I'm writing from the Seahawks 12 Club at Seatac Airport. Similar to the unwinding that occurs on the front end of this trip, there is also a process of reengagement on the back end. As cell reception improves on the ferry ride home my phone begins to ding incessantly. It is the consistent dinging of emails arriving in my inbox. Each one a reminder that time never stops, that life continues on, and that it is on me to get caught back up.Read More
Today it rained on our parade. Literally. In one of the driest years of California’s history, we just so happened to get hit with a storm at the exact time the Patriot’s Day Parade was beginning in Laguna. What are the odds?Read More
This morning was delightful! Mia and I have been having breakfast on Fridays for years now. She and I are breakfast people. It is both of our favorite meal of the day. We’ve been exploring all of Laguna’s spots on a quest for the very best poached eggs and cinnamon rolls. There are plenty to choose from. Zinc, Heidelberg, Penguin, Urth, Shirley’s…Laguna is filled with a great variety of little breakfast nooks.
But our most favorite of all is Orange Inn, and that’s where we went today. This place has so much soul! The rafters are filled with old Brewer and Dewey Webber longboards…not well persevered, but dinged up, yellowed, and well surfed. We love the window seat with the words “Best Coffee in Town” decaled on it. (We usually make some Elf reference.) The muffins are fantastic. The soup is great. They even have a fabulous tuna sandwich. But we come for the eggs and the cinnamon rolls. Every time. Because it is our ritual. It is what we do.
This morning, Mia was commenting on the different smells. They are so familiar. John, the owner, comes out and greets us, checks in on us, calls me “padre.” We feel known. We belong here.
We finish up breakfast and walk down to the end of the street and down the steps to the beach at Cleo. There’s a bench down there, close to the water, where we like to sit and watch the waves and surfers before school. That, too, is our spot. It is our bench. We laugh about different stories and memories over the years. That one time we watched a random sandal being sucked out to see and then thrown back by the waves, over and over. We just sit and giggle.
These moments, these glimpses, are solidified in the ritual. They take on a certain permanence. They have shaped us. These experiences are now a part of who we are. And because of that, they are sacred.
I love my daughter. I love the way she comes alive when it is just the two of us. She and I move through life at the same pace. We’ve always just sort of understood one another. Ever since she was little, we’d find ourselves on trips or at parties, retreating to a corner and hanging out quietly.
We get each other, and that is such a gift. I love our rituals, not for the formality or structure, but for the deep peace they bring. We are the same.
This morning, as Mia finished her cinnamon roll, she had worked it all the way down until just the center was left. Because the center is the very best part (did you know that?). It is the gooiest, sugariest bite of the whole thing. Every time we split it. We savor it. And we give thanks. For good breakfast. For our friendship. For the beauty of our ritual. But most of all, for the sweet gift of each other.
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” Henri Nouwen
Let me introduce you to a friend of mine, Michael Minutoli. He is one of the most brilliant souls I have ever met. He is the greeter in Laguna Beach and his life purpose has become putting a smile on the face of each driver that passes his corner at Brooks St. and PCH.
He has been greeting for over 6 years, earbuds in place, dancing and spinning away, his beaming smile and wave causing ripples of joy throughout the commuter traffic, the tourists, and the ones out for a leisurely drive, inching bumper to bumper along hwy 1. His happiness is contagious. His elaborate clothing only heightens the playfulness of his countenance. You can’t help but wave back.
Michael is homeless, but doesn’t panhandle. He has chosen his life and loves it, despite the difficulties it presents. His story is a collection of miracles, one after the other. You wouldn’t believe him but for the photographic proof of himself standing alongside just about every A list celebrity you can think of.
But let me tell you why I, personally, love this guy so much. Because that warmth that spills from him every day on his greeting corner is just the tip of the iceberg. He is a man with such a generous heart. I remember one morning Mia and I were grabbing breakfast at Heidelberg. He swung quickly into line behind us and handed the cashier a gift card before I could pay. It’s on me, he said. I started to protest. I know how little he has. And yet I could see in his eyes how much this mattered to him. How humbling to accept this gift! Such lavish generosity. I’ll never forget that, nor will my daughter.
He comes, from time to time, to my church. I feel so honored to have him sitting there in the pews. This is a man who teaches me how to love and give from his deepest reserves. How to spend his life emptying himself for the sake of others.
Michael has endured some heavy persecution over the years. It is shocking, and yet not surprising, that people would see fit to return his happiness and joy with mockery and abuse. Several times he has pedaled his bicycle past the church and come in for prayer. His heart is so tender and fragile in these moments. I pray for his strength, for courage, for protection, and for a heart full of compassion. His eyes well up with tears.
Michael does what he does because he has been called to do it. His has the gift of hospitality, and that is no small gift. There is such brilliance in the simple blessing of happiness. But the effect goes much deeper. It provides healing. This is what true hospitality brings.
When I think of my own calling, I am usually fantasizing about some elaborate, self-important future. But Jesus is always pushing us in the opposite direction. To see God in the simple acts…giving a cloak to someone in need, visiting the sick or incarcerated, or giving a meal to someone who is hungry. These acts aren’t just godly. They are done as if to God himself.
Whenever I see Michael he greets me with a nod of his head, and with his thick New England accent he says, “hello passta!” My heart leaps. Thank you, Michael. Thank you for the light you bring!
“You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself flows in your veins…” Thomas Traherne
On Monday I spent a couple hours at one of my favorite beaches in town. For me, it has become a sacred space. It is beautiful and quiet, at least on weekdays. There is a fun little wave that can break there. But honestly, it is a place where I surf even when the waves are flat. I paddle out even when it’s better everywhere else. Because I’ve grown attached to it. It is familiar. It is a place where I belong. And it is a place where I feel God’s closeness.
For me, it has become a thin place. It is a place where heaven and earth almost intersect, but not quite. The boundary between worlds feels paper thin. I often hear God’s still, small voice.
As I walked down the steps, I could see a cluster of people out there surfing. It was a steady wind swell…playful and fun. As I changed into my wetsuit and threw a quick coat of new wax over the building layers on my board, I watched as one surfer after another rode their last wave in. By the time I started paddling, the lineup was empty. Lucky me!
My first wave was a marvelous little gem that popped up out of nowhere. Wind swell is so fun! The waves are stacked close together. They are peaky. You gotta be quick to your feet. After 25 minutes I’d lost count of how many waves I’d ridden.
I thought, I can’t believe I have it to myself! And that’s when I felt a little poke in the ribs. As if God was saying, “you’re not alone.” Oh yeah. How quickly I forget. God is here with me. Remembering this causes the whole context to expand. Suddenly I feel His joy as well as mine.
As a spiritual director, I often ask the person I’m directing where God is in the situation they’re describing to me. Because, we all know, God has a way of disappearing into our peripheral vision, especially when we become overly focused. Whether it is worry, or anxiety, or even pleasure or joy, if we aren’t careful, we become myopic, nearsighted. We see the details separated from their designer. We enjoy the gift and forget the giver.
And, as a result, we lose the depth of meaning, the deep renewal that joy brings, the lightness of perspective that comes from finding God amid our circumstances. This connection is where the real power lies. Without it, experiences lose not only their taste but their ability to nourish our souls.
Thomas Traherne writes, “Your enjoyment of the world is never right till every morning you awake in heaven, see yourself in your Father’s palace, and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as celestial joys, having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the angels.”
How I long to see the world in such a way!
It can take so much work to keep God in our perspective. My mind is always wandering down rabbit trails that lead to some worry or complexity or problem to solve. While there might be a semblance of value to this, often the energy expended could be better spent simply remaining present. Savoring the joy that is before me. Enjoying God’s immediate presence.
As I take my last wave in, I feel renewed. The emptiness has been satiated. I feel God’s pleasure. I’m full.
I love just after it rains. The hills in Laguna rebound immediately to a vivid green. The sun is so bright you can’t help but squint. The dust of the drought feels rinsed away and everything smells clean.
Except the ocean. In stark contrast to the gleaming landscape, the water is murky and brown. As inviting as today is to being outdoors, the sea holds up its hands and says stay out.
It isn’t just that it’s dirty. Its contaminated. The bacteria levels skyrocket after a rain. Surfers are warned to stay out of the water for 72 hours, especially when near drain pipes and river mouths.
As I stand at the outlook staring into the opaque water I can’t help but see it as a metaphor. 2016 was such a murky year. It felt impossible to make a good decision. Everything felt like damage control. News felt untrustworthy. Subjective interpretations felt unrestrained. Civil conversations would quickly degenerate into entrenched, unresolvable disputes.
It wasn’t just that the issues felt cloudy. The whole environment felt toxic and polluted. It was affecting my heart. I felt myself disengaging from those that disagreed with me. I couldn’t last in a political conversation for more than five minutes without accusing the other side of being obtuse at best, and moronic when I’d finally had enough.
Everything felt so polarized. It still does. Days later, you start to wonder if the water will ever clear.
And not just politically. The either/or dichotomy seems to find its way into every aspect of our lives. It isn’t just republican or democrat anymore. There is a conservative and progressive side to just about every discussion, be it spirituality and religion, vaccinations, eating habits, child rearing, healthcare, gender, education, you name it. Are you this or are you that? Pick a side. No one is known for what they’re for, but instead for the worst elements of what the other side is against. No one wins.
We are beginning a new year. This is the time for resolutions. For new goals, dreams, and ambitions to once again return with a freshness. We are given a blank slate or canvas. But this year I can’t do it. I can’t keep paddling through all this sewage. We need to clean this up.
But what do you do when you find all your options dissatisfying? What do you do when you find both sides equally cloudy and toxic? How do you take a step forward when it feels like there are no realistic options?
As a pastor, I’m particularly burdened by how complicit and intertwined my own evangelical faith has become with the systemic problems we face in America and the world. We have embraced power that stands in sharp contrast with our very essence of humility, gentleness and love. We have drunk deep from the power and ambition of the world and become intoxicated with it. We’ve lost our way. Both sides. Right and left. We’ve all lost our way.
James writes at the end of chapter 3 of his cautionary letter that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
How I long for this clean water! Wisdom from above is known by its texture and clarity. Integrity is not clinging to one isolated principle above all others. It is open to reason. It is known by its gentleness and mercy, by the taste of its fruit.
But if I’m honest, a quick look inward reveals the cloudiness of my own heart. So much of what I do merits praise and approval from others. How pure are my own motives? What would I do if they didn’t bring with them the privileges I enjoy? How willing am I to pray David’s prayer that God would search my heart and cleanse it? To go after the wickedness that lies deep in my own motives, that lurks in the shadows?
James says that pure religion begins by bridling the tongue. He follows it up by saying that it is followed by visiting widows and orphans and keeping oneself unstained by the world.
It makes me think of that statement attributed to St. Francis that we would “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” Today I believe that our words are doing more harm than good. The church needs instead to practice goodness in secret. We need to stop waving the triumphal banner of some exclusive right to eternal hope and start actually living in such a way that hope is the natural and contagious effect.
This year is the 500th birthday of the reformation. It feels like we’re due for another one.
We desperately need to get back to the center. To rediscover the heart of our faith. To rekindle that first love. At least I know that I do.
So here are my resolutions for this year.
I’m resolving to talk less and do more.
To remember that without love, the most eloquent words are noise.
To invest the gifts I’ve received in the lives of those in need.
To not waste emotional and spiritual energy entangling myself in disputes without end.
To instead allow my own soul to be open and laid bare before God that He would do his work of creating in me a clean and new heart.
And to place my hope in the reality that this isn’t the first time this has happened. That things can die and be reborn. That Jesus is still making all things new. For His way is the way of true hope.
May we, in 2017, have the confidence to “walk in love, as Christ loved us.” Amen.