30
Jul
21

Silent Encouragement

Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area

One ritual that must be observed as part of any visit to the town of Pacific City, Oregon is The Climb.

That is, The Climb to the top of the giant sand dune at Cape Kiwanda (pictured here).

I have done it several times before and was ready (or so I thought) to do it again on this visit.

Reliable sources tell me it is only 240 feet from the base to the top of that big dune. The legs and feet actually making the climb tell me it is more like 1.5 miles.

And so, early on that Monday morning, my brothers and I set out to make The Climb. As we all expected, Eric – the youngest and fittest brother – was the first one to the top. Somewhat surprisingly, Douglas, the brother who has recently picked up the smoking habit again, made it up in second place. Alan was third, while I was struggling mightily, far behind the others.

Although I have been dealing with acute lower back pain since early May, my back was not the problem. The problem was my leg strength and overall stamina. 

You see, the gym and I have been estranged since my back trouble began. And so as I strained to put one foot in front of the other, that frosty relationship began taking a serious toll.  

Crawling up on my hands and knees worked for a while. It got me as far as the little rock ledge you see there in the photo. As I attained that ledge, however, I turned to myself and said, “OK. That’s it. That’s as far as I can possibly go. I will just sit here and wait for the brothers. I will head back down when they are ready.”

After a few minutes of sitting on the ledge, wheezing, and looking out at the view, I saw that Eric had arrived. He plopped right down beside me. 

Eric glanced over and said, “Hey!”

I looked at him and somehow managed to croak out my own, “Hey” in reply.

And then, for the next several minutes we just sat there in silence, admiring the view. Eric didn’t coax. He didn’t cajole. He didn’t remind me that he and the other bros were waiting for me to gather my strength and join them at the top of the dune.

He just sat with me. Silently.

And waited. 

And then, after a bit more time sitting there like that together, I decided it was time to rally myself and complete The Climb. 

Which I did.

Thinking back, I realized Eric gave me an incredible gift up there on that rock ledge. For one thing, he gave me the gift of silent encouragement. He also gave me the gift of non-judgmental support

And somehow – without the benefit of a single seminary class on pastoral care – Eric blessed me with the gift of presence, right there in my moment of need. 

He taught me – by his example – how to really BE WITH someone who is going through a tough time. And because of the way he went about it, I felt as if the victory of attaining the summit of the dune was completely MINE to claim.

All throughout the Bible, we are shown that God is the God of healing PRESENCE. In Genesis, God says to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3, NRSV). In the last part of God’s speech to Moses from the burning bush, God says, I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you…” (Exodus 3:12, NRSV).

And of course, we remember the words Jesus spoke to his disciples at the top of that mountain in Galilee, after his crucifixion and resurrection; “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NRSV).

All I can say is, thanks a lot, bro. Thank you for reminding me of the amazing power that a silent, non-judging presence can be for someone who has come to the end of their rope. 

I will be more than happy to return the favor, if and when the time comes.

Abundant blessings;

27
Jul
21

Particles of Wonder

Last weekend Joan and I went to the mountains.

It was glorious. It was majestic. It was beautiful. It was awe-inspiring.

It was a breath-taking reminder of the splendor of God’s creation. It drove me to my knees in a grateful prayer of thanksgiving and humility, reminding me of my smallness and God’s greatness.

Then this weekend we went to the Oregon coast.

It was glorious. It was majestic. It was beautiful. It was awe-inspiring.

It was a breath-taking reminder of the splendor of God’s creation. It drove me to my knees in a grateful prayer of thanksgiving and humility, reminding me of my smallness and God’s greatness.

Earlier this month, American billionaires went into space.

When they got back, they said the experience was glorious… majestic… beautiful… awe-inspiring. I suspect the experience also provided them with a vivid reminder of God’s creative genius and majesty and the smallness of human beings, though I did not hear that sentiment spoken out loud.

And of course, all of that is true. God’s creation reveals awe, majesty, splendor, and wonder. Paul makes this exact point in his letter to the Romans when he says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:20, NRSV). 

My Love!

The Psalmist somehow finds the right words to say the same thing in the 8th Psalm: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4, NRSV).

 As true as all of that might be, all that praise and palaver misses a central, glaring truth. And that truth is this: we don’t need to go to the mountains, or to the ocean, or to the limits of space to find grandeur or reminders of God’s creative genius.

All of that resides right there in the eyes of the person sitting across the table from you.

Awe is there too, coursing through the veins of that Starbucks barista, that bus driver, that TSA worker, that preschool teacher, that landscaper, and that barber you visit every fourth week.

I would venture to say that there is just as much mystery, splendor, majesty, and sheer amazingness inside the skin of your brother or sister as you can see at the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Easily.

And so, with that in mind, I offer this prayer: “Lord, today I pray that you would remind me of the on-going miracle of the universe you have created. Help me never gloss over the grandeur that can be found in every single particle of your Creation… especially the people-shaped particles.”

AMEN

Abundant blessings;

25
Jul
21

It’s a Blunder-ful Life

The website Dictionary.com defines a blunder as, “… a gross, stupid, or careless mistake.”

Blunders are errors that reside multiple levels above missteps like, say, putting the pasta away on the baking shelf, or calling John Jim, or taking a sip of your wife’s iced tea instead of your own.

Oh, if only it were that simple.

For me, a blunder is what you call it when your screw-up meets three different criteria; first, it was the wrong thing to do. Second, it could – by taking a minute to stop and think – have been avoided. And third, it caused some kind of not-insignificant damage… either to the blunderer him/herself, or to an innocent bystander. 

Looking back on my life, I can recount errors, mistakes, faux pas, and goof-ups aplenty.

But sadly, also littered across the landscape of my 69 years, are multiple blunders

Let me tell you about one of my most recent. 

It happened earlier this year, when Joan and I were visiting my eldest son, DIL, and their five kids. The nine of us assembled in Houston, preparing to head to a lovely beach house on Galveston Island for the Easter weekend. 

Before heading to the beach, son, two youngest grandsons, and I headed over to the park for some playful time-wasting. The two kids headed immediately to the swing set where they met a friend… the son of my son’s co-worker. 

The game that ensued between the kids was the ever-popular, “Who Can Swing the Highest and Then Jump the Furthest Off the Swing.” At first, the dads were just refereeing the competition by drawing lines in the mulch pit to mark where each kid landed. Then the dads decided to get involved, rudely shoving their children aside, growling, “My turn, junior!”

(They didn’t really do that, but it sounds funnier when I say that…)

Seeing all the fun the dads (my son) and their kids (my grandson) were having, I decided it was time for Grandpa to give it a go. 

As it turned out, that was a really bad idea. 

I mounted the swing and began my ascent. I pumped my legs and got the swing up as high as I could. Once up there in the stratosphere, I realized this was going to be a lot more difficult than either the six- or the 40-year-olds made it look. 

Closing my eyes and hoping for the best, I bailed out at the exact apogee of my next upward swing. Finally airborne, I immediately felt a sharp pain in my right pinkie finger and began twisting in that direction. I landed on my left side with a resounding thud eighteen inches from my takeoff point. Looking down I saw that my right pinkie finger had apparently become tangled in the swing chain and was now bleeding profusely. 

Of course, the dads and kids all rushed over, visibly concerned and asking, “Are you alright? Are you alright?” 

“Well, I think I might lose this fingernail, but otherwise, I think I’m OK,” I replied, no small amount of embarrassment blood rising to fill my cheeks.

Thankfully, the fingernail survived, though dignity and self-esteem took a serious beating that day. Joan got me a bandage to staunch the bleeding, but did not seem terribly sympathetic to my plight. 

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is other than, “Act your age,” or “Think before you act,” or maybe just “Don’t do it, Grandpa. Just don’t.”

The reality is: we all commit blunders. Sometimes the consequences are big. Sometimes they are small. Sometimes we learn from our blunders. Sometimes we just keep on blundering, unenlightened. 

The point is as much as we try, none of us will live a blunder-free life. Hopefully the blunders will be fewer and further between as we (gracefully) age. 

As King Solomon tells us in the book of Proverbs: “I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw…” 
(Proverbs 24:32, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

20
Jul
21

A Way in the Wilderness…

Fifty-two years ago today, an epic adventure took place.

Footprints were placed on a new, unfamiliar landscape. 

Eyes were opened. Discoveries were made… discoveries that were both earth-shaking and life-altering.

Old barriers were broken down and we witnessed the dawn of a sparkly new era, brimming with exciting possibilities. 

And today, July 20, 2021, as if in an homage to that destiny-packed moment in history, the richest man in the world took an 82-year-old woman and a few other folks for a wild ride beyond the edge of the stratosphere.

Yes, of course I am talking about that time in 1969 when I moved – along with mom and dad and my four siblings – from Hilliard, Ohio to Lynnwood, Washington, just north of Seattle.

It was the summer before my senior year of high school. It was the summer when my girlfriend, Terri Finn and I finally declared our undying love to each other. It was also the summer – ironically enough – when the TV program, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers debuted – featuring its catchy theme song that declared, “The bluest skies you’ll ever see are in Seattle. The greenest trees you’ll ever see are in Seattle.”

Well, at least half of that lyric was true. 

A couple of months earlier, my United Methodist pastor father had accepted an appointment to a small church in Lynnwood, Washington. His tenure began on July 1, and so after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (mostly by me), the seven of us packed up the U-Haul truck, the Mercury Colony Park station wagon, and the Coleman pop-up camper and headed west. 

Somewhere along that journey – I like to think it might have been in Kansas City as our little caravan crossed the Missouri/Kansas state line – I had a revelation. 

As much as this whole move seemed like the worst idea in the world… as much as I fought against it and tried to keep it from happening, I realized I had a very clear choice. 

I could decide, A.) to be miserable about it and scowl my way through the coming school year. Or, I could decide, B.) to call this something like “an exciting new adventure” and eagerly anticipate the new sights, sounds, smells, and scenarios that lay ahead.

Somehow, I chose B. And that choice made all the difference in the world.

July 20, 1969 was a Sunday night. So, I asked my parents if we could invite the kids from the church youth group over to our house for a cook-out and to watch the televised account of the Apollo 11 moon landing. 

They said, “Sure! Great idea, Rusty!” and immediately got busy putting plans and menus together. 

I replied, “Gee, thanks a lot! But folks, here is something else. I have also decided that ‘Rusty’ was the name from my old life. From here on, call me Russell. OK?”

It has been said that the only people who like change are babies with wet diapers. 

I get that. But change is something that just comes with the territory of being a human being. 

To live is to be subjected with regular changes. Changes in circumstance, changes in weather, changes in understandings, changes in health, changes in economic status… in short, changes in just about every facet of life. 

Often change feels unwanted, like an assault… like something cruelly imposed by a parent who accepts a pastoral appointment 2,400 miles away from your buddies and girlfriend the summer before your senior year of high school [if I can be a little personal for a moment].

In most cases, we don’t have a choice about the change. But we always DO have a choice about how we will respond to the change. 

Much later on in my faith journey, I discovered – much to my surprise – that God is actually a gigantic fan of change. In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong to call God The Cosmic ChangeMaster.

God created the something of the universe out of the nothing (or out of the chaos) and has never stopped changing or creating since. The prophet Isaiah spoke on God’s behalf and said, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19, NRSV).

So, I pray today that regardless of the change you are facing in life, you might be able to find a way to lean fully into it and come to embrace it as perhaps a “way in the wilderness.”

Abundant blessings;

13
Jul
21

Whatever happened to whistling?

As I walked into the restroom at the Denver Convention Center the other day, I was whistling. 

“You just put your lips together and blow!”

To my best recollection, the tune was Phil Collins’ I Can’t Dance… the most recent song playing on my car’s radio when I parked it in the parking garage. 

For me, whistling is a very common practice. That is probably because I was raised by a father who whistled all the time. In fact, one of the skills dad was most proud of was his ability to whistle harmonically… that is, to whistle two different notes at the same time. Had it existed at the time, I am sure he could have competed on America’s Got Talent and received at least one “YES” vote from Howie Mandel.

Dad whistled songs. He whistled random notes in sequence. He summoned us home from playing with the neighbors with a jaunty little six-note tune of his own devising. 

As I said, whistling was a regular part of my growing up years.

But I discovered – shortly after walking into that convention center restroom – that I must be very much alone in my acceptance of whistling. Heads turned from urinals toward me as I entered… clearly unsettled by the sound emanating from my pursed lips. Reading the gazes, I saw uncertainty… discomfort… wariness. 

Apparently,” I thought, “Whistling is not the friendly, happy-go-lucky thing to these guys that it is to me.” And so, not wanting to be the source of distress in the middle of everyone’s private moment, I stopped.

The more I thought about it later, the more it dawned on me; I really don’t hear much whistling anymore. 

Out there on the street, folks have their ear buds in, listening to whatever. Or else they are walking along pondering the meaning of life, reviewing their grocery list, reliving last night’s difficult dinner conversation, or daydreaming about winning the lottery. 

ANYTHING but whistling.

What about you? Do you whistle? If not, what is your opinion of people who do? Do you agree that whistling has gone the way of the eight-track tape and rabbit ears on the TV? And if so, why do you suppose that is?

That’s it. Nothing theological or particularly deep today. Just one of those, “Things that make you go, ‘Hmmmm.’”

Blessings;

12
Jul
21

Poured Out

I took Communion yesterday.

No biggie. Just a regular, “every Sunday” kind of thing now that Joan and I worship with a Lutheran congregation. 

In my United Methodist experience, Holy Communion was usually only a once-a-month event. But if you are forcing me to be honest, I’ll tell you I really prefer consuming the Body and Blood as often as possible.

And in Communion, just like anything done regularly, ritually, and repeatedly, there can be a tendency for hearts and minds to glaze over when the first syllables of “Lift up your hearts” are intoned.

For some reason yesterday, though, I found myself uniquely attentive. I was really paying attention to what was being said as the pastor went through each step; from Invitation, to Prayer, to Epiclesis, to Words of Institution, to Distribution, to Closing Prayer. 

In that unique state of attentiveness, the words that struck me were: “poured out,” as in, “This is the blood of Christ, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  

Over the many years that I have taken communion – and all the times that I have served as the LEADER of that holy celebration – I realized I have been guilty of misplacing my attention. That is, I think I have been paying attention to the wrong part of the above sentence.

The thought that struck me yesterday is that it really isn’t about the pouring out… even when those two words are dramatized with an actual pitcher of fermented (or unfermented) grape juice being tipped over and poured into a chalice. 

Yes, Jesus poured out his blood (i.e., his life)… in an historic and particularly spectacular way, as we read in the Scriptures. 

But guess what? We ALL pour out our lives. Our pitchers start out full. They are tipped over by the handle. They are poured out. And eventually, one day, our pitchers are finally emptied.

The real kicker is: POURED OUT FOR WHAT?

Richard Branson’s, Jeff Bezos’, and Elon Musk’s lives are being poured out for the accumulation of billions of dollars of personal wealth and (apparently) the private exploration of space. 

Joe Biden’s, Mitch McConnell’s, Nancy Pelosi’s, and Kevin McCarthy’s lives are being poured out for the accumulation and exercise of political power. 

Patrick Mahomes’, Tom Brady’s, Aaron Rodgers’, and Russell Wilson’s lives are being poured out for the attainment of football excellence. 

Bono’s, Sting’s, Cher’s, and Don Henley’s lives are being poured out for the sake of musical creation (and all the trinkets that come with it, we might surmise).

Jesus’ life however, as he tells us in his own words, was poured out, “for the forgiveness of sins…” (Matthew 26:28), “…for you…” (Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:24), “… and for many.” (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24). 

In other words, in this tidy, powerful testament, Jesus names not only the PURPOSE his life was poured out for, but the intended BENEFICIARIES

Hearing that in the fresh, attentive way I did yesterday made me stop and ask myself: “Hey, Russell… what exactly is YOUR life being poured out for? And for whom?”

GREAT question! And not particularly an easy one to answer for a retired guy. 

So maybe I will just close this out by asking turning the question on you: what is YOUR life being poured out for? And for WHOM?

Abundant blessings;

06
Jul
21

What’s At the Heart

I love Hud.

Uncle Hud, in action

True confession time: at first, I did NOT love Hud. At all.

Hud (or Uncle Hud) is the name Kansas City Royals fans have given to Rex Hudler – the  guy who does play-by-play of Royals games on TV. 

Uncle Hud is definitely an acquired taste. 

Honestly, when he first started broadcasting baseball games for the Royals, I thought Hud was a dud. He is justifiably famous for a long string of “Hud-isms.” That is, words and phrases that pop effortlessly out of his mouth during a game that leave most listeners scratching their heads and saying, “WHAAAAAATT?”

Some examples:

  • How about a doink, a bloop, or a blast right here.
  • Players, really, are property.
  • I say, “Bruce, I watch you chew that gum, man. It’s amazing how you chomp that thing!”
  • I get hungry when you throw that accent out there!
  • I had a license at one time, but they’ve taken it from me.
  • That had too much hair on it.
  • Be a fountain, not a drain
  • Oh, that was nice. How ‘bout just a thing. Throw a little thing out there, Moose.
  • He wants to try to shoot that hole anywhere. Any hole.
  • Did you know that’s a video game now? Angry Birds?
  • Maybe Billy can wake those ducks up.
  • That’s not just a circle change! He curls that thing all the way up into a little donut!
  • He brings a lunch pail to work, even though he probably really doesn’t.
  • Everything went well but the loss.
  • His teammates call him Wader. I’ll say! Wader, check please!

True fans will also recount Uncle Hud’s live, on-air, in-game debate with Ryan Lefebvre – his broadcast partner – about whether or not the moon is a planet.

Hud arrived in the KC broadcast booth in 2012. The first strike against him was that he came from California… never a plus with Kansas Citians. Strike two was that he came to replace a beloved and long-time KC baseball announcing legend. 

The third – and final – strike for most people was the list I just showed you above. 

But here it is, July 6, 2021, and Uncle Hud is still behind the microphone, broadcasting every home and away game for the stumbling, fourth-place Kansas City Royals. 

The thing that turned most doubters (I’ll admit, including me) into believers can be summed up in one word: 

LOVE

Hud LOVES the game of baseball. In fact, he is regularly effusive, and gooey, and downright mooshy about his love of the game. During every game he keeps a baseball with him… spinning it in his fingers and bouncing it back and forth from one hand to the other as he describes a perfect 6-4-3 double play.

His devotion to the history, the traditions, the nuances, the aura, and the rules of the game borders on religious reverence. Probably because he spent 20 years – divided between six different Major League teams, including the Japanese League – playing The Great Game.

Hud LOVES the Kansas City community.

He LOVES his wife and his four children and rarely passes up an opportunity to talk about them… whether it is pertinent to the moment or not.

Hud LOVES his broadcast partners, the Royals organization, the fans who write him letters (positive or not), the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (located in Kansas City), the weather, the visiting team, the umpiring crew, the off-season, the chair he sits in…

… in fact, there really does not seem to be anything Rex Hudler doesn’t love in this wide world… with the possible exception of mean, unloving people. 

And so, in return, the people of Kansas City have finally come to love Uncle Hud…

[… well, most of them, anyway.]

I take particular encouragement from Hud’s story because – in a way – it is my story. During my career as a pastor, I screwed up a lot of things. I committed a lot of verbal gaffes. I slighted people I didn’t intend to slight. I missed deadlines. I overcommitted. I had bad ideas. I failed to follow through on commitments. I occasionally employed shaky theology. 

But despite my myriad flaws and black marks, I tried to keep LOVE at the heart of everything I did. 

Personally, I am counting on the truth of the verse in 1 Peter that says, “… for love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8, NRSV). 

Maybe you are, too.

Abundant blessings;

05
Jul
21

The Day After

I went to the football game on that Friday night in October. Going to the game was an important ritual in the town where I grew up. In fact, in the 1960s in the midwestern U.S., it was an act as central and essential as going to church on Sunday mornings. 

[Except that the football game was ALWAYS a whole lot more exciting.]

This particular game was a nail-biter. The outcome would determine whether our team went to the playoffs or stayed home. In the last quarter, with 2:30 left in the game and the hometown Wildcats down six, our incredible junior running back, Ronnie Brewer, broke outside on a sweep around left end and rambled 62 yards for the tying touchdown. 

The extra point was good, and we held on for the last two minutes to win the game. The crowd – and the whole town – went wild. It was truly a memorable moment for all of us. 

But for me, the EXTRA memorable thing happened the following Monday at school. That year I was a freshman… new to the school and still awkwardly making friends and finding my way around. But as I walked down the hall toward my locker that Monday morning, I turned the corner and LITERALLY bumped into Ronnie Brewer… the hero of the previous Friday night.

Ronnie just stopped, smiled, said, “Excuse me,” and went on about his business, just like it was any regular school day in Hilliard, Ohio in the month of October. 

Which, of course, it was.

Little ol’ freshman me, however, was still living in the Golden Hour. I had not come down from the high of our school’s (MY school’s) historic football win from Friday. I wanted to keep milking the thrill of that moment for as long as I could, savoring the unbridled joy of it all.

And yet, here was the guy at the center of it all… just sauntering down the hall with his books under his arm, schlubbing along like any one of the other 300 students that day.

It wasn’t until much later in life that I was finally able to learn the great truth about mountaintop experiences; the truth that reminds us we can’t live at the top of the mountain. Sooner or later (and sooner is usually better), we all have to come down. We have to get on with business back down on the ground. 

Ideally, when we come down, we will bring something of the mountain back down with us. We use it to shape our flatland walking and talking in a fresh new way. But we have to understand that any lasting difference in the world is going to be made DOWN HERE and not UP THERE

There is the story in Matthew about Jesus taking three of his most trusted disciples (Peter, James, and John) up to the top of a mountain. While there, they have a profoundly life-changing, mystical experience. When the disciples expressed their desire to remain on the mountain, memorialize the place, and bask in the golden afterglow, Jesus instead hustles them back down the mountain and says, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9, NRSV). 

Today is July 5. For most Americans, it is the day after a day of celebration marked by picnics, parades, and pyrotechnics. For the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, it was the day they all stood around in a circle, looked at one another and said, “OK. Now what?”

Majestic, memorable moments are important. They often ignite a fire in our souls. They either articulate or remind us of a lofty vision of life. They can fill the gas tanks of our motivation and resolve to get out there, take a risk, and make a mark. 

But history wants to remind us that the real difference is made on the day after… the dull, regular, mundane, plodding, routine, endless road of putting one foot after the other until one day the vision becomes reality.

Abundant blessings;

30
Jun
21

Maybe God is… *

Maybe God is. 

Period. Full stop.

This might seem like an odd concession to doubt for one who publicly calls himself as a believer. [And yes, I do most definitely call myself a believer.]

Yet despite the strength of that belief (on my best days), I cannot offer you a shred of empirical proof that God in fact exists. 

  • Sure, I can enumerate all the reasons I personally choose to believe.
  • I can also regale you with story after story about the countless times God’s existence and nature have been disclosed to me… either through the created world, or through serendipitous happenings, or through human messengers, or through small, unseen nudges to my spirit. 
  • I can tell you about the hundreds of times I have turned to this God and asked for wisdom, comfort, patience, or peace in solitary moments of prayer… and received them.
  • I can readily recount for you all the ways that belief – and faith – in God has made a qualitative difference in my life.

But I cannot finally, conclusively, irrevocably, and beyond all doubt prove to you that God exists.

For some, that inability to provide objective evidence is all the encouragement they need to be prompted to stand up and declare, “You SEE! I told you: God is a myth and a fairy tale, meant for the unscientific and weak-minded! We live in a world of scientifically provable FACT, not fantasy.”

Emboldened, they continue, “And besides… disputes about who God is and what God wants have led us to some of the bloodiest conflicts ever seen in human history! As for me and my house, we will serve EMPIRICISM!”

And you know what? It is hard to argue with any of those statements. 

I am also aware that the case against faith in God sometimes runs deeper and more personally than that. I have talked to many people who carry life-long scars from their encounters with “true believers.” And as a result, they have rejected faith completely. 

Taking all of that into account… minimizing NONE of it, I will still dare to ask; what if there IS a God?

  • What if there really is a God who is so vast and deep and wide that ANY attempt to confine this God to a doctrine, a description, a definition, or a denomination is automatically futile and pitiful? 
  • What if this God INTENDED that all reason-based paths into a relationship run smack-dab into a brick wall? What if this God set it up so that an abandonment of empiricism is really what it takes to forge a connection?
  • What if a kiloton of EVIDENCE weighs less on this God’s scale than a thimbleful of FAITH?
  • What if the whole idea is that this God is meant to be most accessible to the simple, the child-like, the vulnerable, the weak, the defenseless, and the frail among us rather than to the strong, smart, powerful, and secure?

What if there really is a God and what if that God really is like that?

Man… wouldn’t that be AWESOME?!!

Abundant blessings;

  • I would be remiss if I did not credit my mentor, counselor, and friend Warren Molton as the inspiration for this blog series. Several years ago, Warren published a book of poetry titled, If God Is… A Poetic Search for God Within. Each of his poems in this book poses an “if/then” duality, inviting the reader to contemplate the many faces of God. 

My aim is not to duplicate Warren’s work, but to engage my own musings on the nature of The Irreducible Source of All That Is.

24
Jun
21

Blades of Grass

I was supposed to go to my 50th high school class reunion last year.

Instead, all members of the Hilliard (Ohio) High School class of 1970 spent our reunion year cowering inside hermetically sealed isolation suits, trying our best to avoid that minor inconvenience called The COVID-19 Global Pandemic

And so that long-awaited reunion will happen this year, the 51st since we walked across that stage and received our diplomas. Because I moved away from that town in the summer of 1969, I have not seen most of those fine folks in what seems like FOREVER!

Some I remember well. Some I recall vaguely. Other names and faces don’t ring even the faintest bell with me.

Then yesterday, I received a Facebook message from one of the reunion organizers that quite literally brought me to me knees. It was a list of members of the HHS Class of ’70 who have died since that graduation day. 

Scrolling down the list stunned me. It saddened me. It brought tears to my eyes. It also caused me to feel the cold fingers of mortality wrapping around my heart like few other things have done.

There was Kirk’s name. One of my best friends ever. Kirk was the guy who made plans to go into ministry even before graduating from high school. Sadly, Kirk ended his own life in 1990 after fighting for years against the insidious grip of mental illness and drug addiction.

There was Mike, who, it says, died in 2008. I remember Mike as the guy who introduced me to the most cutting-edge musical groups. We would spend hours listening to records in his basement.

Scrolling down further, I see Iveta’s name. Iveta was the beautiful, thin, young woman from Latvia. I didn’t know her well, but definitely wanted to.

There is Bev’s name. At our 20th reunion, Bev attended in her motorized wheelchair, the result of a debilitating case of MS. It says she died on October 2, 2020, so she would have been able to attend the 50th reunion if COVID hadn’t butted its fat head in. 

There is Bob… there is Vickie… there is Chuck… there is Sandy… and Karen… and John… and Tony, the guy who died in a car accident during our sophomore year. 

Holy cow! It began to feel as if the shorter list to send would have been the list of ‘70ers who are still alive. 

Looking at the list and meditating on it, I am certain that none of us in that class gave even a moment’s thought to the date and manner of our deaths on the bright June day as we listened to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” for the umpteenth time. We all probably assumed we would scatter, live modestly happy lives, and then gather to share our stories every 10 years thereafter, ad infinitum. 

But that isn’t the way life works, is it? There are limits. There is mortality. There is illness, addiction, and depression. There is damned bad luck, and funky genetics. 

That list reminded me that each of us is stamped with an expiration date, known only to God. It also brought the lines of Psalm 103 to mind where we read, “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSV). 

And if the story stopped there, it would spell out a tragedy of epic proportions.

But – PRAISE GOD! – we know that the story doesn’t stop there. It continues beyond verse 16 to verse 17 where we are reminded that, “… the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children…” (Psalm 103:17, NRSV).

How incredible is THAT! 

You and I… finite, perishable blades of grass, bound to expire in the twinkling of a cosmic eye… are everlastingly loved by the One who created it all! 

And with that reminder, the thermostat on my heartache and distress dials down several degrees. My weeping becomes a prayer of gratitude for those lives… for their impact on me, and for the everlasting love of their Creator.

Abundant blessings;




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