What if there was an alternative to balance?

I know I said earlier that I wished to give up on balance, to let go of its safe confines and stretch out into a world that needs more than people who can only balance themselves precariously between two relatively distinct points. Work and family, serious and playful, depressed or hopeful, we often set up false dichotomies that lend themselves to the idealization of one particular way of being and also a sense of failure when we cannot achieve relative satisfaction in either domain.

Jim, a reader and commenter here, is retired from his "profession" but now works in an educational setting with kids with special needs. Why (My answer is based on my own thoughts and nothing that Jim has reported to me other than what I have read on his blog, I would expect him to correct anything I have to say about him)? He has worked most of his life and conventional wisdom says that the balanced approach to his life would be one of leisure and "retirement." Therefore, is Jim out of balance? Is he upsetting the apple cart with his approach to life? My sense is Jim has found something meaningful in his life that provides stimulation to the person he is and is becoming. Jim, in my own words, lives harmoniously with his circumstances.

Harmony is my substitute for balance. Where balance seeks a middle ground between two points, harmony seeks to embrace both points as valid and seeks to complement the multiple ways that life unfolds before our eyes. Harmony performs, plays, creates and builds on our lives. It can enrich an otherwise bland performance by altering the experience and the one who does the experiencing. To be in harmony with one's surroundings is to awaken oneself to the world of the moment, rather than looking forward to a different point in time where one must attempt to even out experiences and allay guilt.

I really have nothing against those who strive for balance. Balance can even be a way of living harmoniously with one's life. However, the more I think about harmony, the more I think it can offer an alternative to the pop culture mindset that has embraced balance and shunned grasping for the meaning in the moment. Balance works because we are a rational people. It can even be said to be Biblical, sort of. The greatest commandment is a three-way balancing act, God, self, others. Then again, how can we balance three separate things? There are no three-way teeter totters on the playground.

Maybe the greatest commandment is best enacted as a harmonious part of a life engaged in the moments of our lives. Harmony says that we do not have to sell all we have and give everything to the poor. However, a harmonious life might seek simplicity, might seek to honor God, self and others with the gifts of their life. It might seek to hear the stories of those who hurt and share their own stories of hurt and hope. I have often heard it said that the earth sings of the creation of God. If this is so, shouldn't we take the time to a hum a few bars back to the Creator?

yesterday and today

I have seen motorcycles with flags blazing riding down the street in an impromptu parade.

I have briefly surveyed the media's rendition of a memorial service.

I have watched names being read, and wreaths being laid.

I have listened to reports about being prepared for an emergency.

All of these things are meant to remind us to remember. But what is it that we are to remember? Death? Evil? Coming together for a brief second? Economic destruction? Fear-mongering? I'm not sure what I am supposed to feel (or even remember) these days.

Whatever goodwill we gathered has been used and abused. The event we memorialize has been turned into a political stump upon which dissenters and those critical of the current way of handling things are constantly beheaded.

Furthermore, what are we, as "Christians," supposed to do with this day? Undoubtedly some amongst our midst will use it to further the cause of hatred in the world based on religious views; others will use it as a sacrament to inextricably tie Christianity to this particular nation; still some might see it as a prime time for an altar call. Regardless, I have no doubts that Christians everywhere will find some way to interpret this day as a rallying cry for a "God"-fearing vindictive stance to those things that are different.

At a conference this summer I spent some time with a group of people talking about the events that took place at Columbine a number of years ago. One of the sticking points for many "Christians" was an impromptu memorial that happened in a local park after the event. At the memorial, crosses were placed for ALL of the people who died including the two shooters. Those in the community decried the placement of these crosses as an act of insensitivity and they were forcibly removed from the memorial.

When we memorialize things, I think we have a tendency to glamorize them as well. We turn ordinary people into martyrs and perfect them through the reporting of their lives over the public airwaves. However, there are those who commit acts that hurt other people, and they are human beings as well. Just as we deify the lives lost, we also demonize those who take lives. How are we to deal with these people, the ones who commit atrocious acts but are nonetheless also creations of God? We have ignored our responsibility as "Christians" for too long. Instead of being a conscience for this nation, we have become crusaders bent on domination rather than humble servants of a God bigger than we can comprehend.

The people who committed these acts do not have to honored, but their circumstances and their lives need to be remembered as well. Moreover, we need to ask the tough questions that led to the creation of their beliefs and actions. We need to understand both our complicity in the creation of their situation (global poverty and hopelessness among others), and their responsibility for their actions. Christians, above all, are about the business of grace and yet where is the grace in the memorialization of this day? If we are about forgiveness, then where are the preachers and theologians who are crying out for this discipline on this day? If we are about justice and righteousness, then where are the voices who are speaking out against global poverty and economic justice for all people so that some of the conditions that breed hatred can be alleviated? If we are about peace and grace, where are the "Christian" voices that are speaking out against violence, war and terror?

Instead of a day of memorialization this can become a day of dialogue. A time where we can come together and talk about what needs to change in the world so that events like this no longer are necessary. Maybe someday we can realize that behind every religious veil we created to hide or separate ourselves from one another hides a human being who is struggling to make sense of the world, the meaning of life, and their responsibilities.

grace and peace

Still a gentleman

In late May or early June my spouse and I headed into the mountains for a weekend away from Denver. Our domicile for the weekend was The Spa at Cordillera. We found out after our trip that this was the infamous place where Kobe Bryant's legal troubles began a few years earlier. It was a beautiful spot in the mountains just past Vail and the hotel was comfortable and relaxing (especially because of the deal we got for the weekend).

Our weekend was spent reading in the cool mornings and hiking in the afternoon. We hiked to Hanging Lake, a small alpine lake a mile or so off of the Interstate. I remember being surprised by the sheer number of people on the moderately strenuous trail. Moreover, it opened my eyes to the illiteracy problem in Colorado. The signs were clearly marked with the words "No Pets" (along with the requisite pictorial designation), but we passed our share of leashed and unleashed dogs along the trail. I love dogs, but dislike blatant disregard for rules, so I always feel as though I encounter a grave moral dilemma when these situations occur.

Regardless of my moral quandaries, the hike was beautiful and gave us ample time to test out our new hiking gear and Colorado lungs. I struggled a bit on the mostly vertical trail, but certainly felt rewarded at the end of the trail. If you are ever in Colorado, I would recommend taking the hike in the early summer when the snow melt makes the waterfalls thunder and the resulting mist chills the air. Nothing seems better after a long hike than standing the spray of a waterfall as it cools and soothes your weary muscles.

We chose to spend the final day of our weekend on a different trail near Minturn, Colorado. There is not much to Minturn, save for the large National Forest that backs up to it. The trail we chose to hike that day was meant to take us along a stream up to another mountain lake. However, a mile or two into the hike we found ourselves experiencing the Colorado mud season in all of its glory. At this point in the hike our trail disappeared, the multiple streams of chilled water swallowing it whole, leaving us guessing where to turn next.

Having absolutely no survival skills whatsoever we climbed a hillside and cautiously moved along a game trail that ran parallel to the streams below. When we could see the remnants of a trail below we slowly descended only to find that the trail ended a couple hundred yards upstream. At this point we decided that it was in our best interest to turn around and try another way. We sloshed our way back to the main trail and worked our way back to a fork in the trail.

Turning onto the new trail we were happy to see only one small stream to cross before we could enter a grove of Aspens and hopefully continue on to the lake. All that stood between us and the Aspens was a well-worn log that bridged the stream.

I was raised in the Southeast. I did not learn to say yes or no, but yes ma'am or no sir. I learned to open doors for women, give them my chair and walk on the outside of the curb so that they would not be splashed by cars driving through mischievously planted puddles. Much of this early childhood learning is still implanted on my brain, and on this hike it superseded common sense for some reason.

About halfway across the stream a rock stood solidly in the middle. I, ever the gentlemen, decided that I would plant one foot on the rock and one on the shore and offer my lovely wife a way to brace herself as she crossed the stream. You might able to guess what happened next.

My spouse is a petite woman who stands a good foot shorter and about sixty pounds lighter than me. However, at the moment she reached the middle of the log, the same moment we pulled one another off balance, I could have sworn she was an East German Weightlifter from the early 1980s.

My eyes widened as we began to tilt toward the earth. I could have sworn that something flashed before my eyes. Apparently, as we fell we did not let go of one another until we were too far apart to hold hands any longer. All I can remember now is the rapidly rising earth and my inability to get my hands in front of my face. The runoff of snowmelt in early June is frightfully cold, especially when you end up going nose first into a mountain stream.

Neither of us was seriously hurt. I still nurse two jammed fingers from that day, but they are slowly healing. My pride was wounded more than anything else. I am the guy who dumped himself and his wife into a semi-frigid mountain stream. We laugh about it now, as we did on that June afternoon, even though the mental scars still hurt every now and again. I learned a number of valuable lessons from that experience as well.

When your spouse says she does not need your help crossing a frigid stream, then let her cross it herself (or let him cross it himself). Being a gentleman has its limits. Snow runoff, while experienced in the mist of waterfall is exhilarating; snow runoff, while experienced doing a face plant into a mountain stream is just damn cold. Finally, it is a wonderful feeling to know that I can completely fail at a task and someone out there will still love me.

grace and peace...

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