Week 2: Thin Spaces: Your Truest Sense of Self

 

Here’s a short video I made yesterday in the square. Happiness all around.

 

Twenty years ago I started the practice of spending several hours each New Year’s Day with my grandmother. With a tripod and video recorder in hand I’d ask her questions for hours — the kind of questions you often wonder about long after loved ones are gone. Together, in a sense, we were preserving history.

Well into our visit  one afternoon I asked her this simple question: “When was a time when you felt closest to God?”

She told a story about coming home from work one afternoon and working in her strawberry patch. “I was pulling weeds and picking berries and then there was just this feeling when I was overcome with peace — like a light came over me. I’d never felt it before and I’m not sure I’ve felt it since,” she said.

That was it. That was her story.

I’d expected something so much more colorful and wisdom-filled from this octogenarian I loved and respected so much. But that was it, and she was perfectly content with her reply.

Like so many in our agrarian family, granny sensed God’s presence when she was on her knees and her hands were in the dirt. She believed sincerely that we never owned the land. We were just God’s temporary caretakers.

My grandmother’s thin place was in the garden, and all these years later I identify with the simplicity of her answer. It need not be complicated.

***

 

This group came in yesterday just before noon. I never tire of watching the celebrations.

Going places usually gets something on my mind. This “thin place” notion has permeated so many thoughts since Dana and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela two weeks ago. I first read about it as an ancient Celtic belief mentioned in Father Kevin Codd’s book, To the Field of Stars where he elaborates on the ideas and beliefs of some that there is a thinner realm between earth and heaven in certain places.

I don’t necessarily believe in this idea as a physical property, but in a spiritual sense it’s undeniable. There are times and places when we feel closer to God than others.  How can this be, and what makes it so? After spending considerable time here in three out of the last four years, I know this is one such place, not because of where it is, but rather because of what it creates.

Watch someone as they conclude the final steps of a five hundred mile pilgrimage across some forty days. You will not see ego, pride, or braggadocio. Hugs and warm, lasting embraces replace high fives.

Much more evident is gratitude, humility, and tears of thanks. I get to watch this almost every day and it’s incredible.

It’s as if all guard comes down here. If but for the moment, we find the truest sense of self.

Watching I inevitably wonder, why can’t it be this way all the time?

I’m also focused on this idea of walking. So many places in the bible we find references to walking out our faith, or walking alongside God, or walking by faith, not by sight. It’s clear, especially in the new testament that walking was important to Jesus. Our life of learning and understanding more about God involves “walking” beside him. He does not pull, nor does he push, but He wants us to walk with Him. His invitation is, come along.

In a sense we’re on a pilgrimage to God’s kingdom. As we walk and listen I think we become more sensitive to God’s present reality in our lives. We’ll take detours, we’ll get lost at times, and we’ll learn from those missteps. But the goals is to just keep walking.

Where is your thin place?

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12 Stories in 6 Words

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His nursing home luxury? A window.

Sundown. Next morning in the afterlife.

It was his tenth second chance.

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East or West? Got a coin?

Civility was not on his agenda.

Press the button. Sleep comes soon.

Forty days of walking. It’s finished.

Married 30 years. All is lost.

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The ancient oak saw history unfold.

Arriving with new hope, access denied.

At the finish line, he wept.

If you’d just touched me more.screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-3-11-51-am

 

 

 

El Gusto es Mio … the pleasure is mine.

There we sat like knots on a log, two late-40-something men bored and useless at one of the tediously never-ending Junior Auxiliary fundraisers, when my buddy offered a dubious reading recommendation.

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-9-27-39-am“That new Truett Cathy book is pretty good. I think you’d enjoy it,” he said, staring off into space toward the luxury porta-potties apparently necessary for this particular outdoor charity event at the “ranch.”

“Chick-fil-A?” I responded, silently scoffing at the likelihood of some fast-food propaganda promo and how I might benefit from it.

“That’s him,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll check it out,” I lied.

“Hey, did you check out those porta potties?”

“Yep. Sweet. Very sweet. I think I’ll go back in and pee again.”

Two days later he shows up at my office Monday morning with his used, dog-eared copy.

Trapped. Great Caesar’s Ghost.

But I read it. And something stuck.

***

Truett Cathy was a fine man. He did a lot of good, instilled much goodwill, set an example for the kind of life to which I aspire.  He had his haters. Who doesn’t these days?

But Cathy founded his business with good people. From corporate execs to the janitorial staff, everything was/is personal. And he successfully created an environment that makes people happy to work at Chick-fil-A. He wanted people to give customers heartfelt service with a genuine smile – the kind that comes naturally.

The next time you run through a Chick-fil-A, listen for a key word.

Pleasure.

What do you hear at the speaker greeting? “Welcome to Chick-fil-A. It will be my pleasure to serve you. Order whenever you’re ready.”

Need ketchup? “It will be my pleasure.”

Soft drink too flat? “It’ll be my pleasure to replace that sir/ma’am.”

Cathy created an environment making it a pleasure for his employees to work there, and they pass their pleasure on to the customer. However you may feel about their public positions on certain issues, rarely will you have a bad experience at Chick-fil-A.

***

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Civility’s rapid decay during the last two years has on occasion made me physically ill.

Through modeling from public figures of the highest profile, by way of mass media, the entertainment industry, the lingering effects of a recession from which some will never, ever recover, and the slow, drip, drip, conditioning it creates in a very numb society, it’s now easier to treat others with incredulous disdain than with kindness. We’re almost unconscious in our rude behavior.

The Resistance??? There are may things we need to resist now, and the players in and around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue may be our least worries. We must resist becoming void of all kindness and civility. The hard part is, no one can do it but you.

I made a decision in October than I will not bow to civil decay. That requires an intentional, conscious effort every day in taking responsibility for myself. Add to a plan of a balanced diet, exercise and spiritual well-being, this:

Intentional gratitude. I’m pausing for it several times a day now.

As I focus on what’s good, (especially people in my life) it actually requires less and less effort over time. It makes it much easier to take my eyes off myself and look outward.

Truth is, it makes almost everything a PLEASURE. Regularly, throughout the day, and with no force of thought I find myself in conversation regularly saying …

“It’s my pleasure.”

“The pleasure is mine.”

“It couldn’t be more of a pleasure.”

And I’m laughing as I write this, but I mean it. Things are much more a pleasure now than they were when I paid attention to all the garbage. I’m not going back into the mire. That behavior is unacceptable. I reject it. This is my Resistance.

And so in everything I now pursue, it’s become an unintentional mantra, and I wasn’t even going for that.

El Gusto es mio…

AND THAT’S A PLEASURE!

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Relax. You’re on Beach Time.

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The photo above shows a sign I keep on the pantry door of our little Casa Azul in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. It has a purpose. Probably not the one you think.

On the exterior, I can be just about whatever you need at the moment. Extrovert? It’s not my natural style, but I can play it well enough just about any time if that’s what you need. I made a good part of my livelihood as an adjusted-style extrovert. Curmudgeonly hermit-like introvert? Yes, it comes quite naturally, thank you. Business guy in suit and Johnson and Murphys? Sure, no problem. Country farmer with dirt underneath his fingernails. Even easier.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

But my comfort zone is being my own boss making enough money to pay bills and travel a couple of times a year, and focusing on whatever my limited attention span is interested in for the next few months. I don’t mean that in an egotistical or sarcastic way. In fact, up until not so long ago my proclivity to boredom was the think I disliked most about myself. But during the last year it’s a simple truth truth I’ve accepted – even embraced – and knowing who I truly am, supercedes most, but not quite all, things these days.

I’m no longer caught up in things like image, public opinion, social status, or chamber of commerce award banquets. I just kind of like to be my own guy. Is that so wrong?

It’s easier some places than others. If nothing else, Ecuador has taught how to chill every expectation.

There’s a radical and immediate shift in time somewhere between Arkansas and Ecuador. I’m a high-strung traveler, anxious on airplanes, exhaustively pro-active in heading off unwanted potential surprises, hyper conscious of where everything is all the time. Travel Mode begins the night before a trip and doesn’t end until wheels down at whatever destination. It took me a while to learn that wheels down in Ecuador means time moves sideways into a different dimension.

High-strung doesn’t work here. And you’d better lose the attitude fast if you don’t want to drive yourself and everyone around you nuts.

I recall the time a carpenter finally showed up at the house a week after the initial appointment. He came in, surveyed the work, and immediately left because he didn’t bring his hammer. “Back in an hour,” he said. It’s always, “back in a hour, or tomorrow, maybe.”

The time three guys made an emergency call to save us from raw sewage overflowing a septic tank onto our back yard? You don’t even wanna know.

We have a water shortage here. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get it through a municipal line. Other times, you call a tanker to fill your cistern. Need a shower desperately? The tanker guy will be there when he gets there.

Sometimes I’ll hear people talk with a wistful romanticism about their travels to exotic locations such as Cancun, Fiji, Madrid or maybe Puerto Vallarta. “Time stands still,” they say, dreamily imagining a life with so many umbrella drinks.

Maybe so, but in Ecuador, time gets turned upside down and “beach time” isn’t always the most romantic thing in the world. The key word in the sign on my pantry is “Relax.”

Tranquillo.

It isn’t perfect, but life is good in Ecuador.

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Day 3: Nate and Faith Walter

Published today on my companion blog, noteaday.com

Note A Day

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Dear Nate & Faith:

It was such a pleasure meeting you both in Santiago de Compostela last November. Lucky for us Dana made us keep searching the narrow, crowded streets, and that we finally came upon you at Pilgrim House.

I had my reservations. Not sure why, but I did. I thought Pilgrim House might be some mystic out-of-the-way place, the smell of incense burning from the back, full of strange people I wouldn’t connect with all discussing their karma and listening to tracks of buddhist chant music playing about. I’m not sure why I presumed that, but I did, and not that it would’ve been the end of the world. It’s just not my comfort zone. Of course, to my great pleasure, it wasn’t, and to our great fortune, we had the pleasure to meet you both.

Thank you for being so kind to us, for washing our clothes…

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2016: My Year-End Review – Filters and Anchor Points

(Blogger’s Note: This is the last in a series of posts looking back at 2016, and ahead to the new year. Thank you so very much to everyone who read the posts at Pilgrim Strong this year. Your encouraging comments and friendship are so much a part of what’s real in my life. We really are “just walking each other home.” May the Lord bless and keep you. May He make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May He lift up his glorious countenance upon you. And give you peace. I hope you’ll join me for a new and different kind of writing adventure next year at noteaday.com. )

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When the final numbers come in, these are the likely top 10 movies of 2016:

1) Finding Dory
2) Captain America: Civil War
3) The Secret Life of Pets
4) The Jungle Book
5) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
6) Deadpool
7) Zootopia
8) Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
9) Suicide Squad
10) Doctor Strange

Notice any trends? It’s all fantasy. More and more every day, we’re living a very real life in a make-believe world driven by fantasy and conflict. We’re losing touch with reality at unsurpassed momentum. And so many of those whose public professions you hear about making things great again, are really just driven by self-serving motives best advanced when you’re kept in a fog. I’m imploring you not to be part of the shell game.

It’s never been more important that we take responsibility for ourselves, especially as it relates to how we formulate important, fundamental opinions. To a great extent, civility’s survivability depends on how successful we are in knowing what we believe, and why.  I’m challenging you to be as shrewd as Kido the cat as you face the bait-and-switch shell game ahead in 2017.

You watched that video didn’t you? Admit it. I knew you couldn’t resist.

In 2017, please don’t let your reality be based on people or media conglomerates or commercial businesses whose self interest is to manipulate every part of your brain. Just say no.

You can help yourself with two things: filters and anchor points. These are my working definitions:

Filter – methods, personal experiences and hands-on techniques you can use to sift fantasy from reality; lies from truth.

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Anchor Point – a solid, unwavering, fixed point of reference reminding you of your identity, purpose, and direction. A practice creating a north star-like quality.

I think a lot about those two things this time every year. Isn’t it wonderful how every 365 days, we sort of get to imagine new beginnings, second chances, and do overs?

On pilgrimage in Spain this year I felt the strongest calling to make 2017 a time when I’ll take my eyes off myself and be ever-aware of the motives behind my actions. In 2017, I’ll launch a new blog designed to do just that. (You can sign up to follow that blog by email here). I’ll travel a lot – it’s high on my priority list for understanding a world outside Jonesboro, Arkansas. There will be an extended adventure/walk somewhere, most likely on the first one-quarter of the Appalachian Trail or the John Muir Trail, and I’ll walk upwards of a thousand miles getting ready, and actually doing it. I’ll start fishing again. I love fishing, and have missed it for years. I’m going back to stand in cold streams and feel the thrill of a taut, jerking line. And I want to spend a lot of time thinking about how my giftings can help others. Those are some of my plans for the new year.

In all the things I’ll do, I’ve resolved to do them with more vigor, deeper passion, greater gusto. I want to take deep breaths of fresh air, stand in awed amazement at breathtaking vistas, listen intently  to birds singing at the dawning of a new day. And I never want to stop having laughable dreams. They’re among my greatest personal anchor points.

As we close out this frenetic year and look to a clean start, I wanted to share with you some possible ideas for thinking about your own filters and anchor points.

FILTERS

  • When it comes to social media, learn to recognize bait, and just don’t take it. It’s easy enough to spot certain trigger words that immediately create ascreen-shot-2016-12-24-at-5-53-20-am “we vs. them” forum. Don’t get caught up in the false idea that your participation in these discussions advances some convicting cause or that you’re making a difference. You’re not, and no one’s really listening anyway because everyone’s talking and thinking about what they’re going to say next. Don’t take the bait.
  • As a general rule for social media, limit your time there, and don’t use it as a babysitter for your boredom. I have a lot of work to do here.
  • Limit your time watching television. I haven’t watched network news in almost 80 days and life is better. The world isn’t nearly as bad as they’re telling you.
  • Resist the comfort zone you perceive in being around people just like you. Yesterday, I received the nicest note from a man who’d read one of my blog posts in this series and he asked for some clarification on a religious matter I’d raised. We had a wonderful genuine exchange about some things on which we disagree, and yet further advanced the respect we have for one another. Isn’t that so refreshing?
  • Do your best to look at situations through the eyes of others, and realize that very few things are truly as they seem. There’s usually much more to the story.
  • Be proactive, not reactive. And calm down, for crying out loud.
  • Resolve to listen more than you speak. Be present. Again, I speak to myself.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. I’ve laughed at myself more in the last couple of years than in all the rest of my life combined.

ANCHOR POINTS

  • Be someone’s cheerleader. Younger, older, it doesn’t matter. This is SO important. One of the things I believe most about life is that we’re at our very best when we’re cheering for others. I have a few specific people already picked out for 2017.
  • Do some very difficult things all ALONE. I’d never discount the immeasurable value of sharing life experiences with a loving, trusted partner, but some of my most profound anchor points also come from times when it was just me, mentally and physically depleted, and when I had no idea what came next.

“You can’t accomplish ANYTHING without the possibility of failure.” ~ Gary “Laz” Cantrell, founder of the Barkley Marathons, the race that eats its young

  • Meditate regularly on why you believe what you believe. The ability to answer this simple question is important for you and everyone you touch.
  • Keep an understanding inside your head that the current world economy is driven by fear and conflict. Don’t be afraid. Is it any accident this phrase is mentioned 365 times in the bible?
  • Consider a daily journal and the lasting power your written words can have on your outlook.
  • Develop some new hobbies that actually require a lot of time. I mentioned fishing as one I’ll bring back next year. And I love watching Bob Ross videos and trying my hand at painting, even though the outcome is always laughable.
  • Read. Pretty simple.
  • Do some good deeds that remain a complete secret. Don’t tell anyone.
  • View life through the lens of time. So much of my thinking now is shaped by the realization of how short my time is on earth.
  • Invite people into your home. I think this is so important, and it’s such a shame that the “dinner party” is less a part of society than it once was. We’re designed for communal fellowship. Three years ago we began hosting a New Year’s Day Feast for as many friends as we can get to come. I love this day, and it gets my year off to a great start surrounded by people I care about. In fact, I’m planning the menu this morning for our fourth annual event.

In fact, it’s time to go do that now.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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2016: My Year-End Review (Part 3 of 4)

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(Blogger’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts reflecting on 2016, and looking ahead to challenges in the new year. Tomorrow in the final post, I’ll share some thoughts about ideas and approaches we can adopt (filters and anchor points, if you will) in what I view as a post-truth world).

What a year. My, my, my, 2016. What got you so stirred up?

During the last three days I’ve written about personal observations and takeaways from 2016, and the foreboding potential for the “perfect storm” I think it creates next year. Never before have we been better poised for a complete unraveling of a civilized society. No, sadly I don’t think that’s a dramatic overstatement.

We’ve been told the following:

“Unfortunately, there are no longer any such thing as facts.” ~ political surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of (the president elect’s) supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? …  Now some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” ~ Hillary Clinton

“Look at that face.” (a negative reference to opponent Carly Fiorina) ~ the president-elect of the United States.

Seriously, how did we go so low, so fast?

One of the most important revelations occurring to me in 2016 is this: At a certain point in life we’re responsible not only for what we say, but what people hear. This requires looking outside and beyond ourselves – more practically – taking our eyes off ourselves.

Yesterday, I wrote about what I see as six of the most serious circumstances that weave together and create the most ominous set of domestic challenges in my lifetime. I believe they are the new invisible enemy of American society. You can read that post here.

Today, I’m adding to that list of unfortunate 2016 circumstances that may very well establish nonsensical, bizarre behavior and a complete absence of civility as the country’s New Normal. In 2016 we also witnessed the following:

  • We’re living in a “news” environment that wants to “bait” you, much more than it seeks to inform you. Even though the results are long counted and official, have you noticed how the mainstream media just can’t let the election go? The latest completely irrelevant debate is whether Obama would have defeated the new president-elect in a contest between the two. Have you noticed when it’s not the election, it’s black vs. white or christian vs. muslim? When you take the bait, it drives the ongoing conflict, and the conflict is necessary for the media’s survival. Stop taking the bait.
  • Increasingly, we are living with, (and buying into) our own perceived image of ourselves as opposed to who we truly are. It’s part of the evolution of social media, has been going on for years, and it’s the worst possible thing for personal development. A solid foundation of knowing who you are, that in which you believe (and why), and where your truth is anchored, is the key to everything else in life. Don’t lose your ability to look into an introspective mirror. Brand yourself if you must, but cast yourself in refreshing reality.
  • Our convictions have never been more shallow. It’s so easy to brand ourselves as a staunch advocate for this cause or that purpose. Words are cheap. Want to really convince people of your convictions? Go out and get your hands dirty.
  • We love making public declarations of our charitable endeavors. We’re literally shouting our good deeds from the mountaintop. Self-awareness of your motives has never been more important. May I recommend this book as you consider your own motives in the new year?

    A book recommended by my friend Jay Gunter that has really shaped some of my thinking.

    Or just meditate on this: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Those words are so important to a fulfilling life.
  • The irony of creating a false image of ourselves, and the public pronouncement of our good deeds in a world that’s more accessible and smaller than it’s ever been is that we are lonely. In the absence of deep, meaningful, real relationships, we are crying out for friendship and attention.
  • Also ironic is that in an increasingly small world, our knowledge about the world is shallow. We’ve furthermore begun replacing an intrinsic desire to know more about the world, with our preferred ideas about what we want the world to be. Of all the things in the last election cycle that troubled me outside the public mocking of a disabled reporter was the widely circulated “fake news” article suggesting Pope Francis endorsed the future president-elect a month before the election. Anyone with any degree of world knowledge whatsoever knows a pope would never endorse a political candidate. It would never happen. No matter how much you wish things like this to be true, they are not, and never will be true. If you’re going to “share” news, share responsibly and, quite frankly, know what the hell you’re talking about.  Want an interesting place to begin your world knowledge? I came across this video in 2016:
  • This may stir some people up, no doubt. I don’t understand the obsession we have with national pride and the insistent belief that the US is the best at everything. No disrespect to military sacrifice intended – that’s an entirely different topic, but news flash. We’re not the best at everything. Want to see a cohesive family unit? Go to Latin America. Quality engineering? Try Germany. Extraordinary high standards of living? Norway. We are not the greatest at everything under the sun, and we could learn some things if we weren’t so obsessed with fear, walls, a minuscule fraction of crazy people, and the insistence that we’re the greatest. Personally, I don’t think God looks out and sees borders.
  • By now, we’ve taken enough bait, and allowed the media to lead us down enough roads of conflict that we’ve surpassed the highest levels of intolerance. Our default reaction is now an intolerant one. This intolerance has stifled productive conversation and is a root cause for bringing any greatness we have to a complete standstill. We’ve become a “what about this” or “what about that” society. At the slightest mention of a candidate mocking someone, the next person will say, “well, what about the deplorable comment?” Well, what about it? Both actions were wrong, and neither justifies the other. Stop getting so caught up in a label or a “side” that you can’t see the bigger picture. Talk for crying out loud. If we can’t talk to one another and learn from one another, I hope you like where we are right now, because we’re not going anywhere. This place and these circumstances are your home forever. Welcome to chaos.
  • As part of the obsession with labels and “we vs. them,” we’ve bought into the false idea of things like “binary choices.” If you live in the US, you enjoy freedoms because some magnificent advocates for change preceded you. Advocates for change don’t always get to see the change they valiantly pursue. Look outside the system. The possibilities are endless.
  • A final thought: As long as everything is about who gets the credit, there’s nowhere to go but down.

As I wrote yesterday, this is all way more negative than I prefer. So many of these circumstances you cannot control, but you CAN take responsibility for yourself, and that responsibility has never been more important.

In tomorrow’s final post, I’ll offer some ideas about filters and anchor points that work for me, and that you may also consider for 2017.

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