Cluttered Life

SF Giant's Stadium

I’ve seen a commercial recently that has a guy playing a baseball video game, alone, in his nice urban living room.  The narrator begins to talk about how when you used to play video games it meant sitting in your mom’s basement for hours, missing out on friends gatherings, but now you don’t have to choose.  The guy then gets up, the game is now on his handheld device, and he is walking outside.  The tag line is,  “You never have to choose again.”

Recently, there has been a lot of critiquing about people who, because of the mobility of devices, the availability of wifi, and data plans, seem glued to screens. The common critique is that they are missing the life right around them, are losing the ability to be present in a situation, and to have actual relationships.  While I agree with some of what critics are saying, a new thought occurred to me as I watched this commercial.

If hoarders are suffocated by their inability to choose to throw things away, then what about people who can’t stop doing.  I would say its more than just playing video games while walking down the street. I’m talking about people who are loaded by the number of online and offline activities that they have said yes to.

In our striving to be both pleasing and to never let an opportunity go by, perhaps yes has lost its true power, its true value. Its a word meant to affirm approval (of my time, my thoughts, my actions).  Not something done to placate someone. When we are talking about your time, your attention, your energy, what are you saying yes to?  What are you allowing to take your time?  What are you making time for?

Its like the common argument about the phrase “I love you.” If you say, “I love Justin Beiber,” “I love chocolate,” “I love you.” What is the true value of love? (A favorite musician AGAPE talks about this at every concert/worship service.)

I recently tried to stop saying, “I just didn’t have time.” I instead replaced the phrase with “I didn’t make time.”  In reality its the truth.  Everyone has the same amount of time, it is our responsibility to choose what we do with that time.  We will always have to choose.  If we just say yes to everything and don’t de-select the things that no longer fulfill us, we end up with a hoarded life. A life that has become cluttered with things we used to do, but can’t see giving up because we have been doing it for so long.  We can’t imagine our time without that activity, but in reality we wish we didn’t have to spend more time there.  Remember, when a hoarder can’t give something up, it is because they can’t let go.  They are paralyzed by the inability to choose, by their inability to imagine a life without that item.

So when a marketing company tries to tell me that I don’t have to choose, that I can do everything. I tell just shake my head because I am glad to choose to just walk, just enjoy the birds, and just enjoy the fresh air without wondering if I should move my outfielders in for the next batter.

Extremely Loud

Yosemite Dogwood Blooms

Yosemite Dogwood Blooms

I just watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  It was a really moving film.  There was a moment near the middle of the film when the main character, Oskar, is bombarded by the sounds of that terrible day, Sept 11.  The sounds of the normally busy city are increased exponentially with sirens, phones ringing and finally adults talking and crying.   The film makers did a great job of capturing the intensity of sound for Oskar in that moment.  How in the usually safe, serene and quiet bedroom, Oskar couldn’t shut out the city or the events crashing around him.  We as the viewer are equally bombarded with sounds until no sounds exist, except the simple sound of Oskar scratching the floor. He was finally able to focus on just one sound, just one action, and he could hear nothing.

When I was a kid I used to pity people who would drive in their car with no radio on. I thought wow that must be so boring.  I couldn’t understand why the person would want to be surrounded by silence.  Now that I find that I have embraced times when driving with only the sound of the car traveling over the road is what I want to hear.  Those times when life, the thoughts in my head, and sometimes the voices around me have become just too loud, that I couldn’t possibly add the noise of the radio to the symphony.

When I remember times of loudness I think not only of physical loudness I think of times when my mind was just shouting at me, or just wouldn’t shut down long enough for me to rest.  How do we train ourselves to find the peace in all the noise?

A great centering prayer has helped me. I take sometime to listen to my breath, usually just a few minutes, then I allow myself to hear again the sounds around me for a few minutes. Then I again return to my breath.  As I breath I chose a phrase to repeat like, “Breathing in I hear the sound of children laughing, Breathing out I hear the sound of my breath. Breathing in I hear the sound of birds, breathing out I hear my breath.”  This practice helps me pick out and chose what I pay attention to in the surroundings. It helps me find myself within the noise around me.


Cathedral in the Trees

Autumn in Alaska

As a part of the Cathedral series that has emerged, here is a poem/reflection I wrote while working at a YMCA camp in Kalamazoo Michigan.  It was October and the trees had been slowly changing for weeks, but the warm summer days still greeted us each afternoon.  Until one morning…

It rained last night. At first a light tropical song played in my mind but as I woke a new slower song played.

The trees have been slowly changing their lush green leaves for vibrant technicolor hues of orange, yellow and red.  This morning the change in melody was initiated by the trunks of these trees.  The wet drops of rain had darkened the tree trunks  and moistened the summer bleached grey into a rich black.  This new contrast reminds me so clearly of black robed monks processing through a cathedral with magnificent stained glass windows, illuminated by a thousand candles. Their slow deep Latin chanting fills my ears as I slowly process through the tree’s aisles. when I gaze upwards the soft grey sky is punctuated by bursts of red and yellow topping the trees.


I still carry a leaf I found on that day.  Hopefully it reminds me that God is processing with me as I walk through the trees.  That the trees are God’s greatest cathedrals and some of the greatest reminders to slowly move with the rhythm of life.

Where are the natural cathedrals where you feel God processing slowly with you?






Nature’s Vast Cathedral



The spaces we occupy for worship has always greatly varied, from grand cathedrals, small chapels, homes, pubs and coffee shops.  All these buildings elicit different emotions.  In 2006 I visited the ruins of Cluny in France.  The cathedral in Cluny was destroyed by the Huguenots in the 1500’s but was until then the largest church in the world.  The portions left of the great cathedral are the abbey, a granary, and a bell tower.

Walking through the space where the cathedral once existed you can stand next to the base of huge footings and just imagine the building rising above you.  I love the idea of the grand building being replaced by nature’s vast cathedral.  One of my favorite cathedrals is the vast open space known as Yosemite National Park. The valley floor has often felt like a sacred space, a cathedral with stone cliffs that draw your eye upward to the great open sky.