Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Traveling Mercies

At least I can say that I survived.

I survived the brief period of respite in the busy lives of my family as they all gathered at the homestead for the observance of Christmas.  They were all here . . . all ten of us, plus three dogs . . . crowded around the kitchen table, telling stories, laughing, arguing, stuffing their faces, and having a grand ol’ time reconnecting and being family.  And, I survived.

The youngest son, our daughter-in-law, and granddog made the long trek north from Salt Lake City the Friday before Christmas to spend some time with their Montana family . . . brothers and sister, brother-in-law, nieces, and of course the wife and I.  They made their base camp at the homestead where we all gathered multiple times throughout the week to break bread, have a few brews, a few bottles of wine, and make a lot of noise.  It was a blast having them and the rest of the family gathered . . . and, I survived.

This morning the youngest and his spouse packed up and headed south to beat the incoming storm . . . headed south to return where they work and play . . . to where they call “home”.  The weather forecast was predicting a storm coming from the northwest . . . pretty much over the route that they were going to be driving to get home.  Out the door they went as the sun was rising to beat the storm on roads still recovering from the previous winter’s blast of two days ago . . . one that left their route less than desirable for travel.  The kids and granddog said their goodbyes, loaded up, and headed down the road.

As they drove down the street . . . the quietness returned . . . the stillness returned . . . and, it was over.  The Christmas celebration and reunion was over.  Everyone had begun their journey back to reality . . . back to so-called normalness . . . and, I had survived much to the chagrin of the rest of the family.

In the quietness of the day I have caught myself wandering around the stillness of the house.  The Christmas music is still playing . . . the lights are still shining brightly from the free . . . the snow has provided a blanket of beauty across the yard where Morris the Moose shines on in the approaching darkness . . . and, yet, there is a restlessness that stirs me to wander in the quiet stillness of the house . . . I am thinking of my family—near and far.  Isn’t that what happens when the noise of the celebration ceases and the quietness descends . . . we contemplate, we think, we wonder, and we offer a prayer.

The informal belief in our family is that “family is all that we have”, and because it is all that we have we have to love and support one another in the journey of life . . . for better or worse.  As a family we succeed fairly well for the most part even though there are some parts that we still need to work on . . . a few relationships that need to be mended and re-established . . . a little more grace and a little less animosity . . . and, I imagine that in time it will come or I will die—whichever comes first.  But, for the most part we do a good job of being a family . . . about as good as anyone.  Yet it is in this belief that we cling tightly to one another . . . in the good times and in the bad times . . . to love and support one another despite the fact that each of us is on our own journeys to be who God created us to be . . . to be ourselves in a world that would rather we all be carbon copies of one another.  Thus we cling and hold on tightly to one another because we care . . . because we love one another.

With the crunching of the car’s tires going down the street, the children left.  Quietness descended . . . and the immensity of the whole thing overwhelmed me . . . what an awesome responsibility any of us has when we are a part of a family.  Despite enjoying the quiet stillness of the homestead after the Christmas tsunami, I miss them all.  Our Christmas gathering was a wonderful respite in the journeys that each of us are on . . . a wonderful break from all the noise of the world around us . . . a joyful occasion to break bread, drink a little wine, tells stories, to laugh, and to bask in the warmth of a family’s love. 
But, life must go on.  We all must pack up our belongings from the respite of family gathering and head back into the reality of our own journeys.  There are jobs to be done.  Children to be raised.  Relationships to be worked on.  Dreams to dream.  Doctor’s appointments.  Bills to be paid.  Choices to make.  Each of our journeys takes us down the paths of life--some well-traveled, some not even blazed—in different directions.  Some will draw us closer, but others will draw us further apart.  Some will be easy, some quite difficult.  There will be victories and defeats.  These are journeys that we have to make in order to discover who we are . . . what our purpose is . . . and, to dream the big dreams.  Often we must make them alone.  We all have to go back to the journey.

I am amazed at the journeys of the members of my family . . . amazed at the resilience of each and every one of them.  Amazed that they have rejoiced in the good times and ridden the waves of the difficult times.  I stand in awe of them each carving out their own paths through life.  Amazed at their dreams . . . and, honored that they allow the wife and I to be a part of the stories that are being lived and written. 

And, so, it makes me contemplate in this quiet stillness . . . I think of how much I love them . . . I think about how much I want to succeed in their pursuits . . . I think about their happiness . . . I think about their safety.  Above all things I want them to be safe . . . safe, because the journey of life is not for the faint-hearted.  It can be hard and dangerous.  As the youngest and his wife pulled away . . . in the quietness of the house . . . I uttered a simple prayer: “Traveling mercies.”

I uttered it for all my family . . . wherever they might be . . . “traveling mercies.”  Yeah, I survived the family onslaught . . . the family celebration and gathering; but, thanks to the words of “traveling mercies” said for me throughout my life, I have also survived the journey thus far.  That is my desire and wishes for all my family . . . that God may surround them all in their journeys and keep them safe.

We all need a little “traveling mercy” in our lives . . . in our journeys.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Christmas Blues

I have never handled Christmas well.  The wife and the rest of the family would probably say that I am related to the Grinch of Dr. Seuss fame . . . but, I really don’t have a heart that is three sizes too small . . . I think that I have a heart that is fairly normal, but overwhelmed . . . so overwhelmed that it cannot handle the holiday season because it makes my heart ache.

It is probably just the introvert in me.  Christmas is an extroverted sort of a holiday.  It has been the “hot topic” for more than a month now . . . closer to six to eight weeks depending on whether or not you go with the retail world’s after Halloween onslaught or the more tradition creeping into Thanksgiving . . . calling for people to get up and party hardy . . . to mingle and mosey . . . to gather and celebrate . . . the more, the merrier.  Christmas is filled with gathering . . . the gathering of families, friends, congregations, communities, and just about any person that can be pulled off the street.   Christmas, as it has come to be, is a “get in your face” sort of holiday filled with people . . . lots of people.  An introvert’s worse nightmare.  Christmas seems to scream at you.  After a while it kind of overwhelms me.

Christmas is noisy.  Between all of the blaring holiday music and the advertisements screaming at us . . . it gets pretty loud.  Christmas is flashy.  There are all the light displays decorating houses and neighborhoods, blaring their music, and flashing colorful displays of holiday cheer.  It almost gets to be blinding.  Christmas is extravagant . . . almost a competition . . . seeing who can one-up the other.  It is almost more than one can handle . . . overwhelming.

Throw into the mix the whole secular versus religious battle of Christmas and it just gets more and more convoluted.  The arguments abound between whether “Jesus is the reason for the season” or if it is just another holiday with a jolly fat man in a red suit delivering gifts to those who can afford them.  Both sides shout  . . . no scream . . . at each other that their side is the correct way to celebrate the holiday, whether or not it is politically correct.  Neither side listens very well . . . and, well, it gets to be a little overwhelming having to decide between the purity of the Virgin Birth and stuffing the stocking full of gifts.  Shoot . . . both sides are a little ridiculous and thin-skinned.  Often this debate does not reflect well on those who call themselves the followers of Jesus . . . not very loving or understanding . . . especially when Jesus himself calls us to embrace our neighbors in their diversity and differences.  My heart grows weary of the constant arguing.

As a traditionalist, I have always been amazed at the ferocious embrace Christmas by those who call themselves Christians.  They act as if this is the defining point of the faith story . . . and, yet, give little credence to the fact that it is the final transition into the final movement of God’s love that is culminated in the cross and resurrection of Easter.  Easter is the defining moment of the Christian journey of faith . . . not Christmas.  Yet, the “church” continues to jump on the bandwagon of Christmas as that defining moment of faith . . . blind to the movement of God in the lives of humanity.  It overwhelms my heart that we miss the fact that Christmas is the opening of the door of the journey and story that never ends.  Christmas is not the end in itself . . . it is just the beginning.

Christmas is overwhelming for me . . . as a pastor and as an individual.  My heart is not three sizes too small.  No, my heart is quite normal.  In the movie American Beauty one of the characters is a young man who is quite unique and different in comparison to the other characters in the story.  One of his hobbies is filming things in his life using a small video recorder.  In one scene he shares a video with his next door neighbor—his girlfriend.  It is a film of a plastic trash bag being blown around in the wind . . . practically dancing in the wind’s current.

Ricky describes the scene:  “It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That's the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember... I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”

It is overwhelming.

Ricky says it best: “Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”

I am not the Grinch.  My heart is not three sizes too small.  I am overwhelmed . . . especially as an introvert . . . with the immensity of this holiday season we call Christmas.  The “gift” of Christmas . . . whether secular or religious . . . focuses on love . . . focuses on time.  Yet, so often, we miss the point of Christmas . . . we lose it in all of the glittery wrapping, the flashing lights, the blaring music, and the “ho, ho, ho” of the moment.  We are blind to what really matters . . . that time with those we love . . . the quiet lull when our hearts are filled beyond words or expression . . . that moment when a tear blinds us to what we are seeing through the eyes of others that we love.  It swells the heart . . . it is overwhelming.

Overwhelmed . . . I retreat.  I retreat to that quiet place . . . trying to handle the tsunami of emotions that flood my heart.  I retreat to find solid ground upon which to find my footing to enable me to stand within the world of the extrovert and be present with those around me.  It is not always easy . . . sometimes, out of fear, I am defensive . . . I seem cold or indifferent.  But, I am not . . . I am overwhelmed.

The fact is that I have never handle Christmas well.

So, I apologize for the fact that I am not the “ho, ho, ho” sort of person that one expects during the Christmas season.  I apologize because it is difficult to embrace the extroverted nature of the holiday season that overwhelms me with it extravagant beauty.  My heart cannot handle such a flood of awesomeness without time to process and understand it.  It is not that I do not love Christmas in its vast beauty . . . but, it is more than I can handle in one sitting.  Forgive me if I seem stand-offish or distant . . . forgive me if I seem indifferent, that is not my intention . . . I am overwhelmed.

I am overwhelmed . . . overwhelmed until I can pause in the quietness of my world to discern that moment when all those cosmic tumblers fall into place and I am in the presence of what Christmas truly means.  It happens every year. 

Sometimes it is in the quiet singing of the congregation gathered in candlelight singing Silent Night, Holy Night.  Sometimes it happens while sitting with the family around the kitchen table after the Christmas Eve service, eating food, laughing, and just basking in the gentleness of the moment.  Sometimes it happens as I watch my oldest granddaughter opening her presents and yelping with glee as she receives her umpteenth stuffed toy . . . just seeing the happiness and joy on her face.  Sometimes it happens well after everyone has gone to bed and I am lying in bed, having difficulty falling to sleep because I have been overwhelmed with family, friends, gifts, food, and laughter.  Sometimes it just comes in the quietness of a time when I am by myself.

And, when it happens . . . I cannot help but to shed a tear or two.  My heart is not too small, it is just not big enough to handle the immensity of the love I feel.  It happens every Christmas.  In all honesty, I do not think that it is just an “introvert” problem . . . in all honesty, if we would be that with ourselves, I think it is a problem we all have.  Christmas is overwhelming.  But, you know what, even as an introvert it is good to know that I am not alone. 

That is the message of Christmas . . . we are never alone.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Rest in Peace Santa

“Kids believe in Santa; adults believe in childhood.”
(Cate Kennedy)

Sometimes childhood doesn’t last as long as it should.  As I watch our oldest granddaughter—about two-and-a-half years old—get excited at the mere mention of the name “Santa Claus”, I cannot help but to get sucked into her enthusiasm for the jolly fat guy.  Yet, at the same time, when I am alone and contemplating life, I cannot help but to mourn the fact that this enthusiasm for good ol’ Saint Nick is not going to last long.  Childhood ends and with it the death of many of the most cherished symbols of that time.

For years, when confronted by others about the existence of Santa Claus I took the metaphysical route in answering their question.  I would state with certainty that Santa existed as long as one believed in the existence of Santa.  For me this worked because I did not have to be the “bad guy” who was popping some person’s dream and flooding it with the cold hard reality of life.  And, this worked for many years, especially in those years of my life that ended with B.C.—“before children”.

When our children came into our lives, the high falutin metaphysical didn’t carry much weight any longer as they were certain in the existence of Santa Claus.  Why wouldn’t they be?  Their mother and father had perpetuated that existence through years of being the “spirit” of Santa through always making sure that Santa heard and responded to their Christmas desires.  There were always gifts under the tree, mingle among the other gifts, bearing the name of Santa.  There was always the half-eaten cookies and empty milk glass as evidence that the fat guy had made his dutiful stop at the Keener household.   Evidence abounded . . . Santa existed.  There is no arguing with a Keener—no matter what age that Keener might be—once they have set their mind to believing in something . . . even Santa Claus.

But, childhood ends.

It was the year our oldest child was in first grade that adulthood and reality reared its ugly head in the Santa Claus department.  As the Christmas break neared at the elementary school he attended the teacher ran the kids through the time-honored tradition of asking the kids in the class to share what they were asking Santa Claus for Christmas.  Listening to my son describe the activity I could imagine the awe upon all of the children’s faces as they share the grand hopes of what they were expecting Santa Claus to deliver under the Christmas tree.  There wasn’t a kid in that classroom who didn’t have grand designs and hopes anchored to the jolly fat man come Christmas morning.  With the ringing of the class bell signaling the end of the day and the start of the Christmas vacation all the kids ran home happily.

Of course it was a nice exercise in killing time for the teacher, but it was an open ended exercise . . . it would not be complete until the kids had the opportunity to share what Santa actually delivered on Christmas Day.  This, of course, would not be done publicly in the confines of a classroom, but throughout that first day back from vacation on the playground, in the hallways, and lunchroom.  It would be there that the truth would come streaming out . . . and, it was there that our oldest son began to lose his childhood.

There in the hallways, on the playground, and in the lunchroom, our son learned that not every child—his friends—did not get what they asked for from Santa.  Oh, they might have gotten a gift from Santa but it was nothing close to what they had asked for or desired.  Others got nothing at all from Santa.  This is confusing for a little person who believes . . . who believes in Santa treating all good little boys and girls fairly . . . in rewarding them for being good.  According to my son, all his classmates were in that category.  “So,” he asked me, “why did I get everything I wanted from Santa and my friends didn’t?  Why did some get presents and other nothing?  Why did Santa do that?”

My first reaction, being a good father, was to refer him to his mother; but, unfortunately she was nowhere to be found and the kid was wanting answers.   Answers I wasn’t wanting to share.  Metaphysical mumbo jumbo doesn’t carry much weight with a first grader.  With a swoosh you could hear the innocence of childhood fleeing the scene.  This was one of those sucky moments of being a parent . . . probably right up there with the talk on “the birds and the bees”.

So . . . we talked.  We talked about how unfair life could be.  We talked about the fact that there are poor people in the world.  We talked about how much one could hurt for others, especially when we love them whether they are family or friends.  We talked about hope and dreams.  And, we talked about the fact that Mommy and Daddy were really Santa . . . and, we talked about what Santa meant to him.  But, you know, it isn’t easy talking when you see those tears welled up in a little one’s eyes . . . and, you feel them wanting to burst from your own.

That was the day that Santa Claus died in our house.  Rest in peace, Santa.  That was also the day that we began to share a different story of Christmas even though it had always been running throughout since the children arrived in our lives . . . that was the story of God’s love for all of creation, for all people.  We shared the fact that Santa doesn’t come to everyone’s house, but that God does.  We shared the Christmas Story and how it bursts into our lives and changes us and the world around us.  We shared a different “Santa” story . . . the story of Saint Nicholas and how the priest began the tradition of giving to those in need.  We shared that it was not the gifts under the tree that were important, but the people gathered around the tree.  We shared the love and the grace that the true gift of Christmas is supposed to be about.  And, in the meantime, we shared the fact that Santa can live in our hearts for as long as we believe in him . . . that metaphysical stuff . . . in hopes that he would understand.

I cannot say that it was one of the easiest conversations I ever had with my son, but it was one of the most powerful and memorable ones.  It is a conversation that has been lifted up every couple of years as the family has expanded with a son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.  It is one that I think lurks in the shadows of the Christmas season in many households and families when children are attempting to make sense of the propaganda of the commercial Christmas against the one that dwells in our hearts.  Childhood is wonderful, but it is also shrinking all of the time.  I do not remember whether or not I hugged my son after our heart-to-heart conversation, but I hope I did.
The time is coming again when the story of Santa’s death in the Keener family must be retold as the granddaughters continue to grow.  They are sharp and smart little girls, and the day will come when what they believe and what they see doesn’t quite mesh . . . when friends do not receive what they ask Santa for, or receive nothing at all.  Though I relish the joy and excitement of my two-and-a-half year old granddaughter when it comes to the ol’ jolly guy, I also know that the time will come . . . because that time will come.

Reality sucks, but the power of love and grace . . . the power of the Christmas Story . . . does not.  Nor does the mind-blowing power of childhood suck.  I relish the gift of the newest generation within the family that brings hope, belief, and Santa into the picture of life.  I relish it because I believe in them . . . and, in childhood.  Yeah, Santa died years ago, but the dude keeps on coming back . . . always providing us with an opportunity to connect and broaden the intimacy between generations as we discover together the true meaning and power of Christmas.  If you believe . . . really believe . . . it can be so.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Gee, Its Getting Warm

According to some on Facebook, I am going to hell.  Well, they haven’t quite come out and stated that quite that way, but their intentions imply that I am well on my way to hell.  The cause of my demise?  The refusal to re-post or share posts.  You know the posts that I am talking about . . . those posts that state that if you love . . . or care . . . or support . . . or believe in any of the causes that they post you will either re-post or share.  If you do not re-post or share you are a myriad of nasty things that will earn you a trip to hell or at least get your toe firmly planted in the pools of fire.  At least that is the feeling I get . . . I’m going to hell in a hand basket.

Why?  Why am I doomed for hell?  Basically because I am not a person who re-posts or share a whole lot of what is posted onto my news feed.  Apparently this knocks me off the Facebook pedestal for committing an unforgivable sin.  For that I apologize.  I did not read the Facebook Member’s Handbook very closely . . . like everyone else I just click on the “accept” button and moved onto the Facebook experience.  I should have paid closer attention . . . it is getting a little warm and I see the flames on the horizon.

It is a rare day that I re-post or share what someone else has shared.  Especially rare when I am threatened or manipulated in order to re-post or share something.  I do not appreciate being threatened or manipulated to repost or share something just to be invited to the party.  That is what seems to happen in a lot of the invitations to re-post or share.  I do not think that bullying should be allowed, especially in my experience in what is billed as a “social network”.  When I am threatened or manipulated it doesn’t feel very sociable.

Let me clear up a few misconceptions.
I am not “too cool” to re-post or share a post.  My refusal to re-post or share a post has nothing to do with being cool.  The fact of the matter is . . . I have never been “cool” . . . ever.  I was always one of those wallflowers in the game of life . . . partly because I was not “cool” and mostly because I am an introvert.  Introverts don’t need to be cool as we have our own little party going on in our heads all of the time.  So, it is not because I am “too cool” that I choose not to re-post or share a post.

I am patriotic.  I do not appreciate my patriotism being questioned because I choose not to re-post or share a post.  I participate in each and every election.  I pay my taxes.  I pray for those who are serving our great nation.  I take off all the nationally declared holidays and observances.  I fly a flag outside of my house when it calls for the flag to be flown.  I say the Pledge of Allegiance and stand for the National Anthem.  I do not appreciate having my patriotism questioned and challenged because I choose not to re-post or share a particular post . . . even at the peril of landing in hell.  I am patriotic . . . red, white, and blue through and through.

I love Jesus.  Just because I choose not to re-post or share some religious post acclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior does not mean that I do not love Jesus.  Jesus knows that I love him . . . God, too.  I message both all of the time . . . we have conversations all the time . . . we are on speaking terms.  Yet for some reason there seems to be those out there who think that if people don’t re-post or share their posts about Jesus and God . . . well, that you don’t love them . . . and, if you don’t love them you’re certainly on your way to hell . . . but, I imagine I will be in good company.

I am not uncaring . . . nor am I unloving.  I am not apathetic.  I am not callous.  I am not mean.  I am not racist.  I am not homophobic.  I am not anti-religion.  I am not a Republican or a Democrat.  I am not stupid . . . ignorant, maybe, but not stupid.  I like to think of myself as a fairly open individual who will listen and think before responding to anyone or anything whether it is on Facebook or not.  Thus it is that I do not appreciate being threatened and manipulate by those asking me to re-post or share their post.

As much as I hope that this simple explanation would put an end to the requests I get to re-post or share, I know that it will not be.  I know that people will continue to bombard my news feed with requests . . . with threats . . . with manipulation . . . or guilt . . . to re-post and share their posts.  Unfortunately . . . it ain’t gonna happen.  I like the people I have friended on Facebook and I do not think that it is too sociable to trash their news feeds with a whole bunch of hooey.  I like to think of the Golden Rule here . . . do unto others as you would want done to you . . . and, since I do not care for all of that hooey, I sure the heck am not going to pollute their pages with it.  Also, I think that people should think for themselves and since a lot of these requests for re-posts and sharing often involve misinformation . . . well, I sure am not going to re-post or share them.  Makes me look as stupid and ignorant as those posting them.  If I have an opinion I will express it for myself in my own words.  Yeah, I know this is Facebook blasphemy just putting me one step closer to the roaring flames of hell . . . oh, well!

Look out, hell . . . here I come!  But, I have to admit being this close to hell during the winter in Montana sure keeps one warm.