Archive for October, 2021

26
Oct
21

Singing In the Rain

Traveling is cool. In fact, I am – at this very moment – traveling down the Danube River with Joan in a COVID-delayed celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary. We are seeing places like Budapest, Vienna, Krems, Remmsberg, and others at an absolutely GLORIOUS time of year.

I also love watching any kind of live sports. The experience of seeing one’s favorite, previously invincible NFL team devolve into a disorganized mess right before one’s eyes takes a bit of the shine off that joy…

… but I still get a real kick out of it.

EATING is another favorite pastime of mine. I love the taste, the smell, the feel, the social dimension, the process, really the whole thing. Unless the menu includes liver, olives, or tripe, I will tuck into just about anything with great gusto.

I am also a HUGE fan of reading. Give me a book with a great plot and good writing and I will be as happy as a clam for hours.

But you know what I really, really, REALLY love? There are not too many things that grab my soul and stir my heart like ORGANIZED GROUP SINGING. 

Honestly.

I love every single part of it. I love opening a new piece of sheet music and hearing the accompanist play it for the first time. I love sitting with my peers in the bass section and groping tentatively for the right notes. I love the gentle glow of confidence that begins to spread through my limbs as we start to hit more notes than we miss. I love it when the individual sections start coming together to form a rich, resonating, seamless harmony.

And I travel to the outer edge of ecstasy when all of us together finally present our harmonious offering to waiting ears. 

Singing with a group creates a mystical connection… between each of the singers and with those listening. It causes a spiritual “welding” of the singers to the artistic vision of the composer… raising each of us to that same rarified plane of experience, if only for a few, fleeting minutes. 

Being part of a choir puts you right into the middle of pure melodious resonance. 

I might be getting a little hyperbolic here, but what the heck! I’m going to go so far as to say that when different voices blend and harmonize, group singing offers one a little foretaste of heaven. 

From many, one.

Harmony in diversity.

As an extra bonus, I open the pages of scripture and discover that pursuing this avocation of mine ALSO allows me to follow the commands of scripture… to wit, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” (Psalm 100:2 NRSV). 

Oh, how I LOVE organized group singing. And oh, how I miss it TERRIBLY

It has been more than two years since I have sung in any kind of group. Once again, the prime culprit is COVID. And sadly, the church we now attend – despite all its other sterling, positive qualities – does NOT have a choir. 

So, what’s a guy to do? How can I satisfy my “choir jones”?

I toss the question to God and receive… silence. 

Over the years I have learned (the hard way, I might add) that silence is often an answer in disguise. It is the answer that says, “Wait. Wait patiently to see what I will do. There is a time for an answer, but that time is MYtime… it is not yours. Wait.”

Or, as the prophet Isaiah said, “… those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NRSV).

So, I wait. And watch. And while I wait, I sing in the shower, out on the trail, in the grocery store, and LOUDLY in the car.

Come on… anybody want to join in?

Abundant blessings;

23
Oct
21

The Inexhaustible Supply Chain

Our new couch is finally HERE! 

Hip Hip HOORAY!

Last week Joan and I were finally able to get rid of that old couch – the one that was meant for a MUCH larger living room – so that we could engage in a little “furniture right-sizing.” 

And it only took EIGHT MONTHS. 

That’s right. We originally ordered our couch in early February 2021. And it finally arrived earlier this month… you know, the month named “October.”

First there was the infamous world-wide FOAM shortage. You remember that one, right? It was when workers in the foam rubber industry all decided to bounce at the same time. (Get it? Bounce?)

After the foam crisis, the world was suddenly gripped by the sky-rocketing price of lumber. I’m sure they could have gone ahead and produced our couch as planned, but they would have had to triple the asking price and then listen to our wretched hue and cry.

Once the rubber and lumber crises settled down, of course, the world’s supply of everything was stuck 20-deep on container ships in the Port of Los Angeles harbor, waiting to unload. First there weren’t enough longshoremen (longshorepersons?). Then all truck drivers decided to leave the profession on the same day. 

After that, I’m not sure what happened. But whatever it was, it was serious enough to keep the new Brown family couch jammed up in Delivery Limbo until just last week.

Please understand… I am not trying to trivialize the global supply-chain constipation problem the world is currently facing. Waiting eight months for a couch was an inconvenience, but incredibly minor in the grand scheme of things. Lots of people are dealing with much worse difficulties than living with a couch that is too big for their living room. 

In the midst of it all, I discovered that our trifling encounter with the Supply Chain Soap Opera of 2021 DID provide several teachable moments.

First, it was yet another reminder of the incredible interconnectedness of human life on Planet Earth. We often – particularly those of us living in the U.S. of A. – like to think of ourselves as independent, autonomous, utterly self-sufficient organisms, needing no one and no thing to thrive. And yet, the reality is that LIFE is connected to LIFE. I depend on YOU, and YOU depend on me for a whole host of things. 

Actually, it is the way God drew it up. Back there at the Beginning of All Things, God created all of us and said, “Relationship! Hey, y’all! It’s all about RELATIONSHIP! You humans – created in my image, after all – will not be full, complete beings unless you find ways to regularly, compassionately, and deeply CONNECT with one another. In fact, when you depend on ME and EACH OTHER, you will live life as I intend you to.”

Did it take a complete meltdown of the U.S. supply chain to wake us up to the reality of our interconnectedness? Maybe not. Maybe we can just call it an unforeseen byproduct.

This eight-month delivery time also helped me realize that while couches, semi-conductors, soccer balls, food processors, lawn mowers, and playing cards might all be in short supply these days, there is one vital commodity the world will never run out of: 

We will never, CAN never exhaust God’s supply of love and grace. That’s because the “supply chain” that produces it never runs dry, never clogs up, never constricts, never contracts. In the history of the world, there has never been a strike in God’s grace factory.

You might say, in fact, that the more grace we “consume,” the greater the supply. 

And the price – unlike that of our new couch – is always right. The bill has been marked “Paid in Full by Jesus.”

HALLELUJAH!

Abundant blessings;

18
Oct
21

The Voice Speaks!

“Are you edgy?”

There I was… out in my back yard the other day, tidying up some ragged borders with my battery-powered string trimmer. 

That’s when I heard The Voice… 

… And The Voice seemed to be asking me a weird question.

“Are you edgy?”

I paused in my work and looked around. Who had spoken? And what did they mean by that?

For the life of me I could not locate where The Voice had come from. But I knew I had definitely heard it, loud and clear. And to deepen the mystery a little and add some intrigue, I recognized that it was a woman’s voice. 

As an avid student of the Bible, I have read numerous accounts of heroes and heroines of the faith who heard the disembodied Voice of God… usually inviting them to undertake a Great Quest. Noah and the ark, comes immediately to mind. There is also Moses and the Burning Bush… or Paul on the Damascus Road, just to name a few. 

And every time I read one of those stories – or others – I ask myself the same question: “When will it be my turn to hear the clear, distinct voice of God steering me on to The Path I need to be following?”

So, score one… I finally heard The Voice. But also, bummer… the words I heard made absolutely no sense to me at all. Why couldn’t I have heard something like, “Set my people free!” (Exodus 3:10), or “Go preach the Word all over the Fertile Crescent area and start, like, a zillion churches,” (Acts 9ish). 

All I got was this stupid question: “Are you edgy?”

But let’s stop and think about that for a moment instead of complaining. Maybe this is EXACTLY the message I need to hear from God right now. Maybe God has watched me as I have sort of oozed into retirement, goofed around with a hodge-podge of volunteer activities, taken naps in the middle of the day, and been thoroughly unimpressed. 

Maybe my own, personal, Russell Brown-specific Burning Bush moment is meant to be a CHALLENGE! Maybe it is meant to wake me up somehow! Maybe God is saying, “Hey! Lawn Jockey! I didn’t call you to collect your pension and pretty up your yard all day while gaping at the beautiful mountains and the aspen trees! I called you to get out there ON THE EDGE! As long as you’ve got breath and health, I expect you to actively USE the gifts and graces I gave you to help build my KINGDOM! 

“So get out there, bub! Go make a difference! 

“Um, excuse me?”

I heard the voice again. Only this time I was facing in the right direction. It seems the source of the voice was my neighbor across the back fence. She had been momentarily obscured by the nine-foot-tall hedge between our yards, but now I could see her standing there, quizzical look and all.

Suddenly I understood. 

She looked at me and said, “I heard the noise from your yard and was curious what it was.”

OK. I get it now. My neighbor heard the noise from my weed-whacker and called out to me to ask if I had been EDGING

“Oh! Yes. Yes, I am edging. Sorry… did the sound bother you?” I asked.

“Oh no, you’re fine. Sorry to interrupt,” she replied, and then turned and went back into her house.

So… not the Voice of God after all. Just a neighbor wondering what all the commotion was. Not to worry. 

And with that, I returned to my chores, confident that God had definitely NOT used the voice of my neighbor to spur my soul and ask me challenging questions about the direction and purpose of my life. 

As if that would ever happen…

Abundant blessings;

13
Oct
21

Am I Really a Male?

By all outward indications, the answer to the question posed above is a resounding, “YES!” 

Hmmm…

The inward benchmarks (e.g., the sum of my urges, drives, thinking, and worldview) also seem to point in the direction of an affirmative response.

But lately I’ve started to wonder…

Last week I showed up for a training session for a new volunteer activity I am taking on. The activity involves telling stories to children in elementary schools in this area. It seems to be a good fit with my skill set as well as being a great way to bring a little joy and connection into our stressed out, beleaguered classrooms.

There were six new storyteller trainees in the room… I was the only male.

The same thing used to happen when I attended work-out classes at our gym. In a room of 30 participants, there might have been three other males… tops. 

In the midst of the heated presidential election last year, I wanted to help register new voters. After much searching, I found that the only organization actively working on that goal was the League of Women Voters… 

So, I joined!

The one group I have joined in the last two years that was all men was a book club. And – can I level with you here? – it was not all that enjoyable. When we gathered, I found lots of posturing and competing to see who had the best insight into the author’s meaning.

It seems to me that everything I am drawn to – in terms of groups or activities or outreach – is dominated by WOMEN! I am also a churchgoer and every piece of research that has been done in the last 30 years will tell you that many more WOMEN attend church than men. 

To that point, a recent ABC News/Beliefnet poll showed that 44% of the women surveyed reported that they attend church weekly vs. 32% for the men. In the Catholic church, the divide was even wider with 49% of women attending weekly vs. 26% of men.

So maybe the question really isn’t, “Am I actually a male?” Maybe the better question is, “Where are you, my brothers?”

All of this makes me ask:

  • Is it a uniquely female thing to volunteer to serve your community?
  • Is it a uniquely female thing to exercise with a group vs. on one’s own?
  • Is it a uniquely female thing to seek to care for one’s spiritual health in a communal setting? 

If the answer to any of these questions is, “YES,” I would also like to know, “Why is that?”

It really doesn’t bother me to show up in a room full of women. I think you all are – on the whole – intelligent, caring, energetic, and very open people. In a group of women, THINGS GET DONE! And quite often FUN is had along the way!!

I am sure there are multiple sociological studies on this topic that shed insight onto my question. Someday I might look one up and read it.

In the meantime, I guess I will just keep showing up, following the leading of the Spirit, and celebrating the people that show up there with me… whichever gender they are.

But before I sign off, I need to ask: does anybody have a good recipe for beef stroganoff you’d like to share?

Abundant blessings;

11
Oct
21

A Strange Set of Tools

I’ve got this dilemma on my hands. Maybe you can help me with it.

On the one hand, I don’t like to fail. I mean I REALLY don’t like it. At all.

At the same time, I really like trying things I haven’t tried before.

Therein lies the dilemma. Because the things I try are new to me, I am highly likely to fail at them… at least at first.

Last winter, for example, I decided that a fitting way to engage the wonders of my newly adopted state of Colorado would be to get up on a pair of skis and head down a snowy slope. 

Because hey… EVERYBODY out here skis. Even little babies.

So, I rented some skis and boots and bought goggles and ski pants and found myself an instructor. After an hour of struggling and straining and falling and failing, I decided skiing probably wasn’t for me. God – in God’s infinite wisdom – gave me feet that point toe-outward. Standing correctly on a pair of skis really requires toes that point INWARD… or at least point STRAIGHT.

So, there we had SNOW SPORT FAILURE #1.

Which led me to my next adventure. As I looked around there on the mountain, I noticed that snowboards seemed to accommodate people with feet like mine a whole lot better than skis did. So, it was back to the rental shop to be outfitted with a SNOWBOARD!!

Another hour of falling and flailing and sweating and swearing and I was ready to declare myself a miserable failure at snowboarding. That led me to admit to…

… SNOW SPORT FAILURE #2.

It is embarrassing and more than a little depressing to start looking back and cataloging all the false starts, missteps, bumbles, fluffs, and swings-and-misses I have racked up over my considerable years on this planet. 

Thanks to my clumsy efforts, toes have been stubbed (mine and others), feelings have been hurt, opportunities have been squandered, and lives have been damaged.

And it now appears that Joan and I together will add “failure to become passionate RV owners” to that growing list of failures.

I know, I know. I hear the voice of Bill Gates saying, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” And right beside him there is Albert Einstein (who failed MASSIVELY before changing the history of quantum physics, I’m told) saying, “You never fail until you stop trying.” 

I know all that rah-rah, motivational stuff. I’ve preached it a thousand times to eager, listening ears.

But it isn’t until I turn my gaze to the cross that I really, truly understand the divine power found in failure. You see, God decided to become flesh for the express purpose of re-orientin the hearts and minds of human beings. Jesus came to live among us as the incarnate Word of God… here to facilitate the kind of spiritual transformation that stone tablets could not. 

And yet, what happened? After three years of wandering the Galilean countryside, healing, preaching, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, and bringing hope to the hopeless, Jesus was arrested and executed for his efforts. He was pronounced guilty of rebellion by Rome and heresy by the Jewish religious leaders. 

In other words, his mission failed. 

It failed, that is, until the redeeming, restoring, overwhelming power of God stepped in and turned that apparent failure into a fresh new beginning for human history. 

And as the Genesis Creation story reminds us, from chaos, God made a universe.

From dust God made us.

So we should remember that from the ashes of failure, God can build something new, unexpected, fresh, and life-giving. 

In a very real sense then, the broken pieces of today’s failure just might be the strange building blocks God is looking for to build something new in your life. 

So, keep trying. Keep failing. Keep giving God new tools to work with.

Abundant blessings; 

04
Oct
21

Augmenting the Toolkit

King Solomon… with head shown actual size.

Of all the tools that currently reside in my personal Toolkit of Life, the one that seems notably lacking is the one called WISDOM. 

In my better moments, I’ve been called clever, or bright, or intuitive… once someone even called me sharp. But danged few people in my life have ever accused me of being WISE. 

This struck me as a serious deficiency in my Tookit. I mean, when you get to be my age – especially with this new, grey beard I’ve grown – WISDOM should be something you should regularly expect from me. Shouldn’t it?

And so, to shore up that weak spot, I picked up my bible and turned to that timeless book of wisdom – allegedly written by one of the wisest people who ever lived – the Book of Proverbs.

I read the first three chapters and then put it down… somewhat frustrated by what I found there.

In case you aren’t familiar with chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the Book of Proverbs, let me quickly summarize the three lessons I found there:

  • Lesson #1 – Wisdom is good.
  • Lesson #2 – Go get wisdom.
  • Lesson #3 – Avoid un-wisdom.

Excellent! Thanks for that insight, Proverbs. Problem solved!

But risking a moment of seriousness here, I DID find it very helpful to be reminded of the supreme importance of the acquisition of WISDOM in life. Turns out it is a whole lot better than, say, the acquisition of Facebook “friends,” or LIKES, or shares of a blog post you wrote one day. 

The thing that really intrigued me though was the concept of “unwisdom.” Of course, the bible never uses that word. It speaks of “foolishness,” or “complacency,” or perverseness,” or “deceit,” but the idea is the same. In its disquieting, patriarchal way, the Proverbs author equates unwisdom with a “loose woman” and warns the reader not to be seduced by her “smooth words.” (Proverbs 2:16, NRSV). 

“Stay away from THAT STUFF, and seek the OTHER STUFF,” is the main message here.

And so, I wondered; where do I encounter the allure of “unwisdom” in my life? And how successful am I in avoiding it?

POPULAR OPINION might be one of those seductive sirens. I’m talking about those concepts everybody knows are true and no one dares publicly question… such as the proposition that money makes us happy, or bigger is better, or that GETTING something is always better than GIVING something. For the biblical, counter-cultural rebuttal to each of those nuggets of popular opinion “wisdom,” I direct your attention to 1 Timothy 6:10, 1 Kings 19:12-13, and Acts 20:35 .

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM is another, related, suspect. Heck, it even has the word “wisdom” in its name! Conventional wisdom is that voice that tells us to be strong… to be independent… to be utterly invincible in the face of life’s challenges. And yet if we pause just for a moment, we see that the Man who drew the dividing line between B.C. and A.D. in history was a sacrificial servant. He willingly gave up EVERYTHING, including his very life, on behalf of others. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Apostle Paul quotes from a conversation with God in which, “’…he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”

And so then, what about those IMPULSES that can seem to take control and rule one’s life from time to time? Are impulses an example of the unwisdom we are admonished to avoid? 

We have the impulse to EAT, for example… an impulse that can lead very quickly to gluttony, obesity, and poor health. On the other hand, if we ignore this impulse completely, we will surely die. And dying would very quickly curtail our usefulness to the world.

What about the SEXUAL impulse? As we have seen, this is an impulse that has caused incredible damage to humans over the centuries. And yet without the sexual impulse, life on this planet would grind very abruptly to a halt.

Certainly, unconstrained impulses can lead any of us into areas of great harm. But I am not convinced that impulses – in and of themselves – are all bad. They just need the application of a lot of WISDOM to keep them in check. 

And so, the quest for wisdom continues. 

Maybe the best thing to do at this point is to ask the age-old question: WDJD… “What DID Jesus Do?” and then follow that example. 

Now THAT would be a truly wise move, wouldn’t it?

Abundant blessings;




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