March 2011

The old is new again

by Steve Brock on March 30, 2011

Here’s a scenario I’ve seen played out in different ways over the years by, uh, various friends. Yeah, friends. Other people I’ve heard about.

Guy: I’m thinking about breaking up with Tiffany.

Friend #1: Why?

Guy: I don’t know. I think I could do better. More fish in the sea and all that.

Friend #1: Are you insane? Tiffany is hot!

Guy: Really?

Friend #2: Dude, Tif is sweet! You split with her and I’m asking her out…

Guy: Split? No, way. I was just joking.

What happened here besides some bad clichés and stereotyping? The guy in question had a change of perspective brought on by the validation of external forces. His own view of the world changed when confronted with how others see it.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago. No, not concerning girlfriends but with travel.

I was down in Los Angeles for work and to spend time with my wife’s family. I grew up near LA, so the whole place seems about as novel as a favorite pair of well-worn slippers.

On the flight down there, however, I glanced through the in-flight magazine and found an article about the rejuvenation of downtown LA. Here was an outside party telling me that the place I discounted as tired and worn out might, in fact, be fresh and interesting.

And so it was.

That article helped me to see LA in a new way.

My two sons and I spent half a day in downtown LA, mostly walking just a small section of it near Bunker Hill. I’ll let the photos below give you a sense of what we encountered, but here are a few reasons why it turned out to be a meaningful trip:

  • It defied our expectations. We didn’t plan on finding anything out of the ordinary, but we did.
  • It was novel. New buildings and sights have been built since we lived there. Thus, in some ways, it was a new city to us.
  • It built on past associations. Enough time has passed so that even the recognizable seemed like a new find…or an old friend revisited.
  • Small details meant a great deal. Wandering around in 70 degree sunshine after coming out of cold, gray Seattle made this day – and each of us – come alive. I literally stopped at one point and thanked God for the simple feel of sun on my skin.
  • It was an adventure that unfolded. The article got us to go downtown, but once we were there, we began making discoveries on our own that became our own.

 I’m not sure if the place itself has changed so much as to be new or if we saw what was old with new eyes and that made it new. All I know for sure is this:

It was a good trip; a new discovery in an old, familiar place.

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Nothing is small

by Steve Brock on March 22, 2011

The beauty or meaning in the small moments or details is found only when we notice them...

Last time, I noted about getting lost in my work on the plane only to have the spell broken by a small moment; noticing the interesting things done by fellow passengers as I wandered up the aisle.

My friend Cindy commented that a similar phenomenon happens to her. I loved how she described it: You get so caught up in work that it feels like you’re viewing an endless film that loops over and over. What you’re seeing is no longer meaningful, yet you can’t pull yourself away.

And then, finally, something distracts you. You actually notice some small thing or moment that changes everything.

But what causes that initial distraction? Coincidence? Accident? Synchronicity? Random event? Too much caffeine?

At the heart of all I personally believe about meaningful travel lies the assumption that everything that happens to us on a trip is there for a reason. That’s why I can go almost anywhere in the world and find it meaningful; I believe that God has me there for a purpose if I will but notice.

What’s that purpose? Ask me in about two million years. I have no idea most of the time…at least at the moment. But I get enough glimpses to know that more than random events are at play here. As someone once said, incidences like these may be coincidences, but those coincidences happen a lot more often when you pray. Or when you actively go looking for God amidst the small moments of everyday life. Or when he graciously steps in on his own and reminds you, as he did me on the plane, that there is more to life than I’m currently realizing.

I tend to assume that nothing is too big for God. But far too often, I forget this: nothing is too small for him either.

Everything matters to God, from sparrows and the hairs of our heads to helping us refocus when we don’t even realize we need to. That’s a wild thought that seems almost academic until you walk down an aisle of a plane and find that seeing a book on birds or a person making notes to a musical score suddenly changes your world.

Quite often, these small moments or incidents have the greatest impact on us because they come at the perfect time. They happen not by any savvy planning on our part but are delivered as gifts from a God for whom there is no such thing as a small moment.

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A long way back

by Steve Brock on March 18, 2011

Take a look at what people are doing on an airplane. You never know what you will find...

Do you ever get lost in your work?

There’s the good kind of lost, the flow kind, where productivity and pleasure merge and you’re doing good work well.

Then there’s the other kind. I notice this a great deal on business trips. With this kind of lost, you become so focused on getting to a place, getting through your meetings and then getting home that work becomes all there is. It takes its toll on you and sometimes the other parts and pieces of who you are get diverted or misplaced. Or even lost.

But sometimes, you can find them in the most unlikely situations.

As I write this, I’m on a long flight home, bleary-eyed and pre-occupied with all that has occurred in business meetings today and all I have to do when I get back to the office. Work, at this point, seems pretty all-consuming. But something very unusual happens.

I have to go to the restroom. No, that’s not the unusual part. It’s the return trip back to my seat that is different. For tonight, for a reason I can only attribute to grace, I pay attention to what people on this plane are doing.

This particular flight is loaded with kids and families returning from Spring Break, so I spot relatively few business laptops running Excel spreadsheets or iPads glowing in the cabin’s dim interior. Instead, I witness – I actually take notice of – the following:

  • A few movies
  • A few magazines thumbed through distractedly
  • A number of people eating, drinking, talking and sleeping
  • Several open books on laps and tray tables, grey words blurred on cream colored pages
  • An animated couple intent on their card game
  • A woman scribbling numbers on a square Suduko page
  • An elderly man in a multi-pocketed vest absorbed in a guide to North American birds
  • Another man writing down notations to a music score, green pen on yellow paper

 These last two capture more than my attention. As I pass by each in quick succession, something in me stirs. Even before I reach my seat, I’m aware of God using them to remind me that I too often lose sight of on busy work trips like this of one simple fact: There’s more to life.

I’m no birder and my piano composition skills are quite rusty, but I love, among other things, the outdoors and music. They bring fullness and an added dimensionality to life. Thus, as I witness people on this flight immersed in their passions, I’m reminded of my own, of pursuits and relationships beyond work that I too easily put aside, forget or ignore.

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Next time you’re on a flight for business and you feel drained or a bit lost to yourself, pay close attention to the diverse things people are doing around you.

 You may be surprised at what you find.

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The context of wonder

by Steve Brock March 9, 2011

Every wonder why some amazing sights and experiences fail to move you on a trip? Some experiences are so far outside our contexts that we don’t know what to do with them. But we might just learn a thing or two from SpongeBob SquarePants…

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Can a cow really do that…?

by Steve Brock March 2, 2011

What can you learn about meaningful travel by inadvertantly watching the amorous activities of cows? More than you ever imagined…

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