Author Archive for Russell Brown

12
Nov
18

It’s Just hair

Well, it’s gone.

We knew the day was coming. Ever since my wife’s cancer diagnosis in late September and the ensuing prescription for chemotherapy, we knew the days of her beautiful, flowing, auburn hair were numbered.

It’s just what happens when those powerful cancer-killing chemicals go racing through a person’s body.

Personally, I was expecting trauma and heartbreak when “HAIR GONE” day came… from me, that is. I knew SHE would handle it just fine.

In fact, anticipating a sky-high level of emotional devastation, I wrote her a lovely little free verse poem called, “It’s Just Hair” to help cushion the blow. (I would share it here, but it is a little too personal and intimate.)

So then, as the stuff began showing up on the pillowcase and coming out in clumps, we realized it was time.

As her hairdresser came to our home one night and gently, lovingly buzzed it right down to the scalp, we were both surprisingly OK. No hair Joan

I went to the utility room, got the broom and dustpan, swept it all up, and tossed it.

BOOM.

GONE.

We looked at her mirrored reflection and marveled at how lovely and round and symmetrical her head is. I made jokes about polishing her “dome” with a cloth now and then.

And then we kissed and smiled, looked each other in the eye and said, “It’s just hair.”

As these things often do, it caused me to lapse into reflection.

Joan with turbanI thought about how easily and how often in my life I have confused form and substance. I mused over the question of why I do that and how annoyingly frequently it occurs. I asked myself, “Self… how is it that you are so quick to recognize the difference between ‘hair’ and ‘her,’ when it comes to your spouse, and yet are often so slow to grant others the same grace?”

And then I got global and wondered, “Am I the only one who puts unreasonable confidence in outward, surface appearances and punts on the hard work of diving a little deeper and trying a little harder to understand the souls of other people?”
And I thought, “Naaaaaah. Probably not.”

I also realized it was time to pull out 2 Corinthians 4:18, commit it to memory and try, yet again, to live by its wise guidance: “… because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Abundant blessings;

06
Nov
18

The Real Problem

Dreamer image“Your situation…” a wise person once said to me, “… is never the problem.”

Pregnant pause.

“The problem… “ they continued, “… is your RELATIONSHIP to your situation.”

And for the most part, I agreed with and appreciated this pearl of wisdom when I first heard it.

I mean, how often are we prone to believe that if we can just change something about our situation… by getting a new job, a new spouse, a new haircut, a new hometown, a new car, a new political leader, a new wardrobe, or a new pet… that life will finally be whole, complete and perfect?

I confess I have fallen for that faulty line of reasoning more than once.

And yet, this wise saying – like many wise sayings – has its flaws.

If your situation, for example, involves you being in poverty, being abused, being otherwise exploited, being denied justice, or being trapped in a cycle of addiction, then yes… your situation IS the problem.

You need advocates and empowerment to change that situation.

But for the most part, I am firmly on board with the “change your attitude instead of your situation” wisdom.

True… I may just be trying to steel myself against a potentially MASSIVE disappointment as I watch today’s election results trickle in. I may be preparing to (somehow) take a hopeful, positive relationship to a thoroughly sucky future political situation.

But still… I thought it might be a good time to remind all of us of the amazing power we each hold. Even when things don’t turn out the way we would prefer we each have the power to shape our own outlook on the world.

As it turns out, today is a good day to read and re-read this election day wisdom from that famous first-century political pundit, the Apostle Paul where he reminds us where to keep our focus: “…  because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”(2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV, emphasis mine).

Happy voting!

Abundant blessings;

02
Nov
18

“Just Kidding!”

Political opponentsI had gone out to play with my friends after dad finished giving me my every-two-week haircut. His barber chair was right there in the living room of our home.

With five kids at home – four of which were boys – my folks were always looking for ways to cut costs. Home haircuts were a huge help to the budget.

Dad was efficient with his barbering, but not always deft. My homemade haircut looked… like a homemade haircut. And as I met my friends in the field that day, my best friend Robbie pointed at my hair, laughed, and said, “Hey, Rusty… nice haircut! Did your dad put a bowl on your head before he cut your hair?”

And then he laughed, playfully punched me in the arm and said, “Just kidding!”

Of course, he was. But the initial sting of the joke stayed with me… because I knew he was actually not kidding at all.

In less than a week the mid-term elections will be over. We will all finally know the results of these watershed votes. Half of the candidates will win and pump their fists victoriously. Half will lose and go home to lick their wounds and ponder their next moves.

But the REAL blessing of next Wednesday will be the blessed disappearance of all of the political TV ads.

Thank you, eight pound, 10-ounce baby Jesus!

After the election dust clears the men and women who have gone on the public airwaves for the last three months, hurling the most vicious, degrading, debased, and insulting remarks at one another will step back, grin sheepishly at each other, and say, “JUST KIDDING!”

They will each call for a time of reconciliation and “coming together” in the name of the country/state/district/county/school board.

The rest of us will wake to discover that the predicted horror and disaster of electing a (REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRAT) to high office has actually not quite materialized.

We will see that electing a Republican did NOT actually lead us straight to a fascist state run by self-enriching oligarchs. We will also see that electing a Democrat did not – in fact – kill the economy, roll out the Welcome mat to bands of bloodthirsty terrorists, or usher in the new age of socialism.

Yes, we will all pause and realize that the vicious attacks unleashed in the campaigns were not REALLY serious charges. They were all “just kidding.”

But I can’t help but wonder; what is the price we pay for listening to this non-stop venom, in terms of the health of our nation’s soul?

All throughout the Bible, we see that it has some strong words to say about… strong words. Jesus, for example, said, “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.”(Matthew 12:36-38, NRSV)

James, Jesus’ brother, warned us about the dangers of the human tongue: “… but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it, we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”(James 3:8-9, NRSV).

Lord, as I listen to the election returns, help me be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. And help me – and ALL of us – heal from the wounds inflicted over the past few months.

Remind me that red or blue, left or right, you call me to love as you love.

30
Oct
18

I just can’t.

weeping-1Four.

That is the number of times I have sat in front of my laptop today, fingers poised, intending to write.

I had a few other ideas percolating for my next blog post. But in light of the horrible shootings in Pittsburgh on Saturday, they all seemed odd and irrelevant.

“Write about the shootings,” said my brain.

“Good idea,” replied the fingers. “Give us the words and we will get right on that.”

And so four times I have given this blank screen my best, most intense and threatening stare.

Four times I’ve begun something.

Four times I’ve come up with nothing but drivel.

And so I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I do not possess any words or wisdom necessary to help myself (or anyone else, for that matter) deal constructively with those horrific events.

So today I am just going to grieve.

Today I am just going to look down at the pieces of my broken heart lying here in my hands and weep.

Maybe later I will have a clue about why hatred continues to increase in this country and boil over in senseless acts like this.

Maybe later I will have something like an insight into how we can see and embrace our common humanity, looking beyond superficial differences like race or religion or sexuality or gender or physical ableness.

But today is not that day.

Today is a day just for reaching out to my Jewish brothers and sisters and telling them I consider them beloved, valuable members of my community.

Today is a day to tell them I mourn with them in their time of loss and sorrow.

Today is just a day to weep.

 

22
Oct
18

Drawing a Line

Hello!

I have an assignment for you today.

When you find yourself at a place where you have a little flexibility in your schedule, I would like you to stop and draw me a picture.

I would like you to draw me a picture of a person. Please.

It can be a self-portrait, a picture of your spouse or significant other, a picture of a total stranger, or some mythical person… It doesn’t matter.

And just to take a little pressure off, let me add this one additional condition: you can choose to make your drawing a crude, stick figure person, like this: Stick_figure

OR you can decide to make it a detailed, shaded, textured, nuanced genuine work of art, like this:

Mona Lisa

Totally up to you.

OK?

Alright… so this is not a real assignment. You don’t really HAVE to stop and draw me a picture. (Unless you really, really want to).

But I know that if I were on the receiving end of an assignment like this (a REAL assignment… not just some made-up blogger trick assignment), I know which drawing option I would choose.

Due to both a lack of talent and a lack of motivation, I would choose to produce the quick, stick figure drawing option.

And I think that most of us who aren’t professional portrait artists would do the same, wouldn’t we?

The upside of choosing the “stick figure caricature” option, of course, is that it is MUCH quicker and easier.

The downside is that it is much less accurate… much less helpful.

And while you and I don’t ever receive assignments like this in real life, we DO regularly face a similar choice.

When any of us encounters another human being, we are always faced with the choice of how much time and energy we will invest in creating an accurate, detailed picture of that person.

Whether it is someone we have known for a lifetime or someone we just met 10 minutes ago, we can choose to either quickly sketch a stick-figure caricature of them… OR we can spend the necessary time to develop a detailed, shaded, textured, nuanced portrait.

Yes… option “A” (the stick figure option) is quicker and easier. And so often in today’s world, we are motivated to choose solutions that are quick and easy.

But the quick option is usually not accurate or helpful.

This subject seems particularly relevant today…, as those of us in the U.S. are right in the middle of a white-hot political season.

And you know how it goes with election-time advertising messages: MY favored candidate is always painted with the crudest, boldest “good guy” brush-strokes, while the opposing candidate is painted even more crudely as “the very incarnation of evil.”

Somehow we sense that these “cartoon image” pictures of politicians are not really accurate. And yet, most voters rely on very little besides what they see on TV or hear on the radio when choosing for whom to vote.

In the end, our voting decisions (and PLEASE get out and vote!) are very binary; “YES” to this one, “NO” to this one.

No room for maybes.

Let’s not apply that approach to the other people in our lives, OK? Let’s dare to spend the time to try and understand the mystery, the depth, the multi-hued and deeply layered nature of each person.

Let’s recall that when the Psalmist sings God’s praises and says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” (Psalm 139:14, NRSV), that he also means you, and you, and you, and you, and EVERY person ever.

We also need to remember that you don’t have to be an accomplished artist to consider the rich detail of each person you meet.

 

Abundant Blessings;

20
Oct
18

Our unwelcome, uninvited visitor

uninvited visitorWe received the official word on the morning of September 21.

That was the day we found out that most of our attention and energy, for now, will focus on dealing with my wife’s cancer diagnosis.

It was the last thing either of us was prepared – or wanted – to hear from her doctor.

But there it was; unavoidably real… clinically stark… terrifying.

At first, it was like an explosion that knocked us both off of our feet.

It left us dazed, reeling, and with an intense ringing in our ears. For several minutes we just stumbled around the house blindly, saying, “Wait… what?” to each other.

Many of you have been on the receiving end of this exact hammer blow and know all too well what a game-changer this news really is.

Somewhere in your brain, you know that very soon there will be a mad flurry of activity. Phone calls will be made, research will be done, appointments will be set, references will be checked, schedules will be changed, tests will be run, and prayers will be said.

But right now, it is just the two of you and this 800-pound gorilla that appeared out of nowhere and took a crap in the middle of your living room.

It is all a little too much to process, and so you choose not to do what you really can’t.

But there, in the middle of all of the smoke and wreckage and feces, you look around and notice a few things.

And you start to wonder;

  • Was it purely coincidence that years earlier I had served alongside a pastor whose spouse just happens to be one of the pre-eminent gynecological oncologists in this area… someone whose name came up repeatedly when discussing specialists to see?

  • Was it purely by chance that three weeks earlier I made an appointment to meet with my counselor that very morning at 11:00 a.m.?

  • Was it total happenstance that we had tickets to go with our friends to the Billy Joel concert the exact same night as this diagnosis?

In another stage of my faith life, I might have said that the only acceptable evidence that God had actually intervened in a frightening, life-threatening situation was when people saw an unexpected and miraculous reversal of that situation.

For example,

  • The sea instantly becoming dry land…
  • The blind person suddenly regaining her sight…
  • The wheelchair-bound paraplegic jumping up and dancing for joy…
  • Cancerous tumors miraculously vanishing.

But age and experience have taught me that there are a whole host of other ways God intervenes in our lives… actively sending a continuous stream of little alerts to us, each designed to say, “I’m here. I’ve got you. You will never be alone for one second as you go through this… even during those times when you feel like you are.”

I know that lots of you have faced news like this in your lives and somehow found the means to cope with it. I take great strength from your examples… even the times when you just had to, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

I think I’ll be doing that a lot.

But it is also greatly reassuring to know that the One who made me and made my wife is right here with us, holding our hand and guiding us through.

“For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear,
I will help you.’”

– Isaiah 41:13, NRSV

28
Sep
18

Growing Hope

This soilSeed in soil

This seed

Buried

This crazy idea

That the story goes any further

Than this.

This waiting

This seeing… NOTHING

 

 

This knowing

This peace

This HOPE

This tree.




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