Archive for February, 2020

26
Feb
20

I Heart Blogs

BloggingDo you like reading blog posts?

Come to think of it, that is probably a stupid question, given that you are reading this one right now.

I enjoy reading a variety of different blogs.

According to an article on the website webdesignerdepot.com, the first “blog” was written by a Swarthmore College student named Justin Hall in 1994. Justin, however, did not call his creation a blog. He just referred to it as a “personal home page.”

The phrase “weblog” was not coined until 1997 and it took two more years until weblog was shortened to the word blog.

I suppose one of the things I love about blogs is their rampant democracy. It comes down to just me and the person expressing himself or herself through this medium. There is no gatekeeper between us. Yes, sometimes that means the product is a little rough and unedited. Sometimes it fails to connect or communicate effectively. But when I stop and think about it, that is sort of the way most of my face-to-face interactions work, too.

Honest, unedited, and raw.

I also really love the breadth of subject matter and perspective I find in blogs. According to one site, there are over 600 million blogs in the world today, regularly posting the thoughts of some 31 million bloggers from virtually every nation in the world.

That is a lot of “grist for the mill,” as they say.

I am trying to do my part to add a hint of personal color to this amazing tapestry, but I am an absolute slacker compared to some of the amazing people I follow. Just in case you are looking for new inspired blog content to add to your life, let me make a couple of recommendations to you.

In this first category are a couple of the DAILY bloggers I follow. Honestly, I have no idea how they pull this off. Back when I still had a full-time job, sweating out a blog post once a week felt like a Herculean effort. And yet somehow, these folks produce something fresh, interesting, and thought-provoking EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Mitch Teemley writes a blog called The Power of Story, which you can find here. Mitch is a funny guy and also a deep person of faith. He is a novelist, a screenwriter, a former stand-up comedian, and a humble seeker. I can always count on Mitch to push me to think more deeply and laugh more heartily than just about anyone I know.

Stephen Black is another favorite of mine. His blog is titled Fractured Faith and he regularly offers one of the most vulnerable, thought-provoking testimonies to life’s challenges that you will ever read. Stephen lives, works, and writes in Northern Ireland. Besides cranking out daily, high-quality blog insights, he works at a full-time job, is married, has three teenage children, and has just published his second, full-length novel. Somehow I assume he also eats and sleeps, but honestly, I have no idea how.

Chandra Lynn offers another daily blog called Pics and Posts. It offers a wide range of material and viewpoints, but can always be counted on to make you think a little more deeply and feel a little more honestly. Two of her on-going features are her Wordless Wednesdays and her Tree Love Thursday posts.

Again… I have all the love and respect in the world for people like this who have the passion and self-discipline to make a daily practice of their writing craft. Check them out and see if you don’t agree. You will always find a little “Follow” button somewhere on the right-hand side of the page if you want to make them a regular addition to your reading list.

There are a lot of other bloggers I follow. Some only post original poetry. Really good original poetry. Some post reports on their running, biking, or beekeeping activities. One person I follow compiles a long string of memes and threads them together with a humorous narrative.

Mitch (a different Mitch) is a pastor buddy of mine who writes a weekly devotion blog called – of all things – Weekly DevotionIt is really, really well written and always contains a clever twist at the end.

Sometimes it is hard to keep up on all the blogs I follow and I always feel guilty when I lag behind. No matter how fastidious I am about reading, I love the idea of being part of a world-wide network of people who – without any thought of becoming rich or famous – commit to pouring out their hearts and souls to fellow travelers on the way.

24
Feb
20

Short and Sweet

“For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.”
                                                Psalm 103:14-16, NRSV

 

Ice cream cartonWould this ice cream taste as sweet if I did not anticipate the bottom of the carton?

Would these daylight hours be as precious if I never saw the lengthening of the shadows?

If I believed these moments on the telephone with my grandson would be endless, would I savor them quite this same way?

What part does the fleeting nature of her smile play in its utter holiness?

Is my awareness that the melody will fade somehow central to the joy it brings?

What if the certainty of death was really the secret sweetener of life?

We regularly shake our fists and rage against the fragility, finiteness, and temporary nature of our joys… insisting they become life’s permanent features.

How much wiser an investment of my emotional capital would it be to heed the wisdom of the ages and exercise my gratitude muscles during those sweet, special, holy, precious moments of life.

Is it possible that the grief we feel at life’s passing nature comes from our realization that we failed to hug it tightly to our chests while we had it?

“Dear God… Help me make today the start of a new practice of gratitude and thanksgiving for everything you have laid on my plate.  AMEN.”

22
Feb
20

The Lives of Trees

This was posted earlier by one of my favorite bloggers. It is an amazing meditation on the magic of trees.

Mitch Teemley

Of all the flora upon the earth, none seem quite so human as trees. Endlessly varied, not only by species, but individually, they strive to find nourishment, to grow and produce offspring. They struggle to weather the storms of life, and yet when they sense their time has come, they surrender to the earth. They are persistent and steadfast, yet patient and peaceful. Perhaps that’s why they live so much longer than we do.

Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slideshow.

“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.” ~Khalil Gibran

“Listen to the trees as they sway in the wind…and their roots give names to all things. Their language has been lost. But not the gestures.” ~Vera Nazarian

“Of all the trees we could’ve hit, we had to get one that hits back.” ~J.K. Rowling

“Real love ought to be…

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19
Feb
20

The Path

Pathway“To know me…” my friend Rick used to say, always with a sly smirk, “… is to love me.”

And for most of us, that certainly is the logical order of things.

Step 1: Get to know someone. Or something. Step 2: Decide whether you love them or not. Step 3: Relate accordingly.

As the mystics tell us though, it is exactly the opposite with God. According to one of my favorite writers on faith matters, Fr. Richard Rohr, we cannot truly KNOW God until we first LOVE God.

And so for skeptics and non-believers, this order of things presents a giant obstacle. “Let me examine the evidence first,” they might say. “Let me weigh up the pros and cons, interview the eyewitnesses, search the literature for secondary warrants and then – and ONLY then – will I make my own, scientifically-informed decision about how I feel.”

The problem with the scientific/rational approach – as the scriptures tell us – lies in God’s essence. 1 John 4:16 reminds us, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

It’s not that the path of intellectual assent to the reality of God is weak or flawed. It’s that it is simply not AVAILABLE.

In other words, we can’t study our way to union with God  (with apologies to my seminary profs). We can only love our way there. Or as The Teacher reminds us, “Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”(Ecclesiastes 12:12, NRSV).

Words to live by.

But trust me… they won’t suffice as an excuse for not turning in your homework.

17
Feb
20

It’s All Hard

Remodeling contractorA local remodeling contractor came over to our house on Saturday. My sweet, visionary wife has this notion of flipping the locations of our current kitchen and dining room so that each of them would end up in the space formerly occupied by the other one.

You know… to help the overall space and flow and stuff like that.

“Would that be hard to do?” I asked him… hoping, of course, that his answer would be, “Oh my gosh! Are you kidding me? It would be IMPOSSIBLE!”

However, to my great disappointment, he just smiled and said, “You know, when I was first starting out in this business, I worked for a crusty old guy whose motto was, ‘Everything is hard.’”

I know what he means. And I don’t think he was just talking about things in the remodeling business either.

These days it certainly seems as if everything is hard, doesn’t it? At least everything that is worthwhile.

For example; it is hard to stay healthy (especially at my advanced age).

It was hard to sell our house. It was hard to find a new house. Downsizing and moving into our new house was hard.

Parenting is hard. (Grandparenting, in contrast to everything else on this list, is pretty easy and delightful).

Playing a musical instrument is hard. Calculus is hard. Living with cancer is hard.

Grocery shopping is hard. Growing your own (or killing your own) food is hard. Or so I’m told…

Driving in the snow is hard. Finding a good house-and-dog sitter is hard.

Writing a book is REALLY hard! Deciding who to vote for for president is HARD.

I could go on and on like this, but I think you get the drift.

But then sometimes I stop and wonder; is all of this stuff really HARD? Or did I somehow start with the warped idea that it wouldn’t be hard? Was I sold a bill of goods somewhere along the way that said, “Don’t worry about it, kid. Life will be a piece of cake.”?

Most parents hate to see their children struggle. We want to cut their meat into small, bite-sized pieces for them so they won’t get frustrated and starve to death. In the same way, we want them to experience the joy of making music, but bristle at the notion that they might have to sit there practicing scales over and over and over.

I wonder if some of us are guilty of subconsciously telling our kids that if a thing is hard, it is to be avoided?

At the risk of sounding old and curmudgeonly, I will add that I am not sure our current culture is helping turn the corner on this “softening effect” at all. YouTube, Instagram, TickTock and other social media platforms offer folks the ability to become instantly (comparatively) famous without expending much actual effort in doing so.

Of course, just because something is hard to do doesn’t automatically make it virtuous. By the same token, just because it is easy shouldn’t make it automatically desirable.

In general, it is probably better to expect that the road ahead will be difficult and then be pleasantly surprised by smooth stretches than to expect a cakewalk and be angry when we hit snags, roadblocks, and detours.

Whatever the nature of the path you are facing today, here is an enduring truth I invite you to take hold of. It is guaranteed to get you through just about any stretch of rough terrain you will face:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”(Romans 8:35,37, NRSV)

 

Abundant blessings;

14
Feb
20

Visions of Love

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 

John 15:13, NRSV

Valentines DayHAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

Welcome to the day set aside on the calendar to celebrate one of history’s epic distortions of reality.

I give you Exhibit A:
SAINT VALENTINE, THE CULTURALLY SANITIZED DISTORTION: He is the pudgy, chocolate-smeared baby flying all over the world shooting arrows of irresistible infatuation into the hearts of men and women. He works a side hustle as a writer for Hallmark Cards where he spends his days penning sappy odes to eros.

And now may I present, Exhibit B:
SAINT VALENTINE, THE REALITY: He was a Roman Catholic priest who was arrested in the year 270 A.D. by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. He was tortured, drawn, and quartered, and ultimately beheaded for his opposition to the rule of Rome. Today Valentine is known as the patron saint of lovers, epileptics, and beekeepers.

Like a lot of us today, I vote for Version #1… the distortion. If I had my ‘druthers, I’druther equate LOVE with heart-shaped Russell Stover boxes and red roses than with prison and torture.

I mean, who wouldn’t? Warm and fuzzy feels a lot better than cold and painful.

But maybe today could be a time to stop and ask ourselves – just how accurate is that vision of love – over the long haul?

People – people like the lovely Joan and I, for example – are first drawn into relationships by the quickened pulses, the fevered brows, the momentary psychosis, and the euphoric giddiness inflicted by Cupid’s first arrow.

We accept the invitation and dive more deeply into one another’s lives and hearts.

We are fascinated with what we discover about the depth, the humor, the pathos, and the texture of that other person… a person about whom we knew NOTHING until a few days ago. With each new discovery, we continue deeper and deeper on our journey into the deep recesses of The Other.

Then, at some point along the way… maybe days later, maybe years… we find ourselves at a critical cross-road. There is less novelty and more routine. A comfortable familiarity has drifted in. Quirky, adorable character traits begin to grate a little. Moon-eyes give way to morning breath.

And then suddenly, without warning, we meet the moment of sacrifice… a time to give away an item of sacred meaning so that someone else might thrive… a time to willingly embrace loss so that another might gain… a time when the scales of justice tilt wildly away from you and toward the other person.

As we stand at that critical cross-road, we are again offered the vision of the two St. Valentines.

Will it be pudgy Hallmark boy? Or the battered, beheaded priest?

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY.

(I love you, dearest Joanie. Now and forever).

12
Feb
20

Being a parent…

Parent silouhetteI’ve been an acrobat.

But I have never done more juggling, flipping, and contorting than I have as a parent.

I’ve been an artist.

But I have never helped create anything more beautiful than my children.

I’ve been heartbroken.

But nothing has caused my spirit to be more downcast and deflated than parenting.

I have devised intricate solutions to intractable problems.

But I have never been as thoroughly stumped than I have as a parent.

I have been to the summit of the most exhilarating mountain peaks in the world.

But my pride has never soared higher than the pride that comes from being a parent.

I have commanded the loyalty and attention of legions of soldiers.

But I have never felt more powerless than when trying to correct or instruct my children.

My heart has been stirred to compose epic symphonies of love.

But I have never known a love more bone-jarring and explosive than my love for my children.

Millions have walked this path before me. Millions will walk it after.

Mountains of wisdom have piled up, grains of insight as wide as an ocean beach.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Yet somehow everything is unexpected… unseen… novel.

A parent’s wounds never heal. They are rubbed raw every day.

Energy is always in short supply. The box of answers remarkably empty.

“Why would you ever subject yourself to that?” some might ask.

“How can I imagine life without it?” I answer.

08
Feb
20

Loveland

Two days ago I went into my nearby U.S. Post Office here in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The purpose of my trip – I am eager to tell you – was to mail a Super Bowl LIV Champions KANSAS CITY CHIEFS hat to my son who lives in Houston, TX.

YAY CHIEEEEEEEFS!!

Anyway, as I was standing there in line waiting my turn at the counter, I saw the box you see here below. Loveland boxAs a new resident of the area, I did not know this was a thing, but apparently, if you put your stamped, sealed Valentine’s Day card in this box, it will be re-mailed (and postmarked) from nearby Loveland, Colorado.

At first, I didn’t get it… probably because when locals say the town’s name, everyone here just runs the word together, making it sound like “LOVE-lund”.

The light bulb finally went on. “OH! I get it,” I muttered to myself. “LOVE. LAND.… the land of love!” I added, “What a perfect postmark to have on your Valentine’s Day card!”

And then – because the line was long and the lady at the window was asking the clerk to see every stamp design available and then MEASURE them to see which one was perfectly square (seriously!) – I began to ruminate.

“What would it be like,” I wondered, “… to actually live in a place that had earned the name Love Land?”

“What would it be like to live in a place where love was the actual governing principle every person there lived by?”

“How would lawmaking be different? How would development and city planning be different? What difference would it make in the way we cared for people on the margins? How would neighborhood relations be different?”

(Actually, I am not sure that part would be a whole lot different than they are now. We are blessed to have utterly DELIGHTFUL neighbors!)

And then… what if that name applied not only inside the city limits of one town but what if it applied to the whole COUNTRY? Or the whole WORLD?

What, indeed, would that be like?

And then my mind started down the other side of the question. I asked myself (because the lady was still trying to make up her mind about which stamp to buy), “So if ‘Love Land’ is not an accurate name for where we live now, what might we call it instead? Self-Centeredsville? Tribal Town? Faction City?”

Some days it sure seems that way, doesn’t it?

But then I heard this thoughtful comment on the radio from Ziggy Marley… son of the late, great reggae artist Bob Marley. Two days ago would have been Bob’s 75thbirthday. The reason for the radio interview was to celebrate that landmark birthday and ask Ziggy to reflect on his father’s life and career.

The interviewer (NPR’s Scott Simon) asked, “Your father’s music always held up the ideals of love and peace as central themes. What do you think he would make of the world we have on our hands today?”

After a moment’s reflection on the question, Ziggy said, “You know, I think the majority of people are good people, are peaceful people. But we’re just not loud, we’re just not on the TV, we’re not in the news — it’s just the people making war in the news.”

I think he is right.

We might not live in Love Land today… but we really don’t live in Hatredsville either.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”Matthew 5:43, NRSV

06
Feb
20

Chew on it

light-bulb-changing“Is this mine to do?”

Sometimes this is an easy question to answer… other times it is surprisingly difficult.

In my experience, it is also a question that most folks do not ask nearly often enough.

I was across town last week, attending a volunteer training session. During one of the morning breaks, I went in to use the restroom. As I entered, the lighting inside the restroom seemed unnaturally dim. It did not take long to see why… one of the two light fixtures was burned out.

After washing my hands, I went to the front desk and reported the issue to the receptionist. “Thanks for letting me know,” she said. “I’ll tell maintenance people about it.”

Later that day – after lunch and during the afternoon break – I once again visited the men’s room. I should note that this was at least four hours after my morning visit.

Once again, the restroom had the same romantic, candlelit ambiance I had experienced during my morning visit. Yes, it would have been the perfect lighting had my wife and I chosen to dine there. But it was not so great for taking care of the actual business at hand.

What to do?

Should I report the problem again? Should I just take matters into my own hands and fix the light myself? I am actually a pretty handy guy and probably could have had it fixed in a jiffy. Or should I just go about my business and trust that the matter would eventually be handled?

In that case, the decision was easy. Fixing the light was NOT mine to do.

In other situations, I find it much more difficult to know what is mine to do and what isn’t.

I have to confess… most of the time I err on the side of over-doing. I have been known to be grossly over-solicitous in my effort to be helpful.

Just ask Joan. It is one thing to bring your spouse a cup of tea in the morning. It is quite another thing to put her half-empty cup and saucer into the dishwasher before she has finished drinking it.

As I have discovered more than once, there is a big difference between helping and doting… or between being compassionate and being unctuous.

I have learned (the hard way) that sometimes the truly compassionate act is to allow the other person to find their own way out of the pickle they are in. If you have ever been a parent you know exactly what I am talking about.

Then there are those other times… the times when I find myself squarely on the other end of the helpfulness spectrum. Those are the times I have been the “Hey! That’s not my job!” guy…

… even when it is.

Jesus regularly spoke in parables and then walked away without elaborating much on their meaning. “Those who have ears to hear, let them listen,” he said on more than one occasion. And yet somehow, the sight of ¾ of his audience standing there scratching their heads did not cause him to alter his approach at all.

“Jesus did not chew people’s food for them,” pastor/author Barbara Brown Taylor once graphically remarked. What she meant – I believe – was that Jesus recognized the value in allowing people to puzzle out meanings for themselves. He likely believed that when folks did some of their own heavy lifting of interpretation, they were far more likely to “own” the results.

 

This is the time in the blog post when I am supposed to wrap it all up with a neat little application illustration… carefully instructing you on how to take this nugget of wisdom and apply it to your own life.

Instead, I think I’ll just end it here and let you chew this one over on your own.




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