Friday, January 30, 2009
"I can see your heart's not in your study, so I thought I'd just, you know, drop in and talk with you for a little while."
I looked at him with that piercing glance I reserve for individuals who have taken my parking space, but he stared back and me with those big black eyes has has. I hate that stare.
I sighed, and closed down my lesson. "Yeah, I'm a little distracted. My heart's not in this tonight."
"I know" he replied in that silky, sort of soft undertone that sounds so sad and so vicious at the same time. " I tried to speak with you earlier, but you weren't listening."
"Look, I'm sorry. You remember today was my last day, right? I tend to try and put these things somewhere else."
"I know. It's almost scary when you consider the totality of it."
I shot him an annoyed glance. "You been talking with Fear again? Is he just out around the corner."
Depression laughed - one of the few times I think I've heard him laugh. "No no, he's got the night off - I think he said he was running out for a Jamba Juice and visit to Borders. He thought, given the situation, that it might be awhile before he could slip out again."
Fabulous. Even my emotions are taking time off to prepare.
I refocused my thoughts. "So what's on your mind? It's late. If I'm not going to get to this lesson, I might as well go to bed."
Depression looked at me with that silly smile I hate so much. "Oh, nothing. Just thought I'd check in. I figure we're going to be spending a lot more time together in the near future. You know, last day and all."
I stared back with as fierce a gaze as I could muster. "The heck we are. We've been down this road before, you and I, and a lot of other roads than this. Worse roads than this. You always promise me something, yet you never can seem to deliver."
Depression jerked his eyebrows up in surprise. "I? Promises? I never make promises - you know that."
"You absolutely do" I responded. "You promise me that following you and wallowing in it constitutes action. We both know that's not true. You're a liar."
The smile, I noted in passing, was gone from his face.
"Fine. Have it your way. You're heart's not in that lesson, and it's not in facing reality either. I'll be back. Say Monday - I figure the first day of being unemployed will make you want to have a more in depth conversation with me. I'll pencil it in." And with that, he swirled and almost stomped out of the room.
I sat in the stillness after his passing. A liar? I called him a liar? I never thought of that way before, but now that I did, that was right. Being depressed was a lie - it offered inaction and emotional torment as a way of taking action and solving problems when in fact, it was so self-focused and bent purely on feeding the emotional appetite of things which could not help me, but only harm me.
Feeling better, perhaps the first time in years, I settled back with a book. Sure, Depression was upset now, but maybe he'd come around. I could always see if he was willing to accept a job transfer.
It would probably beat dressing in black all the time.
For me, a somewhat atypical end (you know, as opposed to the ones where I didn't get laid off). Usually, I have slowly phased my work out to others, and spend the last day making the grand tour of cubes and offices, checking in and saying goodbye. Here, I was working literally up to the last hour I was there - partially a condition of company, which is new and still has systems in need of establishing, and partially a function of the fact that the work I do now will spare others later.
I have always hated saying goodbye, almost to the point of avoiding people. I'm not sure why - there's just an intense pain associated with it, that sense of everything packed in to 5 minutes that you never took the time to say while there was all time in the world: "You are a pleasure to work with", "You look great today", "I enjoy your company". Odd (and probably the subject of another post) that only at the end do we take time for such things which we view as vanities in daily life.
And so, card turned in and armed with coffee mug and pictures in hand, home I went.
God obliged me with a beautiful drive home, one that if I were Buttercup would cause me to deeply and eloquently reflect on God's glory (see Vintage Chick Blog to the Right; alas, I am no Buttercup). As I burst across the Benecia Bridge, the Sun was still high but it was cold enough that a slight haze of fog hung over the steel blue water and below the bridge, enough that the hills at the end of the Bay were submerged beneath a veil of faded white. The hills to the North were green in the sunlight and a sort of verdant purple where the sun no longer touched. I drove along, belting out Styx's Greatest Hits (a sort of full circle I have not yet completely grasped) as I headed out into the sunset, not knowing where I was going, but enjoying the view and the Author who had kindly arranged a spectacular natural sendoff on my last day.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
I working on a job submission, so I ignored him, hoping he’d take the hint and go away. Not my luck – he stomped about, realized I wasn’t immediately going to cater to his need, went out, and rolled a chair in. As my current office is my closet, he blocked the only egress.
Sigh. I was going to have to deal with him.
I hit the “Enter” button and made sure that I waited until I got confirmation on the screen. I was not going to mess anything else up with whatever the crisis du jour was.
“I know why we were abandoned” Anger blurted out, the words tumbling over themselves in their eagerness to escape and strike their target.
“Why were abandoned.” Darn. I had half a cup of coffee, slightly cold. Chances of that getting resolved soon were minimal.
“Himself. Why he abandoned us?” Again with the rushing words.
I sighed. Anger was always quick: spoke quickly, acted quickly. Trying to follow his reasoning was like trying to determine what kind of car had passed by the cloud of dust it left.
"Let's start back at the beginning."
"Himself. Abandoned. Us. Found. Out. Why."
My coffee was definitely not going to get a warm up.
"And we found this out how?"
"On the internet. You know I surf when you're busy. Keeps my mind distracted. Anyway. I did a search on The Firm, because you know that I'm always curious how things turned out, and sure enough, there was a new name listed, and he was the Senior VP, and obviously you were abandoned because you were now longer needed-"
5 seconds. He said the whole thing in 5 seconds.
I put up my hand and cut him off. "Okay. Back to facts. We left because things were not working out, and I needed a new job. I paid my debt and walked away. That company died and was replaced. Happens all the time."
"But the guy-"
"It was a little after, and suddenly he appears and you go away."
"And it makes you angry?"
"Well, yeah! No one abandons us-"
"Your blood pressure. You've got to watch that."
I stretched out in the chair, leaning my back over until I heard the "Pop" of my ribcage. "You know we were growing apart anyway. If he found a person with better job skills, so much the better for him and the company. He has to provide for his family too."
"And friends and associates grow apart over time as well. How do we know that this person did not fill a need in his life, a need we could not fill?"
"But-". Slower now. He was starting to think things through.
"And remember the conference in June. Didn't we write a letter dealing with all this and then cast it aside, putting it aside?"
"Well, yes." Anger looked reasonable now, much less offended. "We really can't control their actions, can we?"
I shook my head. "Nope, only our reaction to them. Remember: Be Better or Be Bitter - Your Choice."
He sat silently for a minute, looking down and away, looked at me, and then got up. "I feel better now. I think I'm going to go get some coffee."
I smiled as he left the closet, dragging the chair behind him. It had only taken us 3.5 years to get to this point. Maybe we were finally making progress.
And then it hit me: He was going to have coffee. Probably the last cup.
There went my warm up...
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Yesterday, I stopped at my local upscale supermarket because their milk is actually cheaper than my local less than upscale supermarket. As part of the experience, I arrived at the bathroom sink station for the 13,0002nd time to wash my hands. I squirted soap onto my hands (this itself is a luxury not afforded me everywhere), placed my hands under the sensor in the sink which distributes water at a temperature which is precisely calculated, I am sure, to a fine balance between cleansing of bacteria and cost of heating/transporting the water, and advanced to the automated towel dispensing unit. For the 13,002nd time, I got one allocated length of towel, which was not enough to dry my hands. So, for the 13,002nd, time, I waved my damp hands under the sensor and was issued another unit. Voila, dry hands.
I am certain, with certainty of a man that counts pennies, that the precise amount of towel has been carefully calculated by accountants and engineers deep in a hidden bunker for the precise amount of towel required to dry someone’s hands – that is, if you have the hand size of a six year old. For anyone with normal sized hands it’s not enough, leading me to requisition another towel with the wave of a hand, thereby circumventing the very reason the allocated towel amount was created in the first place.
It’s maddening. Here I sit, with dripping hands as the towel dispenser silently mocks me in the bathroom and the Demi-Gods of Towel Dispensing (and their Overlords, The Gods of the Automated Bathroom and the Bottom Line) mock me from on high, crying out “Foolish mortal! Thou needest not two towels to dryeth thy hand. Be content with one. We have carefully considered the type and amount of hand drying, and if thou canst not use one towel, there is something wrong with thee!”
Nothing will change of course, except perhaps the towels will get smaller. But I will be there, one man in a bathroom with his fist clenched high, shouting “From Hell’s heart I spit at thee, O thou Demi-Gods of Towel Dispensing (and thine Overlords, The Gods of the Automated Bathroom and the Bottom Line)! Behold! I reach out mine hand and causeth thy servant to dispense not one but two towels to mine own hand which I will useth and then callously casteth in the refuse. I am the Master of my Bathroom Destiny!”
Right up to the point the Automated Door will not letteth me out…
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
It makes wonder as well as I job search. I am currently looking in my industry, obviously (I guess from my point of view) that this is what I have done for 11 years, so this is what I should do. It's been a good industry, and certainly financially rewarding.
At the same time, as anyone who has listened to me for the past 9 years, or even if I look at my writings, there is an intense unhappiness for what I do. Part of it is the fact that there is a sense in which it doesn't matter: for example, all the paperwork I've carefully assembled and worked on for the last 5 months will most likely go into a box and never again see the light of day. Even at my previous employer, I had the same sensation, especially with some types of records: we're completing, reviewing, and filing these so that they will never be seen again. It's the most frustrating sensation in the world.
Well, really the second most. Putting a dollar in a vending machine and not getting change is actually more frustrating, I suppose.
The other thing that strikes me as frustrating is the sense that I have no control. I did my job, did it well, did it completely - and it still got cut. I don't like being at the mercy of others. I especially feel for Otis in this regard - oftentimes he'll jump through all the hoops to set up a series of meetings and presentations, only to have the rug pulled out from him at the last minute.
Huh. Hadn't realized right up to this moment that it was such an issue for me. But it is.
I won't be in this position again.
The sense of not being involved anymore.
I remember this most vividly from The Firm. Suddenly, I went from 10-20 phone calls and 40-50 e-mails a day to virtually nothing. A little bit at first, of course, catching up with people, redirecting projects and so on, but then it rapidly falls away until you physically have to force yourself not to check your mailbox every 10 minutes because you know, in your heart of hearts, that there is nothing new.
Your first reaction to this void is to start calling and e-mailing your friends, following up with them – and then you realize that although they are your friends and although they do care, in fact they still have jobs and lives to attend to. They cannot fill the void left by coworkers or clients or projects.
Your need to talk, to be engaged and active and involved, is still there: it’s just that those things aren’t.
As I indicated, this already raised its head yesterday – and I had to reign myself in from calling one more time, or e-mailing one more time. That’s where, I suspect, the importance of a list is so critical: rather than fumbling about waiting in front of the screen as it refreshes your e-mail box, you go on to the next thing.
Probably too, it’s that we don’t like to spend a lot of time with ourselves. Too much self examination, that sort of thing. The irony is, that taking the time to go through the self-examination can be a project all its own, its discoveries as interesting (to myself, anyway) as any project I had going (filing, anyone?) and certainly more profitable in the long run.
Monday, January 26, 2009
The feeling here is one I cannot fully categorize, as it is one that I have never fully been through before, either not having been involved in layoffs or this being a special case as many of these people have worked together for 4+ years.
Simply put, it is the Day of the Dead.
There are brief discussion in the breakroom, but not much interaction - or for that matter, action-in corridors. People flit from office to office, or go into the labs. Senior management, except for floating by once, is not in evidence, apparently bunkered in preparing the next steps.
But even more than the relative lack of interaction is the sense of silence, the lack of conversation, or perhaps the conversation of the dead. There is a pall, unseeable, indefinable, but laying like a thick cloak over the area. It wanders the hall in a thick dense invisible fog, penetrating every crack of every room, flowing under doorstops and around desks - the cold fingers of reality, reaching through the illusion of normality seen in operating lights, dimly glowing computers, and even the ordinary sounds of laboratories in operation.
My only companions are the hushed pushing noise of the forced air as it surges through the diffuser into my office and the clickety clack of my keys as I type.
A sense of something being dead, but just not realizing it.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The picture is that of one of a form of a fun house glass maze, the mirrored ones that you keep running into reflections of yourself as you try and make your way through - except, like in The Gods of Mars (and there's an obscure reference), it's of clear glass, so you can see your way across to the other side.
In this case, the relationship becomes the room, with each individual on each side of the room. So often, over time, we erect these barriers, these glass walls - invisible but present. The first few aren't so bad -"It's right there in front of me" you say, "I know where it is and I can always get around it."
But as time goes on, you realize that the barrier has become a maze - you can still see across the room, but it is terribly difficult to get through. If you try to get through, even though you can see clearly, you keep slamming into the glass and whirling around, trying another direction, then slamming into the glass again. You make progress, but it is low and painful - or perhaps you realize you have ended up in a different part of the room entirely.
The part that has me wondering is when the glass goes up: do we realize it as a barrier? Or have we become so reliant on sight and physicality that we assume that if we see, we can always communicate?
"Well, let's look at the references" I replied. "I think it means to test Him, but let's look at the reference to give us the context of the verse." A brief journey back brings us to Deuteronomy 6:16, where Israel is commanded by Moses not to test God as they did at Massah. Okay, back to Exodus 17:17, where the children of Israel, three chapters after the parting of the Red Sea, are complaining to Moses because he brought them to a place with no water. They shout at Moses for water, saying that he brought them out for them to die, apparently almost ready to kill him. God provides, and water does come out. The key is probably in verse 7, where it says "...they put the Lord to the proof by saying 'Is the Lord among us or not?'"
"Is the Lord among us or not?" This, in the light of the fact that the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire are with them, day and night, at their head.
"Well, it seems to mean that we are not to presume on God or demand of Him. If we have a need, we need to ask Him - not demand things of Him, or argue that He is being unfair, or say that if He won't do something, He can't do something. He knows our needs - we just need to have faith."
"Like you and your job?"
Long pause. "Yeah, kind of like that."
I hate it when God makes things clear that I don't want to hear. Of course it means that too. I try to be conscious of demanding, but in reality, it always lurks just beneath the surface, the more so when I believe my demands are just.
The problem is, I, like the Israelites before me, fail to look around and already see the presence and provision of God in my life. Like the Pillars of Cloud and Fire, God's reminders are present everywhere: the peace I had on Friday, the reminders from others, the Spirit speaking through His Word and others. Yet, like the Israelites, I so often push my demands to the fore (and present them as demands) rather than having faith and presenting them as requests.
I've never gotten a drink in the desert, but I would imagine that water in oasises is muddy and particle laden, wet but not delectable. I would also be willing to bet that the water that came from the Rock was cold, clear, and refreshing. I'm sure the Israelites, when they thought of water, were thinking of an oasis watering hole like they knew, the only thing they had seen. God, in His grace (to rebels, no less) gave them far more and far better. How would it have been if God gave them what they expected rather than what He wished to give?
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Still, a great encourager none the less. One always needs perspective and a laugh in times such as these. And sometimes, it takes time such as these to make us willing to receive them as the gifts they are.
Friday, January 23, 2009
The Fear, you ask? It is that gnawing emotion which I assume is peculiar to the experience of being laid off - the "What am I going to do?" and "It's going to be impossible to get a job" sensation. Honestly, it makes me queasy just to think about it.
The problem with being laid off before, even by yourself, is that you remember. "Take no counsel of your fears" it is said, but do not believe for a moment that they are not there, real, and have powerful voices, no matter how insubstantial they may be.
On a purely practical level, one thing that is useful to combating them is simply being real about them. No, the chances of me landing a position next week is not great. No, that does not mean that I will not land one in two months.
Another thing is to use the time not worrying by finding other things to do. In reality, there is a big burst of activity the first week (and trust me -there was one today) followed by a decreasing amount of actual time as one becomes caught up with the opportunities at hand. Sure, there's always additional research you can do, another site to follow up on, but I know from past experience that it will be a decreasing curve.
So I've got to do it differently.
This an opportunity - yes, perhaps forced upon me, but an opportunity none the less. I started my Big Laid Off List today, and some of the things are not directly related to my job: write more, do some organization, some other projects that have been lurking in the background.
Another conscious decision will need to be what I read. I need to read uplifting and positive oriented material. The Bible, of course. But I need to make a concerted effort to ensure that what I'm putting into my mind is not material that will predispose me to think about failure.
Yes, it's a rough time out there. Yes, things are not good. But at the same, time, I can assure you that companies still have positions. People are still making money and thriving in this economy. How? Not sure, but I think at least one aspect will turn out to be thinking outside of the box. There are opportunities for me even right now, in front of my nose, if only I will take them.
The question is, can I adapt? Will I take counsel of my fears or something else?
(I have, apparently, finally cracked...)
The cursor just sits there, blinking at you on an empty entry page, on and off, saying "Hey! What are you doing? Why aren't you writing? I'm waiting!" Now, I admit that it is somewhat unusual to hear the voice of an electronically generated series of binary digits; however, the fact is that every day is exactly like that. No blinking cursor, of course (Although that would be something: get up in the morning, go outside, look up, and see this giant blinking cursor in the sky above you, or worse, see it typing) but we do get a blank sheet of paper called twenty-four hours.
But unlike my blog entries, there is no delete key. I can't go back and correct the misspellings and errors I find once I post it. I cannot write or rewrite something to change the impact it has on another: once something is done, it's done. It becomes another page in the book of our lives, added to the binder awaiting our final entry and subsequent turning in and grading.
Yet, like a blog, every day is a fresh page. Every day, I get to to make another entry.
Someone asked me once why I like to write, especially because I don't get (formally) reimbursed for it. I admit that I write a lot, both here and personally for my own consumption, but the point of fact is that I can't help but write. Even in my jobs, even for things that I was not necessarily schooled in, I write. For me, in a real way, to write is to live.
But really, to live is to write. We don't all put alphanumeric characters onto a page, but we do put our deeds into the lives of others, influence the lives of others by our thoughts, words, and actions, and create a book that will be read by those who come after us (your children take the volume with them) as well as in eternity (where, in the biggest bookshow ever, God will display everyone's volumes).
Yes, I write this in the context of yesterday, where I was able to have perspective and have a number of people comment about my attitude and in at least once case say "Yeah, I know God has a plan and will provide - I just don't know what it is yet." I can assure that yesterday at my company, that was a view voiced by precisely no-one else. But I also write it in context of explaining to An Clann that I was laid off yesterday, that I had a sense of peace and God with me, and that God would provide for us.
Every day in every way, we write. What did you fill your empty screen with today?
The writer sighed. "There's not really a formula. Sometimes you just start writing, sometimes you just make a title and see what it brings. Of course, I always hope I remember to change the title to match what I'm writing about. Nothing more embarrassing than a title that seems unrelated or out of place."
The interviewer laughed. "Does that happen often?"
"A lot more than you'd think.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
In a way, a very surreal experience - although the last time I got laid off, it was myself laying myself off and all I got were company debts. Now that someone is laying me off, I am actually getting money instead of debt. That's a plus.
There's also a sense, as I told some folks at work, that I could have gone to an office where a doctor could have told me "You have pancreatic cancer and three months to live". In the scheme of things, this is not the worst thing to happen.
Not the best either. And not the best time - but as much as those that laid off need prayer, so do those that are remaining behind. They are going to essentially get double the work with no added pay and no guarantee that it will pay off in the end.
And still, that feeling that God is in this and this is a Moment, one of those moments you look back and say that something different happened, something significant, a life changing sort of thing.
Not totally unexpected, but not what I was hoping for either. There is a package, and by my lights it is a pretty good one.
Sorry. My thoughts are a little disjointed at the moment. Go figure.
I know there's a purpose in all of this, there's a reason for this: This month, the nice Christmas we had, the getaway this last weekend, the fact I am being laid off today. God is here, even if I can't see Him or know why.
Lots of questions (hindsight being 20/20): Why did this opportunity open up? Why did I choose to take it? I'm supposed to have learned something from time here: what is it?
"Riddles in the Dark" , Gandalf's reference to the discovery by Bilbo of the One Ring. There is something here, even if I can't grasp it at the moment.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Part of what screams at me is from Phil Vischer (see Me Myself and Phil Vischer) where he found himself doing so much for God that He forgot to do things with God. I say this in the context of trying to figure out a way to move forward in my life, do the things I think that I am called to do. I say it in the context of continually coming up against the wall of time: trying to do the things I want to do versus trying to do the things that are important to do.
Time with Family: Important
Getting enough Sleep: Important
Having a job to support said family: Important
Having some sort of physical exercise program: Important
- which after all is said and done, takes about 22 hours of my day. Out of 24. And then, if I gave God the attention He deserved (boy, is that a silly sentence looking at it), it drops more. But if I don't have that, what does the rest matter?
I always feel like when I think or write this, I'm so far behind the curve. I know so many others that seem to be doing more than I and appear to be balancing things far better than I. I know I can't see into the hearts of others, but Saints and Martyrs, am I just obtuse? Or just perpetually slow and behind the curve?
There are moments, few in my life, where I can consciously say that "yes, I changed. I really changed" and point to a moment in time. More often - even in this case to some extent - there is a feeling of looking back and seeing the trajectory of it: suddenly realizing that "Oh, this is where that idea came from" or "I can see where I started to do X". But the moments where things seem to crystallize almost immediately are rare.
The buildup, I think, is two events: 1) The conference the Ravishing Mrs. TB and I attended last June (link here and here), because it actually made me sit down and think about goals, goals I really wanted to accomplish, and give a time frame; 2) My job change (acceptance here) because (and much as I miss you, Songbird), it forced me outside of my comfort zone (which, I might add, it does every day). I got into the rut of being in a comfortable environment and not challenging myself to grow. Here, I have no choice.
But the change sees to have popped into place this last weekend: partially because of the trip to Tucson, partially because I am using this vocal program which has challenged me to use the voice of the person I am, partially through giving a name and time frame to my writing (and re-establishing that as the thing I want to do), and partially because I am being brought face to face to face with a much younger man whom I used to know: me.
If you had to ask me what is emerging from it, I would have to say courage. Which is an odd thing to emerge from the amalgamate of what I've listed.
Benjamin Franklin had a fine saying "What you seem to be, be really." We trot that around quite a bit - "Be true to thyself, and thou canst not be false to any man" - but we also are equipped (loaded?) with the expectations of others and how they view us, and therefore what we will do to be viewed correctly (ah, the dreaded peer pressure). It then seems like we spend the rest of our life learning to bring out those things that God gave us that we buried away.
I've seen this happen with others. Go read Buttercup (Vintage Chic Blog - it's on the right). I cheat in the sense that I've known her far longer than she has written, but even in her work you can see the parts of her that were buried for various reasons (her ability to write, for example) being fanned into flame - the thing that was always there, and that God has been waiting for her to be courageous about and do.
(And no, before you think it, there are plenty of things that are not good gifts or personality traits that are buried and should not be brought out, but put to death. That's sin. Not everything that is hidden should see the light. Another entry for another day.)
Because that is part of what the world needs to see - they can see plenty of self-actualized people, people following their goals and dreams - but do they see us as Christians having the courage to live out what God has given us and called us to in a God honoring way, who are not self centered in what we do but neither are pouring ourselves into the mold of what the world thinks Christianity could do?
My model again is Buttercup, an intelligent woman who is cheerful, bright, outgoing, tand talented, but is not these things because she self actualized or is choosing a better You, but because she has Christ -and would be happy to tell you about it. How countercultural is that?
I want to grow up and be like her.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
It's odd. I'm still not sure how I care for this new medium. I send e-mails and compose documents for a living. Part of what I have always lectured folks on is the importance of how your e-mail will be received - as words only, not with the inflection you intended, not with you to explain the meaning and nuances, not for them to observe your reaction. It's just the words.
In a way, this communication form presumes that. To truly work, it assumes that I know you, know how you are, know why you would kid or not, know a back history. I find it very hard to fathom that I could have anything other than a meaningful "chat" with someone with whom I had no frame of reference.
Ah, but you blog, I hear you say. True enough. But blogs - most blogs - are not conversations, they are complete thought sets (at least in theory). Over time, one gets to the "sense" of a blog and its author. The good ones, there is a sense that what they write and who they are inside are one.
The other part that truly bothers me about the communication form is its silence. I am a man that prefers silence to noise - true enough. At the same time, when I am talking, I want to talk: be in the conversation, engage in communication. With this format, especially carrying out a conversation at any length, there is just the clickety click of the keys as I type, the soundless wait for reaction, and then clickety click click of response.
It strikes me as odd that this form of "communication" is actually silent; almost a soulless kind of chat, conveying meaning without form. And without the form, without a way to frame the communication it becomes like a river, guided between banks and useful or out of it's dike and flood, ravaging the land and destroying life.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Where did I go? Here:
Why did I go to this place (Oh Ye of multiple questions)? The Ravishing Mrs. TB went to see this lady:
It was interesting, because this was the first conference (or class, for that matter) that I have been to in a very long time where I truly was simply a guest, with no expectations or agenda to learn. Just an observer.
But fun none the less. The interesting thing to me, as an observer, was how different this was as a company meeting from other formats I am typically used to. Yes, I know that sales folk live a different life than us commoner (Otis, you may now bow), but there was a sense of bonding and purpose there, a sense of belief in the product, in the founder, in each other, and in what they were doing that was palpable.
As you probably know, I am always trying to take these experiences and integrate them into my Christian walk and commentary, because I really do believe that in many ways the Church (generic, please fill in denomination here) falls short of its ability to impact the world. One observation I have was that the (mostly) women that left this meeting were fired up, ready to go. I am hard pressed to think of a church service recently where the same could be said. (Otis, you?).
The other thing, special to this conference, was their motif of an Oasis. As part of the the presentation, they walked through an Anagram (no, I don't remember it and it's probably proprietary) of Oasis. But they were using essentially spiritual (not necessarily Christian) terms: make people aware of their thirst, show them where the water is, lead them by example, and equip them.
Funny - isn't that the Christian message? How come they got it and we don't?
Now now Toirdhealbheach (I hear you say), isn't that incorporating the world's methods into our message? After all, they're selling a product - we are talking about the eternal souls of men and women?
Granted. And you'll find no greater believer of not changing the message or watering it down than I. But at the same time, those women (and a few men) left with purpose, vision, an understanding of what was expected of them, and what the rewards were for their effort.
How about a more personal tone: If the church can't communicate it, why can't I?
Sunday, January 18, 2009
So I was brought into contact this weekend with an old voice, someone I had not heard from in 20 years. Friendship Interrupted, perhaps (or has this movie been done before?), or some such thing.
Which is odd, because speaking with those you haven't spoken with in years brings up all kinds of things you thought you had forgotten, wrongs you had not remembered, and the wrongs you have. All my sins remembered...
In some cases, they seem to have faded out over time, like the mellowing of harsh colors into a gentle pastel. In some cases, they stare back at you with hollow eyes and accusing fingers, pointing, eyeing you with the eyes of the wronged.
The eyes of the damned.
It reminds me of the importance (oh, how do I know it and hope to pass it on to my children) of thinking through what we do, of all the ramifications. We cannot undo all harms that we did, we can only lament and palliate them. Think, think think!
As the Germans say, why are we old too soon and wise too late? Something about youth and wisdom - or is it that we need to train our children better, to incorporate wisdom into their lives?
I don't know. And it's late. Still, I have the hollow laughter of the past to face me in the dark of my bed tonight.
All my sins remembered...
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The Ravishing Mrs. TB and myself are off tomorrow for a leadership conference through her work (I'm just along for the ride as a kept man). What hit me, as I was packing tonight, was that it only seemed like last week that we were talking about attending and now here it is. Which brought to mind the larger question, why is it as I get older that time flows more quickly?
The answer, in it's simplicity, astonished me: I am constantly living in the future.
The Firm really accelerated the process for me. Like any kind of sales, one was always looking out 90 days until a deal closed: what had to be done, where were we, how close are we. Likewise now in other parts of my life: I'm trying to plan, whether it be work or personal. Everything is always be worked toward a future date.
Contrast that with my childhood and even into my high school and college years, where time frames operated on the 9 month school/3 month summer schedule. Goals, such as they were, involved studying to get to the next level.
Is this inevitable? I've no clue. I'm not sure how one can both plan/work towards things that need to be done while truly savoring the present.
It makes heaven all the more enticing. Think: Being where every day that occurs only means n+1 more. Plans, if we are to make them, doing things, if we are to do them, will be lifted from the curse of too little time or cutting out something more valuable. Every day will be both in the present and in the future.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
This weekend, I ordered my bees for this year. We're doing something wrong, because we can never get them to live beyond one year. My father gently suggested that, as we seemed have sunk a great deal of money into them without any result, perhaps we might consider getting some additional training because we were doing something wrong.
Fair enough. Where does one beekeeping classes? Thank goodness for the web - you can find anything. Nice thing is, you get 7 hours of class time for ordering bees. I ordered two, so I can have a partner in crime - Daibidh Mor - to at complain to.
The second part of this is education, inspired by a most unlikely source. My great-aunt passed away in December, and her memorial service was early this month. As part of the memorial service, her pastor, grandchildren, and those that had known her gave some stories from her life - some I had known, some I had not. I knew that at one point she kept goats - what I did not know is that she had no previous knowledge of goat keeping but went on to attain some records for herd milk production that may stand today! Her sister, Aunt Emma, commented that their parents always taught them to try anything when given the opportunity and be excellent in it (which, I might add as a sidebar, their six daughters all did).
So along with the "I'm going to finish my book and get it published" this year goal, I've also got the "this year" I'm going to succeed in bees" goal.
Daibidh Mor and I also went to a beekeeping presentation at Rush Ranch on Sunday. It was a two part presentation: One by Dr. Robbin Thorp from UC Davis on Native Bees (Did you know there are 19,500 species of bees, about 4000 species in North America, about 1600 species in California, and 260 species in Solano County). The second was by Phil Hofland of Noble Apiaries with a general view of beekeeping from a commercial view. He said that it's been hard these last years with the advent of the varroa mite as well as a new kind of nosema protozoa - but his enthusiasm was incurable! For both gentlemen, besides the transfer of information, it was obvious that they really have a great love for bees and everything they do. On the whole, very interesting and encouraging.
So the bees are coming. The education is coming. I'm Ready!!
(I'm ready, get honey, I'm ready, get honey, I'm ready, get honey....)
Monday, January 12, 2009
Some of you will know that I have working on a book - in all fairness, since 2003. I dropped off the writing map once or twice, but finally last year got up the energy (and courage to face criticism) to finish it off and send it for editing help. The editing review came back, I revised and sent out again, and even have an offer to publish - but due to financial issues, decided not to at that time.
But, like every good artist that is not happy with their work, I went back again, as part of my New Year's resolutions, to re-edit the work. I did this somewhat, and was faced this morning with considering writing one more section.
I looked, I pondered, I even tried a desultory typing of a couple of lines once or twice - then I said "done."
Part of my finishing is simply that I am ready to move on to writing something else - as I indicated, I've been working on this for almost 6 years now. But part of it is that it is done. Truly, I've got an offer to publish - what is another chapter or section or major modifications going to do for it beyond know what they want? Besides, I really am ready to start a new project, but in a way can't because this is hanging around my neck.
The other part is that it now forces me to make a commitment to finish the publishing process. Simply put, as long as I put "finishing" the book off, I could not be expected to have to figure out how to get it published - a convenient excuse. Now, I no longer have that excuse.
How remarkably freeing and terrifying at the same time.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Okay fine. So what does God's Word say?
His expectation is holiness - 1st Peter 1:15 -16"...but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written 'Be holy, for I am holy.'" (quoting Leviticus 11:44). What is holiness? Well, God is holy - perfectly so. Therefore, to seek to be holy is to seek to be like God.
Other hints? "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God" (3rd John 11). "Test all things: hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
That "abstain from every form of evil" catches my eye. I don't have my Greek text in front of me, but I am willing to bet that the "every" there really means "every", not "some".
I'm to be holy - as one commentator put it, "Holiness is thinking as God thinks and acting as God acts. I'm not to imitate evil, I'm not to participate in evil in any way (semi-opposite of holding fast).
Based on that, I suppose my first question with anything then has to become "Is it evil?" Which then begs a larger question: Is it possible for something to be morally neutral in our lives?
For the sake of argument, let us set aside those important attributes of not doing something that causes a weaker brother sister to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:1-13) or something that they are personally convinced is sin for them (Romans 14:22-23) - although probably here is a hint in Paul's comment that " Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves (v.22)."
So if something is not causing a brother or sister to stumble, is not evil, is not something that one feels condemned before God about, is that okay? Kind of involves a discussion of what is evil - if an author is an excellent writer but writes books which either are not themselves "good" or "evil" or doesn't affect you but is leading others away from God, does that constitute freedom of conscious?
Or perhaps the question is moot. Perhaps the real though process we need to go through is "Life is short. Eternity is long. Based on the time I have here, is this the best possible use of my time for the cause of Christ?" Or said more eloquently by Robert Murry McCheyne "Not a trait worth remembering! And yet these four and twenty hours must be accounted for" and "My heart must break off from all these things? What right have I to steal and abuse my Master's time?"
It kind of takes the guesswork out of what I'm doing. Not is it allowed or not allowed, evil or not evil (although both of these things should be considered), but is it the best use of my time of which I am steward for God and for which I will give an account. If I more consistently filtered my life like this, what would my answer be?
Friday, January 09, 2009
And, being Bogha Frois, she cut to the heart of it pretty quickly.
"Your subconscious is talking to you."
"Your subconscious. It's trying to get your attention."
"Okay...what is it trying to say to me?"
Fabulous. I'm talking to a Croatian Yoda, who is making about as much sense.
She tried a different tack, apparently convinced that my apparent cud chewing was not an act.
"Did you make any goals for the New Year?"
"Yeah. Actually, I spent about three days doing the process. It was good."
"Then it is your subconscious talking to you. It's like when I had the fire and we lost everything. For a time, I had to concentrate on getting my life back together, getting stuff for the boys, finding a place to live, stuff like that. But at some point, I had to get out of the survival mode and get back into life. I felt a disconnect, a sort of barrier like your talking about. So I got new dishes."
"New dishes." Dear Lord, she's finally gone over the edge.
"New dishes. I didn't have a matching set of dishes, and at some point I finally said 'Enough. I'm tired of living like this.' And the way I stopped living like that was to go out and get some new dishes that matched. Plates and bowls for all of us. It was that taking action that allowed me to move on."
"Hmm. So really, what is going on is part of me is telling another part of me that it's time to move on."
"Exactly. It's your mind's way of telling you that it is time to stop holding yourself back, putting self-imposed restrictions on yourself that you cling to because you think they are still relevant. The rest of you is ready to move on, but you are putting up barriers about why you can't. Tell me this: In your goal setting, did set some goals that you really wanted?"
"Yeah, I think so. Some things I really want to do - in one case, I'm ahead of where I planned to be at this time."
"See, that's it. You're ready to go - just get out of your own way. I really envy you, actually. The times I've done that are some of the most exciting of my life."
"I suppose we should all bask in the warm glow of what is you and your thinking now."
"Do you really think so?"
"Yes", I said begrudgingly, because I hate using that line for others - I'd rather use it for myself. "I really do".
And so home we drove, Bogha Frois basking in the warm glow of being right, me in the sinking sunlight with myself, trying to hear what I was apparently trying to say.
I have had the feeling for the last two weeks of being constrained, almost the sense of existing inside an emotional, intellectual, and personal shell of myself - as if I were feeling the non-physical boundaries of who I am.
To what end? I am not sure of that. For example, career: I have tried and tried to mentally "push" myself up into the next level of interest and process in my job field, but I can't seem to muster the enthusiasm to do it.
If I had to characterize how I feel, it's the sense of being a seed, straining against the hard outer walls of the shell - and more annoying is that, like the seed with sun and warmth and water, it is being caused by factors over which I have not control and which I have no knowledge of. I cannot remember having this experience before - the sense of being on a precipice of having to grow or die, of being conscious that I am at the limits of myself - and not understanding where it is coming from or why.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
This is what I get from God at 0415 in the morning - one of those moments where the verse pops into your head, you have no idea where it is in the Bible except that it is there. And then, when you re-rouse yourself from slumber later, it is still there.
I'm pegging this to my post yesterday, especially concerning aligning ourselves with what God is doing, rather than what we want to do. Things that stick out to me include:
- God is actively searching and looking, not just waiting until someone makes the grade.
- He is willing to act on behalf of individuals.
- But there is a condition: He will stir on behalf of those whose hearts are loyal to Him.
Okay, fair enough. What does loyalty mean?
Loyalty (per Merriam-Webster): "The quality or state of being loyal."
Helpful, that. Okay, how about loyal?
Loyal: 1: unswerving in allegiance: as a: faithful in allegiance to one's lawful sovereign or government b: faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due c: faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product
Notice the words there: unswerving, allegiance, faithful, fidelity. Oddly enough, concepts God uses towards our salvation: "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Okay, now I get it: God looks for and acts on behalf of those who are unswerving in their allegiance to Him and faithful to Him. Note that it does not promise how He will act, only that He says He will act.
Fine. Now the part that grinds me down: Am I unswerving in my allegiance to God? Am I faith to Him to whom fidelity is due? Do I seek in everything that I do to demonstrate these qualities? Do I plan my life and my goals around them?
If not, why am I surprised if He does not act on my behalf?
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Fortunately God, in His grace (or humor) provided me with a resource last night that showed up in the ever popular, ever ready to make me smile Amazon box: Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer. He is the creator of Veggie Tales, an ostensibly children's oriented set of videos teaching Christian values ( I say ostensibly, because I actually love the things - and as Vischer points out, part of their early success was actually college students with odd senses of humor). The book is a sort of business biography about himself and the business that he created, grew, and then lost in 2003 over a 14 year period.
In a nutshell (and it is a super small nutshell - you should really get the book), he had a dream: to build a world class Christian entertainment and media group rivaling that of Disney (Walt was his hero). However, what he found, after the collapse of his dream, was that God's point is never the dream, it is our relationship with Him.
I quote Vischer (ironically, quoting someone else): "'If God gives you a dream, and the dream comes to life and shows up in it, and then the dream dies, it may be that God want to see what is more important to you - the dream or Him. And once he's seen that, you may get your dream back. Or you may not, and you may live out the rest of your life without it. But that will be okay, because you'll have God.'" (p. 235)
or here (quoting Henry Blackaby): "' If you start something and it does not seem to go well, consider carefully that God, on purpose, may not be authenticating what you told the people because it did not come from Him, but from your own head. You may have wanted to do something outstanding for God and forgot that God does not want that. He wants you to be available to Him, and more important, to be obedient to Him.'" (p. 239)
or here (this is actually Vischer): "The Christian life wasn't about running around like a maniac; it was about walking with God. It wasn't about impact, it was about obedience. It wasn't about making stuff up, it was about listening." (p. 243)
and "What is 'walking with God'? Simple. Doing what he asks you to do each and every day. Living in active relationship with him. Filling your mind with his Word, and letting that Word penetrate every waking moment." (p. 243)
As I said, get the book.
So what does this have to do with questioning my life decisions? Simple. What is my dream? what do I have to have instead of God, or am using to do "for God" because I think I need to? (Vischer: "Because God is enough. Just God. And he isn't "enough" because he can make our dreams come true - no, you've got him confused with Santa or Merlin or Oprah." (p. 250)).
Well, the one that leapt to mind based on last night was money. Security as defined by the money in the bank, rather than my relationship with God (Somewhere on the East Coast, as you read this, Otis is nodding his head and saying "Yup. I've been trying to get him to ask this question for weeks now"). This was even true at The Firm. Question: If I had succeeded at the Firm - If I had gone either stayed at my previous job or violated a principle and borrowed money - and I had a modest sum of money sitting in the bank right now, would I be feeling that God is enough? Or would I be feeling confident in my bank account to weather the storm, planning things that I wanted to do and buy (and trust me, there's a list at the back of my mind), maybe planning to do even "bigger" things to "glorify" God?
Don't answer that. I already know the answer.
And that's just one. There's more. I just need to dig deeper.
I've added Vischer's blog to my list there. As a man that has failed and come out on the other side, he's got a lot to say.
Did I mention read or buy his book?
Monday, January 05, 2009
I was on the campus of my old Alma Mater. For some reason, it was a combination of dorm/library. I was looking for something - some secret thing, I'm not sure what. I knew it was there, but it was not anywhere I could get to. Someone with me - no idea who -walked in, through the dorm, and into some kind of passage through a room. Going through this room, and down a staircase, and into a library (books -what did you expect from me?), walls and walls of books.
We eventually emerged into the light, and apparently had broken something up - official looking folk, wandering about and going into the library.
And then I woke up.
I gave it not a lot of thought today until Am Polleanach noted "So you sound a little more cheerful in your posts. I think maybe you have resolved some issues somewhere deep in the old subconscious?" I hadn't thought about it that way, but it made sense: I had finally come to a conclusion about some goals, and all of a sudden it was like having pushed my way into a place that I had never been before - or at least couldn't find.
I think I did turn a corner - I'm not just conscious of what it is.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
This became an interesting process, as I suddenly discovered another fabulous web service: scribd (http://www.scribd.com/) which allows one to upload various written documents. On a lark, I looked, and sure enough, many of the modules from my roleplaying days 30 years ago were there. I ended up taking a walk down memory lane for an hour or two, and left feeling somewhat disturbed as well.
Disturbed? For two reasons: 1) I can see in the fairly innocuous games of the time the groundwork being laid for the relative acceptance of evil and occult in entertainment today; 2) One of the reasons that I got out was that "I would never make a living at it", as was true of video games as well (if you were of the era, you remember "How come you keep spending so much time and money on those things? You'll never get a job playing games!") - yet there is now a huge industry in both.
I'm not arguing for the fact that I should have remained in them - the subtle deadening of one's morals to the terrifying reality of evil should be enough. Still, it did give me pause as I went to look at my goals and resolutions this year. Why? Because they involved things that, if I can do them, will help me succeed but which, I fear, I have trouble keeping myself on track - as well as arguing for the benefits of them.
In this area, work is a terrible downfall: it mercilessly tends to focus down to the narrowest of all denominators, that which affects our work and (if we don't like our job) that which we would like to do instead of our job (which, being cast as a fantasy, has as little bias in reality). Part of this process over the weekend was addressing the fact that I find my imaginationatory and intellectual muscles hardening - I make excuses for not doing things instead of trying them because "I don't have the time" or "I don't have the money" - but more correctly, "I don't have the will."
So this year, on top of my goals and resolutions, there is one other: to escape what is becoming evident as the perilous thinking of middle age: it's too expensive, it's not time wise, and it's outside of my job category. This kind of thinking will end up in the very thing I have always feared: a petty paper pushing bureaucrat, marking time for retirement.