Archive for May, 2023


Considering Sacrifice

My apologies for showing up late with a reflection on Memorial Day. I began writing this on Monday with the very best of intentions and then… well, stuff happened.

For me, the word that should be most central to this annual American holiday is the word SACRIFICE. Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday that was first observed on May 30, 1868. It is the day we set aside to remember, give thanks for, and learn from the brave men and women who died in the course of military service to this country. 

And since every one of those people entered the armed forces knowing full well that dying was a distinct possibility, the word sacrifice certainly seems appropriate, don’t you think? 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines sacrifice as: “… an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy…“ In the case of the people we remembered on Memorial Day, they clearly went through a calculation process and concluded that the safety and political freedom of this country was “more important or worthy” than their lives. 

The ability to make that calculation both amazes and humbles me. It also makes me wonder if I could ever do that kind of math. I am, after all, the guy who cringes and makes a pouty face whenever Joan asks me for a bite of my dessert. 

I suspect I am not alone in struggling with the concept of sacrifice. Every day our ears and brains are bombarded by the voice of contemporary culture steering us away from the notion of voluntarily giving up something valued. Everywhere we hear messages like, “You’ve got to look out for #1,” or “Get yours before somebody else does,” or, YOLO (short for ‘You Only Live Once’), baby!”

We are being trained to believe that the pie is finite and we are in constant competition with everyone around us for a fair-sized slice. 

Our bodies and our emotional systems also conspire to try and defeat the notion of sacrifice. When we get hungry, our hard-wired self-preservation instincts lead us to seek food. When we get cold, those same instincts lead us to seek warmth. Likewise, when something from outside us (let’s say a criticism, or a hurtful truth spoken about us) rubs our emotional nerve endings the wrong way, we quickly raise our defenses and prepare to counterattack.

If our sole source of counsel is the culture, our feelings, and our bodies, the idea of SACRIFICE seems like about the stupidest idea in the WORLD!

On the other hand, if we choose to tune in to God, we discover that sacrifice is in fact the essence of life. Seeds die, fall into the earth, and become new crops. Jesus describes this process in detail in John 12:24. Trees die and topple over, only to become rich sources of new forest life. In a recent story on NPR, reporter Emily Kwong discussed what happens in the deep ocean when a whale dies. She said, “Whale carcasses — known as ‘whale falls’ — become an energy-rich habitat, drawing a wide variety of organisms from across the deep sea to feast. Whale falls become ecosystems unto themselves.” 

Ask any parent about the idea of SACRIFICE and you will get an entire litany about lost sleep, lost time, lost friends, possibly lost job opportunities, lost money, and lost sanity, all for the “more important or worthy” cause of their precious bundle of joy’s future. 

In his farewell address to the disciples, Jesus sums up the significance of sacrifice this way: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NRSV). Which, as we know, is exactly what he then did. 

When we come eyeball-to-eyeball with the moment, sacrifice feels unnatural. Counterintuitive. Dumb. Our gut says, RUN! Save yourself!” 

But today I thank God for those few dumb, counterintuitive, amazing, superhuman people who stared at that moment and said YES. 

Abundant blessings;


Through the eyes of an eight-year-old

It probably shouldn’t have, but his question caught me completely off guard.

There I was, innocently watching my grandson play baseball with his team there in the steamy heat of southwestern Louisiana this past weekend. I was there sitting on the bleachers on the third-base side, squirming to get comfortable on the hard aluminum surface. At the same time I was yelling words of encouragement (and OK, occasionally politely questioning an umpiring decision or two). When out of the clear blue, an eight-year-old seated nearby pointed to my chest and asked, “What’s that?”

I looked down and saw that the cross I usually wear on the inside of my shirt was hanging there on the outside. 

“It’s a cross,” I smiled and replied, confident I had satisfied his curiosity. 

I guess not. Still staring intently at my ornamentation, he persisted. “What’s it for?” he asked then.

That question was the stumper. 

Had this been an adult quizzing me… say, another one of the parents or grandparents sitting there in the bleachers… I would have been happy to respond by explaining that the cross reminded me of the way faith in Christ is a central part of my life, adding the explanation that the two axes of the cross symbolize both the VERTICAL as well as the HORIZONTAL nature of God’s love.

There may then have ensued a thoughtful theological discussion of faith, doubt, heaven, hell, sin, salvation, brokenness, healing, and the demise of the designated hitter.  (Remember… this was a baseball tournament after all). 

But what do I say to this eight-year-old to explain what the cross is “for”?

As I struggled to articulate the cross’ purpose in a way that made sense to him, a loud cheer went up from the crowd and we both turned to see what had happened. It was a bases-loaded triple which sent the home team into a raucous impromptu celebration and made me temporarily forget the kid’s question.

As you can see though, it stayed lodged somewhere in my brain long enough to prompt a Russelling.

Had our conversation continued, I imagined it going a little something like this:

KID:     What’s it for?

ME:      Well, it reminds me that I am a Christian.

KID:     (you know how they do) What’s a Christian? And why do you have to be reminded?

ME:      A Christian is someone who follows – or I should say, tries their best to follow – Jesus and do the things he said we should do. And honestly, I need to be reminded because I regularly get confused about who I am supposed to follow. 

KID:     You mean “follow” like on Instagram?

ME:      No. Not really. More like “follow” when you are hiking through a forest, and you need to follow someone who knows where they are going. THAT kind of “follow.”

KID:     So, if Jesus knows where he is going, why would you forget to follow him? That seems pretty dumb. 

ME:      Hang on there, sport. Be careful who you’re calling dumb. I’m old enough to be your grandfather! But yes, when you put it that way, you are absolutely right. It really is pretty dumb to follow someone who is NOT“… the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6, NRSV) like Jesus is. Except you know what? I do it all the time. And so do lots of other people my age who should really know better.

KID:     OK. I see. But why is it in that shape? That thing just looks like two sticks put together.

ME:      Has anyone ever told you you’re very observant? That shape – which is called a cross… you know, kind of like a crossroad – is the shape of something in his time that was very BAD that Jesus turned into something very GOOD. That shape reminds me that if I am a Christian, that is what I am supposed to do, too. It also reminds me I can’t do that – the “changing something bad into something good” thing – on my own. I need Jesus to help me with that.

KID:     Well, OK then. I guess you really do need to wear that cross, don’t you. 

ME:      Yes, I really do. 

KID:     Good talk, gramps. So glad I asked the question. Now… can we please get back to the game? 

I think the reason this conversation stuck with me is because of what it called to mind. It helped me remember the need to articulate my faith in the simplest terms possible. Some of us (using myself as a prime example) can get all twisted up into elaborate Boy Scout knots with our theology and apologetics as we try to come up with new and different ways of explaining who Jesus is and why we have decided to follow him. 

But when it comes right down to it, shouldn’t our faith be simple enough for a baseball-focused eight-year-old to understand?

I think so.

Abundant blessings;


Fuel vs. Friction

I begin today with a thank you to whoever invented podcasts.

So, “Thanks, podcast inventor.” (Actually, Google tells me podcasts were invented in 2004 by Adam Curry and Dave Winer. Thanks Adam and Dave.). 

I like podcasts because they are the things that keep my mind off what is happening to my body while I toil and sweat at the gym.

Sometimes I pick a podcast for its fun and entertainment value. Mostly though I try to find one that is enlightening or edifying. And sometimes these of the latter variety stick with me and keep my wheels turning long after I’ve gone home, showered, and changed clothes.

Last year (June 9, 2022 to be exact), I told you about one of my favorite podcasts, called Hidden Brain. (Found here). Why it is called that I really don’t know. What I do know is that it is almost always a source of surprising insight and revelation. 

Yesterday’s installment featured an interview with Prof. Loran Nordgren who is an author and organizational psychologist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. You may find him here

I was most captivated when Prof. Nordgren began talking about the way organizations seek to influence people’s behavior. He said that when a company wants you to take an action (such as buying a product), they develop their U.S.P. (also called the “Unique Selling Proposition”), and then FUEL it with slick packaging, clever advertising, strategic distribution, and attractive pricing. If you and I don’t bite at first, the company usually responds by adding additional FUEL to the marketing machine. 

It’s like pressing the accelerator in your car to make it go faster.

Far less often, he went on to say, do those organizations ever consider the question of FRICTION. Nordgren defined friction as any force that provides resistance to the person taking the desired action. He gave the example of a furniture store in suburban Chicago that invited customers to design their own custom couches. People stayed involved in the design process right up to the point of actually making the purchase. When it came time to buy, most people stepped away and declined.

When the store turned its attention from FUEL to FRICTION, they discovered that a lot of people backed out of the sale because of FRICTION. In this case, they did not have a plan for what to do with their old couch once they bought the new one. When the store changed its marketing message to say, “AND we will pick up your old couch for FREE!” they found that sales SOARED.

“Very interesting,” I hear you say. “But what does all this have to do with the Christian life?”

Glad you asked. As a Christ follower, I am aware of three distinct commandments I received from Jesus: 1.) Love God (with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength), 2.) Love my neighbor as myself, and 3.) Make disciples. 

All three bring their own special challenges. But I have to admit I am most regularly challenged by that third one; making disciples. I continuously ask myself: how do I do that? Regularly, consistently, effectively, and compassionately?

And no, making disciples has nothing to do with the process of SELLING in any way, shape, or form. But the podcast made me ask myself: do I think more about adding FUEL to my discipleship message? Or am I willing to do the hard work of examining the points of FRICTION that keep that message from connecting to its audience?

Because adding FUEL is easy. You just step on the gas! 

Examining the sources and causes of FRICTION is a whole lot harder. It means asking hard questions. It means LISTENING. It means taking stock of one’s comfortable, habitual behaviors and daring to make changes. It means putting oneself into the shoes of the people you are trying to communicate with and thinking about what matters most to THEM.

And so, in this era of rapid decline in church membership and religious affiliation, we might be tempted to modify Christ’s message so we can reduce friction and “smooth the way” on the path to discipleship. Pastors and members alike feel the pressure to fill those empty buildings and attain new relevance. 

And I must admit, the idea holds some appeal on the surface. These days there seems to be a whole lot of friction when it comes to making disciples for Jesus Christ.

But Jesus himself didn’t seem to care much about the whole concept of friction when it comes to discipleship. He sounds unequivocal about the difficulties of the path when, in three of the four Gospels, he offers some version of this guidance: “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23. Luke then doubles down and repeats essentially the same command in chapter 14, verse 27.) 

In another part of Matthew’s gospel, we hear him say, “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14, NRSVU). 

So… what do you think? Add fuel? Decrease friction? Or stay on the sidelines and leave this to the professionals? 

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Abundant blessings;


Dangerous Delegation

While Joan and I were out of town last week, I decided to try something different. I knew the lawn would need attention during our absence, but rather than call the 20-something year old young man who usually cuts our grass, I knocked on the door of my next-door neighbor, Dan.

Dan has a son – let’s call him Ethan – who is about 10-11 years old. I asked Dan if he thought Ethan would be interested in earning a few bucks by cutting our grass while we were gone. Dan said, “Well, he’s never mowed a lawn before, but sure!” (You see, Dan went total xeriscape a few years ago. Meaning his lawn is 100% rocks and mulch and ground cover. Ergo, no mower needed.)

I went over the instructions on the operation of our EGO battery-powered mower with Dan, agreed on a price, and then contentedly jumped into the car and hit the road. 

When we got back from our trip, I could tell that the lawn had been mowed. The problem was it wasn’t mowed like I would have mowed it. Ethan hadn’t trimmed along the edges. The lines were a little wobbly. He also didn’t bag the clippings. [Leave aside for a moment the fact that I didn’t ask Ethan to edge or bag the clippings.]

I sighed to myself and muttered, “I guess I should have just waited and mowed it myself when we got back.”

I was reminded once again of the challenge of DELEGATION.

If you have ever had supervisory responsibility over other people, you know exactly what I am talking about. Heck, if you have ever been a parent, you know this dilemma, too. 

On more than one occasion you have likely faced that moment when a task needs to leave your “TO DO” list and migrate toward someone else’s. You know how similar that feeling is to the feeling when you wave good-bye to your child at the pre-school door. 

It feels like your baby has just been tossed to the wolves.

Handing over a task to someone else feels like losing control. It feels like condemning that task to a second-class existence, its full potential never to be realized. 

You know no one else can (or will) do it as well as you might have. You fear that when THEY finish with it, it will not look even REMOTELY like what you intended it to look like.

Hopefully you are smart enough to also realize that unless you delegate, you will drown. 

So let me ask you this: if you agonize this much about handing over a spreadsheet to your cubicle colleague, how do you think Jesus felt about handing over his entire ministry to a bunch of – charitably speaking – first century chowderheads?

I don’t think I am being unnecessarily cruel when I use the word “chowderheads” to describe the Terrible Twelve. We see example after example of Jesus having to pull one or more of them aside to explain what he means or what the heck is going on. 

Most of Jesus’ parables conclude with scenes of the disciples sitting around, scratching their heads, asking each other, “What did he mean by that?”

There is also the famous scene in Matthew’s gospel when James and John (referred to as “the sons of Zebedee”) coerce their mother into asking Jesus if her boys can sit next to Jesus when he comes into power. 


And the examples don’t stop there. Let’s not forget the disciples’ blatant flaunting of Sabbath purity rituals, or Peter’s triple denial. Or for that matter, the pinnacle of disqualifying behavior: the disciple Judas’ ultimate betrayal of his Master. 

And yet. It was THIS exact motley crew to whom Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NRSVU). It was that same exact, denying guy – Peter – Jesus commanded to, “… feed my sheep…” (John 21:17, NRSVU) and about whom he said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18, NRSVU). 

Is it possible that Jesus knew something you and I don’t know? Is it possible he knew there was Something Else – something besides their IQs, their theological training, their charisma, or their SAT scores – that would qualify them for this world-shaping, history-making task? 

I think you already know the answer to that question. 

I know something else you know but might be a little frightened to say out loud; I know that regardless of YOUR IQ, theological training, charisma, SAT scores, family connections, net worth, or even your ability to string three words together in a coherent sentence, Jesus is also delegating that same mission to YOU .

Abundant blessings;


Stepping Outside

I was born in the year 1951.

Besides making me INCREDIBLY old, it also means there were two bedrock truths I clung to with the ferocity of a baby opossum clinging to its mother’s back as she swims across a swollen creek:

  • My country (the good ol’ USA) is always right.
  • My country is also intrinsically BETTER than all other countries.

I think I came upon these views honestly enough.

My birth year was not that far removed from the victorious end of World War II. It was a time when the sweet perfume of VJ Day and VE Day still hung in the air. Evil had been defeated by Good and it was mostly America’s doing. It was a time when the evidence for our exceptionalism was abundant, and we were always up for taking just one more victory lap whenever we could.

That heady time, however, gave way to the extreme racial violence of the Civil Rights era. It was the time of poll taxes and literacy tests, the torture and murder of Emmett Till, the bombing of black churches, Bull Connor and his fire hoses, the flaming Greyhound busses of the Freedom Riders, and Viola Liuzzo. 

This era was a gigantic black eye for our country, and a full frontal assault on our identity as “land of the free, home of the brave.”

But somehow, I didn’t see it that way. For me it was more like being part of a wonderful family… with the notable exception of that embarrassing uncle we all agree is crazy and try to avoid talking about. 

So, despite some serious evidence to the contrary, the myth of American exceptionalism – for me and for many – continued to reign supreme.

I can’t say for sure how long that belief lingered in my psyche. I can, however, tell you how it began to crumble and fall apart. 

Travel. And reading.

Travel – the thing I am doing right now as we speak – brings a person nose-to-nose with the realities of places other than the one you grew up in. Travel shows you a place’s uniquenesses, its exceptionalisms, its blessings, and its warts. When you visit another country, you cannot help but notice the pride they take in their own history and people. It begins to feel arrogant and wrong to keep on saying, WE are better you are! WEare RIGHT!”

As Mark Twain is purported to have once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

As odd and counterintuitive as this phenomenon might be, it seems I always return from travel with a greater appreciation for the wonders of my homeland. 

Reading is the other thing that can be a deadly poison to chauvinism. Just like travel, reading broadens horizons and opens eyes. It tests hypotheses. It questions premises. It uproots. 

Sometimes it whispers, other times it shouts, but no matter how it speaks, reading invariably challenges truths we have held to be self-evident. I still count the courses I most resisted taking in seminary as the courses I learned the most from.

It is by reading, for example, that I learned that most of America’s current economic supremacy was built on the bowed backs of black and brown enslaved people. It is by reading that I learned about the disastrous effects of specialized farming, child labor practices, artificial intelligence, Japanese internment camps in America, the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, the causes and outcomes of World War I and World War II, female circumcision in Africa, the history of aviation, and countless other topics that have shaped the way I see the world.

Yes, I have acquired some knowledge over the years… though probably not enough at this point to even CONSIDER auditioning for Jeopardy! However, the more knowledge I acquire, the more I realize I have yet to acquire. Instead of making me proud of my learning, reading and learning makes me humble about what I don’t yet know. 

The problem is, most Americans don’t travel (a 2019 Department of Commerce survey concluded that 64 percent of U.S. Americans have never traveled to another country… including Canada and/or Mexico.)

Most Americans also don’t read. A survey by the group Test Prep Insight found that, at the end of 2022, the last full year of the pandemic, 48.5 percent of Americans had read ZERO books during the past year. 

As a result of this non-reading, non-traveling behavior, many Americans continue to swagger into the public forum braying, “WE are right! We are the BEST!” without any evidence to support their claim. And as wise old King Solomon once told us, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2, NRSVU).

I beseech my fellow countrypersons: Please travel. Please read. Please realize how much the world has changed since 1951. And please believe you and I can learn a LOT from people who don’t resemble us at all.

Abundant blessings;


Bonnie King Charlie

I can’t believe four entire days have gone by and I haven’t written a single word about it.

“It” in this case being the coronation of King Charles of England.

I know, I know. I suspect most of you reading this post are rabid republicans (lower case “r”) who could not give a fiddly fig about our Prior Oppressors and their fancy dress costume parties. You likely didn’t give Thought #1, 2, or 3 about the Momentous Moment which took place on May 6 across the pond as the doddering old guy with the made-up surname bowed and had a big, bejeweled hat placed on his head. 

And mostly I didn’t care either. 

Even though it has been nearly 70 years since the last coronation of a British monarch, count me among those who passionately can’t comprehend all that royal hubbub over there.

I suppose some think of it as cute. And some think of it as steeped in tradition. Others likely put it in the same category as their worship of the latest K-Pop sensation, or their devotion to the outcome of the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show.  

But is there anyone who can look at me with a straight face and call it RELEVANT?

Before you dismiss me as a maliciously meddling malcontent you should know this; I am currently in the middle of season 5 of The Crown. I am honestly trying to get it. I tune in with an open mind each time, waiting for the Bulb of Illumination to click on above my head, signaling the moment when I finally realize why this convoluted system of governance continues to exist.

But so far, nothing. 




Classically, a king (or queen) is the supreme authority of a people or a place. The final adjudicator of disputes large and small. The figure before which every knee shall bend in servile deference. 

And in that sense, I have no hesitation at all about conferring that title on Jesus Christ. For me, he is King of Kings… Lord of Lords… Author of Life and Ruler of my Soul. I will not hesitate for a moment to call Him the Supreme Authority before whom my knee will always bend. In any moment of confusion or indecision, His Word is the final word.

So, I guess it is probably a combination of my Christian faith and my American heritage. But the fact remains; I find it impossible to afford that same kind of standing to another (mere) flesh and blood human being. 

Besides my theological objections, I also see a very dark and dangerous side to whole notion of human kings and queens. By definition, “royals” are a special class of people. It is a familial title which can only be passed on by blood relationships. And as such, it perpetuates the idea that there is a certain class of people who are born to rule while the rest of us are born to BE ruled. 

It is this exact mindset that ignited and perpetuated England’s (and others) Empire-building escapades of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. It is the conviction that says, “We, the enlightened, ennobled ones, have a divine right and DUTY to bring our advanced ways to your dark, backward continent and thus, free you from YOURSELVES!”

As it spread, this mentality gave birth to genocide, slavery, war, global epidemics, and death.

And far too often, sadly, the promulgation of the Christian faith was used as the “tip of the spear” to initiate the subjugation of new lands. 

So, no. I am no fan of kings, queens, or any other human kind of monarch. At best, I consider them a trite anachronism. At worst, a perpetuation of an implicit human caste system.

It is entirely possible, however, that I am missing something. So, I would invite any Brit – or monarchist of any nationality, for that matter – to weigh in and set me straight.

Abundant blessings;


Old, Fresh, and Green

Here it is, year 3.5 and I am still not sure I have this thing figured out.

The “thing” to which I refer is, of course, retirement.

OK. I’m not dumb. I know what the word itself means… even without consulting the Oxford American Dictionary. (Which, by the way, defines retirement as, “… the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.”)

It is more the case that I am not sure what retirement means for ME.

I can describe all the negative elements of retirement pretty well. It means I no longer have a bi-weekly paycheck. It means I am no longer governed by a prescribed set of daily duties and obligations. It means I no longer have a staff to supervise, mediate with, counsel, encourage, play with, or evaluate. It means I no longer have a set of overlords demanding a regular accounting of my efforts. 

It also means I am no longer restricted to evenings and weekends for doing my grocery shopping, movie watching, lawn mowing, or television viewing. 

As I said, the “no longers” are the easy questions to answer. I’m pretty clear about the things retirement has put to an end. 

Where I struggle is to accurately name what is now BEGINNING here in my new retired status.

In a very real sense, this feels like a revisiting of the LIFE’S PURPOSE question I spent so much time grappling with in my youth. 

In today’s world, where many of us are making the change from receiving a paycheck to receiving pension and/or social security payments, I suspect I am not the only one asking this question. Thanks to improved healthcare, exercise, and better diets, many of us old farts still have lots of vim and vigor in us as we exit the workforce. Our minds are clear and need to stay active. Our hearts still beat with abundant energy. Our knees, hips, and elbows creak, groan, and ache a little more, but we can still get around (somewhat) with those young punks. 

We are not at all ready to be put out to pasture. And since some of us (speaking for myself only) absolutely DESPISE the game of golf, it means we enter this time ready to shift gears and explore new byways rather than pulling off into a permanent REST AREA by the side of life’s road.

I certainly don’t lack for things to do. Now that I am back at it, writing this blog is one of those things. I volunteer at three different places. I am spending more time with my guitar and now – thanks to a lovely Christmas gift from Joan – am trying to learn the harmonica, too. Traveling has picked up significantly in retirement. In fact, I am writing you now from a lovely VRBO condo in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (From where, later today, we will be heading up the Baja coast to the picturesque seaside town of Todos Santos.)

I’d love to spend more time with the grandkids, but we are a nine-hour drive away from three of them and a 16-hour drive away from the other five. (Our fault entirely, by the way. We are the ones who chose to move to Colorado). 

No. Filling the hours of each day is not my concern. The question I continue to wrestle with is the musical question Dionne Warwick sang to Michael Caine when she crooned, “What’s it all about, Alfie?”

And unfortunately (or more accurately, fortunately), I know my bible. I know God can continue to use people looooong after they have qualified for AARP membership. 

Case in point: Abraham. Case in point: Moses. Case in point: Noah. Case in point: many, many others throughout the Old and New Testaments. I have read enough of these stories to know that I am not done until God says I am done.  

Despite all the angst on display here, I’ll admit it; I am really enjoying this new chapter. I enjoy the lack of deadlines, the senior discounts, the mid-day naps, the mall walks, the mis-matched clothes, the matinee movies, and the occasional Sunday sleep-ins.

Against that cultural backdrop, it is my sincere prayer that I might realize the promise God made to the righteous ones of King David’s time when he spoke through the psalmist and described them this way, “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” (Psalm 92:14, NRSVU)

Abundant blessings;


Did You Miss Me?

As the kids say, “It’s been a minute.”

In my case, it’s been a minute (or two) since I last sat and did any kind of communicating via this blog. 

Actually, I am pretty certain you didn’t miss me. But I REALLY missed you! That is to say, I missed the discipline of regularly trying to quiet myself, listen to the promptings of the Spirit, and faithfully render those nudges into a coherent sentence or two under the banner of Russellings of the Spirit.

In my defense, April was bonkers. 

To say the least.

Very early in the month, Joan had major surgery that involved fusing a couple of vertebrae and removing a pesky lamina or two (a procedure which, in medical terminology is called a laminectomy. You should Google it. The pictures are pretty cool). It was a six-hour surgery and required that she spend three overnights in the hospital. 

Joan is home now, but must wear a rigid back brace for three months. And THEN the physical therapy can begin. So needless to say, April required a lot of caregiving by me while she recovered.

She is doing better every day, praise God. She still must walk with a cane and is a little wobbly on her feet. Nevertheless, every day brings a little more strength and a little more stability. A great medical team and LOTS of prayers are key reasons why.

And then there was the show. 

Way back in the first week of January, I auditioned to be included in the Loveland Choral Society (whose website you can find here) for a show called, SMILE! It’s the 70s! It was a two-hour musical revue of tunes from the greatest musical decade EVER (think Queen, The Eagles, James Taylor, ABBA, Heart, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, Deep Purple, Bill Withers, etc., etc.), complete with costumes, a live band and CHOREOGRAPHY!

It was four months of 2.5-hour rehearsals every week, culminating with rehearsals every night of show week (a.k.a. HELL week), April 24-30. It was a ton of fun that culminated with four sold-out shows at the Rialto Theater in downtown Loveland, Colorado. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but it used up just about all my spare time and energy.

Reading through the above, it sounds like I am either bragging or complaining… or maybe a little of both. Instead, I am trying to explain – both to you and to myself – why I haven’t written a blog post in a very, very long time. 

I am also confessing to no small amount of surprise at the rather gaping nature of the hole in my life that appeared as a result of this hiatus. 

It very well may be that this exercise – which my youngest brother fondly referred to as “… shouting into the abyss” – amounts to a whole lot of wasted time and energy. Or in the words of the immortal bard, “Much ado about nothing.” 

And in the grand scheme of literary significance, that is probably an accurate description.

I think what I am trying to say – in the long, rambling, clumsy, roundabout way I do – is that regardless of what you may think of it, this forum matters to me. 


During this enforced lull, I discovered that writing this blog matters to me mostly as a spiritual discipline. It has become a time of enforced solitary reflection and prayer. Every Russelling is generally preceded by listening, attuning, reflection, processing, and criticism. It is a time when I try to mimic the words and the heart of the young prophet Samuel, saying, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10, NRSV).

And – if I’m being totally honest with you – it is also a time to slip in a humble brag or two about our latest Adventures in Retirement.

I hope I am now past the pressing whirlwind of the last month and back into a readin’, ‘ritin’, reflectin’ rhythm once more. As soon as I say that though, I know I am in danger of challenging God to come up with some new twist or turn that will test my discipline.

In the meantime, I am glad to connect with you again and resume this amazing merry-go-round we call life. 

Let’s stay in touch.

Abundant blessings;


WHEE! 23!!

Today, on the 23rd anniversary of our wedding day, I come to you with a heart overflowing with gratitude. Yes, Joan and I chose to be married on Cinco de Mayo of the year 2000. I’m not sure May 5 had a lot of significance, but I will be forever grateful that we chose to marry in a year ending with three zeros. That way, if I know what year it is, I can always answer the question, “So… how long have you two been married?”

I don’t have to work hard to remember the bruised and battered person I was when we walked down the aisle on that warm Friday evening. Not physically mind you, but spiritually and psychically. After a painful divorce three years earlier and the failure of my solo venture into the world of advertising and public relations, the three-legged stool of my identity and self-worth was wobbling badly. 

My faith was still there but was hanging on by a thread. I certainly still believed in the idea of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, but mostly as an abstract theological principle. I was not sure it was something available to the likes of me in that moment.

And yet, here was this radiant, fun-loving, adventurous, kind, compassionate woman standing next to me… preparing to make eternal promises to keep standing there no matter what. She was beautiful inside and out and when she turned and smiled at me, left no doubt in my mind she was there to stay. 

“For better or for worse…” as Pastor Dustin prompted us to repeat after him. 

I have no doubt at all it was her love and encouragement that helped me see the vision of the new thing waiting to rise from the ashes of my previous existence. Joan was the one who steadfastly believed in me when I didn’t. She knew God had greater designs for my future and urged me to also see and lean into those designs. 

Without pushing, cajoling, or insisting, she helped me see that the path to seminary and professional, ordained ministry was not as goofy a path as it sounded to me at first. 

Since that day 25 years ago when we first met, Joan has been “God with skin on” in my life. She has been my champion, my encourager, my challenger, my accountability, my harshest critic, my fiercest defender, and the one who has continued to provide a vision of what is possible when I lose sight of it. She is the one who kicks my butt when I need it and strokes my head when that is the touch that is needed.

Every year when this day comes around, I struggle to answer the question, “What can I do to adequately show Joan the depth of my gratitude and love as we mark another year on our journey as husband and wife?” And every year I fail to come up with anything much better than flowers, a card, and dinner. 

Maybe this time – besides all those standard, boring celebration devices – I’ll clear my throat, summon my best Elton voice and sing…

It’s a little bit funny; this feeling inside.

It’s not one of those I can easily hide.

I don’t have much money, but girl if I did.

I’d buy a big house where we both could live. 

And you can tell everyone

That this is your song.

It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done.

I hope you don’t mind

I hope you don’t mind

That I put down in words

How wonderful life is

While you’re in my world. 

I love you, sweetie. Happy anniversary!

Abundant blessings;

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