Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

cheap signiture

There's this cheap sign someone printed out and tacked to the bulletin board at one of my clients. Actually the bulletin board is the back of someone's corner cubicle. It's a permanent fixture as far as I know, because it's been there every time I have rounded that corner. Here's what it says:


To have a great day isn’t always doing what you like, but trying to like what you must do. Spruce up your attitude and have a great day no matter what the circumstances may be.

I have a word for that: bullshit.

The thing is, bless their hearts, these people are trying. They recognize that life as it presents itself to each of us is meaningless and depressing. But keeping your chin up does not infuse happiness, fulfillment, or destiny. You won't have a great day if you pretend it is. And "trying to like" something is just another way of saying, "lie to yourself". Telling the truth is a much better way to live.

The truth is, life as it presents itself is the lie. There is way more going on than meets the eye, obscured by shades of boredom, frustration, and futility. Salvation from boredom, frustration, and futility is not in selling yourself on accepting life as it presents itself to you. It comes from seeing what is truly going on, from discovering the Story that you were born into and the role that is yours to play. And positive attitudes won't get you there. You have to learn to look through the facade, to look mythically, to look with the eyes of your heart.

Trying will never get you there.

Trying will only get you further embedded into the lie.

More later. I have to go back to work. To do what I "must" do.


Monday, June 18, 2007


The client I work for right now has who-knows-how-many thousand employees. So when you walk in there is a receptionist. Well, when you walk in the North Entrance there is a North receptionist. I suppose there is a South receptionist as well. This woman is incredible. She must be Greek or Italian - something Mediterranean. She's got short black hair, a touch of gray, and is full of life, full of energy. You can't walk by and look her way without eye contact. And usually, even if you're across the way, just walking by, she'll talk to you. She always knows what's going on in the complex, how to get where you want to go, and there are not enough things going on to derail her. The phone can ring while you're standing there, she can answer that, still get you to where you're going, respond to the caller, and be jotting down a note at the same time. With a smile on her face.

Every time I see this woman part of me comes alive. I feel energized. I feel like getting something done. And I have this sense that everything is working, like the world is right side up and someone is probably in charge somewhere.

The other day I walked in and there was another woman there. At first I thought maybe they had switched shifts or something, but after passing several times throughout the day, I realized that the real receptionist must be on holiday. Or (God forbid) promoted. Or quit.

Anyway, this was the day after I had lost my cell phone there. Actually I know what happened. I was reclining on the couch checking my email, when it slipped out of my pocket. Fortunately someone turned it in to security. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I walked up to the desk to ask the new receptionist if they have a lost and found. I waited forever. Well, I am an American, so you have to take that with a grain of salt. Actually, it may have been 45-50 seconds. And I really did wait patiently since she was engaged in something. I hate to interrupt, because I hate to be interrupted. But as I sat there waiting, I started thinking. Wait a minute, I said to myself, she's a receptionist. And even if she's not the real receptionist, I can't imagine that there's another priority for a receptionist besides receiving and responding to whomever walks up to the reception desk. Hmmmm....

She finally looked up, and I asked her about the lost and found. She said to check with security. Fortunately, there was a security guard walking by at the time...who was a real security guard. I asked her about lost and found, she picked up the phone and called down, and in a few minutes, I was sporting my good old cell phone.

You can run into lousy service everywhere, but this one has me thinking. Here's why. The thing the receptionist was looking up from was reading her Bible. She totally ignored me for the longest time, and when she did look up, it was as if she was returning from a trance. I suppose you've heard the term, "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good". C.S. Lewis had a lot of disdain for that phrase, and I think being "too heavenly minded" was not her problem at all. The first receptionist was heavenly minded. Not the second.

I think the receptionists in heaven are like the first one, not the second. I think the bakers and the programmers, and the accountants, and the bike repairmen in heaven are more like the first receptionist. I run into them from time to time, and whenever I do I always feel like my burden is light. I feel inspired to do whatever it is I do with all my might.

Paul wrote in one of the letters collected in the new testament how we should just let people people do whatever they can do. If someone can prophecy, then let him. Likewise, if there are people who can serve or teach or encourage or provide for others or lead or show mercy, then let them do that. It's not "compel them to do it" but "let them do it".

When I think about this receptionist, I just want to say, "Somebody wind her up and get out of her way, and you'll get the best damn reception you could ever imagine." I think that's what heaven is like. And when I'm around people doing what they can do, I'm sure I'm receiving heaven myself, or at least getting a foretaste.


My friend and I were at a favorite coffee bar last Saturday. I told him, "It's really starting to bother me all the waste. I look around in here and see all the cups..."This inspired Christian to write a letter to Starbucks telling them that with 40,000 stores worldwide, they should be more responsible and come up with a way for people to recycle their cups. That or at least make a receptacle for stacking cups so they don't convert more and more earth into landfill space.

I took a slightly different tack. I was inspired to see how many times I could reuse that same cup. It turns out that this cup was a high quality operation. It's coated paper on the inside, and some kind of insulated, styrofoamish material on the outside. I took a Sharpie and made a mark every time I used it. I used it sixteen times. SIX-TEEN. 16.

Anyway, here's the picture.


And here's a graphic illustration of all the cups I would have wasted.

fill fill fill

random thought i've been thinking for about a year

It's amazing how easy it is to be avoided when someone is nervous about running into you.

Friday, June 15, 2007

call it grace

God brings things into my life. Beautiful things. Undeserved things. Unexpected things. Like this painting.

Whenever these days look you in the face, call it grace.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

do what you can do

And because things don't go like they should, a person who lives like he should finds himself in a continual state of frustration and confusion.

My friend Christian was telling me recently about a church that he and his wife used to be part of. The church had this bold, ambitious focus on evangelism, both world and local. It was a vibrant church. And all their talk of evangelism was genuine. As a group, they really wanted to do this. But the problem with groups wanting to do great things is that not everyone can. There are always some members of the group who really can and who are really passionate about something like evangelism, while there are others, who are really talented people with good hearts, but not passionate about—and therefore can't do—the great thing, like evangelism. Been there. Done that.

But even this is fine.

It only becomes toxic when everyone starts thinking that the group should do something, like evangelism.

And really, this is the same situation for lots of stuff in the spiritual life, the religious life. Doing the things you should do will absolutely wear you out. It will age you quickly. You will develop that odd hollowed and harried look.

Please, for God's sake, and for ours: Don't do what you should do. Do what you can do.

For the longest time I lived by the motto "Do what's right and then you’ll live with no regrets”. I have a book on my shelf (not a great book, but a great title) called How to Do Everything Right and Live to Regret It. Exactly. And thanks a lot. You could have told me that before all this.

Do what’s right. Do what you should. That’s the motto of a withered man.

I’m not dissing spiritual disciplines. Not at all. But there is a difference in keeping a spiritual discipline because you should and keeping a spiritual discipline because it is good for you. So, if you commit to a time of regular solitude every week or every day, because it is good for you, well then. But if it’s because you’re supposed to, then please, for God’s sake, and for ours: don’t do what you should do. Do what you can do.

Sometimes, I’ll admit, you have to make yourself do something to begin with, even if it doesn’t seem to work. Running, for example, seems like a completely foreign and counterproductive activity. But for some people, once they force themselves to do it for a couple of weeks, they realize they not only can do it, but they enjoy doing it, and they get lots of benefits. It’s good for them. I tried that. The longer I did it the more I hurt. So I quit. I know. Un-American. But I took up backpacking instead. Same health benefits, and it’s something I can do. It’s something I can be passionate about.

Back to the spiritual disciplines. Dallas Willard talks about the three central ones: solitude, silence, and fasting. Solitude ranks first.

For most of us, Sabbath will not become possible without extensive, regular practice of solitude. That is, we must practice time alone, out of contact with others, in a comfortable setting outdoors or indoors, doing no work. We must not take our work with us, even in the form of bible study, prayer or sermon preparation, for then we will not be alone. An afternoon walking by a stream or on the beach, in the mountains, or sitting in a comfortable room or yard, is a good way to start…This will be pretty scary for most of us. But we must not try to get God to “do something” to fill up our time. That will only throw us back into work. The command is: “Do no work.” Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don't have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.

This is such great advice. Especially for Americans. If there is any killer that is common to just about each of us Americans, it is a lack of solitude. But I gotta tell ya, if even solitude doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. If you can’t do solitude, then please, for God’s sake, and for ours: don’t do what you should do. Do what you can do.

And here’s why I get into trouble. When I start suggesting to people to stop doing what they should, to stop doing that severely subjective thing they call “what is right”, in favor of doing what they want to do, and what they can do—they look at me as if I’m recommending laziness, recommending that everyone just screw off, recommending that they throw in the towel and just go the way of all things.

But if what you can do is hang out with people and initiate great conversations about the stuff of life, then do it. If what you can do is be hospitable, then do it. If what you can do is visit people in distress, then do it. If what you can do is cook, then do it. If what you can do is give money, then do it. If what you can do is farm vegetables or raise livestock, then do it. If what you can do is nurse, then do it. If what you can do is be a good parent, then do it. If what you can do is throw great parties, then do it. I hate listing these things because there’s no way to include one thousandth of what you exclude. So if you can make a list of ways to be yourself, or in other words, to bear the image of God, then do it.

But whatever you do, for God’s sake, and for ours: don’t do what you should do. Do what you can do.

things don't happen like they should

I was listening to this guy called in to a radio shrink. It wasn’t Dr. Laura. It was some Christian man and woman team. The guy was talking about how he was having problems with his 15 year old son, and asking advice. It was a classic case. The host asked him how he was connecting with his son. The guy was stunned. He said he tried to talk to him, but his son wouldn’t listen anymore. The female host interrupted. Yeah, so you’re talking at him and it’s not working. The male host reinserted himself – I asked you how you were connecting with your son and all you could come up with is that you talk at him, but he doesn’t listen. How else are you connecting with him right now? Silence. Poor guy. He couldn’t think of anything. The host tried again. What activities does a 15 year old boy like to do? You could go to a movie together. The caller said his son didn’t like movies. He likes to hunt. Aha! But the times for hunting is spring and fall, and that’s when I’m on the road. The host kept going. He said this was a classic case and started lecturing the guy. I got embarrassed for him and turned it off. The host was right. But there was something else that’s maybe deeper.

Until we realize that things don’t happen like they should, we will continue to be frustrated and confused. We will continue beating our heads against the wall. Teenage fathers should speak to their sons, imparting wisdom, giving them the benefit of their failures and successes, so that the sons don’t repeat the folly of their fathers. Teenage boys should listen to their fathers and respect them. Dad’s shouldn’t have to travel during the times their kids want them the most. Kids should like movies and books that their parents do so that they can share their love of them, and of the great ideas that those stories convey to us. Parents should share in the carefree life that comes naturally to their children. Everyone should have enough time to do everything they want. Love should envelope everything. Should.

But things don’t happen like they should. Not all the time. When they do it’s like an early thaw or a snow flurry in June. When they don’t it’s not because somebody didn’t follow the rules, and they’re screwing up my perfect life. It’s just because things don’t happen like they should. That’s the world we live in. It is made of thorn bushes and sweat and pain in bringing forth offspring. And the sooner we accept this, the sooner we can get on with living.

Yes, your son should listen to you. But if not, you still need the connection. You need it almost as much as he does. So you will have to figure out a way to connect if he doesn’t listen. You may have to listen instead of him. It’s not that it’s right for you to listen to him. And it’s not like someone needs to write a new rule. That’s no the point. The point is that things don’t happen like they should, and we have to live and love anyway. So, we walk humbly. We give up on some of our ambitions. We accept things as they are. I know this is very un-American. But it’s true life.

This song is resonating with me. It's in my heart and has found my voice. I admit to being a Christina Perry fan. I've been known to...