Archive for June, 2018

26
Jun
18

Disease to Please

Zucchini and shrimp dish“Did I please you?”

It was a silly question… asked, as it were, in the middle of my euphoric vocalizations and lip smacks. But I suspect the silliness of the question was a big part of the reason she asked it.

Because you see, my wife rarely fails to please me when she gets busy and creative in the kitchen.

On this occasion, she came up with a unique recipe that combined shrimp with some zucchinis we needed to use before they went bad.

The result? Predictably delicious.

And honestly, she knew it was good… whether I said I was pleased or not.

But that moment made me think about all of the times I have yearned to ask another person the same question.

  • “Hey, neighbors… did I please you with that lovely lawn mowing I just did?”
  • “Hey, grandchildren… did I please you with that spirited game of tag in the swimming pool?”
  • “Hey, congregation… did I please you with that sermon?”
  • Hey, dental hygienist… did I please you with the evidence of my diligent flossing?”
  • “Hey, Rosie the dog… did I please you with that walk we just took?”

At some level this is a question I believe we all want to ask… and we also want to then hear an enthusiastic, “Why, YES!” in response.

But is it really a question we SHOULD ask?

Another way of asking the same question is: How might it affect our actions if our central motive for acting is to PLEASE people?

Asking the question that way draws me kicking and screaming into the confessional booth. It makes me confront the depth of my infection with the “disease to please.”

Staying up here on the surface level of the question, one might ask, “Why must you call it a DISEASE? I mean, how bad could it be to try to PLEASE the people around you? I’m sure they enjoy it enormously!”

Yes, I am sure they do. But then we end up conveniently avoiding the truth that reminds us that often the best course of action involves walking a terribly unpleasant path.

  • Healing the decayed tooth means first submitting to the drill.
  • Teaching the curious child to stay away from the hot stove often means sternly enforcing that boundary.
  • Correcting the habits of an indolent employee often means firmly and unsympathetically laying down the law.

Jesus had zero illusions about the nature of his mission… and really didn’t often give a flip about whether he pleased people or not.

Don’t believe me? Well, then give a listen to this little snippet from Luke’s gospel: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”(Luke 12:50-51, NRSV).

It makes me wonder: what if I decided to get a little more “Jesusy” in the way I relate to you? What if I changed my main question from, “How can I please him/her?” to, “What can I do to help him/her GROW?”

It might mean that instead of coming over to your house and washing your car for you I instead put a bucket and sponge on your front porch.

Or instead of lying and telling you I really like that new hairstyle I say, “You know… I’m just honestly not sure that works for you.”

YIKES! That is a frightening thought for a dyed-in-the-wool people pleaser like me.

But maybe it is the very best thing any of us could do.

And just MAYBE it is the way we can authentically love one another.

18
Jun
18

In or out?

Apologies in advance to the comedian who said this originally, because I thought it was really funny.

But as much as I would like to give credit where credit is due, I can’t remember your name.

Commenting on the popularity of the cross as an item of jewelry, your line was something like: “I am pretty sure that when he does come back again, the absolute LAST thing Jesus is going to want to see is a CROSS! He’ll be like, ‘Is this somebody’s idea of a cruel joke! That thing gives me NIGHTMARES!’”

It’s a funny line. And he (the comedian) is probably right.

But that doesn’t keep me from getting up every morning, reaching into the miscellaneous whatnot keeper on my closet shelf, and grabbing for the cross necklace lying there.

As you can see from the photo here, it’s a pretty nice one.My cross

It was a seminary graduation present from my loving wife.

No, it is not raw, roughhewn wood, stained with blood and pockmarked with nail holes. And yet, attractive as it is, I am sure it would still give Jesus the heebie-jeebies.

There is never a question about whether I will wear my cross on a given day. But there is ALWAYS the question – IN? or OUT? As in, “Will I wear the cross on the inside of my shirt or on the outside?

For me, each of these alternatives has both an upside and a downside.

The upside of the choice to wear the cross inside my shirt is that it becomes a gently thumping form of personal reminder. As I walk, I can feel it lightly tapping my chest as if to say, “Hey, buddy… don’t forget. You decided to give your life to Christ and to speak words and do deeds that are consistent with who He is! Represent well, homie!”

The downside, of course, is that wearing the cross inside the shirt sometimes feels as if I am HIDING my faith… you know, chickening out and keeping it under wraps.

Wearing my cross on the outside of the shirt, of course, solves that problem. It puts it right out there for all passers-by to see. It becomes a walking proclamation that declares, “Hey! Check it out! Jesus follower here! Anybody want to hear a little Good News? I’m your guy!”

The downside of outside is that very visibility. It can feel a little “holier-than-thou” at one end of the spectrum and “intolerant-of-thou” at the other… neither of which – I believe – is helpful to the cause of Christianity.

Most of the time my default is “inside.” This is mainly because I feel as if need to be reminded of my faith decision MUCH MORE OFTEN than others do.

And also because I do not believe Bible scholars have yet discovered a heretofore unseen coda to Matthew 28:20 that says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… being sure to wear all the cross jewelry and Christian fish symbols you can in the process.”

And finally, I guess I default to “inside the shirt” because, even though I was only six years old the first time I sang it, I still hold fast to the wisdom of that camp song that reminds us that, “They will know we are Christians BY OUR LOVE…”

… and not by the crosses we wear, or by the ecstatic hands we raise in worship, or by the fish symbols on our bumpers, or by the way we vote, or by the number of times we say, “Father God…” when we pray out loud.

Please understand; I am not judging you harshly if you are a person who has decided to wear the cross visibly as part of your daily wardrobe. In fact, I actually admire the boldness of your witness.

I am just saying that the challenge I seek to rise to is the challenge of allowing my life to demonstrate my faith… and not to be bad advertising for it when it doesn’t.

 

So… what will it be today?

In? Or out?

12
Jun
18

Daring to die

jesus-last-supperPicture, if you will, this scene: Jesus gathers with his closest disciples to celebrate the Feast of Passover. They are in the upper room in Jerusalem… the same place they have gathered every year of his ministry.

As the last words of the Haggadahfade and the tables are being cleared, Jesus makes an unusual request. He asks for their attention and tells the assembled followers he has an important announcement. He then tells them that in the last 24 hours he has received very credible reports of a conspiracy against him… led by the disciple Judas.

“In fact,” he continues, “… I know that even now a group of Roman guards is gathering and preparing to arrest me tonight in the garden of Gesthemane as I pray.”

The end result – he is confident – will be a quick, perfunctory trial followed by death by crucifixion.

“Which is why I am telling you now that instead of going to Gesthemane as originally planned, we need to gather up our things quickly and head out the back entrance of the house and out the southern gate of the city.”

Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “Guys, we have come too far with this ministry to let it be stopped by a misguided Zealot and a bunch of corrupt religious officials. We have to preserve what we have AT ALL COSTS!”

Anyone even vaguely familiar with the Bible knows this is NOT what happened that night… the night of the Last Supper.

Even though he knew full well the fate that awaited him, Jesus went forward to meet his horrible, painful, humiliating destiny. Yes, he prayed earnestly that God would take the painful cup away from him. But he ended his prayer with the powerful words, “… yet not my will, but thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:39, NRSV).

Schism road signToday the church I serve – the United Methodist Church – faces the very real threat of schism. This looming split is over whether or not we will decide to allow our Book of Discipline to reflect the full inclusion of all God’s children… without qualification or exception.

For a long time, a portion of the leadership of the United Methodist Church has said, “Some people – mostly because of their sexual orientation – should not be fully included in our communion.”

“Yes, we will let them come into our houses of worship and sing and pray with us, and even serve on committees. But due to our preference for a narrow, culturally-bound interpretation of scripture, we will not ordain them as pastors, or allow an ordained United Methodist pastor to preside at one of their weddings. They are just not compatible with Christian teaching.”

As you might imagine, another portion of the church’s leadership disagrees with this position and advocates instead that ALL faithful, believing Christians be fully included in ordination, marriage, worship, service, and fellowship.

Without exception.

And so, after more than 40 years of heated wrangling and name calling by persons on both sides of the issue, a compromise solution has been reached. It is a solution that was developed by a select group of thoughtful leaders representing both sides of the question, over a period of many months of prayer, deliberation, listening, and conversation.

This solution has been endorsed by the Governing Council of Bishops and will likely be adopted at a special called session of the church in February 2019.

The solution is called the ONE CHURCH SOLUTION… meaning it will allow us to avoid schism and remain one, unified, global church.

And in my humble opinion, it stinks.

To high heaven.

The essence of the ONE CHURCH SOLUTION is to allow geographical districts of the church (called Annual Conferences) to make their own decision about whether they will be an INCLUDING church or an EXCLUDING church.

That way, you see, we will be able to avoid the heartbreak of a painful breakup and allow the United Methodist Church to both HAVE its cake and EAT IT at the same time.

The part of this solution I find so objectionable is that it provides theological cover for unjust discrimination. It would be exactly the same thing as if we rolled back the calendar 150 years and said, “OK… if some churches want to endorse slavery and keeping of human beings as property (based, of course, on certain select scripture passages), we will let them do that.”

“If, on the other hand, you don’t think slavery is just, you are free to believe that also.”

I’m sorry… but it doesn’t get to be both ways. Discrimination is either right or wrong. (it’s wrong, by the way). Both positions can’t exist under the same roof.

And if the adoption of the position of justice means that our global denomination has to split in two (or three), then so be it.

Please understand… I really hate the idea of a schism in this church that I love.

In a way, I see schism as a death.

But by his example, Jesus showed us that sometimes we have to dare to walk the path that leads directly to a painful and horrible outcome… trusting that new life will somehow emerge on the other side.

Can we pray, “Not my will, but yours be done,” and mean it?

11
Jun
18

INDIVISIBLE

Indivisible banner artAll that hard work for the last three months… and suddenly POOF! it’s done.

As I write this, I have just finished singing with the Heartland Men’s Chorus in a concert called, “INDIVISIBLE: Songs of Remembrance and Resistance.”The weekend included one Saturday night and one Sunday afternoon performance at the Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

The concert consisted of two halves: the first half featured the world premiere of a series of songs telling the story of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. As you may or may not be aware, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in Washington, D.C. in March 1921 to the memory of those who died in that First World War without ever being recognized or identified. This piece of music was written because this year – 2018 – marks the 100thanniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.WETU photo 1

As we rehearsed this moving and powerful music over the past three months, members of the chorus had an opportunity to talk with a soldier who actually served as one of the guards (they call themselves “sentinels”) at the Tomb.  His testimony of standing by that tomb in the darkness of early dawn with no visitors around was very poignant.  The special bond he said he felt with that soldier who served, fought, and died, all without any kind of recognition touched each of the Chorus members deeply.

The half of the concert was the Songs of Remembrance part. Members of the Soldier’s Chorus of the U.S. Army Choir sang the oratorio with us.

The second half of the concert was the Songs of Resistance segment. It included an ensemble singing Michael Jackson’s hit, Man in the Mirror. We also performed a recently written piece called This Grass, recounting the recent controversies in Charlottesville, VA and elsewhere over the removal of statues dedicated to soldiers of the Confederate army.

But the most difficult piece – both to perform and to listen to – was a number called The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.  In an incredibly creative and provocative arrangement, the verbatim last words of African-American men killed by police officers since 1999 were set to music. There was Trayvon Martin’s voice saying, “What are you following me for?”,Michael Brown pleading, “I don’t have a gun! Stop shooting!”,Eric Garner gasping for breath, pleadingly saying, “I can’t breathe!” and four others.

WETU photo 2The one that I always struggled to sing without openly sobbing was the part of Amadou Diallo. When he was shot and killed in February 1999 in New York City, his last words were, “Mom, I’m going to college.”

It was an incredible concert to be in and – according to my wife – to watch. I loved the music… I loved the staging… I loved the emotion it generated… but what I probably loved most was the title: INDIVISIBLE.

This single word speaks Truth and fills me with hope. It boldly declares that we cannot be divided… despite the best efforts of some to divide and isolate on the basis of color, gender, sexuality, or any other criteria. It speaks of a strong, deep bond in the core of our souls. It defiantly raises a fist and says a loud “NO!” to the forces working actively to pull people apart because of their differences.

And even though it involved three months of damned hard work to learn this music and commit it to memory, I am really sorry to see it end. I wish we could sing this concert in every city in every state. I want to remind TONS MORE folks that our differences are the MORTAR that holds the bricks of our country together… it isn’t some kind of menace or aberration. From the earliest days, we have always understood that the strength of our country is our diversity.

Fortunately, for folks in the Kansas City area, our local ABC television affiliate, KMBC, produced and will air a special documentary on the making of the concert. You can see it on June 20 at 9:00 p.m.

For everyone else I would just ask: take that word – INDIVISIBLE– grab it with both hands… hold it tightly to your chest… let it fill your heart with courage and your spine with steel.

It really is who we are.

05
Jun
18

Be Like Rosie

Rosie mopingMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our nearly eight-month-old Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

And yes, it is perfectly OK for you to say what you’re thinking right now: she IS, in fact, the cutest dog in the world.

Rosie is very high-spirited and energetic… which is exactly why we chose the name, Rosie. Think of it for a minute: every human named Rosie I have ever known has been spunky, high-spirited, and energetic… for example,

  • Rosie the Riveter
  • Rosie O’Donnell
  • Rosie Perez, just to name a few.

Rosie under chairRosie came to us in early December and is the first dog my wife and I have raised from the puppy stage. I will admit to being more than a bit nervous whether I was up to the task, or how badly we might scar her. But I have to give her credit; Rosie has responded remarkably well to our admittedly erratic efforts at training during this past six months.

And so it was with no small degree of surprise when I was struck earlier today with this sudden realization: as much effort as Joan and I have spent training Rosie, it seems that all this time Rosie has also been working on training US.

I am not sure how many of her lessons we have mastered yet, but here are some of the things I believe she has been trying to teach us since December:

  • THE VALUE OF SPONTANEOUS PLAY. For Rosie, there seems to be no time and no place that is not PERFECT for breaking into a rousing game of “fetch the tennis ball,” or “tug the squeaky toy,” or “chase me around the living room with your shoe in my mouth.” I believe she wants us to know that play can happen ANYWHERE, under any circumstance. She has probably observed that Joan and I seem to spend a lot of time with our heads burrowed into our laptops, or the morning paper, or engaged in somber-toned conversations with one another and wants to shake things up a bit. Even now as I write these words she is eagerly baiting me with a bit of knotted rope she likes to tug.
  • NAPS ARE GOOD… OH SO GOOD. The only thing Rosie does better than eating or playing is napping. She can nap anytime, anywhere, in fair weather or foul, at home or on the road. Her favorite places to nap are tile or marble floors where it is nice and cool. But when push comes to shove, she will nap on any available surface.
  • AN UNABASHED LOVE OF NATURE. It does not matter how long or short the walk is, whether it is raining, snowing or bright and sunny if Rosie wants to stop and sniff a flower, she stops. And sniffs. And sniffs some more. She is also now strong enough to resist my tugging at the leash when I decide she has taken enough time with THAT flower and it is now time to move on. Rosie appears to believe that each flower was carefully crafted by its Creator and deserves her reverent attention.
  • LIMITED SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT. It may be that – as a dog – Rosie lacks the necessary opposable thumbs, or intellectual bandwidth to know how social media forums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat work. Or it may be that by eschewing them she is trying to help us see the potential of these applications for the stunting of rich, authentic, and complex relationships with others.

    But I trust Rosie and know she is a lot brighter than she seems. So I am going to go with the latter explanation.

There are certainly others, but I believe this one is Rosie’s most important lesson:

  • UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Of course, Rosie loves Joan and me, her human caretakers, without pretense or condition. But every time we have guests over, or just happen to pass another person on the walking trail, she is absolutely DELIGHTED to see them! Even if she has never met them! She bounces up and down on her hind legs as if to say, “Hi! How are you? It is SO GREAT to see you! Come pet me and play with me!” She shows no willingness to grasp the concept that some people are cranky or odd or even devious. She seems to want to teach us that every person God created (which is all of them) is each an AMAZING, WONDERFUL, UNIQUE creation, worthy of love and respect.

    In that sense, Rosie comes much closer to being an actual Jesus-follower than I am. And I’ve had many more years to work on it!

Needless to say, Rosie has done a LOT better job of learning the lessons we are teaching her than we have done at learning what she is trying to teach us.

Thankfully she is patient and understanding and willing to forgive our shortcomings. I just hope she understands when we gently – but firmly – refuse to learn about the fine art of sniffing other people’s butts.

Abundant blessings;




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blogs I Follow

Follow Russellings of the Spirit on WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: