Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hopeful Signs of Order

We moved over to our new place a few weeks back. Getting my office set up -- mostly books! -- has been pretty high on my priorities list since we arrived. I ran into a bit of a problem, though, because the bookcases came with more shelves than hardware to hold them up.

I went to one of those big hardware stores, where I was met at the door by a friendly fellow who offered to help me find things. I need some of those little doohickeys that stick into holes and hold up bookshelves, I told him. Ah, yes, he said with a smile of recognition, and pointed to a distant spot. Look in aisle 17, about halfway back, on the left.

Seriously? There are about a bazillion aisles filled with shelves upon shelves of screws, light bulbs, lawn mowers, plants, appliances, doorbells, carpet, lumber, network cables, and everything in between. He could direct me not just to the proper department, but within arm's reach of the little doohickeys I sought? As it turns out, yes, he could.

We humans are complex creatures living in a complex world. Little shelf doohickeys are a small thing in the greater scheme of things, but that interaction brightened my day. Like handing a package to the UPS guy and tracking its journey -- across the country in just a matter of days on multiple vehicles and through various warehouses! -- the guy at the hardware store provided a wonderful reminder of often-unseen order, and in the process, nurtured hope.

And now my books are home, too :)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

When I was a kid, I wrote a patriotic poem and won an award. It was read at an event honoring military veterans, probably on Memorial Day. The title of the poem was something like "What Freedom Means to Me." It was a decent poem, I suppose. There was really only one thing missing -- I had no clue what I was talking about. My words were simply that -- nice, patriotic words set in rhythm and rhyme.

The poem was not written in disrespect, only ignorance. My strongest memory of that day is a sense of disconnect, recognizing that I really didn't understand why this group of old men had gathered, or why they were still thinking about long-past wars. I was missing something, and couldn't quite catch it.

Thirty years later, that day's experience stays with me. To remember, to memorialize -- these come from the same linguistic root, which speaks of being mindful. On this Memorial Day, nurtured by stories of hundreds of veterans, I am far more mind-full -- of veterans whose lives were lost in war, and of those many others whose lives have been forever changed. While I will never fully understand, I am far more connected now to such individuals as those who gathered in that old V.F.W. hall thirty years ago. I respect the experiences and stories which draw them together, and honor their memories of long-past wars.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Seeing Differently

"A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged. The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of the other map-makers. Otherwise, we live in a closed system … rebreathing our own fetid air, more and more subject to delusion." (Scott Peck)

A friend approached me after an informal group lunch: "I don't know whether you realize what you just did." I thought back over the previous half hour or so of conversation among us, eventually landing on the (blatantly obvious, in retrospect) moments to which my friend was referring. And while I remembered quite clearly what had been said, I'd completely missed the hurt I had caused in the process.

Another time, a colleague called me up: "I'm working through a problem and I keep going in circles. Can you help me find my way through it?" I started asking questions to help me understand the problem at hand, and before I'd even gotten a solid handle on it, my friend had gained his own understanding and found his way through the problem. I've called him on occasion since that day, with similar intent and similar results -- because his assumptions are different from my own, the questions he asks open doors to discovering what is foundational and distinguishing what is not.

My current Sunday School class is an adventure to facilitate, because I never really know what will come up. We read a passage from the Bible, and then we talk about it -- listening first to the text and also to each other, making connections to other passages in scripture and to our lives, sifting both individually and together through what is brought up, seeking together to hear and understand each other and, through that process, seeking to hear and respond to God. Each voice brings something valuable to these conversations.

In all of these and more, I see folks in my life who see the world differently than I do. Such differences certainly contribute to confusion, sometimes to conflict. We muddle through interactions, wrestling with language and assumptions in our shared efforts to understand each other. We try -- not always successfully -- to speak our passions in ways respectful of others. Quite frankly, it can be a lot of work.

At the same time, such people are a safeguard against becoming entirely convinced of my own sometimes-faulty beliefs. They help me to see more clearly and more thoroughly as we first agree together to seek understanding without requiring unanimity. They let me know when my words land with too much force, and when I have danced around an issue rather than addressing it honestly. And by continuing to engage even when it's hard, we create respectful, hospitable space in which we can come together and interact authentically.

I am immensely grateful for the gift of such people in my life.