Wednesday, April 30, 2008

31 Flavors of Irritation

Not sure how many of you visited your neighborhood Baskin Robbins for their (I think annual) 31cent scoop day to benefit local fire departments. We went last year, and waited about a half hour to get our creamy goodness. But since we live in-between two Baskin Robbins (not literally, but equi-distance between two), we decided to try the other today hoping for a shorter line. Turned out to be a bad move. We get there about 6:20PM where a decent line has already formed around the building, significantly longer than the one we stood in the year before. Because I'm a badly fallen creature, I'm already thinking in my mind, "We shoulda went to the to other store." I'm especially nervous because I have to be at an important meeting in Yorba Linda by 7:30PM. I have my doubts we're going to get our ice cream in time, but my wife is confident we will. This is not surprising, she is the one with more faith.

The line inches along, and between my constant glances at my watch and my kids beginning to wear down as the whining cranks up, I'm getting both paranoid and irritated. One of the owners (looks like it's a family-owned franchise) starts to make her way up the line with a cup of gummy bears, asking people to guess how many, with the winner getting a trip to the front of the line. At first this is cute, an attempt to entertain the crowd. But she does this a couple more times, and because we keep losing, it gets old fast, and I get a little peeved, one at myself for guessing incorrectly, but also for all the people being escorted to the front of the line in front of me. Doesn't anyone know I have an important meeting to attend at 7:30PM where we will talk about matters of the kingdom of God and the future of orphans!?

So anyway, we finally near the promised land. We can actually see into the store now from the side window. And it's here that I discover why the line is so freakin' slow - the sight of all these people holding their miniature-sized pink spoons sampling flavors! My God, it's 31 cents! Live a little, take a chance! OK, I get over it. We're almost there. In front of us there are five kids who are together, unsupervised, with no parents, and then it's our turn. Another one of the store owners stands at the door as bouncer/doorman letting people in one party at a time like this is a Hollywood nightclub. At this point it's already past 7:00 PM. But I'm going to make it. Just then, another family with stroller in tow is let in ahead of the family with no parents, winners of yet another guessing game back near the end of the line. Great, just great.

But it gets better. Then some kid in line begins to dance for the gummy bear lady. Gummy lady motions to the doorman to turn up the boom box that is on the chair behind the door. I couldn't make out what she says, but suddenly a handful of kids midway back break out in all form of dance, trying to impress the gummy lady turned judge. After a kid does the worm impressing everyone in line, gummy lady tells the kids they can all go to the front - all nine of them, including their parents!!! So into the store they march, what seemed like at least a dozen of them, in front of the jackson 5, in front of us. I immediately roll my eyes in disbelief, and then look straight at doorman and say to him, "Come on, man, this is ridiculous." A family directly behind us is irritated too, but they're much nicer, easier going, but even they lend their support, "We've been waiting here for 45 minutes," they let doorman know.

But wait, there is still more. I'm not even over the dancing kids getting a scholarship to BR when the next thing you know gummy lady is back asking anyone in line if they can produce a movie ticket from their purse or wallet? Wouldn't you know it, there are five more people who appear out of nowhere who are more happy than they have a right to be at this moment, escorted to the front door. Inside, I'm almost livid now. This is ridiculous. Freakin' unbelievable. It's also 7:15PM. Eventually, doorman lets the jackson 5 in, then us, then the family behind us all before the movie buffs, because, I want to believe, I made a stink about the injustice of waiting so long for ice cream and maybe, looking as miserably as I could muster. Once inside, of course, the other owner is incredibly nice, as is the cashier, as are the firemen who are scooping our ice cream. Once I get to the car, I feel a tinge of regret being such an ass about the whole thing and secretly vowing that I would never frequent this particular BR ever again. I suppose ice cream does have a way of softening you up a bit.

In the end, I do get to my meeting on time, and it goes really well. Later when I get home and begin reflecting on the day, I feel increasingly crummy for being so easily irritated earlier at Baskin Robbins. "Why can't I be more patient, less uptight, a better model parent?" I chide myself. But then I begin writing about it here, begin to recall more clearly why I got so ticked off in the first place. And I have to be honest, after review, I feel more than a little justified. It may not have been pretty, but the way things turned out, including expressing to doorman how unhappy I was with the day's festivities, turns out to be pretty sweet.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Getting Past Past

Reading a review in The LA Times last week, I came across this intriguing quote by Faulkner: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." It rings true. We are historical beings, the present culmination of our cumulative pasts. In that way, our past lives on inside us each new day making our past ever present. Our past lives on as memories, happy and nostalgic to be sure, but also in our soul wounds, both consciously and unconsciously. Faulker was right, our pasts are never really dead, but continually shape our future because they are alive and well in us up to the present moment.

As a pastor in particular, and I suppose just as a human being, I have attempted to assist others in getting past their past however feebly. My theology informs me that we all share a common brokenness as homo sapiens attempting to become human in a fallen world in which we sin, in which people sin against us, and just a lot of unwelcome crap, fairly and unfairly, knock on our door. My experience has led me to believe that to deal with one's past is really the only way to have any decent kind of future at all. As a person who comes from a broken home, marked by alcoholism, infidelity, and the like, and in my own forays and struggles with anger, sexual addiction, depression, and general insecurity - I happened to realize many years ago that if I didn't deal with my broken internal world, I was destined to ruin every relationship that mattered to me - including the one to myself. Years later, to no surprise to anyone I'm sure, I'm still a recovering sinner, and will always be, with my past ready and willing to rear its ugly head at anytime, threatening to ruin my today.

As Eugene Peterson once wrote, "The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In the communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor's responsibility is to the keep the community attentive to God."

As pastor/sinner (that might look nice on a business card!), I've tried to help a community of sinners stay attentive to God by staying attentive to him myself, however imperfectly, and also acquainted to their pasts by sharing my own, even as that past continues to unfold week after week in not so pretty ways. Partly because what choice do I have, but partly because I believe therein lies our hope.

I've come to the conviction that in Jesus Christ our pasts can be healed and redeemed. Not even God can change our pasts, but he can and does help us feel differently about those pasts. He can help us react differently, respond differently, choose differently in the present by helping us face our loses, our hurts, our injustices of the past. And he gently but directly encourages us to leave all of that past stuff at the cross where we in turn find love, comfort, acceptance, and peace in those wounded and painful places. This is the power of the cross, this is the hope of the resurrection. Our pasts go in on one side of the cross and come out the other - the same past, yet different - a redeemed past. And more importantly, what is different isn't just our past, but us. If Faulkner is right, we are our own living past. But because we see our past differently now through the eyes of God, we are different too. No longer tethered to our hurts in a way that hijacks our present, we move on in freedom, empowered to choose the good, empowered to choose the way of love and forgiveness, instead of the way of fear. After all, if we are the cumulative total of our past, we are adding a new chapter to our past each day. And it can be a happier, healthier, more healed story.

That's why I am often saddened, and occasionally frustrated, by the number of people I meet and travel with, who for whatever reason can't or won't deal with their past, even as it wrecks havoc on their present. So many hurts, so much pain, so much damage, so much inability to be honest, to have deep friendship, to know real acceptance - but without facing the past, no significant change either. The past is never dead. It's not even past. How true.

Frederick Buechner said this in the introduction to one of his books, "In these pages I tell secrets about my parents, my children, myself because that is one way of keeping track and because I believe that it is not only more honest but also vastly more interesting than to pretend that I have no secrets to tell. I not only have my secrets, I am my secrets. And you are your secrets. Our secrets are human secrets, and trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it is to be human."

I have found that the only way to share our secrets is to first face our secrets, which of course is another way of saying we have to open up the closet that is our past and take a look around inside. You can see inside because there is light there. But it's also dark. The grace of God is knowing he's always been there, that is, in our past, just as he is with us in the present. He is able to walk into our dark past that is now present in our hearts, or should I say throats to be more accurate - waiting to redeem them, and us. A past that is never dead can kill us, or it can make us alive. In the end the choice is ours. In a community of human beings sharing their secrets, there is Jesus among them. This is my hope for Epic. This is community as only community can be. Because through Christ, even the darkest stuff of our past can turn out to be the light that lights the way, making the past past.

Monday, April 21, 2008

El Sauzal

Hands down, the best trip to Mexico so far! Here's a photo diary of Epic's visit with our friends at the orphanage.

New Releases

At least for me, it's been a bit of a drought lately on the music scene, but I am looking forward to the upcoming U.S. releases from these UK artists:

Listen to Estelle

Listen to Duffy