Archive for March, 2017

28
Mar
17

DO IT

Action picture“Wow!” my wife remarked to our friend Bill recently as we sat down with he and his wife for dinner… (not his real name, by the way. But I’m not changing it to protect him from embarrassment. I’m changing it because I am about to say something very positive about him and don’t want him to get all full of himself)… She continued, “You really look good! You look like you’ve lost some weight!”

“Yes,” Bill replied. “A bit over 35 pounds.”

And then the accolades and “atta-boys” really started pouring in. I said, “That’s fantastic! Way to go! I sure wish I could muster up that kind of will power myself!”

“Well,” Bill said, “The thing that really helps with that will power thing is when your doctor tells you that you are at risk for a stroke and diabetes if you don’t get your weight under control.”

Yes, I am sure that statement is absolutely true. A frightening prognosis like that would probably get me off my flabby backside quicker than you can say, “Cholesterol.”

But even with an ample supply of sound, scary medical information, Bill still had to ACT on it. He had to be the one to actually turn down the bread and pasta and potatoes and other carbohydrate-loaded foods and choose something else to eat.

HE had to get himself to the gym and do the exercise that burned up some of his excess fat.

HE had to find a way to ignore the little voices telling him that “one little potato chip won’t hurt,” or that no one was looking or that he OWED IT to himself to celebrate his progress and cheat a little with a banana split.

So yes, Bill… even though you were quick to brush it off, you richly deserved the praise we offered.

After saying good night and going our separate ways, I began to think about my own situation and areas of my life where a change of attitude or behavior is needed. And I will confess that while my imprudent approach to eating is certainly one of those areas, it is far from the only one.

I also realized that in every single one of those “areas for improvement”, it is not a lack of information that stalls me.

It is a lack of ACTION.

Paolo Friere, the Brazilian educator, said it this way: “We make the road by walking.”

Morganna Bailey, in her recent TED Talk put it this way: “Clarity comes from ACTING, not from thinking.”

Author Randa Abdel-Fattah said, “Belief means nothing without actions.”

Mark Twain was a little wittier when he said the same thing: “Actions speak louder than words, but not as often.”

And finally Jesus of Nazareth said it like this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21, NRSV). (Emphasis mine. But I’m sure Jesus would agree.)

Yes, yes. But don’t these people understand that acting can be a little SCARY? Because once you act… once you DO a certain, tangible thing, or take a concrete STEP, you can’t un-act.

We don’t have the same magic editing functions on our actions that come with this lovely word-processing software I’m using here. That software lets me go back, erase, rewrite, revise, and perfect these words until they are JUST RIGHT.

My actions are forever what they originally were.

Maybe that explains the popularity of the many forms of social media these days. Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter allow us to believe and speak things with gusto and passion without actually requiring that we take any sort of ACTION.

In the end though, it may all be exactly what Shakespeare called it: “Much ado about nothing.”

So where are you willing to act today? What purposeful deed can flow from your well-developed system of beliefs?

Think about it.

 

Then ACT.

21
Mar
17

A CASE OF THE DRIFTS

Shoulder-rumble-strips-.com-April-5-2013I got a little bit of a scare the other day.

As I was driving back home after having spent the day in the two small communities where I serve, I noticed a bit of weariness beginning to set in. The old eyelids drooped a little and fogginess slowly began to enter my brain.

Instead of doing the smart thing and pulling off the highway for a couple of minutes to get out of the car, walk around, and revive myself a bit, I decided just to grit my teeth and push on. You know… the manly way.

Suddenly I heard a loud BRRRP, BRRRP BRRRP as the wheels of my car started rolling across the rumble strips that are cut into the shoulder of the highway. I sat up with a start, corrected my steering wheel, and got back into my lane.

WHEW! That was close, I thought to myself. And yes… I did pull off the next exit and walked around the car three times to help wake myself up.

In addition to vowing to be more cognizant about my overall state of alertness, I was also struck by how quickly and easily this whole thing had happened. One minute I was just driving along the highway, happy as a clam. The next minute I was headed for the ditch.

The change from “focused, purposeful driving” to “unconscious, aimless drifting” took less than an instant.

All of which made me cock my head a little to the right, knit my eyebrows together, and then ask myself, “Is it possible that there are other areas of my life where a degree of DRIFT has also begun to happen… except that there are no ‘rumble strips’ to warn me about it?”

Drift is a tricky thing to pick up. By definition, the act of drifting is slow and gradual. It is not at all like suddenly yanking the wheel to the left and abruptly changing direction.

It happens almost without noticing.

Drift can happen in many different areas. It can happen in our important relationships… such as when we start taking a spouse or loved one a little bit for granted… when we stop noticing or commenting on the small, yet important differences they make in our daily life… when we stop thanking them for the micro-favors they do for us, or the subtle change they made in their appearance.

Drift can happen in the way we tend to our own health. “What the heck,” we say. “A little extra helping of this is no big deal. I’ll work it off later.” Or, “Yes, I know I really should walk there, but I’m in a hurry so I’ll just hop in the car and drive.”

Or it can happen in the 1,001 little reasons we can ingeniously invent to avoid exercise yet again today.

And if you – like me – have been a practicing Christ-follower for more than a few years, you know how easily we can begin drifting in our faith.

We get comfortable. For the most part, those of us who profess Christ are not persecuted for our belief. We stand as the dominant expression of religious faith in our culture. We don’t have to arrange secret meeting places and code words in order to gather for worship.

And so… in our comfort, we drift.

We get tired. Or even bored. We celebrate the same holy days, observe the same liturgical seasons, say the same prayers, read the same scripture passages and – mostly – hang out with the same people in our places of worship.

And so… in our boredom, we drift.

We get proud. We fall in love with our place of dominance and start to feel a sense of moral superiority about being a Christian. We sing praise songs with titles like, “How Great is Our God,” and add our own little, “He’s lots better than yours,” to the end. We honestly can’t believe that people would NOT be a part of our faith, or would purposely choose to practice something else.

And so… in our pride, we drift.

Paul Simon sang about drift in his famous 1982 song, Slip Sliding Away. He said, “The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away.”

John the Revelator wrote about the phenomenon of drift in a little more direct, less lyrical way. He said, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:15-17, NRSV).

And so, just like last year and the year before and the year before that, we again stand in the middle of the season of Lent. We’ve been told a thousand times before that Lent is the season of renewal and repentance… a time to “wake ourselves up” and shake some new life into our relationship with God.

And we generally respond to that urging by saying, “Sure. OK. Great idea.” And we then go right back to checking to see what’s for dinner tonight.

day I am praying that God might help me hear the “rumble strips” in my life and jar me into aliveness and alertness and into “focused, purposeful driving” in my discipleship.

 

How about you?

 

Abundant blessings…

14
Mar
17

License Plates

011012-License-Plate-300x155“UBUIBME”

I am pretty sure – had he lived today in this post-modern, American culture – the Apostle Paul would have included my unique skill among the spiritual gifts he lists in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

Yes… had he written that marvelous epistle in the 21st century instead of the first, I believe that right there alongside miracle working, healing, prophesy, discernment of spirits and wisdom we would find, “Personalized license plate deciphering.”

Call it a gift… call it a sixth sense… call it a silly waste of time, but unless the license plate is intentionally obscure, I seem to have an innate knack for quickly figuring out what these jumbled collections of letters are trying to communicate.

This one, however, took me a couple of extra minutes. UBUIBME. Initially I thought it might be a Swahili word of some kind, known only to speakers of that language. But then in a flash of inspiration it came to me: And it was a great message, too – “You be you; I be me.”

YES! Perfect! Great idea! Why doesn’t each of us just be fully who we are… no pretense, no façade, no phoniness, no personas invented for the purpose of public display. I mean, if we really take the words of scripture seriously we each know that, “… I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” just like it tells us there in Psalm 139:14.

Then maybe we wouldn’t have to spend so much time taking those silly Facebook quizzes that invite us to “discover your ideal pet,” or “figure out which decade you should have been born in” and all the others.

But then I stop and wonder: is that really a good idea? Can I really be all of the honest-to-goodness ME that I am when we are together? Can I… or even SHOULD I… let all of that loose on you? I mean, there are probably some parts that should stay “under the radar” just to prevent you from screaming and running in the opposite direction at top speed.

There also exists the distinct possibility that I might not be completely in touch with all of who I am… a seemingly important prerequisite to “being me.”

It is also true that for some certain percentage of us, the invitation to “go ahead and be the real you” is a tantalizing call to a level of authenticity we find truly liberating. At the same time we need to remember that for a significant portion of the population, the revelation of their authentic identity can bring suspicion and condemnation in some cases and genuine danger in others.

I am referring, of course, to those whose authentic identity is gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, or sexually inquiring. For these there is often great risk associated with standing up and being who they genuinely are. They have repeatedly encountered a world where some would require that the UBUIBME license plate be revised to include an asterisk and the caveat, “… unless you are LGBTQI.”

For the last six months it has been my great pleasure to sing with the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC) in Kansas City. In case you don’t know about them, HMC is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus, this year celebrating its 31st year of existence. The chorus is approximately 150 male voices strong and generally performs three concert cycles each year, beginning in December with the Christmas concert. Prospective singers must audition in order to join HMC.

Of the 150 chorus members, there are about 10 of us who are not gay. And yet, from Day 1 I have felt nothing but a warm and open welcome there. And as long as I hit my notes and do the necessary memorization work, I am sure I always will be.

This warm and open welcome, of course, is exactly the opposite of the reception that most HMC members have received from straight society throughout their lives; condemnation, shame, rejection, isolation, discouragement, and disapproval has more been the norm.

And because of this sadly still-prevalent reality of our world, I have come to appreciate the incredible courage required for my LGBTQI brothers and sisters to stand up, speak out clearly and say, “THIS is exactly who I am!” Yes… they know that their declaration will inspire, give hope and courage, and solidarity with people still living in the dark closet. But they also know that this same declaration might well make their own lives a living hell.

On more than one occasion I have been asked if I would please adjust my identity so as to fit in better with my environment; however, I have never been bullied, teased, beaten, or killed because of who I am. Sadly this is not the case for millions of our brothers and sisters of the LGBTQI community.

I will end today on an upbeat, promotional note. If the issue of authentic identity is one that resonates with you on ANY level, please make plans to attend the Heartland Men’s Chorus spring concert: IDENTIFY. It will be March 25 at 8:00 p.m. at the Folly Theater, and March 26 at 4:00 p.m., also at the Folly. Tickets range in price and can be purchased at http://hmckc.org/order/.

You be you. No matter who you are. And I – God willing – will be me. And together we will reach out to those who live in fear.

08
Mar
17

Mealtime

mealtime“So… what are you hungry for?”

If your household is anything like mine, this is a question that crops up on a fairly regular basis… usually an hour or two prior to the designated hour of the evening meal.

And if you are the one on the receiving end of this question, you have also discovered that there is a serious limit to the number of times you can get away with playing the, “Oh, I don’t know… whatever” card.

You have learned – perhaps the hard way – that if you are not going to do the work of PREPARING the food, you should at least be able to devote a couple moments of brainpower to narrowing down the options.

And yet… as much of a food fan as I am, I sometimes find this to be a surprisingly hard question to answer.

First of all, the question usually comes when I am not even thinking about food.

I find I have to stop and do about a minute and a half of mulling.

This mulling usually involves a very specialized kind of “belly discernment” exercise wherein I try to transform the abstract notion of eating into something specific and actionable.

For example: “Something delicious and healthy, please” is NOT a good response.

How about some shrimp skewers with grilled vegetables?” is much more helpful.

A good response to this question also calls for a good memory. You should try to avoid responding by suggesting something you just ate three days ago… even if you really, really liked it.

As a student of these matters I can assure you that the more care one takes in the answering of this critical question, the better the outcome – for all parties.

All of which leads to this further bit of pondering: what would it like if we all put a similar level of thoughtful discernment energy into answering that same question in relationship to our LIVES?

E.g. – What are you hungry for… in the grand scheme of things?

Of course one of the most classic answers to that question was provided by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality. In his famous pyramid, Maslow laid out the “hierarchy of human needs,” starting with basic physical needs at the lowest level, moving up to the need for safety, then to the need for love (or belonging), esteem, and ending with self-actualization or transcendence at the top. Another way to say the word “transcendence,” of course, is GOD.

I have not read Maslow’s book, but as I understand his thesis, a person cannot move to the next level on the hierarchy until he or she has satisfied the needs of the last level. For example, you cannot move on to satisfying your need for safety until you have first satisfied your basic need for food, air, and water.

This concept makes some sense. But it leads us to the conclusion that the need for God – standing as God does at the very top of the pyramid – is something of a luxury; i.e., a need that can only be addressed once all of the other “ducks” of your life are in a row.

The problem I find with Maslow’s concept is that it is completely at odds with the teaching of the scriptures and our Christian tradition. According to those sources, the hunger for God resides at the most basic level of the human experience.

Augustine – the first bishop of the Christian church – wrote about this hunger in his Confessions when he said: Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

In his letter to the fledgling Christian community in Rome, Paul pointed to that same primal yearning with these words; “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19, NRSV).

And as you might expect, Jesus had the best version of the upside-down Maslow pyramid in this passage from Matthew’s gospel: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV).

And so in a very real sense, it might be easier to answer the question, “What am I hungry for in my life?” than it is to answer the question, “What do I want for dinner?

Feast on God’s Word and be well.




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