Archive for September, 2019

30
Sep
19

Sometimes it’s complicated

Rosie and Patrick in the kitchenIt seemed like a good idea at the time.

Our little Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier puppy Rosie had grown to her full size and was becoming a handful for Joan and me.

Yes, a fuzzy, lovable, cute handful. But a handful nonetheless.

We decided that instead of trying to match her level of playful puppiness stride for stride we would try to find Rosie a canine companion.

Ideally, this companion would be a neutered male Wheaten… approximately the same age as Rosie. Finding exactly that dog was a long shot at best, but as providence would have it, the breeder we bought Rosie from was about to retire Rosie’s daddy Patrick from sire service and was seeking a friendly family home for him.

[Theological side-note: I am really not convinced that God spends a lot of time engineering the connections of people and their pets. But it did all fall together pretty smoothly for us, so why not hand out a little Divine credit?]

Adding Patrick to the family has been exactly the remedy we were looking for. Rosie and her daddy get along famously and romp and play with each other in the back yard to the point of exhaustion.

But here in the last week, Joan and I have woken up to an inescapable fact about life with TWO dogs as opposed to ONE: it complicates things.

We have to keep track of two different immunization schedules. We have to buy twice as much dog food and pay twice the vet bills. We have to find house- and dog-sitters that are willing to watch over two animals instead of just one. We have to double our vigilance at the off-leash dog park. We have to wash double the number of muddy footprints from the carpet after a rain. And when it comes to bath time… well, you can just imagine what that is like with two active, energetic dogs.

In fact, right after bath time this past Saturday, Joan and I very nearly looked at each other and asked, “Was it really a good idea to bring a second dog into our home?”

But then something stopped us right at the brink of asking the question. I don’t think either of us wanted to go where that question might have taken us.

We probably refrained from asking the question because we have become quite fond of our Patrick.

But we also might have stopped short because we have never said that a simple, uncomplicated life is one of the goals we are pursuing.

It is also possible that we didn’t ask the question because we each remembered those times in our lives when increasing life’s complications has also led us to increased joy.

Any parent who has gone from one child to two (or from zero to one, for that matter) knows exactly what I am talking about.

David Brooks, in his latest book, The Second Mountain, makes a distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness, which he says is mostly a temporary and situational state, and is about expanding the self. Joy – a much more durable and lasting commodity – is about surrendering the self. Or in the words of Jesus,  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NRSV).

Brooks goes on to say that two of the things that open us more fully to a life of joy are our CONNECTIONS and our COMMITMENTS… connections to other people, to our community, and to our souls… and the steadfastness of our commitments to abide with each of those.

All of which – I feel compelled to add – sounds like the exact opposite of living a simple, uncomplicated life.

Still, I am reluctant to draw the conclusion that our choice is between a life that is simple, neat, tidy, uncomplicated and joyless or the life that is connected, committed, messy, complex, and full of joy.

I know it is not that cut-and-dried. The lives of the desert mothers and desert fathers demonstrate the great joy to be found in extreme simplicity.

For now, I think I will just stick with drawing the conclusion that bringing Patrick into our lives – muddy paws and all – was a good move after all.

Bow wow.

28
Sep
19

Animals: What are They Thinking?

This is some good “food for thought” for your dreary Saturday…

Mitch Teemley

Have you ever wondered what animals are thinking? More than we realize, actually (see facts after pics below). What’s up with these guys?

(Click on any image to enlarge, or to start slide show)

Did you know that…

  • Cats imitate crying babies, called “solicitation purring,” in order to get food or petting, knowing that humans consider it more urgent than regular meowing.
  • Dogs prefer to do their business facing north. They can detect Earth’s magnetic fields (magnetoreception). But why?
  • Cows face north or south when they graze. Like dogs, they have magnetoreception. Think of it as GPS (Grazing Positioning System). But again, why?
  • Koala fingerprints are indistinguishable from those of humans, and have sometimes been confused with human prints in break-in investigations.
  • Crows are tricksters. A Swiss Zoologist observed a crow punking a more dominant raven by pretending there was cheese in an empty container, then sneaking…

View original post 275 more words

27
Sep
19

The Love Loophole

Jesus-facepalmI love you.

At least I know I am supposed to love you. It is one of the central commands of the Christian faith I profess. (See John 13:34, John 15:12, Romans 12:10, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Peter 1:22, etc., etc.)

And yet I have to admit; I am not always sure what I mean by that.

But you don’t even know me!” you are no doubt saying. “How could you possibly say you love me?”

Good point.

And then there is this question to consider too: how do I distinguish my love for you– a (mostly) complete stranger – from my love for Joan, the woman with whom I held hands, stood before God and a room full of people nearly 20 years ago and exchanged solemn vows?

And while you’re tussling with that one, here is another mind-bender: Is there – should there be – any discernible difference between my love for those of you readers who are warm and wonderful human beings and my love for the monstrously bad eggs of the world?

I know what the answer is supposed to be. I know I am called to emulate Christ and ladle out heaping helpings of unconditional love to every one of you with no consideration given to the life you’ve led, the people you’ve harmed, the Nobel Prizes you’ve won, or the cancer you’ve cured.

Would it shock you to hear me say I fall woefully short of that benchmark EVERY SINGLE DAY?

Didn’t think so.

It almost sounds like a humanly impossible job description to fulfill, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is.

And yet, there it remains; front and center in the preaching of the One I follow.

Easy for you to say,” I grumble under my breath. “You’ve got all that God-dust flowing through your veins. You weren’t ever susceptible to rage, or jealousy, or lust, or envy, or greed like the rest of us.”

And yet even before the words are out of my mouth I know I have never been more off base.

Maybe,” I think, “I can use my thimbleful of Greek language skill and fulfill Christ’s command by philia-ing some folks and storge-ing others while I agape the really super-worthy ones.”

Even as I say it, I can see Jesus facepalming and shaking his head, charitably pitying the depth of my intransigence.

Look, Russell… if my words aren’t clear enough for you,” He says, “why not take a listen to Saint Thomas Aquinas. My buddy Tom once said that authentic love means to ‘selflessly will the good of another.’ Does that help at all?”

Hmmmm. Intriguing.

“So, Jesus,” I ask. “Are you suggesting it might be possible to ‘selflessly will the good’ of a stranger, or a psychopath without feeling all warm and fuzzy toward them? Seriously?”

“When did you ever hear me say that love has anything to do with your feelings?” he says, mercifully declining to add the word “knucklehead” to the end of his sentence. “Love is a VERB. It is much more about what you DO and much less about how you FEEL.”

So go… get out there and do some love. And stop trying to find a legalistic loophole to squeeze yourself through.”

Thanks, Jesus. I’m glad we had this little talk.

 

Now comes the hard part…

26
Sep
19

Pedaling the Life Bike

BikingThe chain came off my bike the other day.

I was out riding with my friend and tried to shift to another, lower gear when “KA-CHUNK, KA-CHUNK, GRRR,” it all went kerplooey.

It was not a big deal to fix. We hopped off, threaded the dangling chain back over the correct sprockets and before you know it, we were off and riding again.

Besides giving me a moment to pause and catch my breath, I discovered another gift issuing forth from that momentary malfunction; it gave me a wonderful and useful METAPHOR!

Since fully and officially retiring on July 1, I realize that I have been struggling to find another gear for my life. My bicycle has 10 different gears. Different environments and situations call for different gear settings. The experienced cyclist toggles back and forth between them as needed.

In contrast, my “life bike” – up until now – seems to have only two gears: either “Flat Out, Pedal-to-the-Metal” or “Full Stop.” Nothing in between.

Now, with retirement (and this new shoulder injury), I am faced with the real need to find a new and different gear ratio.

Joan will testify that I do not do “nice and easy” very well. In fact, she told me that several times on our walk this morning with the dogs.

But seriously, what would be wrong with expanding my repertoire a little and learning a slower, more relaxed pace? First gear for the steep inclines, third or fourth when it levels out a little, and then maybe a deliberate, reflective, peacefully-taking-in-the-surroundings kind of pace for other times?

Hmmmm. Might be worth giving it a try.

24
Sep
19

The real emergency

Me in the ERSettling in, I was struck by how quiet and calm it all was.

For a room whose first name is EMERGENCY, I had visions of wailing sirens, screaming people, racing doctors, and slippery pools of blood on the floor, visions, no doubt fueled by TV and movies.

Instead, I saw a slightly built Hispanic couple huddled together on a couch, the man tenderly holding the woman’s arm. Over here to their left was an older woman sitting quietly in a wheelchair, searching without success for something in her purse. A young man – whose name I found out later when they paged him was Nathaniel – sat with a worried expression on his face, all alone.

People came in the automatic, sliding glass doors and calmly approached the reception desk. They explained the reason for their visit, filled out a brief form, and took the next available seat… preparing to wait for however long it took.

The doctors, nurses, and assorted hospital helpers ran the demeanor gamut from professionally concerned and solicitous, to utterly bored, to flippant and jokey, depending on the patient. I am sure it helps contain the anxiety of the help-seekers to see their rescuers taking a firm hold of the rudder of the ER, succumbing to neither fear nor frustration in the face of pain and illness.

I had checked into the ER ten minutes earlier, hopeful they would approve my application for patient status. In the fifth inning of my old man softball game earlier that evening, an inadequately stretched out hamstring felled me as I barreled down the first base line. I landed full on my elbow, jamming my upper arm up into my shoulder joint.

It hurt like the dickens, but the diagnosis – after an exam and X-rays – was a “first degree (the mildest variety) shoulder separation.” The recommended treatment plan is a sling and ibuprofen for a week.

So the softball season has come to an early end for me. Not that I actually contributed that much to our team’s success you understand. But it was always a good time on Monday nights to hang with the guys and pretend to have some athletic ability for an hour or two.

But this isn’t really about my shoulder injury and me. I’ll be fine. I have a wonderful wife to help me out and a good constitution to ensure swift healing.

It is really about my fellow ER occupants and their stories. Who are they? Where do they live? What happened that led to them being here tonight? How are they going to respond?

When I commented to one of the nurses that it seemed very busy that night she replied, “Oh you know… it’s a Monday. The weekend is done and it’s after dinner, so now is the time to come into the ER,” which struck me as both surprisingly callous but also a little bit insightful.

Her off-hand comment showed me one of the nagging realities of health care in this country today. People use the emergency room as their doctor. They don’t have health insurance – for whatever reason – and as a result, don’t seek out the routine care of a physician. They wait until something gets really serious and scary and then head to the ER. Emergency room docs are ethically bound to see and treat everyone who walks in, insurance or not.

Questions are asked, tests are done, X-rays are taken, treatments are prescribed, and bills are sent equally to everyone. Some get paid, many don’t. The latest figures show that more than 2/3 of the personal bankruptcies in the U.S. today are due to the crushing load of health care costs.

It caused me to stop and realize; while we were in the same place at the same time last night, most of the others in the emergency room lived in a VERY different healthcare universe than the one Joan and I occupy.

Today, as I pop my ibuprofen and try to type with this sling on my arm, I will be thinking about my friends from the ER. I will wonder how last night turned out for them. I will wonder if they will be back again tonight with a different complaint. I will speculate about how high their healthcare-related debt is.

But then, sadly, I will probably move on with my life and continue not thinking about them, just like I did before.

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”(Matthew 25:40, NRSV).

23
Sep
19

Becoming or Being?

autumn leavesI live in the Midwestern part of the U.S.

It is the part of the country where we have four separate, distinct seasons… according to some.

You see, I used to say that we just had two seasons; summer and winter. The time in between those two seasons I called “becoming” times. What others might call spring is just winter in the act of BECOMING summer. What you might call fall is just summer BECOMING winter.

Sort of the way that dusk is just day becoming night or dawn is night becoming day.

Now I find myself faced with the realization that my cute little semantic trick has done a great disservice to the two very worthy and distinct seasons of spring and fall.

They are not meaningless passageways from one thing to the next! They really do have lives and identities of their own!

Spring and fall, I apologize for my dismissiveness.

As I think about it, I now see that I discovered the error of my ways by reflecting on my own “season” of life. What I mean is: I am certainly no longer young. But I don’t think I qualify to be called old yet either. (Unless, of course, it is by one of my sons who lovingly see me as “older than dirt.”) 

You see, if I applied the same naming protocol to my life that I used for the seasons, I would now be in the tender stage of life known as “becoming old.”

Saying that I am “becoming old” is to jump ahead. It is to undervalue the moment in life I NOW actually occupy in favor of one I will someday occupy. It is to favor WHAT WILL BE over WHAT IS.

Have you ever done anything like that? We might call it the “are we there yet?” syndrome. It happens when you are:

  • Looking forward to the trip you’ll be taking next week, and you overlook the importance of the things happening in your home or community right now.
  • Preoccupied with a message that MIGHT come to you via a social media channel, you miss the messages being sent right now… particularly those being sent by God.
  • Worried about a possible future illness or mishap, you neglect to celebrate the beauty of the moment you currently inhabit.

Guilty, guilty, and guilty as charged.

Wise coaches of athletic teams head off this syndrome by instructing their players to, “Just play one game at a time.”

Wise spiritual guides tell their disciples something like, “Be here now,” or “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”(Matthew 6:25, NRSV)

The truth is, I love autumn. I wish it would linger longer. These crisp mornings when the dew is on the grass, a gentle breeze stirs the yellowing leaves, and the birds are just beginning to stir are far too few in number.

So come… rest a while. Sit down here with me and breathe this moment in.

Here on this first, full, official day of autumn, let’s just wait here quietly together a while, shall we?

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?




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