Archive for August, 2012


the divine interrupter.

I got robo-called the other day.

Luckily I did not follow my first instincts… which were to hang up the phone as soon as I heard the voice telling me, “Don’t hang up! This is an important call!” 

I say “luckily” because this robo-call was from my trash company reminding me that because of the Labor Day holiday my trash day would be delayed 24 hours.

“Finally…” I thought to myself. “An unexpected interruption in my life that brought me information that was actually USEFUL!” Somehow I had completely forgotten the fact that the Labor Day holiday was just around the corner. And so the little friendly reminder robo-call from Deffenbaugh Industries was very timely and helpful to me.

But it also prompted me to stop and ask, “How many of the things that I call ‘interruptions’ to my day fail to measure up to my criteria for being considered positive or useful?” My robo-call from Deffenbaugh was clearly valuable and beneficial for me. I was grateful to receive it and nearly tried to call them back and thank them for the helpful reminder.

But what about the person who dropped in to my office just needing to chat for a minute (which turned into 15)? What about the unexpected phone call requesting some financial help? What about the email that raised challenging questions about a recent sermon? Or the children racing up and down the hallway outside my door while I was trying to write my sermon?

Certainly none of these things were on my carefully crafted “to do” list. And most of them took me away from something else I was doing that I considered an important priority. And yet, in every case these interruptions stretched me in the way I understand what “being in ministry” really means. They each offered me a new way to serve.

All of which led to the question: Is it at all possible that these things we call interruptions might actually have some kind of divine origin? Could God be intentionally seeking to jostle us … gently intruding on our intensely focused concentration on checking off the next thing on the “To Do” list and saying, “Hey! Look up a minute! Look around! Check out these people I’ve put in your life! Aren’t they awesome! Don’t you just love their ideas and their ears and their energy and their quirks and their fingernails? Russell, you will never, ever possibly get how much I love them – and you too, for that matter – but you can at least look up and NOTICE them for a minute, can’t you?!”

And so maybe that is why we decided to follow God’s guidance and invented holidays like Labor Day. They give us that interval in time where we have the chance to see nothing as an “interruption” and to momentarily marvel at the world that surrounds us.

A wise person once observed that it is really hard for a fish to notice and be thankful for the water it swims in. But since we are slightly higher functioning vertebrates than fish, perhaps you and I can make it a point to regularly be thankful for the grace and beauty WE swim in every day, can’t we?

Take every advantage of this holiday – if you are able – as a time to step back and allow yourself to be “interrupted” and when you are, to give thanks for the very thing that interrupted you. It could just be God’s way of bumping your elbow and saying, “Hey! Look up! I love you!”


Montana? or Kansas? Or both?

ImageThe other morning as I was out on the morning dog-walk, going down one of the streets we usually travel, I noticed a car parked on the curb. There was nothing terribly strange about the car… it was a blue, late model something-or-other sedan.

More precisely, what I noticed was the car’s license plate. It was from Montana. And for some reason as I passed this car I started weaving a story about the car and its owners and their journey. (See… this is the kind of thing I am prone to do on the mornings when my wife goes to her exercise class and I have to walk the dogs by myself. Fortunately it only happens a couple of times a week.)

Mainly I thought about the dramatic change of scenery for a person going from Montana to Kansas. I have driven across Montana a couple of times and while there are some flat, rather characterless stretches along the way, there are also a lot of striking, attention-grabbing sections in the western half of the state. There are mountain passes that wind and twist, taking you along roaring riverbanks, affording scary glimpses down into deep canyons on either side of the road. The famous “big sky” held up by tall pine trees, dotted with rich, fluffy white clouds. All in all it is quite a beautiful and scenic part of the country.

So as I was thinking those people from Montana and their blue car I wondered, “After living in that kind of area, do they have the ability to see beauty in a place like Kansas? Or do they instead look at the gentle rollingness of the Flint Hills or the endless stretches of gently waving wheat along I-70 and sneer at each other and say, ‘How boring! Who would EVER want to live HERE?!!’”

And so then I felt sorry for those blue car Montana people and their make-believe snap judgments. Because in jumping to their hasty conclusions (as I imagined), they effectively walled themselves off from ever discovering some of the real hidden jewels I have found here in the Sunflower State, just by taking a closer look.

So, sadly, if they somehow chose to limit their definition of “beauty” to things that look like mountains and brooks and forests, (and similar picture postcard scenes), those blue car Montanans just missed out! They missed out on being able to see beauty in its more subtle forms… beauty you have to work at a little in order to appreciate.

And then I realized that this is not all that different from the way I live my life at times. You see, I have no problem standing in awe of the BIG moments and mountaintop experiences and ooo-ing and ahhh-ing appropriately. I mean, I’m not dense after all! But how good am I at stopping to dig beneath the surface a little? How often do I refuse to take things at their immediate, seemingly non-dynamic face value? Do I have the capacity to challenge myself to see what I might otherwise be missing… either with people or situations?

Sad to say, not nearly often enough.

Because when you get right down to it, there are a whole lot more “Kansas” experiences in our lives than “Montana” experiences, aren’t there? By that I mean is a lot more “dig below the surface to find it” beauty than “stand up and smack you in the face” beauty we will ever encounter.

We can all appreciate the thrill and energy of being young and invincible, but can we also find the beauty in life when we slow down and age and tire out a little more easily? It is not at all hard to thrill to the rush of the “outward” adventures of going to the movies, going on vacations, water-skiing, mountain-biking, and playing golf, but can we also learn to enjoy the “inward” adventures of engaging the spiritual journeys God calls us to be on?

Yes, Montana is great. But so is Kansas. Let’s each ask God to help us love both.

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