Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A View from the Top, and Our Lives Together

I thought it would be just a hike.  It turned out to be much more.

This past Saturday, I took our dog Ella on a  hike in the hills above Hollywood, just a couple of miles northeast of our church campus.  Just a chance to exercise myself and our faithful Labrador.  But it seems God had more in mind.  That morning hike turned out to be an epiphany of sorts for me.  As Pastor Dan is taking some time off, he asked me to share my hiking reflections with you.  You know Dan; that guy who is always reminding us to "pay attention".  I'm trying.

I had heard that the view from the end of our hike was really great, but I had no idea how good it would be last Saturday.  You remember, at the end of last week we had several drizzling, rainy days, grey and uneventful; the sort of days that find you in a kind of sad funk.  Saturday morning started out grey as well at our house.  As Ella and I left in the car, I wondered if we would have to turn around because of more rain. 

But as we started down the trail at around 10 AM, the clouds began to part, and we hiked out to a promontory point in Runyan Canyon Park.  They call it "Inspiration Point".  As we walked out to the peak of the trail, the clouds had parted, and the sun felt warm on my shoulders.  Even Ella seemed to pick up the pace.  This was a stunning day.  Amazing.  Blue of sky, white of clouds, almost too bright to take in, even with sunglasses on.  A distant and clear view to Long Beach, Palos Verdes, and the blue Pacific beyond.  The city of legend.  Breathtaking.  Enough to make you weep; at this beautiful place God allows us all to live in, to work in, and in which we share our lives together.

Below us lay an amazing expanse of Los Angeles.  From Griffith Park, to downtown, from Koreatown to Westwood.  The City of Angels.  Under the parting clouds and warming sun, lay the home to over 3.8 million souls.  At that very moment, I remembered the title words of author Anne Lamont in her most recent book, written on the subject of prayer...."Help.  Thanks.  Wow!"   

Not just landscape and buildings lay before us, not just offices, homes, apartments, and freeways and people rushing to and fro.  Below us lay a teaming sea of ..... life!  Millions of stories of triumph and pain, of great joy and deep sorrow.  Daily struggles, little victories.  Those without homes sleeping in the underpasses and those with homes so big they get lost inside of them.  Struggling single moms, teens trying to figure out how they fit in, elderly who live alone without someone to care for them.  So many stories, so many lives.  So much emotion below there in this city, if you were able to really understand it, to comprehend all its weight and breadth in a moment, you would drop to your knees, overwhelmed by its sheer power.  

And above us, all around us, a God who knows the names and stories and struggles and joys of every last one of all of those lives.  A Savior who longs to connect to every last person down here in this amazing, messy, confusing, unruly city.  How will He ever make that connection?

I think it's often easy to forget why we are here together at Hollywood Presbyterian. I know enough to sense that sometimes my view of the world is too small, too myopic, too self-absorbed.  We get involved in our little "church lives", and forget the bigger picture.  We can't find our perspective, and we loose track of our unique place in this big city, forgetting that our job is to love others, mostly those outside our church walls, in an entirely uncommon way.  To love in a way that points clearly to Jesus and the amazing, breathtaking and abundant life He spoke of.  This is a key part of our life together; to love well.

The image of that mountain top hike will be with me for a while now.  It won't let me go.  Now comes the hard part, the gritty part, the day-to-day part, the loving part.  Living it out.  Making a difference.  Connecting.  Making this big old city smaller, one friendship at a time.  Getting up everyday, and heading out the door, going to the office, or school, or a meeting, volunteering, or a coffee or lunch with a long time friend or a new acquaintance.  Loving people.  

"Help!"  Lord, we cannot do this church thing without your Spirit guiding us daily.  Please help us, we can't do this alone.  We need your mercy.

"Thanks" for what you have done in our church for the last century.  Give us energy, fill us with hope, make us into people who know how to really love others.  Thank you for your amazing grace.

"Wow!"  Why did you choose us, of all people, to be the ones to become part of this grand old church in such a wondrous place?  We are humbled.  We don't deserve such an amazing chance.  But please, make us somehow worthy of this incredible opportunity.

See you in church.  Grace & Peace,

Steve Norris

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Most Beautiful Gift

How was your day? No doubt, full of small problems of the First World.

Alright now. Stop. Take a moment and watch this. This is tangible proof that new life and joy can rise from the ashes of great and dark tragedy.

"......…..the most beautiful gift a person can give."

Rachel Beckwith's Mom Visits Ethiopia. from charity: water on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sara Watkins - Take Up Your Spade

This is my favorite song of 2012:

Sun is up, a new day is before you
Sun is up, wake your sleepy soul
Sun is up, hold on to what is on
Take up your spade and break ground
[ Lyrics from: ]
Shake off your shoes,
Leave yesterday behind you
Shake off your shoes,
But forget now where you're been
Shake off your shoes
Forgive and be forgiven
Take up your spade and break ground

Give thanks, for all that you've been given
Give thanks, for who you can become
Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb
Take up your spade and break ground
Break ground, break ground, break ground.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Christmas on Bushnell Avenue, South Pasadena

Each year for the past decade or so, it has become a Christmas tradition for the homes on our street to light luminarias on Christmas Eve.

Although more recently seen as a form of secular Christmas decoration, the hope among many Christians, and in our home, is that these lights will guide the spirit of the Christ child to one's home.

And so, with the brilliant editorial help of younger daughter Heather, and the gorgeous composition and orchestration of John Williams, enjoy a moment on our street, our home base for the past 20 years.  May the spirit of the Christ child be with you each day of the New Year.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Downton Abbey and our Place in this World

Tonight marks the third season of the Downton Abbey series on PBS, and I am nearly beside my white, balding, middle-aged self with anticipation.

For those of you who have been living in a yurt in the Mojave desert for the past two years, Downton Abbey is a series of very well told fictional stories set at the beginning of the last century in Great Britain, filmed with great care and crafted with the highest excellence.  This is what story telling in film should be more about.

The series has generated critical acclaim, audience enthusiasm, and impressive ratings.  It has also garnered six Emmys and one Golden Globe, ending HBO’s dominance over the movies and miniseries category. Downton is ranked No. 3 in terms of overall audiences in all Masterpiece presentations since 1990, second only to The Buccaneers and Prime Suspect 2. It brought in a staggering average audience of 6.3 million viewers for its second season premiere on Jan. 8 and was the second-watched program at 9 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday—a prime time coup for a period drama that airs on PBS, of all places.

This week, I caught a fascinating interview on NPR with the cast of Downton, and was struck by the thoughtfulness of Elizabeth Montgomery, who plays the role of Lady Grantham.  Here is the short transcript of the interview with NPR's David Green:

GREENE: I'm struck what you said right there. You said it's a world so different from our own world. I read something in the New York Times, a write-up describing things this way: "How perversely comforting to turn our attention to a world where you will die where you were born and where the heroes are the rare overachievers who work their way up to butler from footman." Why, Elizabeth, is this comforting, in some way, to, you know, people today?

MCGOVERN: I think because in today's world, we all live with the burden of feeling that anything is possible if we're only clever enough, smart enough, work hard enough, that we can achieve any fluctuation in rank in society, and that there is a small disappointment if, for whatever reason, you haven't managed to earn a fortune or succeed in some huge way that you thought you would as a young person. And, I mean, there's something, of course, marvelous about that. I mean, personally, I wouldn't change that for anything. I wouldn't go back to the old way. But I think there was a comfort for people, to a certain extent, in knowing this is their role. This is their place.
Imagine that; the "burden of feeling that anything is possible" if we're only clever enough, smart enough, or work hard enough".  As I listened to those words, I was struck that this is the problem that affects so many of us Americans.  After all, we won the Revolutionary War, settled our own Colonies, and then, to top it off we freed the slaves and won the West.  We can rise above our station in life.  Gosh darn it, we can do anything, right?

As life moves on, and I get a bit older, I am realizing that is not the way life works.  Many, if not most all of us, must at some point come to realize our station in life and learn to adapt to our surroundings.  No, you will not become the CEO of some multi-national corporation, nor will you end up winning the PGA Grand Slam - instead you must learn your purpose in middle management, and attempt to keep your golf handicap under 40.  Like those living downstairs at Gratham Manor, we must find purpose and meaning in the daily sacred of our little lives.

And Ms. McGovern's comment about "there was a comfort for people, to a certain extent, in knowing this is their role.  This is their place", struck me as well. 

Perhaps this is the reason I enjoy Downton Abbey so much - it points out the mystery of comfort in knowing your place in the world.  I think I might be still, in some small ways, struggling with accepting my place in the world.  While the plots often point out the hypocrisy of the upper class, they also speaks largely of deep character, dignity, selflessness and courage among all classes in society.  These are messages that will never grow tiring to me.

And so, tonight I will sit with my sweet wife of more than 24 years and enjoy a winter's eve hour of fine British drama, set in post World War II Great Britain.  Whilst watching the elegant costuming and pastoral English countryside, I will reflect on my station in life in this urban 21st century Southern California.  At evening's end, I will remember that tomorrow, as I rise and set out for work, I again have a chance to bring dignity, a bit of joy, and meaning to my workplace world.

And below, for you Mojave yurt dwellers, is a steroids version recap of Seasons 1 & 2 of Downton Abbey:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...