Author Archive for Russell Brown

21
May
19

How is your HT/WT?

ContentmentWhen was the last time you checked the HT/WT ratio of your life?

Just in case my question is a little obtuse, let me explain. I am referring – of course – to your “Have to/Want to” ratio… the relationship between the things you do during your day because you HAVE TO do them and the things you do because you WANT TO.

I think each of us probably strives for something like a 0/100 ratio. That is, we hope everything we do is something we do because we want to… even if we have to do it.

I have to eat… but I also want to eat. I have to brush my teeth… but I also want to. I have to write a sermon every week (because – you know – I’m a pastor), but I also want to.

I certainly have a whole host of things on my “Have to… don’t really want to” list, including:

  • Exercise
  • Lawn mowing
  • Shaving
  • Bill paying
  • Weed pulling
  • Poop Scooping
  • TV news-watching

… and trust me when I tell you the list goes on.

Most of us, I would guess, fluctuate somewhere within 10-15 points of the 50/50 line on any given day. But I have also talked to some folks who tell me they feel like they are living 100/0 lives where EVERYTHING is a “have to” and nothing is a “want to.”

Another word for the “have to/want to” ratio might be CONTENTMENT.

JOY works also.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing that a change in the outward circumstances of our lives will be the key to improving our HT/WT ratio. We say things like, “If I could only find a different job/place to live/set of friends I would be a lot happier and more content.”

As a person on the brink of retirement, I often catch myself saying, “Once I retire, I’ll be able to do WHATEVER I WANT TO… all day long.”

And while it is true that I will be able to have MORE of the “want to’s” every day, there will still be quite a few “have to’s.” I will still have to exercise… still have to mow my grass… still have to scoop poop. (Unless, of course, I can somehow train the dogs to use the toilet! Hmmmm…)

While we scour the shelves of the “How To…” books, attend seminars, and engage expensive therapists to help us figure out ways to boost our WT numbers in relation to our HTs, the answer has been right there all along: staring us in the face.

Some wise guy once said, “The key to happiness lies not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you get.”

Socrates put it this way: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 

What it really boils down to is the ancient virtue of GRATITUDE… Being grateful for every day, every relationship, every task, and every breath that enters our lungs. In fact, I am willing to bet there is someone in the world right now who would be tickled to death to have the task of cleaning up his/her back yard after their dog(s).

To emphasize the importance of gratitude, the Bible repeats the command to “give thanks” a total of 61 times in both Old and New Testaments. 1 Thessalonians gets a little more extreme when it tells us to: “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1 Thess. 5:18, NRSV).

That’s right: ALL circumstances.

Even when you are working out.

Even when you are mowing the lawn.

Even – I suppose – when you are scooping poop.

19
May
19

GOT GoT? Nope

Iron ThroneWinter is coming… but I won’t be there to see it.

Tonight – as you might have heard – will be the final installment of the mega-blockbuster TV show Game of Thrones.

This fantasy-based program features mythical ancient kingdoms, zombies, dragons, violent family rivalries, and some of the most jaw-dropping scenery imaginable. It has been a huge ratings bonanza for HBO.

Last week’s penultimate episode drew an estimated audience of 18 million.

Almost as ubiquitous as social media posts of fans of the show have been the declarations of languor from the non-GoT folk.

For some it seems to be a badge of honor to be able to say, “I’ve never seen a single episode,” or, “Game of WHAT?” or, “Giant YAWN!”

Personally, I don’t watch the show. But I have seen it. In fact, my wife and I watched the entire first season.

Our kids finally goaded us into it, arguing, “The writing and the characters are INCREDIBLE!” And they were right on both counts. I have never really been a fan of the fantasy genre, but I was VERY impressed with some of the early episodes I saw. The amazing music and scenery were extra-added bonuses.

But then there was the VIOLENCE!

Lots of violence. Graphic violence. Gruesome-leaving-nothing-to-your-imagination violence.

So after one season, we ditched it… and haven’t looked back.

It does make me wonder though: what is it about the high tolerance some people (actually, based on the Game of Thrones audiences, I should say, “…a WHOLE LOT of folks”) have for violence?

Honestly, I don’t get it. And whereas sometimes I will plead “old age” and “being out of step” for some of my attitudes about cultural trends, I am unapologetic about this one.

Watching some people hurting other people in horrible ways leaves me absolutely cold. Call me an old coot, but you can keep that crap to yourself.

And it seems the national appetite for violence of all types is only INCREASING. We can’t seem to get enough of the controlled mayhem of the National Football League. The sport that is growing the fastest in TV viewership today is Mixed Martial Arts… or “Human Cockfighting” as I also like to call it.

I know that some will say that televised violence is a kind of catharsis… they argue that viewing violence second-hand actually keeps people from committing it themselves.

Sorry… not buying it.

Of course, I can’t prove this at all, but I think it is not coincidental that more of us are lashing out violently against our neighbors (in shootings, stabbings, and other random attacks) as our violent forms of entertainment continue to ratchet upward.

It’s like they say in the world of computer programming: Garbage in… garbage out.

Tonight I’m not entirely sure what will be on the tube at the Brown house: although it will probably be last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live we recorded on the DVR.

All I know is that it won’t be anything featuring zombies, dragons, massive stone walls or bloodshed.

 

Unless, of course, John Belushi returns to SNL for an episode of “Samurai Hotel Desk Clerk.”

16
May
19

Portion Control

OK… quick show of hands: who has ever heard the comment, “Why you’re a chip off the old block, aren’t you?”

Personally, I have heard it more than a few times… and I usually take it as high praise.

One reason might be because I am a United Methodist pastor – just like my dad. But I also like to think people are telling me that I occasionally manifest one or two of his better personal qualities.

There is one way, however, that I wish I did not resemble my dad quite so much. That is in the whole area of life we lovingly call “portion control.”

Here is a photo of my late father taken a few years ago. As you can see here, he is rather excitedly preparing to dive headfirst into a serving of peach cobbler.

A REALLY BIG serving of peach cobbler, as you can see. George and Peach-o-Rama

Just like my dad, I also like to eat. And also like my dad, I have zero sense of portion control. I occasionally eat until it hurts, or the buttons on my pants burst… whichever comes first.

Usually, after this kind of eating orgy, I am in serious pain. I can’t walk for a while and when I finally regain my footing, I waddle like a crippled duck. I take an oath – to my reflection in the mirror, to my wife, and to anyone else within earshot – that I will NEVER, EVER do that again.

And I keep that oath. That is, until the next time Joan serves some delicious peach cobbler. And yes, also like my dad, I am a complete SUCKER for peach cobbler.

Then the other day, as I was trying to figure out a cure for this disorder of mine, I realized that food is hardly the only department of my life where I need a little discipline and PORTION CONTROL.

I looked up and (GASP!) caught myself gorging on network TV news. First, there was a heaping helping of Domestic Political Discord. To that, I added a little analysis of Disturbing National Trends, followed with a chaser of Unrest on the International Scene.

By the time I had finished the main course and then tucked into a dessert of Social Media Snark, my capacity was well and truly tested. Not at all surprisingly the effect was remarkably similar to cramming a mountain of peach cobbler into my mouth.

Please understand… I am not at all opposed to staying current on local, national, and international events. I think awareness of our world is critical for every thinking, engaged person.

I am rather advocating for Portion Control… a sensible, balanced approach to the things we choose to stick into our heads and hearts.

However, upon further review, I suddenly realize there actually IS one commodity we can never, ever consume too much of.

Yep… God’s Word.

We can pile our plates high morning, noon, and night with Scripture Salad and still maintain our svelte, girlish figures.

The Psalmist says essentially the same thing when he/she says: “I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”(Psalm 119: 102-103, NRSV).

So crack open your Bibles and eat up!

And don’t be afraid to come back for seconds.

07
May
19

It’s Closing In!

Retirement coupleI’m not going to lie… I am more than a little bit scared.

There is a date looming on my calendar that ties my stomach into the kind of knots only a Boy Scout could master.

What is the nature of this anxiety-producing date, you ask?

Is it a root canal? A colonoscopy? An IRS audit? A Kenny G concert?

Nope. None of the above.

June 30, 2019, is the date of my official, 100% retirement.

And it scares me pantsless. (Not literally, of course.)

To clarify… I OFFICIALLY retired from ministry in the United Methodist Church three years ago. But because I still had energy – along with a deep-seated fear of facing an empty calendar every day – I accepted a half-time appointment.

Since July 1, 2016, I have been the pastor of the Mound City and Blue Mound, Kansas United Methodist Churches. They are located just about an hour south of my home.

The people at Mound City and Blue Mound have been more than gracious in allowing Joan and I to serve as their clergy couple. They have been generous and forgiving in helping this confirmed city boy connect with his first rural pastorate.

But now the time has come to move on to that next chapter, and I am surprised to find myself more anxious about making THIS transition than the last one.

Questions abound.

Questions such as: what am I supposed to DO all day? How often should I shave? How much Candy Crush is too much? What happens if Joan gets sick and tired of seeing me all the time? Am I going to turn into one of those people who take every little sniffle to the doctor’s office just to have something to do? Is reading a book in a big, comfy chair (and then falling asleep) really as much fun as it looks? When do black socks with sandals become acceptable? Will going out to a restaurant at 4:30 p.m. suddenly seem like normal behavior? How many blog posts a week are too many?

And the question of all questions: IS LEARNING TO PLAY GOLF A RETIREMENT REQUIREMENT?

Good Lord, I hope not.

OK… maybe I’m making some of those things up. But I am not making up the part about having no small bit of nervousness about entering full retirement.

You see, like many (most) other males, I have tied my identity a bit too close to my work. Here is what I mean by that: if someone were to ask me who I am, I would likely respond by telling that person what I do.

The truth is; who I am is NOT what I do.

And yet, for those who fail to make that distinction, the disappearance of our WORK can often mean (in our minds) the disappearance of our WORTH.

I have preached and counseled about this very topic on numerous occasions. I have looked people in the eye and told them, “You are a person of INFINITE WORTH, no matter what else is going on in your life.”

I have opened my Bible and read Matthew 6:26 to them… reminding them, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

If anyone should be hip to this whole idea, shouldn’t it be ME?

Well, not to worry. It is only May 7. I’ve still got six weeks to figure this out. I’m sure something will percolate through my brain by then and I will finally be EXCITED and EAGER to retire.

 

In the meantime though, can anybody tell me what the Earlybird Special is at Denny’s today?

30
Apr
19

“The Day my Mother Went Crazy”

woman-praying-black-white-sad-sized.630w.tn_I grew up in one of those small towns where everyone knew everything about everyone else.

And so it was no surprise that we all heard some version of the story of the day Mrs. Stanfield (not her real name) had what we called back in the day, “a nervous breakdown.”

One April afternoon, just after school had been dismissed, Mrs. Stanfield snapped. She began screaming horrible things at her children, threatening them with violence, and then threw them all out of the house.

Literally.

As a long time member of the United Methodist Church and an ordained United Methodist pastor, I now feel I have firsthand knowledge of how Mrs. Stanfield’s children felt that day.

These days I feel as if my mother-in-Christ – the United Methodist Church – has suffered a similar kind of nervous breakdown.

On February 26 of this year, under the dome of the Edward Jones Center in St. Louis, Missouri, MUM (Mother United Methodist) lost her marbles completely. That day I felt exactly like my mother had thrown me out of her house, yelling, “NEVER COME BACK HERE AGAIN!”

February 26 was the day the group of global delegates to the special called session of the General Conference voted 438 to 384 to adopt the so-called Traditional Plan… a plan that strengthens the church’s stance of exclusion toward LGBTQ+ people.

I held out hope that MUM would regain her senses… that the church’s Judicial Council would meet and rule that this plan violated not only the denomination’s Book of Discipline but also the spirit of grace on which the church was founded.

And then we would all wake up and realize it was all a bad dream and it was time to get back to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

But that didn’t happen. Yes, the Judicial Council did meet. Yes, they did find certain parts of the Traditional Plan (and the plan of disaffiliation that went along with it) unconstitutional. But in a decision announced just last week, we learned that the very worst parts of the Traditional Plan remain untouched.

The difficult truth I now have to face is that my mother – the United Methodist Church – is officially bigoted and homophobic.

Other people in the community now look at our family with caring, yet pitying eyes… unsure of what to say or how to relate to us.

MUM used to be so different. It was at her knee that I learned all about the guiding principle of grace.

She is the one who carefully instructed me to see complex issues from a “both/and” instead of “either/or” perspective. (“It’s not EITHER the heart or the head, but both,” she said. ”It’s not EITHER social holiness or personal holiness, but both. It’s not science or faith, but both.”)

Her heart was always so big and open… eternally reaching out in creative, loving ways to the very people everyone else had turned their backs on.

She taught us her unique, four-fold approach for discerning truth.

But then… one day something happened to MUM… something that caused some internal spring to snap, resulting in this historic fit of absurd behavior.

Yes, of course, I still love her, but my mother has become utterly unrecognizable to me. I seriously doubt her father, John Wesley, would even recognize her in her current state.

Like Mrs. Stanfield back in my hometown, I suspect MUM’s breakdown has been brewing inside her for a long time. Years and years of accumulated stress finally reached the boiling point until… POW!

Those of us in this family are now faced with the difficult decision of what to do with MUM. There is no question that we will continue to love her because that’s what families do.

And yet it is also understandable that some of us will also choose to take this moment to walk away from her, believing her illness to be irreversible. It will be a difficult decision, but no one will condemn them for making it.

Those who choose to stay with her will be in for a long and painful journey. They will need to make sure she gets the kind of professional help she needs. They need to be ready to face the very real possibility that she will never recover.

Regardless of which way anyone chooses to respond, it is a good time to remember that we serve a Risen Savior…

 

… not a flawed and failing institution.

23
Apr
19

A Made Bed

Made bedAt first glance, this picture couldn’t be more simple… mundane… unremarkable.

It’s a made bed.

Big whoop.

Yes, there is a nice bit of color coordination going on there with the duvet (oh yeah… I know that word!) and pillowcases and pictures. And I think we have achieved Critical Pillow Mass with all these extraneous little decorative puffballs you see.

But none of those are really what makes this a remarkable photo.

This picture is noteworthy because of the statement it makes.

You see, for the last six months – contrary to my usual preference – we have not been making this bed.

That is because when one of you is expecting to spend most of the day IN the bed, it is really kind of silly to make it.

But now, after months of chemotherapy, major surgery, and loving ministration by friends and family, this bed sits unused during the day. Its occupant has been officially declared “in remission” and is spending each new day like any other Midwestern, suburban housefrau.

She is now filling her day with NORMAL stuff like shopping, getting nails done, walking, planning dinners and vacations, reading, spectating at her spouse’s Old Man Softball games, (as you see here…) celebrating Easter with grandkids, Easter pic 1and chatting with neighbors.

No more do those days revolve around trips to the infusion center, trips to the lab, trips to the pharmacy, long naps, and speculation.

This made bed is a declaration. It declares, “LIFE is today’s agenda. CANCER is not calling the shots here.”

Truth be told, making the bed was always something I did, but mostly grudgingly and with a sense of dull duty.

Today, it is a victory dance!

HALLELUJAH for bed making!

22
Apr
19

One last Easter thought…

belated_easter_wishes_cute_bunny_with_flower_holiday_card-r2562856cbf484795bf9659ae9243d815_em0cq_307Belated Easter greetings!

I will bet that most of us would say we readily accept the Main Premise of Easter: When something happens to us that we would describe as “unpleasant,” “unwelcome,” “weird,” or “unexpected,” (like, for example, being crucified) that – upon closer inspection or the passage of time – we discover that this event actually conforms perfectly to God’s will.

But are we also willing to accept this Corollary Easter Premise: That when things happen in our lives that we describe as “perfect,” “orderly,” “expected,” and “exactly as it should be,” that it is possible that these situations might run utterly AGAINST God’s will?

I would love to hear your thoughts…

 




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