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Archive for the ‘Preparing’ Category

Homelessness…

Last year the church where I am pastor, Eastminster, took a wonderful step to provide space for up to 60 people in homeless families during the winter months in Portland.  It has been a wonderful experience for me and for the church to provide a safe “home” at least for a season for some of the most vulnerable among us.

I don’t know if that experience became a catalyst for this pilgrimage or not.  I do know that when I was describing the nature of pilgrimages in general, and this pilgrimage in particular, I stated that a pilgrimage is a time of “intentional homelessness.”  Even as I write this I am aware of how frequent the theme of home has already come up in my previous blogs.

Today, I got the strongest wave of feeling homeless than I have up to this point.  Yesterday, I shared about the experience of being at the threshold to something new.  Today, I must have stepped just a little further over that threshold.  I leave tomorrow on this pilgrimage.  The day has been filled with closing up shop.  I answering the final emails, activating the out of office response, shipping the cat off to my kids, and packing and loading the bike for the trip.

I am thankful that I have never truly been physically homeless.  But, today has been a strange day.  I haven’t wanted to linger in conversations with the clerks at the check out stands like usual.  It’s not just because I have an overly packed day.  I suddenly feel very disconnected to them and the world that I have here.  I know I need to take the time to say goodbye to the last few people I’ll have contact with.  But, I already feel gone.  My new world is already out there on the road.  I am still physically here but my head and my heart are out there.  I still have an apartment to come back to as well as a job and wonderful family and friends.  At least for the moment, however, this doesn’t feel like home.  I have to ride away to find it again.  T.S.  writes,

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”

There is the need to leave and explore.  There is the need to walk away from home just long enough to discover home freshly anew.  In prepping the community around me for this pilgrimage I called it a time of “intentional homelessness”.  I think I am starting to know just what that feels like!

…Sobering

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I have only felt this way a few times in my life—just before getting married, in the days just prior to my first child being born, and just before standing before the 150 people for my trials of ordination.  The interesting thing is that in every one of those cases I was hounded by a visceral fear even though I was entering a stage of life I desperately wanted and worked for.

 I am going to call this “The Threshold”.  It feels a little like that moment just before jumping off the diving board for the very first time.  The only reason you would even do it is that the children who are already in the water look like they are having a rip-roaring blast of a time.  Without the evidence of something good on the other end, only a rare type of child would make that jump from the security of a diving board into the belly of the whale—that churning, mysterious and potentially dangerous water.

 If I didn’t know better I would think that the nervousness in my belly was trying to warn me of something.  If I hadn’t already had the experience of crossing that threshold into the wonders of marriage, the delight of children, and the life that ordination has given me I would be tempted to call this whole thing off.  “It was fun to play with the idea of this little 4000 mile bike ride,” I might say, “but now that the rubber is about to meet the road, I am discovering that this might be HARD!”

 I have enough life experience now to tell me that the squeamishness in my belly is not a warning to run away.  It is a reminder that I am about to cross into a new kind of life.  I really don’t know what that life is going to be like.  But, I recognize the feeling.  A child can’t know how great it feels to jump into that water until he actually does it.  He can see it on the faces of his friends, but until he musters up the courage to take that final step out beyond the board, all he knows is that he is abandoning the safety and security of the board for the water and its inherent risks.  The same is true for marriage and the birth of children.  We can’t know what it is like to be married or be a parent until we step over the line and cross the threshold.  In the meantime, we sometimes get “cold feet”.

Fear is a funny thing.  Sometimes the message is “run like hell”.  And sometimes the message is “Go ahead and jump and know that life will never be the same.”  The movement in my stomach tells me that I am at another threshold of life and discovery.  No Pepto-Bismol can cure this.  This is a call to trust.

What that’s I hear?  “Go ahead and jump.  The water is fine!”

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I have a good friend who asked a great question, “I’m curious about how a 21st century man will create pilgrimage for himself?”  She went on to ask about phones, emails, wearing a watch, and even using a speedometer/odometer.  My favorite remark of hers was, “How will you silence US?”

My friend was definitely on to something.  If I simply left home but felt the pressure and the need to keep up with all of my commitments and relationships then it wouldn’t be much of a pilgrimage.  It would be like one of those unsuccessful vacations where you leave, but have to check your email every hour.  It would be my same life, just drug along behind the bike.  That sounds like work!

This pilgrimage is going to take some discipline on my part.  I am taking a Netbook (pint-sized laptop) and I will have a cell phone.  The commitment I have made to those closest to me (my “peeps” as my kids say) is that I will communicate enough for them to know that I am safe.  Beyond that I intend to let the pacing and the yearnings of my soul guide me.  I don’t know yet whether I will want a full ten weeks of emotional solitude.  I don’t know if I will start with solitude the first weeks and then slowly build connection back in later in the trip.  I don’t know if I will develop a daily rhythm where I settle into a period of solitude while on the bike and look forward to connecting with my “peeps” in the evening.

In this sense, this is truly an emotional pilgrimage.  There are some things I need to discover about myself.  I do know that if I feel compelled to respond to friend’s emails I will fall back into patterns of meeting other’s expectations of me rather than discovering what I want for myself.  My friend asks, “How will you silence us?”  I think what this intentional pilgrimage provides is a way to say, “I need to time to be with Brian without worrying about others feeling abandoned or neglected.”  As a pastor I struggle with that.  My identity is built on being able to intuitively know another person’s needs and address them before they even know what they need themselves.  It’s a great skill!  It also has hidden costs.

So why then do I have a cell phone and a computer along for the ride?  If I need the solitude so badly why would I jeopardize that with convenient gadgets?  The real purpose for the cell phone and computer is not so that I stay connected;  it is to share the experience of the journey along the way.  It is my way of going out into the wilderness and letting others peer into the window of this experience.  But, my friend is right.  In this 21st century there isn’t much wilderness left if we can connect to each other with the push of a button.

She asks, “How will you silence us?”  I respond, “I am going to have to remind myself over and over again that this is MY pilgrimage.  This is about MY growth.  This is about MY connection and relationship with God. This is about MY experience of the sacred.”

I can’t silence the world in this 21st century environment.  But, I can trust that the world won’t fall apart if I bow out for just ten short weeks.

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Okay, it is official now.  I have heard from three experienced cyclists who have taken long cross country tours ranging from five weeks to ten weeks.  All three of them said the same thing:  Beware the 2nd week!  I heard what I expected to hear.  The first week is new, fresh and exciting.  Each morning is filled with the anticipation of taking on a new challenge and encountering new people along the way.

Then something happens.  An invisible, nearly impenetrable wall hits you.  You suddenly realize that you have four, six, or nine more weeks of this.  The close friends and family that you have depended on are now 500 miles behind you and getting farther away with each pedal stroke.  The comfort and security of home has been erased as you improvise hour to hour your food, drink and sleep.

Yesterday, I celebrated July 4th with family and friends and we made the party a “Send Off” gathering as well.  My son told me about his work colleague who was the third of my “Beware the 2nd week” informers.  This person said the first time he attempted a multi-week cycling trip he gave up and came home after ten days.  Since then he has successfully completed a number  of them, but that first one unnerved him.

I must have had that on my mind as I slept last night because I awoke today unnerved as well.  A dream stayed with me this morning that has forced me to take a deep, sobering breath.  The scene was an Olympic skulling race where rowers were competing on a one-mile stretch of water.  Somehow I was dropped onto an island platform just above the furthest point out to sea.  My task was clear. I was to jump in and swim alongside the skullers back to shore.

I was feeling calm and mildly confident about the challenge.  The environment seemed safe and controlled.  There were four race lanes each with a skulling boat slicing speedily through the water.  Then suddenly it occurred to me that this was the same water where officials reminded people that the water was so cold hypothermia usually settles in within about ten minutes.  I wasn’t going to be in a boat and I knew the swim would take me closer to an hour, far beyond the realm of safety.

How did the dream end? Well, I found myself still readying for the journey ahead fully aware of the risks, yet with a strange mixture of both confidence and resignation to what the outcome might be.  The warnings didn’t seem to change anything except for the growing realization that this was no afternoon swim in the heated gym pool!  I stood there feeling that there was no turning back.  I was out in the ocean on this platform and there was only one way back to shore–swim the mile in the cold, frigid water.

I do admit to feeling sobered this morning.  I am pondering this strange feeling of being keenly aware of the risks and trusting that I will move through this pilgrimage fully intact.  I think the 10-minute rule in the water from my dream represents the 2nd week warnings from fellow cyclists.  In the dream I had this image that despite the warnings I was going to break through that 10-minute hypothermia barrier and find a calm, strong pace to take me back into shore.  I somehow felt both sobered by the realization and confident at the same time.

Now back to reality!  I haven’t even got to the 1st week yet.  For now it is errands and a few more miles in preparation.  And to my three fellow cyclists, “The warning has been noted!  I’ll be praying for invisible hands when that time comes!”

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“Be safe.  Have fun. Come home.”  With these last words, Ian and I parted after enjoying our monthly breakfast, conversation and blossoming friendship.  As the day wore on the words “Come home” continued to resonate in my mind and heart.  I knew that they had struck a chord as he said them, but I was too busy and too focused on a crammed schedule to allow much time to actually feel them.

Sometime in the evening I had the first recognition of why my heart was stirred by Ian’s words.  In the page “About” in this blog I end it with this pilgrimage summary, “Looking for God.  Seeking the sacred.  Leaving home.  Coming home.”  When I wrote those words I knew what it meant to leave home.  I knew that I was leaving behind images of what home means here in Portland.  I knew that I had to let go of my traditional images of what being a pastor means.  I knew that I had to let go of my expectations of where my life was “supposed” to be at this point.

When I wrote those words “Coming home” I knew instinctively that pilgrimages end with a sort of coming home, except that home is almost always transformed.  It is rearranged.  Some doors have closed.  Others have opened.  Priorities shift.  What once seemed foreign may become intimate.  What was once intimate may become distant.  My head knew this instinctively, but my heart really did not have any idea of what home would look like when I returned.

Ian’s comment was the first inkling that I DO recognize where home is.  It wasn’t the fact that Ian had named a general reality in his blessing.  It was the fact that Ian himself, a person I have grown to love and respect and enjoy, had said it.  It is one thing to say that one feels a general sense of belonging in life.  It’s another thing to say, “I belong to this person or to that person.”

I don’t want to stretch this too far with regard to Ian.  I don’t want him to start feeling weird and have to explain all this to his lovely wife!  But, I heard echoes in his comment that began to ring true for me.  I do know that I need to leave home for a while in order to discover my true home.  Until his comment, I knew instintively that I would be having a “coming home” experience.  I just couldn’t dredge up images of what coming home might look like.  After Ian’s parting blessing yesterday I felt the first yearnings of what I am coming home to.  What is a general principle about pilgrimages is already starting to form into a very rough picture.

There is a wide canvas still to paint.  But, the first splatters of color are starting to show up.  I WILL be coming home.   This much I know about that:  Home will have a room for my two amazing children, Phil and Julie, and the loves of their lives.  There will always be a room in my heart for my good friends.  The walls of this place called home will always be painted with the colors of compassion, beauty, and service.  It doesn’t matter how far away I go.  Those things will never change.  And now I know that.  Thank you, Ian, for your gift!

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I received an email from one of the most important people in my life–an old college professor who inspired me and who had a pivotal role in taking me from a timid, shy student to a confident more self-assured young man.  He still lives in Caldwell, Idaho where I attended the College of Idaho.  I anticipate that I will be traveling through Caldwell sometime around July 18 or 19 on this pilgrimage.  I emailed him and said, “I really, really, really want to see you when I come through.”  I haven’t seen him for over 20 years.  So much to catch up on!

Unfortunately, he is out of the country for the summer in Jerusalem, a regular destination for him.  He wrote back and said, “THIS is the place for a spiritual pilgrimage.  Next time jog through God’s city and not Caldwell.”

I hate to be the student who disagrees with his teacher, but I think my dear old professor is wrong on this.  There was a time I probably would have agreed with him.  Spiritual pilgrimages were reserved for one of the great holy religious sites–Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Mecca, Santiago de Compostela, and even Stonehenge.  To a Jew to return to Jerusalem was to stand on the sacred ground of one’s faith.  To a Christian to reach Bethlehem was to return to where the object of one’s religious devotion, namely Jesus, had its start.  And to complete a pilgrimage to Mecca was the ultimate religious act for the Muslim.

Pilgrimages to holy religious sites are all about discovering the places, the events, and the ancestors of old who have shaped one’s religious identity.  They are about returning to one’s religious birthplace.  I don’t mean to discredit the importance of this at all.  Where I believe that my  beloved professor is wrong is that in this age of spiritual eclecticism and exploration, the traditional holy religious destinations only capture part of the story of one’s spiritual origins and identity.

For me, this spiritual pilgrimage is as important (actually more so) as taking a trek to Bethlehem, Jerusalem or even Geneva (a Reformed Calvinist Presbyterian pilgrimage!).  I will be returning to all those places I have lived (except Wisconsin–just too far!).  I will be visiting all those places that have shaped me and nurtured me.  I will stop and pause, think and reflect on the people, the events, and the stories of a particular place–places that have become part of my unfolding story, places where my life has been given birth one way or another.

If my identity were solely rooted in the Christian narrative, then yes, visiting Bethlehem or Jerusalem would the ultimate pilgrimage destination.  But, my identity is just as rooted in the rugged wilderness of the Rocky Mountains.  My spiritual values were shaped as much by the people and education I received in San Anselmo, CA.  Who I am today has its origins in Caldwell, ID and my relationship with my professor as much as in Jerusalem and my relationship with Jesus.

So, dear professor, it’s off to Caldwell I go.  My only regret is that you are in Jerusalem!  But both of us are where we need to be.  See you next time, my friend!

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Over 20 years ago while I was in seminary I entered a contest to memorize the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession for prize money to fund my graduate degree.  Did I bore you already? It used to be that teenagers becoming confirmed in the Presbyterian Church had to memorize it just to become a member.  I had the luxury of choosing whether or not to memorize it with my only motivatation being prize money.  I did happen to win the top prize after memorizing the entire 107 responses perfectly.

Now, twenty some years later I only remember one of the answers to the Shorter Catechism.  It has, in fact, become a sort of spiritual mantra for me in recent years.  The question is the very first question, “What is the chief end of man?”  The correct response is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  This one remaining nugget of the Shorter Catechism has seemed to float back into my consciousness recently.  The reason is my soul has been increasingly yearning for the “enjoyment side of life” in recent years.

My therapist and I have been exploring a theme that I am coming to the end of something in my life.  This pilgrimage is part a tool to usher that in as well as a sign and symbol of something that is already taking place in me.  I can’t tell exactly what is coming to an end nor what exactly will emerge.  What I do know is that this particular Shorter Catechism question lies at the center of a process of letting go and welcoming.

I can see now that I have spent a great deal of my life on the “glorifying God” part of this equation.  I am not saying that I have done that particularly well,  but if we spend most of our lives either glorifying God or enjoying God, my attention has been turned to the former rather than the latter.  It’s not that I am consciously deciding that it is time to balance the scales.  It’s more that my soul and body just aches to cross this bridge from “working for God” to “enjoying God and Her goodness.”

This ending that I feel coming has to do with an orientation or a worldview that said, “If I work hard enough and long enough, THEN I will be able to enjoy the riches and blessings of life.”  Guess what?  You already see it coming, right!  After three decades of working and responsibility I still feel like I am saying, “Just a couple more years and I’ll get there.”  The problem is I just no longer believe that anymore.  How many more years do I have to work in order to earn that much deserved time of enjoyment?

It’s almost as if I have lived as if I had misread that first question to the Shorter Catechism.  Somehow I picked up a wordview that said if I glorified God long enough then I would be allowed to enjoy Him or Her or Them (it’s fun to play with the pronouns!).  Alas, I am discovering that one does not earn the right to enjoy God by doing good works.  One enjoys God for the pure sake of enjoyment like a flower that has no other purpose but to bring beauty.

I have a long ways to go, but something tells me that my days earning time off or working until I feel like I deserve to enjoy life are coming to an end.  My soul simply won’t stand for it much longer.  In the meantime, this ancient Catechism has become a modern mantra as I learn to live into what it means to “glorify God AND enjoy God forever.”  Apparently, the two are not mutually exlusive.  I am a slow learner, I admit!

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