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Just because

September 28, 2014 — Leave a comment
image from galleryhip.com

image from galleryhip.com

I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Russia in the last couple of years. While the Soviet Union as a formal organization is long gone, there are still remnants of Soviet-era culture scattered here and there. Many of the stations in the Moscow Metro are still decorated with the hammer and sickle and images of Lenin and workers based in the Socialist Realism school of art. The purpose behind the images is clear. There is an agenda lying behind what you see and it’s hard to miss it. This was government-sanctioned, utilitarian art at its most obvious. It was art with a purpose.

While I am intrigued and even moved by Soviet-era culture, my favorite works of art are those with no purpose other than to give the beholder an opportunity to enjoy how the artist views the world. The best works of art are those which are simply put out there as a piece of the creator’s soul. Whether it is a painting or a sculpture or a song or a book…I want to soak in those artistic expressions because they exist, not because I need them to get through the day or to move me toward my list of goals for the week. Artistic creations, when we divorce them from an externally imposed agenda, are at their finest when we take the time to simply enjoy them. Human beings are the same.

In my view of the world, I see humanity as a creation that has the fingerprints of a master artist all over it. Like meandering through the halls of an art museum as I take in the unique and varied means of expression, I endeavor to walk through life taking in the unique and varied works of art that are the people I meet. My daily interactions with them are not something I submit to my daily agenda. Every conversation, every question, every moment with them is a path through a living gallery.

Some of the most perplexing people I know give little to no value to art. They don’t know the adventure of a walk through the halls of a well-curated museum. They have little appetite for the auditory feast of today’s music. They see no purpose to spending time experiencing the beauty of a story told through a masterfully crafted film and only read books of a clinical nature. It is as though everything and everyone must serve a purpose and cannot be simply enjoyed.

In his book, “The Four Loves,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

I never want the people I am privileged to cross paths with to have to fit into some agenda. When I do that I run the risk of missing out on something. I run the risk of passing up a conversation or a human being that God may have designed to catch me off guard or to cause me to rethink a situation I may be thinking wrongly about. I run the risk of missing out on an interaction that may serve no purpose other than to remind me of the complexity and diversity of humanity. What is worst of all is that I run the risk of surrounding myself with people who think, act, and talk mostly like me. How mind-numbingly boring, sterile and plain vanilla is that? YUCK!

When I engage in relationships because they fit into my agenda I devalue them and make them a tool of survival rather than a privilege of being alive. When I only enter into a relationship because it will serve a purpose I’ve crafted for myself then it is very possible that I could find myself not needing to engage with anyone if I deem them unnecessary to fulfilling that purpose.  As my friend Freddy said recently, “Friendship is what makes survival worthwhile.”

To be fair, I have relationships that could be called utilitarian. And like the utilitarian art of the Soviet era they are necessary to achieve common goals. But in the day to day grind those relationships don’t give color to life. They are to the very public and messy and unpredictable journey of life what the Communist images in the Moscow Metro are to the larger artistic universe. They are a reminder of the boundaries imposed on artists when they are directed to express life through another’s lens as opposed to artists who express life through their own lens.

The most interesting and fulfilling art exists at the behest of its creator. It exists not to advance a larger agenda, but to give us a glimpse into the soul of the artist. That painting or that book or that song exists just because.

And the most fulfilling relationships are those that exist outside of agendas and processes and to-do lists. They exist just because.

Rey Lo:

This is absolutely me…uncannily so.

Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

ENFPs are passion-driven ‘ideas’ people. They gain energy from interacting with the world around them, and become quickly excited over new possibilities. Though ENFPs loves being around people, they crave alone time much more than the average extrovert. ENFPs search for a deeper meaning in just about everything, and use their much-coveted alone time to decide how their experiences fit in with their system of core values. To be frank, it’s an exhausting personality to have. Here are a few struggles most ENFPs face.

1. Getting your energy from social interaction, but disliking superficial conversations. Yes, I want to go to a party tonight. But a party full of contemplative people who want to alternate between taking shots and discussing the meaning of life.

2. Being very socially conscience but also fiercely individualistic. This means always wanting to fit in with a group, but never wanting to compromise your personality…

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Battle_strike_1934Even though I made a conscious decision to stop watching the national news some time ago, there are some stories you just can’t get away from. It’s hard to silence the sounds of people fighting each other no matter how hard you try to overlook it.

Ferguson, the Middle East, the political and social climate across our nation…as my friend Mark Ford mentioned in a previous post, we have worked really hard to be as divided from one another as possible. It seems as though we make everything a point of contention that eventually leads to a maddening cycle of endless conflict, kind of like Stephen King’s “Needful Things” on a global scale.

King’s novel tells the story of a charming old man, Leland Gaunt, who opens a shop, “Needful Things,” in the town of Castle Rock, Maine. He sells items that seem to be perfectly suited to their buyer, but there’s a catch. The shop owner expects each person who buys something to play a prank on someone else. You see, he’s aware of the divisions and petty disagreements the people of Castle Rock have with each other. The “pranks” Gaunt encourages are the means by which he influences the town toward a downward spiral of division and violence. Sound familiar? He eventually leaves Castle Rock and moves on to the next town where he continues his work with a new shop, “Answered Prayers.”

There is an inexplicable meanness about how we treat one another. From individual interactions to exchanges between nations, there is disdain, indifference, bitterness and downright contempt that characterize our interactions with one another. This is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Somewhere along the way we’ve allowed Leland Gaunt to weasel into every level of society. In our families, friends, churches, places of business, and our governments he works to set us against one another, sit back, and watch the world self-destruct. Like “Needful Things” so much of the hostility begins when one person believes another person to be beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. No one…let me say again no one…is beneath the consideration of another.

Every time one person disregards another or acts deliberately to exclude someone from basic human decency or determines it is the right course of action to spurn another, the seed for the kinds of conflicts we see in the world is planted. Think about it. Every battle is traced to a sentiment that begins with one person. It might get complicated by social issues or politics, but it begins with an attitude of the heart that justifies standing against another. Again I say, this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

We were not meant to fight against each other, but to fight for each other.

Blah, blah, blah

August 23, 2014 — Leave a comment

1476644_10152088844743584_1686083745_nWelcome guest writer, Mark Ford. Mark lives in Austin and is a cellist, vocalist, composer and chef. Most recently he has performed as half of Dead Tree Duo. You can connect with him on Facebook.

It may seem a platitude, it might sound like the tired words of some aging hippie, but our world is divided. Humans have been very, very busy dividing themselves up, cording themselves off from one another, and responding with everything from strained tolerance to unchecked hatred and rage. Screw tolerance, but screw hatred and rage even more.

I don’t have to “tolerate” you. I can go further than that and fully accept and love you even though you are different from I. The love of a dog for its master should humble and floor the entire human race in its current state, as they are utterly different from us in every conceivable way, yet they are capable of pure devotion and unconditional love.

Yeah, yeah…”love is the answer”…blah, blah, blah. But actually, it is. To find someone who genuinely loves others regardless of whatever may seem to separate them is almost unheard of these days.

I am not that person, but it is an ideal worth striving for.

baby-bathwaterI really enjoy creative people and I particularly enjoy artists. Music, film, theater, painting…my best day would be spent in a local art museum leading into a performance of a play at a community theater followed by a stop at a local venue to hear a few local bands and capped off by a midnight showing of a film. Yep. The arts have me and won’t let me go.

For a number of reasons I want to support creativity executed at a high level whenever I can. Call me crazy, but there’s so much ugliness and pain and fighting in the world that I want to applaud those who pour themselves into making the world a little more beautiful.

Over the last few weeks Michael Gungor, one of my favorite musical artists, has been stirring up a lot of emotions among conservative evangelical Christians with his views opposing a literal interpretation of the Bible. While I’m not surprised, I’m a bit confused by the response. I wonder how many of those who are reacting against him will stop reading C.S. Lewis or Tim Keller or some of the leaders of the early church because they don’t hold to a fully literal interpretation of the Bible.

(You can read what Gungor had to say on his blog here and here.)

To be clear, I’m not saying I agree with Gungor’s comments. I’m saying that his comments aren’t going to keep me from enjoying his music. There’s a lot of what some might consider very “biblically sound” music that I don’t listen to because, frankly, it’s just not very good.

I watch Wes Anderson films because they are beautifully executed with intricate dialogue and a distinctive visual sense.

I enjoy Chris Taylor’s music and paintings because he weaves ideas and words and images into a tapestry of beauty that gives you a clear look into who he is.

I don’t take in the work of an artist because he or she agrees with me on every point of theology or morality. When that happens I’m glad for it, but it isn’t a prerequisite to my enjoyment of their craft.

I’m not going to stop listening to Gungor because I think he may have misled me in some manner and has somehow betrayed me. I don’t depend on him or any other artist for my spiritual growth. I depend on artists to make the world a little more enjoyable by making great art. I listen to Gungor’s music because it is intricate and complex and unique…and beautiful.

We need more beautiful in the world, no?

photo from http://www.rvforsaleguide.com/san-antonio-texas.htmI was engaged in a conversation today. It was about being the kind of friend you want others to be to you. But, what if a person can’t be the kind of person they want to be. Maybe past hurts have damaged their ability to engage with others in a healthy way? What if they’ve identified their issues and are working tirelessly to overcome but they aren’t quite there yet?

Or perhaps they’ve made every effort to establish a healthy, active social network (not the digital kind…the one that happens when you do things like, you know, go out to dinner) but their efforts have at best gone unrequited or at worst rebuffed entirely. What’s to be done with that?

This makes me think of the oft-quoted words of author, philosopher and transcendentalist Henry Thoreau:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

That statement is as true today as it was when it was written 160 years ago, but why? In an age where we can talk with anyone in the world immediately for little to no cost, in a  time when we live in closer proximity than ever before, in a day when we can get anywhere in the world in a day or less, why are there still so many lonely people desperate to live in community with someone…anyone?

Author, speaker and pastor John Ortberg wrote a book some years back, “Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them.” The title pretty much says it all, but here’s an excerpt:

“Normal? Who’s normal? Not you, that’s for sure! No one you’ve ever met, either…the closer we get to each other, the plainer that is. Yet for all our quirks, sins, and jagged edges, we need each other. Community is more than just a word—it is one of our most fundamental requirements. So how do flawed, abnormal people such as ourselves master the forces that can drive us apart and come together in the life-changing relationships God designed us for?”

How can we turn away someone because we deem them odd or awkward or not normal when all of us are all of those things ourselves? We aren’t meant to live in isolation in the midst of our crowded streets and neighborhoods. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

As I survey the landscape around me I see lonely, desperate people who want the simplest thing of all: a friend.

 

In 1994 I experienced a moment of clarity. For the previous couple of years I had been volunteering with a student outreach program at my church. I had never worked with teenagers before. The students were pretty diverse, but I found myself drawn to the ones who didn’t typify what you might expect from church kids. They were the products of the difficult stories in which they found themselves. They covered their pain and anger with humor, drugs, alcohol…anything to ease the pain.

One in particular, Celeste, was the catalyst for my decision to pursue youth work on a full time basis. She came from a broken home. The story of her family, as it is with any divorce, was heartbreaking and the course she had traveled clearly affected every aspect of her life. In working with students like Celeste I knew what I needed to do with my life. I left my job and went back to school to train for my new vocation. In the pursuit of this calling on my life, I would mostly lose contact with Celeste, but I would never forget her.

Fast forward 20 years…

I don’t know what I expected this journey would be like, but what I did not expect was how hard it would be. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The best way to describe how I often feel is like the Denzel Washington character in The Book of Eli, a weathered and weary nomad on a mission. The road has been hard for a number of reasons. But, there is nothing else I would rather do.

With the advent of social media I was able to reconnect with Celeste on Facebook not too many years ago and she turned out great. She didn’t get there easily, which may make where she is now that much sweeter.

One of my recent posts led to a conversation among my Facebook friends that peaked with a comment Celeste left. It had nothing to do with the original post, but it made my day and reminded me why I do what I do:

You are crazy!
Maybe that’s why I understood you, way back when….
No one else spoke my language from that era in my life. 
Neither mother or father could see past their own understanding of the circumstances which landed each member of our broken family in a messy, lonely, and confusing place. 
The ripple effect of events having taken place before I was yet two years old still cause waves in all of our lives today. 
We are all products of the past, and I know we all found our way through the mess with The Father’s love, and unfathomable grace. 
I have special relationships with each, despite the broken path my life walk has been. 
And this too, is a gift from God. 
But, in that moment in my life, you were the only person who got through to me, and showed me a different picture of who Christ was.
I’ll be forever grateful that you are a little crazy. 
Crazy enough to reach into the lives of me and my friends, and speak the language that we spoke. 
I see God in both of my parents now, but I saw Him in you first.
Thanks for being kinda insane… 

Looking back I must have been crazy to take that leap from a predictable corporate life to what I do now. But, I’ll never regret it.

 

Rey Lo:

Great thoughts here. Give ‘em a read.

Originally posted on The Barefoot Pastor:

thinking-man

MAYBE IT’S TIME TO GET A LITTLE UNCOMFORTABLE…

One of the greatest tragedies, (in my opinion), is people blindly following what society tells us is right, or popular, or trendy, or Ke$ha! Interestingly, the people that we admire are the few who say, “who cares what is popular?? I’m doing ______”. Of course, then we idolize that person, blindly follow their new trend, and wait for the next genius to tell us what to do, (I use genius lightly, let’s remember that two decades ago we were all frosting our tips…).

Growing up, the churches I was in referred to societies desire to follow trends as “IF IT FEELS GOOD, DO IT!”… We were assured that this line of thinking had one destination and (spoiler alert!) it ended with ‘double hockey-sticks’. Now the reality is, some things that feel good, we should do! Working up a great sweat in a hard workout feels…

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Greg Nelson/SI

Greg Nelson/SI

Being a native San Antonian, I’m pretty excited to see our San Antonio Spurs win their fifth NBA title in fifteen years. Among the multiple accolades and records broken by the core members of this team – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and coach Gregg Popovich – what impresses me most has less to do with their skill and more to do the longevity of their relationship. For his entire career as a head coach, Popovich has not led any other team. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have spent their entire NBA careers with one team. There’s something to be said for pursuing something significant over a long period of time in the context of a tight community.

I know a group of friends who, for the last twenty years or so, have had the opportunity to create something pretty significant. They will tell you that they have had the rare privilege of getting up every morning to do what they love to do. As infrequent as that may be, we do hear people talk of loving their work and most people envy them from a distance. But there is something else they will tell you; a second component to how they have spent the last two decades that is often overlooked.

They’ll tell you that they not only got to do the work they love, they also got to do it with people they like. If the former is rare, the latter is rarer still. It reveals a gap in my own life that I will never be able to fill.

These friends have known each other since they were in their 20’s. They shared a common dream of creating something that did not previously exist. The vision they shared was in the context of their friendship. Some of them met when they were in their adolescence. Others came along a bit later. But, they clearly spent time with one another, challenging one another’s dreams, inspiring each other to reach farther than they imagined their abilities allowed.

It occurs to me that there is not one friendship I enjoy currently that began when I was young. No one that I knew in my younger days remains in my life as an active friend today. What would life be like today had those of us who knew each other back then remained connected to one another’s life today?

I wonder what the trajectory of my life would look like had I remained connected to Randy or Matt or Doug or Ken. Would we have banded together to pursue our dreams together and today, some 20-plus years later, be reflecting on what had been accomplished?

It will always be a rare thing to say you wake up every morning to the work you love. But, it will always be rarer still to say you get to do that with lifelong friends.

Imagine

June 7, 2014 — Leave a comment

10454324_479470588854366_2191286510859853129_nOver the last year since my kids started their band I’ve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with a ton of people in the local music community. Bands, managers, promoters, bartenders, venue owners…and they’re all pretty amazing people. Each of them is pursuing a dream at one level or another. Some are artists looking to make a living in music while others are doing their best to provide those artists a platform from which to execute their craft. There is a thriving artistic community in this city I love.

From Don at Imagine Books and Records to Renee at Jack’s Patio Bar to the fine people working hard to run venues like Fitzgerald’s, the Korova and the 1011 and countless others, there are people doing their dead level best to build something in our city. They are the supporters, the purveyors, the champions of artists new and old in San Antonio. But, let’s not forget who it is they are supporting.

The list is far too long to name them all, but I think of artists like Hydra Melody, Tera Ferna, the Black Market Club, the Heroine, Deer Vibes, Last Nighters, Chris Taylor, the Rosedale Highs, Maeta, Optic Arrest and yes, my favorite, Octahedron (bias noted). That list barely scratches the surface of a host of artists who have given themselves to a passion that consumes them. They give everything they have each time they take the stage because they believe that creative expression, especially through music, inspires people in a unique way.

Many people will say they support our local artistic community, but few will actually take the time to actually see what’s going on out there. I have and every time a show I’ve attended ends I find myself wondering when the next one will be.

Next time you hear of a show going on, go check it out and bring a friend or two. There’s a great community of artisans doing some pretty cool stuff. Go show them some love. There’s no reason the San Antonio music community couldn’t be something really special.

Imagine…