Scripture, Prayer and Pain

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Due to a quite unexpected circumstance, I recently found myself in an out-of-town/state hospital emergency department with an injured loved one. The hospital was founded by a Catholic order of nuns, and retains that identity. As a part of that tradition, they broadcast “prayers” over the PA a couple of times a day. We happened to be present during the evening offering.

The scripture passage, offered as prayer, this particular evening was Psalm 121, which has the psalmist answering their own question of where to look for help when needed. I’m familiar with this passage due to the intersection of faith and my vocation.

As comforting as it is meant to be, being reminded we are not helpless and alone, even that we are watched over, it struck me as tragically ironic and a little empty.

  • “The Lord will not let your foot be moved…” (v. 3a)
  • “The Lord watches over you;” (v. 5a)
  • “The Lord will preserve you from all evil…” (v. 7a)
  • “The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in…” (v. 8a)

So, what happened? Did “The Lord” take The Lord’s eye off the ball for a split second? My loved one’s foot wasn’t protected from a calamitous missed step that resulted in injury and pain, severe enough to land us in this environment, not to mention a troubling long view of recovery and healing.

Sure, that’s probably a WAY too simplistic and facile take on the Psalm, but how else could I have heard it at that moment? The psalm speaks a promise of attentive care and protection, yet I am aware that so many besides us are vulnerable, at risk, injured, hurting, feeling left unattended.

And no, I’m NOT even remotely blaming The Lord for causing this incident of human frailty. But I am pondering

Yes, I am grateful for the aid and assistance that was rendered to us, that there were “helpers” readily available (with the possible exception of a couple of seemingly inept ER caregivers).

So, today I’m just stuck wrestling with this, that under other circumstances would probably have made barely a blip on my thought process. No answers, no great revelation, theophany, or theological insight. But, perhaps an opportunity to reflect deeper that may be useful moving forward for me and for people who come under my pastoral/spiritual care.

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Autumnal Riding

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Fall/Autumn is my favorite season. I relish the cool crispness, and it just feels the most comfortable and comforting to me. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy Spring with the flowers and trees bursting forth (sorry allergy sufferers), and Summer brings generally better riding conditions. But when the vibrant reds, golds, and oranges are at their peak, still mixed with splashes evergreen, it is just enough extra embellishment. The past two years around the central PA area seem to have been kinda lackluster with everything turning rusty brown right away. This year is different. In an effort to enjoy the seasonal weather and see some foliage, I/we took to two wheels to explore.

Lebanon Valley Rail Trail – Mrs. P2MP and I planned an outing and chose to revisit this fine example of rail-trail done right. As with nearly all such trails of this type, it is not too intimidating, effort-wise, and it is largely free of risk from cars, except for the occasional, well-marked road crossing. We undertook a nice, slow, calm, out-and-back from Cornwall trailhead to Colebrook trailhead, and racked up just under 13 miles.

The second outing was not completely well-defined, but it turned out well. I had a day off and didn’t wish to drive in order to ride, but I was a bit disappointed (initially), feeling resigned to traveling the “same old routes.” I set off from home under overcast skies, and headed toward the city of Harrisburg with a variety of possible paths to take. Having gotten across the bridge onto the Greenbelt Riverwalk, I felt like I was cruising. It’s largely “flat,” and very few pedestrians were out at this time.

Without incident, I found myself out at Fort Hunter and looking for small ways to extend or expand the range. I went to the point where the road became an on-ramp before turning around to head back. The wind was starting to pick up and it seemed a storm might be drawing closer. I pressed on, having no other means of returning home. By the time I dismounted the bike in front of the garage, I had rolled out 38 miles!

The next day included my usual plan for driving Mrs. P2MP into the office. The weather was forecast to be another beautiful Autumn day. There’s a route I had discovered and subsequently planned to ride a couple of years ago. I had actually already done approximately half of it, but never the whole thing, as it constituted the longest distance in a single ride I would attempt, not to mention an unprecedented (for me) duration of time. Since it is a rural, two-lane valley road, there isn’t much in the way of “support resources” except one town at the far end. I devised a riding plan to park the car as close to a halfway point as I could, in order to utilize it as a rest stop, not to mention a point at which I wouldn’t be stuck if I felt I needed to end the ride early.

The first half (DeHart Dam to Tower City and back) went quite well, and while I didn’t feel I was riding aggressively, I had made the first two “segments” go by and returned to the car in a decent time. I stopped, stretched, swapped bottles and snacks, re-tied my shoes and set off for the remainder of the course. As beautiful as the day and the route were, the wind felt ferocious and relentless, from all sides, the entire ride.

Part way into the third segment, I began to experience some leg cramping and muscle strain. I contemplated turning around several times, but since I wasn’t sure when I’d have such an opportunity again, I eased off and adjusted my pedaling to compensate and ride it out. This plan worked well enough until I got to the final turnaround point at the intersection of Routes 325 & 225. I got off, stretched, walked around for a few minutes, then with 11-12 miles between me and the car, I got back on the bike. At this point, my only possible alternative would have been to quit and rely on the kindness of strangers to commute me and the bike back to the car. I didn’t really wish to do that. So, I slowed my pace even further, and focused on just keeping the pedals turning.

By the time I returned to the car, weary but triumphant, I had cranked out another 53 miles and stamped this personal best into the books.

Back to the Pedals

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Yes, I’ve been lacking in pedal-powered content for a while, leaning more heavily on the metal and just a wee bit on the pastoral.  That changes now.

NOT because I have much that has occurred besides a lot of riding, but just taking time to look back at some things.

As of this writing, I am more than 80% accomplished toward a 1,000 mile riding season. I had hoped to be beyond that mark at this point, but lots of “qualifying life events” intervened to disrupt. However, since I have been capable of writing into late November during previous years, there is a strong confidence that this goal will be met and/or exceeded.*

It’s odd that, at this late point in my overall riding career, I find myself looking to upgrade equipment, beyond the new bike from last year. It doesn’t seem all that long ago I was introduced to the much-mocked cycling shorts that changed my riding life. And to be fair, the mocking stopped pretty much immediately after I bought and used my first pair. I now have three that I keep washed and at the ready.

Similarly, I never gave a thought to “pedal technology.” Since I began riding, the only requirement was that the bike HAD pedals. And shoes? Whatever sneakers I had were more than adequate. But now, after the three heaviest riding seasons ever, I pondered the utility and effectiveness of upgrading my cycling footwear.

I did some online research, consulted with CheapCyclist , and visited a couple of local shops to see what the options were. I settled on the Pearl Izumi X-Alp shoes. While they are in the category of mountain bike shoes, they appealed to me because the cleats are recessed versus road racing shoes. This makes walking around off the bike much more comfortable. The shoes are lace-up rather than hook/loop straps or the BOA retention system. For the money, and for my riding tendencies, I definitely didn’t need BOA technology.

The pedals: there is very little variation. When Ted showed me the possible options, I was shocked by how small the “platform” was. When using shoe/cleat/pedal combos, there isn’t much need for a big hunk of metal. You basically get a spindle with an attachment point/cleat. I opted for the biggest/heaviest pedals, as it seemed it would give me a “bigger target” to aim for when riding. Ted DID advise me these were “the heaviest pedals known to man.” I don’t compete, so this made zero difference to me.

And so, as of Aug. 3, my riding/cycling took another evolutionary turn.

The ”heaviest pedal known to man”
Show, meet pedal
Shoe-to-pedal interaction

* – as of Oct. 17, I crossed the 1,000 threshold

“Are you not entertained?!”

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As a follow-up to the last entry, I want to try to convey the eye-popping, brow-burning experience that is a live Rammstein show. Note: This post will be photo-laden.

After nearly three years since the time the original tickets were purchased, we got the long-overdue payoff on a midweek evening on the outskirts of Philadelphia. As evidenced (or suggested, at least) by the cover image, such a show is MASSIVE in scale, and it is easily understood why the performance calendar is so spread out. We were in Level 200, upper deck at Lincoln Financial Field and that was essentially our view. I will skip the tale of woe that was traffic, parking and seat-finding.

As the sun began to set and a cool breeze moved through, Duo Abelard took to a small stage to the rear and side of the field. Curiously, these two incredibly talented pianists got the crowd “warmed up” for the show by playing classically arranged piano-only versions of several Rammstein songs (including some that the band themselves were to perform). It’s quite beautiful, at times haunting, to hear these songs reinterpreted in such a way. Kudos to them for a fantastic opening act!

As darkness settled in, the PA played a recorded version of Handel’s “Music for Royal Fireworks” as a prelude to the band’s taking the stage which, shortly thereafter erupted in an appropriate shower of sparks and a corresponding BOOM.

Opening volley
Puppe w/huge pram/stroller

The band romped through a 2+ hour set, including 2 “encores.” Of course, they included their breakthrough single “Du Hast” among a wealth of newer material. After all, when this tour was originally scheduled, they had just released the self-titled album that included singles “Radio,” “Deutschland,” and “Ausländer.” The first half of the show even included a “dance remix” of “Deutschland” with band members dancing as light-up stick figures.

Deutschland (Disco Remix) w/ Stick Dancers

In the meantime, they released the previously discussed “Zeit,” and fit several of those tunes into the set. The only album not represented was “Rosenrot,” although I have no idea why. The end of the first “set” was the fiery “Sonne.”

A brief pause followed “Sonne” with live video fan cams to distract the fans. The last image shown was a visual instruction for fans to turn their cellphone lights on and hold them aloft. This led into the band’s reappearance on the small stage along with Duo Abelard for a crowd-inclusive singalong of the song “Engel”(Angel) amid a “starry” scene with lyrics projected on the screen for all to follow. As the song wound down, the band departed the small stage via lifeboats hoisted aloft over the crowd and conveyed back to the main stage by the crowd. Duo Abelard continued to play the outro of the song until all were back in place, ready to launch another assault.

Life raft procession following Engel

The second encore opened with their namesake track “Rammstein,” including singer Till Lindemann getting extra fiery with each syllable. Truly astounding!

Ramm…Stein w/Fire peacock

The night closed with the appropriate “Adieu” from the most recent album.

Adieu, Goodbye, Auf Wiedersehen

I found myself wondering what would have been different, other than song choice, if the concert had gone on as originally scheduled in 2020. However, I feel fortunate enough to have witnessed this at all. It certainly lived up to the hype. It is a spectacle beyond compare in the concert world, in my opinion. The theatrics, the pyrotechnics, the sheer scale of it all…hard pressed to NOT be entertained, although I’m sure it’s possible for some.

Zeit

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From Sweden to Germany, a little more metal talk.

The time has come to finally write this post that was started a few months ago. It seems a bit more timely now that I’m mere weeks away from witnessing my first ever, and likely only, Rammstein live concert. The concert itself is two years overdue out of an obvious abundance of caution. Since this album was released just this year, I can’t help wondering if any of this material would have figured into the set of the original date. Silly speculation at this point, because the show now features several tunes from this collection.

Admittedly, Rammstein is a bit of an acquired taste. When the single “Du Hast” broke in the States (1997), it was interesting, but didn’t immediately capture my imagination. Along the way, I remember the Snow White-inspired music video for the single “Sonne” from the Mutter album. It wasn’t really until the release of the “Rosenrot” album that I began paying more attention. There is a raw energy that always seems tinged with a bit of malevolence. The subject matter of nearly any Rammstein album is a mix of socio-political commentary, sexuality, and tongue-in-cheek humor, sometimes even in the same song! And “Zeit” is no different.

Lügen – Lies. All lies. The confession (of sorts) of a compulsive liar.

Angst – Although the topic of the song is rooted in the childhood fear of a “boogeyman” to instill discipline, it crosses over to contemporary issues. However, as the associated music video suggests, this is not a childhood fable. Rammstein smartly links past to present to reveal a little of our deeper selves. Social commentary related to the ongoing battle against racism and the fear-mongering perpetrated and perpetuated by institutions, systems, and politics.

Dicke Titten – From the “oompah” intro to the Schuhplattler dance (music video), a humorous foray about abundant bosoms. ‘Nuff said.

Zick Zack – again with the pointed social commentary with a dim view of the lengths our vanity drives us to remain “young, beautiful, relevant, ageless (?).” The music video for the song makes this painfully obvious.

Overall, there doesn’t seem much new or different here, and I swear it sometimes sounds like they are simply reusing or repurposing riffs and ideas from earlier songs/albums. Yet, there is just something about the lyrics being sung in German and delivered via Till Lindemann’s vocal stylings over such a thundering, industrial/metal base that continue to make Rammstein and their music interesting on its own, without the literally fiery spectacle of a live performance.

Days Of The Lost

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Metal.

Specifically Swedish Melodic Death Metal.

At least 20 (maybe 30?) years ago, this sub-genre of music was emerging as a force, particularly in/from the region around Gothenburg, Sweden. So much so, it became distinctly identified as “that Gothenburg sound.” Twin guitars, growling vocals blended with clean, smooth ones, thundering bass/drums. Sure, written with those descriptives it might not sound compelling, but it certainly was sonically its own thing.

At the time, my introduction to this style came primarily through the band In Flames. They served as an opening act for a slightly bigger U.S. band at the time, and they definitely made an impression. The album of note at that time is the much-revered Clayman.

Fast forward twenty years. 3/5 of the Clayman-era In Flames (IF) lineup join talents with original In Flames vocalist Mikael Stanne (currently of Dark Tranquility, aka DT) and later-era In Flames guitar alum Niclas Engelin to create The Halo Effect and deliver Days Of The Lost.

The band has been teasing this release for months via each musician’s social media, music videos released to YouTube and just a couple months back a free, streamed rooftop concert (pre-recorded). They, of course, had no problem building a frenetic fan base and garnering performance slots at many of the major summer music festivals throughout Europe. Not bad for a “new” band with only ONE release to their name.

There is no surprise at the overall content and sound of this collection of tunes, given the pedigree of the performers. The album is a solid blend of IF and DT while not simply being a lazy, uninspired rehash of former glories. The pre-release singles, Shadowminds, Days of the Lost, Feel What I Believe, The Needless End, and (on album release day) In Broken Trust served as a solid introduction to what the band was doing. Certainly, production quality has improved a tremendous amount over nearly three decades. While it doesn’t necessarily sound as raw and aggressive as, say Colony or Whoracle, it seems to relate most closely to post-Clayman era IF, while melding well with DT’s recent efforts on Atoma and Moment.

To be fair and honest, In Flames stopped drawing my attention years ago, sometime after Sounds Of A Playground Fading. I initially wrote off Dark Tranquility after seeing them open for Opeth many years ago. Thankfully, my metal-minded nephew drew my attention back to them not that long ago, and I’m not mad at that.

The album opens with first single Shadowminds, a great introduction that sets up the rest of what will follow. Again, this sounds like the best blend of both predecessor bands.

Days Of The Lost, the title track, could have easily been the album opener, as well. It seems to be the epitome of that “classic” Gothenburg style with the opening twin guitar harmonies that jump right into a rapid-fire rhythm under the verse. Then, after the guitar solo, a nice bridge transition into recapitulating the chorus before running to the end.

The Needless End – this seems a bit more DT, to me, as it’s a BIT more “melodic.”

Conditional – a deceptive intro that bursts right into more driving rhythm and guitars. The verses are straight-up headbangers for sure before offering a bit of respite at the chorus.

In Broken Trust – after the first few listens, maybe the least notable track. Subject to change, though, with future replays.

Gateways – another DT-sounding effort. This is good right from the get go, and I imagine it’s appeal will deepen. There’s a break/solo about a minute from the end. It’s honestly hard to discern if it’s guitar, synth, guitar-synth or some production effect. It’s interesting if not oddly placed.

A Truth Worth Lying For – great opening lick! Again, another great example of the alchemy these players have to churn this out of their collective pasts.

Feel What I Believe – again, turning the twin guitar harmonies on to open the track is fantastic! As one of the early singles, this song has lost none of its energy at this point, and is, again, another great example of the Melodic Death Metal/Gothenburg sound and why (I think) it is/was so successful.

Last Of Our Kind – an unusual intro of strings followed up by a more driving rhythm. One almost has to wonder if the track is a hint at trying to recapture/recover a “sound” that has been diluted, or has drifted from the original over time. Almost as if the band is identifying themselves as the ones keeping the fires lit? But, maybe I’m projecting…

The Most Alone – this sounds like a leftover DT tune, but…so what! It’s well done and has that under bed of interwoven guitars. I’d say it’s one of the “slower” tracks and curious that it’s the closer.

All in all, this release definitely lived up to the hype, delivering fresh sounding tunes with a classic source. Having followed the original bands and their progress to this point with this project, it genuinely seems they are having fun. This is a solid offering and I would anticipate it being very successful with the broader metal fan base.

10 Years Ordained – The Present (and Beyond?)

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In 2016, I was encouraged to explore chaplaincy and I entered a one-year, educational (CPE) residency.  If you’ve never heard of CPE, look it up here.

As much as I owe to The Rev. Kirk Bish, The Rev. Sandy Kessinger, The Rev. Dr. Richard (Rick) Carlson, and The Rev. Stan Reep, for getting me on the path, the real work/effort is a credit to The Rev. James Pfeiffer and The Rev. Dr. Beth Muehlhausen who jointly walked with me through becoming a Chaplain.

Despite not working in a congregational setting, I am still an ordained Lutheran pastor, serving in the specialized ministry of hospice chaplaincy.  I still have the occasional opportunity to lead worship services and preach, which in all honesty I kinda miss doing regularly, although I am tremendously grateful to have NOT had to navigate the pandemic as a congregational leader.  It’s been “interesting” enough in the healthcare sphere over the past two years and counting.

As I approach the actual 10-year mark, I had the opportunity to renew my ordination vows as part of a Holy Week Mass. In the company of other ordained ministers, the regional bishop and the assembled people of God, I again asserted my intention and promise to uphold the teachings of the Lutheran Christian church in the world.

So, you might be wondering just what those vows might be and/or how/if they are still relevant to me.

Call – Being called is a bit of an abstract idea to me, in the sense that it is an internal sense of being drawn by an unseen force toward a purpose that is then also affirmed and validated externally by the people and institutions one interacts with. My sense of being called to the work I do has wavered pretty regularly. As I mentioned in the earlier post, when I entered seminary, all I wanted was to be a “good” parish pastor. Now, that’s less important. There simply are days that feel less than fulfilling and that I question whether I am offering people anything meaningful. But, right about then or shortly after, I have an experience or two that connects and resonates with me in so many ways, I can’t deny that this is my part in the divine/cosmic puzzle-plan.

Holy Scripture/Lutheran Confessions – Holy Scripture means the historical texts known as “the Bible,” which more narrowly means the Christian church’s accepted sacred texts. After a seminary education and subsequent study, “Holy Scripture” is not such a black/white, clear-cut identifier entity. It IS the source of my basis of reference for my life, as I grew up in the Christian faith tradition and haven’t drifted (too far) from it as a reference point to interpreting faith and life. The Lutheran Confessions are certainly important, but I honestly haven’t given them much consideration over ten years of service to the church, and often take them with a grain of salt. Mostly, even cradle-to-grave Lutherans, and many pastors, don’t seem to know what they are or how they apply, unless they are doctrine-focused. Its not the thing that people bring up in casual conversations when the world is out of sorts, or even when they’re trying to figure out how to be “church” in society. And don’t even get me started on cherry-picking from either source just to be “right” about something. But, sure, OK. I’ll dust off the Book of Concord anyday now and drop some verses to pull people back on board.

Means of Grace, Living Example to all people in all places – This one probably means the most to me, no pun intended. In my/our Lutheran understanding, the Means of Grace is sorta code language for how we hear and experience the consoling promise of “the gospel:” sacraments, preaching, and mutually supportive relationships with friends and family. I’m (ultimately) no better or worse than any other created being. I continue to be stunned and amazed when I recognize God’s ongoing activity in my life (which typically happens in hindsight). Living as an example was a big stressor, at first, and even still has its issues. I am, and won’t be “perfect.” By and large, that’s the point of my life and experience; if God can use ME to do THIS, then we’re all gonna be okay. Sure, there are those who think I should/shouldn’t be doing this or that, but my own “living, daring confidence” in God’s grace is what allows me to be fully ME, whether I have your approval or not. I drink, curse, listen to obnoxious (to some) music, read/watch inapparopriate things, I’m often selfish, etc., but somehow, through it all, I remain assured of God’s love for me, and thus God’s love for everyone else.

The response to each is “I will, and I ask God to help me.” – This is the seeming linchpin to the whole mess. It is my acknowledgement that, I commit myself to these vows, but recognizing that I will ultimately fail, and if anything fruitful comes out of the whole mess its because of God. I used to know a pastoral colleague who would often assert, “If I am good at all, its because God is good in and through me, not because of any goodness on my own.” Yep. It might sound reckless, but I trust God to sort out and “fix.”

So, there we have it. Ten years in ordained ministry summed up in a (perhaps) shoddy manner. What will the next 1 – 10 years bring? Literally, only God knows. I doubt, however, that I will return to being solely a congregational pastor. But, again, I NEVER imagined this is where I’d be and what I’d be doing in my weirdest dreams. So, I am often as perplexed by it all as you might be. I do know that I have learned A LOT and have had my mind/opinion/outlook changed on several topics on several occasions over the past decade (or so). While I feel mostly content with who I’ve become and who (and whose) I am, I am certain I can always be and do “better.” I’ll keep trying, and with God’s help, you and I can keep on working together toward better days and times.

Peace be with you, this day and always.

10 Years Ordained – The Past

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June 15, 2012.*

The day I was officially ordained as a pastor (Minister of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA).

Never would I have imagined this life.

Raised in a church-attending household, with a primary education provided by a religious institution, this never even entered the realm of consideration. Sure, I was an altar boy who grew into a young adult Communion Assistant. I even had just enough musical talent to cover for my Mom as the organist for Mass periodically, as a young child.

But a life in ministry!? GTFO…as some might say.

I wasn’t a rebellious kid, not by any measure. I did things to serve the church. But I remember a nun who had become the organist/choir director of the church, saying something to me about becoming a priest someday. HA! Then, in my mid-twenties, I decided church/religion didn’t hold any value for me. I became what I refer to as “anti-church.” No, I didn’t go vandalizing, protesting, harassing, etc. I simply made my (less than kind) views on church and related issues very clear.

When I met Mrs. P2MP, she was not active in church either despite also growing in a churchgoing environment, so that was good. Eventually, though, she started to express a desire to return to churchgoing for our son’s sake. I was against just going to go, going through the motions as it were, putting on a show that didn’t feel genuine, just for his sake. But, go we did and, after visiting different congregations of different Protestant denominations, we found ourselves in a small Lutheran church that would forever alter my personal faith.

Then, in 2006, during an unrelated job interview for a position in my beloved Pacific Northwest (aka Seattle), the interviewer asked (I think) about my hopes and goals. I remember saying something like, “As long as I have good people to work with…”. His response, completely out of the blue was, “So you wanna be a priest?” Seriously?! WTF kinda response is that? (Spoiler: After they flew me out for an on-site interview, I didn’t get the position)

When I entered seminary, my main desire was to be a good “parish pastor,” to work with people, help them to hear and understand the many ways faith gets imagined, expressed, and enacted in daily life.

Then, after four years in seminary, on June 15, 2012 I became an ordained Lutheran pastor. On that night, I first gave my verbal commitment to uphold and share the gospel for the good of the church and the world.

I served congregations in southwestern PA and eastern Indiana.

I have “baptized, married, and buried” people of the church and their relatives. I have shared in their joys and sorrows, and perhaps have even been the cause of some of each. I have tried to “preach, teach, study, and live” according to the church’s call and my vows. No doubt, I was not always (if ever) successful.

I was grateful for the experience, but the personal aspects and dynamics simply became too much. (No gory details here)

To be continued…

The (Dis)Contentment of Mediocrity

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I can do things. I have no doubt in my mind that you can, too.  How well we do whatever it is we do is quite a subjective minefield.  And to be honest, which is likely obvious, all the things I do are not done at the same level of quality. The strange thing to me is, even the things I think I’m good at, COULD be better, yet I don’t feel the impetus, gumption, or drive to take the necessary steps toward improvement.  I suppose it’s a matter of defining or discerning what my desired outcomes are for these efforts.

At this point in my life, and likely throughout my life thus far, it seems I’ve been quick to settle for mundanity or an acceptable level of mediocrity.  There are times where this annoys and frustrates me; I wish to BE better.  Then there are other times when I’m totally okay with “less than;” I feel like I’m not a total hack/novice.  After all, my aspirations have never been toward fame or notoriety.  But, it still bothers me at times, and I’ve been trying to reflect on why this is so.  Following are a couple of examples where this occurs most often.

Musicality

When I was younger, my parents paid for me to take lessons to play the electric organ.  It made sense, as my two older siblings had also been provided the opportunity, and we had an Hammond organ in a corner of our dining room.  I wasn’t always diligent with practice and eventually stopped the lessons.  We then inherited a restored upright, pedal-pump player piano, and I transferred what I had learned to that instrument.  Of course, as part of all of that, I learned to read music.

Later, in young adulthood, I started to play guitar, in large part due the monthly publication “Guitar for the Practicing Musician” which included several tablature transcriptions of songs.  Tablature is what you use if you don’t already know or learn how to translate conventional sheet music into guitar chords. I can’t say that I ever got to play a complete song, start-to-finish.

Nowadays, I have my 40-year-old synth/keyboard set up in the basement, and my surviving catalog of sheet music. Some pieces I recall being able to play from memory. Other selections have always been played piecemeal. I’ve got books of practice exercises, too. Yet, when I take the time to “play,” I typically fumble my way through the familiar bits before moving onto something else. I get frustrated that I still stumble over bits I feel I should know, but I don’t have a hard and fast practice regimen either. What should I expect?

Cycling

If you’ve read any of the Lazarus bike saga, this may be more obvious.  Since learning to ride a bike, it was always as a recreational pursuit and the idea of competition of any sort really never occurred to me.  As I grew older and discovered “non-competitive” riding events, they were certainly fun and interesting, but I never really “trained” for them.  There wasn’t a sense of getting “better” at riding; there was just riding, and you struggled through whatever road choices you made.

Over the past few years, the increasing use of technology to record and track efforts HAS created an impulse to improve some stat, whether time, distance, or average speed. But, there still isn’t a “plan.” When I embark on a ride, the primary goal is to return to the starting point safely and without health or mechanical issues. Beyond that, if I get to see some nice scenery along the way, that’s just a bonus.

Could I be a better hill-climber? Probably, given the topography of my riding routes. Could I be a faster “sprinter?” Not likely, nor particularly necessary. I suppose it would be nice to ratchet up the average riding speed, but I might already be near (or past) peak for my age. As above, what should I expect?

And so, I guess the self-reflective, existential question is: Am I lazy or content? If I say I’m lazy, what would it take to motivate me to stick to an improvement plan? If I say I’m content with the state of things, why do I feel frustrated at the state of things? I’m certainly past the point of either of these efforts (or a multitude of others) leaving a blip on the consciousness of the world. A quick internet search certainly has A LOT of negative bent toward mediocrity, particularly under the guise of “self-help.”

Is it possible its not an either/or issue? Should I even be troubling myself about any of this? This is (or seems to be) who I am, so why not just accept it? Ultimately, I am the only one the holds the answer.

Is This Real (Mid-) Life?

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To be honest, I never imagined being this age.  I don’t really know what I expected, but after four years of spending time with aging folks, it seems consistent that aging, and all it’s highs and lows, joys and woes kinda comes as a bit of a surprise.

I began to wonder if the “midlife crisis” was really a thing or just a long-standing fable used to rationalize atypical behaviors.

Do I feel suddenly compelled to blow my 401k on a luxury thing? Am I being instinctually led to a journey of self-discovery?

Definitely not the former, but likely the latter, at least in part.

I have found myself experiencing a bit of reawakening memories and having feelings of longing for past, mudane pursuits (I’ll spare the details).  As briefly observed in the “Worlds of Fantasy” post, these former things hearken back to a day when those were the most pressing concerns, and yet these things seem to rarely, if ever, stand the test of time and often are found to be lacking, by current standards. To be sure, there are no “former glories” or acheivements that I have that I wash to relive or recreate. So why these things, and why now?

Perhaps it is tied to the past two years worth of disrupted life that a longing for a more gentle, dare I say “trouble free” life has been stirred?

I’m honestly not sure. I’m also not sure, as none of us really are, what else lies ahead. I think of Richard Rohr’s book, “Falling Upward” wherein he discusses the first and second halves of life and how (might) we live it and grow our spirituality. Certainly, there is not a hard and fast boundary or parameter to delineates one half from the other. But most days, I feel like I’m in some sort of limbo bewteen the two.

I’m not discontented with my life. In fact, I feel more settled than I have in some time. There is no desire to run to the next, new thing, or away from the things that currently comprise my life. Yet, I just have this overwhelming sense of melancholy, sentimentality, or nostalgia for certain aspects of the former “me.”

So, if this IS what mid-life is, then I guess in the words of either Virgil via Dante or Robert Frost (depending on which Internet site you believe), “The only way out is through.”

Thus, onward I go…

view through an archway looking straight ahead acrossf a wooden suspension bridge over a creek surrounded by green trees
The bridge to the next half? Looks a little shaky…