The Dream Job

There is incomprehensible joy when long days and months of patience become fruits of a great desire.  It is as though goosebumps emerge from my arms and there is general excitement about everything (Boy, that bagel has to be the best ever right?!).  Life seems to both speed up and slow down all at once, in the purest of both ways.  Despair or depression or hopelessness or simply uncertainty transform into hope, happiness, excitement, and joy.

This has happened to me, albeit without the biblical version of barren women becoming childbearing (Let it be as you have said, Mary replied!).

I got a job to a chaplain, a pediatric chaplain no less, at Texas Children’s Hospital.  It is a hospital that regularly finds itself in the top 5 of almost every pediatric specialty int the US News and World Report Pediatric Hospital Ratings.  This year it was number 4 overall behind the giants of Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.  But nonetheless, Texas Children’s is a giant in itself.

And it is a dream, to be sure.  It has the elements I wanted as someone dreaming of being a pediatric chaplain.  First, it is a new (over the last couple years that is) Level 1 Trauma Center for children- I appreciate and treasure the opportunity to work with emergencies and crises for children and families.  I myself tend to work best in crisis, perhaps because I reflect and think too much when given the opportunity (lost in thought often describes me- in fact, most weekly reflections in my residency are 1-2 pages and mine were often 4 or 5).  Second, it does incredible specialty work with cardiology among others, but cardiology is one that I have unique family experience with and value that opportunity to work in those unique cases.  Third, it is a part of the Texas Medical Center.  This cannot be understated because it provides opportunities to be challenged as a hospital to be better, it offers very solid benefits and pay (even compared to my native California), it receives some of the worst of the worst patients and therefore some of the most desperate and support needy, and it provides 30-40 chaplains in the Texas Medical Center from other hospitals who I get to grow with, be challenged by, and mentored by.  That is truly understated.  One of the key differences between this job and my other job offer was simply that the other didn’t have that broader chaplain interaction.  These are the people I am going to look to to help me grow into a board certified chaplain in a year, people who I hope will become a family of sorts.  Besides, it is also a place that employs three other chaplains too, so I get to regularly work with other chaplains.  Fourth, Texas Children’s has lots of opportunities to interact playfully and meaningfully with children outside of ICU’s.  They have great playrooms, they have great opportunities for kids to reach out and try new things (a central radio station where kids can sing and lead, often with celebrities who come to visit!).  Fifth, as can be summed up amongst all of this, it is a place of hope (as is the place where I used to be a resident, Children’s Hospital Memorial Hermann).  It breathes life into difficult situations, brings the air of possibility to places of impossibility, and gives children and their families opportunities to manage life in the chaos without constant sadness and fear.  This is what makes it a strength as well- the fact that it is a place of hope that brings possibility and joy in spite of uncertainty- it brings all sorts of challenges because there are those who still will find walls of impossibility, whose loves ones will still die, whose lives may still shatter, and whose futures still breathe uncertainty.  But those are worthy, great challenges that I look forward to enjoying.

But there are certainly other factors at play.  It is home to my favorite church, a place I comfortably call home, Southwest Central.  It is a place that no matter how much I may say that my family in SoCal means to me, I want to be close to Southwest because they are loving and because they are challenging.  The church challenges me to grow, to have a voice, to participate…in the church and the kingdom of God.  Another factor at play is the economic situation- less standard of living and better housing for a lower price.  Also, it is a place where I find a strange comfort.  It has people that have meant much to me for career and calling, such as Virgil Fry, Paul Riddle, Paul Robertson, Glenda McDonald.  And it was the place that years ago, a calling was born in a summer internship called Lifeline, and actually, it was amongst that place that I developed a newfound belonging amongst children.  So, it is place that with the Med Center and Lifeline, I have always had a strange relationship, one in which a fellow resident mused me and the Med Center would likely be intertwined somehow.

I got another job offer.  It was a great job really.  It was a pretty darn good hospital that was part of a really good hospital system.  It was a place where I would be asked to be the only chaplain because it was a smaller 200 bed hospital.  It was a place where I would be asked to take on challenges like creating a volunteer corps, visiting outside churches, synagogues, and mosques to develop relationships with them (something I hope to do already with Texas Children’s because I treasure the opportunity).  It was a place where I would be challenged to develop support groups for certain specialties it served, such as cardiology.  It really was a great job.  And it provided an opportunity to be close to family and close to friends, and would have put in a place to be with a good church, one in which I have very close friends and which seeks the kingdom of God in powerful ways (and some of my very closest friends are sports buffs here, another highly positive thing).  But it wasn’t to be.

The hospital didn’t offer a pediatrics unit, although clearly work with children would come through the emergency center, through families of dying loved ones.  It wasn’t Texas Children’s.  I had always dreamed of being a pediatric chaplain because of how my life had been changed as a child.  And because I believe I connect well with children.  Rather, I love them so much because I am often childish myself and love recovering my childhood in different ways.

Texas Children’s will bring challenges too- it is not all peaches and cream.  I will have to learn the ropes of being on committees, some for very important things and others for not very important things.  I will have to make commitments to learning and trusting these other chaplains and communicating well with them.  I will have to learn a new hospital, with new units, with new procedures.  I will have to grow into becoming professional, becoming certified, participating as a peer with fellow chaplains in brown bag educational lunches, attending professional conferences, and perhaps even teaching or sharing in Texas Children’s annual pediatric conference.  And, I will be filling in the spot vacated by another.  This brings all sorts of challenges- taking on the unit of nurses who are sad at his loss, interacting with others who feel really comfortable with his nature of conversation and care, and spending time on units as fairly as possible after some got used to having his presence quite often.  And there are more challenges.  But those would suffice because they lay out some of the fearful, but exciting challenges.

All told then, I have a job.  I have a dream job.  I have a dream job that I get to shape and that I get to be transformed by.  In this time, I feel like the blind man who was asked by Jesus, “What do you want?”  I asked, and I somehow received.  Praise God!

Political Chaos

Politics is a difficult conversation these days.  No matter how we try to avoid, it still comes up, though, in all sorts of conversations and in all sorts of ways.   Though I and many others are ‘sick and tired’ of politicians, political battles, elections, caucuses, and primaries, it comes up and emerges all the time.  It seems to encircle us and is more a part of our lives than we really want at times.

But I like that.  I want to talk politics.  But I don’t want to talk politics per se, I want to have a dialogue.  I am no mere Republican nor am I a Democrat.  In fact, I am quite uneducated about what goes on in governments.  But I want to know, and I want to hear perspectives.  I don’t like avoiding it because people get upset or angry about it or because people are very personally involved in one way or another.  It seems to me that  we ought to be able to discuss and converse about most anything, especially about something that is so present in our lives.  I also like talking about politics because it is fundamentally about knowing our worldviews, about learning about what makes each other tick, and what is important to each of us.  But there are certainly challenges there:

  • Very rarely do people talk about politics as valid perspectives, but rather as their  perspective as right (think Republicans calling Democratic attempts (that’s a generous way of looking at it) to fix the economy “Socialist”).  We tend to be myopic and narrow and think the worst of opponents in politics.
  • Many times, we get political issues and themes mixed with Christian issues and themes, and often they become assimilated.  If faith and politics get so intertwined, it is hard to see issues as better or worse and more like right or wrong.  And we then can picture those who differ as enemies or unfaithful and that is dangerous.
  • Politics s not simple.  Tax issues and revenues, healthcare, reforms, finances, military, and voting reforms- they all seem to have lots of complexity and depth.  I can barely figure out my own taxes, let alone understand how taxes affect the rich or poor and how much is needed to make up a deficit.  Or consider how difficult it would be to provide programs to help the poor but also find ways to pay for them without creating inordinate bureaucracy- it’s not easy when you are caring for 200 million or so people.  Or consider how complex international aid and policy can be when we receive oil, maintain vast trade agreements, and deal with global movements and issues.
  • It’s a two party system.  There just aren’t lots of other perspectives being tossed around nationally, so it naturally develops to have just a couple major perspectives to get behind, and certainly we have a hard time bringing different pieces together from both groups (i.e. compromise).
  • We often get our perspectives from childhood and who we are surrounded by.  Hearing parents talk positively about Republicans or Democrats certainly changes how we perceive many of those political issues and groups.  We are certainly affected by how our churches, parents, grandparents, family, and communities view politics.  I remember being at ACU the night that Obama was voted in as president and I saw kids in the dorm where I served as an RA crying and grieving that the world was going to end, though they had never been interested in politics and simply because their parents were hard core conservative.  They had not been able to develop their own understanding yet- and some don’t do that ever!

Those are just some of the challenges, and it certainly bothers me that I struggle with them as well.  But that is natural right?  But the goal is not to be biased, but to be aware of how are bias are affecting us, to be self aware.  But I feel like we do that so little.

Sometimes, we are not only not self aware but we aren’t even aware of what we say and believe, as has become clear to me through this presidency and through these Republican primaries.  Consider:

  • Fox News analysts and guests complaining about media bias from mainstream media, when they themselves claim to be the most watched and followed media network.  Doesn’t that make them the mainstream?
  • Barack Obama calling for a presidency and government that is transparent, and then when the government is involved in gun running scheme, they plead the fifth.
  • Mitt Romney: “Barack Obama has divided the country.”  Just Obama?  Is he solely responsible?  Perhaps some Republican responsibility?  And perhaps some Democrat responsibility for being pretty square at times themselves?  Tea Party and Occupy?  Certainly is can’t just be Obama, or at least I think so.
  • Newt Gingrich going after Mitt Romney for his business experience of taking over businesses and driving them out of business for profit.  Republicans taking on some form of free enterprise?

Anyway, that is just some random thoughts.  The point is, that sometimes we are really messed up.  The rhetoric that wants to attack, to mock so as to destroy (“Obamacare” or “class warfare”), the posturing (Democrats running Indiana so that a vote would not be taken, constant filibustering by every side and party), fear-monghering (fearing and proclaiming our move toward Socialism, both parties claiming that if the other one gets in the way of jobs they will have to save us by filibustering or nuances or technicalities)- it all just seems too much.

I don’t know what is right for our country.  I don’t know if we can even do what is right.  Why do I say that?  Because as much as we mock and get angry at our politicians, we are people like them and often do similar things in our own lives if we don’t pay attention.  Many Americans, like politicians, want programs but don’t seem willing to pay taxes.  Many Americans, like politicians, are unable to communicate well, unable to express themselves in positive and effective dialogue.  And that is what concerns me.  I have heard so much from people about how terrible the government is and incapable- but ordinary people aren’t much better.  We take on mortgages that outweigh so completely what we can afford.  We get fearful and angry when Muslims build mosques in our neighborhoods.  We get upset when we are asked to pay more for anything, even when it is for our benefit.  Very few Americans watch a budget closely.  Most Americans thrive on credit alone.  How are we then different from those politicians?  That is why I feel like we must be more careful about how we elect and vote and set expectations.

I am neither Democrat nor Republican, but I liked President Obama and had this vision of a grand presidency as many people did.  But as I have realized, it is as other presidents.  He is just like us, sometimes able to work with others and sometimes not, sometimes effective communicating and sometimes too nuanced.  I set expectations that were more than any person or president could realistically perform.  But like everyone else, I have to be aware of that expectation and how it keeps me from dialoguing well.  I have to be responsible to appropriate see the faults and the successes of a presidency, or a governor, or a mayor or anything else in this world.  I have to be careful not to vote on the grandeur of my vision but the reality of that vision.  But it seems as if people can only stay solidly on the greatness of this president, and some stuck on the Socialistic and out to destroy the country vision of the president.  I have to see the flaws and successes.  We have to be honest with ourselves about ourselves and others.  He has disappointed me- he has been as bad as Bush in regards to the “security” of our country (still there is a Gitmo, still we can take people and imprison them for being suspected terrorists), he has pressed that the bailouts were critical to slow the recession but that isn’t measurable, he hasn’t worked as much with Republicans….  BUT, he has been good in some respects- he seems to be very good at gaining respect overseas, he does often call for dialogue (especially with other countries), he seems to represent the poor (whether all that effectively I am not sure), he has compromised on some important things, he has driven towards healthcare reform (although I don’t think this healthcare reform is nearly the solution)…There are many things on both sides that I could say, but the point is that nearly every person in the government is flawed, and there ideas are flawed, and the government itself is flawed.  With that in mind, there is no way that I can be so lividly one party or another and lividly support them as though unflawed.  But if I don’t see my party, my ideas, my candidate as flawed we put ourselves in stubborn places that block out the possibility of good dialogue and troubleshooting.  (One staunch Republican I know said recently about MLK Day that MLK had an awesome message but Democrats have made it all about black people and minorities.  Really?  Are you really that blocked from accepting the possibility that the other party or other people really have something to offer?)

That is all to reinforce how I started.  I don’t know how to solve the recession.  I don’t know how to fix Wall Street.  I don’t know who would be the best candidate for President or governor would be.  I don’t believe that one tax strategy is completely wrong (raising taxes) and one completely (right).  I don’t know these things.  But I do believe each strategy can work in the right circumstances.  And I do believe that government can be really bureaucratic, but that government has to act and be present. I don’t know if there is voter fraud on grand levels, but I do believe it shouldn’t happen.  I believe we must care for the poor and help the needy (poor or unhealthy…) and respect all people, but we cannot neglect everyone else either.  I don’t know that corporations ought to have the rights of people, but in our market I believe we ought to respect the right to make money (even boatloads of it).

I don’t know, but I want to talk about it.  I want to be able to learn and also compromise when needed.  Because I believe that we need learn that everyone has something to offer. And because, when push comes to push, I believe that no one person can bring down our country- nor can one bad strategy or policy destroy us.

But even more important than that, I don’t know these things (and no one does for sure, I believe) and it really doesn’t matter.  The message to be heard is that no security should ever be put into this country, to one party, or to one political worldview.  No trust can be given to those things.  In all these things, it is okay to not know because we trust in God bring us as people, not simply as Americans, into his will and his kingdom.  We can talk about these things, we can laugh about our own parties flaws, we can compromise, because our security and faith is not in America, but in the God who loves all his people, who provides for his people, who calls his people beyond this earths’ designations and titles.  That is good news.  And definitely worth talking about too.

Love At First Sight…Or So I Thought…

Just another church service.  I felt bored, was considering working on my budget on my phone, or reading a chapter from My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe.  Anything to take the focus off of a non exciting sermon.  The service had been pretty good, but I knew we would bounce all over the place in the sermon as usual.

It seemed like it would just be another day.  And then it happened.

She sat down on my aisle, a little late at that.  On my aisle.  The same aisle where I sat on one side with a completely empty pew.  She sat on the opposite side, torturing me to let people actually notice that I wasn’t paying attention.

She was beautiful, looked around my age, and dressed comfortably but fashionably for cool weather.  I…was excited…surely this was a great moment.  I had noticed once before, but that had to be ages ago didn’t it?  Like forever.  Was she the same girl I thought?  Enough.  Why am I even thinking about that?  Theres better things to ask- who is she?  Who is she related to?  Does she live close?

Oh…there’s a song.  Maybe I should sing.  But what about her?  I feel like I need to plan now.  How can I talk to her?  I keep trying to sing but I am really thinking about her.

Communion!  They will have to get communion to her.  Aha!  There will be some interaction- and then, she will appreciate my “thank you” so much we will have to talk after the service.  Oh, it is just the most perfect plan.  I can’t have planned it any better.    I sit smug knowing that all the pieces will fall into place.

Communion comes, and the bread comes my way.  I was of course meditating gloriously on the Lord’s Supper, just to be sure.  I took my piece and hurriedly looked to make sure the other usher wasn’t going to bring it to her.  I took the plate and brought it over and said hushed(ly), “Here you go.”  She took it.  Ever so gently, like an angel guiding sunlight to small and fragile trees.  Wow.

And then I sat back down.  Thoughts running fast, life moving too much around, what is going to happen now?  And then the prayer over the bread, and after my tremendous meditation on the unbelievable sufferings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it is her turn to pass the cup my way.  It was as though she was floating to me.  And then I replied after the passing of cup, “Thank you.”

I was so proud.  Surely, no one could say a better “Thank you” in all their lives.  I looked forward proudly to that moment after service when I could introduce myself and find out just who this beautiful woman was.

But life halted just then.  The preacher’s wife came from her place up front and sat next to her, and…I…realized…she’s the preachers daughter.  The one he talks about who doesn’t live close.  This couldn’t be I say.  That’s not the way the fates have it.  I remember just 60 seconds ago I was sure God’s will was spoken.  No!!!!

But I am not too deterred.  I think, this is not an opportunity to pass up.  Surely I can’t.

I worry and squirm through the rest of the service.  Who needs 4 verses to finishing worship songs.  God already got 2 right?  And just as we get through the second verse, one of my family members comes from the back and sits next to me.  I smile slightly, trying to prepare myself for the fulfillment of God’s will in a couple seconds, or whenever we finish the 24th runthrough of the chorus after verse 4.

But I am deterred.  As the song finishes, I am asked by my family member a question about my jobs.  I have a short conversation, hoping to not reveal too much about my perfect plan.  But alas, as I turn to introduce myself, I find that she is gone.

I am deflated.  And then I realize that her father, the preacher, has talked about her before, about her jobs.  But no interaction for me.   No world changing thank you.  No fulfillment of the will of God or even lunch after church.

Not for now anyway.

Technicalities

I now have finished my jury service for the year.  I worked on a case about drug possession that lasted about a week and a half.  It was clear to everyone in the jury room that the defendant was guilty of possession. It was simple: a cop did a routine search when the defendant was walking home around 2:30am and found meth and hypodermic needly kit to inject meth.  Simple.  And on top of that, the defendant acknowledged what each element was- he confessed it was meth, he confessed he bought it off of someone, he confessed what the hyp kit was for.  It was simple.

But not so simple.  The law technically says that a person must “knowingly and willingly” possess the controlled substance.  Yes, a small nuance to protect those who had evidence planted on them, but how many of those are there?  The prosecution, unfortunately, paid little attention to that requirement and seemed to spend all its time proving the substance was meth (when it was acknowledged and tested already by the officer) and that it was usable (when it was acknowledged by the defendant as usable and clearly an amount that was usable to a drug expert).  Most of her case was bound by those two proofs, when for the jury it seemed like those were important but shouldn’t have become the center of the case.  The public defender did a good job of pointing out the weakness of the case- that the officer didn’t ask enough questions (in fact, his report as a young officer wasn’t detailed and he didn’t ask what many thought were pertinent questions), that the DA was asking us to use common sense to judge rather than the law, and he pointed out how nothing was proven that the guy knew.  Unfortunately those things were true.  I didn’t need to have a mind reader, but I, along with the rest of the jury, believed that important questions were not asked of the defendant when arrested and mirandized, and the DA did not ask enough and helping questions of the arresting officer.  It was a shoddy case, but one that everyone in the jury room felt comfortable believing they had little doubt that he “knew” he had it.  But it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt with basic questions.  And so a guy who needs the help of being off meth goes free because of a shoddy case, and more over because of a technicality.

That technicality has difficult consequences.  In the jury room, many were distressed and frustrated that “justice” was not common sense or clear, but very complex and technical.  Some even came to the realization that the technicality structure of the law means that justice isn’t necessarily even fairness.  Some lamented that all that good work that happens on the street from good officers ends up in complex legalities that mar their image of justice.  And surely, technicalities just don’t feel good as you have to divorce (or supposed to) emotion from the technical logic (the small and structured universe of the law we are given as jurors).  It is frustrating, and for many it is disenchanting, and disheartening.

But technicalities and their consequences happen in places other than a court of law.  I had a second brush yesterday with technicalities.

During my Wednesday night men’s class at church, the lesson was simply on how to use the language of “where two or three are gathered”.  The teacher felt like that is often taken out of context to mean that whether people are praying or getting together for church, God is there.  The teacher, as I clearly agreed with, believed that the passage in Matthew 18:15-20 was solidly about reproving or disciplining or confronting others about their sins and the issues of forgiveness.

I certainly agree and believe that the Bible must be paid attention to and we must seek to understand the context of the Scripture.  But we spent the entire hour a 10 minutes reading every passage in scripture that mentioned “two or three” and then had lively discussion on the nature of the binding.  In that same passage, Jesus says that whatever is bound or loosed by us will have been bound in heaven.  One person made a point that the “shall have been bound” is past tense so what we bind is actually not our own doing but God already did it in heaven and we are only carrying out his will- in essence we are doing it in accordance with God’s will.  I don’t disagree.  I think anytime people gather and offer or take away forgiveness, they ought to be focused and attentive to what God’s will is.  But that phrase must be taken with caution with that interpretation because it is really hard to know what God’s will is when we confront people, and associating God’s will with our choice is a dangerous thing.  But we ought to always try to get in line with God’s will and standards anytime we make choices as the body of Christ.

All that aside, we spent the entire night focused on great technicalities that I think obscure the discussion of what must happen as a result of reading this passage.  The question of “so what” must be asked.  If someone uses the phrase where two are three are gathered to highlight a prayer lunch, do I correct them and get angry at their misuse of Scripture?  I do not think so.  In light of this passage there may be more to that phrase, but I certainly won’t stop others from using it to understand the power of gathering as saints to pray, to fellowship, to worship or to discipline.  But the teacher seemed frustrated and intensely emotionally charged over the technicality and seemed to want a very literal (traditional with us Church of Christer’s!) obedience to the text.  The openness with which some have used the Scripture, simply by its not being literal, frustrated him.  That is okay when we are self aware.  I mean that we all have a worldview and sets of assumptions that we approach life/scripture/faith with, and when our assumptions are broken, we get upset.  For this teacher, technicalities matter because a fundamental assumption is that obeying Scripture is following to the letter, and thus any deviation from literal obedience actually mars the faithfulness to Scripture.  That is okay, as long as we are aware of those things that are behind us- it helps us communicate our true concerns (in his case faithfulness), rather than communicating a zeal for technicalities (in his case language and from another person a verb being past tense).

The difficult part about this, and other technicalities, is that it can (not always) take us away from application and letting Scripture transform us.  Being focused on the technicality of language and being literal to the context in every time we use that phrase, it took us away from acknowledging that we must be willing to discipline others, that we must as a church and as Christians be willing to confront others one on one when we are hurt, that we as a church have great responsibilities to offer forgiveness and also to follow God’s will in offering that forgiveness.  It keeps us from talking about how we can do those things, from being able to shape what this passage looks like in our lives.

Both the technicality in the law and the technicality in the Bible class reveal how technicalities matter, but how technicalities can also get in the way.  And sometimes justice or faithfulness can be missed simply because we are not aware of our own worldview or assumptions or because we have bound ourselves to literalness (“knowingly and willingly” OR “two or three are gathered” in the context of disciplining others).  It may even get in the way of seeing what is good that can happen in spite of the technicality.  With regards to the law technicality, the chance to send someone to a rehab facility is missed because of a technicality.  With regards to the passage of two or three gathering, when people use the passage to talk about their prayer meeting or such, they use to affirm the body of Christ as important, they use it call people to prayer, they use it to reaffirm the need to fellowship and sharing our requests with one another and God.

Perhaps as people, and maybe most importantly in the church, we ought to pay attention to how much we get focused on technicalities.  The same church where this discussion happened has been having some classes about women’s roles, and for the most part I am amazed about the technicalities that exist there.  When women are prophets in stories in the New Testament, they discount their teaching ability because technically prophets don’t teach or simply because prophecy technically ended in the apostolic era (I don’t buy that).  Or perhaps, in the same conversation, when I ask about our consistency in literal interpretation and ask about Jesus’ call to sell all we have and give our money to the poor, why don’t we follow that?  The response is technicality- because that passage is said/written to one particular person, not the church- as 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are.

As you can tell I have my own frustrations about this because I too have some fundamental assumptions on the line, and I have some emotional experiences in my life that emerged because of the results of these technical conversations.  There is always a lot at stake when we get technical.  Sometimes I am afraid of that.  I at least wish that we can be more aware of what is at stake and how we are perceived- we don’t want justice, or fairness, or more importantly faith to be perceived or communicated as technical or ruled by technicality.  At least I don’t think so, and I really believe Jesus had things to say about that too.

Taste and See that the Lord Is Good! Amen!

What a good day.  I got to go Glendale Church of Christ, listen to Bryan S preach, get prayers for the job search, attend Philippe’s Original in Chinatown in LA, play full court intense basketball for 2 hours, walk Mt. Rubidoux at night, and sit with some relatives at El Pollo Loco (also a very good fast food Mexican- very healthy and tasty!).  Good day altogether.  Lots of picture opportunities for sure, and I certainly did my share of taking photos.

Uncle Mike, Aunt Linda, Chris and Amanda and I enjoying a hike of Mt Rubidoux at night.

But I was thinking, as I had my roast beef sandwich with swiss dipped in au jus with a heavenly lemonade as the original home of a french dip, Philippe’s, I thought about how food is so fantastic.  There is something about good food that brings so much joy and so much contentment.  It can be homemade, or just simply a famous eatery that makes downright great food.  But seriously, food, like laughter, lifts the heart and is a path for me to treasure the creation and gifts in the world that surrounds me.

For me, it really does come down to taste and see that the Lord is good.  Of course part of it is the fellowship, but a real part of it for me is having purely good food, and treasuring that moment of eating is for me exactly similar to moments of pure joy in other ways.  Each unique taste or spice is another time for joy and grace.  And joy, wherever it originates, and in my case it can easily be food, is like a chance to experience the goodness of God, the creativity of God, the grace of God…all those things.  I can’t forget of course that it is simply fun to have good food too.  Jesus knew all these things as the table clearly played a large part in his ministry, as tasting that the Lord was good was akin to receiving the grace of hospitality and the blessing of forgiveness and fellowship.  Jesus was surely aware of the grace present in food- acceptance, welcome, community, and joy.

But on the flip side, the days we have potlucks at church, or when I bring a meal to a senior or to a family that has had a child (I’m looking at you Sargents!- congrats, congrats, congrats- in your case it is give birth and see that the Lord is good!), we actually participate in letting people taste the goodness of God.  Those beans or couscous or meat is not simply an aside to the event, but a blessed part of the continuing revelation of grace and joy.  I participate in it, share it with others, bless other people with those wondrous tastes and smells.  In other words, we get to taste and see that the Lord is good all the time, whether it is ourselves enjoying beautiful and tasty food, but we also get to do it when we share with others as gift or kindness.  God bless food as a vehicle of his goodness!

A roast beef french dip and a tasty lemonade!

Picture of the Day: Gingerbread House!

So I have been doing jury duty for the last two days and will continue to do so for the next week.  The courthouse is in downtown Riverside where there are lots of good places to eat.  Over the last two days I have walked past this place on the way to Upper Crust Bakery and also Simple Simon’s Bakery and Bistro, and just had to take a picture.

The Gingerbread House

The Gingerbread House is actually the pink building underneath the large tree shadow.  This place is bright pink, serves apple fritters, nuts and other things baked with sugar and cinnamon and chocolate, and of course, just about anything gingerbread.  It is not open in the afternoon when I walk by, but the smell of gingerbread and Christmas-y baked goods are still wafting in the air, and it is fantastic.  I don’t necessarily have any memories of this in childhood, but it is a place that brings me great joy and smiles- it is a smell of beauty!  So while it’s not a place connected with childhood memories, it is a place that connects me with beautiful smells and odors and tastes at the core of many good memories- a dessert haven of food memories and gingerbread fellowship!  One particular memory is when my roommate in college made about 6 homemade gingerbread houses for a Graduate School Christmas party, and the smell and rich taste of those gingerbread houses when I arrived home from a day of study made my Christmas.   This Gingerbread House shares that smell, and I am quite grateful!

A Rule of Life

I have seen numerous rules of life over the last couple years, especially when I did a course at Abilene Christian University called Christian Spiritual Formation.  Rules set up a rhythm of life that I can always look back at for gentle direction and guidance.  It provides overarching rhythms that can help me determine what I could or want to do based upon what I treasure and care for.  I wrote one many years ago that was somewhat helpful, but as I have matured, I have been able to clean that one up and write one that reflects me and the real rhythm and loves of my life.  I have used this for the past week or so, and it has been incredibly helpful.  I certainly appreciate the support of those I know who can help me pursue those rhythms, for there are always times that I may not be myself but the rule may provide the motivation to get back to being me.  Enjoy!

Love of God

  • Listen to worship music and sing often.
  • Read the Scripture daily through the Lectionary.
  • Meditate through the phrase, “I am a child of God”
  • Confess my sins to God and treasure the forgiveness.
  • Rejoice and always be grateful!

Love of Others

  • Love the church and the relationships I have there!
  • Volunteer once a week.
  • Refresh a relationship with one person every day (call or time)
  • Be aware of the opportunities to be with children.

Love of Self

  • Eat sensibly.
  • Take a picture everyday of the beauty I see.
  • Get outside every day by taking walks, hiking, running, or playing sports.
  • Fail gently and watch my anger.
  • Learn something new…as often as possible!
  • Seek purity and develop ways to address lust and desire.
  • Laugh and play often!

Hopefully as you read this you will be able to say- yes, that definitely would sum up the James I know.  And really I quite treasure these rules, these guides.  Many of you have similar rules, written or not- perhaps as a father, you treasure gentleness, or as a Christian you value the time of silence.  Those help you structure and order your life, and keep you right when things are chaotic and overwhelming.  This rule of life I hope continues to help me keep a healthy rhythm, especially in difficult times like this.  And even more, I think this rule will be a rhythm I can follow both without a job and with a job, and therefore very flexible and followable.

God’s peace be on you all in all your rhythms of life!

Hummingbirds

A wind chime and hummingbird feeder

Today I was sitting in the backyard and noticed hummingbirds, humming like drones over my head.  My parents have a bird feeder and right next to it a beautiful butterfly mimicking wind chime pictured above and I was thrilled about watching them hum and flit and fly all over with incredible control.  It was beautiful.

But one thing I got to see today was something I had only heard of- hummingbird mating.  Hummingbird males fly real high into the sky and essentially dive bomb near the tree with their female.  At the last minute they pull up and by pulling up so fast they actually make unique sharp sounds with their wings to impress their female counterparts.  It was awesome to watch the male hummingbird do this about 12 times before stopping.  The whirling, high pitched turned deep pitch of the vertical swerve was quite impressive.

It is amazing to consider all the wonderful creation of God, and how sometimes, their is a strangeness or absurdity within that creation that only reminds deeper of the grace of God.  Thank you God for the opportunity.

 

A View From Above

Downtown Riverside and Riverside's sprawl

Today I got to walk up Mt. Rubidoux in Riverside.  It is a pretty large hill in the middle of Riverside (it is a big city by the way) and it is a very popular place to walk and play and ride bikes.  At the top there are three notable things- a giant cross celebrating Fr. Junipero Serra, rock formation with a flag pole on the opposite top of the mount, and on the side of the mount, a World Peace Bridge and Tower that are actually quite interesting.  The views are beautiful and are great reminders of how big the world is, and how small life is down there.  Downtown is beautiful and the prominent presence of trees really imbibes a wonderful feel of nature.  It really does provide a view from above.

And, it is quite reminiscent of Jesus’ temptation when presented with the whole world.  I can imagine a place like this where Jesus would be offered it all for a trade in loyalty.  Offered the whole world for giving up the truth that all of “that creation” belonged to someone else.  The view from above is once again a simple reminder that it all belongs to God, as do all the lives that continue amongst that creation.  Praise be to God for the chances to have a view from above.

A cross atop Mt. Rubidoux commemorating Fr. Junipero Serra

Picturing 2012

Welcome 2012!  I hope you bring wonderful things this year.  Not just good things like the Cowboys struggling or Albert Pujols coming to the Angels, or eating awesome sugary gummy worms on New Year’s day.  Those are good sure.

But welcome 2012!  I hope you bring wonderful things this year, among which include a job, a place to call home, a relationship, continuing other good relationships, lots of joy and gratitude.  Yeah, those wonderful things.  I’m certainly anticipating great things, and a continuation of the great blessings and experiences I’ve had in the last 10 years or so.  I really do believe wonderful things are coming this year.

But I had to ask as 2012 arrives: what am I going to do about it?  How will I see it?  How will I be able to show it?  Well, I think I have an answer.  My goal this year is to take a picture every day.  One picture a day at least, and hopefully I can blog that picture of whatever it is that is impacting me, surprising me, interesting me, or frustrating me that day.  I may not be able to blog it every day, but I think I can take a picture every day.  It works in a number of ways for me.  First, it is actually something that allows me to tap into creativity- to be creative with photography or even if I am not a great photographer, use the creativity to see the picture that is making a difference.  Second, it allows me to relieve stress by finding beauty, seeing mystery, confessing my frustration, acknowledging my feelings and emotions of the time, and just simply enjoying a hobby (that I am not an expert at too!).  So…may the photos begin….

Cousins Rhea, Ryan and me!

These are two of my cousins, Ryan and Rhea.  They have been around all day today and are really fun to be around.  Rhea loves dancing, loves acting, loves being in front of others and in the center of attention.  Ryan loves video games, throwing the football, riding his new Razor.  Really they both love board games.  And they love church.  They started attending church because my mom started picking them up on Sunday mornings and Wednesdays a year or so ago, and they have not only gone but become really active and developed lots of good relationships.

They struck me today because of how pure they are, as they struck me as content and joyful in the midst of any situation, and they have gone through a lot as young kids. Yet no matter what they have endured, whether family discordance, living in lots of different places, being alone a lot, not having many possessions- they don’t seem to complain, and more or less manage their situation with the contented joy that children often do.  It was a blessing of inspiration and encouragement in my situation.  They genuinely capture my heart and I love them very much.  I was quite blessed to spend my first day of 2012 with them, playing Scattergories, throwing a football, teaching Ryan to throw a frisbee, riding a Razor with Rhea, and eating great Filipino food with their parents.  Love them!  And those are precious smiles, exactly what I want to keep in my mind as I go forward in 2012.