Archive for August, 2017

30
Aug
17

“Unprecedented”

Flood evacueesFor the past few days, I have been utterly hypnotized by the news coverage of the recent events in Houston, TX and the visit of Hurricane Harvey.

I am guessing the fact that I have a son, daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren living in the Houston area probably makes me more attentive to Harvey-related news than the average bear.

But still…

(They are fine, by the way. Thanks for asking. They live in a part of the metro area that is on very high ground and is away from the worst of the flooding.)

I have watched spellbound as on-the-scene reporters from NBC, ABC, CBS, the Weather Channel, have all struggled to come up with new adjectives to describe what they are seeing.

When “incredible,” “amazing,” “unbelievable,” and “awesome,” all start to fall short, you know you are in the presence of meteorological greatness.

But the adjective that really caught my attention on Sunday was one that came from the mouth of the National Weather Service. It was the word “unprecedented.”

“Unprecedented.” As in, “…we have never ever seen anything like this before.”

And if THESE GUYS – the people who are supposed to keep detailed records of all the weather precedents – are using the word “unprecedented,” you know this is a BIG, DANGED DEAL. Maybe the biggest danged deal EVER!

See… when something has precedents you know how to behave. You say, “OK, the last time this happened, we did X. So we should probably do something very much like X again.”

But when you call it unprecedented (is it OK if I dispense with the quotation marks around the word now?), you are telling the world, “I got nothin’. Fresh out of answers over here.”

If I were a trained weather professional, I imagine I would be very reluctant to unleash the “U” word. I’d be afraid it would make me look… unprepared. Or unprofessional.

So why is it, do you suppose, that I have the sneaking suspicion that God continues to call me out into the “unprecendentednesses” of life?

I mean, it really seems that every time I discover myself standing at an intersection, between Path “A” and Path “B” with Path “A” representing familiar, precedented ground and Path “B” being strange turf, I could swear I hear God’s still, small voice whispering, “B, Russell. Go with B.”

It doesn’t help that you find stuff in the Bible like Isaiah 43:18 that says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Or Isaiah 65:17 where God says, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Or 2 Corinthians 5:17 where Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”

To be clear… I am pretty sure unprecedented floods with historic property damage and disruption of life are NOT on God’s “approved” list of adventures… Noah notwithstanding.

But when you read a few of these passages and see God’s handiwork, you begin to get the feeling God actually encourages unprecedentedness and newness… blatantly disregarding my preference for comfort and familiarity.

Who knows? Maybe he does.

Where does that leave a “safety seeker” like me?

Hmmmmm….

 

25
Aug
17

Soul Sez…

So… how is it with your soul today?anxious-agitated-depressed-man

Tricky to tell sometimes, I know.

Souls can be at peace. Souls can be unsettled and restless, like this guy here to the right.

The one thing a soul CAN’T be is statusless.

I have recently discovered that all restlessnesses/unsettlednesses are not created equal. They can spring from different sources.

An unsettled soul can alert you, for example, that you have somehow desecrated your own moral compass… violated values you once said you stood for.

Souls can also be unsettled by facing a difficult, yet necessary task. For example, I once had to fire a friend from a job for which I had hired him just a few months earlier. (PRO TIP: only be as willing to hire a friend as you would be to fire that friend.) My soul was highly agitated in the days before the, “Fred, it’s just not working out” conversation took place. And yet it was absolutely the right step to take.

And so I wonder; can that same kind of duality apply to a soul at peace?

That is, can a soul be at peace for more than one reason?

Something to ponder, I guess.

How is it with YOUR soul today?

22
Aug
17

Everyday Miracles

  • Eclipse friendsIt happens every time a microscopic seed grows into a brand new, fully functioning human being.
  • It happens every time this relentless muscle of my heart sends blood coursing through 60,000 miles of tiny vessels coiled inside my body.
  • It happens every time this precious blue pearl we live on spins soundlessly and perfectly along its path through space.
  • It happens every time a long dormant image from the past is retrieved from the dim recesses of my memory and comes to life again in the light of the present day.
  • It happens every time colors and sound and light merge in a way that stirs profound emotional responses within all who see and hear it.

And yes… it happened yesterday at approximately 1:03 p.m. Central Standard time. That was the moment we saw the miraculous intersection of our moon with our sun… a satellite 400 times smaller than the sun, and yet 400 times closer to us than the sun… intersected in a way that allowed the one to perfectly blot out the other.

Every single one of those things listed above can only be described with one word: miraculous.

But it seems that only when something truly rare and extraterrestrial happens – something like yesterday’s total eclipse of the sun – are we likely to raise our heads and hands to the sky exclaiming, “OOOH! Ahhhh!” and use words like, “Incredible!” and “Amazing!”

My wife and I traveled to St. Joseph, Missouri to see the Event of Totality with a small group of friends. We drove up the day before, trying to avoid the hundreds of thousands of people on the roads that the Missouri Highway Department predicted.

It was a cloudy day when we awoke and then started pouring rain as we ate our breakfast. In spite of all that, we were fired up for this rare and unusual phenomenon of nature. “What do they know, anyway?” we asked, in reference to the local weather forecasters who predicted cloudy, rainy skies at the moment of totality.

Turns out they knew a LOT.

 

Eclipse clouds

Our actual view of the sky just before totality.

It was a pretty dismal, gloomy day offering only the occasional glimpse of an actual sun through our special eclipse glasses.

 

As the moment approached, it got darker and darker. But hey… it was a cloudy day. Cloudy days are always darker than sunny days! Big, flipping deal!

Just as we were wallowing in our disappointment and self-pity, preparing to fold up our chairs and trudge home, IT HAPPENED!

TOTALITY!

True night-like darkness suddenly descended on us. Automatic headlights on cars came on. In a heartbeat, it became 10:30 at night, in spite of the fact that it was actually 1:03 in the afternoon.

It was amazing, exciting, spooky, and thrilling all at the same time.

And utterly, completely miraculous.

Psalm 8 came to mind… “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4, NRSV).

I thought of Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…”

The only appropriate response to an event of this cosmic magnitude was the guidance provided by Psalm 46:10, spoken by God through the psalmist, which urges us to, “Be still and know that I am God.”

The dictionary defines a miracle as “a surprising and welcome event that is not explainable by natural or scientific laws,” but I must respectfully disagree. I don’t think a thing has to be unexplainable to be called a miracle.

You see, miracles happen all around us, every day. Really smart people can explain the why and how, but I am not sure even the brainiest among us will ever be able to fully grasp the sheer amazingness woven through the fibers of this life we meander through every day.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head and say, “Oh my God!” followed very quickly by “Thank you… thank you… thank you.”

 

Abundant blessings;

15
Aug
17

Certainty, Wisdom, and the Fugue

Three tinhornsMy wife and I had some fun over the weekend. We were part of a local musical revue that featured songs and dances from several well-known Broadway shows.

One of my favorite parts of the show was when I got to sing the Fugue for Three Tinhorns from “Guys and Dolls” with two other men.

Even if the name of the song doesn’t ring a bell, you have probably heard it before. It is the song that features an amateur horse race bettor singing, “I’ve got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere, and here’s a guy that says if the weather’s clear…” The other two guys join in, fugue-style – singing the virtues of THEIR picks in the upcoming race; horses named Valentine and Epitaph.

The concluding line of the song is when the three point to their tip sheets and sing in harmony, “I’ve got the horse… right… here!!”

It was fun and (I thought) went rather well.

Thinking back on that show and our song, I suddenly realized our frivolous moment onstage might have actually concealed a deeper message.

That message is about CERTAINTY and the ways we arrive at it.

In the song, each of the bettors believes they have a foolproof source of information. For the first guy, the race day weather is the key. The second bettor’s friend is the jockey’s brother so he feels secure with his “inside” information. The third guy relies strictly on the odds displayed in the tip sheet.

The point is, each bettor believes his horse is THE horse.

In fact, they are each certain of it.

Thinking about the song in those terms brought to mind a phrase I read recently in the book, A Failure of Nerve. This book, written by Rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant Edwin Friedman, includes insightful prescriptions for those who lead during turbulent times.

Friedman says, “An anxious system demands certainty.” Naturally, that anxious system looks to its leader(s) to provide them with the sought-after certainty.

More often than not, leaders are very willing to provide certainty to the anxious system. That certainty usually comes in the form of strong declarations of righteous, unshakable principles. It comes in the form of definitive lines drawn to help us understand who is on the “good side” and who is on the “bad side” of the issue. It comes in the form of vague, but bold-sounding statements of steps that will be taken, “… going forward.”

Sound familiar?

The problem, according to Friedman, is that certainty is almost always the antithesis of wisdom. When we allow anxiety to drive us toward sure and certain answers, we find that we must also silence the voices that challenge our certainty.

The tinhorns in Fugue sought certainty about an uncertain horseracing event in the future. But by definition, the future cannot be certain until it gets here. And when it gets here it is no longer the future!

Learning to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity is absolutely necessary if we hope to achieve wisdom. According to Friedman, our comfort with ambiguity is, “… critical to keeping the human mind from voyaging into the delusion of omniscience.” (A Failure of Nerve, New York: Seabury, 1997).

As I see it, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, and all forms of hate have their roots in the desire for certainty AT ALL COSTS. We look around us and see a dynamic, uncertain, and changing world… and it seems threatening. The dynamism of that world leads some of us to rush out and erect walls of protection against a world that looks less and less like the one we grew up in. It also makes us hostile to the forces of change.

The good news is yes, there is a timeless truth. Yes, there is omniscience and ultimate wisdom. But it does not reside with you or me or anyone equipped only with this puny three pounds of gray matter we have inside our skulls. It resides only with the One who created us and placed us here in love.

Psalm 111:10 reminds us that: “Fear [meaning awe, or respect] of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.” Proverbs 3:5 tells us, “Trust in the Lord… do not rely on your own insight,” and a little later that, “… wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” (Proverbs 8:11).

I believe God calls us to be wise rather than certain. I further believe that the first step on the path to wisdom is HUMILITY… in other words, knowing that we do not know.

May your path lead you to wisdom today.

07
Aug
17

BEHOLD!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASTOP!

SEE!

Now pause… and REALLY see.

Today, as I write these words – August 7, 2017 – I possess the gift of sight. It is a gift I take remarkably in stride, not offering a fraction of the gratitude this gift truly deserves.

Over this past weekend, two oddly disruptive and enlightening events happened that helped me recalibrate my regard for this amazing gift.

As a result of these two wildly dissimilar events, I was given the gift of discovering the difference between seeing and REALLY seeing.

EVENT #1: I was the officiant for a small wedding that was being held in the ballroom of a local hotel. The groom, his six groomsmen, the on-site wedding coordinator, and the guests were all awaiting the appearance of the bride. It was supposed to be a 4:00 wedding, yet here it was 4:25 and no bride or bridesmaids in sight.

They’re just putting the finishing touches on her make-up,” the coordinator told us as he hung up his cell phone. “… Just a couple more minutes.”

As I was pacing back and forth in the hallway outside Salon F, fuming and being annoyed at their lack of punctuality, I suddenly noticed a conversation happening to my left. Tonio, the best man, was sitting down and chatting with one of the hotel’s banquet waiters.

The waiter was an older gentleman, but still quite energetic and vigorous in his work. Tonio noticed the waiter’s energy and was telling him how impressed he was by him. It was a short, but delightful interaction.

EVENT #2: Since my wife was out of town for the weekend, I was dining alone. As a bona fide sucker for barbeque, I had ordered a half slab of ribs. When the ribs arrived (sadly, a little dry and overcooked), they were heavily slathered with barbeque sauce.

I tore into the ribs with gusto, pausing now and then to clean my fingers and lick my lips as needed.

My very pleasant waitress stopped by a couple of times to ask if everything tasted alright, refill my water glass and tend to any other needs I might have had.

Finally, I finished the meal, received and paid the bill and prepared to leave.

On the way out the door, I stopped in the restroom to wash my hands, still a little sticky with barbeque sauce. As I stepped in front of the mirror, I was stunned to look up at my reflection and see a big blob of barbeque sauce smack dab in the middle of my chin!

It was a genuine shock to see this classless unkempt doofus staring back at me from the mirror, barbeque sauce dripping down his chin. “How long has that been there?” I wondered. “How many times did that waitress walk by and look at me and think, ‘What a goof! Can’t he even feel that sauce on his chin?’”

Together, both events helped me realize that there is a big difference between SEEING and REALLY seeing.

In the wedding scenario, I realized I was so busy being annoyed with the bride and her make-up artist that I was unable to see what was happening around me. Tonio had obviously decided that all the fretting and fuming about the delay would do no good whatsoever, and so was content to really SEE the events and people around him.

In the restaurant, I was handicapped by the lack of my faithful, loving dining partner. I know that as soon as the barbeque sauce appeared on my chin, she would have leaned over with her napkin and gently wiped it off.

The point is every day God spreads a banquet in front of us; a banquet of sights and sounds and smells and people and moments and meaning. God’s table sags under the bountiful weight of this feast. The psalmist implores us, “Come, behold the works of the Lord…” (Psalm 46:8, NRSV) to coax us to open our eyes to the richness of the fare.

And yet, most of the time we can’t be bothered to look up – even for a moment – to truly see and truly appreciate what is right there in front of us.

Battered STOP signThis photo of the battered stop sign was a first effort of mine at repentance. I almost breezed right by it on my morning walk, but something about it made me stop (I mean, something besides the fact that it says, “STOP”) and look at it more closely.

I saw that it was quirky… beat up… that it had character. And so I photographed it!

May God help you really SEE the feast spread before you today.

It won’t take but a moment to pause… take it in… and give thanks.

 

Abundant blessings;

01
Aug
17

Judgment Day

Judgment“You’re too…”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sentence that began this way?

If so, you know that there are an unlimited number of adjectives that can follow. Almost all of them involve some central element of your identity, measuring it against an understood standard of acceptability.

You might have heard, for example:

“You’re too short.”

“You’re too tall.”

“You’re too fat.”

“You’re too skinny.”

“You’re too weak.”

“You’re too liberal.”

“You’re too conservative.”

“You’re too country.”

“You’re too city,” or many, many other versions of the same idea.

Unfortunately, I doubt there is a single person alive who has not heard at least one “You’re too…” in their lives. The world seems to be well stocked with folks who are willing to judge and assess others.

And even though these one-liners usually maim and wound, I have received a few that I have considered helpful. In a quiet restaurant for dinner, hearing my wife say, “Honey, you’re too loud,” is of benefit to me and the other diners. “You’re too hard on him,” is useful feedback when I am being overly critical of one of my children.

But helpfulness is not usually the outcome. Most of the time, “You’re too…” comes off as an attack on a fundamental component of the divine wiring of one of God’s beloved creatures.

When you hand out one of these “scorecards” to someone, you might think you’re being helpful – like that time you told the girl she was too short to be a dancer or told me I am too goofy and irreverent to be a pastor – but it is more likely the case that your “open, honest” assessment serves only to bolster your own (perhaps) sagging ego while tearing others’ down.

But here is the question I really want to ask on this whole topic: given the fact that each of us has been stung by one of these “You’re too…”s at some point in our lives, how do we deal with them?

My personal tendency is to give them too much credence. My Myers-Briggs ENFJ personality type (Extroverted-INtuiting-Feeling-Judging) leads me to place a HIGH value on the opinions of others. I know I have blind spots concerning my own behavior and feel like I want to stay open to points of view that might be more objective than mine.

In practice, I have a really hard time hearing a “You’re too…” and blowing it off.

You might be like that, too. Or you might be exactly the opposite. You might be like our current president, for example. You might treat every word of criticism as “fake news”… not worth the air it takes to speak it.

Somewhere between those two extremes – I believe – lives a healthy “middle place.” It is a place that doesn’t brush off every critical comment as useless and irrelevant, but at the same time, is not crushed by them.

I believe there is such a place. And I further believe we arrive at that healthier place when we realize the true source of our worth. You see, when we lean toward believing that our worth comes from living up to the expectations of other people, we tend to give those opinions too much weight. We empower THEM to define US.

Conversely, when we see our intrinsic worth as completely self-generated, we seek no higher authority than that one that stares back at us from the mirror. We’re like, “Hey… whatever he says, goes.”

Grasping our worth as something bestowed upon us by a wise and loving Creator helps us keep the slings and arrows of criticism in their proper place. It helps us consider the value of each criticism… helps us graciously receive the stuff that applies, dismiss the stuff that doesn’t, and altogether avoid the temptation to “kill the messenger.”

The psalmist reminds us of the enormity of the miracle of human existence when he says this about people:

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

    you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,

    and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.                        Psalm 8:5-8, NRSV

Wow! Really? Can that be ME he is talking about?

Yes… yes, it is. And you know what else is cool? He is also talking about YOU!

 

Abundant blessings;




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