Archive for May, 2021

29
May
21

Blessed Assurance

Poor Rosie the dog.

You see, yesterday was trash pick-up day on our cul-de-sac. Actually, because of the goofy way the city of Fort Collins does business, yesterday was one of THREE weekly trash pick-up days on our tiny eight house cul-de-sac. 

And I say “Poor Rosie the dog” because our little Rosie has a deathly fear of garbage trucks…

… and UPS trucks…

… and open umbrellas.

And so, whenever we happen to experience a rainy trash day, with multiple UPS deliveries, Joan and I have a very frightened, trembling Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier on our hands. 

We try reasoning with her, explaining that the trash trucks aren’t going to get her, the UPS trucks are just bringing useful or fun gifts to people, and the umbrellas are providing important protection from the rain.

But Rosie doesn’t buy it… not for a minute.

All she wants is to be held and petted and calmly reassured that everything is going to be all right. 

I can SO identify!

Not that I have a similar fear of garbage trucks, UPS trucks, and open umbrellas, mind you.

But I do find myself wondering and worrying now and then about Big Scary Things Out There that I don’t understand. These are worries that – if I am not careful – can blossom into Serious Threats to My Safety in the cauldron of my fevered imagination. 

I’m talking about things like global pandemics…

  • … and terrorists… (both the foreign AND the domestic kind).
  • … and perpetrators of random, senseless violence.
  • … and power-mad politicians. 

And just like Rosie and her fear of garbage trucks, I am sure most of my trepidation is based on the NOISEthat comes from these sources rather than from the actual DANGER they pose. 

Also, like Rosie, my biggest need in these moments is to feel a pair of strong, loving arms wrapped around me and to hear a calm reassuring voice telling me that everything is going to be OK.

If that happens to be YOUR need right now (or ever), let me help you hear the sounds of the voice that speaks to me in moments of uncertainty and trepidation. This voice says things like…

  • “I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.” (Psalm 3:6, NRSV)
  • “Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…”(Psalm 46:2, NRSV)
  • So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NRSV)
  • “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27, NRSV)
  • “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15, NRSV)

In a moment of fear, we each seek out some kind of assurance. And when that assurance comes from a source we trust, we let go of our fears and relax…

… just like Rosie the dog. 

Today I am grateful that my assurance comes from a source I know I can trust completely.

And the really, really Good News is: so can YOU!

Abundant blessings;

25
May
21

What Do YOU Need?

You wore a mask! 

Good for you!

And you did it for the most altruistic of reasons! You did it, first and foremost, for the benefit of people around you. I mean, sure, you were also doing it to protect yourself. But as the scientists told us repeatedly, the wearing of face masks was primarily a measure designed to keep ME from spreading the disease to YOU.

Thank you very much and KUDOS!

Today though, as the number of new cases of COVID-19 gets smaller and smaller every day, mask requirements are being relaxed. People are returning to Disneyland, to ball parks, to concerts, and to grocery stores, brazenly showing the bottom half of their faces.

As we revel in our newfound freedom, though, I worry. 

Yes, I worry about a “fourth wave” (or is it the fifth?) of COVID that might return to take more lives. But I also worry that the relaxation of mask requirements will also cause a relaxation of our practice of acting “for the benefit of others.”

Let’s start out by admitting right out of the gate that Americans have never really been good at the whole, “… for the benefit of others” thing. We are the land of the rugged individual where the word FREEDOM means MYfreedom to do as I darned well please… and to heck with how my actions might affect YOU.

  • We are, after all, the people who hacked and shot and blasted our way across the prairies of North America, snatching the land away from people who were here thousands of years before us. 
  • We are the self-appointed “protectors of the planet” (unless, of course, we are talking about protecting the planet from global climate change) who will stop at nothing to make the world safe for democracy.
  • We are the people who invent and innovate and devise our own solutions to problems, regardless of the work other people have done.

But the pandemic seemingly changed all that. The overwhelming majority of us came to understand that simply “looking out for number 1” is an ethos that can carry deadly consequences.

At first, looking around and seeing people wearing masks – “for the benefit of others” – was incredibly exciting for me. It almost made me believe I was watching the emergence a whole new national ethos. 

Now I’m not so sure. 

Now it seems as if we are quickly falling back into our old habits and patterns. It is almost as if we’ve decided that the idea of measuring our actions by the yardstick of how they affect, or benefit others is something that only applies when there is a global supervirus lurking about.

To which I say, just as the heartbroken young boy said to Shoeless Joe Jackson as he left the courthouse following his trial for perpetrating the Chicago Black Sox scandal in 1919, “SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOE!”

As the popular internet meme so wisely says, “Bees don’t make honey for themselves. Trees don’t eat the fruit they produce. They each demonstrate the truth that says life is best when it is lived FOR OTHERS.” 

Or as this guy named Jesus of Nazareth also said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12, NRSV). The people listening to him in that moment knew exactly what he meant by the phrase, “… as I have loved you.” They knew that it meant they were called to love one another TOTALLY… UNCONDITIONALLY… and SACRIFICIALLY.

They knew he meant that – if it came to it – they were called to give up their lives for someone else… just as Jesus had.

Like many others I am really, really tired of masking. I am likewise tired of staying six feet away from people who aren’t part of my “tribe.”

But – with the help of God – I am going to try and shape my actions by what YOU need instead of what I want.

Abundant blessings;

19
May
21

Tennis anyone?

Watch out for his wicked backhand!

I am not a huge tennis fan, but I do love watching a good, sustained, competitive tennis volley. Each player is moving to the ball… returning their opponent’s shot with confidence… probing to find the perfect angle to sneak the ball past the opponent… hustling to get in position for the return shot…

It reminds me of a few conversations I’ve had lately.

I am sure you know what I’m talking about. The settings are eerily similar; first, there is something in play, only in the case of the conversation it is a Topic of Mutual Interest (TMI for short) instead of a tennis ball. Second, instead of high-performance rackets, the combatants are wielding Perceptions

Custom-built, finely tuned Perceptions

Back and forth flies the TMI, vigorously batted from one side to the other. Sweat begins dripping down the face of each player as they grunt with the exertion of each stroke. Finally, one player breaks through and hits a screaming, utterly unreturnable shot past the flagging defenses of the person on the other side.

Game. Set. Match. On one side, a winner. On the other, a sad, deflated loser.

Flipping back to the tennis setting, we almost always experience great joy and satisfaction when we are the one standing on the winning side of the net. But when we shift our focus to the playing field of the person-to-person conversation, that moment of victory can sometimes ring a little hollow, can’t it?  

 Let’s all confess this right now, in unison: “I LIKE TO BE RIGHT!”

This is certainly true of me. Anytime a person makes a statement that exhibits deep, factual flaws [statements like, for example, “This whole COVID thing is a sham,” or “I’m really not sure these vaccines are safe, so I’m not getting one.” You know… dumb stuff like that] I feel a compulsion to rush in and set the record straight by lobbing a truth bomb and blowing away such blatant tomfoolery. 

But is that always needed? Are there times when there are higher values to uphold than factual correctness?

The Bible speaks frequently about the need to be “righteous,” (also translated as “right”).  By my quick count, the Good Book uses the words “righteous” or “righteousness” a total of 493 times. God is regularly quoted as saying – in effect – “It’s got to be MY way or the HIGHWAY.”

Jesus’ take on righteousness, in contrast, is markedly different than the one we find in the Old Testament. His call was for a right adherence to not necessarily all 613 commandments of the Torah, but to the Two Great Commandments: love God and love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV). 

Here is what Jesus has to say about the relationship of LOVE and RIGHTEOUSNESS, as he quotes Proverbs 21:3: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13, NRSV).

Being so brash as to interpret Jesus’ direct words to you, he seems to be saying here that he is more concerned with right RELATIONSHIP rather than factual or scriptural rightness. In other words, I think Jesus would be totally cool with you if – while stumbling to quote a passage of scripture accurately – you fed a hungry person. 

Which brings me back to my original question; are there times when you and I need to adhere to a higher value than our need to be right all the time? 

If you are married, you already know the answer to this one.

If you are NOT married, the answer is: YES…. there absolutely are times when you need to bite your tongue, refusing to return that shot for the sake of the relationship. 

Much easier said than done, I’m afraid. 

Abundant blessings;

15
May
21

Homecoming

Where is your place?

Come take a SPIN!

Whenever I discuss the important places in my life, I usually list four: 

  • Columbus, Ohio – the place where I was born.
  • Seattle, Washington – the place to which our family moved in 1969 (and still the region where my four siblings and stepmom live)
  • Kansas City, MO metro area – the place I lived for 44 years, and
  • Fort Collins, CO – the place I live right now.

The fact of the matter is, I sat down the other day and made a list of every house I have lived in since infancy and came up with the staggering total of 27. 

27!

That means I have only lived – on average – 2.55 years in each of those places. 

Doesn’t that make me sound like a restless vagabond, constantly in search of that elusive IDEAL PLACE? I certainly think so.

And it kind of begs the question: “Is there such a thing as The Ideal Place?” 

In my life I have known people who believe in the existence of The Ideal Place and are engaged in a restless, lifelong search for it. 

They want the Ideal Climate

They want the Ideal Topography and Geography

They want the Ideal Quantity (and Quality) of Cultural Amenities

They want the Ideal Cost of Living.

They want a place with the Ideal Reputation.

And of course, they want to make sure this Ideal Place is populated by the Ideal Type of Person. You know… the type that is friendly, but not too friendly. Diverse, but not too diverse. Educated, but not too educated. And so on…

The sad outcome of this quest is that each place they live in somehow falls short on one or more of these critical criteria. 

And so, convinced that the next stop will be the answer, they pack up and move there… and start the process all over again.

I have to say, with the notable exception of the seedy place in Tacoma where Jeff, Marcus, and I lived, and probably my one-bedroom apartment on McGee Street in Kansas City, I have really LOVED every one of the 27 different places I have lived. 

Some I chose willingly, while other places were forced on me by the circumstance. But in every case, I knew it was not going to be the WHERE that made the difference… it was going to be the WHAT, as in “What kind of person are you going to be here in this new environment?” 

Because, as Buckaroo Banzai said in the 1984 cult classic film, “No matter where you go, there you are!” 

The truth is, God sees us – and KNOWS us – wherever we are. God knows us inside and out, whether we’re wearing the plaid flannel of Colorado, the flip-flops of Miami Beach, or the grungy, torn blue jeans of Seattle. As the psalmist once said, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance…” (Psalm 139:15-16, NRSV).

The scene can change, but unless we change too, we will find ourselves facing the same problems all over again in the next place we go. 

Today I live in Fort Collins, Colorado. It is a nice, friendly, attractive, stimulating place with awesome vistas and lots of indoor and outdoor stuff to do. And yet, despite all its sterling qualities, I REALLY still miss the people and places of the Kansas City area. 

But you know what? I’ve made up my mind that here, with God and the love of my life by my side, is where I am going to call HOME

Abundant blessings;

14
May
21

News to Me

In the morning it is usually NPR’s Morning Edition, followed by 1A, and then – time permitting, of course – a smidgen or two of The Takeaway with Tanzina Vega.

NBC Nightly News and Dateline anchor Lester Holt poses for photos on the Nightly News set, at NBC headquarters, in New York, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In the evening we rarely miss a date with Lester Holt and the NBC Nightly News, even if it means catching him on the DVR. Rounding out the day is usually the local TV news at 10.

Each of these programs helps put Joan and me in touch with the news of the world. Each delivers the news in its own unique way, shedding light, insight, and perspective on the events and issues of the day.

There have been a few times during the past year, however, when we have turned, looked at each other, and said – in unison – “Why bother!?” Every newscast seemed to be a carbon copy of the night before; here are today’s COVID stats… here is how COVID is affecting the economy… here are the political fights around dealing with COVID… here is how other countries are handling COVID… and just to mix things up a little bit, let’s throw in a mass shooting somewhere in the U.S. once a week or so.

And there for a while we did shut it off… electing instead for double episodes of JEOPARDY! 

But as election season ended and COVID began to abate, we returned to our nightly newsviewing practice. Most of the time, I’ll admit, tuning in to the news is an act of pure habit. And yes, a whole lot of the time it is just more of the S.O.S. (Same Old Stuff, of course).

Lately though, I’ve thought about it and concluded that I really WANT the news of the world in my life. 

  • I want to be reminded that there are other people and other stories besides mine out there. 
  • I want… no NEED… to be reminded that the realities of tragedy, heartbreak, war, disease, and despair exist even if they have not come home to roost on my doorstep at the moment. 
  • I need to see faces that don’t look like mine, beliefs that don’t square with mine, experiences and art and landscapes and foods and clothing and lives that remind me of the unimaginable blessing of living in such a rich, textured world as this. 

So far, the news has been that vehicle – whether delivered by my radio or my TV set – that has consistently put me in touch with the people, events, and realities that keep taking me outside my cozy little comfort zone. 

And besides… if the news gets too crass, dull, or grotesque, there is always JEOPARDY!

[“I’ll take Potent Potables for $400, please!”]

Abundant blessings;

12
May
21

Sharing Sea Bass

Forgive me, blogosphere, for I have sinned.

They make it look so EASY!

Today’s confession: I am not good at sharing. 

Especially when it comes to food.

But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Joan.

Allow me to set the scene: Joan and I are sitting across from one another having a meal at a nice, but not-too-expensive Fort Collins restaurant. We have ordered two different entrees and are both enjoying our selections. At exactly one bite past the halfway point of consuming the Featured Item on my plate, I notice a floating fork in the corner of my field of vision… it is slowly advancing in my direction.

Attached to that floating fork is the right hand of my beloved. 

I look up, warily. There is a smile on her lips and pure charm in her eyes as she bats those lovely eyelashes and demurely asks, “Can I have a bite?”

Whereas most loving spouses would return that smile, lean back in their chair, and say, “Certainly, honey. Go right ahead!” I, instead, balk. In my mind I have calculated the precise number of bites left on my plate and have devised plans for the enjoyment of every one of them. The prospect of losing even one sets my pulse racing.

At war with these basic protective instincts is an aspiration to be seen by my spouse as a “good guy;” read, “One who shares freely of all his possessions.”

So, I end up smiling feebly and muttering a barely audible, “Uh, sure… go ahead… I guess.”

Pretty pathetic, no?

In the first place, it is ridiculous to imagine that giving away ONE SMALL BITE of my food will make the slightest difference in my satiation, my nourishment, or my joy. 

Secondly, what kind of MONSTER chooses to hoard all their gustatorial enjoyment… especially from the one you have covenanted to become “one flesh” with? (Genesis 2:24, and Matthew 19:5, NRSV). 

And thirdly, (but probably not lastly), what does that sort of miserly response on such a MINOR matter say about that person’s general generosity quotient? 

I can sit here and talk all day about the fact that I grew up in a family of five kids where food was scarce and to be guarded with one’s life. But frankly that was a long, long time ago. Those tapes should really not be playing in my 69-year-old head any longer. 

It’s not as if the faith I profess to profess is exactly silent on this topic. Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NRSV). The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, listed GENEROSITY as one of his famous “fruits of the spirit”: “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness…” (Galatians 5:22, NRSV). And in making this list, I am sure Paul was probably taking for granted that OF COURSE spouses would demonstrate these “fruits” to one another.

So, what’s my problem, anyway?

It may be that I suffer from the disease of ENTITLEMENT… the sense that the world and those around me OWE ME something.

It may be that I somehow see life as a “zero sum” equation… that is, you gaining something necessarily means me losing something. 

Or it may just mean that I really, REALLY love steamed sea bass. 

Whatever the final verdict, I pray that my character flaw might be instructive to you in your journey.

As it turns out, Jesus was right after all… it really is more blessed to give than to receive.

Abundant blessings;

11
May
21

Seeking Soulpain Relief

“The reason women have the babies instead of men…” my wife explained, immediately following the birth of our second child, “… is because men couldn’t handle the pain.”

Me… earlier today.

After a short time of harrumphing, sputtering, and expressing considerable masculine indignation, I was forced to pause and process…

… and then admit she was totally right. 

I will confess right up front; I am a complete wimp when it comes to pain. Always have been and likely always will be.

This despite the fact that I grew up in the, “Rub some dirt on it and get back in there” era. 

For me, every experience of pain is like it is happening for the first time EVER. It shocks me. It surprises me. It insults me. It takes my breath away. It deftly penetrates beneath my hard, protective shell and short-circuits my wiring, leaving me whimpering and grimacing like a dewy fawn.

And yes, I know pain is necessary. “Pain is a teacher,” they say. Pain – whether physical, emotional, or spiritual – serves to alert us to situations that demand immediate, therapeutic attention.

Pain also reminds us – in case we forget – about the inescapability of our mortality.

Yes, yes. Sure. I’ve heard all of that and know it is all 100% true.

But still… why does pain have to be so damned… PAINFUL?! So INTRUSIVE?! So RUDE and OBNOXIOUS?!

None of us is immune from pain! It attacks young and old, rich and poor, man and woman, smart and dumb all alike. And because pain is so universal, we have developed an impressive arsenal of tools for dealing with its periodic visits. 

Sometimes we employ the denial tool I mentioned earlier. If that one fails (which it almost always does), we might reach for one of a variety of numbing agents… tools designed to blunt the signals sent to our brain from the site of the primary assault. 

Numbing works for a while but must always be repeated… often with stronger and stronger doses of the number. [NOTE: the “b” there in the word “number” is silent.] Sadly, before people find lasting relief from their pain, they often find life-destroying addiction to those numbing agents.

Finally, when the pain is severe or chronic or long-lasting enough, we decide that the only thing left to do is go to the Source and ask, “Where and why did this pain start in the first place?”

For about the past week I have been dealing with excruciating lower back pain… the kind that makes me walk around the house like a cartoon of a little old man. Today, finally, I decided (with much loving encouragement from Joan) that it was time to try and get to the root of the issue… to stop denying, numbing, and avoiding.

Sadly, before I did, the pain had to get really, really bad.

Isn’t that what happens sometimes in our souls, too? 

Don’t we each have those moments in life that bring us genuine soulpain? And don’t we start out coping with that pain by denying it even exists? And then, when we discover that denial really IS just a river in Egypt instead of an effective coping strategy, don’t we regularly move on to trying to NUMB the pain? 

So, my question is; how bad does the pain have to get? How much agony do we have to endure? How deep does our addiction to numbing agents have to go before we decide it is time to seek out the SOURCE?

For a lot of folks, the source of that soulpain is the lack of a good, solid answer to the question of PURPOSE; Who am I? Why am I here? What is my life supposed to be about? What is LIFE about?

The Teacher, writing in the book of Ecclesiastes, is not exactly the bluebird of happiness on this topic. For those who are tempted to find meaning in their work he (or she) writes, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?  For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, NRSV).

Jesus, on the other hand, offers an alternative. In the 14th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus tells us that he is, “… the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6, NRSV). And on 15 separate later occasions in the New Testament, he then commands his followers to “LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

It seems to me that if you were looking for a good, reliable “soulpain reliever,” those words might be about as close to the Source as you could get. 

Abundant blessings;

07
May
21

Listening to The Voice

“I love you,” she said.

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She paused. And then added, “Always have… always will.”

And although he’d heard those words from her thousands of times during the 24 years of their relationship, it was different this time.

That word – aimed squarely at HIM – set off little vibrations at the center of his spine… Vibrations that rippled up, down, and out through his toes and his fingertips. 

It was like he was hearing it fresh and new… in a way he had never heard it before. 

It jolted him.

It excited him.

And frankly, it also scared him a little.

He raised his chin. Her eyes met his. And stayed there. Unwavering… Soft… Steady.

He walked through the door she had opened and tumbled headfirst into something wild and holy and fresh.

In that moment, she welcomed him into a place of DEVOTION. 

In her eyes he saw COMMITMENT. 

In her demeanor he felt the full weight of UNCONDITIONALITY.

As he gazed, frozen and utterly moonstruck, fear melted… purpose congealed… doubt dissolved.

“THIS!” he whispered. “This.”

His arms stopped flailing. His legs churned no more. His feet landed on bedrock and stuck.

Homesick no longer, he knew he had arrived… nestled finally in the place where he had always belonged.

As he looked around, The Voice spoke. It came from inside and outside at the same time. It enveloped and caressed him and said, “This is all for you, yes. Every bit of it. But you need to know you did nothing to earn it. True, it is your birthright. But it is also the birthright of every person who has ever lived.”

The Voice continued; “As you stand there, soaking in the reassurance of a love that will not let you go, please know this: the buttery soft blanket you now feel wrapped around your shoulders is also the very foundation of the world. It is the substratum of life itself. It is the Petri dish from which All of Creation grew.”

“When you love, we connect. When you fail or refuse to love, you summon the Void.”

“I thought that my dying for you would add enough emphasis to my message that it would prove the point [see, for example, The Gospel According to John, chapter 3, verse 16]. 

“Clearly, it didn’t.”

“So now the task is yours. Go forth and give. Give love. Give life. Stand on the foundation I’ve provided and don’t expect anything in return.” 

“Do this, my son, ‘… And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’” (Philippians 4:7 NRSV).

Abundant blessings;




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