Engaging with Life
Snapchat has become very popular, and the company is so aware of that popularity that they will file for an IPO in the new year. Sending snaps (photos or videos) is interesting to me in two ways.
The snaps that one sends can be seen by the recipient for one to ten seconds depending upon how the sender sets it up. Then the image disappears forever unless the recipient has taken a screen shot of it and then saved it. But the premise is that it is shared and then is gone.
On the one hand, this is much like a conversation in person, where the words we speak, and the images we create with those words, are here, heard and then gone. We certainly have memories of those words, just as we will remember the snaps that touch us in one way or another. But the idea is that the snap is shared and that’s it.
On the other hand, this technology is one more way in which our society is focused on the immediate, the instantly satisfying, without a sense of deeper engagement. Now I know that looking at someone’s vacation photos, for an hour or two, can seem like an interminable exercise. But the sharing, the engagement with the one who is sharing, can be both meaningful and interesting, if we allow it to be. That deeper engagement is how we truly come to know one another.
But the idea of engaging life has become foreign to many of us. I think of the arts in particular, and of how we try to quickly view art or read literature and expect that it will have an immediate impact on us. If that immediacy isn’t there, then we often move on to find something that is worth our time.
If you have ever read Shakespeare, whose works are generally considered to be great literature, you cannot hurry through those words. It takes time to absorb and understand what he is saying. If you visit a museum, you would do well to sit and spend time with five or six paintings or sculptures, rather than to hurry through all of the galleries and in the process to hardly notice the care with which an artist has presented his or her subject. It is only as we immerse ourselves in the artist’s creation that we begin to see the subtle beauty, or the profound message, that the artist is trying to share with us. If you have ever read poetry, besides the straightforward poetry in greeting cards, then you know that one has to spend time with the words, and the images created by the words, in order to try and hear the poet speaking, not to mention being aware of what you are receiving from the poem, even if that may be different than what the poet intended. Art of all kinds asks for our engagement, for our commitment to spend enough time to truly receive the gift that is offered to us.
It does take time to engage life, to truly be with people, to experience the depth of all that is around us. We certainly won’t engage everything in such a way, but if we never open ourselves up by slowing down and taking time to be present to a person, to a work of art, to our own heart, then we will miss more than we can even imagine.
As we move into 2017, make plans to engage life in marvelous ways. Happy New Year.
Late Night Activities
I wrote last week about a trip to the ER with a member of the church. About an hour after I began writing that entry, my wife suggested that I go out to the car and try to get a little sleep, since I had an all-day meeting once day dawned, which involved an hour drive to the meeting. So, my wife stayed with our church friend, and I went out to try and sleep.
The plan was to sleep in the parking structure, so that when they were ready to go home I could just pull out and pick them up at the ER discharge area. It was a good plan, except that I was getting no cell reception in the structure and so wouldn’t be able to receive their call. After trying several locations in the structure, I headed out to the surrounding streets.
It is amazing to me that so much is going on while I am usually asleep. There were maintenance people power-washing the sidewalks of Westwood. There were homeless people trying to sleep out there on a chilly night. I watched the last car leave the drive-through lane of a fast-food restaurant. I saw quite a few people, whom I assumed were college students, leaving bars around 2:00 a.m. Then there was the crew that was setting up bleachers for what I believe was a film premiere that would be happening the next night. I never imagined so much activity that late at night.
But then came the attempt to sleep. I fortunately had a small blanket in the car. I used a number of cloth shopping bags stuffed into one another for a pillow. And it just wasn’t very comfortable. In addition, the first location I chose had plenty of lights, but that made it difficult to sleep too. The second location was a block away from the crew working on the bleachers. The noise would drift over at various moments. All told, I figure I did sleep about a total of an hour and a half.
But the experience was an education. In addition to so many people who sleep on the sidewalks and in bushes along freeway ramps, there are multitudes of people who sleep in their cars. Now maybe they have gathered enough supplies so as to be a little more comfortable, but I just can’t imagine that people get very restful sleep in such situations. If people are sleeping in their vehicles, and then trying to either work or search for work the next morning, it can’t be a very productive way to go about it. I had a vague understanding of this before my experience, but that night brought it into much clearer focus.
While there are many people who are working tirelessly to help people who are homeless or struggling in other ways, we need to do more. In this season of remembering the traveling couple who were given shelter in a stable out back of an inn, we need to discern the ways in which we can do more. And then we need to do that “more”
May your Christmas be blessed, and may God guide us into greater visions in 2017.
December 16, 2016
On Moving Slowly
Hospitals are seemingly always a buzz of activity, at least the emergency room is that way. If you have ever been in one, as a patient or as a friend or family member, then you know exactly what I am describing.
On the other hand, with all of that activity, there are few places where time seems to move slower than in the ER. On the one hand, we understand the reasons for that, since the most critical patients get the priority in terms of treatment. It is actually a good thing to be made to wait. It means that we aren’t in too critical of shape. On the other hand though, we sure wish they would come and do whatever it is that we need them to do.
It is about 12:30 in the morning as I sit and begin to write this while the person I am waiting with is out of the room for one of the needed procedures. While I would normally be in bed at this hour, being where I am reminds me of how much goes on in our world when most of us are asleep (not even including the brisk activity on the other side of the world where it is midday). It is amazing how in sitting in the ER one could lose track of time, especially since there are usually no windows in such rooms. Time is marked as much by waiting, as by the watching of the clock.
Time is moving along as Christmas steadily draws near. The less time remaining, the more people often feel the stress of finishing the shopping and all of the other preparations. And yet, a visit to the ER means that everything else is set aside, and the focus is on getting well, on recovering from whatever has placed us there in the ER. Such a visit reminds us of the priorities of life, with shopping and wrapping having been moved down that list.
It is perhaps a good thing to check in with ourselves during this season, during these waning days before Christmas, and to ask ourselves how well our priorities are aligned at the moment. If we are harried and anxious, feeling overwhelmed with all that is left to do, are we then even close to celebrating over the heart of this season? Or, are we in danger of missing the gifts of the Spirit altogether?
Let us cherish the simplicity and beauty of the season, and wait for the celebration of the birth with gentle patience and quiet peace.
Joy in the Journey
One of my favorite places to go is the Getty Center, near my church in Los Angeles. It is a remarkable place of art, gardens and more. I occasionally find time to go to the Research Library there, which is a peaceful setting for working. Getting there involves a short, and usually fairly quick, drive on the freeway. But as I started out the other day, I decided instead to take side streets. I wanted to enjoy the getting there as much as I was looking forward to being there.
During the Advent season, and at other times of year as well, I speak often about the journey that we are on together. Advent should be a time of discovery, of tuning into the pathways of coming to that manger in our hearts, and not just a hurrying to get to the 25th as quickly and exhaustedly as possible. So, if I am going to encourage others to make that slower journey, I want to take my own advice and do the same.
It was interesting, as traffic naturally moved slower than on the freeway, to notice the people and sights along the way. There was the woman who appeared to be from India, who was dressed in a long red sweater. Across the street was a heavyset man who was dressed only in a t-shirt. There was the Asian woman out walking her dog. Coming out of a restaurant was a black woman with a sweater on that identified her as a transportation worker. The man in the car next to me had a string of rosary beads hanging near his open window. Interesting people. Fascinating people. I usually wouldn’t have noticed them, but today they spoke to me. Every one of them has people, family and friends, who no doubt care about them. But even though I didn’t speak to any of them, I cared about them, because they weren’t just a part of the mass of humanity to hurry through on my way to get where I was going, but rather they were each unique individuals who had blessed my life just by being where they were when I drove by.
As I live my life engrossed in the small church, I recognize that one of the gifts of a smaller church is that we can get to know one another by name, and can discover beautiful things about each other. To be honest, there are times when I envy the resources of larger churches. They have funds to buy equipment, and to paint the building, and to landscape around it beautifully. They have a large number of people to draw from, as they utilize the many gifts that are in abundance. They have the capacity to do programs that many churches only dream about doing. And yet, while small groups make a difference in larger churches, it can also be easy to get lost amongst the many people. There is, however, no way to get lost in a smaller church, unless you try really hard not to be noticed. Even then, we will notice. We know where you usually sit for the worship celebration, and if you aren’t there then we notice. We value your input at Bible study or in a book discussion, and if you aren’t there then we are less than we might be as we feel your absence. We notice these things in a smaller church.
Of course, even noticing things in a small church takes intention. If we are in a hurry, we may not notice the person who needs a little help with carrying something, or the person who needs a listening ear for a few minutes. We have to be intentional about caring. We have to be intentional about our journey that we share with others.
As I arrived at the Getty Center, and took the tram up the hill, I did what I always do on that short ride – I watched for deer. I have seen them before, and so I could have just checked email instead. After all, deer are deer, right? But I watched. And there was a deer, a lone deer grazing on the grass among the trees. My watching was rewarded. But I didn’t stop. I kept looking. There, feeding on the hillside, were three more deer. Marvelous. Miraculous, every time I see them. It was part of my journey. And all of this happened before I ever got to my destination.
I support the idea of Giving Tuesday. It is both a reminder amidst the spending of Black Friday and Cyber Monday that there are people who skipped both days in order to simply pay for their food and housing (if they even have housing), and it is likely a great gift to many charitable organizations that help people in a variety of ways. But the question is, what about Giving Wednesday?
Years ago, when I worked as a nursing home interfaith chaplain, I quickly learned that while groups of carolers at Christmas time are greatly appreciated, there are usually so many groups wanting to give in such ways that it is difficult to schedule all of them. More importantly though, activity directors and nursing home residents can easily feel forgotten for the rest of the year.
My congregation supports our local food bank. While the Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives of many organizations do touch lives through the food bank, we collect food and deliver it to the food bank throughout the year, because hunger doesn’t just happen at holiday times.
Among other organizations that we support is one that serves youth and children. We collect gifts for them at Christmas time, but we also do something, usually gathering school and art supplies, in the Spring and/or when school begins in the Fall. Yes, we want them to have a great Christmas, but we also want them to know that we care at other times as well.
As I said, I certainly support Giving Tuesday, and I celebrate collections of food and toys at holiday times, and I think carolers bringing joy are wonderful. But think about how you, and perhaps your church, synagogue or other organization, can also be a year-long presence in the lives of those who can use a little help and encouragement day in and day out. Giving Wednesday is important too, and Giving Thursday, and…you get the idea.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.