in my life. They guard me from new things, from ideas that might be threatening, from people that would stretch me, or change me, or maybe even make me a better man than I am. I can’t really see them all, but I can identify a couple of them. So far, in the fog and mist of my often-inability to understand myself, I can name two of these sentinels; Fear and Complacency.

First, Fear. Maybe I am not so different from lots of people. I fear change, new things, places that make me feel uncomfortable. Nothing new for me, thank you. In my middle age, I find myself sometimes feeling comfortable in the familiar old ruts that I have worked hard over the years to cut deep in the soil of my life. It feels safe here.

Next, Complacency. This force is a good friend and ally of Fear. Everything is fine, just the way it is, thank you. Why would we want to change anything? And then there are the infamous words heard often in the American church for maybe more than 100 years, “We have never done it like THAT around here before!”

Ready, Set, Change Everything!
As I set out on our family vacation, I brought with me several books. The first book, that I am working through now, in the middle of enjoying family and time off is Leadership Next, by Professor Eddie Gibbs of Fuller Seminary. I was given this book, quite by chance, it seemed, to read as a part of my involvement with the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller. But, there is no chance here, its much more like Providence.

As it turns out, this is a book about the future of the church, and the kind of new leaders that will lead this church. It is a book about the changes coming between the ideologies of modernism (read: my and my parents generation) and postmodernism (the future generations that will inherit the church).

If I can get some moments of clarity, and read through the lines, this is a book that is also about my silent friends, Fear and Complacency. They will not like the ideas in this book. These are Kingdom Ideas; big, wild, threatening, different, unfamiliar. Good ideas, ideas that inhabit the character of Christ. But in an interesting way, Old Ideas. Ideas that lead the early church that ended up changing the world through the birth and growth of Christianity. This is good stuff.

If I and lots of us complacent middle aged folk were to take these ideas seriously, maybe the church might be rebuilt. More soon.

File under: C
hurch Thoughts

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Take Off, Eh!

Our family is on vacation. After the events of the past couple of weeks, this is a welcome break.

The location of our holiday? The photo to the left provides a visual clue. Where else on the planet (save for Sweden, Finland, and Norway) could you find this large of a display of hockey sticks at Walmart in July?

The first comment to guess our location correctly wins a collectors edition hockey puck, autographed by me.

Friday, July 28, 2006

How Do You Say Thank You?

The past several weeks have been a time of sadness, loss, fear, and hope, all mixed together in ways that are still difficult for me to express. Sadness, loss, and fear in facing the death of my Mom. Hope in seeing God's real presence in the midst of this time. Writing down my feelings is hard, and saying them seems often even harder.

But there are, among many people, two women that I must thank here, in a public way, for the way in which they have loved my parents and me is something remarkable, and quite beyond my capability to understand.

First to my wife Nancy of nearly 18 years. You are my best friend, and I cannot imagine having faced the past several weeks without you. Thank you for the many ways in which you cared for both Mom and Dad, in the little ways and in the unnoticed details. You have been to me a help, a support, a friend, and a partner. You have been present in ways I am not capable of, and through it all, you did not loose your perspective on Kingdom things, or your patience with me; your sometimes difficult spouse.

And next, to Jill, our dear family friend and Pastor-to-be. Clearly, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you are called to care for others, love the unlovely, and be a shepherd. You have loved me, my girls, my wife, and my parents in ways that speak clearly of the character of Jesus. You are kind, gracious, caring, persistent, and wonderful, all together. I am so very thankful that Nancy and I said "yes" to your need for a room, almost four years ago. We all have been blessed beyond measure.

Nancy and Jill, in just the past weeks, you have shown me more about what love means than years of reading about it, studying it, and trying to live it out. You both, in your unique way, have been Christ to me. I am forever thankful. May my life reflect that thankgiving to others.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Elizabeth Lee Norris 1921-2006

Elizabeth Lee Partridge was born on April 18, 1921 in Los Angeles, California. She attended Los Angeles High School, and then USC, where she majored in Art. After a career in modeling, she married Roland Norris of Whittier, California in 1957. Her only son, Steven Roland Norris was born in 1958.

Betty, as she was known by family and friends, was a loving wife, mother, homemaker, friend, and accomplished artist. Her home was filled with oil paintings she had completed over a span of almost 20 years. She was active in the alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, her sorority at USC.

Betty is preceded in death by her brother Ted, and is survived by her husband of 49 years, Roland Norris, her son, Steven Norris, her brother George Partridge, and her grandchildren, Kelly Lynne Norris and Heather Ruth Norris. At her request, no services are scheduled.

Betty was my Mom. She will be greatly missed by us all.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Nearing The End

For those of you who know me well, you also know that my Mom, 85, has been in failing health for some time now. I have described this before here, by way of some background.

Mom is now in hospice care. She is clearly in her last days, and I do not have clever, or meaningful, or insightful things to say about this. It is not pretty, but I find this time, this experience of the end of my mother's life to be filled with a sense of God's care, in a way I would never have expected.

If you feel lead, please pray for a safe and peaceful transition for my Mom. Her name is Betty.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Softball, Sam, and Community

The past week has been Softball All Star week in our town. The South Pasadena 10-12 year old All Star team just won their section game tonight. Our daughter Heather is playing first base for the team, and this weekend we advance to Regional Playoffs. Undefeated, so far!

This is the kind of stuff that makes us glad to live in South Pasadena; great girls, a wonderful coach, and a community that bonds together to support each other.

Another huge part of our town is meeting those unsung everyday heroes that give of themselves in big and small ways. What could be better than an evening at Orange Grove Park watching the girls play, with an outstanding barbecued burger from the snack stand. And who does the barbecuing, year after year, for no pay other than the smiles and thanks and hugs he gets from every girl on almost every team in the league.

Meet Sam Hernandez, husband, father, general contractor, and everyday hero. Our girls have been playing softball for almost 10 years, and nearly every one of those years, Sam has been at the ball field every night and weekend, grilling burgers for the kids, and parents, and grandparents, passing out hugs and making new friends.

This is the stuff of what community really means. People who know your name, who are glad you showed up at the ball park, ask about your kids, and provide a loving environment for kids to grow up in.

Sam is an example to me, and his example makes me glad that I live in this town.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Doubting Thomas

I heard a song today that went right to the heart of who I am, and where my life is leading these days.

My Mom, 85, lies in the hospital today, and has for the past five days. She is "failing to thrive". She has lost a lot of weight, can no longer walk, and eats only small amounts each day. Only the Lord knows what each day going forward holds for her, and for all of us. All of us. Everyday.

And then, I heard this song.

By way of background, our daughter Kelly went to hear Nickel Creek at the House of Blues earlier this week, and she made me a CD of their music, which I have enjoyed hearing in the past. Mysterious lyrics that make you think. Perhaps Heaven does come close to Earth more than we think. Perhaps there is Something much larger than we could ever know of.

As I am returning from my Mom's bedside this afternoon,
this song came on. Doubting Thomas. That is often me. Doubting. But strangely in this past week, I am doubting some things less, and understanding God as the Author of Life in new ways that I did not understand before.

what will be left when I've drawn my last breath,
besides the folks I've met and the folks who know me,
will i discover a soul cleansing love,
or just the dirt above and below me,

please give me time to decipher the signs,
please forgive me for time that I've wasted,
I'm a doubting Thomas,
i took a promise,
but i don't know what's safe,
oh me of little faith,

Now forgive me, but this was clearly something Providential - in my hearing THIS song at just THIS point in my life. Turns out something else is going on with the origins of Nickel Creek.
Go here to read about it.

Help me Lord, with my unbelief. I will follow You, even if it makes no sense. Even if it is too big, or scary, or weird for me to understand. I will follow You.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thankful for a Memory, Waiting on the Sky

Tonight, I went to the softball field, to pick up Heather (12) from practice. Tomorrow is her first inter-league All-Star softball game tomorrow night. Lately, Kelly (15) always asks to come along for the ride to the field. For this simply mercy of time together, I am thankful. As we drove across town, an old memory suddenly bubbled up to the surface of my brain.

On July 23, 1995, an unusually bright comet outside of Jupiter's orbit was discovered independently by Alan Hale, New Mexico and Thomas Bopp, Arizona. The new comet, designated C/1995 O1, is the farthest comet ever discovered by amateurs, and appeared 1000 times brighter than Comet Halley did at the same distance. I was fascinated by this, and remember reading about it, and finding out exactly when it would be visible from our town. To me, there is something amazing about comets.

In the car on the way to the ballfield, I turned to Kelly and said, "Do you remember, a long time ago, when you and I climbed to up to the water tower, and waited for the comet to appear in the night sky?" Kelly did remember. We both smiled; Kelly, thinking of her impossibly dorky father, and me, giving quiet thanks for a small moments like these of shared memories, and for the simple grace of the memory itself.

Kelly was about six, as I recall, when we climbed up to the top of the hill with the water tower in our town. It was a fall night, and we waited for dusk to come and kept gazing to the northwest, where the comet would be visible. We waited, and waited. This was in the time when Kelly was far more patient with her science-fan Dad. Sure enough, as the sun went down, we saw the comet in the northwestern sky, low over the hills that border Pasadena.

A comet, possibly formed near Neptune, possibly 4.5 billion years ago. A father and his daughter, standing on a hill in a big city, straining to see the light produced by this comet 4.5 billion years later. I remember talking about how long it took the light from the comet to reach earth.

My heart is strangely warmed with this memory. How is it that I have been so blessed to wait on a hill with a lovely view of Pasadena, with a wonderful six year old, waiting for a comet? All those years ago.

It is all a wonderful mystery to me.

Monday, July 10, 2006

These Faces

Yesterday was a very interesting day. In the span of 24 hours, I:

  • Spent time with young couples, pondering what solitude means
  • had the priviledge of participating in the baptism of a little Korean 1-year old adopted by an amazingly loving family
  • laughed with friends
  • barbecued hamburgers for about 15 guests
  • got elbowed in the eye by my daughter playing the pool (and have the shiner to show for it)
  • played with babies in the water
  • had to negotiate with a somewhat difficult teenage daughter
  • stood at the bedside of my mom, whose health continues to deteriorate.

When I think back on it all, it's really hard to believe that my life is this full, this varied. And here is something interesting, as well. In all these things, the sprinkling of water, the cooking of food, the laughing, the grieving, Christ is present. It may not always feel like it, but He is there, if we will stop, and wait, and look.

He is in the eyes of the dying, the touch of water on the head of the child who has come half-way around the world to find a new life, in the smile and laugh of a new friend. In the joy of young friends turning circles in the pool and yelling "Maaarco......Polo!", and in the eyes of my Mom, tired and weary from life's journey.

He is there. Christ is here. I find it interesting that Jesus did not tell us. "The Kingdom of God is coming, just wait." Nope. He told us that the Kingdom is near, at hand. And so, it is.

Mom is back in the hospital; we will need to find her a different place to live now, perhaps some form of skilled nursing environment.

Our friends had a blast in the pool. My black eye looks cool. The babies went home, and had naps.

And, at the end of the day, for me, a gift. As I headed upstairs to bed around midnight, I stopped by the rooms of our girls. Two sleeping faces, completely at peace. Faces I have know so well, and loved, and wept for, and laughed with, and enjoyed now for a good many years. Both gifts. Both who do not belong to me. They belong to God.


File under: Parental Musing, Thankfulness

Friday, July 07, 2006

Silence and Simplicity

Life just whizzes by. No matter what we do, we can't slow it down. It won't stop. We feel out of control, as if we have been sent down some water slide and we can't stop, and we are not sure what is at the other end; a cool pool of water or a sheer cliff.

Our lives are so noisy, so filled with commotion, city noises, or even just the voices of others. Life can be scary, noisy, busy.

In the midst of this, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written more than 60 years ago come:

"Silence is nothing else but waiting for God's Word and coming from God's Word with a blessing. But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails. Real silence, real stillness, really holding one's tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness"

"in these days when talkativeness prevails"......indeed!

God help me to shut up, and listen.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Middle Age, Making a Difference, and Rapid Change

Several days ago, I mentioned that I would be writing more about my own internal reflections on middle age, the things that occupy our time and attention, and what really matters in this life.

How is that for sampling of light, easy, topics? Well, its either this, or you get to hear me hold forth on my latest Presbyterian naming of the Trinity: "Rock, Paper, Scissors". Anyway.

There are lots of things swimming around in my mind these days, as I face the declining health of my own parents (85 and 86 years old, respectively) coming to grips for the first time with my own mortality, the bittersweet maturing of my wonderful teenage daughters, and more recently, the beginning steps in rebuilding a divided and broken church. Other than these things, not much else is going on. I play a lot of solitaire. Oh yeah, Sports Center and Baseball Tonight. Do that too.

This past week, I participated in a leadership meeting at our church, and one of the recurring thoughts I kept having was "we are working with a leadership model, and discussing concepts here that are 30 years old, maybe we need to change some things". The other alternating thought was "I am so bored, I wonder what is on Baseball Tonight!" And so, might I start with some recurring themes I have noticed recently?

To Find New Life, We Must Die

Dietrick Bonhoeffer is one of my favorite theologians. I have mentioned this
before. When it became clear that war was coming to his Germany in the late 1930s, Bonhoeffer's friends urged him to leave Germany, or risk imprisonment and death. For a time, he listened, and came to New York prior to the outbreak of World War II. Yet as Bonhoeffer walked around the streets of the city, he became convinced that, like Jonah fleeing from Nineveh, he had refused the call of God to fight the Nazis from within Germany. And he knew what that call meant after all, as he once wrote: "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." So Bonhoeffer boarded a ship and sailed back toward his homeland, where he taught, formed Christian community, lead the church, spoke out against the Nazis, plotted to kill Hitler, and finally met his doom in the death camps.

To Die We Must Give Up Old Stuff, and Embrace New

A number of months ago, I had
an email conversation regarding our painful church split with Mark Galli, the managing editor of Christianity Today magazine. I found Mark to be a former Presbyterina pastor who is a very thoughtful man. Then, just the other day, I read an article in the most recent edition (no link yet) of Christianity Today about what we Christian folk THINK matters. Great article. Mark talks a lot about "relevance", and "power", and "success". These are very over used words and ideas in the American church.

I have to quote just a bit of it for you, it is worth repeating, perhaps several thousand times:

"Jesus loves us so much, he sometimes slaps our vague idealism in the face with a healthy does of reality. This shocks us, and we find ourselves speechless and blushing with either anger or shame."


"Like Peter, we have to die to our notions of relevance and successs, and let God - through a crucified Savior, though and amateurish church, through a stiff Communion service - raise up his people when He will and how He will, with a power and glory we can hardly fathom."

Amen to that, and help me Lord! Help my need to be powerful, cool, successful, and relevant. Help me to love those you place in my path, whether their ministry model is 30 years old or not. Help me to love. Help me also to dance, like Matt. See above the post below....

Next up...

Help! The world is changing, and it makes me afraid, and I don't like it!!

File Under: Church Thoughts
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