no straight lines

empty-parking-lot.jpegA couple days ago I was in a virtually empty parking lot and as I looked down through the spaces I could see that not all the lines were perfectly straight. I know for sure that the lines that were drawn work great and that no one would look at the job that the line-painters did and ask for a re-do or a refund. I think that when it gets right down to it we all understand just how hard it is, even with help, to be perfect in anything.

My immediate reaction to these thoughts was to “social media” this out: “We cannot, with our bare hands, draw a straight line or draw a perfect circle. It is by and for grace that we were not meant to.”Receiving grace from another is a blessing and giving grace to one another is, I believe, a blessed obligation. Why is that?

A good friend of mine claims that we are all striving to return to Eden. He’s referring to the Garden of Eden in the Bible. Whether you believe that the Garden was an actual place where God created Adam and Eve, or a poetic symbol of a pure and simple time with fresh wonder and partnership, I believe that we could all find some truth to that claim. I also believe, in the context of our human journey, that with each breath everyone of us is given the chance for grace and to give grace; and that grace ultimately leads to redemption.

Be it redemption to right action, to regaining self-confidence, to restoring peace in relationships or finding the joy in giving and forgiving, there is much to be done. And do we not have a responsibility to point each other in the best direction that we know? Divinely, we were not made with the capacity for perfection. Indeed none of us can claim to have lived a straight line, but this need not be the focus when grace is available to us at every turn to restore, to inspire, and to redeem. For all the grace that you have been given… give those around you that draw less-than-perfect-lines some of that grace.

Luke 12:48 “Everyone to whom much was given, of them much will be required,”

going vegan

Growing up in the midwest and never thinking too much about my diet until I was in my 30’s, I never imagined I would eventually label myself as a vegan. I’m not even sure I heard the term until my late 20’s, only to dismiss it as a kind of diet that only people that wanted to torment their tastebuds, or had health issues would practice.

SO WHY?

The last few years I’ve opened a blind eye (ever so slowly) as to how we get most of the food in our stores, restaurants, and then to our plate. While, I understand that there are many people who only eat animals that are humanely raised, (and I do applaud that effort) the majority of our food in America is brought to us by very low standards of sanitary, healthful, and humane practices. Some resources I’ve personally checked out are Food Inc., Fast Food Nation, Vegucated, Eating Animals and of course you can find some incredibly gruesome, unwholesome, and I would say un-Godly videos on YouTube by searching “factory farming”.

Also, there is much evidence that my health is at stake (not steak) the more animal products that I consume. There have been some incredible studies and documentaries produced on the way that animal protein affects us versus the way that plants do. Some of the things I’ve watched include Supersize Me, and Forks Over Knives which highlights Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who grew up on a dairy farm, became a biochemist and eventually headed up The China Study.

WHAT’S NEXT?

As this choice has become clearer for me, I know that living in the midwest, in the Dairy State no less, many of my friends would never consider such a dietary undertaking. I also have friends that I love and respect who own farms and I very much want them to do well. So, I have promised myself that I would not be one of those judgmental vegans, but instead a gentle one. Aside from the fact that I’m not always perfect in my current endeavors, I’ve already eaten enough meat for a lifetime. Also, food is an important part of all cultures and their traditions. I recognize that to choose other traditions or practices can seem to be a snub or critique. My critique has nothing to do with the millions who hold traditions and tastebuds in high regard; these are good things in and of themselves. My critique has everything to with a giant, powerful food industry that will do anything, and I mean anything, to keep us as customers.

I’m still figuring out how to navigate an omnivore world as an herbivore. It’s a journey that I can only walk with gentleness, and the knowledge that because dietary choices are so incredibly personal that we all have to make our own decisions based on the information that we have and choose to incorporate into our lives. If you feel so led, check out some of these movies and/or books for yourself and feel free to dialogue with me about it.

where’s my voice?

About a month ago I came down with a vicious sickness that left me with walking pneumonia and since the 10th of December I either haven’t been able to sing at all or I’ve been squawking it out with a pretty limited range. As a vocalist and as a church worship leader, this has been an incredibly frustrating month. Not to mention that Christmas Eve, even though it worked out beautifully (and it really did!) was not what I had planned. But what are plans right? Our personal dictation to the future? The future snickers at us.

So I’ve been feeling sorry for myself quite a bit as of late. Wondering how long this will last and taking it personally; like life is being mean to me by not letting me “express myself.” Sure, to a degree there is a physiological response when we can’t fully do what we normally do, be it physically, mentally, artistically or even professionally. However, as is usually the case, I had a much needed wake up call the other night.

Through a video I saw, I was reminded of the millions and millions of people around the globe that essentially have no voice. They are stuck in their situation of extreme poverty and hunger and sometimes violence with no way out. They live in tin shacks, or tents or nothing. Sickness prevails with little to no treatment. Their water is polluted. Each day is an intense struggle with no end or hope in sight.

Then there are millions of us that sit in warm houses with cabinets full of food. And while we sit on cushy couches turning up the volume on our favorite show or game, those with no voice get quieted that much more.

Yeah, my singing voice is crap right now and I have no clue when that will change, but I’m not mute. My “voice” is not limited to notes sung into a microphone. There are other ways for me to speak out in compassion. Whether it is listening to someone who is hurting, giving to a charity, figuring out what is at the root of my kids’ tantrum, spending time volunteering in my community where there is need, educating myself on what my spending or eating habits are doing to the planet, animals, or even my own body, and then acting on that, I have a voice and so do you.

We each have our own songs to sing in 2013. Don’t shy away from the mic. Someone is counting on you to take your turn.

cemetery thoughts

Yesterday my day’s work took me deep into rural Wisconsin. Along the way I drove by a cemetery. It was extremely foggy and unseasonably warm. On my way back home I decided to pull into the cemetery and look around. I’ve never shied from a cemetery. For some reason I’ve always found more comfort than creepiness there.

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As if the quietness of the rural area isn’t enough, the stillness of the cemetery grips me. I exit my vehicle. The sound of the door shutting is quickly swallowed up by the fog and replaced by the occasional falling leaf hitting a few branches on its way to its final resting place.

The headstones take seriously their job of telling a story with more mystery than truth. Which is a testament of continuity as it seems that we humans, even when alive, seem to prefer that method of storytelling. I gravitate to the older looking headstones. I guess I believe that the faded rock and veins of mold will connect me somehow to a time “farther back”. Do I think that I could more easily grab the vanished moment of last week than I could May 26, 1908? And which one would be more valuable or novel of a find?

I kneel down in the wet leaves in front of a gravestone with a small picture of a man on it. He died in 1942. The picture was, no doubt, taken a few decades before that. I wipe the dew and dirt away. The stillness of his faded image is contrasted with the cool reddish brown mud dripping over my pink fingertips. I honor him by noticing the dampness of the leaves seeping through denim onto my knees. After all, he helped fuel this tree. And it has returned the favor by decorating his grave just in time for fall. One day I will nourish a tree or some flowers, and so will you. Brings new meaning to the sentence “I like to compost.”

I visit some other names and numbers and am struck with how there is no apparent rhyme to any of it, but then I realize that the verse is not in the stone carvings. The verse is in what is heard by the listener. I am the silent listener today. There is no noise of self-pity here. I need nothing from these names. I am free to conjure up as much kindess as I dare with no expectations of anything in return.

I snap a few pictures, and drive away. The question is then birthed “What if I could transfer that ease with which I cared for the dead, to the living?” What if I were full enough, on a heart level, to not need anything from those around me? What if that freed me up to cultivate as much love and kindness with no expectations of it coming back my way?

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There is no place like a cemetery to remind you that you are truly alive. However, the thoughtful filling of your lungs will do the same thing. Be alive. Be grateful. Don’t pity yourself, share it.

birthday blog. turning 37

This has been a year of learning for me. I’ll get to that list in a minute, but first, a quick update. Since my last birthday I’ve taken two classes centered around film making. Learning editing software and techniques is the main goal. I also had ankle surgery in Feb of this year and it went perfectly. I’m back running around and all of that.Alissa and I had our 3rd (and final) child. Briar is her name and cuteness is her game. She’s getting smilier every day and that’s a day-maker for sure.The birth went terribly. A C-section with all kinds of complications (and the anticipation thereof) made for a rough summer. But we had amazing help from family and friends and Alissa is tough so she’s making it happen. My love and admiration for her grows all the time.

River started full-time Kindergarten. That’s a blog (not just an entry; an entire blog) in and of itself. Rainn is getting a great handle on the English language. His usual gentleness and willingness to go along is refreshing and welcome in this house.

Ok, so here’s a list of some things I learned this year.

I learned that: 

– no matter what you write or say, people will read or hear exactly what they want to read or hear.

– most of the things I think I know are a small part of a bigger story that requires me to keep listening.

– the greatest skill we can cultivate is our practice in reading books that speak into our soul and challenge our mind.

– being a person of faith means doing more “refreshing” than “recruiting”. People don’t want to be sold something, they want to be saved from something.

– small, quiet panic attacks aren’t fun.

– my favorite moments as a parent (so far) is being a part of the brotherhood of my sons.

– you can’t identify yourself by your child’s performance (good or bad). That will get in the way of your love for them.

– I fall more in love with Alissa at every turn.

– Alissa is roughly 120 times tougher than I am.

– one should only read the book of Ecclesiastes while playing the song “I’m Walking on Sunshine” in the background.

– the phrase “I’m just too passionate” actually means “I’m too immature to know when to be quiet”.

– sometimes the doctor knows best, and sometimes the doctor doesn’t know at all.

– I am not doing enough to affect change.

– Twitter rocks, because being a jerk in 140 characters or less, is much harder than comment-puking all over a Facebook status.

– the lullaby of the familiar is an incredibly effective way to keep the mind asleep.

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I think that’s enough for one year. I have many things to be thankful for, and I am. May your October be beautiful and your Halloween be relatively uneventful.