Archive for November, 2021

30
Nov
21

The Unbreakable Bubble

Check this out…

(Sorry for the poor quality photography)

Shortly after moving to Fort Collins, CO, Joan and I were walking the dogs in nearby Fossil Creek Park. It was early December, but snow had yet to make an appearance.

As we approached the base of a hill, I saw all these trees with straw bales shrink-wrapped to them. I stared at this bizarre sight, scratched my head in puzzlement, turned to Joan and said, “What the heck is that all about? Why are straw bales shrink-wrapped to the base of these trees?”

Being the far brighter, more observant, and astuter (???) one of us, Joan immediately replied, “Silly… those straw bales are there to protect sledders.” Being the kind, compassionate person she is, Joan refrained from capping her statement with, “DUH!!”

Sure enough, as we circled the hill, I noticed that just about every tree and light post had its own straw bale attached… ALL on the uphill side where sledders, skiers, or snowboarders would come from.

It made me wonder: where were those when I was a young sledder? For us – back in the Sledding Stone Age– it was a case of “Dodge or Die.” When I was young, stories were legion about kids who sledded into a tree/rock/lamppost/car/etc. and “…cracked his skull wide open.” 

All of which coaxed me into thoughts about the notion of PROTECTION in general. 

We certainly go to great lengths to PROTECT these days, don’t we? Especially now in the time of The Great Global Pandemic. We wash. We hand-sanitize. We mask (some of us double-mask even). We vaccinate. We boost. We shield. We sterilize. We germ-fog. 

Heck, last year, Joan and I even saw an Asian couple and their children dressed in hazmat suits at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. 

And still – with all those protection measures in place – people still get sick and die. 

I can’t say this with complete certainty, but I’ll even bet there are young sledders at Fossil Creek Park who still crash and hurt themselves… despite all the straw-bales and shrink-wrap.

So, I wonder… where does the concept of PROTECTION fit into God’s Grand Scheme of Things? 

Interestingly, I discovered that whereas there are 45 verses in the Old Testament that use the word “Protect” or “Protection,” there are only SEVEN of those verses in the New Testament. 

In the OT, you have verses like, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you…” (Psalm 20:1, NRSV), and “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7, NRSV), and, “But as for me, afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me…” (Psalm 69:29, NRSV). 

Here, God is clearly understood as the Great Protector From All Harm

But somewhere, somehow, something takes a real turn in the New Testament. Not only does it only contain 1/6 the number of verses about protection as the Old Testament, but the whole FLAVOR of the way it is talked about takes a dramatic turn.

Here are two examples of what I am talking about. In this first one, Jesus is sitting with the disciples in the Garden of Gesthemane. He has told them what is about to happen to him and is now praying. He petitions God and says, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15, NRSV). 

Then there is this verse in 2 Thessalonians that echoes a similar theme: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3, NRSV).

“Protect you/them from the evil one.” 

No longer is God (apparently) the God who keeps you from cracking your skull open, or getting COVID, or (nearly) breaking your big toe, or losing your house in a fire, or going broke. 

God – in the New Testament – seems to be the God whose main project is protecting your soul.

I don’t know… maybe it was because of the seemingly endless stream of heartbreak, woe, exile, injury, and misfortune that befell the Israelites that led them to rethink the whole idea of what “God’s protection” meant.

Jesus spoke to this directly when he told the disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NRSV). 

Now THAT’S what I call PROTECTION

Each of us is going to have hard times in the days ahead. As much as we’d like to have one, there is no impermeable bubble that will shield us from all insult and/or injury. 

But there IS available – for ALL of us – an unshakable source of peace when we face those times. 

His name is Jesus.

Abundant blessings;

22
Nov
21

Thanks for those scars

(Not my scar, by the way)

For the most part, I don’t have a lot of scars.

(Not that you can see, at least).

There’s this one on the front side of my left index finger. That’s from getting it caught on the top of a sharp chain-link fence I was climbing.

There’s this one on the back of my left hand. That was a freak accident caused by a sticky French door I was trying to close. I apparently yanked on it too forcefully, dislodging one of the panes at the top. CHOP! It came down… just like a guillotine blade, cleanly severing my middle finger tendon.

Those two – besides the dark spot on my right thumb where Donnie Avery stabbed me with a #2 pencil in the 10th grade – pretty much complete the list of “scars I did not intend to receive.” 

And just because of sheer, dumb luck, my list of “scars I planned on” is pretty limited, too. All I have to show are one on each shoulder from two different “shoulder decompression” surgeries, five years apart. 

As I alluded to earlier, I also bear other scars. The kind the dermatologist doesn’t see at the annual skin check. [BTW, have you had yours yet? If not, I highly recommend scheduling it ASAP. Especially if you are “of a certain age.”]

I have emotional scars. Mental scars. And if it is possible, spiritual scars, too.

Some are recent. Some go WAAAAY back. And even though each of them had a definite influence in shaping me into the person I am today, they all involved PAIN. 

The gauntlet I am throwing down for myself today… the Monday of Thankskgiving week… is the question: “Am I able to truly GIVE THANKS for each of those scars?” 

You are more than welcome to offer yourself this same challenge. I have no ownership claims on this exercise.

My quest stems from the exhortation the Apostle Paul made to the small band of believers gathered there in Thessalonica nearly 2,000 years ago. Included in Paul’s list of, “Here are the things God wants you to do,” is this one: “… give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV).

As much as I might like to think otherwise, I am pretty sure Paul also meant to include, “Give thanks for all circumstances” in this instruction.

Wait… do you really mean;

  • Give thanks for the scars left by being cut from the eighth-grade basketball team?
  • Give thanks for emotional damage of being tormented by the neighborhood bully?
  • Give thanks for the pain of hearing, “Sorry, Rusty… no” the first time I screwed up my courage to ask a girl out on a date?
  • Give thanks for the anguish of my divorce?
  • Give thanks for the church leaders who said, “We don’t want you as our pastor anymore”?
  • And MORE?

“Hold on, Paul… give thanks for all of THAT? Are you KIDDING me? That’s about the goofiest advice I’ve ever heard.”

And yet, despite my protests, Paul is unmoved. Paul… you know… the guy who was whipped, beaten, ship-wrecked, mocked, rejected, arrested, thrown in prison, and eventually executed? 

Yeah… that guy. 

He holds fast. 

He keeps telling me to give thanks. 

IN all circumstances. FOR all circumstances. For all the scars.

“Just do it,” he says with a wry smile. “One day, you’ll find out why.”

Abundant blessings;

18
Nov
21

Masked Man

Support them or oppose them… love them or hate them… I think we can all agree: facemasks are a major PAIN.

Show of hands: how many times have you done the infamous mid-parking-lot-spin-around-while-slapping-your-forehead as you suddenly realize the store you are about to enter requires masks and you left yours in the glove compartment of the car?

For me, too many times to count.

And how many times have you found yourself huffing and puffing on the elliptical machine thinking, “Help! I can’t breathe! Why am I covering up my nose AND mouth at a time when I need to be gulping in MORE air… not less??!!”

Pop quiz: how many facemasks are in your possession right now? Six? Eight? A dozen? Do you have one to match every outfit you wear?

The ultimate insult for Joan and I was last week’s return flight from Munich, Germany to Denver. Eight and a half hours of masking on the flight from Munich to Newark, NJ… three more masked hours in the Newark airport… and then three and a half hours of maskedness on the flight from Newark to Denver. 

SHEESH! NEVER have I been more relieved to tear a mask off my face than when we stepped out the doors of the DIA West terminal.

But, like them or not, facemasks will continue to be a fact of life for us for a while yet. 

So why not look on the bright side and try to make the best of a really annoying thing?

Let me give you one quick example of what I’m talking about. Let’s say… just to offer a wild and completelyrandom example… you had some delicious BBQ ribs for dinner. And then, right after dinner, you went to a meeting – facemasks mandatory! – at your church. Partway through the meeting, you realize that you have chunks of that delicious BBQ still stuck in your teeth. Wearing a facemask lets you work away at dislodging that meat with your tongue without anyone realizing what you are doing! 

Or what if – in that same meeting – someone said something that really rubbed you the wrong way. If you’re wearing a facemask, you can just stick your tongue out at them, completely incognito!

Masks let you rip off an undercover yawn, make secret “duck lips” at someone, or even a put on a surreptitiously mocking frowny face as your neighbor tells you yet one more “tale of woe” about all the leaves in his yard. 

(You just have to be careful your eyes don’t give you away.)

Besides all of THESE benefits of facemasks, what about the endless list of things we can do with them AFTER this pandemic is over. Slingshot, anyone? Egg carrier? Risqué bikini? 

Of course, I kid. 

Masks are an unfortunate, but necessary, part of living in a pandemic-plagued world. As much as we dislike wearing them, we do so as an expression of care for our fellow humans. 

You know what else? Our personal freedoms are absolutely undiminished by our positive responses to a mask mandate.

And so, while we are busily masking ourselves to prevent the spread of disease, I thought it might be a good time to be reminded of this simple fact: we can never “mask” our true selves from God. 

As Psalm 139:1-4 (NRSV) so eloquently reminds us: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.”

Assuming all those words are true, how does that make you feel? Do you feel nervous? Vulnerable? Anxious? Paranoid? OR do those words have the effect they were intended to have… that is, do they assure and comfort you?

Being known intimately AND YET still loved unconditionally by the One Who Made You should be GOOD NEWS. In fact, it should be the best news you’ve ever heard. 

So, no matter what mask you are wearing today, know that God sees you. And KNOWS you. And LOVES you.

Abundant blessings;

15
Nov
21

Does It Matter Enough?

OUCH!

First of all, sorry for the somewhat gross photo here. Both for the bruised toe as well as the dramatic proof that I need some SERIOUS foot moisturizing. But hopefully as you will see later, this disgusting picture is integral to today’s post.

So… I stubbed my toe the other day. I mean, REALLY stubbed it.

Joan and I were walking through the woods with the dogs when it happened. It was a beautiful, clear, warm, fall day, so we decided to take a route that led us along a wooded path that led to a creek. The dogs really love to go wading in the water, so we tend to indulge them.

As we walked along the trail, I NAILED a tree root that was hidden under the leaves. Hit it SQUARE with the big toe of my left foot, in full stride.

I almost went down, flat on my face. Fortunately, though, I managed to stumble a bit and then eventually recover.

But my toe was THROBBING with pain. When we got home, Joan looked at it, assured me it wasn’t broken, and then gave me the ice pack to wrap around it. In case I haven’t said this before, she is an absolutely WONDERFUL nurse. 

Over the next three or four days, I noticed two things going on simultaneously in my life. First, I noticed that I was not taking our dog Patrick for his morning walks around the neighborhood. I tried it once, but turned around, wincing in pain, after going about a half of a block.

The second thing I noticed was the advent of a serious state of spiritual torpor. My prayer life suddenly seemed to turn arid and dry. My brain ceased spewing out new ideas for future blog posts. My periods of meditation on the wonders of the world and the ridiculous extravagance of my blessings blew away like so much dandelion fuzz. 

What’s the deal?” I asked. “Why have I fallen into this apparent spiritual and creative dust bowl? Has the well just run dry? Has God finally tired of my naïve and incoherent mutterings and hung out the cosmic ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign in sheer annoyance?”

“I mean, SERIOUSLY! What’s going on!!” I shouted into the night sky.

As expected, the night absorbed my cry and sent back nothing.

After a few days of this unrequited questioning and knocking, it finally dawned on me: the morning walk with Patrick was the time when I did all of my praying and meditation for the day. Every iota of my daily silent transcendentalism seems to have been concentrated into that 30-minute trip around the neighborhood. Of course, in between stops for Patrick to pee, bunny sightings, and chats with friendly neighbors.

And so, if that were indeed the case, it was no wonder that I “hit the wall,” so to speak. No Patrick walking = no time for prayer and/or meditation.

Isn’t that ridiculous?

I mean, what a sad state of affairs is it to see yourself confining this life-giving, life-sustaining practice to ONEsituation and ONE environment! As if it is completely impossible to pause and utter a quick breath-prayer while waiting at a red light… or to close your eyes and talk to God while the internet takes its own sweet time to connect… or to dare to carve out a few minutes of renewing silence instead of just rushing quickly on to the next thing.

As Luke 5:16 tells us, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” In fact, by my count, there are 26 different instances in the Gospels where we are told about Jesus breaking out of the hurly-burly of his world-saving mission and just taking time to pray.

Pretty amazing, eh? Just goes to show you that when something MATTERS enough to you, you will make time for it.

And I will bet you dollars to donuts that on at least ONE of those occasions, he did so with a bruised toe.

Abundant blessings;

05
Nov
21

EST-CE QUE TU PARLES FRANCAIS?

Joan and I have been in the south of France for the past week.

And when I say, “the south of France,” I mean THE SOUTH. As in, imagining we hear banjos and guitars having a pick-off duel as we round every turn in the road. 

In French, of course.

Don’t get me wrong… this is a beautiful place. Full of vineyards, ancient stone castles, quaint villages, winding roads and craggy hillsides. It is breathtakingly romantic and serene.

Except that NOBODY here speaks a word of English. As a matter of fact, I am not sure they know any language besides French even exists.

And so, as we have navigated our way through the amazing little towns of Boutenac, Carcassone, Minerve, Lezignan, and Coulliere, we learned to get by with some quick, seat-of-the-pants translating. When ordering lunch, for example, we had to figure out that it would not kill us to choose something off the Poisson section of the menu. It just meant we would get a nice piece of grilled fish. 

We also learned that adding a dash of cannelle to our morning coffee would give it a flavorful little kick.

Waitresses and hotel clerks and retailers regularly took pity on us and used their back-pocket English when we appeared to struggle. But for the most part, we were a couple of odd ducks wherever we went. Which – I have to admit – was kind of a new experience for both of us. 

Because, you see, most of the time, I am alert, aware, comfortable with my surroundings, and on top of my game. In my native habitat, stuff doesn’t fluster me… unless, of course, we are talking about finding ANYTHING in the grocery store! And so, the experience of being in a place where I am different… where I am lost and unsure… where I am The Other… was unsettling and frankly disorienting.

It also made me realize that it is not necessary to travel in France with a limited-to-nonexistent French vocabulary to feel out of place. Often all it takes to feel like un poisson hors de l’eau is to be a member of any non-advantaged group. 

Those of us who – because of our race, gender, ableness, or economic class – begin life on second base, are told (and believe) the story that we hit a double. We inherited the FastPass at Disneyland and can’t, for the life of us, figure out why everyone else is still standing in that silly line. We get the grades, we get the help, we get the jobs, and we get the dream… in many cases all because of factors we have zero control over. 

And so, it comes as a very unwelcome shock any time we find ourselves standing on the outside – of ANYTHING! – looking in. 

Most of the time when this kind of disquieting, uncomfortable moment happens to us, we moan and wail and kvetch. “This totally sucks!” is one of our more popular refrains.

But what if we used these pinch-point moments for a different purpose? What if we used them instead as a moment of awakening? What if we recognized them as a time when SEEDS are being sown? 

Seeds of insight… seeds of compassion… seeds of understanding.

What if – when the time comes when the cards all seem to be stacked against us, we cocked our heads, opened our ears, and heard the voice of Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV) and paid special attention in that verse to the word ALL?

What if?

That would sure be tres bon, wouldn’t it?

Abundant blessings;

01
Nov
21

My Saints

He was a slick-fielding, light hitting second baseman for the church softball team.

He sold microscopes for the E. Leitz Company.

Later, he heard a call that changed not only his life, but the lives of everyone in his family.

He taught me how to tie a tie, shine my shoes, throw a spiral, dry the dishes, and dig a hole.

He wielded The Paddle.

He whistled duotone harmonies.

He struggled. He persevered. He dreamed. He played. He sang. He laughed. He cried.

He served his family, his church, his community, and his God.

He taught me how to see the unseen, seek justice, speak for the voiceless, advocate for those on the margins.

He was my dad.

She saw the world at an early age.

She was the darling pet of her three brothers.

She wrote prolifically and well.

She always made sure her children knew they were safe and loved.

She threw a baseball “just like a boy.”

She baked the best, most fragrant bread in the world.

She loved her God and her neighbor as herself.

She loved, supported, encouraged, and followed her husband through thick and thin.

She was beautiful.

She was my mom.

These are the first saints I think of today, on this “All Saints Day.” 

They are the most important ones who shaped my life in profound, lasting ways… but far from the only ones.

They both taught me that as they lived, they also stood on the shoulders of others… paying forward the blessings conferred on them.

Today, in some small way, I hope I have followed their example. 

I love you mom and dad… and all the other saints I’ve been privileged to meet along the way.

Abundant blessings;




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