Tuesday, January 3, 2017

If I build it...

A lot of time has passed since I posted here. For a while blogging was at least a semi-regular practice for me, but lately it's been far more semi than regular. I now feel it’s important for me to pick it back it up, so I'm acting on one of my goals for the new year- writing daily (although not necessarily posting something every day).

2016 was a bruising year for the world, and for the nation of which I'm a part, for many of my friends, and in some ways for me. Physically/health-wise it held moments of personal bruising and hardship due to me being diagnosed with achalasia, a condition that affects the esophagus' ability to function properly  (I had the feeling in late ’15 that some kind of challenge was in front of me). But, achalasia also reminded me of the opportunity I’ve always had to regain and maintain my health and fitness. And so I have. I’m now 57 pounds lighter than I was this time last year, and 90 pounds lighter than I was in the summer of 2009. I work out 6 days a week, I’m as lean as I was in college (if not a bit leaner), I’m strong, energetic, and frankly, have a renewed sense of both confidence and thankfulness.

Health and fitness were 2 major themes for me in 2016. At the beginning of 2017, some new themes are coming to me. The very negative election season our country has just been through is one of the factors that have contibuted to the U.S. cultural climate being filled with fear and anger. I feel strongly I am to be a voice of calm, reason, and hope this year. Far less argument, far more dialogue, listening, encouragement, and both giving and receiving wisdom.

A few days ago a friend of mine posted that she had chosen a word for the year, both one for herself and one for her family. I’ve thought about what a word for me for this year should be, and this is what has come to me (2 words, actually)…Build It.

“Build it” means the continual building of my personhood, every aspect of it. The phrase pertains to bringing greater strength and depth to my relationships. It also focuses on building strength and sustainability for the organization I lead, Second Life of Chattanooga. And, it focuses on building an additional platform of non-Second Life speaking engagements, as well as rebooting the consulting, and coaching work I've done in the past. And, having been given the opportunity to do voiceover work in 2016, I'm looking to build on that as well. Plus, I have two other things on which I'm currently working, but details on those are for a later time.

In 2016 I lost a lot of weight and much of the thinking and practices that led to the weight gain in the first place. This was needed in and of itself, but (as usual) I believe it was also a metaphor for attitudes and practices that needed to be lost, gotten rid of. 2017 is about adding new things or bringing back/awakening things that have been absent/dormant from me/within me for a while. Whether these things need to be built from scratch, re-built, or remodeled, I believe that “Build It” best describes the opportunity and calling the new year presents to me. 

So, what word/phrase describes the opportunity of this new year for you? 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Stillness and hope

Today I'm ending an unexpected and brief sabbatical, brought on by me getting sick for the third time in three months. Ten days ago I realized that I was out of gas and needed to see a doctor, and when I did she let me know I had bronchitis that would quickly turn to pneumonia if I didn't get some meds in me and take an immediate rest. I took her advice, got the scrips filled, and took myself off the grid for what has now been a week and a half.

I already had some downtime planned for Thanksgiving, so I began my holiday break five days early and added a few extra days on the backend. My decision to pull the plug on everything, while the wise one, is not my typical approach to being sick and busy at the same time. But, this time it was the necessary decision. And, it's been more than that. Things done out of necessity alone do not mean they will be life-giving. However, the practices, attitudes, and decisions that are life-giving are definitely necessary. You can probably say our lives depend on them.

These ten days have allowed me to recover more than my wind and energy (although both are still in process). Being still more often, not just moving at a slower pace, but being more present in the moment as opposed to moving through it to get the next thing, letting my mind rest as much as my body...these are a few things I've experienced during this time. I'm looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow, back to a different pace and energy level. I'm also grateful that these ten days have strengthened my hope and resolve concerning my work. I once read an interview with a writer who said he regularly practiced the art of slowing down in order to speed up. I'm glad for being able to slow down during this time. I'm looking forward to how it catalyzes new movement and pace.

One last thing. It occurred to me earlier this morning that this ten-day sabbath was culminating on the first day of Advent. A little while ago, without prompting each other, my wife and I simultaneously lit candles in our dining room as she decorates our Christmas tree and I write these words. I find great metaphor in that. Juxtaposed against my sickness and stillness is this longing for breath and light, this desire that something, that someone will break through those things that are not life-giving, that life will be about more than the necessary. We may wait in stillness, but we hope for movement, both his and ours.

In this quiet, candlelit room, with coffee, with Vince Guaraldi's holiday music in the background, with lights on a tree, with each other in close proximity, we wait. And believe.

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

New York Day 9- Afterthoughts

Waking up on Long Island last Saturday morning (after 2 hours sleep), I was anxious to take in as much of my surroundings as possible. It was a beautiful morning, and since I was the first one up in the house, I had the deck and backyard to myself. Sue, Kathy & Mike's next-door neighbor who came to several of the week's shows, talked to me a bit as she was coming back from a walk to a neighborhood store. Then the rest of the house started waking up. Kerri & Gaby and I sat together over coffee, re-living some of the night before, as well as the entire week.

Kerri then took me on a quick tour of her town (including the elementary and high schools she attended) on the way to her favorite bagel place. Taking in the beauty of Long Island was a treat, and once again I was filled with gratitude for all I was able to experience on this trip. When we got back to the house the Knoxville-based part of the cast and crew was loading up for the drive home. Lots of pictures, lots of hugs, lots of words of appreciation and love, and then they were on their way.

Shortly after that, Kathy & Mike drove me to LaGuardia for my own journey home. On a side note, last Saturday afternoon at LaGuardia reminded me of a recent bit Seth Myers did on his show, when he asked what word you get when you merge the words LaGuardia Airport & Hell. The answer? Hell. I agree.

Hugs and thanks were shared with Kathy & Mike and a bit later I'm flying home. An easy flight to Nashville, quick service at the rental car counter, driving through a hellacious thunderstorm, and then I'm home.



The best part of the trip.

This wasn't my first time in New York, but it was certainly my most important trip to the city. I travelled there with a group of artists with whom I share a commitment to create awareness and action on the issue of sex trafficking. It was a trip about hope and humanity, and the belief that the world truly is changed when together we decide to bring light to the darkness. We went hoping to create change in the minds of the audiences. But, I believe we were also changed, or at least what we believe has been strengthened and expanded.

I have returned with an even deeper belief that this fight is not only necessary, it is winnable. It will take a long time, longer than I likely still have on this earth. But by living with the long view, the perspective that what we do echoes forward into the lives of people who will live beyond us, by being willing to plant trees whose shade we will never sit under, we can in fact turn the tide on this crime. The more the tide turns, the harder it becomes for those who commit this crime to do so successfully.

My hope is that the cast and crew of "Princess Cut" have been encouraged that what they're doing with this play and their individual gifts is making a real difference, a life and death difference. I hope (and believe) they are going to continue to bring art that matters to audiences who will be moved to action. People will be helped through their efforts. Lives will be saved.

Together we will keep doing what we do, what has been given to us to do, what we've been called to do. Others will join us. Maybe even you. More lives will be touched, more minds changed, more hearts moved, more collaborative action created. A seemingly small movement will grow large, then massive.

And then one day...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New York Day 8- Wrapping up the Show

The day of the final show I took a slow morning, then headed into Manhattan in the afternoon for some shopping, taking in some more sights, and one more lunch at GMT Tavern. I fell in love with the Lower East Side on this trip, especially the Village. In my previous trips to NYC I've spent most of my time in Midtown and the Upper West and East Sides, all great parts of the city. This trip I spent more time in the Village, SoHo, NoHo, & TriBeCa than I ever had, and that's the area of the island that most appeals to me.

I had a blast standing on the street with  Kristen helping hand out promotional cards for the show (it turned into a competition between the 2 of us that she narrowly won, probably by cheating), then it was show time. Although we were told that the A/C had been repaired in the theater, it wasn't any cooler than Monday's show. Large fans had been set up in the space, creating a noise challenge for the actors. But, as this cast always does, they rose to the challenge and put on another compelling performance. I was filled with so much pride for them as they took their bows, knowing how much they've each put into making "Princess Cut" a reality, sacrificing so much time and energy to bring it to the stage. To watch them being applauded on a New York stage was a wonderful gift.

We ran around the corner for the cast party, an enjoyable time full of lots of hugs and pictures. Kerri (she's the actress who plays the lead character) grew up on Long Island and her parents have been at each performance this week. They asked me during the cast party if I'd like to come out to their place to spend the night with the rest of the cast and crew. I'd never been to Long Island, so I said give me some time and I'll be there.

A quick cab ride back to Brooklyn, and even quicker time packing all my stuff, back in the cab, then to Penn Station, and then on the 11:18 on the LIRR to Manhasset. It was after midnight before I got to the Koczen's house, by which time everyone else was there and the second cast party began. The highlight of the evening was a 3am improv session put on by the cast. Hysterical and imaginative, it was great watching this group use their skills on different material (obviously made up on the spot), and having so much fun playing off of each other. Some of it included jokes that had grown from some of the events of the week, making watching it that much more enjoyable.

Even though this was all going on hours past my normal bedtime, I didn't want to miss any of it. Around 4am Kerri's mom, Kathy, brought out hotdogs and meatball subs, so we sat around the fire pit enjoying the cool night and continuing to express thanks and wonder for the week we'd just experienced together. Finally, around 4:30, I waved the white flag and told everyone goodnight. Before I dropped off to sleep I thought about what a miracle the week had been, all the gifts I'd experienced during it, the greatest of which was to be part of the wonderful community that is Yellow Rose Productions and so many of their family and friends I've been privileged to meet through this connection. I've written a lot about gratitude this week. In the early hours of that Saturday morning, I once again gave thanks for this unexpected connection, and for the privilege of being part of a group committed to changing the world.

Monday, August 24, 2015

New York Day 7- Privilege and a Long Walk

Thursday, Day 7 of the New York trip, stood out for two reasons. The first one was due to the unexpected invitation we received from FBI Supervisory Special Agent Anthony Bivona (he served on the talkback panel after Monday's show) to come to tour the FBI Operations Command Center at Federal Plaza in Foley Square.

This is the Bureau's largest field office, and Anthony heads up the team that handles all trafficking-related cases, as well as various other crimes, for the New York City area. After going through the building's extensive security, we were taken upstairs to where Anthony's team operates.

Anthony first showed us a room that houses several artifacts telling the story of the FBI. From the days of Prohibition, to the Bureau's on-going fight against organized crime, to items used by  Nazi and Soviet spies, to shrapnel from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the room was a historical treasure. The item that made the biggest impression on me, however, was a completely intact tire from one of the airplanes that crashed into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Except for a few scrapes, the tire was in good shape. It was recovered several blocks from Ground Zero. Amazing how a tire survives when nearly 3,000 people and hundreds of tons of steel were turned to dust.

We saw the command center where the Bureau and its partners receive up to the minute intelligence on large-scale events. Anthony then took us to the Assistant Director's conference room, where major meetings are held through video link with other law enforcement agencies, both domestically and internationally. He took some time to explain to us not only how his specific team works, but to also give us a better overall understanding of how the Bureau works. Anthony was very complimentary of how well-done the play "Princess Cut" is and how impressed he was with its depiction of the issue of trafficking. He commended us for the work we're doing to shine a light on the crime.

Before we left, we promised to remain in touch, as we are all finding that the anti-trafficking community is actually pretty small. We share many of the same issues, and each of us, whether governmental or non-governmental agencies, rely on our fellow anti-trafficking colleagues for support, encouragement, and the sharing of wisdom and best practices. I deeply appreciate Anthony's enthusiastic support of our mission in New York, and I'm confident our paths will cross again.

After lunch we went in a few different directions, but several of us decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I've crossed this bridge many times in a taxi, but never on foot. What a magnificent view from one of the world's iconic bridges. It was a sunny day, and even though the bridge was crowded, it was still a great walk. The views on both sides are quite inspiring, including the one to the south, which is of the Statue of Liberty. Standing there looking at the Statue, I thought about the scores of people who came through Ellis Island and then settled on the Lower East Side, looking for a better life than the one they left behind. In so doing, they transformed their individual and family stories, ultimately transforming the story of our nation.

A walk around Brooklyn followed, then we took the subway back to Manhattan, convening once again at Schillers (their pulled pork tacos are worth walking over any bridge). I made an early night of it, but went back to the apartment once again full of gratitude and wonder. This trip brought me many gifts, some bigger than others, but all of them important. Day 7 of the trip began with a look at the complexities of the world's premier crime-fighting agency, and culminated with the simple act of taking a walk across one of New York's most beloved symbols. Quite a day, another one for which I am thankful.

Friday, August 21, 2015

New York Day 6- Making The Most Of It

As I've mentioned in an earlier post, New York is experiencing its first heatwave just in time for me to be here (I hate hot weather). The A/C in the theater went out Monday, but the cast & crew performed the show anyway. As of Tuesday night the air in the theater still wasn't working, and we received word early Wednesday morning that all shows scheduled for the Lynn Redgrave Theater on Wednesday had been cancelled.

This was a big letdown for us, but obviously nothing could be done about it. The cancellation gave me a free morning, so I took advantage of it to do some work, then headed into Manhattan for the afternoon. I met up with some of the cast for lunch at Katz's Deli. I'd never been to Katz's, but I will certainly be back. A pastrami sandwich from Heaven, plus a chocolate egg cream, and I'm sold on the place. Great food, great environment. The place was packed, the walls lined with pictures of the famous people who've been to Katz's over the years. There's also a sign hanging from the ceiling pointing to the spot where Meg Ryan & Billy Crystal shot the memorable diner scene in "When Harry Met Sally."

We then took in one of the other plays that is part of the Fringe festival, a comedy. The show was well-done and we enjoyed it, but there were some elements that got me thinking in a theological vein. I'll share those thoughts in a later post after my NYC trip.

We then headed down the street to the famous Schillers bar, spending much of the evening there. After taking in more of the Lower East Side, I made my way back to the apartment well past my normal bedtime, but having enjoyed a great day in the company of great friends.

In thinking back on the day, although it was disappointing to lose one of our shows, I'm also grateful we had the opportunity to relax a bit. Whether you're in a theater company that produces a play about sex trafficking, or you work with an anti-trafficking non-profit, the issue of trafficking sometimes feels just a bit too heavy, both your body and mind wobble under the weight. Wednesday allowed us the opportunity to remember some simple joys, and experience those joys in community. I need days like this, as I have a tendency to get lost in the work and the issue.

Victims of trafficking desire to experience humanity to the fullest, a desire I believe we all share. To take a day to simply be a human being living a day of joy, fellowship, laughter, great food and drink, as well as inspiration, is not a luxury...it's a necessity, no matter what type of work you do. For me though, I know the more often I give myself this kind of day, I'm better able to serve the survivors with whom we work.

Wednesday was not the day I expected, but it was definitely the day I needed. And for that gift, and again paraphrasing what the old gentleman said to me during my walk around Brooklyn on Saturday, "Tanks be to God."

New York Day 5- I think I'll go to Boston

Tuesday was a day off for "Princess Cut," so I take full advantage of it to head to Boston and spend the day with one of my best friends, Kevin Kokx, who lives a couple hours north of there in New Hampshire.

Rob Alderman & I met Kev and Brian Hash in seminary years ago in Minnesota, and we became known as "The Irreverends," what one of our professors described as "a cohort within our cohort." We've stayed closely connected since, and take every opportunity to get together. Kev was in Tennessee with me last month, so when I found out I was coming to New York and would have this day off, I called Kev and meeting up in Beantown was on.

A consistent aspect of Kevin's and my friendship is that we have a great deal of fun while also being able to have great conversations about deeper things. Tuesday was another one of those days. As soon as he met me at South Street station, we headed to Emmets pub not far off Boston Common. Excellent choice, as their fish & chips and the Emmets Irish Ale make you glad you stopped in.

We then headed over to the Common, which was packed with people taking in the beautiful summer day. Kev and I have always made walks a part of our times together, and our walk around the Common was another one of those great times of conversation.  We then took some time on a bench and spent a while talking about where we are and where we're headed in our lives. Then more walking around the Common, which led us across the street to L. J. Peretti cigar store. Peretti's is the 2nd oldest cigar store in the US, in business since 1870. For those of you who know Nat Sherman in NYC, the day Nat opened for business in 1930, Peretti's had already been operating for 60 years.

Some enjoyment was had at Peretti's, then we moved back into the Common, after which we took in a bit of the freedom trail. I've always loved Park Church right off the Common, as well as walking through Granary Cemetery next door. Reading both the names and the dates of birth and death on the tombstones always reminds me that Boston is very much the seat of our nation's history.

We came across the tombstone of Robert Trent Paine, and the inscription on the stone included the fact that he signed the Declaration of Independence. Not exactly something you run across every day. As many who know me well, I'm not someone who focuses on tradition, on making sure things stay the way they've been and are. Some may think that means I don't care about or respect history, which is not true. While the future is what interests me the most, history is important to me and I'm very respectful of the people and events who have helped shape where we find ourselves today.

Some more walking around, more conversation, and then it was time for me to head back to the train station. Only 6 hours with my buddy, but I was very grateful for even part of a day together. Looking forward to our next time together, looking forward to seeing Boston again, hopefully soon. Now back to NYC.