Archive for June, 2019

25
Jun
19

Uprooted

Roots-of-an-uprooted-tree-after-a-stormThere is a controversy raging right now that is sending arcs of electricity dancing through the air between Kansas City and Washington, D.C.

If you do not live in either one of these cities, you are probably blissfully unaware of this epic feud.

The fun all began on June 13 this year when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to the Kansas City Region.

It is a move that will potentially involve nearly 550 USDA staff members.

Folks in Kansas City were tremendously excited to hear this news. After all, it means a boost for the local economy, added prestige, and many potential new converts to The Magic of The KC Experience.

The USDA folks potentially affected by the move are… well, let’s say somewhat less than excited. At the joint staff meeting where the move was announced, many USDAers in attendance stood up and turned their backs on Secretary Perdue as he spoke.

They said the move would disrupt their social connections. They said it would upset their children’s educational progress. They say they are not willing to watch a major league baseball team that consistently fails to play at or above the .500 mark.

(OK… I just made that last one up. But they WILL say that once they think about it.) 

Kansas City people feel miffed by the Washingtonians’ response.“What do you mean you don’t want to move here?” we ask. “We LOVE this city! And you will, too, once you taste our BBQ!”

Their (our) feelings are hurt. We see it as a negative judgment on our hometown by some snooty, high-falootin’ East Coasters. Heck, we say, they probably wonder if indoor plumbing even exists out here on the Great Plains.

Having experienced a forcible, cross-country relocation myself – in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school – I know nothing could be further from the truth.

So chill out, KC. It’s not about US at all.

What it IS about is the emotional and physical trauma that is an inescapable part of making this kind of move. People have to deal with the severing of every connection that defines them… whether social, religious, family, cultural, or community. They have to deal with the challenge of rebuilding all of those vital relationships, let alone figuring out which neighborhood to live in, where to shop, where to dine, and where to find a good bagel.

But as hard as the move is on the adult members of the family, it is probably even harder on the children.

It feels like an UPROOTING. And who would ever voluntarily subject themselves to THAT?

50 years ago this month I did exactly that. Mind you, not without great howls of protest and the conviction that life – as I knew it – was about to end. However, unlike the USDA staffers, I was utterly powerless to resist the pending upheaval.

But somewhere along the way, the funniest thing happened.

I don’t know what caused it, but at some point in the middle of my wailing and protesting, a switch inside me flipped. I came to the realization that I had the power to decide what kind of experience this was going to be.

I could decide that this was going to be a horrible, traumatic, worst-thing-ever experience.

Or I could decide this would be the opening of a new chapter of adventure and challenge in my life… a moment to be faced and seized and maybe even RELISHED.

And then after that realization dawned, the choice was easy. I opted for Door #2 and the rest – as they say – is history. And as a symbol of my new adventure, I decided I would take on a new identity. I decided that this would now be the time for my childhood name “Rusty” to go away, and my new, quasi-adult name “Russell” to emerge.

Of course, Sonny Perdue is not God. But just like Sonny Perdue, sometimes God calls us to be obedient to upheavals and uprootings from our comfortable circumstances.

Just ask Abram. Or Joseph. Or Moses. Or Mary. Or Joseph. Or Paul.

And I am sure most of the time there are a hundred good reasons we could offer as to why this uprooting is a really bad idea… about how much pain and discomfort this will cause us and our families… about how inferior a place Canaan is to Haran… and how we really would prefer to stay right where we are.

Or we can just decide to believe God is using this uprooting as a way to enlist us at the beginning of a new adventure of faith and obedience.

 

So… which will it be?

14
Jun
19

Coming Out

hmc_full-color-portfolio-image_585x400I like to sing.

Correction; I absolutely LOVE to sing.

And so it was with real joy and excitement that I accepted my friend’s invitation three years ago to audition for a group called the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC). My friend had just been hired as the new artistic director of HMC. He knew of my love of singing from long-ago church connections and decided to reach out to me.

Heartland Men’s Chorus hails from Kansas City and is a civic singing group which has been in existence for 33 years. Oddly enough, the Chorus is made up almost entirely of males. I say almost because we admitted our first female member two years ago. 

HMC performs three concerts per season, including a Christmas program, a spring show, and a summer show. One of the three concerts is usually a “pops” concert of some kind while the other is often connected with a social justice cause.

An example of the latter was our spring 2017 concert titled “Indivisible… Songs of Resistance and Remembrance” which included the song, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. This haunting piece took the actual recorded last words of seven unarmed black men shot by law enforcement officers (including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Trayvon Martin) and set them to music.

Our concerts almost always include 13-14 intricate, beautiful, harmonious numbers, they last for over two hours with music that is 100 percent memorized. 

All the singers (except for the occasional professional “guest soloist”) are volunteers, yet prepare and perform like professionals. 

Oh… did I also mention that Heartland Men’s Chorus is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus? 

And even though I am a straight, middle-aged, married guy, they have welcomed me warmly.

It may have been that I imagined – when I first began singing with them – that the singers in the chorus would have a lot to gain by singing with me. I am, after all, a pastor, an open, progressive thinker, and a solid lower bass. 

Little did I suspect that it would instead be me who gained the most from our association.

For example, I gained a much greater appreciation of how to blend my voice with others. 

But I also gained an understanding of what it means to live a courageous life… daring to declare your true, God-given identity to the world knowing it might cost you friends, family, job, and even physical harm.

With the chorus I have gained an understanding of the correct way to shape different vowel sounds for maximum clarity.

But I also gained an understanding of the life-saving importance of having a safe, accepting community where people don’t have to guard every word, thought, and gesture.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus has taught me a valuable lesson about the level of work it takes to prepare a performance that people willingly pay hard-earned money to see.

But it has also taught me that a common mission can unify a group of people that once might have seemed impossibly disparate. 

We had an absolute BLAST preparing and singing last week’s concert: “Rock You… a Wild Ride  Through the Music of Queen.” The soloists were absolutely on point. The harmonies were tight and melodious. The backing band kicked serious booty.

But most of all, I was overjoyed to be able to be part of a group of people who had the courage to stand up in front of the world and say, “Check it out! This is who I AM! I am not ashamed of that and you will never convince me there is any reason I SHOULD BE ashamed.”

It is now up to me to continue to live that lesson in my everyday life.

03
Jun
19

Hearing the Call

unknown caller“Who is calling, please?”

Remember life before there was such a thing as Caller ID?

We just blindly answered the phone whenever it rang, trusting that the person on the other end was someone we knew. It never occurred to us that it might be a stranger trying to scam us or sell us something we didn’t need.

Today things are different. If a name does not appear on the screen when my phone rings, it automatically gives rise to my suspicious nature.

 

I instantly wonder; “Scammer? Telemarketer? Wrong number?”Because it is almost never my long-ago high school buddy who just happened to be in town for a convention and wanted to have dinner and catch up on old times.

A call is especially unnerving – I’ve discovered – when it comes from God.

The bible backs me up on this; it is replete with stories of people who ran AWAY when God called (Jonah), who were suspicious when God called (Gideon), who dug in their heels and flat refused (Moses), and even one who was so hard-headed he had to be hit upside the head with a big ol’ bolt of light (Paul).

It took a whole lot of persuading back in 1997 to finally convince me that God was indeed calling me into the ministry. I was – after all – not a young guy by any means. Besides which I already had a good job, and had already seen the trials and tribulations my father went through when he answered the call to ministry later in life.

“Sorry… wrong number,” I wanted to say. “Not interested.”

But wiser friends and family members prevailed and persuaded me to take that call.

So now here I am… 20+ years later, preparing to leave professional ministry altogether… and find myself asking the whole “calling” question all over again.

I wonder: is God still calling me?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the answer to this one is “Yes indeedy, Gomer. If God can call Abram at the age of 75, God can most surely call you at your tender age of 67.”

But if that is true, I am still curious about what God might be calling me TO exactly?

I know the call is not to golf course ministry. I made sure of that by selling my golf clubs in our recently-completed garage sale.

I am pretty sure my call is not to a life of Netflix binge-watching and bon-bon eating, or gardening and telling the neighbor kids to “Get off my lawn!” That just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing God would have a hard time finding volunteers for. (Incidentally, what is a bon-bon exactly?)

I know part of my new vocation will involve spending more time with Joan, more time with grandchildren, more time in creative pursuits, and more time experiencing the wonders of this big blue marble. 

But still… what do you do with a guy who still has health (knock wood!), a passion for Jesus, a willingness to speak up and speak out and very soon a WHOLE lot of new time on his hands?

Surely there is something God can do with all of that isn’t there?

In the meantime, pass the sunscreen, please.




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