Author Archive for Russell Brown

20
Jan
20

Love Out Loud

MLK quoteA year or so ago, I got fed up. Squared.

First I was fed up with the escalating rancor and divisiveness in nearly every segment of American society. Yes, ill will seems to center primarily in the political realm, but it certainly doesn’t stop there.

As a member of the United Methodist Church, I was witnessing a loud, bitter ecclesial food fight in my denomination over a fairly simple question: who will be included and who won’t.

But I was also fed up with myself. As much as I despised the malice of the moment, I seemed powerless to avoid adding fuel to the fire. I heard people spewing all kinds of ignorant, ill-informed opinions and – as chagrined as I am to admit it – leaned heavily toward wanting to yell at them to just shut their damned mouths and crawl back under the rock they came from.

Really helpful.

Really Christ-like, dude.

And then Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rolled around. And this time, I decided to pay attention. I decided Dr. King might have some light to shine on our current situation. After all, he lived and preached in an era at LEAST as fraught and divided as our own.

And as it turns out, he did. And it was a word that hit the nail right on the head and humbled me at the same time.

You remember the quote. It goes like this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

What does it look like to bring light into darkness?

How do I… or you or ANYONE… bring love into a world of hate?

I am not sure I really know the answer. But I know it is absolutely the right question.

I am not sure I have yet put my life onto the trajectory Dr. King had in mind. But I did do one thing in response to that quote; I wrote a song. It is a simple, probably sophomoric song, but it has chords and a rhythm, three verses and a chorus. Truth be told, it is kind of catchy.

It goes a little something like this:

Every one of us can talk like we mean it.

And make some witty social media posts,

Or we can squash an idea and demean it.

And treat other folks just like they were ghosts.

 

We want to know that we’ve got the right answer…

And those who can’t see it are wrong.

That kind of thinking starts to spread like a cancer,

Which is why you should all sing along….

 

CHORUS

            Let’s start to LOVE OUT LOUD,

            Let our actions do the work of our words.

            Yes, we can LOVE OUT LOUD           

            Live a life that’s bound to be heard

 

I hope my brother finds a place at the table

I hope my sister finds a future of peace

But while I sit here and hope – they’re at the end of their rope

Waiting for injustice to cease.

 

CHORUS

            And so let’s LOVE OUT LOUD,

            Let our actions do the work of our words.

            Yes, we can LOVE OUT LOUD           

            Live a life that’s bound to be heard

 

Well, you’ve got every right to be angry

You’ve got a right to shake your fist at the sky

You’ve been put in your place – left out of the race

And no one ever told you why.

 

But instead of lashing out in your anger

Why not start to build a brand new world?

Come on let’s each lend a hand – help LOVE take a stand

And let your freedom flag be bravely unfurled.

 

CHORUS

            So yes, let’s LOVE OUT LOUD,

            Let our actions do the work of our words.

            Yes, we can LOVE OUT LOUD           

            Live a life that’s bound to be heard

 

 

All of us need to do more light-shining and love-bringing… now more than ever. I am not sure what that looks like immediately, but maybe we can start by singing!

14
Jan
20

Who Do You Love?

Ethnic diversity

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”       -Jesus (of Nazareth), as quoted in Luke’s gospel; chapter 6, verse 32

This might not shock you to learn but as it turns out, I am a big fan of people.

All kinds of people.

I like the big ones, the small ones, the old ones, and the young ones.

I like men. I like women. I like gender fluid people. I like people who have transitioned from one gender to another.

I like heterosexual people. I like homosexual people. I like bisexual and sexually questioning people too.

I like people who share the same race and ethnicity as me. I like people whose races and ethnicities are nothing like mine whatsoever.

I like American people, Canadian people, and Australian people. I like Italian people, Guatemalan people, Peruvian people, Congolese people, and Vietnamese people. I am sure there are people from countries other than these I would like too, once I got to know them.

As I sat back the other day and gazed upon the size and scope of the list of people I really enjoy being around, I was starting to feel pretty darned pleased with myself.

That is until Jesus came along and messed everything up.

[As usual.]

There I was, just innocently reading over his words in Luke’s gospel one morning, hoping for a little inspiration to start my day when WHAM! He hit me right between the eyes with that passage you see at the top of the page.

He had the audacity to remind me of the hidden common denominator shared by everyone on that list I just trotted out for you.

He peeked beneath my thin egalitarian veneer and noticed that everyone on that list is also a person who likes ME!

He noted that despite the outward appearance of diversity and multifacetedness of my “fave people list,” these are all folks I pretty much see eye-to-eye with. None of them, Jesus pointed out, are people who see the world from a radically different (a.k.a. “wrong”) perspective.

Jesus then bores his X-ray eyes right through me and gives that little scoffing laugh of his; “What credit is it to you if you only love the people who love YOU?” he asks. “Even the worst people on earth do that!”

Wow, Jesus. Kinda harsh.

But, as usual, I have to admit he’s right.

He makes me own up to the fact that I have a really hard time extending love or compassion to folks on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me.

He shines a big ol’ pinpoint searchlight on the bitterness I still carry around in my heart toward people who once did me wrong.

He refuses to let me hold onto my air of superiority toward people who have not enjoyed the same advantages in life I have.

He also turns a divinely deaf ear on all of my excuses about how incredibly difficult it is to get along with these people… how mad they can sometimes make me… or how frustrating they can be.

Instead, he turns, smiles, and gently says to me, “Hey… not only did I LOVE you back when you wouldn’t give me the time of day… I also DIED for you!”

And then he ever-so-sweetly delivers this coup de grace: “I’ll tell you exactly what I told Peter that day on the beach when I cooked breakfast for them after my resurrection: I told him, ‘Feed my sheep…

“ALL of them… “

“Even the Republicans.’”

06
Jan
20

Too Long Coming

Asbury flagsIt is good to see the United Methodist Church finally “grow a pair,” as they say, and take an unequivocal stand on the side of justice and inclusion.

It is just sad that it took them so long to do so.

According to news from the denominational communications folks, a document called the Protocol Of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation was agreed to and signed recently by a significant group of United Methodist bigwigs and poo-bahs.

The gist of this Protocolis that the United Methodist Church will formalize plans for a divorce when its global General Conference meets in May this year. This divorce will involve the people who oppose same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ+ leaving the United Methodist Church and forming their own denomination.

The name of that breakaway denomination has not yet been decided, although rumor has it that The Church of Narrow Mindedness and Exclusion has been officially rejected as an option.

As a person with firsthand experience of divorce, I can tell you that divorces are never good. For anyone. Even the smoothest and most amiable splits cause pain, stress, regret, and bitterness that lasts a long, long time.

Sometimes though, divorce is the only way for both parties to move forward and fully become who they are called to be. I believe this is the exact crossroads the United Methodist Church faces today.

On the one hand, I have to credit the leaders who finally arrived at the conclusion that it was time for the parties to go their separate ways. Some of the details of the split seem designed to minimize the hardship for either group that will result from this de-merger.

 

On the other hand, the length of time it took to finally arrive at this decision is inexcusable. Failing to bite the bullet and split the United Methodist Church YEARS AGO caused untold levels of suffering for untold thousands of good, faithful people. Although this metaphor is probably overstated by several degrees, I liken it to dragging out the decision to divorce in a marriage involving child and spousal abuse.

The longer it takes to decide to split, the more injury keeps being inflicted on the aggrieved parties. Sometimes trying to “stay together for the sake of the children” does more harm than good.

So today, I am really not sure how I feel about this news.

I am now officially retired from United Methodist ministry, so I am not faced with leading a congregation through the morass of discernment in the coming months. I am praying for my pastor pals who are still in the trenches and striving to hear all voices, including God’s, in this challenging time.

As a cradle United Methodist though, I am mostly embarrassed by the church’s foot-dragging and failure to lead. I am not sure it is any longer possible for UMs to march under the banner of “Social Justice Advocates” in any credible way.

So… I guess congratulations to the United Methodist Church for finally taking a stand and doing the right, no matter how painful, thing.

But shame on you for taking 20 years too long to do it.

03
Jan
20

Back to the Grind

fireworksAll I can say today is a loud, “Whew!”

Another Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year/Hannaukah/Kwaanza/Festivus season has come and gone and has successfully wrung me out like a wet dishrag.

And just to make things extra merry and bright, this year Joan and I decided to add “uprooting and moving to a different city and state” to our list of holiday festivities. Based on our experience, I can safely offer you this hard-won advice: DON’T DO IT!

I am reluctant to do so, but I will go ahead and admit it; for all of the stress and strain at this time of year, it is also kind of fun. True, there is a lot of work involved in “making spirits bright,” even with our family’s low-key approach.

Even so, there is something attractive to me about the event-centered life: you know, the one that involves regular cycles of visualizing, planning, preparing, anticipating, implementing, cleaning up, and then starting all over again.

But now, here I sit, gazing out the window… with all the holiday commotion behind and not much merrymaking ahead on the horizon.

Today is just a regular old routine Friday in early January… with regular old daily routine stuff to do.

Isn’t it glorious?

As much a fan as I am of Special Events, Holidays, Mass Celebrations (such as Independence Day, etc.), and other such hi-jinks, I also realize they can easily distract us from a simple, but important truth about life: the truth that reminds us that most of the time, life happens in the “in-between times.”

You know what I mean. I am talking about those times when we aren’t popping champagne corks or lighting the fuses of firecrackers, or ripping some beautifully-wrapped paper from a lovely gift.

Life happens when we are sweeping the kitchen floor.

Life happens when we are paying the bills.

Life happens when we are chopping onions for Taco Tuesday.

Life happens when we are shaving, or bathing, or dressing, or doing the laundry, or mowing the lawn, or feeding the dogs, or taking out the garbage.

Life happens on the plains and in the valleys… not just on the mountain tops.

That is an essential part of the message of the Christmas season we just came through. The Eternal Word did not decide to become flesh in a palace surrounded by attendants, gold lampstands, and chariots.

Incarnation happened instead in a dull, uninspiring, routine place to a couple of dull, uninspiring, routine people… as if to tell us all, “See! The miraculous has a home in the mundane! Do not overlook anything or anyone in life. EVERYTHING is pregnant with possibility! Every moment can be a holy moment! The wonder of life is not confined to the moments of special celebration! Wake up and smell the roses, people! It is all right there at your fingertips!”

… or words to that effect.

The challenge for me this year – as it is every year – will be to actually practice what I preach and to recognize the daily blessings that rain down upon me.

Excuse me while I put on another pot of coffee and just soak in the moment…

25
Dec
19

Christmas Blessings to YOU!

Christmas blessings

24
Dec
19

Special Delivery

amazon-package-on-sorting-belt“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:6, NRSV

The doorbell rang. I hopped up from my place on the couch, headed over to the front door to open it.

No one was there, of course. I say “of course” because this is the Christmas season after all.

Our unknown visitor approached the house, dropped off a cardboard box emblazoned with the familiar Amazon smile logo, and departed to continue on with his (or her) endless list of package deliveries.

Suddenly reassured that we were not about to be visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses, a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, or a nefarious prankster, my attention turned completely to the box o’ Christmas goodies.

I immediately forgot all of the invisible people – ending with that delivery driver – who made this moment of Christmas magic happen. I no longer saw the person who studied all of the options and carefully chose THIS ONE from the website. I overlooked the person in the warehouse who printed the order, the one who retrieved it from the shelf, the one who packed it, labeled it, put it in the shipping queue, and that certain someone who loaded it on the truck.

As I sat there, gleefully tearing open my box, I became voluntarily blind to the long list of people who made that moment possible.

And I am not at all proud to admit it, but that is the way it is most of the time for me. I hungrily receive the gifts God pours at my feet without a moment’s thought about the litany of collaborators involved in bringing them to me.

Today Joan and I prepare to enjoy a quiet, low-key version of Christmas at our new home in Colorado. There will be some food, there will be carols, there will be cookies, presents under the tree, and a time of worship where we remember what this season is really all about.

And for every element of that celebration – even in its most unassuming form – there is a long supporting cast of characters who helped make it all happen.

So today I want to pause a moment and say, “Thank you. I see you…” to:

  • Delivery drivers
  • Police officers
  • City utility workers
  • Hospital staff
  • Maintenance workers
  • Pastors
  • Church secretaries
  • Church musicians
  • Pilots
  • Air traffic controllers
  • Radio and TV announcers
  • Highway crews
  • Retail clerks
  • Website designers

… and countless other people working unnoticed and largely unacknowledged to make sure the rest of us have a chance to experience the joy of this holiday season.

I also want to pray a prayer of hope for those who agonize over the absence of departed loved ones during the Christmas season. May you experience a spark of healing today… even if it is tiny.

20
Dec
19

freedom-meme-2

I’m not sure Jesus could have hit the nail any more squarely on the head than when he said this.

But here is the question that keeps me awake at night:

Do you and I really want to be set free?

Or are we instead content to stay nestled in the security of a world view that comforts us, that doesn’t challenge or push us, that reinforces our stereotypes, and always puts us on the right side of every question?




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