Archive for September, 2019

18
Sep
19

Change is Good?

Moving dayI preach change all the time.

When some flavor of change seems to be looming on the horizon, I find scripture to cite to assure folks that God is not just GOOD with change but often actually goes out of his way to make it happen.

I’ll start my campaign with a little Isaiah 43:18-19 where the prophet speaks for the Almighty, saying, “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,”following with some Revelation 21 with “See, I am making all things new,” and then if none of that works, I will deliver the coup de grace with some 2 Corinthians action: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”(2 Corinthians 5:17, NRSV).

Easy to preach. Much harder to practice, as it turns out.

I am in the middle of a whole barge-load of change right now in my own life and am suddenly discovering the truth of the saying, “Babies with dirty diapers are the only ones who really appreciate change.”

First, there is the change of status from “working guy” to “retired guy.” I am barely two months into that brave new world and still a little shaky on my feet.

Now Joan and I are preparing to sell our house, pack up our world, and move from Overland Park, Kansas to Ft. Collins, Colorado.

It is a good move, one that will put us in a wonderful, healthy, friendly, very “beercentric” mountain community. We will be closer to Joan’s daughter and chief medical advocate. We will have quick access to some of the most amazing scenery in the entire U.S.

So what’s there to complain about?

Well, there is the whole MOVING thing, for starters. The packing, the cleaning, the lifting, the redecorating, the broken dishes… what a pain!

Then, once we are physically settled in to the new place, there is all the rest of the readjustment/reacclimating process. I have to find a new doctor… a new barber… a new church… a whole new set of friends… a new vet… a new mechanic… EVERYTHING! And I am completely convinced that none of them will be as good as the ones I have now.

Sometimes late at night, while Joan sleeps soundly beside me, I lie awake staring at the ceiling and ask, “What if I can’t make this adjustment? What if this is just all too much change for me to cope with?”

If I were completely honest about it, I suspect my real fear about this move is my suspicion that the core of my identity is somehow tied to this place where I have lived for nigh unto 44 years now.

It’s silly. I know.

But then I think of the Israelites and their forced march into exile in the year 587 BCE. Jerusalem was not only their home but was – according to sacred teaching – the actual, physical dwelling place of the God who called them.

Their home WAS their identity.

But then they discovered something extraordinary. There, in the middle of their exile lives in Babylon, they discovered the real source of their identity. There they were: thousands of miles from their home and the Temple… depressed and defeated. Their foundation was not just shaken but shattered. They had no idea if they were ever going to see their home again, let alone resume their status as God’s Chosen People.

But there – right in the middle of their darkest moment – the voice of God came to them through the prophet and told them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”(Jeremiah 29:4-6, NRSV).

In other words, “Be Here Now. Don’t look for your purpose and identity anyplace other than where you are at this exact moment. I am with you in EVERY place, not just when you are in Jerusalem.”

Hmmmm. That is really good to know.

Do you think that applies to Ft. Collins, Colorado, too?

16
Sep
19

Rubber, meet road

Attending churchWorship is weird.

What I mean is, for me these days the act of attending a service of worship in a local church is a bit of a strange, unsettling experience.

I feel a little bit like Will Ferrell’s character Ricky Bobby in that scene from Talladega Nights. You remember the scene: Ricky is videotaping a public service announcement and suddenly finds his hands floating up awkwardly in front of him. He stares at them in consternation and says, “I don’t know what to do with my HANDS!”

Before my retirement from pastoral ministry on July 1 of this year, I knew exactly what I was supposed to do in a service of worship. I had a clear list of tasks and responsibilities that had to be completed to ensure the effective execution of gathered Christian worship. I was the tone-setter, the ice-breaker, the chief cheerleader, the deliverer of the carefully-crafted message, the MC.

Yes, I usually had a team of people who helped make it all happen, but the buck always stopped right HERE… with me.

But now, Joan and I just ATTEND.

We walk in through the main doors, return the warm smile and greeting of the greeter(s), accept the proffered paper bulletin, and make our way to our seats. Not too close to the front, but not all the way in the back row either.

And then we just WORSHIP.

It is so weird.

But in a way, it is also incredibly freeing.

When the responsive reading time comes, I can just engage my heart and soul in my assigned part… not worrying about whether I am projecting my voice well enough for Olive there in the third row from the back to hear me, or when the last time the batteries in my microphone were replaced.

When it comes time to sing, I can freely bounce back and forth between the melody and the bass line, really reading and absorbing the text. I don’t have to fret about the accompanist’s pacing, or whether I should have chosen to sing all five verses instead of just three.

The pastoral prayer time offers an opportunity for… PRAYING, of all things!

And since discovering firsthand what a struggle and joy and deeply soul-searching journey it is to write and deliver some kind of coherent weekly message, I try to be sure to give my entire, undivided attention – including engaged eye contact – to the pastor as she (or he) teaches from the pulpit.

And yes, while I do have those occasional moments of, “I probably would have said that a little differently than that,” I keep those quietly tucked away in my back pocket.

But I will confess… the hardest part comes for me when the service concludes and we are on our way back out to the parking lot. No, I don’t have any trouble with the chit-chat time or finding the coffee and donut table. A homing device chip for that must have been implanted in my brain long ago.

No, the part that I now find most challenging is the, “OK… what do I now DO with this?” part.

Back then – B.R. (before retirement) – the answer to that question was simple: after this week’s worship service, you get busy crafting next week’s. There is music to choose, special bulletin inserts to design, a sermon to pray over and write, graphics to choose, and special worship elements to incorporate.

But now?

I have to go figure out how I will go live out what I just heard.

 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35, NRSV)

(GULP!) OK. Here goes…

10
Sep
19

An MVP Mistake

Patrick MahomesPat made a mistake.

Yes, hard to believe as it is, the All-Star phenom, Most Valuable Player quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs football team, Patrick Mahomes, made a mistake Sunday.

He tried to throw a pass to his tight end Travis Kelce without looking in his direction at all. Kelce was wide open. The pass – accurately thrown – would have resulted in a touchdown. But instead, the ball fluttered over Kelce’s head and fell to the ground like another piece of debris on the field.

(Note to the reader: in case you are not a fan, this isn’t entirely a blog post about football. I am using football as a handy metaphor to illustrate a larger, hopefully, more important, point. Hang in with me for a minute, OK?)

Never mind that Patrick threw three other, really great touchdown passes that day. Never mind that he had more passing yards in the first quarter of the game than any NFL quarterback since Peyton Manning in 2004. Never mind that he threw no interceptions at all in the game.

He made that silly mistake in the first quarter.

Patrick, how COULD you?

I speak to you today as a man well acquainted with mistakes. I recognize them easily because in my life I have made many more than my share.

Some of my mistakes have been big. Many have been small. Some have resulted in physical or emotional injury to another person. Some have gone unnoticed by everyone except me.

Many have been caused – just like my man Patrick’s goofy, no-look pass attempt Sunday – by failing to fully or accurately assess the situation I was in… failing to adequately anticipate the consequences of an erroneous word or decision.

I suspect I am not the only one here who can list more than a few mistakes on my life resume. (Although this is probably a great moment to slip in a mention of the one thing I did really, really well some 20 years agoproposing marriage to the lovely Miss Joan Bare.)

And I will be honest; some of those mistakes still haunt my quiet moments now and then.

The question I would like to pose to us mistake makers in the crowd is: How will your mistakes from the past influence your actions in the future?

We can’t just wipe all of our mistakes from our mental/emotional hard drive as if they never happened. In each one of those miscues or mis-steps there was no doubt the seed of a valuable lesson. If we could somehow forget the mistake, we might also forget the lesson that mistake brought with it.

By the same token, we can’t blow our errors up all out of proportion and let them take over the entire narrative of our lives.

You might not be surprised to learn that Jesus has a couple of insightful thoughts on this subject that might help us figure this out. We see regular examples of this throughout his ministry, but one of the most vivid can be found in the story of his encounter with the “woman caught in adultery” in the eighth chapter of John’s gospel.

The woman clearly messed up. Badly. The Mosaic Law was unequivocal about what should happen to adulterers. A small knot of righteous religious men stood ready to inflict deadly consequences on the woman when Jesus stepped in.

After challenging the would-be judges to examine their own track records and mistakes, Jesus sends the woman on her way with these words: “’Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’”(John 8:10b-11, NRSV).

I think we are meant to hear a word for our own lives in this story. Personally, I hear Jesus saying to me, “Russell, your mistakes do not tell the whole story of your life. Learn from them so that you don’t repeat them. And then go and live the new life of a forgiven, redeemed man.”

Thanks, Jesus. I really needed to hear that today.

And the same goes for you, Mahomie!

05
Sep
19

The man on the bench

Man on a benchI almost missed him, and thereby, his invitation.

The low, one-story building came slowly into view on the left as we drove through Hays, Kansas earlier this week. The building was made of red brick with a corrugated metal roof. It seemed to branch in several directions from a central hub.

I discovered that when it is your turn to sit in the passenger seat during a nine-hour drive, you have a chance to examine the roadside vista in great detail…

… especially when you are crossing the state of Kansas at 78 miles per hour.

I had just about concluded that I was looking at another collection of storage sheds, or a warehouse of some kind when suddenly I saw him; the man on the bench.

Looking a little more closely, I saw that the bench sat on a patio at the rear of one of those brick buildings. As I studied him, I saw that the man seemed to be older… quite possibly in his 80s. He was wearing a gray, long-sleeved shirt and matching pants. He sat motionless on that bench, content to watch the cars zipping by on Interstate 70 at 2:30 on a late August afternoon.

And then it dawned on me… the building was a retirement home. The man was just doing as he darned well pleased, in between the scheduled mealtimes and organized activities there.

As Hank (the name I gave him on the spur of the moment, just to make him a little less anonymous) faded into the rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but wonder.

– What was Hank thinking about as he sat there?

  • Was he reviewing the chapters of his life and cherishing sweet memories?
  • Was he grieving a departed spouse?
  • Was he nursing regrets about opportunities unrealized in his life?
  • Was he silently chastising children whose visits have become less and less frequent as the years pass?
  • Was he trying to imagine what compelled the drivers of each of those cars on the interstate to pass by his patio and bench?
  • Or was he possibly just whistling a tune from his childhood that somehow resurfaced in his mind?

And as he sat there and quietly reflected on his life and the passing parade, Hank issued me a personal invitation.

He invited me to imagine myself, years hence, in a similar posture.

He invited me to consider how I want to be able to look back on my own life when I have plenty of time to sit and think.

Hank invited me to consider the very real possibility that time spent on a bench, alone with one’s thoughts and memories can, in fact, be a surprisingly opulent gift.

He invited me to drop to my knees and give thanks for the rich web of relationships I am part of, remembering that each of them is time-bound and treasured.

But mostly Hank invited me to remember that my story is part of a larger story… a story that is connected to millions of other stories across time and space. He invited me to make friends with the Mystery Beyond and to recognize that he and I have much more in common than either of us will ever realize.

Thanks, Hank.

I accept your invitation.




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