Friday, April 30, 2010

A Full Trip

I could not have planned a more full trip, nor one more fulfilling from a relational standpoint. Stacked with events involving friends and family, the schedule proved a steady stream of joyous reunions. All was not mere nostalgia though. A number of new experiences provided detours from "memory lane" that remain points of reflection.

Several themes emerged during this trip that deserve treatment here:

1. Old Friendships must be Updated. It is not enough to merely have memories with people. Photo albums and scrapbooks have their place, but the taste for them quickly wanes amidst the possibility of discussing current life events. Images of yesteryear have some value, but the people in those pictures no longer exist; only the people in the present are the people that do. Those that were are not those that are. Stories that start with "remember the time...?" must be eclipsed by ones that begin with "this is what's happening now..."

I had the opportunity to perform this friendship "reboot" on a couple of occasions. It was a great pleasure. In several cases I was treated to full tours of the arenas where these friends work, leaving me completely fascinated by their respective careers. In addition, so little of the past was brought up because there was simply too much happening in the present to cover. These friendships were indeed "updated," and brought current. What a joy.

2. Geography is Sufficient to Induce Memory. Driving through northern California produced a tsunami of recollections. The routes through Sacramento somewhat started this, but it was Interstate 5 north of Sacramento that began to 'crack those flood gates open.' By the time my approach to Redding took me through the towns of Red Bluff (where all my children were born), Cottonwood and Anderson, I was abuzz with visions of "way back then." As I drove through the downtown area of Redding, near Shasta Dam and Whiskeytown Lake, across the Cypress Street bridge or down Hilltop Drive, "the force" was strong in this place. I noticed all that looked the same since I last was here, and all that had drastically changed.

Some roads were as easy to navigate as if I had never left, yet others left me somewhat 'turned around.' I noticed some buildings that had stood since my childhood, yet other new structures seemed glaringly out of place. The palm trees down the center of Hilltop Drive gave the whole area a different look. This whole "hot/cold" combination of nostalgic sensations could have kept me cruising around the ole' hometown for days.

3. New Experiences make for great Re-creation/re-connection. From hiking to Feather Falls east of Oroville, or playing my first gold course, having these new experiences make for moments of discovery with those loved ones that really should share them with you. Riding a bicycle around Lake Natoma or sauntering casually through Old Sacramento facilitated opportunities to point out to a mother, father or sister something new and neat.

"Look at that! Isn't that cool?"

Such discoveries are meant to be made with loved ones who will share your excitement and exult in your joy. Yet not all new experiences can be shared. At the end of the trip, I enjoyed the annual conference for the American Research Center in Egypt held in Oakland. While I could not take any friends or family with me to this, it nonetheless was filled with sufficient new stimuli to fuel my excited stories upon returning home.

The trip could not have been planned better, and many of the encounters will leave lasting blessings. Would that many be able to enjoy such a time of re-creation and re-connection that offers great comfort to the soul and warmth to the heart.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Courtyard of the Temple

For the first time, last Friday I got to train the Art (kung fu) at Church of the Holy Trinity. While I lament immediately taking a two week break for the sake of a much needed trip, I was glad to fit in the initial session. At present, the those gathered to train include only myself and my two sons. In the future, others may join us as we become more comfortable with using the space for this purpose. Nevertheless, for the time being, the 'threshold' has been crossed, and we can credibly state that the body is trained in the same location as the soul. A local church produces 'sacred space' for more reasons than the obvious Sunday services, but is dedicated ground for developing the whole person - just as Christianity should be.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Reunion Prep

A more 'secure' man would think nothing of 'preparing' for a trip in which reunions with many old friends will ensue. No thoughts at all would dwell on fitness, hair color or how impressive the job description sounds. He would confidently invade the old stomping grounds, aware that maturity trumps expectations and that feeble attempts to "wow!" the social circle of yesteryear fall pathetically short. He'd dismiss with a casual wave any notions of "gearing up" for meeting ancient crushes whose attraction he once found validating, or spending extra 'mirror time' examining the thinning mane (*sigh*). With suave chuckles, he'd ignore any primal instincts to improve appearance, 'inflate' the career description or put his "best face forward."

Well, I am not that man.

I am not immune to fears that re-acquaintances, after replaying "the good ole' days" in their mind, will find the present specimen comparatively underwhelming; Or that the reunion will include such innocent phrases as, "You sure got gray," or "It's good that you're staying active at your age." I don't easily ignore the possibility of having someone look me up and down, then declare sheepishly, "the years have been kind." Nor it is lost on me that some might stumble through the compliment, "I heard you're still a Bible teacher... that's nice." Being a "secure man" is a rather fluid state that sets upon a man at some times, yet can elude him at others. Were I completely above such tendencies, I'd be performing no more push-ups this week than I was prior to planning "Nostalgia Tour 2010."

What can inoculate a middle-aged male from the need for affirmation from historic sources?... Present day sources.

There can be little doubt that I would be far more at risk of groping for approval from old buddies and flames were I not so reinforced (daily) by present friends and family. The wealth of affirming support and encouragement I receive in the present day borders on obscene. As a result, the 'insecure man' is made a little more 'secure' at any given moment due to the relational network. Spousal compliments are without guile, and kids are under no obligation to 'sugarcoat' their respect. Peers in present church and work circles do not convey disappointment or pity. Indeed, whether such affirmation is deserved or not (likely not), it is genuine enough to satiate the appetite for 'borrowed confidence' from exterior sources.

Nevertheless, there's nothing like a pending reunion with old friends to motivate one toward healthier habits. And as for how my career sounds when describing it to these 'sometime' peers? The choices are twofold:

1. Be proud to describe (accurately) the career you have.

2. Keep striving for the career you'd be proud to describe.

A hybrid of these two should work out fine. Besides... my teenage daughter thinks I'm cool anyway.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dress for the Occasion

What can I say? I was annoyed by having to spend a considerable sum to purchase the graduation regalia for the upcoming commencement for the college I teach at. I did not purchase it when at commencement from my own graduate school. I simply didn't, at the time, envision ever needing it again. "You might want to purchase your regalia if you plan to teach in an academic setting in the future," admonished the commencement coordinator from the Dallas Theological Seminary's registrar's office. However, I did not plan to be in an academic setting at the time. My goals lied elsewhere - a dizzying mystery considering the fit that academia is for me now. Nevertheless, I did not anticipate needing to purchase, for myself, a gown, hood, cap and tassel that would simply hang in the closet and remind me of a one-time event.

As a result, when it dawned on me yesterday that I am now a professor at the College of Biblical Studies, and that commencement was fast approaching, I was not a little irritated to realize that I need to buy that stuff now. Since much of one's regalia is specific to the degree they earned and the school they earned it at, I called the DTS registrar's office to find out how to purchase it now. They directed me to The Graduation Place based in Mesquite, Texas. Fortunately, they had a good deal on all the gear, so the expense was slightly less shocking than I feared. It will be shipped here well before the CBS commencement now, so I can breathe just a little easier.

The whole thing, though, got me thinking... that perhaps my annoyance is misplaced. The colorful robes, the hoods, tassels, 'Pomp and Circumstance,' does not exist for bringing attention to the educator. If it were, the educator could dismiss it as unnecessary hubris. Instead it is meant to bring attention to the educated. As well it should. It is the accomplishment of the struggling student that is the focus of the occasion. For this reason, I should actually exult in lauding those who, through diligent hard work, emerged victorious from the gauntlet of their education program to be recognized with the conferral of a degree. As a professor, it was a privilege for me to participate in their development and education, and that privilege carries through even to commencement.

So bring on the flashing robes and gaudy hoods... I'm ready to celebrate those whose striving has yielded the desired reward.