Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This Weekend, Dickens, and Nicholas Nickleby

I come from a small family of three; I am an only child. Growing up, I remember our family life together often felt, well, rather small. And sheltered. And sort of isolated. Not a lot of connection with the wider outside world. Safe and insulated, that was our family. My parents liked it that way. Perhaps they were compensating for some pain in their own past.

By way of contrast, this Memorial Day weekend has been a busy one, full of get-togethers, parties, celebrations and friendship.

Thursday night there was a party for the girls JV Water Polo Team from South Pasadena High School; tons of girls and noise and laughter. Saturday night was a birthday party for our new friend, Megan, who is getting here Masters of Divinity from Fuller Seminary. New friends, new beginnings, and a celebration of a life redeemed.

Sunday afternoon was a lunch with two families we have known for years; our kids are growing up around us, heading off to college and becoming amazing people.

Yesterday was an old tradition, Memorial Day lunch and swim with old friends of more than 20 years.
Being surrounded by those you love is a blessing beyond measure.

Charles Dickens knew this, and celebrated struggle, friendship, and family in his writing. One of my favorite Dickens stories is Nicholas Nickleby. This is a story of suffering, of loss, of loyalty, character, and above all, love and friendship. And this story has been made into one of my all time favorite films. At the end of the movie there is a speech made, that for me is wonderful and full of meaning. It does not quote Dickens directly, but it is good enough for me:
"In every life, no matter how full or empty one's purse, there is tragedy. It is the one promise life always fulfills. Thus, happiness is a gift, and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes, and to add to other people's store of it. What happens if, too early, we loose a parent? That party on whom rely for only....everything. What did these people do when their families shrank? They cried their tears. But then they did the vital thing, they built a new family, person by person. They came to see that family need not be defined merely as those with whom they share blood, but as those for whom they would give their blood. It is in that spirit that we offer this heartfelt toast, to the brides and grooms!"
This has been a weekend rich with sharing, laughter, and friendships, both new and old. I am deeply thankful.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Today I am remembering my Dad, Roland Steele Norris (1920-2007), who served this country in World War II, as a B-17 pilot trainer, and air-sea rescue captain. I am also remembering the more than 4,000 American families who have paid the ultimate price of sacrifice in the war in Iraq.

May there be Peace on Earth.

Zac's Big Adventure

This is Zac Sunderland. He is 16, and is planning on sailing around the world. Solo.

This morning I opened the LA Times to find this article about Zac's coming adventure. Zac has a web site here, where we all can follow his travels, and watch an introductory video.

Zac is also going to be writing a blog on his journey, which should be well worth the reading.

God speed, Zac.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Going to the Movies!

I know, some people love it, others are not so impressed. We are excited. Date tonight with my sweet wife!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Against us, For Us

Today I pondered this short conversation between Jesus and his followers.

Mark 9:38-40 (New International Version)

"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us. "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.

Jesus could have said, whoever is not for us, is against us, excluding all but his closest friends (like we silly Christian folk do). But he didn't. Fascinating, I think. I wonder what this says about the divisions amongst Christian folk even today, and Jesus attitudes about those divisions. What does this mean, and what does it mean for my neat and tidy "Christian" assumptions about the world?

Want to think about this more? Go here. Listen.

When We Left Earth

Discover Channel is running this in June. I am so excited.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kelly, Joni, and I

Yesterday, I rode home from church with my older daughter, Kelly, who is now 17. College is a bit more than a year away, and the little girl days are many years behind her. I am slowly getting over that; it depends on the day.

As is typical, when we got in the car, she pulled out her IPod, and asked, "Dad, can we do my IPod?", which means plugging it into the car stereo and listening to her tunes. Her tunes, mind you, not mine.

And so, we did. And I was pleasantly surprised. Joni Mitchell, all the way home. I felt as if I was caught in a time machine! Here was one of my favorite artists from my college days, who I listened to for hours on my commutes around LA, being played almost 30 years later in my car, with my daughter. And get this, she knew almost all the words! Almost paranormal. What an amazing ride home!

And here, one of the songs we listened to, whizzing down the freeway, blazing through this life here, in, of course, California:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Thin Place

Today, everyday, we stand in a "thin place". Let me explain.

Evelyn Underhill
was a modern contemplative. She was the first woman given lecture-wide status at Oxford. She wrote 39 books on Christian spirituality and philosophy.

Once, when a friend of Evelyn Underhill had been to the Isle of Iona, a place deep with roots in Scots Christianity (pictured at left), her gardener said to her, “Iona is a very thin place.” And she asked, “What do you mean?” The gardener, a Scotsman, said, “Its a thin place, because there is not much between Iona and the Lord.”

We need to be sensitive to the closeness of the invisible world. We need a sense of wonder. “The beginning of the truth is to wonder at things,” said Plato. That’s not just Plato — it is good faith in Christ as well. It works for me.

C.S. Lewis once said "We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. Every bush is a burning bush. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate. The real labor is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake.

I have come to the realization that all of life, properly looked at, is a "thin place". I need to remember this, today.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Our Distorted View of the World

I found this to be very interesting. Perhaps you will too.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Well Meaning New Ideas

There are these two brothers. They grew up in a loving home, with wonderful parents. And, as fate would have it, their Dad was a pastor. And in spite of this, both boys have grown up to be functional members of society, avoiding both prison time, and some nutty period of rebellion living in animal skins in a commune in upstate New York. Amazing.


The boys' father was too humble and giving to create a giant multi-million dollar tele-evangelist empire. And so these boys will miss the chance to battle over leadership, and become embittered religious leaders themselves. These two brothers still believe in Jesus, each in his own unique way. They are very different, in wonderful ways; one is a bearded wacky youth minister, and the other is a clean-shaven college professor.

And now, in the attempt to share thoughts and ideas, the two brothers have a blog, which I very heartily recommend to all five of my readers (including the crazy Norwegian hacker who hits on my site repeatedly at 4 AM. Hi there, Kjel.).

Most recently, the brothers have offered two posts about the church which are very thoughtful, and indeed, made even me (with my pronounced and large forehead) think as well.

Take a look. Here and here.


In the last 10 days Myanmar and China have seen more suffering than all the world should have to endure in a year, or maybe a lifetime. Events like this make me feel like we really are living in the suffering of the "end times", even if the end does not come for a long time yet.

For those who sit, or squat, or lie, and wait, and wait, and wait in the delta region of Myanmar, may hope dawn. May the insane rulers of that beautiful country give up trying to control at all costs, and merely care. Let the aid and workers in!

And may the hundreds, if not thousands of parents in China who have lost their only children to the earthquake, be in some way comforted. And going forward, may this tragedy serve to change forever the shoddy way in which construction takes place in that country.

May it be so.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Coachella Reprive - Excellence & Humility

Last week I had lunch with my good friend John, at one of South Pasadena's cultural icons (newly renovated - now featuring cloth table napkins!).

John has had a remarkable life, and I count him as one of my favorite human beings. At one point in life, he was even a member of
The New Christy Minstrels, a long standing American folk group of the funky variety. But enough about John.

Our lunch conversation covered lots of stuff, including their kids, our kids, his parents, my in-laws, friends, silly church things, his work, my work, our lovely spouses, and the general meaning of life. Good friends are a blessing beyond measure or description. John was curious about my trip to Coachella, as he has been interested in music and the arts his whole life. Strangely it seems I have become a bit of a mini (read: very very tiny) local sudo-legend in my age grouping, for actually having the nerve to go to Coachella. Some folks can't believe I went, but I can't imagine not going, just to have the opportunity to visit the other side of the generation gap.

I told him about my three highlights, all posted below. During our chat, I mentioned to John that something had dawned upon me, after reflecting on my day and night in the desert. What I found was that the individual acts and groups that I was most drawn to and impressed by all shared two primary and defining characteristics. First humility, and second excellence.

One of the scriptural guidelines I try to remember in my work is from Colossians 3, where Paul is (again) advising a messed up church. His admonishment is very helpful for all I am trying to become, as I grow up:
"And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way."
Sing out your hearts. Do it in the name of the Master. Wonderful. The best acts I observed at Coachella got this very well. They were good. Very good. They had rehearsed a lot, worked to get it right - and when they stepped on stage, you could tell. Now, mind you, most groups very likely did not have a squeaky clean Christian brand, but they were very good at music. You could tell. Great stuff!

Perhaps the more profound message I received from Coachella was an abiding sense of humility from certain artists. Look below for my favorite acts. In each instance, there was a direct and profound sense of thankfulness from each artist for merely being asked to play on stage. Really. I heard this over and over. Comments like, "We are just so glad to be here", and "Thank you so much for coming out here tonight to listen to us", were commonplace. How heart warming.

What? I thought this was the culture of rock stars, instant fame, and bling. I was wrong, and pleasantly surprised!

Humbleness. This is the way I want to go through life. I try each day, to defer praise to other people, to step out of the way. And then, I remember this:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
I want to learn about humility. In certain places, Coachella, of all places was a good lesson.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Coachell Musings - Tres - Too Much Competition

Last Saturday night, in the desert, under the stars, with 40,000 young people, and a handful of us old dudes. Lots of funny cigarette smoke too. Ok, so its like 10:45 PM, and its way past my middle-aged bedtime. But there is more to come, and I have to rally.

What a day. And then, at the end of this long day, the Perfect Mellow. Jack Johnson.

Jack was a professional surfer until an accident at the Pipeline in which his front teeth were knocked out and he received more than 150 stitches. Ouch, man! Although that is when most people believe he changed from a surfer to an artist, in a recent Rolling Stone cover story (March 6, 2008) he stated that it actually happened a week before in the finals of the trials of the Pipeline Masters on Oahu. At the age of 17 he became the youngest competitor to ever reach the finals. Jack was eventually disqualified after failing to catch three waves. Jack realized that the competitiveness was too much for him, "guys were ready to kill each other to catch the next wave," Johnson remembers. The accident allowed time for Jack to start on his new passions, the guitar and making music. He stated about the accident, "I like to joke that I hit my head so hard that that's why I'm so mellow, but I think it did mellow me out." While he was recovering in bed, he spent his time writing songs and playing guitar.

Guys killing each other to catch the next wave. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Like life in the real world, the world of commerce that I live in. Ruthless competition. But strangely, I try to march to the beat of a different drummer, a cadence that is harder to hear, but easier on the soul. I think Jack gets that too.

Jack has it right, in his song "Better Together", he figures out one of the best blessings of life, relationships.

And so, this song goes out to all the dear people in our lives. For Pastor Jill. To Pastor Mark and Linda. To Tod and Beth. The Kamms. Jeff and Sparky, Jamie and Polly. To Julie in Cincinnati. To the Reverend KC and family in the desert. To John and Shelley. If you aren't mentioned here, you know its only cause my old head is foggy right now. To all those good, dear, long time friends. We love you more than words, or this song can convey.

It really is always Better When We're Together.

Love is the answer
At least for most of the questions in my heart ,
Like why are we here? And where do we go?
And how come it's so hard?
It's not always easy,
And sometimes life can be deceiving,
I'll tell you one thing, its always
better when we're together

MMM, it's always better when we're together
Yeah, we'll look at the stars when we're together
Well, it's always better when we're together

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Coachella Musings - Section B

Last Friday, I spent an amazing day in the desert, at the Coachella music festival, with my daughter and friends. I am so glad I went, I start smiling whenever I think about it.

The day we went, there were about 40,000 people in attendance, and as I commented, a whole lot of people far younger than myself. I will not shut myself off from the future - I want to embrace it.

Several days ago, the Gallop organization released a poll about the happiness of Americans. The results are mixed; it seems 49% of Americans are "thriving", while 47% are "struggling". As a point of comparison to more than 130 countries around the world, the percentage of citizens thriving ranges from 2% in Cambodia to 83% in Denmark. While the percentage of citizens suffering ranges from less than 1% in Denmark to 47% in Zimbabwe.

So, based on my observations, the Coachella crowd was not necessarily similar to the American public as a whole. Younger, more energetic, more idealistic. They actually believe we can change the world, cool the planet, and bring about world peace. Good for them, maybe we can!

In any case, perhaps it actually is fair to say that on any given day half of us are "thriving" and the other half are "struggling". And there we all were, sitting on the lawn in the bright, hot sun, standing to hear bands we loved, dancing under the misters to ward off the heat, relaxing in shade tents to good sounds. And one half of us are doing ok in life, and the other half are having a tough go of things.

What does it all mean? Where are we going, and who are we following on the way there? What is the point of it all?

Another Coachella moment of transcendence - the music of Swell Season, who we listened to under the stars. It was a magical experience. Their song, "Falling Slowly" won an Academy Award:

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time

Raise your hopeful voice you had a choice

You've made it now

Falling slowly sing your melody

I'll sing along
All those people gathered in the desert. Some thriving, some struggling. We've all still got time, and great hope.

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