Thursday, January 31, 2013

Oregon my Oregon


You want to talk about Oregon?  I’m glad you asked.
Oh, you didn’t ask.
Well, let me tell you anyway. Oregon, the thirty-ninth state, entered the Union on February 14, 1859, shortly before the start of the Civil War. Remember it was the “Oregon Trail” that drew settlers west to the “Oregon Territory.” And it was the Oregon Territory that grew out of that great American adventure, the journey of Lewis and Clark. And it was the land sought after by both British and American business interests and political forces.*  And it was where, like my father, I was born.
The Oregon of my childhood, in the 50s and 60s, was a wonderful place. Portland was all the city I ever wanted or needed. Growing up in the suburbs, we went downtown to shop until the malls started popping up closer to home. By the time I was a teenager I was familiar with the bus system and could travel almost anywhere in the city. We had baby elephants in our zoo, Buckaroo hockey, Beaver baseball and later, Blazers basketball. There was the Rose Festival and Parade every June. There were amusements parks, the now long-gone Jantzen Beach and the somehow surviving Oaks Park. The county fair was in August and the fair grounds were within a few miles of my house.
The beach was a couple of hours away by car — the coast with more Lewis and Clark sites, historic Astoria, beautiful Cannon Beach and wanna-be-something-else Seaside. And the beach was long stretches of sand, not that rocky, gritty stuff of Washington State, our neighbor to the north. The beach without private ownership. That’s right: it’s all everybody’s.
Rivers and lakes and mountains could be encountered in almost any direction. There were swimming holes and creeks for crawdadding. Dairies, farms and orchards were never far away. The climate was mild and the people friendly, but not nosey.
Oregon was called the state of maverick politics. Governor, then Senator, Mark Hatfield and Governor Tom McCall were two I admired. They were Republicans who didn’t act like Republicans. Hatfield was considered a dove for his early stance against the Vietnam War. We had no sales tax and people were actually employed to pump your gas — both oddities still in effect today. Oregon led the nation in environmental action with the bottle bill in 1971.
There were other unique Oregonians (okay, some were transplants). Abigail Scott Duniway was a women’s advocate who played a crucial role in gaining voting rights for women. Steve Prefontaine may be more myth than reality, but he is still a god to many runners. Dick Fosbury invented the “flop” (look it up). Bill Walton started his pro career in Portland as a Blazer and grew long hair and a beard and got messed up in the Patty Hearst SLA fiasco. And while we’re at it, don’t forget authors ranging from Beverly Clearly to Ken Kesey.  Matt Groening and his mythical Springfield have roots in Oregon.
Somehow, having been born in Oregon, I accepted that it must be the best. Why else would we live there? What I was taught (or chose to learn) only confirmed my prejudices. There was a subtle sibling rivalry with Washington to the north. It was a bridge ride over the Columbia, but why would anybody want to live there? It would be like Moses peering into the Promised Land but never touching it — a tragic existence.
And there was nothing subtle about the disdain for our southern neighbor, California. All you had to do was listen to folks talk about “those people” who visit, or dare to move here with all their money and uppity attitudes.
In my twenty-fifth year, Connie and I moved to Washington State. We settled near the Canadian border, about five hours’ drive from the Portland of our youth. And we have strayed. Kids and now grandkids, careers and more have been part of our story living in this state. We long ago passed the point of living longer in Washington than in our native Oregon. Reality check: we have lived in our current house almost as long as we lived in Oregon.
I began my years in Washington with a blind, near rabid loyalty to all things Oregon. My allegiance was singular, clear and probably too often vocalized.  Even though our sons were born in Washington State, the youngest, a sport fan is loyal to Oregon Duck Football and Portland Trailblazer basketball. I taught them it is okay to be a fan of teams in Seattle, as long as there is no direct Oregon competitor.
My guess is I will live out my days in Washington.
I could spend hours telling you many more great things about Oregon — those I remember from my youth, those I am aware of that still exist or have come into being over the years, and maybe a few that are found primarily in my memory. I love Oregon and believe I always will. But I must admit that my loyalty may say more about me than it does about Oregon. I have a deep need to be connected to place and people. I am fascinated by history and culture. I love trivia, knowing the little things that reveal uniqueness. And because Oregon was where I was born and raised, Oregon is what I experienced and learned.
So I need to be mature, adult and objective (those who know me understand what a stretch this is). Oregon is no better than any other state. It is not better than Washington to the north or California to the south (there I said it; this is starting to feel like a twelve-step program).
I’m thinking it’s a lot like family: Oregon’s the one I know so it’s the one I’m loyal to. But to be honest I can’t imagine being as loyal to any other. 
May God have mercy on us all.
* I would be remiss to not recognize the reality of the push for settlement and the wreckage of native populations and cultures — the legacy of every state in the U.S. I ache for the way that this country was established. 

Originally in catapult magazine VOL 12, NUM 3 :: 2013.02.01 — 2013.02.14: 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The clothes make the man?

As if I didn’t have enough to do or enough variety in my life, this past fall I became a basketball referee. I joined the association that officiates high school and middle school girl’s games for a four county region.
At the first meeting I attended, I was given a whistle (a real whistle, I was informed, not one of those cheap things with a pea that gets wet and sticks) and a very specific list of clothing expectations. Shoes, black, all black. If they happen to have a logo or something of another color, cover it with black marker ink. Black crew socks. Black ref pants, generally the polyester, elastic-waist, pleated-front gems you get at an athletic specialty store (and absolutely nothing like pants I would choose to wear). An official shirt that is obtained from the association, gray with black accents and an official official’s patch. And, optionally, a jacket. But if all referees at a specific game do not have official jackets, no one wears a jacket.
Within a few weeks, I had the uniform, had attended some training sessions and practice games, been given passwords into the web-based assigning system, read the rule books, taken and passed the online tests. I was officially a member of the association and had a schedule of assigned games. Officially, I was an official.
Then the games began. I had the uniform and looked like a referee, unless you could see the fear in my face, the hesitation in my calls, or catch the crack in my voice when I (rarely) made a call. I was quickly learning that being a referee was more than passing a test, knowing a game or wearing a uniform. I had entered a new world that brought old truths to the surface.
Looks, knowledge and actions are never enough. With refereeing, as with most, if not all of life, there is a deeper reality.
I began by reffing middle school games for rural county schools. These games were refereed with two person teams and we’d oversee two games back to back. The kids were young and skills levels varied greatly. A few games in, I heard what must have been a parent loudly swear from the stands at a call (I’m sure it was one my partner had made). A few coaches operated in attack mode, but most were friendly, at least before the game.
It was a tough beginning. I knew I was in over my head right away. I worked with a variety of people. Most were patient and helpful. I was not enjoying the pressure, but the people I was working with made me think this was normal for the first year and that over time I’d get the proverbial hang of it. I tried to convince myself they were right.
Then I was assigned a high school “C” game. Entry level, I thought it should be easy. It was late afternoon in a near empty gym. The game began and I understood the reality of exponential change. The girls were bigger, faster and better skilled. The coaches were intense, every minute. I spent most of the game checking the clock and praying for time to speed up.
I rarely blew my whistle. It may have been because I knew blowing the whistle would prolong the game and I wanted it over. I also doubted my perception of who fouled whom, which specific foul type might have been committed and whether it significant enough to warrant a call.
When the game was over, the other referee wanted to debrief and encouraged me to stay for the higher level games to learn from the more experienced refs. I mumbled something about commitments and got out of there. Reality was I had little clear memory of the game’s action and I wanted out of that building.
Early the next morning, I made a quick stop at the local market, where I came face to face with the losing coach from the night before. We said quick, polite hellos (it was the Christmas season, after all) and kept moving in opposite directions.  After another game, however, a coach cornered me and reamed me for letting his “girl get killed on that play.” Fortunately I had no clue which girl or which play he was talking about. Ignorance was truly bliss.
I’ve now reffed about fifteen games. I have had unnumbered self-talk conversations and a few actual ones with family and friends. I’m a process person. I do not like being the center of attention, and I want to collaborate with others, not dictate. I am almost certain I am not the right personality type to be a referee. I’ve tried twice to convince the association coordinator that I am a lost cause and lived with daily terror that I will receive an e-mail with my next set of games. He has talked me off of the cliff both times.
While there may be nothing new to what I am learning in this process, much has surfaced that is certainly worth relearning.
I am not a referee because I wear the uniform. I am not a referee because I know the rules and have passed the test. I am not a referee because I have been assigned games. I am not a referee, a real referee, because I put the uniform on, showed up at a game and went through the motions.
I marvel at the commitment people make to this work. People have goals of playoffs, state tournaments, upper level college games and the pros. I am hoping to help some kids enjoy the game, get a bit of exercise and make a few bucks.
I go to monthly association meetings. I am beginning to sense of who lives by the book and who goes with the flow. I know who I’d like to work with and who I will avoid if possible. And I’m beginning to see that if I have a future as a referee it will be a matter of becoming a referee. It must go far beyond clothes and rules, personality and presence. It must become a becoming, arriving at a place where it “fits,” where it is who I am, not what I am doing.
Like so many other life experiences, there is a big difference between looking the part, acting the part and living in the reality. The uniform, rules and gimmicks may give me the opportunity and space to work out growing into being a referee, but if the process is to find its way to fulfillment, I will need to live into the difference between looking like a ref and being a ref. And maybe then I’ll be a little more comfortable in the uniform.
May God have mercy on us all.
previously in catapult magazine VOL 12, NUM 2 :: 2013.01.18 — 2013.01.31

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Impossible and unending

I arrived
During the homily
And gladly found
A place in the last row

Thought of you
And prayed for you
For all this week
Has brought your way

But more,
For daily life and fear and pain
That must seem
Impossible and unending

Afterward I went forward
Past those
Making their way home
Or to a favorite lunch place

And lit a candle
Thinking of you
And hoping for something better,
Anything, better

I lit a second
And quickly a third
Soon realizing I would run out of candles
Before I ran out of people and prayers

So I quit,
Quit lighting candles,
That is, not prayers,
And left

Friday, January 4, 2013

Ten things I experienced in 2012

2011 was a year of drastic change for me. Some family members and friends were also caught in the fall out, some by choice, others by proximity. I tried to gather my thoughts when I wrote “Ten things I didn’t expect in 2011” for catapult a year ago.
Part of the uniqueness of my transition was moving away from “full-time ministry.” For over thirty years, some ministry paid me. Camp, church and campus setting were all part of my career path. Ministries have full, specific calendars. The lines between work and personal are often blurred, at times disappearing. Now I look back on a full year in this new place. All significant dates and events have been passed at least once.
So, here are some of my thoughts after a full year on this side of my most recent life upheaval.
  1. Like most life shifts for most people, I have survived, adapted and changed. With regard to relationships, commitments, beliefs and activities I have let go of some, held tight to a few and allowed others to morph. While change would have happened whether or not I stayed in my former setting, the transition seemed to accelerate and intensify the process.
  2. After the rough ride of 2011 this has been a somewhat calm year for us. No major tragedies or illness, we did not relocate, no cars or appliances have broken down — small graces that have helped ease the transition pressures.
  3. I find it strangely satisfying living in the land of the self-employed. The reality is that I make less money. I have had times of being overwhelmed by multiple demands and other days of wondering when the next thing will materialize. My new work is an intricate jigsaw of schedules, roles, locations and people. There is the continuing near-terror of being first day, new person on the new job in a cyclical Ground Hog Day, dream-like fashion. In many ways it would be easier to have a “real” job with a regular check, responsibilities and benefits. If the “perfect” job appeared I might take it, but I think I’d be slow to immerse myself into a “system” again.
  4. I’ve heard it’s good to keep learning new skills. Others say it’s good for us to try things we don’t want to do or things we think we won’t like — something about keeping my synapses firing. Earlier this year I signed up to become a basketball referee. It must be really good for me because it’s hard and I don’t like it.
  5. Old work schedules have given way to new rituals. My former role involved an erratic schedule that often left me tired and disinterested in further social activity or interaction. My new schedule is less predictable but less socially demanding. I’ve been able to make a new group of friends for a weekly Trivia Night at a local pub. Another small grace.
  6. Relationships continue to be reshaped. So many that were the focus of my time are now on the fringes. I am not aware of replacing relationships one for one. I am relating to fewer people than my former role dictated. I’ve made a few new friends here and there along the way, solidified some long-term connections and found new levels of connection with others.
  7. I attended my 40th high school reunion. As much as anything I thought I’d have a nagging sense of regret if I didn’t go. I went, enjoyed it and now don’t have to deal with wondering about it. While it did not drastically change my life or relationships, I’m enjoying staying connected with a few classmates through social media.
  8. I survived another election. Some celebrated, while others thought it was the end of the world. Seems to me that elections come on schedule and life generally goes on.
  9. No longer being the leader in a specific ministry setting has allowed me to be free from the responsibility or pressures associated with representing certain doctrines, practices or organizations. It seems clear: the simple call is to follow Jesus. It also seems clear that too few can agree on what that looks like.
  10. Grace, redemption and forgiveness are great gifts. I’m thankful for all who have extended such kindness my way. I understand I have room for growth and much to learn in both receiving and giving these in simple bits of faith. Forgiveness is an especially tough one to master, but I keep finding opportunities to work at it.
Going into the New Year I hope that we don’t all fall off the fiscal cliff; that war and violence would end (or at least be diminished); that culture wars won’t devour the energy we could focus on actual change and movement toward “the common grace for the Common good”; that my family and friends will be well and enjoy life together; that I am able to continue helping others through my work while picking up a few new clients and projects that will result in some added income; that the Seahawks go deep into the playoffs; that the Mariners won’t be quite as awful as they were last year…okay, for the last decade. Other than that, I all I ask is that:
… God will continue to have mercy on us all.