Friday, November 23, 2007

Advent Art

Our church is having an Advent Art show. The theme is: "Light and Life in Jesus."

I was asked to provide an item or two. I am providing three (what a ham!).

Since I haven't been posting much to my art blog, I thought I'd toss the pics of those three pieces onto that blog and include a post for each one.

I liberally borrowed text from posts I have written before to explain the images.

I thought I'd just let you fine folks know about their placement there so you might peruse them if it pleases you. You can find them here.

God bless.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Of Giants

My dad was a giant. He smelled of grain, sweat, and diesel. When he came home we played “horse bite.” He would chase us around the living room on his knees and and grab us and squeeze our legs in a horse chomp. Unless we had done something really naughty, then he would punish us.

That was never a good thing.

Disciplining a child should be good.

I have tried to discipline my children without being angry. Perhaps it was a conscious reaction to my experiences as a child. I choose to be different than my father.

I think men like action.

My father is a man of action. Today he lives in Thailand. He has a girlfriend or two. He has a bar on some island where some twenty girls work. He says he’ll fly me there if I ever want to visit.

Growing up in his fleeting shadow was interesting. There was always an adventure.

There was the time my brothers and I were exploring the 5th floor of an old hotel in Los Angeles when a wrecking ball went swinging through a room just as we were entering it. One moment there was a musty, moldy room with decaying furniture and the next there was dust and splintered timbers and blue sky. We raced laughing and screaming down the stairs and out of the crumbling building.

There was the time I watched a boulder break free of a cliff side and roll clear through a house, just like a cartoon. The homeowner was very upset. My brothers and I tried to hide our glee at watching the boulder race clear through his home, crashing into the street and splitting in two. The open halves of the four foot wide rock revealed a fossil dolphin curled in its fetal position of eternal sleep. The sale of that industrious and precocious ex-aquatic mammal funded the construction of a very nice home for the relieved property owner.

There were the many times when Dad's caterpillar tractor moved around a two or three story building, breaking its exterior walls so it teetered on straining interior walls, setting it up as the instrument of one of our favorite games: “Riding the Roof.” He’d lower the bucket of the loader, we’d scramble in and ride to the building eaves. We’d brace ourselves at the summit of the trembling ediface, give him a thumb’s up, and he’d smack the eaves with his metallic dinosaur. The interior walls snapped. We’d holler and jump and laugh as the roof rumbled downward, debris squirting out of windows, doors, and broken walls beneath us, jumping clear of the occasional board spearing through the roof.

There was the time when we watched his friend cut the metal clamps holding a giant coiled spring circumventing a nuclear missile silo. When there were too few clamps to hold back the potential energy of that compressed serpentine ring of giant wire we watched open mouthed as huge chunks of concrete, and my dad’s friend, were thrown far into the sky.

There was the time when he lifted my brother and I, hanging from the loader’s teeth, high into the air and then over the cliff where we saw the dance of sea gulls on distant surf below our feet. He shook the loader’s bucket, the momentary dark act of a drunk man. My brother and I clung on through the falling dirt, clutching to the cold metal teeth of the growling metal dragon until it retreated and set us down on the edge of that bluff in San Clemente, California.

There were so many pranks and adventures during those years when we would visit him and scheme and plot and play and experience the joys of being boys in an environment where destruction and danger were the context for making a living.

My father was a drunken John Wayne who loomed large in my mind, in my heart. He was the tamer of metallic monsters, king of destruction, a clever jokester of falling buildings and torn up landscapes. He was a giant to a book-loving, timid boy.

Even today, as he is reluctantly dragged into his 70s, he continues to attempt world speed records, flies about the globe for new sights, new adventures, new women.

I never quite fit into that world of dirt and grease and debris. Not like my brothers Mike and David. I wasn’t as skilled at being a heavy equipment operator as they. I didn’t soak up the views, the talents, of my father as they did.

I suppose that is why I haven’t been the same sort of father as he.

But I haven’t been the sort of father I think I should have been either.

I’m no Ward Cleaver. I didn't play ball with them, or teach them the skills many fathers teach their chilldren.

Being a father should be about doing the very best to provide the experiences and instruction that brings out the best in one’s children.

I’ve tried. But, looking back over the last decade and a half, I see that my talents and interests have not been things my children can do. They are not able to read and think and create the way I do.

I suppose that it is no wonder we all have such conflicting views of God. The Ultimate Father is as much like human fathers as a real dolphin is like that mineral echo of the mammal I watched swim through a house.

As I walk through the last years of parenting my own children, all I can do is try my best to set aside the formative impressions of fatherhood I gained from Dad, and seek to understand the father who parented me while He was creating the universe.


I thought I'd toss some recent pictures here just for the heck of it.

Jeremiah went in last week to have his four wisdom teeth pulled. It was awful. His howls didn't sound human. They gave up after three were pulled. We were astonished at how large they are. Look at this comparison between his and Brenda's!

What a handsome dog!

Brenda and I have been shooting pool lately. Cheap way to get out and do something together!

Fall in Oregon

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Turning to Good

Today was the fourth Sunday in our new building.

It is pretty nice. It is comfortable, clean, very... nice.

I hear that there are a lot of new faces in the seats.

Somethings haven’t changed much. Many of us still sit in the same places, as if the chairs and the people in them hadn’t moved, while the building transformed itself around them.
My seat

I think people are moving after all. Perhaps the movement around us is helping us to move a little on the inside. Toward Him.

My wife and I have been pretty focussed on our own lives (more about that later). But between those myopic moments when I see nothing beyond my own yard, I see signs of promise in our new church.

For example, I got this in an email from a friend:

Though the new construction has been an immense source of pain for you, many people are finding the new facility a blessing. Over 300 attended the concert Monday pm. People raved about the acoustics of the room, including the 2 musicians who were enthusiastically impressed (sounds better in here than it did at Carnegie Hall after they hauled in $30,000 worth of extra sound equipment for our concert!). For the 1st time in my 20+ years here I have an office big enough to hold groups of people for leadership meetings, staff meetings, Bible studies, etc. For the 1st time ever people stick their head in the door, look around & say “wow, nice office.” I NEVER heard that before. It’s cool to see the youth in their new youth center Sunday mornings & evenings – they are jazzed. I could go on & on. Oh yeah, this is a big one, the new office area, big enough to hold all of us so we have a sense of community, 1st time for that as well. If Satan meant to inspire Jeremiah to do something bad, God has certainly turned it around for good for CAC.

That last part is interesting... “turning it around for good”...

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. --Romans 8:28

The old building, with the ancient wiring and undiscovered termite shelter is gone. In its place is a clean, safe, welcoming place. It’s modern enough that young families sit in a space which connects to their own sense of architecture and style. Comfortable enough that old timers feel a sense of invigorating freshness.

There is a reminder of the old sanctuary in the cross hanging on the wall. Large laminate beams supported the vaulted ceiling in the old building. A friend of mine, a craftsman wood worker, reshaped a beam or two into this cross. He selected beams which had been partially charred by the fire that swept through. The burn marks are centered, fading out at the arms’ ends. The symbolism is unmistakable.

The cross bears our sins. All of our sins. The heat and destruction of our selfish acts chars the intersection between God and man. But it does not overwhelm. All our sins fit easily upon the great symbol of God’s love and sacrifice.

That fire burned a lot more than a building of course.

It set a fire in my own home that chewed its way through us all. It affected all of us, but it hurt Brenda the most. She struggled to love Jeremiah. She read passages of love in the Bible; she kept finding new ways to let him know he was loved, half to convince herself.

She turned to me at one point to ask for help in starting a new project to help him. She wanted us to be involved in Special Olympics. I put her off.

To her it was more of a refusal. Perhaps it was.

Since the fire I had been trying to deal with that destruction in my own way. We committed to pledges toward the rebuilding fund which went beyond what we could logically afford. I prayed with and over both boys each night. I spoke with them each night, checking on their fears and anxieties and concerns. Especially Jeremiah. I did everything I could to help around the church, though the sight of the ruined building made me want to weep.

Brenda tried also. But she found herself withdrawing her emotions, her affections, from her family, from me. Her anger grew.

It feels like everything is pretty messed up in my life. That isn’t true of course; there are many things that are going well. But there isn’t any doubt that the heart of a home is the relationship between a man and a woman, and that is very messed up in my home.

In some ways I can see that this whole mess might allow us to see each other in a clearer light, see who we really are. It might allow us to have a marriage that is more honest and real than we could have ever had otherwise.

But it may be that it won’t last at all.

Sitting in the new sanctuary, where everything is clean and fresh and intentionally designed to assist us in connecting our mortal messes to eternal perfection I am glad that the Lord has found a way to bring such good out of such a mess.

It tears at my heart when I think of how close so many of us, myself, Brenda, Norm, Mel, and Tim, came to being terribly injured or killed that day. The image of my friend thrown onto the driveway by the unseen forces of explosive gases, and I believe, an angel, him standing up in the horizontal column of smoke blasting through the door of the old building... holds sharp and clear.

This new building which makes odd little turns to follow apparently senseless wiggles of a foundation designed for different structures seems intentional in the whole, though quirky and capricious in its details.

Those of us who knew the old place well can still see the echoes of the board room, the pastor’s office, the old entrance, the library, the sanctuary. But the younger faces sitting with their younger children see a mothers’ nursing room perfectly designed, fiiting a whole, in the section that was once the board room. They see a beautiful window, its central frame creating another beautiful cross, where the pastor’s office once rested.

I see all these reflections of the old here and there... On Sunday morns when I pray with our pastors, I note the youth pastor is sitting in nearly the exact spot where Jeremiah knelt to coax a flame onto a sheet of paper from a candle.

I hear echoes of the past which hurt my family, hurt me, and I see wonderfully good things.

Brenda thinks that God is capricious, perhaps cruel. That our desire for children was turned against us so that our first child would die, that our subsequent children would be so challenging. I see good. I see children who have had the evil of their homeland stripped away and the best possible lives given to them against the most improbable of odds.

There are many examples of being able to see the bad or the good in so many things which have happened in our lives.

I believe that passage in Romans. I don’t believe God caused the bad things, but I believe He works for good through all things, good and bad, for those who love Him.

I love Him.

Perhaps that is all that really matters.

Perhaps I don’t even need to be overly concerned to see the good in the things that hurt.

Perhaps praying and worshipping and reading scripture and pondering Him through my writing is enough.

I love Him.

Perhaps that is enough.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Ogress of Greenleaf Manor

It’s Halloween. I’m not feeling well, so I am in bed early, watching Young Frankenstein.

It is one of the funniest movies ever made. I might make watching it a Halloween tradition.

Today I went to a large electronics store to buy supplies for my tech program. It is a little odd speaking to a Hillbilly zombie about the advantages of one memory card reader over another.

Jeremiah had a costume party at school. He went as Darth Maul. His only real costume, but one he fixates on too much. I don’t like his fascination with powerful figures of evil. We let him hand out candy to kids who came to the door.

I let my misgivings about his costume slide and crawled into bed with this laptop and the funniest movie Mel Brooks ever made.

I tend to let things slide a bit in parenting. A sort of “Don’t sweat the little stuff” attitude. It probably comes from the nearly hands off approach my parents had in raising me.

Parenting styles are a natural source of conflict in a marriage.

Brenda tends to be firmer, stricter. I tend to be more laid back, more accepting of the ol’ “boys will be boys” philosophy.

She wanted me to become stricter. I wanted her to lighten up a little. We didn’t find a compromise. Instead she got stricter, angrier. I tried to lighten things up, joke her out of her mood.

I called her the Ogress of Greenleaf Manor.

You know, that didn’t amuse her as much as you might think.

When she was extremely upset I would back her up in silent tacit acquiescence, but not explicitly.

But, I worked on it. Became stricter.

As I tried to meet Brenda halfway she relaxed a little more.

I’m feeling pretty achy. The cough is deep enough, hurts enough, I wonder if I haven’t contracted a touch of pneumonia, an infection in the lungs. Brenda brought me hot chicken soup. Very hot. Hot enough to defend a castle. Sweet of her.

(I’m sorry about the ogress crack, Brenda.)

Discounting the vagaries of the modern calendar, Halloween marks an ancient cross-quarter day (half way between an equinox and a solstice; so does Ground Hog’s day). Perhaps my life is also at some sort of cross-quarter. My wife is still in my home. I’m lying here trying to eat scalding soup, and she is doing what she can to be kind and loving.

“You are talking about the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind,” Gene Wilder shouts at his visitor.

Sounds like one of my posts...

Happy All Hallow’s Eve.