Saturday, January 23, 2021

Looking At as Much as Through

Reflection on tinted glass.
  Eight years ago over a decade stint as a healthcare chaplain came to a close. Two  
  months of accumulated PTO (paid time off) provided me opportunity to dream 
  about and imagine the future. It was a time of introspection, anxiety, and  
  navigating the bureaucracy of a denominational organization.  As a few weeks  
  passed I became more future focused. What was going to be the next setting for  
  my work life?

  While discussing my situation with a fellow runner, I got a lead on a part-time,  
  income producing job. Part-time appealed to me as I had not settled on my 
  future endeavors. Following a couple of meetings to discuss the part-time activity,     I became a window washing trainee with Wagner Window Cleaning of Fargo ND. Scott was a patient and/or desperate boss. Over time my skills, as well as my speed improved. Early morning sunrises in moderate temperatures while working alone made it the greatest job around! Winter darkness in ten degree air temperatures, dodging cars coming through the drive-up lane made me question my sanity. A phrase Scott used as instruction and correction on numerous occasions, "Do not look through the glass. Look at the glass." continues to echo in my mind. 

Future is a powerful concept! It is a motivation to get out of bed and live another day. A definition of hope which I embrace is, "the expectation of a good yet to come." Thus the focus is upon what lies ahead in the next hour, day, week, and year. We look through the current moment toward what is yet to come. It is a human construct with a powerful purpose. And like all human designs it is multifaceted. 

Continually "looking through" is powerful in providing a focus for our plans and energies. Yet as we set our vision and dreams forward we neglect living in the present. Scott, while desiring speed and efficiency on the job which translated into greater monetary returns, also wanted clean windows. Neglecting to look at the glass and not simply looking, but investigating from different angles, left spots, streaks, and sometimes significant untouched dirty areas. This type of work was not acceptable. It had to be redone in order for the job to be complete.

My bathroom mirror is not future oriented. I cannot see through it, yet I resist looking at it. It is not to avoid
the water spots from overzealous washing nor the white specks from vigorous teeth brushing. It is to avoid looking at myself. What holds true for window cleaning holds true for my life. I need to look at my current situation from a variety of vantage points. I need to see and own the spots, streaks, and cloudy areas of my life. As Socrates, time honored statements says, "An unexamined life is not worth living." Neglecting to live in the present, examining my inner-self translates into the job of living fully as incomplete. 

As a society we keep looking through current events and a mirage of a better future. We focus on the end of the pandemic. Does "return to normal" sound familiar? Yet returning is spoken of in the future. We predict economic recovery and prosperity. We look through present realities in order to avoid pain, grief, and the 
Paramount Sports
looking through the window
reality of crumbling human relationships. As much as I wanted to provide excellence 
in washing windows, quickly moving out of the frigid conditions that made my fingers throb with pain, if I did not focus on my current situation I would return and repeat it all over. 

I am in a life setting where I have ample time. The constraints of job, advancement, and family are lessened significantly. Yet I cringe at looking from various vantage points at my daily life. I make activities or appointments to move through the day or week in order to avoid the unscheduled present. I question my usefulness when I verbalize and internalize that I have no plans for the day. Yet there is a developing sense of acceptance. It comes slowly as I look at myself. I still have value, sanity, and usefulness. It is in enfolding what I see today that guides me into the future. Speed and efficiency in developing self and meaning cannot happen, in my opinion. I deeply and sincerely believe there is good yet to come. However, I do not want to miss the reality which includes discovery and serenity today.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Wheels Go Round and Round

I first heard the lyrics when my daughters were involved with swimming lessons, "The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round." Fun, simple lyrics to distract attention from the new surroundings and possibly frightening aspects of deeper water. 

Resistance Knob
The branding and marketing department of Peloton appear to know their craft. The name and logo are everywhere on their equipment, their live and on-demand classes, and their merchandise. The circular resistance knob which increases or decreases resistance on the wheel (depending upon which way it is turned) also serves as a brake when it is pushed down is emblazoned with their logo. You can see the "p", as well as the crank arms for a bicycle. Push and pull on the cranks via the pedals and the wheel goes round and round, round and round.

I am using and learning many things about the bike, the online options for various workouts, and the instructors. Oh yes, I am also learning about myself and my discipline or lack thereof. This bike will serve a wide variety of fitness needs for years to come. The humorous yet ironic part of this bike is no matter how long or how fast I crank the pedals, no matter how many revolutions the wheel makes (the wheel on the Peloton goes round and round, round and round, round and round) I never physically move. I remain in the same corner of the basement even when the number on the screen indicates I have traveled 18.37 miles. The wheel spins, but nothing changes. 

The Hebrew wisdom found in Ecclesiastes reads, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun." (1.9  NRSV)  The world, as well as my life goes round and round. I experience new things. I travel to unique places. Technology opens new arenas for exploration, education, and entertainment. How can the ancient author proclaim there is nothing new under the sun?

Looking upon the chaos and mayhem exhibited last week in Washington, DC is something the majority of us have never seen. Violence, destruction, angry mobs, and death all covered from various vantage points. Words flowing from politicians and news media alike stating, "This is not the way Americans act." "This is domestic terrorism."  Unique to current generations, yes. Unique to human emotions and behaviors stirred by others in order to garner personal gain, NO! Their are rafts of stories throughout human history describing the distressing realities of our actions toward one another. These actions are nothing new.

As a pastor (almost 4 decades), I have served within a couple of denominations (Lutheran and United Church of Christ). The national entities have sang the chorus, "We can change the world." numerous times over those years. I understand the sentiment and emphasis to motivate people to act in ways that diminish "isms." Yet there are always underlying agendas motivating the chorus: bureaucratic, numerical growth, contributions to sustain business, and political power. I also believe their are altruistic motivations. These campaigns and slogans have a mixture of incentives. I am not opposed to encouragement nor developing fuller ways of responding to our situations. 

The Prime Directive in the mission of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), in Star Trek, General Order #1, says that the personnel and craft is prohibited from interfering with the internal and natural development of alien civilizations. It prevents the crew from using their superior technology to impose their own values and ideals upon others. In other words, they are to go, discover, experience, and understand "strange new worlds" with a personal and emotional detachment. This allows other cultures and beings to evolve at their own pace. According to one source, Captain James T. Kirk violated General Order #1, with some regularity. There is nothing new under the sun even when the suns are in other galaxies reached through warp speed. 

I find that making the wheel go round and round to be insightful. It provides physical challenge and fitness, as well as stimulating internal perspectives and consciousness. Instead of being fatalistic, I find Ecclesiastes' wisdom producing a deep sense of calm in the midst of contemporary changes. Frustrations over not making progress, not changing the world, and not becoming more advanced as a society are lessened as I realize this is natural, human behavior. This is creation I cannot change. What is new? What is invigorating? What keeps my mind active and my spirit inspired?  It is the opportunity to gain perspective on my internal life and appreciation for the world around me. The foundational pillars of Stoic philosophy (courage, justice, moderation, and wisdom) are used as a daily guide. I live and respond to that which I have control, my own self. 

The grey, foggy days recently experienced in the Red River Valley of the North, allowed for rime or hoarfrost to cover many rough objects. The breezes which carried the water droplets created unique displays. While exercising along a rural, minimum maintenance road I was distracted by these beautiful sights. This form of creation was new to me on such a close and personal level. I did not need to change it, recreate it, or preserve it. I was gifted to observe it. The phone photos do not capture the splendor of the scene. I became the benefactor of awe and serenity in an overcast, damp, and cold day. 

My life goes round and round, round and round. There is always beauty even when progress is not perceived!