Archive for February, 2022

25
Feb
22

Not Schmeople!

Look at this cool seashell I found! Have you ever seen anything like it?

Of course you have. That was a silly thing to say. But I’ll wager you haven’t seen a ton of them. Landlubbers like me don’t get down here to Sanibel Island very often to stumble upon them. 

I love seashells. The variety of shapes, sizes, and colors is mindboggling to me. Speaking of which, get a gander at this conch shell I picked up, while just out walking around minding my own business.

Strolling the beach, I am like a kid in a candy store. Or a oenophile in a vineyard… whichever analogy works best for you.

By the third day, however, walking barefoot on the sand, I find the thrill has decreased a bit. I notice, for example, that there are enough of that cool striped shell I found to make a cute family of sea turtles out of them. 

Oh yeah,” I say, looking down. “Another one of those.” I walk by unfazed, checking the horizon. At this rate, I’ll be saying something like, “Shells, schmells” by the end of the week.

But here is the thing; seashells don’t lose their luster. They don’t become any less amazing, beautiful, unique, strange, colorful, or intriguing just because I see them every day. Any change that happens is in meI allow my eyes and my heart to take seashells for granted. Seashells don’t become less wonderful. It is ME who loses – or perhaps relinquishes is the better word – the capacity to appreciate their innate wonder.

Hallelujah that God doesn’t treat us the same way! Can you imagine if your Creator gazed down casually on you one day and said, “Oh yeah. Another one of those.”

Or even worse: “People, schmeople. Whatever.”

Praise God that will never happen! That’s because every last one of us matters to God. Every last one of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” in the words of the psalmist. (Psalm 139:14, NRSV). Every last one of us is unconditionally loved, treasured, and celebrated. 

Which is only one of the manifold reasons the current situation in Ukraine is so unspeakably tragic. Besides the violence, bloodshed, and destruction of property, we see people… precious, unrepeatable, beloved people… being trampled underfoot and turned into “schmeople.”

Today, of course, I pray for Ukraine. I pray for its leaders and its defenders. I pray for those who have fled. I pray for those who have decided to stay. I pray for the families whose roots extend deep into Ukrainian soil, whether they still live there or not. I pray for wisdom on the part of other world leaders who seek to save lives and end this conflict.

But most of all, I pray for the elimination of the mindset that sees people as expendable pawns in some kind of global chess match… 

… or as nameless, faceless grains of sand on an endless, anonymous beach. 

Please, Lord, hasten the day dawn when each of us sees one another the way YOU see us.

AMEN.

Abundant blessings;

23
Feb
22

A Bad Case of the Neat Freaks

Lincoln Logs toy by K’Nex

“But you’re doing it ALL WRONG!” I yelled at my younger brother… my face turning red, my eyeballs bulging, and little jets of steam curling out of my nostrils.

The subject was Lincoln Logs. The project was trying to build a fort from which our plastic army men could defend themselves against all hostile attackers. His assignment – which I THOUGHT was simple enough to understand – was to build the eastern wall. You know, the one where the army guys would stand on the walkway and shoot over the top.

But instead of using the LONG pieces with four notches in them, he was using the really short pieces with only TWO notches.

It never occurred to me that I might not have explained the assignment clearly enough to him. As far as I was concerned, he was apparently just being intentionally difficult and annoying – like younger brothers always seem to be.

That scene took place at least sixty years ago. My faulty memory might have blurred some of the details of the event itself, but not its essence. What I mean by that is; the Russell of today bears a shockingly (and depressingly) close resemblance to the Russell of 1962 when it comes to keeping track of and compulsively following The Rules

“Things must be done correctly. Rules must be followed. Crumbs must be swept off the counter, suitcases must be packed properly, and Lincoln Log forts must be built the right way,” he says. 

“Otherwise, there will be chaos, confusion, death, and destruction.” 

You’re doing it ALL WRONG!” is not an uncommon phrase for 11-year-olds. But wouldn’t you think it would have disappeared completely from the conversations of most 70-year-olds?

I am sorry to report that this is not at all the case. At least when the 70-year-old we are talking about is me.

Those who follow this blog closely will notice this is not the first time I have opined on this subject. It even came up earlier this year. For some reason, the topic of compulsive rule-following seems to occupy a lot of my brain space. 

Why is that do you suppose? Is it because I suspect there is something more sinister and pathological lurking there below the surface? Is it because I fear I am infected with a more deadly disease than simply a bad case of the Neat Freaks?

What is really going on – in my instant, skin-deep analysis – is that I am trying to pull some version of The Ol’ Switcheroo… that is, I am spending time and energy endlessly campaigning about the rightness of countless miniscule items like the alignment of forks and drinking glasses in order to avoid frying those much larger and more consequential fish… fish like racial justice, systemic poverty, hopelessness, homelessness, addiction, and cruelty.

I mean, there is right. And then there is RIGHT.

Fork aligning and T-shirt folding I can do. 

Righting the wrongs of systemic racism? Waaaaay out of my league.

Mother Teresa was not one to let folks like me off the hook quite so easily. Rather than letting us wring our hands about the impossibility of single-handedly healing the ills of the world, she challenged each of us to, “Do small things with great love.”

Even though she has been through the formal canonization process and all, Teresa might have plagiarized Jesus just a little bit on this one. During one of his famous sermons on the importance of faith, Jesus told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20, NRSV).

Correct napkin-folding, furniture arrangement, driving etiquette, and pet care are not entirely UNIMPORTANT pursuits. “Neatness is as neatness does,” as somebody’s mama (not mine) once said. 

But we should not persuade ourselves that getting these things right exempts us from our Christian call to make sure we get that OTHER stuff right, too.

Abundant blessings;

21
Feb
22

Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma…

I once knew a guy. 

We called him, “The Chameleon.” Cham (pronounced “CAM”) for short.

We called him that because of his great talent for effortlessly blending into his surroundings. 

If you were ever to ask him, “Who are you?” his answer, inevitably, was, “Who do you need me to be?”

Through some innate sixth sense, this guy could read the room and BECOME the person he thought everyone required in that moment. 

Need a practical joker? Cham was your guy.

Need a trusted confidant? He’s right there.

Need someone you can kick an idea around with? At your service.

Everybody liked Cham. That was his aim. He figured that if he could avoid being too loud, or too pushy, or too high-falutin’, or too goofy, or too brainy, or too shy, he could be on good terms with just about anybody.

Yes, he knew the price he was paying for adopting this presto-chango personality. Cham knew his genuine, honest-to-goodness self might vanish FOREVER beneath the surface of his continuous shapeshifting! 

He didn’t care. That was a “somewhere out there” danger. Right now, today, things were working out. He was fitting in… making friends… pleasing people. 

If it sounds like I know a lot about “Cham,” you’re right. And there is a very good reason for that. It’s because Cham was ME. And I am beyond thrilled to be able to use the word “was” in that last sentence. 

And it’s about damned time, too.

I am finally free. Liberated from Chameleon Prison.

My jail break was anything but easy. You see, the tricky part of this whole thing is being able to recognize “Perennial People Pleasing” for the dysfunction it really is. The pleasers themselves don’t recognize it. They just think they are doing everyone a big favor by blending in seamlessly. The pleasers’ “audience” doesn’t recognize it because they are having such a great time being catered to. 

It is only when the Chameleons of the world are asked to stand up and give an accounting of themselves (ourselves) that their (our) personal hollowness becomes apparent. That’s when they (we) start counting the cost.

And it is at that exact moment that the anger starts to rise to the surface. The target of that anger should be the one who looks back at them from the mirror. Because THAT one is the real mastermind behind this brazen heist.

The trouble is, the Chameleon doesn’t know that person. He/she is a stranger. And so, the Chameleon lashes out at everyone else. Everyone who played along and enabled the crime. 

But some chameleons are lucky. Some of those lost chameleons get found by Jesus. Some chameleons hear that sweet, sweet voice whispering, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life,” (Isaiah 43:3, NRSV) and realize that the voice is speaking to THEM! 

Those lost, lucky chameleons also hear the Good News telling them that their life is not a mistake or an afterthought, that their flaws, sins, errors, and missteps are completely known, accounted for, and FORGIVEN! And then, upon hearing that impossibly great news, they realize that they have been measuring themselves against the wrong standard their entire lives.

They sometimes break down in tears when they hear that their life’s mission is NOT about gaining the approval of spouses, brothers, sisters, co-workers, neighbors, friends, or total strangers on the street. They also know with absolute certainty that Jesus spoke directly to them when he said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NRSV).

That is when they relax, shed their chameleon skin, and say, “Hallelujah! I’m FREE!”

Now… how can I use what is left of my time and energy to help share this amazingly GOOD NEWS with everyone on the PLANET???”

What do you think? Any ideas?

Abundant blessings;

10
Feb
22

High School Heroes

Following a longer-than-normal walk with the dogs, Joan and I decided to reward them with a trip to our neighborhood Sonic Drive-In. She ordered her customary lemonberry slush while I favored the cold brew iced coffee. The dogs, naturally, snacked on pup cups.

This Sonic is located right next to the local high school. As it happened, we arrived just as school was dismissing for the day.

While we chatted about the topic du jour, I watched the students walk by us. Some walked in pairs. Some in groups of three or four, while others walked by themselves. 

And as I watched them, my heart stirred. 

Some laughed. Some smiled. Some seemed as if they were a thousand miles away, lost in thought. All of them seemed to demonstrate joy at the fact that they were walking away from school for the day.

At first glance, it seemed like an utterly unremarkable, quotidian scene. It is a ritual repeated in towns of all sizes, every day between September and May at 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, come rain or come shine.

As I looked on, I realized that the students walking there – some wearing logoed outerwear, some in shorts in 36-degree weather, some with blue streaks in their hair and nose rings – each represented a younger, brighter, livelier version of me. 

They are probably worried about who likes them and who doesn’t. They aren’t sure how they are going to juggle everything they have on their plates right now. They absolutely cannot understand how their parents can be so lame and clueless. They wonder what kind of world they are about to enter… where it is headed, and what their place in that world is going to be. 

But for all those similarities, I also know that the kids I am watching as I sip my iced coffee face pressures 1969 Russell couldn’t conceive of in his wildest imagination.

For starters, they were born into an “always on” world of electronic voyeurism… constantly watching and being watched… measuring their worth in bytes, likes, follows, and views. This world is as prying as it is relentless, wedging its fat, judgmental eye into every waking moment of their lives.

These kids today have also been forced to consider the possibility that the hallway they travel between third period Algebra and fourth period History might suddenly erupt into random bursts of gunfire, blood, and screams. 

How in the name of God do you factor THAT into your daily psychic toolbox?

Hell, back in the day, pop-up fistfights between rival “greaser” gangs used to scare the snot out of me. But at least I knew they were fighting because they hated each other. Today there are no breadcrumbs to follow that might offer clues about the rage boiling up inside the kids who shoot up schools. 

And then, when those hopeful high schoolers lift their eyes for a moment to see how we – the mature, seasoned, arbitrator adults – handle our spats, all they see is pettiness, vitriol, and a willful blindness to any notion of “the common good.”

 And I pray; God help them. 

God, help us help them. 

But then, when my heart is almost overloaded with sadness and pity for these young adults, they make a sharp, unexpected turn. Suddenly they erupt with a joy, a generosity, a lightness, and a compassion that just blows me away. 

Abruptly and unexpectedly, they become my teachers. THEY show me how to love and include all those who were “born this way,” to flagrantly steal Lady Gaga’s phrase. THEY passionately appeal to me to take care of the ONE planet we occupy. THEY remind me that I don’t have to be enslaved to my stuff. THEY insist on learning a version of history bereft of whitewashing, coverups, or race-based distortions. THEY don’t hesitate to demand that JUSTICE serve every man, woman, and child ever born.

And so, as I keep watching, my prayer expands. 

It still asks God to help them, but now also asks God to help me LEARN from them.

God bless them…

… and YOU, too.

08
Feb
22

My Saturday Self

I have a question: Which of your many “selves” is your truest self?

 To clarify, I am not suggesting that you necessarily suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder. But if you do, God bless you. 

I’m just saying that most of us have different “faces” we choose to wear in different settings. 

Back in the WD (Working Days, that is), there was definitely a “home Russell” and a “work Russell.” Yes, certainly, those two shared a lot of traits in common, but they were seismically and humungously different. For starters, Home Russell was a lot more laid back, jovial, and fun to be around than Work Russell

But if you were to plop Home Russell down in the workplace, he would not have accomplished much at all. He’d be napping, checking sports scores (or events), or snacking. That is, when he wasn’t tidying something up or wasting time on social media.  

Similarly, Work Russell wouldn’t have been much fun around the home on evenings and weekends. 

I also noticed that different days of the week also seemed to give birth to different selves. Monday me was a very different character from Friday me. The former was not someone you’d want to spend a lot of time with, whereas the Friday version was a pretty happy-go-lucky dude. 

[That is, unless there was a project with a Friday deadline that wasn’t quite finished yet. In which case, it was “Katie bar the door,” if anyone actually says that anymore.]

After sorting through all these personas one day, I concluded that my Saturday Self was the truest, most honest, most authentic expression of the human being God created me to be. Saturday me didn’t have any performance anxiety. Saturday me wasn’t under any particular gun. He was free to organize his day and come and go as he pleased. 

I mean, sure, there were lawns to be mowed, weeds to be pulled, soccer games to be watched, and Home Depot trips to be made. But all of that happened in a relaxed, fluid, stressless way that made Saturday Russella joy to be around…

… unless, of course, there was a plumbing project to be done.

But now, here in Retiredsville, I have discovered that EVERY day is Saturday. Kicking back and relaxing isn’t nearly as much fun when it is something I can do every single moment of every single day. Didn’t finish painting the trim in the guest bathroom today? No problem! You can always do it tomorrow!

Theoretically then, since every day is now Saturday, I should be my best and truest self all day EVERY day here in the land of retirement. Right?

As Joan can verify from first-hand experience, sadly, that is not the case. There are still ups and downs through the week. There are still some Russells that are much more enjoyable to be around than other Russells. There are some that are really sharp, “on the ball,” raring to go, and others that struggle to tie their shoes correctly.

Sometimes, however, in the midst of my attempts to sort through the mysteries of the human psyche and its infinite manifestations, I am abruptly stopped. 

Something somehow reminds me of what a blessing it is to remember that there is only ONE me. That something also reminds me that this ME was created in its infinite complexity, and weirdness by a loving, compassionate God. And further, that the One who created all those strange nooks and crannies of personality sees beneath every mask and persona to my very CORE. 

Here is how the Psalmist says it: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:15-16, NRSV).

And then, here is the totally amazing part; even seeing EXACTLY what is there, that One still declares it beautiful and beloved. 

And the Good News is the same One who sees ME in that light also sees YOU just as clearly and describes YOU exactly the same way.

Is that bizarre, or what?

Abundant blessings;




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