Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lake Smell

With the warm summer weather here, we've got the swamp cooler going steadily now. It sometimes blows "the lake smell" into our home along with the cooling air. It is an odd odor, and distinctive. I've got friends who loathe the lake smell, but I rather enjoy it. Not so much the fishy weirdness, but the memories.

Photo by Eve Andersson

I taught for six years at a place just east of the Great Salt Lake. The job had its frustrations, but my colleagues were generally quite good to work with and I enjoyed the students. The lake smell was strongest during my favorite times of the year. It reminds me of sunshine, attractively simple landscaping, little egg fountains, birthday pies from Marie Callendar's, colleagues with similar appreciation for particular office supplies, and a variety of I-can't-believe-that-just-happened stories.

The lake smell reminds me of change -- in seasons, in knowledge, in understanding, in students and in myself. It reminds me that we're always in the process of becoming, and encourages me to choose well.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

CPE Graduation

The annual CPE graduation ceremony took place in the chapel of the VA Medical Center this past Thursday. There were a total of fifteen graduates from the programs at the SLC VAMC and Alta View Medical Center. As an annual event, it was a celebration together of people who have completed the program during the past eight months. We were joined by family and friends, patients, staff and volunteers. I'd met quite a few along the way, and enjoyed visiting with them again. Presence of KSLDeseret News, and a big cake also added to the atmosphere of commencement.

I served in the VA program, finishing up my year in November. It is a bit odd to have eight months between completion of requirements and the graduation itself, and good, too. This in-between time created space for pondering. November was very full. I was glad for opportunity to consider more deeply, beyond such rush.

John 13 tells the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Simon Peter questioned and resisted, then sought more than was offered. Jesus' correction is significant: Peter had been made clean already, and his need now was to be freshened up after the usual encounters of life. Jesus' instruction is significant, too: "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." I have been a recipient of much love and learning, and I am intent on sharing also with others.

As a graduate, I had a front-row seat, which was great for watching people and even taking some pictures...

As is typical in graduation ceremonies, there were platform people. Jeff Price is one of those. I haven't talked much with Jeff, but seeing him reminded me of one interaction in particular. It was a group setting, and the group was an interesting mix of engaged and distracted. Jeff was quiet and attentive throughout. When he spoke, it was apparent that he'd been listening through the surface, and he was both willing and able to speak to the deeper parts. I remember him for that, and am grateful both for his genuine presence and his example. It reminds me that one person, even just one interaction, can make a difference in the life of another, and I want to be attentive to those opportunities.

Chaplain Mark Allison is the CPE supervisor. Much like his leadership in the CPE process itself, Mark listened during the graduation quite a bit more than he talked. He is a gifted chaplain and skilled supervisor, and both are important. Even more, I found over time that I could trust his character, which is foundational. His example has taught me much about grace, hope, courage, and respect, in addition to helping me develop skills in ministry.

Four students spoke during the graduation. Each approached it a little differently, which reflected their individual personalities, backgrounds, and experiences. As I listened, it represented to me the uniqueness of each person in the program, in the hospitals, in our communities, in life. Every person has a story, and every person's story matters.

The traditional Blessing of Hands followed. Washing with water symbolizes purification; oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit at work, healing, and an offering to God. As Chaplain Slade read the blessing, I thought of God's message to Abram in Genesis 12: "I will bless you... and you will be a blessing." As in John 13, God's blessings are wonderful gifts to be received and enjoyed, and it follows that others will benefit also from what God does in the life of each individual.

Rev. Esteban Montilla was a special guest in this graduation. Rev. Montilla is serving as President of CPSP, the organization which accredits the CPE programs at the SLC VAMC and Alta View Hospital. Rev. Montilla spent two days in Utah, watching, listening, speaking (more on that later), and otherwise engaging with a variety of people. I've had a few opportunities to interact with him, and see him serving well in leadership of a unique organization.

This being a graduation, the "now what?" question naturally comes up. What will we do next? Our stories moving forward from here will be as varied as they were before we started. I  look forward to seeing what God will do next.

Friday, July 29, 2011

You Want Me to Do What?

There is a tall sign next to the freeway just east of the I-84 exit into Burley, Idaho. It originally advertised a business, but has since been re-purposed. The body of the sign now has a different cover with these three words:


For the record, I am not a fan of corruption. Let's just get that out of the way quickly. I don't propose replacing the message with one advocating increased corruption in elected officials. But this sign leaves me scratching my head. It seems to be intended as a sort of advertising, which by definition attempts to elicit a particular response from its viewers. It is also phrased as a command. My question: what does the sign-owner hope to accomplish by posting those three words in a huge font next to the freeway?

The desired action is abundantly unclear. How many people actually read it and think "Oh! Y'know, that's a new idea -- maybe corruption is undesirable, and we oughta try to get rid of it"? I'm guessing... not many.

And whatever "vote corruption out" means, I can't help but notice the negative tone. Why not instead propose that we "vote integrity in"? Still not precisely actionable, but it would suggest a more positive attitude and may be more persuasive as a result, simply by making the speaker a little more relate-able.

There is a strong political component to all this, of course. I'm not getting into that. What I am talking about is purpose. Political views aside, I am guessing that sign does not have the effect intended by its creator(s).

The purpose question is a good one in all sorts of interactions, not just roadside signs. Ultimately, what am I trying to accomplish, and is this course of action likely to get me there? The audience is worth considering, too. How can I communicate my thoughts in ways that make sense to this person where he/she is, rather than expecting this person to approach me from my own perspective?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Drive-Time Mulling

This was a good day for a long, quiet drive.  Good thing, because I was coming back from Nampa.  The 335 miles is just about perfect -- enough to allow thoughts to percolate, not so much that it drives me crazy.  On my mind today:

Influential people in my life
Building relationships
Significance of community
Planning special events
Camp memories
Significant interactions
Tasks I need to complete
Things I'd like to learn
Road trips
Developing relationships and sub-cultures
Sermon ideas
Policies and procedures
Priorities and values
Concentric circles of ministry impact
College memories
Structure and flexibility

It will certainly need to be sifted and sorted some more, but there is plenty of good stuff in here.  I appreciate the memories along the way, and look forward to seeing the plans take shape.

I'm glad to be home, and grateful for the space and time in between there and here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Looking Forward to... Nothing?

The final Harry Potter film came out recently and apparently had a pretty incredible opening weekend. There has been quite a lot of excitement from fans.

The film series started around ten years ago. Regarding this film being the final one, a ten-year-old responded, "I am really sad because this is sad, and this means there's nothing to look forward to. Nothing."

This kid has never actually lived in a world without this film and its characters. And this kid is young enough that reliable perspective may not be well developed yet.  Still, it's sad that something like a movie series is seen as so central -- not just by this kid, but by many other people, including adults I'd expect to have a broader view of the world.

I enjoy opportunities to share movies and other experiences with others, especially when they have a significant impact in some way throughout our culture, and it is fun to have things to look forward to. At the same time, it's worth remembering that there is more to life than a movie.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


This is not me, nor from yesterday.
It's on Google Maps...
Driving into town yesterday, I saw a young child on a two-wheeler with his mom (or someone who looked mom-like) running alongside.  They were on the sidewalk next to this busy street.  The boy was clearly learning to ride his bike, and naturally wobbled quite a lot.  The mom looked a little awkward jogging, probably at least in part because of footwear not designed for such a task.

I never had training wheels when I was learning to ride a bike.  I had Dad instead.  He took me to (I think) the playground of the local school.  It was a large piece of solid ground with no cars and few obstacles.  I was not entirely pleased, though, because it was a large piece of solid ground and I knew it would hurt to fall.  I questioned why he wouldn't teach me on a lawn.  That would be softer, right?  Why did he take me to a large landscape ripe for blood and bruising?

As I gained bike-riding experience that week, I began to understand my dad's reasoning a little bit.  Though it seemed riskier and more frightening, his choice was an act of wisdom and kindness.  He knew that I would be more stable on hard ground and could learn to ride much more easily.  I might be a little more likely to get hurt if I fell, but quite a lot less likely to fall in the first place.  (And I don't know whether I would have even been capable of learning on grass.)  That was an important lesson.  It still is.

I'm older now.  Life still holds challenges and hazards.  Encounters with these challenges and hazards create decision points -- in recreational activities, conversations, workplace situations, relationships, and more -- which call me to balance degree of risk with likelihood of harm.

This is me, freefalling with Phil,
a couple miles above the ground.
That's part the reason I went skydiving (tandem) last year.  It was arguably unnecessary and I physically risked far more than a few bumps and bruises.  In case that reality wasn't already abundantly clear, the liability release form described in some detail the possibilities of severe injury and even death.  Why take the risk?

I wasn't foolish about it.  I did my homework to make sure the place I went had a good safety record.  I listened attentively to the instructions given.  The fellow I was strapped to is knowledgeable and skilled.  Though willing to risk death a little bit, I certainly wasn't inviting it.  Perhaps I wasn't as entirely safe, but I was safe enough.

Ultimately I chose to jump because there is risk, too, in not doing things like that.  There is risk of trying to build in so much safety net that it becomes a crippling force and makes it impossible to sustain forward motion.  I knew I'd probably survive the experience in full health if I jumped; I was less certain that I would be fully healthy if I didn't make intentional decision to do something like that.

And really, it was just skydiving.  Most decisions aren't like that one.  Most of the challenges and hazards requiring a decision of me in the course of everyday life are more difficult.  The ones I see most?  Conversations.

It is tempting sometimes to build in a grassy cushion around conversations, creating a soft place to land in case something goes awry.  We can build cushions by not speaking truthfully, by avoiding difficult topics, by avoiding difficult relationships, by refusing to allow ourselves to be at all vulnerable.  Thing is, too much "cushion" hinders the relationships that conversations should nurture instead.  It keeps us from growing and moving forward.

Of course, like in skydiving, there is no reason to be foolish.  It is right and good to develop conversational skills.  It is appropriate to gradually trust more those who consistently show themselves to be trustworthy.  It is good to seek input from people skilled in difficult interactions.  Some conversations carry risk of relational death, and we need to be willing to take that risk, to be incompletely safe while still safe enough.

Last night as I drove past the mom running alongside the child on his bicycle, I glimpsed their faces in my rearview mirror.  The young boy looked nervous still, and the woman with him wasn't entirely comfortable, either.  At the same time, though, both faces were lit by smiles and both appeared genuinely delighted.  It seems they decided that a little reasonable risk was totally worth the freedom and joy available as a result.

That little boy and his mom are a reminder and an encouragement for me today.

"Courage is not the absence of fear,
but rather the judgment that something else
is more important than fear."
(Ambrose Redmoon)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Here and There

Daycare Dogs

Sometimes when we travel, our dog stays with his friends at a local doggie daycare. The dogs play together under the watchful leadership of people who care for them, and who correct as needed when they start playing rough or otherwise causing trouble. It's a place for dogs to be dogs. Sirius likes it there, and he is always happy to go.

Sleepy Sirius
When we pick him up from boarding, Sirius certainly doesn't resist. He runs excitedly to me, ready to climb into the car and go home. As much as he enjoys visiting his canine and human friends in doggie daycare, he's always happy to come back with us. We are his people, and this is his home.

Without much personal choice in the matter, Sirius finds himself taken to other places, beyond his usual comfortable routines. Sometimes that presents challenges, but he generally seems to trust that he'll be okay eventually, and with that trust, he engages wherever he goes. As I watch the dog, there is something about his contentment and enthusiasm that I want to keep nurturing in my own life, too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mountains in the Spring

I love the mountains nearby, especially in the spring.  The snow melts off as the weather warms, nurturing new life with water and sunlight.  Green vegetation reappears, enough to be seen and admired from our house miles away.  The beautiful white top remains awhile longer, a constant reminder of what has been and what is yet to come.