Johnstown

The view over my shoulder….

Sitting at a Starbucks in Johnstown, PA. Killing time, waiting for a wedding rehearsal to begin.

The clientele here is so different. It’s fascinating, to consider the common denominator of a Starbucks; pretty much the same experience, wherever you are in America. Same products, same vibe. Same intentions.

But sitting here in Johnstown, PA, home of the world’s steepest vehicular inclined plane, I’m eavesdropping on the conversation of two farmers talking about endangered animals and oyster beds and how they might be altering their plans for the animals they are raising. It’s fascinating, truly.

And they ordered chai tea.

Life is interesting, all over the place. In these past few days we have done a great deal of traveling; and though we’ve gone to fairly familiar places, we’ve encountered new relationships and dialogue. I feel like I’ve spent 48 hours steeped in the rich, musky mess of people. It’s been raw and open and difficult. And rewarding and deeply rewarding, a rich blessing.

One encounter I had involved a woman who had been anxiously awaiting my arrival. She had a story to tell. In broken but effective English, she unraveled a tale of a long-time relationship – 50+ years – a desperate mother, a faithful friend and a tiny crack in a broken heart that led to a crater of openness to faith and a mighty love from the Creator. I listened, and the hair on my arms rose more than once as she detailed her fervent prayers and a new relationship with this long-time friend.

I met another woman for the first time; an artist, she met every stereotypical expectation of “artsy”. She talked of her art and her work and her gallery; clad in paint-spattered clothes, her short blonde hair and lithe physique camouflaged the fact that she was almost 60 years old. Facts and opinions spurted out of her mouth and then a pause would bring a question: “Now what do YOU do, dear?” I made mention of music and the church and we danced around that topic for a while. She remarked, “Your church sounds interesting…” I asked, “Are you a believer?”

“No. I’m Jewish.”

And then she began to speak of Torah and her relationship with God. She mentioned her study of Kabbalah and referenced a scripture.

Towards the end of the conversation, she remarked, “Maybe God used you ladies to prompt me to get back to my Bible study. I have gotten too far away.”

Life is so interesting.

Weighted

I have never been in a season of life in which there was so much sorrow. So much sickness. So much heaviness of life.

Thursday night at a vocal ensemble rehearsal, someone mentioned that it’s just that the church is big, my circle is bigger, there’s more information floating around. I think there’s some truth to that.

I am thinking this thought:  I am 47 years old. We all come to a time when those around us start to fall sick. We get older, the odds get slimmer. Maybe it’s just time.

But that’s not all it is. I just don’t think that’s the case. It is somehow so much more intimate.

And I am also thinking this thought: Perhaps I am at a time in my life when I truly understand what it means to love. I have landed in a safe place, I have quit playing games and wearing masks, and maybe this is the trade-off for honesty and authenticity. Sometimes, it hurts.

The circle of life and death, of illness and pain, of sorrow – it seems to be drawing closer. Everywhere I look, whatever direction, I see someone I love who is hurting, and not for some minor reason. Over something big, life-changing, seismic.

This is so not about me. It’s about others who are walking much closer to the flame than I. Yet I’m called to walk alongside, and it’s part of the fellowship to bear one another’s burdens.

I don’t really have anything more to say than this. Just putting it on the table.

Sorrow is heavy.

Spontaneous Combustion

At rehearsal last night, we ran through a song that just didn’t work. So we tried it again. I still didn’t think it worked.

This thought was confirmed when the sound engineer pantomimed sticking his head in a noose to end his misery.

We ditched the song. I thought for a minute…waited for inspiration…only once since I’ve been in my current role at PCC have I pulled a song out of thin air. We plan pretty specifically and we generally stick to the plan.

But not this week.

An old song came roaring into my head that would fit the moment. I’ve got gratitude on my mind, which is odd, because these days are filled with sorrow (I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer.) But gratitude is the theme for this part of the worship set.

And so we improvised. I shouted out some chords, said, “Just follow me – you’ll get it.”

And they did.

It’s moments like that when the joy and privilege of making music is most evident. Starting from scratch – no recording, no charts – nothing but our ears to hear and our imaginations to create.

It was a great band, and we had a great time. Because the song came out of the past – like I think the last time I played it was about a decade ago – and I don’t have a recording, I made a scratch track. Which is me using a midi keyboard, wearing a cheap pair of headphones and yelling “PLEASE TURN IT DOWN!!! I’M TRYING TO RECORD SOMETHING!!!!” It’s just past midnight and I just finished. I sent it off to the band so they’ll feel more comfortable for Sunday.

And the magic will happen.

By the way, all this will take place at the Westchester Campus. I’m heading east this week for a little movie theatre church. Undoubtedly, the Powhatan band nailed the song that we killed and they’ll have it all together. They’re going to be awesome. At the movie theatre, we’ll be making it up as we go along.

Well, not really. But it might be a very good day to check out Westchester…9:30 AM…comfortable seats…and great music…and YOU know the rest of the story!

Grin.

Watermelon Redemption

One of the best, most delicious things about summer is watermelon. I have yet to find the perfect 2010 watermelon, but it’s out there…somewhere…

I ate half a watermelon tonight, in spite of its inferiority. Better than pretzels, a substitute for dinner.

Summer food makes me happy. Squash and zucchini and berries, fresh tomatoes.

I was raised in a farming community. The reality of my Food Lion shopping life is so very far from the days of my childhood, when we always had something growing in the garden and would fill our freezer with the meat of the cows that roamed the pastures for a year or so before they “disappeared”. One of my sweetest memories is digging potatoes out of the ground, rubbing off the dirt and eating them raw. My mom canned tomatoes and green beans every year. We ate from our garden, and from my grandparents’ and other relatives’ bounty as well.

My kids have hardly experienced this reality, knowing the backstory of the food that finds its way to their plates. However, we have grown a handful of things in accidental gardens. Several years ago, while living in Ohio, we made jack o’ lanterns, carving fat pumpkins on the front stoop and tossing the slimy, seed-filled innards into the 4′ by 4′ patch of soil by the front door. The next summer, we had huge, healthy pumpkins filling our “garden” – a springtime surprise from October.  When they were younger, the Easter bunny would often bring the kids seed packets (along with the requisite candy basket). We’d grow flowers, mostly.  We’d decorate the small terra cotta pots, fill them with rich, dark soil and each kid would plan their own seeds. Set out on the front steps of our suburban Ohio home, we’d hope for the best – but, in truth, we’d forget about them, ignore them and move on to other projects.

One year, when David was just beginning to toddle throughout the house and find interesting ways to amuse himself, he found the five little pots filled with dirt. Like any two-year old, he only had one reaction: dump the dirt. Come spring time, we had a crazy but fruitful patch of dirt by the front door. That was the year that tomatoes grew up in the cracks of the driveway pavement. Later that summer, David hid my cell phone out in the flower garden.

My kids know what it’s like to bring in our own watermelon or pumpkins, to eat the bounty of fresh tomatoes growing (in the driveway, of all places). But we live like we have no idea – or interest – in the origin of our food.

One of my summer reads is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (one of my favorite authors). The book is well-written, a good read, but it is messing me up. I guess that’s an expected outcome of good literature or truth – it worms its way into your soul, twists in like a fish hook and doesn’t let go. This book disturbs me, because it illustrates how far we are from the honesty of knowing where our food comes from. It convicts me because I generally – to this point – don’t think twice about simply driving to Food Lion to buy, and then eat, anything I crave. It bothers me because it makes me think about what I crave, and how far those cravings often are from “real” food.

I love that summer brings with it an opportunity to buy onions and squash with dirt still on them, to pick out the oddly misshapen squash from a bushel basket by the side of the road. Exchanging currency for the fruit of a local farmer’s labor tastes good. It feels good. But it’s not enough, not for the long term.

I see a patch of land in the place that we hope to call home in another year or so. I’d like to think that I would have the discipline and the passion for a garden in our future. Perhaps my kids don’t know much more than driveway tomatoes, but there is a possibility of grandchildren somewhere down the road. Therein might lie my redemption.

You Make Beautiful Things Out Of Us

Several folks asked about the closing song for yesterday’s PCC services. At Westchester, Lindsay sang; at Powhatan, Elijah and Travis did it.

It’s from one of the most powerful albums I’ve listened to in several years. In it’s entirety, Beautiful Things by The Michael Gungor Band is an incredible journey through humanity, our desperate love for God and his brilliant grace.

The title tune alone is masterful. You may have experienced it yesterday in one of our services. If not, catch a glimpse here of the artists’ unique spin on an acoustic version.

And then try to get hold of the cd and experience the entire thing.

And thank God for moments of transcendental beauty.

Amen.

Horrified

I was speaking with somebody last week. It started with a simple question; I provided the answer, and then asked a question in return that I knew would crack open the conversational door a bit further.

This person began to talk about a topic close to their heart. They are passionate and committed and excited about this topic. Lots of hopes and dreams and plans and ideas.

I was interested. But after about five sentences – which is EXACTLY how I saw it in my mind, I kid you not, I saw their voice as literal words and sentences streaming out of their mouth and hanging above their head – a clear thought came to my mind.

“I only wanted your status update.”

I had to fight to pay attention to what this person was actually telling me. Now, to be fair, I actually was in the middle of some work, but it was a relatively minor interruption, all things considered. I had fifteen minutes to spare.

But then I couldn’t get over the horrific realization that all I wanted was a status update. And it was just that clear to me, even as I sat face to face with this real, live human being. I was conditioned to want nothing more than a brief, pithy update. Nothing detailed.

Oh, man. Is social media influencing and impacting the world? Duh.

Is it impacting me? Duh.

It’s time for a mindful intervention, I think.

God, forgive me.