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Archive for August, 2010

Last night I happened upon a Travel Channel special, “Donut Paradise,” that took me on a welcomed trip down Nostalgia Lane as the spotlight was shone on one of my old haunts—Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle, Washington.

Variously described as the “Donut Lounge”—and with its hip Modernist architecture, likened to a cross between a library and wine bar—patrons of Top Pot get more than great doughnuts. They get an experience.

I know full well. I first stumbled onto Top Pot in late 2004 when Seattle area Starbucks started offering some of their items. I was impressed, but did not yet know of the true wonder of a fresh doughnut from the source. (NOTE: Some Starbucks outside of Washington have started offering Top Pot, but in my experience so far, these both look and taste pretty poor.)

Then I took a job a couple blocks away from Top Pot’s downtown store on 5th Avenue. Walking by it daily to and from the bus stop, eventually I dropped in one morning.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Sometimes, there are little pleasures in life that deliver ridiculously far more than we should expect. But for only $1.63, a Top Pot Old Fashioned Glazed Doughnut sent me to a very happy place.

Less than a year after my initial Donut Lounge experience, I moved into an apartment nearby in Lower Queen Anne. Once in awhile, I would plan an afternoon walk some eight blocks away for no other reason than the pleasure of just sitting for awhile at Top Pot and enjoying an Old Fashioned Glazed off a plate.

I may as well have been dining with royalty; doing Manhattan’s Russian Tea Room; or fed pureed truffles intravenously. In those moments, it was my little slice of heaven.

Inside and outside, the Donut Lounge was a fully integrated experience. The good vibes of store and staff, the clean architecture, the lighting, the music, and “hand-forged doughnuts” never more than a couple of hours old guaranteed a blissful experience repeatable every time. And while I sometimes met friends there, Top Pot was one of those places I did not mind going to alone; it only allowed me more space to distill the experience to its true essence.

When weather was good, sitting at a table outside added another dimension to my delight. What could possibly be better following several days of Seattle rain than soaking up the sun and fresh air while sitting under Top Pot’s signature neon sign? This, along with an Old Fashioned Glaze Doughnut on a plate, of course, parceled out to as many bites as I could extend it. The whir of the monorail overhead every few minutes. The honking of cars and buses that seemed to recede into the distance once doughnut victuals began…

I really miss you, Top Pot.

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“I always thought that the spine of the character is awe and wonder.”

– William Shatner

I’ve been reading in the Psalms recently (28-31). The one place at present where my heart seems able to show up in coming to the Scriptures. I love David’s naturalistic lens for experiencing God. Particularly 29:3-10. The NIV Study Bible, not always reliable with its reference notes to the questions coming out of my reading, nevertheless suggests in v. 29 that “the temple” may refer to all of his creation being his temple.

In watching Earth’s Wonders on the Travel Channel the other day about the world’s best places—showcasing many which I’ve had the privilege to see—all the more I get the sense of how it was meant to be. And say, “Yes! The whole world is Your temple.” And then with some amount of bafflement, marvel at many of the people filling churches on a Sunday morning, at those who’ve never felt inclination to step out into the world and experience the God of the Wild. And sometimes wonder just what and who it is that they may be singing and praying to.

The self-revealing God of the Hebrews perhaps hidden once more in plain sight. Or out of sight, as may be the case here—as hearts on pilgrimage, or going up to Zion, or to the temple—seem so apparently not so in some cases, but settling for something far less instead. Cartoonish, childish even, when considering the spirit whom they seek to commune with.

Like those strange cargo cults of the South Pacific; or the people encountering an ominous message from a mysterious “V’ger” in an otherwise horrible Star Trek: The Motion Picture; or the intrusion of a Coke bottle into the lives of Kalahari Bushmen and the misadventures that follow in The Gods Must Be Crazy—where the divine transmission has apparently gotten jammed—one wonders, Where is God in all of this? And Why don’t they want to see Him in his earthly temple?

John Muir understood this, whose naturalistic spirituality was infused with a rich biblical depth, and of whom stories are recounted of scrambling up into tall trees to experience a storm’s power. Maybe some of these places are the wonders that for some of us God one day hoped to be the settings of our encounter with him, like Moses and Elijah in the wilderness before us. Or like that guy Jesus even, who spent a lot of time retreating there.

But instead of the God of Holy Fear and Wonder, we settled for that old god of stern harshness and legal-moral asceticism. And we settled for the old god of the fertility rite—only castrated and retrofitted with religious garb and ecstasies of another sort, people falling all over themselves in a “I can’t get enough of this stuff” swooning fervor.

Perhaps some of this sounds unkind. I don’t mean to say God doesn’t show up in some very similar-appearing circumstances. God after all is God, whose redemptive history has seemed much about giving us a long time to figure that fact out, and not to confuse Him with the things, circumstances, and practices we make Him out to be in—attractive or not.

For one thing, God seems to have a penchant for showing up in the dirt—where we’d least think or want to find him—in the seemingly pointless desert wanderings of a young nation; or the example of a naked prophet; or whoring of a wayward wife; or piss and dung-soiled straw of a small Judean stable.

But the element that seems missing for me toward the people in question here: Where is the courageous stepping out to meet such a God as found in these other places? Or the at-once terrifying but ultimately transformative showdowns? Like Lt. Dan during the hurricane in Forrest Gump, or before him, like Job putting on his best bluster before God humbled him in silence.

Like C.S. Lewis once said, it’s like God has invited us to a holiday at the beach, but instead like children we have settled for making mud cakes out of a puddle.

Go figure…

Storm Coming on the Patagonian Steppe / Brian Bragdon

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Vanilla Sky

The other day I was coming out of LA Fitness, when I was surprised with a visual feast—a late afternoon sunset following the cloud break of a recent shower.

Now Florida already has some great sunsets. And due to the fact that most of the state sits between two coasts, the collision of moist air currents can make for some spectacular storms. But to say it was a beautiful sunset doesn’t quite capture the encounter that led me to take another way home just so I could stretch out the experience a few moments longer.

It was a quality of light that some artists have been known to chase after. Pacific Northwest photographer Mary Randlett probably says it best: “I have always called it Toledo Light [for the dramatic sky in El Greco’s noted painting Storm over Toledo]. We have wonderful liquid light in the Northwest.”

Liquid light. That is what I experienced on the drive home that evening. Back at the house, the sun now safely hidden behind the trees, its effect could still be seen in the clouds above—carrying a luminescence that seemed almost unnatural. Around that time, my roommate stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, as he settled into the comfort of a lounge chair. He cracked a wide grin and nodded his head upward.

“Vanilla sky,” he said.

I nodded in mutual admiration of the moment, about something touching on the transcendent in an otherwise day-is-done routine. I have a huge capacity to be stirred by nature, which is why I’m grateful every now and again to be jolted like this.

I’ve other moments very similar to this one in its quality of light: the late afternoon ride back to Seattle from Vancouver with my friend, Rob, following the breaking of another storm; the surprise of the sun managing to peek through gloomy skies shrouding the slopes of Chile’s Mount Osorno; and the brief penetration of light through a veil of valley mists following a soggy afternoon in Dorrigo National Park, Australia. Experiences of the holy breaking into the now.

I’m reminded of John Eldredge’s statement: “The world is overflowing with beauty. God seems to be rather enamored with it. Gloriously wasteful. Apparently, he feels that there ought to be plenty of it in our lives.”

Gloriously wasteful is right. I don’t always notice. But in moments like this that I do—Wow.

The Glowing Veiled Forests of Dorrigo / Brian Bragdon

Dorrigo Mists / Brian Bragdon

Late Afternoon Light Near Osorno / Brian Bragdon

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