Friday, September 3, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits #7 "God doesn't spend much on gift wrap"

I have been thinking about the gifts that God gives us vs. the things that we normally think of as gifts. God's doesn't spend much money on wrapping paper or cards, in fact, when you are getting a gift from God it appears at first glance as if it has been sent by an enemy.  He often wraps them in difficult circumstances. Difficult isn't really the word I am looking for here, He often wraps them in what appears to be the worst circumstances.  I have found that when these gifts come we have a choice, we can either embrace the package, open it and call it reality or we can push it to the side and begin to live just a little bit more in the fantasy life that we are creating for ourselves.  There are obvious dangers to each.

On one hand there is a grave danger that if you begin to open the package you will be consumed by it and lose your footing with God and those around you who love you, it is important never to open such a package alone.  If you begin to open the package with good intentions and then lose your nerve, I have found that the Father and our friends will come and help to continue the unwrapping if we allow it.  The gift from God has one intention really, its purpose is to chisel off a part of you that was never real.  Now, to be sure, we think it is real, in fact, we don't think that we can live without it (Here I am reminded of C.S. Lewis's brilliant metaphor of the Lizard on the man's shoulder in The Great Divorce.  If you haven't read it, do so immediately) but in reality we really can't continue our journey with it. I can't be more emphatic here.  God is in the business of chiseling away at you until you begin to resemble your self. 

Soren Kierkegaard said it this way, "And now with God's help, I shall become myself."  This is what God does.  He doesn't have any interest in communicating with your false self, in fact many of us are so wrapped up in our false selves that we have had to create a God to communicate with, a God that looks suspiciously like a human being, suspiciously like the evangelical God of the last 75 years.   Jesus said that entering the Kingdom of God would often take radical amputation, Matthew know gouge out your eye, cut off your hand...and this is what he was referring to.  Some parts of me were about to be chiseled off and like a statue that just lost an important piece, I didn't think I could lose those parts and still be myself. 

I don't think this is the best place to do it but at some point I would like to chat about identity.  One of the things that happens when we begin to see and hear is that God tells us who we really are.  There is a great passsage in the Book of Revelation about a white rock with a name written on it known only to us and to Jesus, this is our real identity.  He will hand us that rock on the last day and my hope is that I will say, "Yes, I know, remember we talked about this before."  It would truly be awful if I had to say, "Really, this is who I was supposed to be?"  That is the definition of one who tried to save his life but lost it. 

If you will hang out int he presence of God he will tell you who you are.  "Blessed are you Simon, Son of John...I say to you that you are PETER and upon this rock I will build my church."  Sorry for the lousy translation but I am going by memory.  Simon certainly hadn't acted much like a rock but that is who is really was...Jesus told him who he was and then gradually that is what he became.  Same is true for us. 

Just as we can see it happen in  Peter's life, these gifts from God, though they seem like horrors, will chip away everything that doesn't look like us. 

On the other hand there is a much more perilous danger in pushing the gift to the side and acting as if we had never seen the package.  We will add another layer to our false selves, we will be on a journey to becoming less and less who we really are instead of more and more ourselves.  I have seen this happen often.  I want to say 100's of times but that seems unreasonably high.  A person is confronted with this kind of gift, perhaps it is a failed marriage or the death of a child, or some other unspeakable pain, and rather than really opening the gift, rather than embracing it all and processing it through, they push it aside and at that moment something happens to them spiritually and emotionally that is hard to describe.  They seem to continue with their lives but they seem to be less than themselves, or they seem to be locked into that time of their lives never to move on.

When you see one of these gifts from God you have a choice.  An interesting side note is that the gifts of the enemy (some would call this enemy satan, some The Satan figure, some would simply refer to these things as an evil force without personifying it) the gifts that come from the enemy are often wrapped in lovely packages but have decay and death inside of them.  In this case you can almost always tell a gift but its wrappings.  To be sure sometimes the father gives us lovely gifts with remarkable wrappings, but often His best gifts are wrapped in some of our worst fears.

The gift I was getting was not wrapped in my worst fear, it certainly doesn't compare with the loss of a loved one or a failed marriage but to me at that moment this gift didn't feel like a gift at all.  What it did for me was open doors to my heart that could not be opened in any other way and so it was a wonderful gift. However it came wrapped in the paper of another break down and a growing lack of resources. 

More on this later.  I really don't have any pictures at this point, I wasn't in the mood to snap any shots of this dark cloud that began growing in my mind.  Again, I want to close sooner than I thought I would.  This story may be getting longer than I thought it would. 

Regret installment #1

I was thinking today about some things about my trip that I regret. I will mention them from time to time as they come up for me.  

I regret not going to the Shipwreck museum in Sault Saint Marie MI.  I have always been fascinated with the Edmund know, "the dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait, as the waves turned the minutes to hours..." I was right there and could have stopped.  I wish I would have.    I think I didn't stop because I wanted to get someplace, but I would have been in a perfectly good place if I had stopped. 

I am thinking about what comes next less and less these days.  I am learning to be where I am.  I think that if the trip began today I would know more about that "good ship and true."  At least I can thank Gordon Lightfoot for telling me about it in his own way.  I don't really care that I "missed something" but I do care that I am not more easily moved aside by God.  I read these words from Anthony Bloom recently:  "You remember how you were taught to write when you were small. Your mother put a pencil in your hand, took your hand in hers and began to move it. Since you did not know at all what she meant to do, you left your hand completely free in hers." 

I wonder how many things and people I have passed up because of my plans and not relaxing my hand...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits #6 "I am not supposed to be Here!"

It was quite convenient to check in the Homewood Suites in Lexington.  The gentleman at the front desk was amazing, he gave me a "good Samaritan" rate.  He gave me this rate because that is what I needed...  It was July 22nd and I was stopped for the day and checked into the Homewood Suites in Lexington.  It was too early to be stopped for the day and although the room was wonderful and the people at the front desk gave me a great rate, I wasn't happy.  I did enjoy the complimentary evening meal catered in by a great Italian restaurant in town and I ate, drank, and then did some reading and listened to the CD's for a while before I went to sleep. 

I was in this particular Homewood suites because it was next door to the Harley Davidson Dealer in Lexington, Man O War Harley Davidson.  It was called Man O War because of the famous race horse that was birthed on the farm on which this whole little development of business was sitting.  I was at the Harley Davidson Dealer because I was trailered there, I was trailered there because My Harley stopped on highway 64 right outside of Lexington.  It stopped because the clutch was burned to a crisp, largely, I was told, because of a terrible clutch adjustment.  That brings me back to the Harley dealer in Morgantown, WV....but we better not go there. 

Yes, I had only put on about 200 miles when I stopped moving right near a horse farm along the side of the highway.  I knew the drill and I called.  I told them I was right next to a large horse farm, the guy laughed and said that everyone in Lexington was at that moment sitting next to a large horse farm.  We finally figured out where I was, they came and then they told me that the clutch was completely burned out and that they didn't have the parts that were needed for the repair.  Not to worry, they would be air freighted in the next day and I would be on my way. 

The next day dawned and found me by the pool, doing some more writing and reading, watching the sun rise and then packing my bags for the day's ride.  I went over to the dealer but they told me the parts didn't make it because the Milwaukee airport was closed becasue  of a big storm that put the whole place under water.  I went back to the room and took out my journal and wrote, "I am not supposed to be here!"  That is when I realized that God had showed up and began asking me "book of Job" like questions. 

What did you really want from this trip?  I thought you said that you wanted some solitude and a place to go to be alone and think and mentioned that you wanted to find a monastery where you could get away and be left alone to do the work that you wanted to mentioned that you wanted to let me into some places in your heart that have been closed to me."  Funny thing happens when God asks you questions, he doesn't give you answers, he just asks questions, good questions that put you in a place where you almost always have to reply, "oh yeah." 

The thing was that I wanted to a place to do these things on my own terms, I wanted to be in control of the time and the place.  I wanted to pick the place and not to have to worry about another repair bill and my schedule and all of the things that were swirling around in my head.  God had some more questions for me, "you like control don't you?" "You tell other people that 'control is a myth' but you rarely put yourself in a place where you are not in it." I tried to listen more to this quiet questioning voice but the other voices in my head were drowning it out. 

What I wrote in my journal was my conclusion: "I guess I am supposed to be right where I am but...." and then I couldn't finish the sentence...there were no "buts" really.  No but's.  I still wasn't really convinced.  Now, looking back I can see that the fact is that you are always supposed to be right where you are and if it doesn't fit into your plan or if you think something had gone wrong in the divine scheme you are simply wrong.  I didn't like to be wrong and I didn't want to be here, but I now know that "there" was precisely where I was supposed to be. 

This was Friday and the shop told me that the parts would be in by Saturday morning at about 10:00.  I called my wife and texted my friend in San Antonio, telling them both that I had no idea when I would leave and what would happen next...that uncertainity as to my next move opened a place in my heart into which God would move and clear out some things that I didn't even know where there. 

I have to stop now becasue the memory of that day...especially the next morning is a little overwhelming for me.  It was one of those times, the 24 hours between Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon that changed the course of my life with God and everyone else that I know.  It was a hinge of history in my life and, I think, one of the most merciful things  that God has ever done for me.  It all revolves around some feelings that I had never felt before, loneliness and abandonment.  I was discouraged and for the first time on this trip I admitted it to John, my friend in San Antonio. 

I have to say to set up my next post that I was now out of money.  I meant to stop an automatic payment of a large sum of money from my checking account the day before but I had forgotten to do it.  The payment was based on a budget that seemed to be fine before I spent the money that I had left at different shops around the country, now about $1600.00.  I had some cash in my pocket but no cash machine was going to give me more, I only had my debit card, no credit cards and no one was near to help me. 

I didn't sleep well and wondered what I would do the next day when the bill needed to be paid. 

This is Man O'War Harleydavidson in Lexington KY and the shop is aptly named considering what would happen in my heart in a hotel just two doors down. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits 5 "A Bad Biker Bar Movie"

Once I got turned around on highway 68 and got the shifter jury rigged (I used the Old Stip of Aluminum from a beer can around the shaft trick)  I thought I would make some time and was excited to be coming into the mountains of West Virginia.  The last time I was riding in the Smokeys was a few years ago when I picked up a bike in Jacksonville Florida and went though Virgina.  I had stopped in at Monticello and was amazed at the history.  I was so moved by what I learned in Monticello I took the Lewis and Clarke route across the country. Glorious. 

The Smokey's are amazing...again, mornings are perfect.  Fog hangs in the valleys like foam on a latte.  This time rather than morning, it's afternoon and I wasn't in West Virginia yet but after stopping at McDonald's in Frostburg MD for a coffee I was on my way.  Note:  McDonald's is selling stuff that they they call Lattes and Mochas etc...don't believe it.  A McDonald's latte is just like a McDonald's hamburger...enough said. 

The terrain had changed quite a bit and climbing out of Frostburg on 68 the bike just stopped moving on a long hill.  It didn't stop running, just stopped moving.  No shaking, no funny noises or intuitive sounds, it just slowed and stopped.  The clutch had stopped doing what it was supposed to do.  It was funny, really because I had just spend a lot of money getting the power from the transmission to the rear wheel by replacing all the things that were replaced in Batavia, and now I was having trouble with the bit of engineering that gets the power from the engine to the transmission.  Funny what goes through your mind when you are coasting to a stop in a light drizzle on a long uphill climb in MD.  I'd rather not share that here. 

I thought I would check the adjustment of the clutch and wasn't quite sure how to do it on this bike.  I got off the bike and dug out the owners manual.  I always carry tools on these trips and so after finding the right section I thought that I could handle the procedure.  When I knelt  down to take off the derby cover I realized that the last guy that worked on the bike changed the Allen head bolts to Torx head  bolts...I didn't bring any torx head tools.  I put the stuff back and consulted the Harley Davidson Atlas for the nearest dealer.  This time the shop was 65 miles away and they were busy with some big rally that was taking place over the weekend.  I sat down and got out the CD's and my new personal CD player.

The CD's are from a retreat given by Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen.  I have heard of him from my spiritual director, Father Thomas Brindley, but I had never heard him teach.  Metropolitan Jonah begins and then it seems like I get lost in my attention to what he is saying until a very large RV pulls off the road and stops about 50 yards in front of me.  I pull out the ear buds and walk up to see who the good Samaritan might be.  Fun.

He came out of the RV and met me along the highway.  He was probably 60 and he said that he had a garage in the back of his RV and said he was heading to Morgantown for the big bike event and would be happy to drop me off at the Harley Dealer there.  The problem was that my bike wouldn't move and he didn't want to try to push it in.  Apparently the ramp was too steep and he had tried it before.

What he did do was give me a map of the event with a circle around where he was staying in the campsite and an invitation to join him and his friends there.  He also dug around in his fridge and handed me two cans of Coors Lite, "to make the time pass a little faster."  I walked back to the bike and put the beer in one of the saddlebags.  I didn't drink Coors Lite for one thing, and for another the last thing I wanted was to be sitting along side of the road after two beers if a state trooper showed up.  Time passed, the CD player gave me a dose of Metropolitan Jonah and I began to think that the tow truck wouldn't arrive.  I called the Harley Dealer and they assured me he was on his way, and then there he was he honked at me from the East bound lane and then went to the next exit and turned around.

There was something liberating about sitting alongside of the road in the middle of nowhere in the rain.  I had given into it and when the truck arrived I wasn't disappointed but I had finally made peace with my situation and now it was changing.  

The man who climbed out of the new Ford pickup truck was a complete stereo type.  I don't have the imagination to make him up.  I am afraid that I don't remember his name and I wish I could forget the conversation that we had in the pickup on the way to Triple S Harley in Morgantown.  I found out that he was in the Klan, yes, the KKK and that his grandfather was a Grand Wizard.  He liked young women and didn't like African Americans.  That became apparent whenever we passed a car carrying either.  He did not care much for our President and he told me what his grandfather would do if he was still wasn't good.  He showed me a flyer from the dealer with several beautiful young ladies on it and told me I should look forward to spending some time at the shop and that they would "take good care of me."  I wan't sure what he meant.

The rain wasn't a factor any more and the bike was safe on the back of the pickup.  He had an amazing bike lift on his truck, you will be able to see it from the picture at the end of this post.  He drove and talked and the more he talked the more I thought that I was in a John Steinbeck novel, and that he was one of the people the Joad's had the misfortune of running into.  Does this person actually exist or is he some kind of weird compilation of dysfunctions my brain had constructed?  Did I drink that Coors Lite?    He was about 5'10" tall and probably weighed about 150lbs.  He had on jeans that were a little greasy a t-shirt and a black leather Harley vest with a lot of pins and other Harley patches on it.  His har was long, gray and a bit stringy.  He had some interesting Tats.  The tatoos that he had were the kind that you got before it became a fad to get a tatoo.  They were not from the military and I later found out that he had done them himself.  I actually thought they were pretty good, even if you wouldn't want to show them to mother.

He told me about his family and how "strangers" would often disappear in the hills around there because people would shoot first and ask questions later, he wasn't kidding.  After he talked for 30 minutes I began to see that he had actually come a long way from where he had started.  He was born in the hills of WV and most of his people were still there.  Back in those hills people still lived like they did 75 years ago.  Nothing wrong with that way of life, but the thinking that went with it for his family was disturbing.  He came from a place that was characterized by fear.  He had never left the area but he had left that way of life.  He was good at what he did and when we pulled up the the dealership he had the bike off the truck and into the shop before I knew what was going on.  I told him thanks a lot and he told me he was just doing his job and then he was off again.  People are amazing.  There are a lot of people in a lot of places who are afraid.  Change, the unknown, what other people think, these are all fears that can paralyze a person and twist them into something less than human. 

The boys in the service department hadn't done a lot of work on older Harley's.  They did get the primary off and checked out the clutch, to my amazement they said that it only needed an adjustment and when I got on it everything seemed to work.  I gave them $100.00 and they gave me a receipt and I was off in about an hour.  

The shop there in Morgantown was a different kind of place.  Harley's were not a hobby for the people that I saw there.  They seemed to be disciples of Mr. Harley and Mr. Davidson.  They were followers.  The women fit into a place that was foreign to me.  They were like the chrome that people bolted on to their bikes, they were there to look good and didn't really serve any practical purpose.  They were dressed in a "Hey, you all want to hang around a while and maybe buy sumthin" kind of way.  The men seemed almost like actors out of a poorly done biker bar movie.  This place really didn't seem real to me but it was and people were arriving for the big weekend event, Charlie Daniels was coming, and so was CCR...I was on my way out of town before the leather halter tops started coming off.

I wondered what place Christianity had in that place and whether the people in the hills would say that they followed Jesus.  I knew that my brand was different than theirs but I also knew that I must have some blind spots that were just as glaring as theirs.  I wanted to find out what they might be.  

I dodged the bullet, got out of the rain and was off again riding down the highway towards Memphis.  I was going to Graceland.  All in all the day was a bust really from a traveling standpoint.  I hadn't gone far, only about 190 miles, about half of that in the pick up truck, and I was wanting to do some 500-600 mile days.  I wanted to get back into that rhythm so that I could think.  It was getting late and I just wanted a nice place to spend the night.  I was envisioning a cheap motel along a deserted two lane but that's not what I found.  I had to pull off the road in Charleston about 150 miles later for gas and after I filled up I had to do more work on the shifter.  It was not good and getting worse.  My fear was that the stripped shifter lever would begin to do damage on the shift rod itself which was not easy to replace.

I found a dollar store in Charleston, bought a hammer and some needles and when I was finished it was not much better but would work for for the time being.  I was getting the feeling that you get when you do something half way, that although it was working for the moment you just did something that would actually make the problem worse.  I stopped for the night  in Barboursville, mostly because there was an Outback by a Best Western and I needed a cool, dark place to drink a draft beer and a steak that was done medium rare.

I ate and drank and didn't sleep well.  I kept wondering about the people that I met and how they were thinking.  I prayed the Jesus prayer and tried to sleep.  I did a few laps around my prayer rope and felt a little more centered.  I got up and took a walk.  There was a strip club down the street and it seemed to fit.  I went into Taco Bell and then went back to the room and fell asleep.  I woke up the next morning early and filled up with gas and was on my way towards Lexington Kentucky. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits 4. "A place where nobody knows your Name

The air in the mornings is the best of the day if breathing is on the agenda.  It is filled with all of the moisture that the air holds later in the day, it just hasn't heated up yet.  It also seems to be ripe with silence.  As the day progresses the air begins to carry heat and noise and when the combination gets overwhelming there is a party in the east and mid west, some people call it a thunderstorm.  They happen all the time.   You have to be done riding for the day when they begin or else you will be done riding for the day. 

I love to ride in the early mornings for all of these reasons.  The day that I left PA was an average July day, the sun rose large and red and the buggies got on the roads early.  I kissed my parents and rode south west towards whatever it was the God had in store for me.  The morning air seemed like it was ducted in from Eden. 

I tried to listen to the CD's from Metropolitan Jonah but the way that it was skipping was making it impossible for me to understand it.  I really didn't like being "wired" on the motorcycle anyway.  I like listening to the bike and letting it work its magic in me.   I was very happy that the bike was running well, it wasn't leaking oil and I was on my way.  A very wise counselor once told me that I needed to do three important things in order to recharge.

1.   Go to a place where no one knows you. 
2.  Go to a place where you have no responsibility. 
3.  Go to a place where no one can reach you.  

The moment that I pulled on my helmet that morning I entered all three places at one time.  I felt that over the next ten days or two weeks I would get the bulk of my sabbatical work done.  I had been decompressing since the first week of July, now I had a lot of investigating to do.

Really, the Spirit of God had to do the investigating.  My work was to stay in the process of opening new doors and allowing him into new places in my heart.  My work was really to stop thinking about the spiritual path and make a more concerted effort to walk on it.  I do that very well on the motorcycle.

There is something about a Harley that seems to sync with my body and slows me down.  I feel like I begin to hibernate when I am on the bike, going into some kind of suspended animation where my vitals slow down and I enter some kind of a zone.  This doesn't happen on a four cylinder sport bike.  When I am on a fast motorcycle my adrenaline glands are constantly pouting fresh juice into my blood stream and I get off the bike exhausted.  The Harley is different.  She has a cadence that has been made famous and that V-Twin engine shakes in its rubber mounted frame just enough to let me know it is there and it becomes the Metronome for my day.

This is what makes mechanical problems on the Harley seem magnified.  When you are in that state you can almost sense that something is wrong with the bike.  It happened in New York a couple weeks before.  I was riding and in the happy place when something seemed to let loose...just a little.  It was really an indiscernible tremor that went through the bike that brought me up to operating speed.  Then it happened again only this time it was a little more obvious.  The next time I twisted the throttle the bike began to shake and buck like something from the rodeo.

I was alongside of a semi and it was all that I could do to wrestle the Harley to the side of the road and get her stopped.  Now that was an adrenaline rush.  It was hot and I was hotter.  I didn't know what had just happened.  It  felt like something in the front end had loosened and it set up a near "tank slapper."  I wasn't far from an exit so the bike and I limped off and I found a bit of shade in some New York neighborhood to try to see the problem.  I looked for obvious things but found nothing.  After doing all that I could and blessing the front end of the bike I tried her again.  Don't ask me why, nothing was repaired but I rode away very slowly. 

Things seemed ok.  The bike seemed fine.  Back to her correct tempo.  I got back on the highway and accellerated carefully, slowly.  20, 25, 30, 35 all was well...when I got to 40 I felt that same small twinge that I had felt the first time and so I stopped accelerating and kept the throttle at 40mph.  Now that is a little slow, especially on a highway filled with guys making their living moving stuff from one place to another in big trucks.  When they went by me the wind swirled in a way that made me feel powerless.  They were not happy that something as small as my bike and I were taking up a whole lane and only going 40mph.  I didn't blame them.  I wasn't any happier about it. 

I thought I would try a little more speed and it worked for a few minutes until all hell broke loose and the mad bull was back underneath me trying to pitch me to the shoulder of the road.  I held on, slowed down and cruised to an exit and into a gas station.   After I turned into the station the bike began to get really grabby, power was there and then it wasn't, it began to make a squealing noise that was really disheartening.  I thought that I had burned out my clutch (while this was incorrect it did prove to be quite prophetic) and I shut her down and coasted into some shade at the front of the station.

I looked in the Harley Atlas and found the nearest shop.  Batavia NY, only a few miles away, well that was something anyway.  Funny isn't it that Harley prints their own atlas with all of the shops clearly marked and their telephone numbers clearly listed...hmmmmmm.... I talked to the chief mechanic and described my situation complete with hand gestures that he couldn't see and sounds that he couldn't understand.  Stan told me to go over to the bike and look at the drive belt...well, there is the problem...oh, boy, half the teeth on the serpentine drive belt were missing.  I thought that was pretty impressive of Stan.  These little twinges I had felt was the rear drive pulley shedding teeth off of my drive belt. I thought, "Oh, that's not so bad, a drive belt is like a chain and I just need a new one of those...I could do that myself.  That is not what Stan thought, this is not going to be cheap Stan said, and he was right.

But, that was weeks ago and now on this day the bike was running like she should and I was in a very very good place trying to help the Spirit open up some rooms that needed his help.  Then the shifter fell off.  Well, it din't really fall off, it just stripped so that it was rotating on a shaft that it shouldn't have been rotating on and it was useless to me like this.  The funny thing about it was that I figured all this out while doing a U turn on the highway because I had been going the wrong way for 20 miles.  It was an interesting U turn with no shifter...oh good more semi's I thought to myself.

20 miles later I was back to the exit where I got on the highway and got off there because there was an abandoned gas station with shade and room to try to figure out the shifter issue.  I wondered if this was going to be something that I would have to do every day, that is, fix something.  I wondered how I could hear from God when I was hot and getting greasy and mad at the guy who sold me this motorcycle and looking for an aluminum can on the side of the road to cut up for shifter shims..I wondered why Stan didn't see this coming, he seemed to know everything about Harleys! 

This was feeling a little bit too much like regular life.  I didn't want regular life, I was on Sabbatical and this was not supposed to be that.  I have had plenty of regular life and I was ready for some Sabbatical life.  Actually, I wasn't yet ready for Sabbatical life, I later realized.  I was still too busy thinking about this and that to realize that it was these kinds of judgments that kept most of the doors that I was trying to open for the Spirit, closed and locked. 

I actually don't remember exactly how I felt after I got the shifter rigged back up and got on my way, I just remember that was a miserable day.  It was hot, I wasn't making very good time and I was only in Maryland.  This didn't feel like a Sabbatical, although I didn't know what it was supposed to feel like.  I was not happy and I think that I told God something about it and wondered when I was going to have some spiritual experiences.

I am grateful that God loves us enough to give us what we need rather than what we want, and what I needed was just about to West Virginia.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits 3 "Beginning to find a Rhythm"

So, I sat in the upstairs bedroom at my parents house and opened the CD's that came from the monastery and then opened up my netbook where my oldest son had just downloaded my iTunes library.  I do not have a very high technology IQ  because I have three sons and a some pretty savvy friends, this is not a good thing.  I only know enough to be very dangerous...apparently.  I certainly know enough to be able to download CD's into my iPod. I plugged in my external hard drive and then the USB cable to my computer and the whole thing went black...I just fried my hard drive.  I guess I was supposed to allow the power to come through the USB cable into my netbook, instead I plugged in the hard drive and the power went through the USB cable the wrong way and smoked the whole set up.  Perfect.  

It wasn't going to be easy listening to these CD's and now I didn't have internet access during my trip...hmmm I wonder if that was a bad thing or a good thing?

The next day my mother and father and I went to WalMart...did you know that they still sell portable CD players?  I wasn't sure they did but I bought one and was ready to listen to the
CD's this way.  This wasn't to be either because the anti-skip control on the CD player couldn't handle the delightful vibrations of my 1340CC V-Twin!

Noah and I set off on a Thursday morning to meet my brother and his friends near Pittsburgh.  It was a beautiful morning and we found them right where they said they would be.  The idea was to take back roads to Mansfield Ohio where our rooms were reserved for us for the weekend.  By the end of the day...12 hours later, we were all ready to get off our bikes.  The roads that we were on were not designed for the bike we were on and Noah and I had quite a day scraping the floor boards on both sides of the Harley in the curves.

I have been thoughtful about that ride and it seems to me that our intentions to slow down and take the back roads were short circuited by the schedule that we set for ourselves.  We all have to understand that if we choose a slower pace we have to allow more time, or we will be more frustrated than ever.  I was frustrated.  What should have been a beautiful ride began to wear on us all and I regretted the plan.

If I'm going to begin living at a new pace I have to adjust my expectations as to what will be accomplished given the time I have available.  I either have to take the 4 lane and move along in a straight line quickly or I have to take the two lane and plan on more time to arrive.  If I want a slow pace without adjusted expectations I end up frustrated and disappointed.  This seems like rudimentary stuff but there I was in the midst of it again.

I realized that my time on the road would take on two flavors.  The first part of the trip I was riding in a group.  I was with my parents and then my son and brother and then other friends in Indiana.  The second part of my trip I would be alone.  Even during the first part I was getting more time alone than I would normally be able to enjoy.  I especially enjoyed the PA and midwest Sunrises...the sun looks like a huge red painting when it comes up because of all the humidity in the air.  I greeted each day at sunrise and welcomed it like a friend.  I prayed my prayers but I didn't not yet listen to the CD's and it felt like I was missing something important.

While I looked forward to the second part of my trip where I would be traveling alone, I worked at staying present with the friends and family that I was with.  I especially enjoyed the time with my parents.  It is good to be in their home and it is good to be there alone with them.  I also enjoyed our time in Indiana with old friends.  Lyn joined Noah and I the time we met up there we had been apart for two long weeks and it was wonderful to be together again. 

Noah and I, my brother and friends  arrived in Ohio and the rooms were good and we ate more than we should have and we slept in anticipation of the next day when we would be able to bask in the glory of hundreds of motorcycles, modern and vintage.   A foretaste of heaven!

Friday and Saturday were motorcycle nirvana.  If you wanted to see it, it was there.  I especially enjoyed the Vincents that were all parked together on a grassy spot under a shad canopy.  They are amazing things and I can't help but think that motorcycles as art have never again reached to their level.  The Vincent factory in England closed in 1955.  

On Sunday Noah and I headed for Indiana and the home of our good friends Dan and Deb Van Gordon.  I made the mistake of not making firm plans with them and I frustrated poor Deb because she had to scramble to prepare our room.  I realized that this was a bit of self-centered thinking that I had to battle with, assuming that it was no problem, and not considering the way that other people think and prepare for a guest.  I gained a new appreciation for our friends the Van Gordon's on this trip and even drank Bud Light with Lime for the first time. 

Lyn joined us Sunday night, driving in from Rochester MN.  It never ceases to amaze me how lucky I am to have such a wife.  Incredible.  We had a good week with friends in Angola, seeing those that we could and staying a bit hidden away so that we could rest.  It was important to me to make sure that I honored the gift of this sabbatical by not trying to "fix" things and people...a practice that I hope to be able to continue when I am back to work.

One of the highlights of July was attending church at SonLight in Angola the next weekend.  Lyn and I love SonLight very much.  Of course I am not talking about the campus but the people, although the campus is lovely and has been improved quite a bit since we have left.   It was so wonderful to see so many of our friends and it was good to see the church doing so well.  I am grateful for the 6 years that we spend in Angola and know that God has permanently joined our hearts with many people who we  have met there. The people of SonLight Community Church put up with a great deal of emotional and spiritual immaturity on my part and I am grateful for the grace and love that we felt when we were with them.  Grace is a wonderful thing.

I had an insight yesterday about Grace that I will share later when my heart has a chance to steep in it for a time.

I realized something in Angola for the first time.  The weariness and the sense of hollow that I was feeling when I asked the Quest for a Sabbatical time was about the same feeling that I had when I thought my time at SonLight was over.  I am grateful for some growth and maturity that saw it for what it was and did not mistake it for a sign that I should move on.  This, again, is a reflection of a life of ever deepening levels.  What seems to be true at one point and is embraced as a surety can mean something completely different given a new perspective.  This all is a process and it there is never an "arrival."  It is not concrete and not for the faint of heart.  We walk by Faith not by Sight.  Even in this I know that somehow God brings us where we should be and his Grace covers even these things.  He is a mystery and I live in constant wonder of his gifts.

Another amazing gift that I received in Angola was from my friend Todd who let me use an amazingly large amount of credit that he had at a local golf course.  I didn't bring any of my golf stuff with me so Todd opened his account to me and the great people at Glendarin Hills took great care of me.  Shirts, shoes, socks like I could never afford myself.  The golf I played there took on a Zen like quality for me and it was refreshing to my soul.  Thanks bro!  It was good not having to move through one thing to get to another.  I was able to be where I was doing what I was doing and not thinking about what would come next or when I had to be there.  This was a new experience for me and I think it is important to annotate it and understand how to live this way when NOT on sabbatical. 

It was time to leave Indiana.  Lyn and Noah drove to MN to spend a few more days with Lyn 's family and then to fly home and I traveled back to my parents home.  Partly because I felt I needed to spend more time with them and partly because I left some things there that I needed.  If you remember I was in a real hurry when I left...

The ride there was uneventful except for rain, which actually was a beautiful thing is good to feel a warm rain in the summer after only feeling the cold winter rains of Northern California for the last number of years.  I arrived safe and sound and was again embraced by the bosom of my parents. 

For a few days I was lost in the rhythm of Belleville again and I loved it very much.  I am grateful for this time.  I began to listen to the rhythm of creation, the rising and setting of the sun, the movement of the rabbits that come out of the fields in the evening, the quiet that descends in the night like a great blanket,  and I realized that the world has a rhythm that was breathed out by the creator. If I am listening I can get in synch with it.  My heart can beat with it and my breath can rise and fall with it.  If I am not listening I constantly run into it and try to force my way through it.  One way is synergy the other way is a fight. 

Big Valley is a beautiful place and it is the picture that I feel that I should place in this blog entry.  My mother and father have done a wonderful job of creating a beautiful life for themselves.  My father pastors a church and shepherds the flock with a great love. On July 4th I was able to hear him give a sermon on the woman with the issue of blood from the Gospel.  What a wonderful story.  That story has been a gift to me during my whole trip.   My mother cares for him and continues her art...stitching and quilting and creating in ways that constantly amaze me.  My mother and father and I don't agree on everything but I love and respect them a great deal and I know that they feel the same way for me.  It was good to spend time with my parents and I am grateful for the time that we had together.

Finally it was time to enter the solitude part of my journey.  I would leave early on the morning of July 20th  and head south west towards the Smokey Mountains of West Virgina.  My plan was to make my way to Memphis and than San Antonio to see my friend John Rayls.  That was MY plan.  God and the Harley had other ideas.  This too proved to be life giving to me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits 2 "Dormant"

Not a day has gone by during these 8 weeks without me thanking God for the generosity of the Quest for allowing this sabbatical.  In a sense their grace has forced me to take this time very very seriously.  I never thought of it as vacation.  It wasn't a vacation but a time to do some work that I could never do at home, during the normal rhythm of my life. 

One of the biggest changes has been not speaking every weekend.  I realized that over the last seven years I have said a lot of things on a weekly basis.  It was wonderful having a rest from that responsibility.  Wonderful, I think for at least a couple of reasons.  1.  I could absorb new things from God without thinking about how I could teach them to others and 2. I could rest in the fact that I am who I am regardless of if I am "performing" or not.  Both good things. 

I feel a bit self absorbed sitting down to blog about this but then I remember that it is like "gleaning" from the field of my sabbatical.  It seems like part of the work that I agreed to do when I was given this time.  If you are reading this you need to know that you owe anything that is helpful to the Quest and the time they allowed me to be dormant. You also need to know that I am sharing my discoveries like the 4 lepers in 2 Kings the story and you will see what I mean.  

Dormancy is a remarkable idea.  We expect most things to go dormant.  In a sense we give them permission to be dormant.  Think about a fruit tree or even the deciduous trees in your yard. We know that there will be fruit and once it is picked we don't expect another crop from that tree until the following season.  God has built us the very same way.  Fruitfulness takes a lot out of any living thing.  The beauty of the fall leaves should remind us of this rhythm of life. 

If you are a woman who has given birth you understand this completely.  If you are a man, ask your wife or another woman whom you know well how much she needed rest after those nine difficult months.  We have to recover, we have to celebrate, we have to learn how to Sabbath.  One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the translation of Matthew 11:28-30 in the Message:

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."   

This translation is the result of an amazing life of disciplined study and reflection by Eugene Peterson.  It comes with the beauty of science and art mixed in such a way as it brings both the power of the words of Jesus and the poetry with which he spoke them.  Thank you brother Eugene.  

I thought that I knew what these words meant, I preached on them and read them time after time.  I think that I understood them as well as I could have at the time.  I have come to understand that Truth is layered, the Spirit of God allows you to see what you can see where and when you see it.  As we uncover more and more of who we really are we are able to see them in greater depth and beauty.  In a sense we become more enlightened regarding the very words of God.  It is as if we move into a new room and as we clear it we see that there are others rooms that go deeper into the house itself. 

Jesus' posture in this passage is remarkable to me.  He simply  wants for us to "recover our lives."  He wants it so much that he incarnated and "moved into the neighborhood" (another Peterson translation, see John 1:14 in the message)  Some how Jesus wants to show us how to really rest, by watching how he lived we can begin to feel the "unforced rhythms of grace."  This is perhaps one of the most beautiful concepts that I have had the chance to live with. We will talk about this idea of recovering our lives in the days to come, it is the core of a life with God and most everything else flows out of it.

We can tell that we are keeping company with Jesus if we sense that we are beginning to live "freely and lightly."  That has not been the overwhelming character of my life.  I often feel that my relationship with God fits me like clothes that are several sizes too large, the fabric is rough and they are heavy.  Some days it seems that the only way I can really breath deeply is by slipping out of them.  Often slipping out of them means going back to old sinful patterns that I have adopted long ago.  Something is wrong.  Matthew records Jesus saying that, "I won't lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you."  I wonder what I have been wearing?  

My trip was really an attempt at "getting away with Jesus."  I wanted to make my self available to him in ways that I hadn't before.  I wanted to hear him and "watch how he did it."  I realized that the clothes that I was wearing, and some days asking others to put on, were not the clothes that he had tailored for me.  Isn't that an interesting idea? Jesus as tailor, knowing your measurements better than you do, waiting with a suit of clothes that fit so well that you could be yourself in them?  

As I have been coming to understand it the clothes that I have been wearing may have been tailored for someone else...I think that I actually made them myself and thought that I had to wear them.  I'm learning how to leave them behind.  It reminds me of Paul's letter to the Ephesians where he talks about taking off and putting on.  It seems that if we don't know who we are we really can't dress ourselves very well.  We often put on clothes that we should never wear.  God knows what you need to wear and if we allow it, he will dress us each day. 

I was talking about dormancy.  That first Sunday that I was gone was not an easy one for me.  There was a lot riding on least in my mind.  How would I get a sense of value if people were complimenting me on my sermon?  What if the person who was speaking at the Quest didn't "do a good job."  I'm laughing at myself now, but I sent texts back to my friends in Novato trying to find out if everything was ruined...not that I didn't have confidence in the speaker, I did, but, you have to understand, he wasn't ME!  What an arrogant SOB, wow. 

As one Sunday turned to two and then to four and now to eight I realized that this was a very healthy thing for both me and for the Quest in Novato.  They loved the people who came to talk and I loved not talking.  It was part of my following Jesus to where he wanted to take me, part of my "getting away with him."  As each Sunday came I became less obsessed about knowing how it went and trusted more and more that this was a good thing for everyone. 

I was dormant.  It is remarkable what being dormant can do for your heart.  You can actually begin to recover yourself.  If God actually wants to give ourselves back to us part of it is this rhythm of life that allows for rest and recovery.  How many illustrations can we take from nature? The tides, the trees, the day and the night, the trees and the animals.   In the Eastern mind this is the ying and the yang.  The up and down, the in and the out, the high and the low, the inhale and the exhale.  How had I missed this for so long?  I have to say that just realizing it doesn't "fix" is a process too. 

I know that I am getting ahead of my story but when I arrived home I found the nectarine tree that I had planted so full of fruit that it was nearly on the ground.  I thinned the fruit, I propped up the tree.  When I was trying to prop the tree up I heard a deep snapping sound from near the ground.  I thought that I had broken the tree.  It hit me that this tree was me right before my time of rest, I was trying to be so fruitful that I was about to break off at the ground.  We picked the fruit and the tree is recovering.  It lives in rhythm that way.  Most things do, people don't. 

Somehow we have forgotten this idea.  The word, Sabbatical, comes from the Hebrew concept of Sabbath.  I am learning what this means.  I have been so programmed to work hard, it is a value of mine, that I feel guilty when I am resting.  This is changing.  I am beginning to see what it means to live in these unforced rhythms.  Beginning to shed those old heavy ill fitting clothes, but they are not easily removed.

Back to the Harley.  When it was repaired in NY the mechanic didn't replace some seals that should have been replaced and so it was really leaking oil.  I took it to a mechanic in PA and asked him to fix it in a hurry because my youngest son was flying in and we were leaving in two days.  Again, I was in a hurry and again it impacted everyone around me.  Although I had a lot of time I was still moving as though I didn't.  Rather than slow down and follow Christ into each day I was still leading at a speed that was not sustainable. 

The motorcycle was repaired but the speed of the repair would cost me dearly several hundred miles later.  So, it was the first week of July and I was to meet my brother and his friends in western PA for a trip to the Mid Ohio Vintage Motorcycle Days, an event that I had been attending with my father and brothers for almost 15 years.  Noah flew in and I rushed to pick him up at the airport and then on a Thursday morning we set off to find my older brother and the small group that would travel into Ohio.  We decided to take only two lane roads so that we could "slow down."  Not a good idea.

I need to say that I was given one instruction from my spiritual director when I left California.  Order some CD's from a monastary in northern California and listen to them as many times as I could while I was away.  The set of CD's were instruction that was designed to help me to move from my head into my heard, the journey of descent that the church fathers often speak of.  I did as I was instructed and the CD's arrived in PA just before I did, perfect.  It all went downhill from there but I  will save that story for next time.  

Sabbatical Fruits "The Eyes of the Amish Children"

Well, I have not been to work in 8 weeks and I begin again the day after tomorrow.  I am getting some solitude these next couple of days to reflect back on what I saw and heard from God and his world.

First of all I have recovered physically and emotionally.  If anything I have over recovered!  I have so much margin right now I am afraid that I will begin to overdo it immediately.  Thankfully I have people around me that will help me to manage my pace.

I began the trip putting a lot of pressure on myself to "really hear something" from God.  Now I am on the closing days and I wonder what I heard.  I will blog about the trip and try to capture some of the things that came to me and the places in which they came.  

I have a problem with pace.  I am a hurryaholic, workaholic, get it doneaholic, be productiveaholic.  (get the picture)  I place most of my value on what I can get done.  A good day is a day of accomplishment.  I also feel that a lot of people around me value me for what I can do...this may simply be a projection, but if it is it is a projection a lot of us share.  

My pace and the slowing of it seemed to be the overarching theme of my time away from work responsibility.  It began when my trip began and I broke down for the first time.  God forced his pace into my trip in a way that helped me to see that even at rest my pace is just plain silly.

I began the sabbatical with flight from Oakland to Milwaukee to pick up a motorcycle.  It wasn't just a motorcycle it was a Harley. It wasn't just a Harley it was a 25 year old Harley.  It was made the same year I was married, we were both celebrating our 25th anniversary.  So we had our party on Saturday night and on Tuesday morning I flew out to celebrate with the new, old 1985 Harley-Davidson FXRT Sport Glide.

Let's just say that my marriage is in much better shape than this bike was.  Interestingly it looked great on the outside but was in serious trouble on the inside. (This could be a lesson but it seems too simple to really be a sabbatical lesson...let's look for something more complex.)

I broke down the first time in Batavia NY after just re-entering the US at the Toronto-Buffalo border. I had gone from WI up the the U.P. of MI and then into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie...I love the U.P.  I 'm not sure why I could have spent more time there but I was in a hurry to get someplace to do something that I no longer remember.   I had been making great time on my first few days and then my drive belt came apart and my pullies were bad and "the parts were not available today" get the picture.

I met three motorcycle tow truck drivers on the trip, this first one was a lovely man who helped me load the bike and then acted as a chauffeur taking me to my hotel and picking me up the next day.  

I sat and I walked and I wondered what would happen, I didn't really get it then.  I thought that I did, in fact, I said that I did, but I didn't.  I was proud of the fact that I told the parts person at Stan's Harley Davidson, "what I need to do I can do sitting here on the lawn just as well as sitting on a motorcycle."  She marveled at my Zen like state of peace...I marveled at my ability to bull shit myself so well that I made it sound like the truth.  

I have to say that I was more patient than I would have been years ago...I was trying to see and hear and stay in the moment, I think that was a good way to begin the trip.  It also began a co-dependent relationship with this Harley...she cost me a lot of money but she really NEEDED me...

I left Stan's Harley Davidson $1,000.00 lighter and I sent an angry email to Don, the guy that I bought the bike from.  What a telling reaction.  You can tell a lot about yourself from your reaction. Lao Tsu calls it your Wu Wei, your first response which reveals your heart.   I was working on a great resentment towards him...this is another tell tale sign that you are not who you think you may be.  Don said that he didn't have any money to help with the bill, I wondered what he had done with the 6K that I had just given him.  I reacted and resented and as a Monk or Mystic, I wasn't doing well.  Of course I felt fairly justified talking about Don with myself behind his back and in my heart. 

After two days in Batavia I limped to my parents house in the mountains just outside of State College PA.  I was welcomed and fed very well.  The first night in the second floor bedroom I heard a sound that I had heard hundreds of times before but this time I heard God's voice in the sound.  "this is a good sign" I thought to myself. "There are a lot of people counting on me getting something important on this trip." 

The sound was the simply passing of a horse and buggy outside of my window, I was sleeping in Amish country.  The horse went cloppity clop, cloppity clop and the buggy followed along making a metal wheels on the black top kind of sound along with some squeaks and moans from leaf springs and old wood.  When I heard that sound I heard the sound of a healthy pace of life.  It somehow synched up with my heart and that night in my parents spare bedroom I heard a pace of life that had long been forgotten. It reached out for  me like an old lover might, reminding me of what we once had but had now lost.  I didn't really know it at the time but this slowing would be my undoing. 

For the next few days I watched them, the Amish, they went slowly.  Not only didn't they hurry, they couldn't hurry.  I wondered how I could live at this pace when everyone around me was living at breakneck speed living "real" lives with "real" jobs.  There wasn't anyone else I knew on an 8 week sabbatical this summer.

How could I allow my heart to beat loudly enough so that I would hear it every moment like I heard the buggy that night...and every other night that I stayed in Belleville?  funny, I really only noticed that sound at night or early in the morning when I got up to watch the sun rise.  the rest of the day the buggy sounds were drowned out by weed whackers and diesel trucks and radios and  cell phones and texting.  The sound was still there, it was just covered up.

I began to realize along the trip that uncovering is an important concept.  Uncovering, chipping away the calcified sediments that we allow to mute our real selves.  It seems we are born real and by the time we are self aware we have lost sight of who we really are.

I saw a mysterious thing in the eyes of small Amish children peering out out of the backs of these buggies as I went by them on the motorcycle.  I waved and they waved back.  They marveled at me and I marveled at them.  I don't think that I fully understood it at the time but I longed for what they had, an intangible feeling of awe and carelessness as to place or pace.  It was as if they were being carried away to a place that I longed to be imprisoned.  I didn't know how to get there and they didn't even know they were going.