Watch for Light {Advent}

I face east. Toward the crest of Carter’s Mountain. Jefferson walked those lines. A vineyard sits atop these hills. Today, the trees stand stalwart against the winter; they have shed their fur but are courageous. All is bare. But all is hopeful. Light is coming.
My hands soak the warmth of steaming mug. My breath forms mist in rhythm. This waiting, this watching — a ritual of expectation for the glow to climb over the ridge.
This moment is familiar to many of you. This moment when our hearts are attuned, our eyes restful and hopeful. Light is coming.
This moment is Advent.
In Advent, we watch for Light. We pay attention to rhythm and sound and cadence. Our hearts look for signals. Our hearts lean forward. Light is coming.
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I want to watch for Light this Advent; and, to borrow from John Lennon, I’ll get by with a little help from my friends. I want to keep my eyes open. I want to see what I see. And, just as much, I’d like to see what you see.
I’ve got an idea, and I wonder if some of you would like to join me. Each day of Advent, I’m going to be looking for an image that makes me wonder, makes me ponder, an image that nudges me toward hope or joy or light. I’m looking for an image that reminds me that God comes to us in all the strangeness and commonness of the people and space right around us. And if/when I find that image, I’m going to snap it with my phone’s camera and then share it.

If you’d like to join in, here’s what I imagine:

> a picture posted, each day that you happen upon one
> post it on instagram and twitter (God knows twitter needs some light)
> add #adventpicaday to your post so we can follow along
> perhaps add a title too
> if you want to share a picture but refuse instagram, send me a link where you have your shot. We won’t all be able to follow what you’re doing, but I’d love to see it and perhaps share it on the blog along the way

Each day of advent, I’ll snag one of the pictures and post it here, so we can all have a moment to see what you see, a running commentary on what we’re noticing, the ways we’re leaning toward Advent and Light. If this practice is simply more noise to you, then please ignore it. But for some of us, maybe this will help us face east.

Advent began yesterday, and a few friends jumped on in. For a good taste, we’ll start with 5. Future days, we’ll share one a day:

Reaching for Warmth / elaine davis
Sunset on the Horseshoe / rick stilwell
Line of Light / jason boyett
Light / jeromie rand
Forward Lines / winn collier

 

Halfway

I’m something like halfway. Today, the calendar flips to 40. There’s that moment in every good novel when you’re mid-through, the pages to the left as thick as the pages to the right. And you pause. You sigh deep for the story that won’t let you loose, resting to breathe in the words and characters and memories before you eagerly dive into the long second stretch. This is that moment in the story of my life.

I’m grateful for the place I find myself. I’m in love with the woman who owns my heart. I have two boys who are going to be good men in this world. I’ve learned what true friendship looks like. I even think I’m on my way to learning what I’m about – what I love (and what makes me roll my eyes), where I’m eager to give energy (and what I simply don’t have time for). I’ve learned more of the questions worth asking – and yes, a few answers to the questions I’ve long been asking. Added years brings fewer words but more tears, less BS but more fire. With age, you learn it’s ok to shrug and walk away. I’ve got plenty of time to putter, but no time to dink around with another man’s fight or another man’s dream. If you’re pushing ego, you’ve lost my interest. But if you’re dealing with life, I’m on your team.

And I’m hopeful for where I’m heading. I plan to walk slower and watch closer and get misty-eyed more often. I want to call friends for no reason and kiss Miska for every reason and make space for stories – because stories are the language able to carry the weight of our life. I want to be generous. I want to stop and chat with the trees more often. I want to drink more tea – on the balcony, at sunset, with Miska. I’ve found brotherhood with a few good men — I’ll be sticking with them. I want to craft words that are true to the way I see things, even if what I see is foggy or foolish. I want to keep telling Wyatt and Seth who they are. I want to be a lover.

Travel Trailer Horror Show

piratejohnny

I had a unique childhood.

Everybody says that, I know. But really

My dad was a traveling evangelist, and until the 6th grade, our home was a Kountry-Aire 5th wheel travel trailer. We spent 45 or so weeks on the road, crisscrossing the U.S. By the time I was 12, I’d seen most of North America, touched my toes in the water on both coasts and eaten breakfast at a Shoney’s (or Elias Brothers or Frisch’s, depending on the region of the country) in almost every state of this fair union of ours. Top that.

While there were many advantages to this lifestyle (see earlier comment about Shoney’s), my parents knew there was also a cost. We saw our friends rarely, and we didn’t have a house with a yard and a tree house. So, mom and dad went to great lengths to make sure we didn’t miss out any more than we had to. Add that to the fact that in our house, holidays (all holidays) were big. B.I.G. These were the formative years where I was taught to grab every reason to celebrate. I’m still a believer.

With this backdrop, we come to the Halloween of 1981. We were on a long stretch of interstate, and for hours my dad had been searching for a haunted house. I don’t recall whether or not I had asked for a haunted house – but it was halloween, blast it, and we were going to get the bejeezers scared out of us. The afternoon drug into the evening, and the hours and the miles ticked away with no haunted house or spooky mineshaft or crazy Zombie corn maze to be found.

It was past ten, and my dad pulled into a dark Kmart parking lot (I know, Kmarts are scary – but it gets worse). My folks told my sister Vonda and me to stay in the truck while they went to work. My dad must have gone to the dumpster to pull out cardboard boxes. Fifteen minutes later, a screechy, spooky voice (my mom) insisted we enter the trailer. We had to crawl on hands and knees through the Mine Shaft of Horrors pieced together by cardboard scraps. Lights flashed as my parents howled and screamed and boomed. They hit the boxes and made clanging noises. It was terrifying. And I loved every minute of it.

There are things a parent does for the sheer fact of love. Some of those thing are crazy little moments like pulling cardboard boxes out of a dumpster and screaming your head off so your boy and your girl can pee in their pants and have a good halloween.

Well, mom and dad, it matters. Thank you.

The Frugal Side of Me

You might not know this about me, but one of my many quirks is the delight and adrenaline rush I receive from landing a good deal. I have a bit of an economic fetish. Perhaps my psychiatrist and I should talk about this – but oh, there are so many others topics lined up in the queue. Economics was one of my favorite courses in high school (that and English). When I worked a stint in the corporate world, I was a stock broker – and I still enjoy each time Money magazine lands in my mailbox.

This penchant seems out of sync with the rest of my life and feels like that odd anomaly that counters my reaction to so many other interests and conversations, the ones that make me want to gouge an eye out (any eye, it need not be mine). Not that you care, but my suspicion is that since so much of my life is open-ended, free-flowing and so rarely shows tangible results – this is one arena where I can finish the job and immediately experience the joy of accomplishment. Save a buck. Done.

If you’ll allow me a very odd detour here, I thought I’d share two that are no-brainers for me. Perhaps one of them will help you. If you’d like to add yours below, feel free.

Schwab Bank

I worked for Schwab as a broker, and I love their corporate culture. I’ve gone round and round with banks, and Schwab really is, in my opinion, the crème de la crème. So long as you have an automated monthly deposit, they offer a free interest-bearing account with no minimum deposit required and no monthly balance requirement. You get free checks (always), free online billpay and free ATMs (anywhere). Schwab will reimburse any ATM fee you are charged, up to $9 per month (unlimited if you are also a Schwab brokerage client). And their card is fabulous for international travel. They offer the actual exchange rate for that day and charge currency conversion fee. When we were in the UK, it was cheaper to get pounds as I needed them from the ATM than using a bank. The only downside to this account has been having to mail in check deposits (though they provided postage-paid envelopes to do this). However, as of last month, they have a phone app that allows you to take images of the checks and deposit them from your couch. I’ve been using it for a month now, and it’s amazing. I receive a check in the mail, and I can have the deposit made in 5 minutes.

Blockbuster Express

Blockbuster may be dead, but Blockbuster Express is not. Like RedBox, Blockbuster Express provides kiosks with movies, $1 per night for most rentals (Blockbuster Express has a few hot releases that are $3.99 and guaranteed to be available). The best part, however, is how lavish Blockbuster Express is with their dissemination of codes for free one night rentals (hoping, of course, that you’ll keep it an extra night or two). Coupon Dad lists the current freebie codes. I can’t tell you the last time I paid for a movie at the kiosk. I almost feel guilty. Almost. If you don’t have a Blockbuster Express near you, Inside Redbox offers codes, though RedBox is not as generous.

Waco

We just returned from Waco, Texas, the place I knew as home for so many years. I went by the house where I came of age, ran that same pavement I pounded so many times and caught up with one of my high school football coaches. I sweltered under that familiar Texas heat (in the 100’s). I saw old friends and, most importantly, our whole brood spent time with my mom and dad, sister, brother-in-law, my two delightful nieces – and my 91-year-old grandmother.

This is the kind of place that, you come to find, has become not only part of your memory but part of your being. You may leave a place, but a place like this never leaves you.

I see it with new eyes now. That theater on 25th street that was for so long merely an eyesore – now I wonder about the laughter those walls have heard, the back row make-out sessions those seats have endured, the stories those moth-eaten screens have offered. I wandered into neighborhoods I thought little of years ago. I think more of them now.

There’s that shopping center that offered the best arcade on our side of town, $10 for all-you-could-play video games. The arcade is long gone, but there’s still a snow cone stand on the edge of the parking lot.

Home may be where you find yourself, but the places that have made you send you off into the world with bits and pieces of home to take along. These places will always participate in whatever home means for us now.

Paradox

At the center of our faith stands wooden timbers and melded iron. Heckles and jeers. Arms stretched taut. Bewilderment. Utter loss. Chaos. A sobbing mother. An abandoned son. Love.

At the center of our faith stands raucous joy. The shock of relief. Grave clothes tossed. Embrace and laughter. Empty, empty. Arms stretched wide. An overwhelmed friend. The giddy delight of sweet surprise. Love.

Love is always a paradox.

Talk-o-Meter

The Talk-o-Meter. It’s an app that tracks who monopolizes a conversation. God help us if Miska ever got a hold of this at our house …. Thankfully, she eschews most technology and rolls her eyes at words like “app.”

Wouldn’t it be fun to just set this running at the beginning of a lunch with a friend who never lets you get a word in edgewise, who pauses only to catch their breath and lives oblivious to how they suck the air out of a room? You could simply let the lunch unfold, per the norm. Then, near the end, push the phone to the middle of the table and wait for their question…

What’s that?

Dance, Dance Revolution

Most everybody’s got a cause. I’ve got a few myself. But a confession: I don’t have energy for every cause, maybe not yours.

It’s true that one way to damn the world is to not give a rip. It’s also true that one way to damn yourself is to try to live someone else’s vision. If we’re living another’s life or laboring to match another’s efforts, it’s often because we fear being ostracized or being seen as ignorant or uncultured. This story does not end well.

I do believe that every speck of our world matters. I wish good for every endangered Blue-and-Orange Threadtail, and I wish not a single tree ever fell needlessly. I cringe (and when I’m too calloused to cringe, I wish I cringed) at each wave of injustice, each wrong that must be righted. What’s more, I wish to go on the record in official opposition to every disease, every environmental abuse, every political transgression, every theological travesty. However

When we care about everything in general, it’s difficult to care about anything in particular. And there are certain people and certain places I simply must love … in particular.

Not every battle that must be fought is mine to fight. We each have our place. We each have our voice. The beauty of a life together is that I can work here while you work there, and somehow in this strange way, we’re working together for the good, for the joy.

And that’s a crucial word: joy. Joy offers a cue, signaling what our unique work must be, where our voice must speak. What gives you rich joy when you put your heart and energy to it? And conversely, what brings you piercing sorrow whenever that work is left undone? Answer those two questions, and I think you’ve hit your spot pretty near the center.

Even the revolutionary Emma Goldman recognized this. “If I can’t dance,” she said, “it’s not my revolution.”

*all protest signs are the opinion of the sign-holder and do not represent the editorial opinion of the management of this blog, it’s advertisers or global subsidiaries. To be more specific, we make no assertion that God hates ponies. We do not in fact know God’s opinion one way or the other on ponies. Other than the fact that God made ponies. God also made donuts.

That Word

The word appeared yesterday, offering itself to me, smiling with a lingering curiosity. Would I have the courage to take it up? The word seems tame enough, unassuming; but it asks something of me that will require all my courage. The word asks me to dance when I don’t hear the music, to walk in ways that might make me the fool. The word whispers heresy: there are things worse than being wrong.

This word speaks quietly, but the echoes go on and on. I can play it safe. I can claw after illusions. I can puff up my image and play the game. I can finish each day exhausted with all the machinations. Or I can shrug my shoulders, open my clenched-fists and take a stroll.

Trust.

Foxes and Wrong Directions

I continue to reflect on what it means to be a bumbler. Bumblers aren’t always effective. Management rolls its eyes at bumbler-types. Sometimes we plod. Sometimes we meander. And – praise be! – sometimes we have potent bursts of inspiration that come as sweet surprise. On the whole, we get done what needs done – but rarely as pretty as others who break through the finish-tape in graceful stride.

One of my favorite Wendell Berry lines (from his poem “Mad Farmer Liberation Front“) gets at this:

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

I used to be terrified of wrong directions. Wrong answers. Wrong calculations. Wrong words. Exhausting. It tires me just to type it. Of course, there’s no inherent virtue in being wrong, but the fear of making a misstep can keep a fellow glued to his seat. And you have to get out of your seat to live. Or love.

The fox roams about, making unnecessary tracks, tracks that serve no discernable function. They simply arrive as part of the day’s journey, the day’s discovery. They are what we leave behind as we are roaming, figuring out what exactly it is we are to do and where exactly it is we are to go.

And – as Berry says – all of this is the practice (the living) of resurrection. The resurrection refashions the whole order of things and gives opportunity for every step and every sprig – even the misplaced or misdirected ones – to brim with beauty and joy.