01
Oct
22

A Mosque Revival

When the tour guide first said it, I didn’t believe her. So naturally, I Googled it.

Inside the Haggia Sophia

Turns out she was right. (Professional tour guides usually are.)

The nation of Turkey is, in fact, 99.8% Muslim. Meaning that for every 1,000 people you pass on the street, exactly two of them are Christians… or something else non-Muslim. To put it another way, if you filled Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to its advertised seating capacity of 77,000 die-hard Turkish Chiefs fans, 154 of that gathered throng would be Turkish Christians.

Given that reality, it was inevitable that our eager band of 24 American tourists would stop in at one or two mosques during our Rick Steves’ Best of Turkey tour. 

These were not the first mosques I have visited in my life. As a card-carrying Christian, however, I have not had the opportunity to hang out in a ton of them. 

But still… as we entered our first mosque there in Istanbul, I knew a few things I could expect to see. I knew, for example, to expect to be required to take my shoes off before entering. I knew to expect a wide open, carpeted area in the center of the room with horizontal lines on the carpet so that the kneeling worshipers would be oriented toward Mecca as they prayed. I knew to expect an elevated area for the reading of the Quran and a different spot at the front of the room (equipped with a microphone) from which the weekly sermon would be delivered. I also knew to expect to see a separate, set-aside area where female believers would gather to worship. 

For all that I expected, there were nevertheless a couple of things that really caught me off-guard. I was not – for some unknown reason – expecting to experience the warm, welcoming hospitality we were greeted with. Neither was I expecting to feel the same sense of hushed reverence I associate with ornate Roman Catholic Church sanctuaries. And I sure as heck was not expecting to feel – despite the many and significant theological differences between the Muslim and Christian faiths – the strange sense of kinship with these dark-haired, brown-eyed worshipers that pulsed through me there in central Istanbul. 

For reasons I could not immediately fathom, being there in that space with those devout followers felt more familiar than alien. 

I saw flawed, fragile people. I saw those same flawed, fragile people daring to turn and face an often-baffling universe. And I saw them facing that universe with a determination not to yield the day to cynicism and despair. I saw them doing their level best to carve hand-and-footholds in the sheer rock face of mystery with the primitive, time-honored tools of prayer and thanksgiving. 

Finally, I saw surrender. The meaning of the word “Islam,” after all, is “surrender to the will of God.”

No. I don’t believe these fragile, flawed, humble, faithful, surrendered people are the people I need to worry about. Though they practice an utterly different form of faith, I came to recognize them as my spiritual brothers and sisters.

As I ponder the future of this world, I find a greater cause for concern are the people who already have it figured out. In whom there is no room for mystery or humility. The people whose entire arena of concern is themselves and maybe the three feet of space surrounding them. The people whose knee never bends because it can’t.

As we are reminded in 1 Peter, “And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NRSVU).

Today I wake up and find myself grateful that I have the ability and means – for now – to travel. Because it is in traveling that I truly encounter the height, and breadth, and depth, and wonder of this magnificent, miraculous, God-imbued world. 

Abundant blessings;

20
Sep
22

Celebrating the season

Here where I live in northern Colorado USA, the seasons are beginning to change.

Summer is graciously bowing to receive her well-earned accolades while fall stands just off-stage awaiting her cue. Warm-ups and vocalization exercises done, she is poised, ready to burst from the wings, draped in oranges, reds, yellows and deep maroons.

I’m not gonna lie; of the four contenders, fall is my fave season of all. It is the time of cooler temps, of pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, of the start of American FOOTBALL, and of kids being back in school. It is the time when fresh peaches are canned, chili is cooked, long sleeves come out of hiding, and a brand-new season of Saturday Night Live blasts off.

But most of all, I think I love fall because it is that time when the end of yard work is visible, just beyond the horizon. 

I am sure I’m not alone. Don’t most people say fall is their favorite season?

Fall on the calendar is one thing. Entering the “fall” season of our life is another matter entirely. Why is it, do you suppose that people (like me) who feel a genuine affection for all things autumnal are so very much LESS thrilled when the autumn season of life arrives?

Sure… the “springtime of my youth” was an exciting time. Everything was new and fresh and green. There was an atmosphere of expectation. Vitality coursed through every vein and energy seemed unlimited! Life and liveliness filled the air as new buds appeared on every branch. PROMISE was bursting out all over!

“Summer” was great, too. It was the season we had all been waiting for… the season when our roots took hold, our flowers unfurled, and our leaves fully deployed. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I personally don’t have any actual leaves or flowers to speak of. Do you?) Summer was the season of life when preparation met opportunity and we were out there every day DOING IT! We were on the stage, saying our lines, hitting our marks, and actualizing the self we knew we were born to be. It was a heady, intoxicating time when PURPOSE coursed through us, and we ended each day spent but satisfied.

But now comes the fall. Life slows down. Limbs creak. Daylight becomes rarer and rarer. The evenings are cooler, and the sap doesn’t flow quite as fluidly. Long sleeves and sweaters come out. Casserole recipes are located and dusted off. 

There is a temptation to lament this season and look on it as the unwelcome reminder of the frozen lifelessness that lies just ahead. But why should we? Fall is that time when our richest, most vibrant colors come out on full display. It is the time when we wave farewell to the vigorous striving of “summer” and dare to relax and refresh ourselves by the springs of wisdom. 

Fall (once again, working with an analogy here… I am talking about the fall season of LIFE) is harvest time… the time when the seeds of spring pay us back for the blood, sweat, and tears we watered them with.

While it is true that the color might have vanished from our hair (unless, of course, you have chosen to put it back in somehow), the colors of our experiences, our relationships, our families, and our indomitable spirits shines forth in a dazzling display… more glorious than a Colorado aspen grove in early October. 

Besides, I love the thing wise old King Solomon had to say about gray hair: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (Proverbs 16:31, NRSVU). 

Pretty smart guy, eh?

I don’t know… was Dylan Thomas right? Should we, “… rage, rage against the dying of the light”?

Or should we celebrate the full glory of this fall season of life? 

I know which one I choose.

Abundant blessings;

08
Sep
22

A Rich, Rich Man

Maybe it’s NOT about the Benjamins!

It was one of those perfect, early autumn evenings. The air was still hot and clammy, but the rays of the sun were starting to slant toward the horizon. I was excited because tonight was the first game of the season with my NEW softball team!

[Just so we understand ourselves clearly from the outset, I LOVE playing slow-pitch softball. I am, however, utterly unencumbered by anything resembling actual softball-playing talent.]

This was at least thirty-five years ago, when I was still working at the bank. It was a men’s team made up mostly of some guys I worked with and a few of their friends. After doing some hamstring, glute, and quad stretches, I ambled over to introduce myself to some of my new teammates. 

My eyes drifted toward a man with neatly combed graying hair who stood there tying his cleats at the end of our bench. I didn’t recognize him, so I walked over, stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there! I don’t think we’ve met!”

To which he replied, “Hi there! I’m Rich!”

And since, back then, I was a scintillating and clever young man, regularly given to cracking totally obvious, cornpone jokes, I grabbed his hand, shook it, and replied, “Well, I’m not yet, but I hope to be!” 

[Rich, that is. Get it?]

At the time I unleashed my droll little riposte, my words were absolutely accurate. I was at the very beginning of a promising career as a Series 7 registered investment representative. I worked at a respected local bank and had visions of golden sugarplums and a big, fat 401(k) fund dancing in my head. 

And here, today, half a lifetime later, I am floored to realize how lavishly that dream of fabulous wealth has been realized…

… of course, in God’s own time. In God’s own way.

You see, definition #2 of the word “rich” is, “Abundant. Plentiful. As in, “… the nation’s rich and diverse wildlife,” while definition #5 says, “interesting because of being full of diversity or complexity.” As in, “What a full, rich life you lead!”

I have not (not yet, at least!) become rich in the sense of definition #1: “Having a great deal of money or assets.” But looking back on my life now, I have become fabulously rich by definition #2 and definition #5 standards!

  • I am rich in FAMILY. The one I was born into and the one I helped build along the way. They are all such awesome, goofy, great, smart, idiotic, special, warped, and splendid humans. I don’t know what I would do without any one of them.
  • I am rich in EXPERIENCE. Some of which I sought out on purpose… some of which sneaked up and ambushed me while I was looking the other way.
  • I am rich in RELATIONSHIPS. Living in one place for 45 years will do that for you. But now, since Joan and I decided to uproot ourselves and move to a brand-new town, we have a chance to build a whole bunch MORE!
  • Thanks to my parents, many, many mentors, the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, and God’s inspired Word, I also wake up today to find I am rich in FAITH.
  • And finally, today’s list would not be complete without mentioning that I am also rich in LOVE. Both the love that has been astonishingly lavished upon me, but the love I feel toward the people and the world around me.

WOW! When you put it that way, I am a much richer guy than I could ever have imagined when I made my famous wisecrack to Rich on that softball field so very long ago.

That could very well be what Jesus was talking about when he sat his disciples down and told them, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NRSVU). 

I have lost track of Rich over the years, but wherever he is, I pray he has discovered that he is not only Rich, but also (definition #2) rich, and (definition #5) rich.

And wherever you are today, whatever your name is, I pray the richness of God’s good grace for you as well today. 

Abundant blessings;

01
Sep
22

Block Party Confessional

Joan and I went to a block party last week.

Partying on the block!

The party wasn’t technically on OUR block. But someone on that other, partying block was kind enough to invite us.

It was a nice event featuring grilled goodies, a potluck spread of salads and desserts, and even some live music. It was the perfect occasion to meet neighbors we might not have met before and re-connect with those we have.

About an hour in, I was standing and chatting with a mixture of those old and new friends, when suddenly Tom* came up beside me, grabbed my arm, and said, “Do you have a minute? I really need to talk to you.” 

I thought to myself, “Tom… can’t you see I am right in the middle of something here?” But when I turned and looked at Tom, I could tell he was really “in a state,” as folks say.

“Sure,” I said, politely excusing myself from the conversation with my neighbors about our favorite methods of crabgrass control.

Before I could even ask Tom what was up, he grabbed my arm, pulled me close and said, “He’s HERE!”

“Who is here?”

[For this next part of the conversation transcript, I will be replacing all of Tom’s very visceral, extremely profane phrases with quaint colloquialisms. I trust you’ll be able to make the necessary substitutions].

Tom – fuming and turning red in the face – hissed, “Do you see that fellow over there in the blue shirt… the one taking pictures of the band? That ornery cuss cheated me out of $25,000, my mother out of another $25,000, and my sister out of $50,000 back in 1999. I testified against him in court! He was sentenced to 60 years and got out of jail in THREE, for crying out loud! And now HERE HE IS!! He’s just walking around our block party, eating a hamburger, and smiling like he doesn’t have a care in the world!”

As my eyes grew wider, I gulped and said something profound like, “Wow, Tom! That’s incredible!”

Tom leaned in and filled in more of the story. About how the man in question had come to him, his mother, and his sister as an “investment advisor” over 20 years ago. About his slick brochures with charts and testimonials from “satisfied customers.” About the confidence he generated and the guarantees he made. About their excitement at the thought of investment profits.

And finally, Tom told me about their shock and shame – not to mention the fiscal damage – when they finally realized they had become victims of a modern day flim-flam man. A Professor Harold Hill in polyester pants.

“Russell,” Tom continued, “I sat there watching him for about 30 minutes and then walked over, stuck out my hand, and said, ‘Hi! Do you remember me?’ And do you know what? That sorry so-and-so HAD NO IDEA WHO I WAS!!”

At this point of the story, your question is probably the same as mine was. I mean yes, I was stunned and amazed to hear Tom’s story. I was equally flabbergasted to try and figure out how THAT GUY ended up here at our little block party.

But I was also thinking, “Tom… what is it you need me to do for you right now?”

Tom soon filled in that blank for me. As if reading my mind he said, “Russell, I know you are a man of faith. And I know that forgiveness is an important part of the Christian faith. And after the trial, and after the sentencing, and after about 10 years had gone by, I thought I had completely washed my hands of this scoundrel. But suddenly seeing him here like this has brought it all back.”

Tom continued, “I honestly don’t think you need to worry about me going over and inflicting any bodily injury on him. But you also need to know that, until just a few minutes ago, I was VERY seriously considering it.”

“What I need you to help me with is figuring out what to do with all this ANGER that is boiling up inside me right now. I know God doesn’t want us to be angry, but DARN IT! He hurt my family BADLY!”

I wish I could tell you I had an instant, magic bullet answer for Tom. In that moment, standing there in the middle of the street, with the band playing and people milling all around us, I felt a stabbing inadequacy to address Tom’s emotional turmoil. I DID manage to pray a prayer for illumination before daring to speak to this very wounded, very agitated, very vulnerable man. 

And when I finally spoke, I found a way to remind him that the central message of the gospel is forgiveness… as Jesus preached and demonstrated over and over. I was also able to remind him that forgiveness is NOT about acceptance or approval of the unacceptable, but rather about the purging of a deadly poison from heart and mind. 

I spared Tom the spectacle of grabbing both his shoulders and praying with him in the middle of the block party, but I will say that a quiet prayer was uttered. 

I don’t know if our conversation helped or not, but I thanked God for making me available to be a listening ear in the moment it was needed. 

Abundant blessings;

29
Aug
22

The Unseen Doorknob

I watered our outdoor plants this morning…

Geraniums!

… and in so doing, got a first-hand taste of the meaning of futility.

I say futility first because Joan and I are big fans of annuals. Second, because it is late August.

In June and July, these bright, colorful gems are bursting with life and vitality. They keep the fireworks popping through most of August, too. And like the faithful water boy I am, I am out there every morning, dousing them with water, helping them give encore after encore.

But then August starts to wane and September waits just around the corner. And our glitzy, glamorous annual plants start to droop. 

As their short, yet flamboyant lives begin to wind down, I start to fret. I worry. I despair. I wonder if I have over-or-under watered them. I try CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on them. But despite my best efforts, they keep letting me know that their time here on our front porch is swiftly coming to an end…

… just like we all knew it would.

Have you ever had that feeling? I mean the feeling that you are working hard, trying your best to make something happen, and yet despite all the creativity and hard work you are pouring out, you are fighting a losing battle? That you are trying to fight a forest fire with an eye dropper.

I sure have.

Even though it was an eternity ago, I remember that the Wonderful World of Dating often felt like a completely pointless undertaking. “I am NEVER going to find the right person! What am I even DOING?”

Parenting certainly had (has?) more than its share of futile feeling moments. Can I get an AMEN on that one?

And while most pastors who are still working won’t admit it, all retired pastors will tell you that ministry feels pretty futile sometimes. It is, in all likelihood, the reason Saint Augustine is said to have found it necessary to prohibit his deacons from using whips on their congregants.

And so, when ferociously facing futility, there are usually only two choices; 1. Give up. Or 2. Go on.

Most of the time, giving up is the sensible response. No matter how much water I pour on it, that dead flower is not going to suddenly spring back to life! Best to save your energy and expend it on a much more possible dream, right?

Great advice! Unless, of course, there is a God in heaven operating by a set of rules superseding those that govern life here in the material realm. Which, by the way, I absolutely believe there is.

As a starting point, I take you back to the story of the rich young man found there in Matthew 19. After an engaging debate about the key to eternal life, the man eventually walks away from Jesus deflated and defeated. He is distressed because Jesus has just told him that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into the kingdom of heaven. And did I mention… this guy is very rich?

Upon hearing this, the disciples began to moan and wail and ask Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them tenderly, with great understanding and answered, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, NRSVU).

In our realm, plants die. Girls (or boys) hang up the phone when you ask them out. Children disobey… often to their own injury and detriment. Churches stay mired in petty squabbles and outmoded thought patterns. Pernicious habits go unbroken. Addictions persist. ALL of this despite our very best efforts to the contrary.

And yet the thing to remember on those days when FUTILITY seems to be all around us are the words of Jesus. Those words remind us there is another realm. That it all doesn’t depend on US. That we have every right to expect the unexpected when we relinquish things into the hands of our Maker and Redeemer. 

If things seem to be at a standstill for you today, my prayer is that God will give you the eyes to see the previously unseen doorknob there in that brick wall you’re facing. 

He will. Just go ahead and ask!

Abundant blessings;

23
Aug
22

Afflicting the Comfortable

Thank God for Willis Carrier.

Old time window unit.
Image by By Willem van de Poll

Mr. Carrier, as you may have heard, is widely believed to be the inventor of the modern air conditioning system. According to Wikipedia, while Carrier did indeed develop the first ELECTRICAL air conditioning system in 1901, people as far back as ancient Egypt have been working on ways to dispel the oppressive heat of August… or January if they happened to live in the southern hemisphere.

Carrier’s invention was first installed in a printing and lithographing company in Brooklyn, NY. Its purpose was to help the company maintain uniform paper size and to keep the ink from smudging and smearing. 

In other words, to facilitate WORK

But speaking personally, I can’t imagine doing much of anything at this time of year – working, playing, or sleeping – without the aid of Mr. Carrier’s invention. In fact, my fevered imagination is busily churning away at this very moment on the invention of a flexible, air-conditioned TUBE we can use to walk straight from our air-conditioned HOMES into our air-conditioned CARS, without ever having to experience the reality of that nasty summer HEAT!

Of course, I kid. But it makes me wonder about the lengths to which you and I will go to to avoid even a moment of discomfort in our lives. 

Let’s face it; you and I devote STAGGERING amounts of time and money trying to protect ourselves from the harsh realities of life on planet earth. We condition our air. We repel our insects. We shade our eyes. We cushion our feet. We filter our water. We motorize our transportation. We fence our yards. We watch our neighbors. We domesticate our animals. We defend our borders. We pasteurize our milk…

… ALL of which, by the way, I vigorously support. 

But I can’t help but wonder if we might occasionally miss out on some of life’s richness when we continually operate in the Discomfort Avoidance mode. For example;

  • In my experience, learning to ride a bike involved a LOT of initial discomfort. 
  • Meeting new people almost always feels a little awkward at first.
  • Encountering a new idea, a new country, a new language, a new food, a new author, or a new piece of music usually – for me – always begins with some measure of discomfort.

Back when I was in seminary, I recoiled at the suggestion that I should take a class called, “Black Womanist Theology”. As a white, middle-aged male, I didn’t see the relevance. I am not proud to admit it, but I even went so far as to ask my advisor, “Do I really have to?” 

Yes, I had to. And yes, it was uncomfortable. And yes, it was one of the richest, most humbling, most meaningful educational encounters of my life. Thank you bell hooks, thank you Emily Townes, thank you Renita Weems, thank you Delores S. Williams and many others.

So no, I am not saying I am going to take the roof off my home, disconnect my air conditioner, or dramatically backtrack on any of the essential creature comforts I enjoy today. I AM saying, however, that I will take the occasion of these so-called “dog days of summer” to be reminded of those wise words spoken to me many years ago. When I asked my pastor what he considered the church’s main job to be, he turned to me and said, “The church is here to try to do what Jesus did in his lifetime: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

Happy squirming.

Abundant blessings;

11
Aug
22

Mature Love

Love is love is love

Love – I think we can all agree – is pretty danged awesome.

You and I are probably also in agreement about the idea that there are different KINDS of love. Perhaps “…different EXPRESSIONS of love,” would be a better way to say that.

For example, there is the giddy, exploding fireworks, breathless, fixated kind of young love. You know… the kind that looks an awful lot like a dangerous addiction. 

Eros is what the Greeks call this expression of love.

Then there is the love that describes the way I love my brothers and my sister. It is fierce. It is tender… (sometimes). It is VERY close to unconditional. It brings great joy. At the same time, it is utterly asexual. The Greek word for this expression of love is filios.

If you have attended this seminar before, you know that the next category goes by the Greek name agapeAgape is traditionally described as perfect, self-sacrificing, godly love. The love Jesus demonstrated for all of us from the cross, for example.

But we are going to put a pin in AGAPE for just a second if that’s OK. I promise we will come back to it a little later.

The category I want to throw out there next is MATURE love. I’m not sure what the Greek word for this is, but I’m equally sure there is one. 

This is the kind of love that starts out with eros… moves on to hanging out for a while to see where this thing goes… morphs into deciding to exchange sacred vows and promising lifelong commitment, and finally leads to riding the crazy roller-coaster of “doing life together,” through all the ups, downs, hair-pin turns, dry, dull patches, dead-ends, and fiery crashes you typically experience along the way.

I have experienced mature love in my life. Twice, in fact. The first time for 20-some years. This time the count stands at 22 years. 

If you know about mature love, you know it takes work. You have discovered – as I did, the hard way – that there is no such thing in mature love as, “… putting this thing on cruise control and coasting the rest of the way in.”

Relationships take constant attention and effort. There is no point at which they drive themselves.

And while I have been talking entirely about the HUMAN journey of love, I want to pose a bit of an odd question here… mainly for the sake of sparking a conversation. 

That question is: ARE THERE ANY ANALOGS BETWEEN THE HUMAN-TO-HUMAN EXPERIENCE OF MATURE LOVE AND THE EXPERIENCE OF MATURE LOVE BETWEEN A PERSON AND GOD?

Yes. On the one hand, the question is totally ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because we know that God ALWAYSloves perfectly. Humans, on the other hand, ALWAYS love imperfectly. In the human-to-human relationship, both parties are (ideally) learning and growing in their capacity to love. In the human-God relationship, it is only WE who need to grow and mature. God has already arrived at mature, loving perfection.

So yes. Silly question.

Yet it nags at me. 

Based on some experience and some observation, I have learned a few things along the way about the qualities of mature human love. For example, I’ve learned that the word “trivial” gradually recedes from your vocabulary. In a mature relationship, you come to realize just how much things matter. A word… a gesture… a sigh… a neglected coffee cup. Something you might have breezed by and ignored in another time now begins to OOZE with significance. 

I’ve seen that couples who have known one another for a long time start to “tune in” more keenly to one another, anticipating each other’s thoughts and feelings.

The same thing happens – I believe – as we mature in our relationship with God. We begin making more of a practice of tuning in to the “still, small voice.” We move from seeing God’s handiwork in its broadest brush strokes (like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains) to seeing it in the smallest, like, “… the whiteness of a washed pocket handkerchief,” to quote D.H. Lawrence. 

God’s presence and activity turn up EVERYWHERE we look. We realize we can’t “… flee from your presence,”as the Psalmist once wrote…

… But we also realize we don’t want to.

So, I will close by asking: am I crazy? Is it completely off base to try and find similarities between a mature HUMAN-TO-HUMAN love and a mature HUMAN-TO-GOD love? 

And if you DON’T think this is crazy, what are some other similarities you see in these two relationships?

Abundant blessings;

02
Aug
22

Perspective Tune-up

I’ve decided: I hate quarantine.

Since receiving a positive COVID diagnosis over a week ago, I have been in a state of doctor-ordered quarantine here in my home. That has meant sleeping in the upstairs guest bedroom, not coming close to, touching – let alone kissing – Joan, and wearing that stupid N95 mask ALL THE TIME. 

Many of you have experienced this and know exactly what I am talking about. Some of you have probably even gone through much more severe COVID journeys than mine, involving hospitals, ventilators, and questions of life or death.  

And most of you – I’m pretty sure – have done it with a lot less whining about it.

All things considered though; this experience has not been that bad. 

Don’t get me wrong; the first three days were rough. But because I am double-vaxxed and boosted, the main symptoms went away on the fourth day, leaving me feeling almost back to normal. Isolated and bored, yes. But overall feeling well. In fact, I’ve felt well enough to hop on my bike and go on long rides both yesterday and the day before. 

No… quarantine isn’t any fun. But when I start feeling like it is time to convene a meeting of Russell’s Private Pity Party, I pick up the Bible and start reading a little from Paul. As you might recall, Paul had a bit of a “quarantine” thing going on there in the beginning of his letter to the church at Philippi. Right there in the first chapter we read these words; “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the progress of the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ…” (Philippians 1:12-13 NRSVU). 

Of course, the phrase, “… what has happened to me…” there refers to being thrown in jail for his public preaching about Jesus. And instead of sitting there in that cell and whining about the cruel nature of his situation, Paul instead focused on the OPPORTUNITY it presented him! 

Crazy, eh?

Then there is that little passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul momentarily goes out of his mind – his words, not mine – and starts listing all of the CRAP he’s had to endure in order to carry out his evangelical mission. 

Remember that passage? You can find it in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28. But to save your valuable time, I will reprint it here: “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.”

I also found ministry to be a VERY rugged profession. But I honestly don’t think I can recall ever being beaten with rods or stoned. 

My point is this: ALL of us… no matter what we are going through… can benefit from a “perspective check” now and then. That “check” is what these words from Paul provided for me.

Speaking personally, I will confess the ease with which MY momentary reality can become THE universal reality… at least in my head. My worldview narrows to ME and the two-foot bubble of life surrounding me. Nothing outside that bubble matters.

But the truth is, my reality is nothing more than a decision I made about how this current situation is going to affect me. Either I will see it as a unique kind of OPPORTUNITY I’ve been handed (Paul style), or I’ll see it as some kind of horrible injustice I’ve been saddled with. 

So, I will decide to use the gift of this quarantine time to catch up on my fiction reading, learn a few new songs on the guitar, ride my bike (weather permitting, of course), and as a time to take the opportunity to get my perspective tuned up …

… which it needs only about once every three minutes.

Abundant blessings;

29
Jul
22

Plagued by Purpose

Deep Thinker

There was a time… I remember it well… when the answer was so simple, it wasn’t even necessary to ask the question.

Those were the days when you only had to look one branch down on the family tree to know what your life was all about. 

Back then, asking why you were here on this planet was akin to picking up a hammer and asking why ITexisted. 

We each knew we were here to carry on… to receive and then pass the baton… to stoke the fires of family tradition, keeping them burning for those who come after. 

It was a sacred trust we dared not interrupt.

Those of us raised in that time knew it was only either saints or psychos who heard voices calling them to undertake BOLD, HISTORY-SHAPING ventures. For the rest of us, ours was to keep our heads down, our noses clean, and our shoulders firmly pressed against the wheel.

Until it wasn’t.

One day, everything turned upside down. One day, planes full of new high school graduates started taking off and flying west over the ocean. The next day, those same planes flew back filled with body bags. No one ever fully explained to us why it was necessary, or when it would end, or what we hoped to gain. They just kept sending more of us over there to die.

So, we stopped trusting them. We stopped assuming they were right. Until they could come up with better answers, we officially declined the job of Cultural Continuity Custodians

Because they were YOUR answers and not OURS, those answers were automatically WRONG. We didn’t believe it was true until we discovered it ourselves. In pursuit of that truth, we employed every tool of discovery imaginable. 

And so today, many years later, here I sit. Wondering. 

  • Are we here to be blind stewards of tradition, obediently carrying forward that which has been handed us?
  • Are we instead called to be students of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, understanding that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” and be done with it?
  • Or was it a good thing that we once opened this Pandora’s Pouch of Pulsating Possibilities and realized our power to CHOOSE and SHAPE the world we inhabit?

So, what is my purpose?

What is YOUR purpose?

What, in broader terms, is the purpose of life PERIOD?

For the definitive answer, we turn to the Source of all definitive answers. Jesus himself.

In the fourth chapter of John, after Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well (you know… the town outcast to whom Jesus offered comfort and a new vision for her future), he gave this very succinct definition of his purpose: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (John 4:34, NRSVU). 

There it is. Simple and straightforward… deftly summarizing shelves and shelves of books on the topic: FINDING LIFE’S PURPOSE.

Do God’s will. In this moment. And this moment. And this moment. Ad infinitum… until you look back and behold a life filled with a long string of moments of divine obedience. 

  1. Do God’s will.
  2. Complete God’s work. 

Simple as that.

Abundant blessings;

14
Jul
22

Viva la difference!

I’m sorry, but it’s true; I am married to the best cook in the world.

Sorry. This picture of the leftovers just doesn’t do justice to the thing in its prime.

The votes are in… tallies have been verified by Price-Waterhouse… the verdict is final.

How she does it – consistently night after night– I’ll never know. But mine is not to question why. Mine is just to dine and sigh. 

Just two nights ago, for example, Joan made some chicken thighs. “No big deal,” I hear you say. “What’s so amazing about chicken thighs?” But these were MIND-BLOWING chicken thighs. I can’t offer 100% validation on this, but I am reasonably sure Joan had at least DOUBLE the Colonel’s trademark “…eleven herbs and spices…” sprinkled on those bad boys.

I detected salt, pepper, paprika, turmeric, a little Turkish spice we picked up at the Istanbul Bazaar a few years ago, garlic salt, cayenne, and a couple of other things my tongue is not sophisticated enough to discern. 

But here is the thing: in the realm of cooking and the enjoyment of food, DIVERSITY seems to be the key. Our (between 2,000 and 4,000, according to the interwebs) taste buds get all excited and LIGHT UP when they encounter a multiplicity of stimuli. They cry, “MORE! MORE! We LOVE this avalanche of input you’re giving us!! Pile it ON!!”

Our visual receptors work the same way. We see something and label it, “beautiful,” or “awesome,” when we see a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, all converging in the same place. 

[Unless, of course, they happen to converge in the form of that blue and yellow plaid leisure suit I owned in 1983]. 

The same thing happens in the world of SOUND. One musical note is great. But add two or three other, different notes to that one and you get what we call HARMONY, which most of us call “pleasing to the ear.”

All of which brings me to the question that is the real point of this post; if you and I are hard-wired to find beauty in diversity and variety in sight, taste, and sound, why doesn’t this same wiring extend to our SOCIAL world?

That is, why do we seem to continue to insist that PEOPLE all adhere to a lockstep line of undifferentiated homogeneity?

Our nation’s horrible history of segregation, for example, suggests we once believed people should associate with only ONE race… their own. Maybe some still do.

We also seem to have an extremely hard time accommodating more than one OPINION or VIEWPOINT when considering the issues of the day. Anymore it isn’t just, “Sorry… I disagree with your position, and here’s why…” Today it is more like, “People who see things THAT way (meaning NOT the way I see it) are wrong, evil, and should honestly not even exist.”

“But wait!” you say. “Aesthetics and sociology have absolutely NOTHING to do with one another! Beauty is in the eye (or ear… or taste buds) of the beholder, whereas truth is ABSOLUTE and unwavering!”

Wise old King Solomon gave us a warning about our commitment to absolutism when he said, “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end, it is the way to death.” (Proverbs 16:25, NRSVU). Even earlier in his book of wise sayings he helpfully advised us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (Proverbs 3:5, NRSVU).

And remember… this comes from the man widely considered to be the smartest guy who ever lived. Yes… even smarter than Elon Musk!

True. The world today is filled with wacky and outlandish ideas. There is, for example, an active Flat Earth Society… there are moon landing deniers… 9/11 conspiracy theorists… Bigfoot chasers… even (if you can believe it!!) people who still deny the reality of climate change and the 2020 presidential election results! 

Am I saying that we ought to give even these a place of honor and legitimacy in our picture of the universe? 

No, I am not. Not when the item has been thoroughly and repeatedly proven to have no relationship to reality, as is the case with all the above.

What I AM saying is: let’s worry more about our level of COMMUNITY than our level of CORRECTNESS. Let’s make the search for ACCURACY secondary to the quest for AUTHENTICITY. Let’s prize KINSHIP over KNOWLEDGE. 

Does that mean smiling silently and nodding at Uncle Billy while he sits down at the Thanksgiving table and starts railing about Bill Gates planting microchips in your COVID vaccine?

Maybe. Maybe not. 

But if you do, you might just find Uncle Billy doing the same for YOU!

Abundant blessings;




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