Archive for August, 2018

28
Aug
18

Fish Nibble Love

I had to look it up.

The name of the fish is Garra Rufa. They are sometimes referred to as “doctor fish” and they have apparently become the hottest thing in spa treatments. That’s because if you put your feet into a tub full of them, they nibble off all of the dead skin.

But nowhere in the literature did it tell me that the tiny Garra Rufa fish could also serve as an instrument of religious revelation.

In November 2014 I was fortunate to lead a group of people from my church on a 10-day pilgrimage to Israel. This is an experience I cannot recommend highly enough for those who aspire to follow Christ. The experience of walking in the exact same places where Jesus walked, seeing some of the exact same things he saw, breathing the same air he breathed is soul-changing.

Yardenit baptismal siteOn Thursday of that first week, the itinerary called for us to stop at Yardenit (meaning “little Jordan”). Yardenit is a place on the banks of the Jordan River that has been set up to allow pilgrims to stop and either re-enact their baptisms or be baptized for the first time… in the JORDAN RIVER!

I was not going to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I paid my money to rent the obligatory white robe, went to the locker room and put it on over my swimming suit, and got into line.

When my turn came I was dipped under the murky, brown water of the Jordan by two people and had the Trinity invoked in my name, and was anointed with oil… an EXTREMELY powerful moment for me.

But you know what I remember most about that whole experience? I remember that as I stood there in line, waiting to be dunked, the little Garra Rufa fish were swimming around my feet. And then they began nibbling away at all the dead skin they could find. Yardenit 2I’m sure it was a delightful buffet for them.

At first, it startled me … and then it tickled… and then became very annoying. I mean, here I was, trying to be all spiritual and holy and there are these little fish, nibbling on my feet under the water. But as this was all happening, a really odd thought hit me. The thought that hit me was this: “I wonder if these same little fish nibbled at JESUS’ feet when HE was here being baptized?”

And the moment I asked that question, it was like WHAM! This whole, lofty, theological concept that we call INCARNATION suddenly became very, very real to me. We read John’s gospel where it says, “And the word became flesh and lived among us…”(John 1:14, NRSV), and we can be very analytical and thoughtful about what that means. But it wasn’t until I finally got this image of Jesus… standing right there in that water… having his feet nibbled on by these pesky little fish, that the whole thing became really real for me.

And then, I don’t mind telling you, it was a moment that jumped up there right alongside the moment of witnessing the birth of my first child, or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. It became a moment when the raw reality of God and God’s love for me came up and smacked me in the face like an open hand.

WHAAACK!!!

I started to weep on the spot and could not keep the words of John 3:16 from running through my mind. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

Or, as I paraphrased it at that moment, “For God so loved the world that he allowed his feet to be nibbled on by little fish!”

That is real love, folks. Love that bends down and experiences the full range of humanity… from the sublime to the ridiculous… from the mountaintop to the outhouse… from the holy moment of baptism to the annoying little fish nibbles… THAT is the real deal.

And that is the real love God offers YOU today.

27
Aug
18

That Safe Place

Rosie in The PoseMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our 10-month old, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

To say that Rosie is energetic is to say Kansas is flat or the sun is hot. In other words, it is to VASTLY understate the reality of the situation.

One of the biggest challenges Joan and I face each day is figuring out where to put things in order to keep them safe from Rosie’s eager, inquisitive reach.

There was – for example – the night we went to the baseball game with friends. The idea was to have them come back to our place after the game for some of Joan’s yummy peach cobbler. The cobbler was baked ahead of time and had been shoved all the way to the rear of the kitchen counter… presumably safely out of Rosie’s reach.

Imagine our surprise when we opened the door to the kitchen that night and found the pan of cobbler on the kitchen floor, big chunks of it missing in action. Beside it, of course, the innocent, angelic face of sweet Rosie… cobbler crumbs stuck to her beard.

This incident happened over a month ago. Since then, Rosie has grown a few more inches and has an even longer reach. It seems now that only the highest shelves in the closet are now safe from her exploring paws.

Thinking back on that moment (and similar moments with Rosie since then), I was reminded of some of my early adventures in faith. The common link between the two – I realized – is the central question: “Where is the safest place to put it?” Today the “it” is Joan’s peach cobbler. Back then the “it” was my faith.

In my earliest years, I placed my faith in my mom and dad. They were the walking, talking, living, breathing, definition of Ultimate Reality. Their word was Law, their wisdom was unfathomable, and their protection was ironclad.

Right up until, of course, it wasn’t.

Every child at some point experiences a rude awakening to the finite flawedness of mom and dad, and I was no exception. Whether it was that first argument of theirs I happened to overhear, or (in my childlike opinion) an entirely unjustified punishment, or something else, I’m not sure. But I know that at some point the pedestal cracked. I still loved them, of course, but no longer placed 100% of my faith in them.

When I started school, I discovered that my earliest teachers were unlimited fountains of knowledge… book knowledge, life knowledge, cultural knowledge and – in the case of my second-grade teacher Mrs. Forrer – baseball knowledge. And so I changed gears and said, “HERE is where I can put my faith! In my teachers!”

And I did. Right up to the point where I discovered that THEY were limited, too. Mrs. Olds chose to believe Andy when he said that started the fight and then Mr. Garrison could not adequately explain to me why there was such a thing as poverty.

As I grew, I kept trying. I am sure this list is incomplete, but a few of the other places I have put my faith over the years include:

  • My car(s)
  • The government (at every level – local, state, and national)
  • My own intelligence
  • My friends
  • Human nature
  • My race
  • My gender
  • My socio-economic group
  • My religious affiliation

In each case, I was certain my faith had been placed securely. Just as certain, in fact, as we were about where we placed the peach cobbler that night.

And every time that certainty came crashing to the ground… just like that pan of peach cobbler.

Has that happened to you? Are you still searching for that “next safe place” to put your faith after the last one disappointed you? Or have you given up the search entirely, convinced that no place… no person… no group will ever be capable of securely holding the precious gift of your faith?

If that describes you, listen to these words from Psalm 46. They are some of the truest words you will ever hear:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult….

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

  • Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7, NRSV

 

Abundant blessings;

21
Aug
18

Game on!

Little League signDo you like to compete?

Some people do… and some people (I understand) don’t.

And it seems as if for those who do like to compete, EVERYTHING is a competition.

Heck, I once knew a guy who was so competitive he used to time himself on how long it took to pass out the daily multi-vitamins to him and his wife. (“New personal best today!” 16.2 seconds!!)

OK… I’ll come clean. That was me.

I will confess to being one of those competition junkies… you know, people who not only love sports but who also tread very close to the line of professing that competition is the essence of life.

(It’s not, by the way.)

Thankfully I am not addicted to competition to the point of wagering or insisting that everything else in life must revolve around me getting my sports fix. It is, however, not out of the question to conclude that I may occasionally have a hard time maintaining eye contact with my wife when there is a game being televised at the place where we are having dinner.

And it is not just sport. It is most of them. No…, not golf. No, not hockey. Not bowling. Not NASCAR. Not professional bass fishing. Not NBA basketball.

But pretty much everything else. Why just last night my son and I were sitting spellbound in front of a professional cricket match between Jamaica and Trinidad/Tobago.

Last month, as my siblings and I were in Washington State scattering my dad’s ashes, we spent time reflecting on all the ways – good and bad – that dad influenced us. We agreed that his very advanced case of Sports-o-philia had a decided effect on all five of us.

I guess I’m saying I come by this affliction honestly. Or at least genetically.

Sports are fun, don’t get me wrong. There is the unexpectedness, the “anything can happen” element, the hometown pride they (sometimes) create, the spectacle of human athleticism on display, and the camaraderie that is all part of being a FAN (short for FANATIC).

But as much enjoyment as I receive from sports (both in the watching and the playing), I can’t help but wonder what kind of atmosphere all the attention to sports really creates in this country… economic benefits aside.

Some would argue – and I have heard them – that competition is what makes this country GREAT. Good ideas bumping heads with each other in healthy, open competition inevitably produce GREAT ideas.

Some defend the value of competition by quoting Proverbs 27:17 and reminding us that, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”

But I also know that by its very nature competition creates WINNERS and LOSERS. I know that when we place such a high value on the outcome of our competitions, people come to understand those categories (winner and loser), as something larger than just a fleeting status report.

They come to understand them as statements of personal IDENTITY.

People can get way too caught up in the outcome of an event that is meant to be nothing more than a trifling pastime… witness the fact that Super Bowl Sunday is always the day when record numbers of domestic violence incidents are reported.

When any of us come to see the yardstick of our eternal worth as the WON/LOSS record of our hometown football, baseball, soccer, basketball, or croquet team, it is time to give ourselves a quick “Matthew 6:26” reality check.

And so, as you despondently look up from the sports page, having just seen that your “boys in blue” are 36 games out of first place with 42 games left to play in the season, hear Jesus whispering in your ear and saying,  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Look up and say, “Why yes I am!”

And then go out and have a nice, uncompetitive game of catch with your kid.

 

Abundant blessings;

13
Aug
18

Scattered

 

Us on Ranier

Left to right: my son Graham, Alan, Eric, me, Douglas. Not pictured: mother of the bride, Melinda. Sorry, sissy.

A couple of weeks ago, my siblings and I had one of our all-too-rare get-togethers.

 

Rare because hanging out regularly is hard when separated by 2,000 miles of American soil. As providence would have it, the occasion of my niece’s wedding (in the lovely Cascade Mountain town of Roslyn, Washington) offered us a great excuse to do some yakking and catching up.

I’m not sure if I have ever said this here before, but I LOVE my brothers and my sister. They are some of the sharpest, funniest, kindest, looniest human beings you will ever have the joy of meeting. I automatically become a better person simply by spending time in their presence.

ALL visits with them are too short… no matter how long they are.

But besides kibitzing and marrying off Melinda’s youngest daughter, we had another assignment to carry out. We decided this would be a great time to carry out an ash-scattering our dad had requested as part of his final instructions to us.

Not only had dad drawn up a detailed plan for his funeral service prior to his death in January 2017, (including scripture readings, music, and poetry to be read), he also made up a list of five places where his cremated ashes were to be scattered.

As we stood there on the flanks of Mt. Rainer and scattered 1/5 of dad’s earthly remains, we also read a poem… written by one of the pastors dad served with early on in his ministry.

Part of the time included sharing some reflections on all of the ways dad’s influence helped shape us into the people we are today. I hope to offer some of those thoughts in a later posting.

And even though this poem clearly endorses cremation vs. burial of the body, I don’t offer this as a condemnation of those who choose burial.

I simply wanted to share that poem here, both as a way of celebrating the unique and unrepeatable life of George C. Brown, Jr., but also as one way of thinking about what is left behind when the breath of life leaves these mortal bodies of ours.

CREMATION

For me, no sepulcher when I am stilled, no grave to hold

Disintegrating into dust that part of me which loving life

Met each morning, wonder-filled.

Instead, to the winds my elements fling! That they may, perchance,

With lilting song reach high hills at sunset,

And meadows wet with dew where I have longed to go.

No marble shaft, engraved with platitudes when I am gone.

Only some heart, once loved, to realize that my eager mind

And long-suppressed dreams have been lured to greater altitudes.

The winds will search across the universe, find blue waters,

Moon drenched plains, little coves…

A thousand havens I have longed to see.

Deep vales at daybreak where white mists rest… there I will be.

Yet part of me, ever and anon, will hesitate, rise high into the sunlight

Then ride a homing breeze to linger briefly

On a dear one’s breast.

So look not down, when henceforth you think of me,

You, whom I so much love!

But lift your heads, your eyes, your hearts,

And look up, over, above, and beyond… for there I will be!

And now may the sweet benediction of God’s love, peace, and grace

Rest upon this life that has closed in our midst… but has not closed.

In faith and high hope, we commit his body

To the elements from which it came…

And his spirit to the God who gave it.  AMEN!

– Rev. Dr. Floyd Faust

10
Aug
18

A Supernatural Stillness

PhonelessnessOh, the horror of it!

Honestly, I’m not sure how I made it through. It was without a doubt the longest 35 minutes of my life.

Thankfully though, I am still here to tell the tale. Shaken, but not overcome. Tested, but still standing.

What was this baptism by fire I was forced to endure, you might ask… this supreme challenge… this Waterloo of the soul?

If you’re ready, I’ll tell you. Brace yourself: Yesterday, at about 4:30 p.m., I left the house to take Rosie on her afternoon walk… AND DID NOT TAKE MY PHONE with me!

There I was, with absolutely NO ability to pull up the weather radar and check on the progress of the approaching thunderstorm.

  • … Completely cut off from access to the Royals’ starting line-up for that night’s game.
  • … with NO WAY to look at vital emails that might have arrived in the last 10 minutes that – no doubt – might have had the power to change my life…
  • … NO HEADPHONES piping music into my skull as I walked.
  • … ISOLATED from the power to send or receive texts from friends or family. Or complete strangers, for that matter.
    • I mean, honestly… what if during that time my wife had paused her shopping cart and texted, “Hey, just finishing up here at Target. Do you need anything?” What then smart guy??

It was an eerie reminder of what life in the dark ages of the mid-90s was like.

How did I handle this frightening situation, you no doubt are wondering. What kind of coping skills did I draw on?

At the risk of making this episode sound a whole lot less heroic than I want you to believe, I am forced to admit that it was actually kind of nice.

  • I found myself taking a much closer look at the rich variety of weeds, plants, and trees growing by the side of our path.
  • I made actual eye contact and offered a greeting to other people out enjoying their own afternoon strolls.
  • I was able to listen to the mid-August song of the cicadas trilling their monotone notes.
  • And – wonder of wonders – I was prompted by the silence to pause in prayer and thank God for the rich palette of life spread out there before me.

I am not really sure I would call yesterday’s phoneless moment an epiphany by any stretch. But it was definitely a moment I wanted to repeat again… SOON.

It was one of those (sadly) rare, unfiltered, uncurated times when I found myself freed from my customary layers and layers of digital buffering.

It was a moment when I inhaled pure life and exhaled gratitude.

It was also a moment that brought me into close contact with a necessary humility, reminding me of my status as CREATURE, not CREATOR.

In spite of all of that, it is highly likely that when I wake up tomorrow I will still be the guy who loves to listen to music, look at weather radar, sports results, emails, and texts from friends on my phone.

But hopefully I will also be a little more of the Psalm 46:10* guy I was there for a brief moment.

 

Abundant blessings;

 

 

* “Be still, and know that I am God…”




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