Archive for November, 2020



09
Nov
20

The Power to Change

“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).

I never did like Donnie Avery much. 

He was one of those kids who lived on “that” side of my hometown… the side the rest of us tried to avoid. He was regularly sent to the principal’s office for disrupting class in one way or another. He regularly got into fights. 

One time I saw Donnie and two of his friends standing in a tight circle behind the drug store. When I got a little closer to see what they were laughing about, I saw that they had a frog they were torturing in some pretty sad and sadistic ways. 

The real breaking point for me though, was that day in study hall when we were both sophomores in high school. As I was walking up the aisle on my way to the pencil sharpener, I passed Donnie’s desk. Naturally, Donnie stuck his foot out and tripped me as I walked by. I stumbled forward, caught myself, and in one motion turned around and swung my fist at him.

Donnie clearly anticipated my reaction because as I turned, he was holding his own, freshly sharpened pencil out in front of himself… like a spear. The point of that pencil went straight into my right thumb and snapped off. To this day – more than 50 years later – I can still show you that graphite-colored spot on my right thumb where Donnie Avery’s pencil jabbed me. 

As much of a nuisance as Donnie Avery was growing up, I don’t think I ever considered him my enemy

Mostly I just thought of him as a guy to steer clear of, if at all possible. 

But LOVING Donnie Avery? Are you serious, Jesus?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “enemy” as: “One that is antagonistic to another especiallyone seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent.”

Try wrapping your mind around that for a moment; imagine that standing there, right in front of you is a person who is yes… annoying, bothersome, and irritating. But then, on top of all of that, this person is also actively seeking to, “injure, overthrow, or confound” you. 

And then you hear the voice of Jesus sounding in your ear saying, “See that person? Yes… THAT one. The one who is out to get you? I want you to love them.”

On the one hand it is the most ridiculous idea you and I have ever heard.

On the other hand, it is also the most radical, revolutionary, and world-changing idea we have ever or WILLever hear.

It tests us.

It puts us on the spot.

When we hear Jesus speak that command, we are instantly required to give an honest answer to the question, “Do you want things to change? Or do you just want to keep hanging on to all of your feeble excuses for why they never will?”

Joan and I watched a special on PBS the other night about the Freedom Riders. These were the folks who fought to integrate the buses that traveled from state-to-state in the deep south in the early 60s. 

In their quest, they were insulted, screamed at, beaten, burned, shot, jailed, and denied due legal process by people who genuinely sought to “injure, overthrow, or confound” them. 

In other words, by genuine ENEMIES

And yet, guided by the words of Jesus and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they chose to not fight back. They did not resist. They determined to love those very real, very hate-filled enemies.

In the end, of course, they prevailed.

Today I wonder; if it was possible for Jesus to love those who sought to injure, overthrow, or confound him, and if it was possible for many of his followers throughout the ages to do the same, should you and I strive to do anything less? 

Hmmm. I wonder what Donnie Avery is up to these days?

Abundant blessings;

05
Nov
20

Listening to the Dogs, Part III – Take a Break

As I might have mentioned here before, our dogs – Patrick and Rosie – are Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers.

Like most dogs of the Terrier class, they are VERY energetic extroverts. Here is a quick little blurb from the American Kennel Club website on the history of the breed: “As versatile farm dogs, Wheatens were expected to do any number of rustic chores, like ratting, guarding the chicken coop, and even herding or bird-dogging. When day was done, they were engaging fireside companions, a role they still relish—even if the hearth has been replaced by a TV.”

We do love our doggies, but for Joan and I, it is a daily challenge to find new ways to burn off some of that seemingly boundless “ratting” energy. 

One day a couple of years ago, I had a chance meeting with a neighbor on a walking trail near our home. As usual, I was being dragged along the trail by Rosie and Patrick as they lunged forward in search of new adventures. I knew that Dave – the neighbor I met on the trail – had a 14-year-old Wheaten, so I asked him, “So Dave… how many more years of this wild vigor do we have to look forward to?” 

Dave just smiled and said, “Oh, you probably only have another nine or ten years before they calm down a little.”

Thanks for that wonderful reassurance, Dave.

And yet, despite that seemingly bottomless well of energy, Rosie and Patrick also both know how to relax… as you can see from this picture. 

  • They do not seem to feel the need to continually check things off their “To Do” lists. 
  • They are not frantic about checking and re-checking their social media feeds every 20 seconds.
  • They do not suffer even the slightest case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for the uninitiated). 
  • They do not tie their self-worth to their daily productivity. 

When their bodies tell them it is time to just lay down and relax, they readily obey. 

Sounds like something I could stand to learn a little more about. 

All of us know – probably because we have all been told this at our annual physicals – that good health demands adequate rest. The standard prescription of eight hours of sleep per night still stands… despite the fact that it is rarely observed. 

Curiously enough, God also believes in the principle of rest. So strongly, in fact, that the notion of rest – also known as sabbath – made it onto God’s Top Ten List: “But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” (Exodus 20:10, NRSV). 

A little later in the book of Exodus, the Israelites decide to really, REALLY emphasize the importance of sabbath rest with this slight variation on the seventh commandment, “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.” (Exodus 31:15, NRSV).

YIKES! 

Yes, our bodies – finite and limited as they are – need some down time. They need to repair themselves and recharge. 

But interestingly enough, God – not confined to the same limited, tiring sack of muscle and bone we are – also decided to take a day off. I am sure He did it as a way of helping us understand the importance of rest. 

But maybe it was also His way of saying, “Stop. Smell the flowers. EXPERIENCE the world I’ve made. Take a breath. Cease from striving and celebrate the wonder and the gift of this amazing, unrepeatable life.” 

And sometimes, when we can’t remember to do that on our own, God sends a couple of cute dogs our way to remind us.

Abundant blessings;

04
Nov
20

Listening to the Dogs, Part II: Paying Attention

This is our dog, Patrick.

Patrick is a four-and-a-half-year-old Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. He is the father of our other Wheaten, Rosie girl. 

Our nickname for Patrick is “Ever Vigilant.” We gave him that name because nothing… NOTHING… escapes Patrick’s notice. Here you see Patrick making a close inspection of a sewer we have walked by at least a hundred times… checking to make sure there are no threats or critters to be tended to.

Joan and I learned long ago not to expect brisk, breezy walks with Patrick. That’s because everything Patrick passes has to be carefully sniffed, inspected, and checked out. 

You know… just in case. 

Of course, Patrick’s vigilance can sometimes be taken a bit too far. His inability to let his guard down – even for a moment – must get a little wearying. He often jumps at the slightest noise or visual distraction.

But you know what? Sometimes I wish I were a little more like Patrick.

I wish I noticed more of what is happening in the world around me. 

Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I have lost that child-like ability to gaze in wonder at the seemingly mundane pieces of God’s astonishing creation that surround me every day.  

Even though I’ve seen them a zillion times, I feel as if I should still possess the capacity to be fascinated by the green of the grass, the puffiness of the clouds, the sound of the breeze blowing past me, and the smell of an approaching thunderstorm. 

Too often, I am sad to confess, I go through the world with my head down, ears closed, mind absorbed with something or someone that waits for me somewhere down the road… ignoring the splendor of the path I walk. 

Sometimes – in those distracted moments – I am jarred awake. And when that happens… when I find myself with eyes and ears suddenly wide open, I remember. 

I remember that I am blessed (we ALL are blessed) to live in a world that is DRENCHED in wonder… dripping with miraculousness… alive with mystery and splendor.

In that moment, if I tune in very carefully, I also remember that the God who created every one of us is also paying exquisite attention. 

I remember that nothing escapes God’s notice. As vigilant as Patrick is, God is a thousand times more vigilant. As the old church hymn says, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” 

But then sometimes, in the midst of a personal struggle, or when confronting any kind of widespread social injustice, I catch myself saying, “Well, God must be asleep at the switch. Surely, if God had been aware of that, it wouldn’t have happened.” 

But then I remember the words of the Psalmist who said, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” (Psalm 121:3-4, NRSV) and I am humbled.

God sees.

God knows.

Nothing is insignificant in God’s eyes. Jesus reminded us of that when he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NRSV). 

God also cares more about the fine details of our daily lives than you and I can possibly imagine.

So today, be at peace. Notice the glory of the world right in front of you. [Actually, these words are much more intended to be spoken into the bathroom mirror to myself than to you. But if they speak to you too, please feel free to use them.]

Take comfort from the fact that you live under the eye of the “Ever Vigilant” Creator of the Universe. 

Abundant blessings;

03
Nov
20

Listening to the Dogs

Today, Joan and I will be spending a lot of time with the dogs. 

Given the events of this day, Tuesday, November 3, 2020, it seems like a wise idea.

We will be walking them, yes. Also playing with them, petting them, feeding them, and quite possibly correcting them when/if they misbehave… yes, all of that too. 

But today of all days, we will also be listening to them and learning from them. 

In case you are not blessed to have dogs in your life, you might not be aware that besides fulfilling important roles as food devourers and poop producers, dogs can also be teachers of important life lessons. I hope to capture a few of those over the coming days.

Today, Rosie and Patrick seem to be eager to teach us one thing above all else. And that lesson is: PEOPLE ARE AWESOME! I LOVE THEM SO MUCH!

If Joan and I go away – even for a short trip to the grocery store – and leave them here by themselves, we are almost knocked off our feet by the joyous reception we receive when we return.

And guests? If you come by for a cup of tea sometime, be prepared to be overwhelmed by excited jumping, licking, pawing, and overflowing joy at your arrival. I know, I know… we should be doing a much better job of training them not to do that. Bad dog parents!

But here is the thing: that exuberant greeting is offered to ALL who enter Chez Brown… white, black, blue, red, well-groomed, desperately needing a shower… no matter who it is. In fact, the other day our kitchen remodeling contractor left his pickup truck toolbox open and I saw – from a bumper sticker inside – that he is a supporter of the OTHER guy. i.e., not the candidate we voted for.  

AND YET! In spite of that, Rosie and Patrick jumped for joy when he showed up today, just as if he were a long-lost family member who had finally returned from the Crimean War after being presumed dead.

It is almost as if they were saying, “God made you, so we love you! Period! End of story!” 

They seem to know that with nearly eight billion people in the world today, the odds of finding anyone else that exactly fits all the human-made criteria for acceptance and lovability are vanishingly low. And so their decision (preceded, I’m sure, with much prayerful consideration) is to unconditionally love every person they meet. 

I am not sure if they read John’s gospel where Jesus tells his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…” (John 15:12, NRSV), but they somehow seem to know it by heart and live it every day.

Who knows how this election will turn out? Not me, not the experts, and not the two people at the center of it.

We know that some folks will be ecstatic about the outcome. Some will be angry. Some will be depressed. Some will begin looking at real estate ads for Costa Rica. 

But if we really do a good job of listening to what Rosie and Patrick (and, well, Jesus, too) have to teach us today, we will probably be able to face tomorrow with joy in our hearts and hope for the future. 

Abundant blessings;




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