Author Archive for Russell Brown

24
Jan
23

How Pure?

Do you like seeing results?

I sure do.

In fact, so enamored am I of seeing a tangible result that I often tailor my thoughts, words, and deeds to that exact end. 

And frankly, that’s a problem. 

To clarify; recent reading and contemplation have led me to view my “results orientation” mindset as a problem for me and the spiritual life to which I aspire.

I began this trip into The Upside Down during church on Sunday. The Gospel lesson for the day was the Beatitudes… found right there in Matthew 5:1-12. 

Pretty familiar stuff, right? Heard it a thousand times. Can almost recite it from memory. Glaze over just the teeniest bit when the pastor begins reading, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

For some reason, however, I was really tuning in yesterday. I had asked the Spirit to help me hear this seminal passage in a fresh, pertinent way… a way that might open my ears to something I really needed to hear. I have often heard people talk about the Beatitudes as the most important sermon Jesus ever preached. And so, if that is the case, why would I give it anything less than my full, undivided attention?

As a result of that prayer and attentiveness, the portion that God chose to smack me upside the head with was, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NRSV). 

“Pure in heart?” What does that mean, exactly?

This question then became the springboard that catapulted me off on my reflections about my proclivity toward result seeking. 

In the stillness of the sanctuary, I came to realize that most of my energies have been spent trying to make something happen. As a lad, I did chores in order to earn an allowance. I did my homework in order to stay out of my parent’s doghouse. 

Later on, I went to college in order to gain employability. I married and had children in order to perpetuate the species. I got a job in order to continue eating and sleeping and being sheltered. I exercised in order to stay healthy.

Soon, I saw that “pursuit of results” had begun leaking over into my spiritual life, too. I recognized that I read the Bible in order to gain wisdom and insight. I prayed in order to solve problems, or to achieve peace of mind. I followed Jesus in order to receive a roadmap for my life. 

My whole life, in a sense, seemed like one giant transaction. A case of, “I give you THIS, and in exchange, you give me THAT.”

It was an orientation that seemed to be the exact OPPOSITE of what Jesus had in mind with the phrase, “pure in heart.” 

If we look at the example of the life he lived here on earth, we soon recognize Jesus as the ultimate practitioner of “purity of heart.” There was no, “in order to…” attached to the things he said and did. No, “…so that X will happen” condition that went along with his words and actions. 

Jesus did not aim to start a religious movement or denomination. His goal was not to overthrow Israel’s Roman overlords. He was not trying to grow his followership or profile. He was not endeavoring to usher in a new world order. 

Jesus loved God purely for the sake of loving God. He loved people purely for the sake of loving people.

But with all that purity of heart going on, isn’t it ironic that today we also recognize Jesus as the ultimate “producer of results” in the history of the world? His life drew the dividing line between BC and AD. His teachings transformed – and continue to transform – lives (mine included) all over the world. His example has inspired countless works of art and literature. He is more alive today than he was 2,023 years ago.

And so I conclude today with a prayer for a purer heart, a more trusting spirit, and a greater sense of gratitude.

Abundant blessings;

19
Jan
23

Holy Plugging

In the summer of 2000, Joan and I set out to drive from Kansas City to Seattle. The point of our trip was to see family in the Pacific Northwest, but also to enjoy a few of America’s quintessential tourist sites along the way. 

Our agenda included (naturally) Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, but also a couple of lesser-known places along the way called “Mount Rushmore” and “Yellowstone National Park,” in case you’re familiar with those. 

Each was awe-inspiring… either because of its sheer natural beauty, or because of the wonder of human creativity and persistence. To wander beside those multi-hued hot springs at Yellowstone, or to marvel at the mammoth carvings of the four presidential heads at Rushmore are experiences I would recommend for inclusion on YOUR bucket list.

Besides all the expected “ooo’s” and “ahhh’s”, however, there was one sight that took both of us completely by surprise. It was the Crazy Horse Memorial, located just 17 miles west of Mount Rushmore. Envisioned in 1931 by Henry Standing Bear – a Lakota Sioux chief – and finally begun in 1948, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be a massive granite likeness of one of the greatest Sioux chiefs of all time.

I say, “will be” because this memorial is far from completed. As you can see from this photo (taken in 2020) currently you can just make out Crazy Horse’s face and extended left arm, pointing out to the west. The story of this memorial is a story of fits and starts… a lack of support or funding… a low to non-existent profile… and differing artistic visions for what the completed project will look like.

Joan and I were both initially impressed by the historical importance of this project. Yes, the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore (on land, incidentally, forcibly taken from native tribes) are important American figures. But it also seems vitally important to remember and celebrate the life of a leader of the original inhabitants of this place.

As I stood and reflected on the carving before me, I was also struck by the eloquence of its testimony to the value of persistence. How amazing, I thought, to continue pouring every bit of one’s life energy and resources into a project… even when few share your passion or vision for it. What does it take to keep working, day after day, knowing the task at hand will outlast all your years on earth? How do you keep showing up when all signs seem to suggest you should stop and move along to something else? Something smaller, more achievable, with greater popular support?

Persistence is a quality I struggle with personally. I can’t count the number of books I have started writing, only to lose heart and focus after a few thousand words. I am not sure if this is because my original vision isn’t compelling enough, or my plan for completion isn’t well enough laid out, or if my attention span is just too darned short. 

Whatever the case, this characteristic of mine really bothers me. And it is certainly not consistent with who God is and how God works. The Bible is littered with stories of people who – despite the odds and obstacles that stood in their way – persisted. Think Joseph languishing for years in the Pharaoh’s dungeon. Think Jacob fleeing into the wilderness to escape the wrath of his angry brother. Think Moses hiding out in the desert with Jethro or meandering with the Israelites for 40 years… and then not even able to cross the Jordan with them into the Promised Land.  Think multiple military defeats and periods of exile for the entire nation of Israel.

And on and and on…

The world dupes us (some of us, that is) into believing that all results can come quickly, with a minimum level of muss and fuss. Dream it, snap your fingers, and VIOLA! There it is. And while that might describe a Google search, or an Amazon purchase (“WHAT?? I have to wait TWO DAYS for that?? OUTRAGEOUS!!”), it doesn’t describe reality.

“Just plugging away” sounds crass and unexciting. Dull. Boring. Quotidian. 

But on those rare occasions when I have actually done it, I’ve discovered there is also something holy in just plugging away. There is a point – like my marathon-running brother describes it – when you “hit the wall.” You expend your own resources. You run out of gas and have no idea where the energy for that next step will come from.

And THAT is when Someone Else often steps in and takes over.

Abundant blessings;

05
Jan
23

The Gift of Candles

They say… you know, the all-knowing, all-seeing THEY… that timing is everything. 

As is usually the case, they have indulged in a wee bit of literary hyperbole to make a point. The point that TIMING is a really, really important thing.

Comedians, trapeze artists, and base stealers in baseball will each readily endorse the truth of their words. 

But as I have found out on more than one occasion, KNOWING a thing and ACTING on that knowledge are vastly different things.  I am that guy who, just the other day, ran out to our curb with a big armload of cardboard, only to find out that I had JUST MISSED the recycling truck. I am also the guy who remembers to text his spouse that we are out of eggs immediately AFTER she has left the grocery store. 

For a long time, I also clung to the story that God’s timing of my call to the ministry was WAAAY off target. It seemed to me that the Almighty really blew a chance to catch me at the peak of my powers. I wondered… why didn’t God tap me on the shoulder back when I was super-charged with health and vitality? Back when I would have eagerly worked like a draft horse to help spread the Good News?

And so today, in addition to these musings about TIMING, I am also thinking about my dad. Today would have been his 96th birthday. He died six years ago, just two days past his 90th birthday. I relate these two subjects in my mind because I have often wondered if I inherited my “timing challenges” from dad.  

With a birth year of 1928, dad wasn’t quite old enough to actively fight in World War II. So, while all my buddies were sitting around swapping stories about how their dads fought at this battle in France, or that skirmish in the Pacific, I had to just sit quietly and listen. Dad did serve in the Army in Okinawa in ’46 and ’47, but strictly as part of the post-war occupying American force.

I also thought his timing of hearing his own call to the ministry was pretty off-target, too. You see, he graduated from seminary one year prior to my graduation from high school. And because of that timing, our family ended up moving from Columbus, Ohio to his first church in the suburbs of Seattle the summer before my senior year. 

Oh, the TRAUMA! Oh, the INJUSTICE! Oh, the HEARTBREAK!

[Then again, as the father of five children, I have to admit that dad’s timing in some things wasn’t too bad!]

Today, however, I find I am able to sit here and thank God for the gift of perspective that comes with my multiple fistfuls of birthday candles. Because of those candles, I am able to see and give thanks that my father did NOT have to face live bullets in the war. 

Those candles also help me now be grateful for the new friends, new experiences, and new outlooks that came as a result of my family’s cross-country relocation.  

And as far as the timing of my own call to the ministry, I can now say that God’s timing turned out to be absolutely PERFECT! I realize now that God allowed me to simmer and percolate and accumulate a whole quiver full of life experience that – I hope – enriched my ministry in ways that wouldn’t have been possible with the younger Russell.  

Like 100% of the rest of us, dad was flawed. He struggled with his temper. He could be a little heavy-handed with his discipline sometimes. He was a bit sartorially challenged. In his later years, he was drawn in by far too many of those, “As Seen on TV” miracle products. 

But the gift of perspective has finally helped me see past all of that to the kind, generous, compassionate, wise, and God-fearing man dad truly was. After I entered the ministry, he became a priceless mentor to me during some of the low points and aggravations that often come with the job.  

I hope my timing is not TOO far off here, but please forgive me, dad, for failing to appreciate all the different ways you blessed and encouraged me while you were here. My grandest aspiration is to become even HALF the blessing to my family and to the world that you were to us.

I love you.

Abundant blessings;

02
Jan
23

Captain Obvious

I don’t usually do this, but what the heck! It’s a new year, so why not start it by doing something different?

I will rudely ask: What did YOU get for Christmas?

I ask you that question for the same reason most people do: because I am bursting with excitement to tell you what Santa brought me!

Sure, there was the power tool battery and charger (thanks, kids. Love it!), and the thermal blanket for my smoker (so Joan and I can have some delicious ribs, even in the dead of winter), and a HARMONICA from my beloved. 

But here is a picture of my favorite present of all: My CAPTAIN OBVIOUS SOCKS!

I love this present a LOT. Mainly because it is a present that showed some genuine insight by the giver of the person on the receiving end.

Because I AM Captain Obvious. Long before he became a character in the GEICO commercials, Captain Obvious was my alter-ego.

  • I am that guy who will turn to you in the fourth quarter of the football game and say, “You know, if we want to win, we’re going to have to score more points than them.”
  • I am the guy who pours out the last glass of orange juice and says, “Looks like we need some more!”
  • I am also the guy who walks outside, feels the droplets on his head and ventures forth with, “Hmmmm. It’s raining.”

Believe me… I could continue listing examples that further establish my Captain O bonafides, but we’ll hold it there with those three.

See, it’s not easy being Captain Obvious. For obvious reasons. People usually greet your prescient insights with such retorts as, “Duh!” Or “No kidding?” Or by sarcastically restating your name with, “Thanks, Captain Obvious.”

But here is the thing: over the years, I have discovered there are a few things that SHOULD be obvious that really aren’t. 

It is not always obvious, for example, that misfortunes seem much worse when we are right in the middle of them than they do with the benefit of hindsight. When Marsha Westbrook told me in the sixth grade, for example, that she didn’t want to be my girlfriend anymore, it felt like the end of the world.

It wasn’t. 

Not even close.

Or when my cute, little advertising and public relations company went belly up in 1997, it cut me to the core. It was my LIFE! It was my IDENTITY! But it was also the thing that was keeping me from answering the real call God had on my life.

I also think it is (or should be) perfectly obvious to every person alive that they were created by an infinitely loving Being… a Sentient Being which continues to love them completely, unconditionally, relentlessly, and irrationally. The evidence of that astonishing love – in my humble opinion – is EVERYWHERE! Even a casually opened pair of eyes should be able to see it, shouldn’t they?

But alas… no. 

Millions and millions of people today will wake up, walk through their day, and lay their head down tonight believing they are nothing more than a randomly assembled group of atoms, totally at the mercy of an aloof, uncaring universe.

And so, at the risk of restating the painfully obvious, I will continue my quest. When they are behind, I will tell my teams to get busy and score more points. I will suggest a trip to the store for more orange juice (or milk, or peanut butter, or laundry detergent) whenever I encounter an empty container. I will suggest an umbrella to deal with the current downpour…

… I will also keep reminding you and you and YOU that even when it is NOT obvious, you nevertheless are unique, unrepeatable miracles of creation, sustained by a God who gave everything to express his love for you.

Duh. Obviously.

Abundant blessings;

22
Dec
22

SAVED

Passengers on the Titanic knew it.

Jews living in the ghettos of Warsaw in 1939 knew it, too.

No one knows it better today than the citizens of Ukraine.

It certainly was a routine part of the consciousness of people in Israel 2,022 years ago.

But I wonder… do we know it?

More specifically, how often do those of us who live in the developed, non-Ukrainian world of A.D. 2022 pause to think about the subject of salvation?

Salvation is a real question for people who are starving. It is absolutely not a hypothetical matter for the unhoused. Women trapped in abusive relationships, men writhing in the grip of addiction, children hiding from a deranged gunman under their desks, all cry out, “SAVE ME!” with a fierce urgency.

But what about the rest of us? How do we understand this? How acutely do we each feel the need for salvation?

Medical science has saved most of us from plague, polio, pertussis, pox, and other diseases. Seat belts have saved millions of people from violent death in car accidents. Central heating and air-conditioning have saved people from the consequences of extreme weather.

[If only there were a technological breakthrough that could save us from our own bad decisions!]

But some niggling intuition tells me that NONE of these are what God meant when God told Joseph to name his Spirit-conceived son, “Jesus,” which means, “he will save.” (“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21, NRSVU).

Yes. That promised salvation most certainly included all Jesus’ contemporaries. But can we grasp that it also includes ME? And YOU? And people who have never heard the name of Jesus? And people who have heard the name, yet who turned away and said, “Nope. No thanks.” 

So many questions…

  • How is this possible? How does it even work? How, exactly, has Jesus saved me from my sins?
  • Is this salvation thing like some kind of cosmic “Get Out of Jail Free” card, handed out equally to everyone at birth? And if so, does that mean sin has no consequence?
  • Is it universally available, or do we need first to consciously accede to a set of principles and practices before we receive this salvation?

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I must. Even though I have a Master of Divinity degree, have been examined by superiors and found worthy, have been properly ordained by a representative of a mainline Protestant denomination, I can’t confidently answer ANY of those questions. 

All I can tell you for sure is that Jesus’ saving act BEGAN at his birth, CONTINUED throughout his life and ministry, and came to FRUITION at his death and resurrection. 

I can also tell you that this Supernatural Salvation Symphony built a heretofore unheard-of BRIDGE between heaven and earth… between life and death… between the Creator and the Creature… between Spirit and Substance. 

Finally, the only other thing I can really say with any degree of certainty is that MY life, and the lives of millions of other poor wretches like me, has been forever transformed by the miracle that began in a dirty manger in occupied Israel… and that I will yearn to share this Good News with everyone until I draw my last breath. 

To all those hard-working seminary professors who spent hours and hours honing and refining their soteriology lectures, I send my sincere apologies. You did your best. 

I only know that Jesus’ gift of salvation is the best gift I have ever received. And like the little drummer boy, the only gift I have to offer him in return is my song and a heart full of praise.

Abundant blessings;

12
Dec
22

Excluded

They were all there. 

Standing close. Knowingly nudging each other. Laughing. 

Sharing so much more than space and time.

They were sharing themselves.

It was the place I desperately wanted to be but couldn’t.

I watched them and ached. 

Left out.

At one time or another, each of us has known the pain of standing on the outside looking in. We know that pain because belonging is a core human hunger. Some contend that the central truth of the Genesis creation story is the reminder that we were divinely created for connection with others. 

When that connection is missing in our lives, we seek it as ferociously as a mother seeking her lost child. 

This time of year can be a time when those vital human connections are revived. When we seek the warmth and shelter of community. When we revel in relationships. Hearths are kindled, carols are sung, and hot toddies are poured, as much to warm our souls as our bodies.

Which makes it even more important to recognize that this season can also serve as a stinging reminder of emptiness for some of our neighbors. As they watch us clink our cups of wassail and deck our halls, they feel a deep stab of loneliness, reminded of a joy they once felt.

There we are, gathered gaily around the hearth while they stand outside in the cold, sobbing at the window.

I am not sure I have ever referenced Saturday Night Live here in this space, but there’s a first time for everything! Just this past Saturday, December 10, the cold open sketch (called, appropriately, Blocking it Out for Christmas) was all about the time-honored practice of using the Christmas season as a time to stuff down all our fears, anxieties, griefs, and sorrows and pretend to, “eat, drink, and be merry.” 

Here is that link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRjjKVRaAik

My prayer for today is that we each remember we don’t have to “block it out,” or ignore the pain that can often be the unwelcome guest at our Christmas celebrations. Instead, let this season be a reminder that just as God became “enfleshed” as a tiny baby, we are each called to similarly enflesh our love for one another in practical acts. 

Abundant Christmas blessings;

06
Dec
22

Keeping Score

Do you keep score? 

This past weekend, I was surprised to pause and consider how much time I have devoted to this nefarious activity.

I kept score as the U.S. Men’s national soccer team went down in defeat in the World Cup to the team from the Netherlands.

I counted the number of times the puck went into OUR net vs. THEIR net at the college hockey game we attended.

And I mournfully watched the numbers add up on the scoreboard on Sunday as my favorite NFL team (the Kansas City Chiefs, in case I haven’t mentioned that before) lost to those aggravating lads from Cincinnati who insist on wearing tiger strips on their helmets.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I must confess; my tallying doesn’t stop with sporting events. I also found myself counting the number of consecutive daily devotions I’ve done. I kept track of how many times I ran the dishwasher and put away the dishes. I put little mental tick marks on my side of the ledger when I offered Joan a compliment, or put her dishes away, or fetched her a cup of coffee. 

Pathetic. Right?

And for all its “merry and bright” aspects, the Christmas season can also bring out the hidden scorekeeper in all of us. How much did he/she spend on me last year? How much time is it going to take to decorate the house, or bake those cookies, or send those cards? Do we owe the neighbors a courtesy get-together in return for their recent hospitality? 

For all its annoyingness, we somehow still feel the need to keep score. We stubbornly cling to the belief that the ledger can’t get too lopsided… either FOR us or AGAINST us. We follow a somewhat distorted version of the Golden Rule that goes, “Do unto others in roughly the same measure as they have previously done unto you.” 

Because even though ACTUAL debtor’s prisons no longer exist, most of us shudder at the thought of languishing in a relationship debtor’s prison.

Is it any wonder, then, that a lot of people struggle to come to terms with the scorecard that reads: Jesus = EVERYTHING, Humanity = NOTHING

To affect a reconciliation between heaven and earth… between God and humankind, God gave us himself in the human form of Jesus. As if that wasn’t generous enough, Jesus then gave us EVERYTHING, including his life. 

In return for this mind-blowing, history and life changing gift, God required NOTHING from us except for an open hand, ready to receive.

As an American, I recognize that I live in a place where scorekeeping is as deeply embedded in our national DNA as baseball, stock cars, and fried, bacon-wrapped Oreos. And yet, I can’t shake the idea that you and I are meant to discern a message from God’s style of scorekeeping. I believe we are meant to understand the eternal beauty of a badly lopsided scoreboard. We are called to embrace the fact that some scores will never be settled… because they can’t be.  

God’s scorekeeping is supposed to remind us that, “… It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NRSV), and that, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NRSV).

And while it is true that God’s brand of scorekeeping might not get you into the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, it just might get you into something a WHOLE lot better.

Abundant blessings;

28
Nov
22

Remembering

“I’m sorry. I forgot.”

If I had a shiny new quarter for every time I’ve uttered those words in my life, I would be a moderately well-off man. 

And although I am getting up there in total birthdays, I can’t blame this forgetfulness on my age. I have suffered this affliction for a long time. 

I don’t discriminate in my forgetting. It doesn’t matter whether it is a birthday, the last location of my car keys, the first name of someone I just met, the capital of Vermont, or what I had for lunch yesterday. Anything and everything is likely to slip through the holes of my sieve-like brain. 

It is sad. It is often embarrassing. It is something I would love to do something about.

But you know what? I strongly suspect I am not the Lone Ranger in this.

In fact, the act of forgetting seems to be almost as central to the human condition as, say, walking upright or possessing opposable thumbs.

In the Old Testament section of the Bible, we regularly see God acting in miraculous, supernatural ways on behalf of the Israelites. But it only takes a minute after God turns the Nile River into blood, for the Israelites to go back to their old complaining, contentious ways. Over and over and over again, God has to tap them on the shoulder and say, “Remember? Remember back when you were slaves in Egypt and I came to your rescue? Remember that whole ‘parting the Red Sea’ thing? Yeah. That was me.”

Fast forward to the New Testament and we see Jesus breaking bread with the disciples just before his arrest and persecution, telling them, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19, NRSV). 

It is because of our unlimited capacity to forget that we need four candles to remind us that God’s incarnation in Jesus is about love, and joy, and peace, and faith. It is because of our Swiss Cheese brains that we need evergreen wreaths to remind us that God is eternal, with no beginning, middle or end. We give gifts to others at this time of year, yes, as a way of telling them how much they mean to us, but also as a way of remembering that God’s love is a pure, undiluted GIFT we’ve done nothing to earn. 

For some, this season is a time of joy. For others, it is a time of stress and overwork. For others, it is a season of sorrow, bringing painful reminders of loved ones who are no longer with them. 

I pray that whatever this time of year is for you, that it is first and foremost a time to remember the reckless extravagance of God’s love for this world and for YOU specifically.

Abundant blessings;

24
Nov
22

Left-Handed

I am left-handed.

[I’m not really, but play along with me here. OK?]

I was born this way. 

Very early in life, my parents noticed my left-handedness and were ashamed. They believed it reflected poorly on their skills as parents. “Your brothers and sisters are all right-handed. Why can’t you be more like them,” they regularly implored me.

As I went through school, I saw that, unlike me, most of my classmates were right-handed. My teachers assumed all of us were, so they gave the whole class instructions based on that assumption. 

(If they could have, I think some of those teachers would have tried to change me from a right-hander to a left-hander.)

It all made me feel like an oddball or outsider. It made me feel as if I was some kind of mistake. Like I didn’t belong. 

Sometimes I saw another left-handed kid at school. When I did, I got really excited. I would smile at them and give a timid little wave. Sometimes they waved back. Sometimes they didn’t.

As I grew older, I found that the world contained a lot more people like me. Sure, there were still a lot of people who believed there was something essentially wrong with left-handers. So, it wasn’t always safe to come right out and be the person I was made to be. You could never tell who might be accepting and who might not be.

Over time though, I became more and more comfortable with my left-handedness. I found large communities of left-handers where I could relax, enjoy myself, and not worry at all about acceptance. We all shared similar stories and understood the struggles the others faced. 

Sure, there were still the occasional bullies, bigots, and ignoramuses to deal with. But I recognized them as people who were full of insecurity about the world around them… resulting, no doubt, from childhood trauma. I did not enjoy being around them, but I resolved not to allow them to control my feelings, my movements, or my love of life.

And then it happened. The tide turned.

It started with leaders on the national stage. It began when those leaders realized they could turn more heads, open more eyes, raise more money, and gain more votes by generating fear rather than by casting visions. So, they found scapegoats. They created straw men and women. They pinned the blame for a widespread sense of unsettledness on groups of people who were DIFFERENT. Different, meaning, different from the leaders themselves. 

People like left-handers. 

Just when I started feeling that I could breathe easily and walk the street with my head up, the whole world exploded. The toxic stew of instability and blaming led a handful of unstable people to take matters into their own hands. 

They lashed out. They picked up guns and started shooting. They went after the people they had been told were to blame for the miserable state of their lives. 

They went straight for the left-handers.

And yes, in the aftermath of that horror, most of those unstable people were caught and jailed. Or else they turned the guns upon themselves. 

But the problem isn’t solved. The fear lives on. The blaming and scapegoating continue because it still “moves the needle” in the eyes of some leaders. Enemies, they tell us, must be named so the rest of us can be safe. 

We continue to live in a place where difference is feared, not valued. Where homogeneity is expected. Where diversity is considered dangerous.

Dear God, save us, because we appear unable to save ourselves. Vitalize the law of love with the force of justice. Redeem our tragedy by allowing it to lead to meaningful change. Shape our leaders into your image of sacrificial service and humility. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Abundant blessings;

16
Nov
22

Why I Pray

Back in the day, (to be perfectly honest, WAAAAY back in the day), the group Lovin’ Spoonful sang a song that asked the musical question, “Do you believe in magic?”

If John Sebastian and his bandmates asked me that today, I would have to say, “NO. Frankly, I don’t.” 

That is because my rational, scientific brain tells me that quarters don’t somehow mysteriously appear in my ear, rabbits – not previously residing inside a top hat – don’t suddenly materialize there. I also know there is an entirely plausible explanation for why the man in the black cape astonishingly knows which card I secretly selected. 

No. While I do enjoy watching it, I don’t believe in magic.

I do, however, believe in the power of prayer. 

Hearing me speak that last sentence out loud might prompt a skeptic to stand up and proclaim, “Balderdash! That’s a contradiction!” They would then go on to explain that there is no rational, scientific connection between my inaudible pleadings to an invisible, supernatural power and some hoped-for outcome. Furthermore, they would go on to stridently declare that any IMAGINED connection between the two is pure illusion. 

They would then likely conclude by patting me on the head condescendingly and saying, “But if it makes you feel better to do that kind of thing, go right ahead, sport. I suppose it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

To which I would reply, “Not so fast there my skeptical friend.” While it DOES deal with invisible, often inexplicable realms of reality, prayer is not magic

Magic is unnatural. Meaning it defies nature.

Prayer is SUPERnatural. Meaning that it stands outside and above the natural order.

Praying is predicated on the belief that – though we cannot see it or even remotely understand it – there is SOMETHING that exists beyond the reach of limited, flawed, flesh and blood humans. 

Prayer is also based on the conviction that the character of this SOMETHING is benevolent… even to the point of being able to be called LOVING. 

Finally, the practice of prayer rests on the understanding that communication can be established between HERE and THERE… between the EPHEMERAL and the ETHEREAL… between the VISIBLE and the INVISIBLE. 

And since I am firmly on board with all three of those propositions, I pray.

  • Sometimes I pray for an outcome or a resolution to a problem I am facing.
  • Sometimes my prayers consist of silently spitballing solutions.
  • Entirely too infrequently, my prayers are lists of things I am grateful for today.
  • On even rarer occasions my prayer takes the form of silent listening. 

Seeing this list, you might be inclined to ask, “So… does it work?”

What you might mean with this question is, “Does your prayer generally bring you the outcome you were seeking?” If that is what you mean, I would have to answer, “No. Not always.”

But if instead you mean, “Does your praying succeed in renewing your sense that there is a connection between you and that loving, benevolent SOMETHING you talked about earlier?” I would hasten to answer, “Why yes! Almost always.”

And when that connection is renewed, the funniest thing happens. Suddenly I am able to see the problem I was trying to solve, or the person I was trying to influence, or the mood I was trying to lift in an entirely new light. 

I suddenly see them each in the light of eternity.

Abundant blessings;




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