The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Last Holiday

[A snowman we built our first day in Ruidoso, which appropriated my hat and glasses]

We have just returned from what could be our last family vacation, or holiday, as Suzanne calls it. It is a time in my life where I have begun making lists of things I will and will not do in this life. Ski again – yes; learn to snowboard – no. Making lists seems odd for several reasons, but the fact that I am informally making these lists shows that I am cognizant that at some level that this life does end, that the time I have left is less than the time I have already lived, and knowing that there is a fear, or at least a healthy respect for not injuring myself, again. (read: green slopes).

This family holiday, was a gift from St. Phillips UMC, where a new appointment for me began January 1, but I was allowed the grace to start a week later so we could holiday. Thank you!

[Anna, Fox & Grace at Ski Apache]

Maybe I have a tighter definition of family holiday than necessary, but I have defined it as an extended trip with our three kids, driving in one vehicle, staying together in one place, and sharing the same experiences, activities and food. Some might call this a laboratory of human suffering[1], but I see it harkening back to the vacations we took with our kids before they were old enough to object.

[Steve & Suzanne on the drive up]:

This time we went skiing/snowboarding in New Mexico. Skiing is something Suzanne brought into our marriage, a gift she taught me the first winter we were married when we went visiting her half brother Mick in Denver. Every other year since we have gone to the mountains, sometimes with friends (Kim and Austin), her brother (Reg and Julie), our Sunday School class (The Genesis Class at University United Methodist Church), and in later years just as a family on holiday.

As a kid I can’t remember the last vacation we took as a family when my folks, Rod, Beth, Sheron and I would have loaded up in our white 1960s Chevy Biscayne and drove all night to Kansas. When it was happening, I wonder if my parents knew it would be our last time? Another thing I can’t recall is ever taking a family vacation that didn’t involve visiting family, or attending Dad’s professional convention, the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, or ASAE as we called it. Just saying the letters ASAE brings to mind exotic places, and face it when you’ve been raised in Iowa, even Duluth seems exotic. This too was a gift from Suzanne, the notion that a family holiday could be the sole reason for a vacation.

[A Chevy Biscayne station wagon, our family car growing up]:

I am guessing that last family trip together would have been the summer of 1968, a year after my brother started at Iowa State, and right before the rest of my family went overseas for a year. When we came back, it was my sister Beth’s turn for Iowa State and now with two siblings in college, I don't think the folks were able to get us together for a family vacation. There were trips with my folks after that summer, ASAE conventions in San Francisco, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Davis, California and other exotic places I can’t remember, but mostly I think of Kansas and visiting the Jagger and Buchele farmsteads and, at least at the Jagger farm, playing with dangerous fireworks (which were illegal in Iowa), and reading through the largest collection of comic books ever seen.

[Fox, Grace and Anna, on the way up]

Which is why I was so determined to remember this family holiday because in all likelihood, it will be our last. We are entering a season of launching, of losing our children to the young adults they are becoming, of watching them define themselves, or at least defining who they are not, and it feels sometimes like that who they are not, is to be part of this family. I remember that stage, and how gracious my family was during it, so I don’t take it personally, but will treasure this last family holiday.

It was wonderful, and at the same time bittersweet, seeing us all laughing together, eating long family dinners, watching Suzanne's intercultural movie picks and making fun of them, skiing or snowboarding the slopes and just enjoying intense family time. It was good. Not to get all theological, but I can’t help thinking that this must be what it is like for God too, when God sees his children playing together nicely, laughing, having fun, enjoying each other’s company and experiencing the wonder that is this creation. It was my prayer this past week riding up the ski lift, thanking God for the beauty of these mountains, trees and for this time set apart to remember what it is like to be family.

[Mountains of Ski Apache]

[1] Term stolen from Bishop Joe Wilson, when he described family vacations in their RV, when their kids were growing up.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Goodbye to 2009 Thoughts

This past year has been one of great hopes and crushing disappointments, of fun and frustration, of learning more about the inner workings of my soul than most would ever want to know, and being humbled. We believers often used the word humbled, as a code word to express deep appreciation, using it when we feel that perhaps we don’t deserve the praise, or honors that are being bestowed; but it hasn’t been that kind of year.

“To become humble,” I have heard said, “is not to think less of oneself, but to think less about oneself.” It wasn’t that kind of year, either. So how to process the learning to think less of oneself without sounding all winey, when it really felt like a year of just getting used to my new station in life.

The Journey

This fall Suzanne and I lead small group at Church through ALPHA. The ALPHA Course is 10 week class designed for skeptics of the faith, but our group was mostly long-term believers from the Church. The lecture I remember most was the topic How does God guide us? We listened to a wonderful lecture by Nicky Gumble and then broke off for small group discussion. Somehow my group gravitates toward the question “What if all of life is journey?” I’ve wondering since, what are the implications of such a thought; how could that change the way I approach life? What if there was no destination, no purpose, no point to life other than its journey? That God gave to us this life as a gift to use here and now, complete with a set of guidelines to make the journey the whole point.

The thought is not new, nor new to me. There is evidence that Ancient Israel, before their Babylonian exile held to this concept of the journey, with little thought to the afterlife, or as Simcha Paull Raphael writes in Jewish Views of the Afterlife, a “postmortem judgment associated with Sheol,” or a “philosophy of an individual soul”[1]. But 70 years of exile in a land where such beliefs were held to brought about an early shift in Jewish theology, at least according to Simcha Paull Raphael. But what if the Israelites had it right? That the point of life is the journey, that we are to make the most of life before the frost comes.

Part of that journey was remembered during the first of the Christmas Eve services at Wellspring. It was that feeling of sacredness. I was serving the people communion, something that much of the time isn’t in the repertoire of that church’s pastoral responsibilities. When I talk to retired pastors, Communion is that thing they talk about missing the most. So here I was on my last day, tearing off a large chunk of bread and placing in the hand of a child too young to understand its meaning.

“This means Jesus loves you very much and wants you never to forget that.” It was a first and last for me there, watching the wide eyed the child take the host, nodding his head, or hearing her say yes and I remembered how that once familiar feeling of sacredness warmed my soul. It has been too long. Is this what it feels like for retired pastors?

How, Not What

I wonder if Barbara Brown Taylor misses it. Author of Leaving Church, and more recently An Altar in the World, she left parish ministry in 1998, a year before I started, and eight years before I knew she had left it (she was still publishing her books as if she was still serving). The week before Christmas I was reading about her call, how she had been pleading with God, asking

“What is it you want me to do?”

When her heart was finally ready to listen, God spoke,

“Anything that pleases you,” God said. “Anything that pleases you, and belong to me.” [2]

She writes:

“at one level, that answer was no help at all, the ball was back in my court…whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did, but how I did it that mattered. God had an overall purpose, but was not going to supply the particulars for me. If I wanted a life of meaning, then I was going to have to apply the purpose for myself.”

This understanding of Call, was a revelation to me, it is not so much what I do, but how I do it that matters to God. God wants me to emphasize the how, over the what. Its not that the what does not matter, it does, in fact it informs the how, but the what you do never takes on primary importance over the how you do it.

Its like the what is the melody, and the how are the words. It is the words that give meaning to the melody.

It’s the how we live our lives that give meaning to what we do while living them.

The what is the wrapping paper, and the how is the gift inside it, and longer after the wrapping paper ends up in the fireplace, it is the gift we will remember.

Cognitively, I really connect with this understanding of Call, but experientially, my mileage has differed, mostly from being a weed. My father says “A weed is just a good plant in the wrong place.” In other words, it is lost, or misplaced and I think that ties in well with what Ms. Taylor wrote about consenting to be lost (previous blog post), “since you have no other choice.”

No matter how hard that weed tries, how God honoring that weed is, how well that weed functions, at that end of the day, it is still a weed…a good plant in the wrong place. It is not a reflection on the garden, or on the weed itself, both are good and at the same time, ill-suited toward each other. I hope this is the lesson (or humbling) I was to learn this past year; it is not a class I want to retake.

I came to Wellspring thinking I could fit in anywhere, do anything and that as long as I belonged to God, all would be well with my soul. It didn’t matter what I did, just how I did it; it wasn’t the melody that mattered, just the words.

I was appointed to do music, something I loved, but had walked away from as a main source of income 25 years earlier. “When the music you love to play becomes the music you have to play to pay the rent,” Ms. Taylor writes, “your heart can suffer from alienation of affection.”[3] I imagine when she wrote those words, music was for her a metaphor but for me there was nothing metaphoric about it. She adds “people know when their gifts are being wasted, and this knowledge can eat away at the soul like a cancer.”[4] It wasn’t the gift of music wasted, it was not having a place to use all I had learned, over a lifetime of experience. It happens to musicians, they get put in a box, like that is all they are or can do. Cancer, is an apt metaphor, errors or genetic mutations duplicating or spread throughout the body disrupting its more healthy parts, in other words leading to a “alienation of affection.”

I think that is what weeds do, and why we hate them so. They spread.

Well the long wait is over, the Wellspring journey has ended, and now we wait for another year and another journey to begin at St. Phillips United Methodist. The excitement between these journeys has been Christmas, and soon a family ski vacation. The journey continues.

[1] Simcha Paull Raphael, Jewish Views of the Afterlife, p57, 2009

[2] BBT,An Altar in the World, p110.

[3] BBT, p116

[4] BBT, p113.