Archive for July, 2022

29
Jul
22

Plagued by Purpose

Deep Thinker

There was a time… I remember it well… when the answer was so simple, it wasn’t even necessary to ask the question.

Those were the days when you only had to look one branch down on the family tree to know what your life was all about. 

Back then, asking why you were here on this planet was akin to picking up a hammer and asking why ITexisted. 

We each knew we were here to carry on… to receive and then pass the baton… to stoke the fires of family tradition, keeping them burning for those who come after. 

It was a sacred trust we dared not interrupt.

Those of us raised in that time knew it was only either saints or psychos who heard voices calling them to undertake BOLD, HISTORY-SHAPING ventures. For the rest of us, ours was to keep our heads down, our noses clean, and our shoulders firmly pressed against the wheel.

Until it wasn’t.

One day, everything turned upside down. One day, planes full of new high school graduates started taking off and flying west over the ocean. The next day, those same planes flew back filled with body bags. No one ever fully explained to us why it was necessary, or when it would end, or what we hoped to gain. They just kept sending more of us over there to die.

So, we stopped trusting them. We stopped assuming they were right. Until they could come up with better answers, we officially declined the job of Cultural Continuity Custodians

Because they were YOUR answers and not OURS, those answers were automatically WRONG. We didn’t believe it was true until we discovered it ourselves. In pursuit of that truth, we employed every tool of discovery imaginable. 

And so today, many years later, here I sit. Wondering. 

  • Are we here to be blind stewards of tradition, obediently carrying forward that which has been handed us?
  • Are we instead called to be students of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, understanding that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” and be done with it?
  • Or was it a good thing that we once opened this Pandora’s Pouch of Pulsating Possibilities and realized our power to CHOOSE and SHAPE the world we inhabit?

So, what is my purpose?

What is YOUR purpose?

What, in broader terms, is the purpose of life PERIOD?

For the definitive answer, we turn to the Source of all definitive answers. Jesus himself.

In the fourth chapter of John, after Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well (you know… the town outcast to whom Jesus offered comfort and a new vision for her future), he gave this very succinct definition of his purpose: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (John 4:34, NRSVU). 

There it is. Simple and straightforward… deftly summarizing shelves and shelves of books on the topic: FINDING LIFE’S PURPOSE.

Do God’s will. In this moment. And this moment. And this moment. Ad infinitum… until you look back and behold a life filled with a long string of moments of divine obedience. 

  1. Do God’s will.
  2. Complete God’s work. 

Simple as that.

Abundant blessings;

14
Jul
22

Viva la difference!

I’m sorry, but it’s true; I am married to the best cook in the world.

Sorry. This picture of the leftovers just doesn’t do justice to the thing in its prime.

The votes are in… tallies have been verified by Price-Waterhouse… the verdict is final.

How she does it – consistently night after night– I’ll never know. But mine is not to question why. Mine is just to dine and sigh. 

Just two nights ago, for example, Joan made some chicken thighs. “No big deal,” I hear you say. “What’s so amazing about chicken thighs?” But these were MIND-BLOWING chicken thighs. I can’t offer 100% validation on this, but I am reasonably sure Joan had at least DOUBLE the Colonel’s trademark “…eleven herbs and spices…” sprinkled on those bad boys.

I detected salt, pepper, paprika, turmeric, a little Turkish spice we picked up at the Istanbul Bazaar a few years ago, garlic salt, cayenne, and a couple of other things my tongue is not sophisticated enough to discern. 

But here is the thing: in the realm of cooking and the enjoyment of food, DIVERSITY seems to be the key. Our (between 2,000 and 4,000, according to the interwebs) taste buds get all excited and LIGHT UP when they encounter a multiplicity of stimuli. They cry, “MORE! MORE! We LOVE this avalanche of input you’re giving us!! Pile it ON!!”

Our visual receptors work the same way. We see something and label it, “beautiful,” or “awesome,” when we see a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, all converging in the same place. 

[Unless, of course, they happen to converge in the form of that blue and yellow plaid leisure suit I owned in 1983]. 

The same thing happens in the world of SOUND. One musical note is great. But add two or three other, different notes to that one and you get what we call HARMONY, which most of us call “pleasing to the ear.”

All of which brings me to the question that is the real point of this post; if you and I are hard-wired to find beauty in diversity and variety in sight, taste, and sound, why doesn’t this same wiring extend to our SOCIAL world?

That is, why do we seem to continue to insist that PEOPLE all adhere to a lockstep line of undifferentiated homogeneity?

Our nation’s horrible history of segregation, for example, suggests we once believed people should associate with only ONE race… their own. Maybe some still do.

We also seem to have an extremely hard time accommodating more than one OPINION or VIEWPOINT when considering the issues of the day. Anymore it isn’t just, “Sorry… I disagree with your position, and here’s why…” Today it is more like, “People who see things THAT way (meaning NOT the way I see it) are wrong, evil, and should honestly not even exist.”

“But wait!” you say. “Aesthetics and sociology have absolutely NOTHING to do with one another! Beauty is in the eye (or ear… or taste buds) of the beholder, whereas truth is ABSOLUTE and unwavering!”

Wise old King Solomon gave us a warning about our commitment to absolutism when he said, “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end, it is the way to death.” (Proverbs 16:25, NRSVU). Even earlier in his book of wise sayings he helpfully advised us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (Proverbs 3:5, NRSVU).

And remember… this comes from the man widely considered to be the smartest guy who ever lived. Yes… even smarter than Elon Musk!

True. The world today is filled with wacky and outlandish ideas. There is, for example, an active Flat Earth Society… there are moon landing deniers… 9/11 conspiracy theorists… Bigfoot chasers… even (if you can believe it!!) people who still deny the reality of climate change and the 2020 presidential election results! 

Am I saying that we ought to give even these a place of honor and legitimacy in our picture of the universe? 

No, I am not. Not when the item has been thoroughly and repeatedly proven to have no relationship to reality, as is the case with all the above.

What I AM saying is: let’s worry more about our level of COMMUNITY than our level of CORRECTNESS. Let’s make the search for ACCURACY secondary to the quest for AUTHENTICITY. Let’s prize KINSHIP over KNOWLEDGE. 

Does that mean smiling silently and nodding at Uncle Billy while he sits down at the Thanksgiving table and starts railing about Bill Gates planting microchips in your COVID vaccine?

Maybe. Maybe not. 

But if you do, you might just find Uncle Billy doing the same for YOU!

Abundant blessings;

11
Jul
22

Breathing Lessons

WHEW!

Dodged another COVID bullet.

Joan and I just heard from a close friend – one we had recently been in physical proximity with – that she and her husband both tested positive for the virus. 

Fortunately, their symptoms are mild, but she wanted us to know they caught the bug so that we could go get tested right away. 

So we did. And – Praise the Lord and pass the nasal swabs! – we both tested negative. 

This makes probably the fourth VERY close call for us since the beginning of the pandemic. And so far – knock wood – we have tested negative each time.

So, what do you think; why are some people infected while others are not? And what are the factors that either increase or decrease contagiousness? Joan and I are both TRIPLE vaccinated, but I know even that has not prevented people from catching the virus. 

But since I have exactly ZERO training in medical science, I am going to move this question out of the realm of HEALTH, if I may, and transplant it into the realm of LIFE IN GENERAL. First, because I CAN and secondly, because I believe contagiousness is a relevant topic for us to consider… even beyond its medical definitions.

How about in the realm of MOODS, for example? 

I am sure you’ve noticed how another person’s MOOD can be contagious, either positively or negatively. When you pass that cheerful woman walking on the street, her sunny disposition immediately crosses the blood barrier and moves right on into your system. Suddenly YOUR step seems a little bouncier in a way you can’t readily explain.

In the same way, handing your credit card to the guy behind the counter who would CLEARLY rather be anywhere but here rubs off, too. His sour demeanor can easily become yours in a matter of moments.

And here in the age of information, IDEAS and BELIEFS can also be pretty contagious, too, can’t they? Most of us have ready access to machines that are capable of communicating with large groups of people, spread across a wide area. 

All it takes is a crazy notion with flimsy scientific support, a passionate belief, a few keystrokes… and VIOLA! We have successfully infected hundreds of people with a virus cleverly designed to produce fear and hatred of some unknown group of ENEMIES!

I hate to promote the gloomy view of contagiousness here, but lately it seems to me that the DARK and NEGATIVE viruses are spreading much faster than the HOPEFUL, LIFE-GIVING strains. I will admit that the negative stuff sometimes seems to work its way into my bloodstream more quickly. I’m pretty sure that “daily news reading” lowers my spirit’s defenses from these insidious viruses. 

The challenge I am setting for myself today is this: How can I be more intentional about my contagiousness? As you can readily see that challenge has two parts. First, how do I strengthen my defenses against the SOUL-SUCKING viruses, and SECOND, how do I assure that my positive, life-affirming germs are the ones I am spreading to the people I meet?

The Apostle Paul has some sound, simple advice on this, oddly enough. He says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6, NRSVU). 

Easy peasy, right? Just set your mind on the Spirit and life and peace are there at your fingertips. The operative phrase here being, “… set your mind…” 

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul puts a little more detail in his instructions on the best ways to avoid the negative infections. He says, “Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:14-16, NRSVU). 

There certainly are a LOT of germs and viruses flying around these days. And I am not just talking about COVID. And sadly, even the best N95 masks are not effective against them. 

But as Paul and his mentor Jesus are certainly helping me understand, what I breathe IN has a whole lot to do with what I put OUT.  

Abundant blessings;

07
Jul
22

“My bad. I’m Sorry.”

Joan told me.

“I’m sorry, honey.”

In fact, more than once.

She made sure I knew it was MY responsibility.

And yet, when we parked our car and got ready to catch the shuttle bus to the Fort Collins City Fourth of July fireworks display, we both saw that I had screwed up.

Royally.

Going to the back of the car and opening the hatchback, we immediately discovered that I had NOT – despite being explicitly asked to do so – packed the portable camp chairs. 

So there we were… staring face-to-face with the prospect of spending the next two hours either standing up or sitting down on the damp grass of City Park.

 What a DOOFUS!

But do you know what the really sad part of the story is? The REALLY sad part was my response.

Instead of bowing my head in shame, apologizing, accepting the scorn being so justifiably heaped on me, and then trying to figure out ways to salvage our evening, I INSTANTLY went into denial, deflection, and defense mode.

  • “Well, we were rushing around so much there at the last minute, and I got sidetracked.”
  • “I thought YOU were getting the chairs!”
  • “Weren’t we concerned about having to lug those chairs around with us for hours and hours?”

It is one thing to screw up. We all do it… in large matters, or small.

It is another thing entirely to accept responsibility for one’s errors. 

But don’t take my word for it. Just look around. National and international news is filled – EVERY DAY – with people contorting themselves into all kinds of outrageous shapes, trying to avoid the blame for their mistakes. They say things like:

  • “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time…”
  • “I didn’t have all the information I needed to make that decision correctly…”

And then there is my all-time favorite…

  • “What are you talking about? I didn’t do that!/That wasn’t me! Who you gonna believe… me, or your lying eyes?”

It is hard. REALLY hard to stand up, raise your hand, and say, “Yes. I did that. I committed that error. I am the one – the ONLY one – responsible for the thing that went wrong.”

Accepting responsibility for a mistake is hard because none of us sets out to screw up. We each believe we are living our lives, making our decisions, taking our actions, and speaking our truths to the very best of our abilities. 

I am pretty certain that even those who have committed the vilest crimes imaginable told themselves, “This is the right thing to do at this moment.”

Confessing and owning up to a mistake is hard because it means accepting a different image of myself. It means dying to the image of myself as the guy who always hits the nail on the head, who always shoots and scores, who always provides the golden key that unlocks the mystery du jour.

It means accepting an image of myself as the guy who absentmindedly forgets to pack camp chairs into the car. 

The good folks at AA and NA know a thing or two about this phenomenon. Step One of the Twelve Steps is all about admitting your abject powerlessness over your propensity to err. From that fertile base of acknowledged powerlessness, then, comes the step of confessing the need of a Greater Power to restore you to sanity.

As much as I love the Friends of Bill W. and their amazing history of success, I think John the Revelator hit the nail a little more squarely on the head when he said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9, NRSVU). 

Every one of us is flawed. Every one of us “steps in it” now and then. Every one of us does damage – intentionally or unintentionally – to the people closest to us. 

Hopefully though we each also readily confess our shortcomings, turn to our Loving Creator for help, and then grow a centimeter or two in our stature as humans in the process…

… and do a better job of packing for the fireworks show.

Abundant blessings;

04
Jul
22

Forward or Backward?

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July.

Celebrating this holiday has rarely ever been a question for me. I mean, who wouldn’t jump at the chance for a day off, a backyard BBQ, a frosty cold adult beverage, all topped off by watching a display of loud, colorful fireworks. 

But something is different this year. 

Something seems psychically, spiritually, and certainly politically out of whack here on July 3, 2022.

My blogger idol Mitch Teemley (find his thoughtful work here) has jarred my consciousness about what it means for anyone… but ESPECIALLY a follower of Christ… to engage in this national festivity. 

We have all witnessed the way this date can easily become a jingoistic bacchanalia of flag-waving excess, raising this nation onto the altar in place of the One God, in the meantime willfully turning a blind eye to the violent and blood-stained chapters of our national story.

Mitch has forced me out of my sleepwalk and invited me to confront this question: What is it exactly that I am celebrating when I celebrate the Fourth of July? 

  • Am I celebrating the publication of the document that declared this nation’s independence from its overbearing British parent? 
  • Am I celebrating the IDEA of a nation “… of the people, by the people, and for the people,” where all are created equal, with preference accorded to none? 
  • Am I celebrating everything this nation is today… warts and all?

And finally, is it even possible to celebrate the IDEA of the nation without acknowledging its shortcomings and monumental moral failures? 

First, as a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, I must remember that I am called to a Higher Citizenship than the citizenship of any particular nation-state. Jesus reminds me that God’s kingdom – that I pray will come, “… on earth as it is in heaven…” – is the only kingdom worthy of my ultimate allegiance. 

Jesus helped us keep these priorities in order when he said: “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, NRSVU). 

But what ARE “… the things that are Caesar’s”?

For example, do I owe “Caesar” (i.e., the political power structures of my country) my unquestioning loyalty? Do I owe “Caesar” silence in the light of injustice? Do I owe “Caesar” the benefit of the doubt? Do I owe “Caesar” a joyous birthday celebration that conveniently glosses over damage being done today (in “Caesar’s” name) to women, people of color, disabled people, people living in poverty, people denied access to education, and numerous other disenfranchised groups?

Jesus’ words also remind me that those who aspire to follow him are called to be instruments of justice wherever and whenever they encounter injustice. “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NRSVU). 

Which, it seems to me, applies even when “Caesar” is the instrument of injustice. 

Frankly, I am torn. I don’t ever remember being this ambivalent about celebrating the Fourth in my life. I have heard some people say, “My country, right or wrong.” I have heard other people say, “Today, I am NOT proud to call myself an American.”

I waver back and forth between those two wildly oppositional poles.

I suppose I could choose to ignore my distress and say, “What the heck. This day is all about the fireworks, beer, and BBQ. Don’t overthink it, bruh.”

Or maybe… just maybe…

I could find a way to COMPLETELY and RADICALLY reframe this holiday. Maybe even give it a new name! 

Hear me out! What if… instead of making this a BACKWARD-LOOKING celebration that forces me to conveniently ignore things like slavery, and the extermination of the First Inhabitants, and similarly ugly chapters, what if I choose to make this a FORWARD-LOOKING celebration? A FORWARD-LOOKING celebration that is about claiming a bold promise for a just and truly compassionate nation?

What if… to cement this FORWARD-LOOKING theme in place a little more solidly… what if instead of calling it the FOURTH of JULY, we call it the FORTH of JULY?? You know… the day when we GO FORTH to work hand-in-hand to create that “shining city on a hill” our Founders envisioned? 

And what if we do that as an expression of our allegiance to Jesus and his vision of God’s kingdom where, “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” enjoys justice, peace, security, and life in equal measure with all other citizens?

What if… 

Now THAT is something I’d shoot off a firework or two about.

Abundant blessings;




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