Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Few Days to Rest

It was Christmas night and I heard Santa say, "Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum." Maybe I've got that wrong.

Barb and I went up to Sea Ranch with Robert, Mandy and Adam this past week. It was burly. Landslides, flooded roads, going in the dark, fog and rain trying to make it somewhere I've never been without a map, guided only by the verbalized direction of strangers. Oh, did I mention that in the midst of the ocean spray, howling winds, landslides, dump trucks that there were also cows crossing the road? But when we drug ourselves into the house and ate and drank into the night the morning greeted us with splendor. The west wall of the house was 95% glass and before us in I-MAX form was the Pacific tossing extra foamy waves and froth to and fro, breaking on the crags only a stone's throw away.

We all went out onto the crags and cautiously enjoyed the view. I realized one thing--the ocean is scary. It is not safe. If you were in what we saw you would have no chance. Heck, I'm surprised the fish didn't jump onto shore just to get out of it. So I am changing the saying--"The ocean hath no fury like a woman scorned."

It was a good rest. I watched Sports Center and fell asleep in the recliner with the sun warming me through the I-MAX wall as I read a book I didn't understand. The conversation was good, uplifting and the food was plentiful and so was the coffee and the eggnog. Oh, and the fireplace.

All of this was a gift that was provided for by some people I really admire. I will never forget this past week.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas thought Number One

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope all is well with all of you. I'm fine, thanks for asking. Oh, and Barb? She's good too. Aren't you so handsomely warm today?

If I would have thought ahead I would have had a Christmas devotional or thought for the day each day this week, but a las, I don't have it together this time around. As a matter of fact, I can't really believe it's here already and don't feel quite up to speed about my duties this weekend during our worship times.

Hillside always has beautiful Christmas services. I wish that you could see it. It has a great vaulted ceiling with wood beams their original color. Lighted garland rings the walls and the advent wreath is suspended from the ceiling. Quite beautiful. And the people are extremely loving and warm. Something good is always happening within the community here.

Below is a quote I read recently from Napolean, not the one with cool hair and a great flare for pronunciation, but the one who tried to conquer the world:

"I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force! Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him!"

Not with force did Jesus build his kingdom, but with love. And that love propels many to serve and sacrifice for him. I'm glad that Napolean did say, ". . . and at this hour millions of men would kill for Him!" because that would be the antithesis of Jesus. The more I read about Jesus the more I am attracted to him.

Monday, December 12, 2005

An Original Grand Slam Goodbye

Today I said goodbye to Paul Stavrand, a friend of mine. He is moving to New York to attend Columbia University. Over a year ago Paul, Jim and I started meeting for accountability. It's been a good year with those guys and they have always supported me with emails, calls and candid conversations. It's good to have a community like that.

We three met at Denny's off of Paradise Drive this morning and said our goodbyes. I'm going to miss Paul and his take on life and faith. He loves his wife and kids and I think they will do very well being back on the East Coast with family and pursuing this dream.

So, here's to a safe cross-country trip!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ears to Hear and Eyes to Read

I'm currently in one of the best reading times of my life. Tomorrow evening we wrap up our read through and discussion of The Chronicles of Narnia. It has been unbelievably good and I learned that reading a book with others is a very good thing, something I hope to continue into the future.

Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense to JFK and LBJ, has a documentary about 11 lessons from his life entitled, The Fog of War. Said to admit it but up until this point I knew or understood very little of the Vietnam war. I had seen several Vietnam War movies but this documentary trumped them all. I do not watch re-runs, a trait I inherited from my dad, but I have seen The Fog of War about 5 times. I watched it 3 times in one week. I then went to the Larkspur library and picked up Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy. It is a brilliant book and by page 93 I understood precisely why it is a tragedy on many parts. All I have been able to say is this: it was one misunderstanding after another, which led not to more thorough communication, but toward escalation. I have mourned as I have turned the pages. I have groaned audibly. And at times I have shook my fist at so many people. Oh, let me tell you how the book is put together. McNamara had this idea that he and high level officials who were in government at that time would travel along with scholars to meet with their counterparts in the Vietnamese government at that time, many who are still alive and well. I think that had a half a dozen meetings and simply ask the question, "What were the missed opportunities." I'll gladly talk to you about it, but I'm telling you, if you ever wanted to know about Vietnam, just read 90 pages into Argument Without End.

Yesterday I finished The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Very, very good. You can read it in four hours and you might want to read it again after the last page. It's about a shepherd boy having a dream about finding a treasure in the Pyramids of Egypt. The book is about that journey and how, "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." He takes a courageous journey to pursue his dream and his treasure and is faced with hardship and goodness. There are several beautiful passages that make you stop and soak it in and make you reflect upon your own life. Reminds me a lot of the spiritual life.

I just picked up Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller, who also wrote Blue Like Jazz. He writes about the spiritual life passionately, humorously and insighfully. You can ask Barb, I laughed out loud about 10 times in 20 minutes. If you want to read someone who just might be able to verbalize what you've been feeling all the long, then Don's book is a good help. If you think God is bigger than formulas and our thoughts about him, then what are you waiting for?

And just as a bonus, I've never told you about one of the best music groups in the world-- Over the Rhine. I'm currently listening to Drunkard's Prayer and Ohio. I never tire of their poignant lyrics.

Messiness to Holiness?

This weeks has started off fair enough. I've been quite antsy for the past 3 days. I was sick in St. Louis and all of last week practically. I spent about 6 days cloistered from civilization reduced to eating cream-of-anything soup and drinking water--it was like I was on a vegetarian island. Oh, did I tell you that yesterday I slept 10 hours straight without waking? For my superiors who may or may not read this--it was my day off. My personal best was in St. Louis where Barb and I both slept for 17 hours straight, but that has to have an asteriks beside it because we tossed and turned a great bit.

Prince's sermon on Sunday was unbelievably good. He spoke on the Gift of Messiness. When we are faced with messiness we do three things: get apathetic about our spiritual life and say, "I can't do it"; get legalistic and rigid because that offers control and certainty (so we think); or we get honest and walk faithfully and trustfully with God through it all.

It gave me a lot to think about. The Scripture is full of people who were in either of those camps. Prince gave the example of Noah, who is a picture of faithfulness; you know, building an ark in wilderness and such. And then after he survives Katrina's bigger and meaner brother he gets naked and gets drunk. Being a flood survivor must be extremely tough. I also think of David--shepherd boy, man-child, warrior, poet, king, and, GULP, adulterer.

Then there are those who are rigid. If you were/are the kind of person who thought they knew everything about God then Jesus would've been pretty annoying. There were those who were hyper-rigid and led mostly from their head and not from their heart. This wasn't all the religious leaders because we know that Nicodemus was among the Sanhedrin and in Acts he spoke on behalf of the apostles. Some of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes followed Jesus. There were some, however, who thought got fit in a box--whether that box was the Temple, the synagogue, or even today, the church. When Jesus tells the story of the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost child in Luke 15 he is speaking about the out of the box God. And Jesus loved those who were considered to be "irreligious." He hung out and loved (notice the text never says Jesus "tolerated" them) them.

Then there are those who accept the messiness and walk with God through it. That was the gospel for me--truly the "good news." I don't have to be squeaky clean. And thank goodness because on my bed right now is an overdue library book!!! It's okay to have a messy life--Jesus turns messiness to holiness. That's that whole bit about sanctification. Paul dealt with it and so did Peter. And for that matter--so did William Carey, Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And so does Jason Elder.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Our Fearless American Staffordshire Terrier

So, the past few days here north of Ring Mountain have been windy, wet and wild. The wind whipped up pretty hard for about 2 days. On the San Rafael/Richmond Bridge (which is across water) a big rig was blown over by the wind (I suppose the shell was empty). A few trees were damaged around our little house. The door to our entrance (our entrance is a greenhouse) was beaten half-past-dead so I have to go get a new one.

And then, there is Matches. You've read about her before. She's a pitbull, ooppps, I mean, American Staffordshire Terrier. She's an inside dog. She has to, absolutely has to, be in the same room as a human. She sleeps 20 hours a day, never barks, fetches okay, and uses the potty in the backyard, of course. Well, this is the most rain she's seen since we got her at the near end of the rainy season this year. And, I think she just doesn't like rain. She doesn't mind a wet backyard but rain from above is not her thing. So all this week I've been having to push her scrowny tail out to the backyard and stand out there in the rain for her to go!

So before we put her in her crate for the night we open up the door and she usually goes out, but not last night. It was still pretty stormy at 1030 but I open the door and just assume she is going to the backyard, when all of the sudden I look and she has not left the doorway but is peeing on our doormat!!!!!! Oh the Humanity!!!!! I started crying out laughing at her and said, "You are the biggest punk I've ever seen." I mean, this is a prank a college friend would play. She then shakes the dew off her lilly, looks up at me, pauses, steps over the defiled doormat and comes right back in and lays down.

Well, she's a pretty smart dogs as dogs go, so today I'm teaching her to deep clean.