Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

21
May
18

The “Never Enough Club”

productivity-01I wasn’t very productive today.

But then again, I’m on vacation. Productivity is not really expected of people on vacation… is it?

Two weeks ago, on the other hand, I was NOT on vacation. It was a Thursday as I recall… a day that started off with a cup of coffee, a walk of the dog, and a list of items I was eager to complete and cross through.

And yet, I sat back and mused at the end of that Thursday… “What the heck happened? I was a whole lot less productive than I wanted to be today.”

Looking at my sad list of uncompleted items, I was somewhat consoled by the knowledge that lives would not be lost, relationships would not be destroyed, nor would cancer remain uncured as a result of my sloth.

EXAMPLE: I didn’t stop the newspaper or mail delivery in advance of our vacation… a task that absolutely had to be done. But it could just as easily be done tomorrow.

But it made me pause and wonder how often I am guilty of labeling my days as either good or bad based on my own personal level of productivity.

Check a lot of stuff off the list = good day.

Don’t = bad day.

Isn’t that a little bit sad?

I am not saying productivity is something to be sneezed at. Not at all.

We each have a calling to produce SOMETHING in life. And ideally, it is something that utilizes our unique God-given gifts.

Painters produce paintings. Cooks produce meals. Salespersons produce sales. Writers produce strings of coherent words. Clowns produce terrified children.

We each depend on the productivity of others to navigate even the simplest passages of our day. The light bulb you just turned on, the water that just flowed through your showerhead, and the YouTube cat video you just chuckled at were all produced by productive people… folks just like YOU!

What kind of world would it be if none of us produced ANYTHING?

But I have to level with you… there are a couple of places I keep getting tripped up in this whole conversation about productivity. The first is in my tendency to draw a direct connection between my (or anyone else’s, for that matter) WORTHand my level of PRODUCTIVITY. It is hard to ignore the pulsing message in my head that says, “The more you produce, the more you are worth.” 

My second snare comes in my tendency to pass judgment about the overall SCOPE of my productivity. I’m not even sure “scope” is the right word, but here is what I mean; every week I write an approximately 2,500-word sermon and a 700-800 word blog post (or two). But because I am not currently working on either a book or a screenplay, (or both) I regularly feel like a writer wannabe… a poser.

I might visit two or three people in the hospital and pray with them as they prepare for surgery, but because I am not instigating a nationwide movement to provide spiritual care for the elderly and disabled, I feel like a slacker.

I exercise vigorously at the gym at least three times a week; not including daily walks with Rosie the dog. But because I am not regularly putting marathon notches in my belt, I feel like a slug.

It is very difficult to publicly admit these defects in my thinking. As you read them, you immediately see how overly concerned I am with the imagined assessments of OTHERS about my life and me. I am also showing you how difficult it is for me to take Jesus at his word when he says, “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?”(Matthew 6:26, NRSV).

Here is where you say, “How about practicing what you preach, pastor.”

Are you a member of this club, too? Do you regularly flagellate yourself with the phrase, “never enough”? Do you get twitchy when you take a vacation? Are “to do” lists your highest form of artistic expression?

Well then, come over here and sit with me a moment, my friend. Take off your shoes. Put down your iPhone (unless you are currently reading this blog on it. Then please, continue holding it). Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the breeze of the moment as it caresses your face.

Be reminded – as I must continually remind myself – that God’s mercy and love are not production-based. They pour over you like a waterfall… the same as they pour over the woman who runs her own company, competes in Ironman Triathlons, raises four special needs children, grows her own arugula, and is working on a script for Fox Searchlight, all at the same time.

Take as gospel truth the statement that you earned this magnificent extravagance merely by the heroic act of being born.

Seize it.

Revel in it.

Celebrate it.

And then go out and take a slow walk in your bare feet… smiling all the way.

11
May
18

My Mystery Blogger Award

Wow! I am having a genuine Sally Fields moment here. I have just been nominated for my first-ever blogger award… The Mystery Blogger Award by Mitch Teemley (see his work at https://mitchteemley.com/. He is insanely good!). The idea is to give some additional attention to “newish” bloggers and though I have been at this for more than a year, I am very, very grateful.

Myster blogger award

The Rules:

  • Use the logo and list the rules
  • Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself (see below)
  • Answer the questions you were asked (see belower)
  • Nominate other blogs and notify them (see belowerer)
  • Ask your nominees 5 questions of your choice, with one weird or funny question

The Three Things About Me:

  • I am married to the best human God ever created.
  • I am a semi-retired pastor in the United Methodist Church… currently very pissed off at said church for its failure to stand on the side of justice where LGBTQ+ people are concerned.
  • I CHERISH any time I am able to spend with my beloved guitar.

The Questions I Was Asked by Mitch:

  • What moment or choice in your past do you wish you could undo? That is a toughie, being the active proponent of grace that I am, but I would have to say it was not really using my time at my mother’s bedside during the last moments of her life very well. I was almost entirely focused on myself and MY sadness.
  • Funniest movie/s you ever saw? Deadpool. Can’t wait for the sequel!!! And don’t judge too harshly, but Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein have to be right there, too. (“PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ!!”)
  • Greatest song/s you’ve ever heard? It is Well with My Soul, Love Lies Bleeding/Funeral for a Friend (Elton John), and Whipping Post (Allman Brothers Band).
  • The greatest truth you’ve ever learned? That the ONE THING from which everything else descends and on which everything else depends is LOVE.
  • What are the last words you want to hear before dying, and/or the first words you want to hear after dying? They are the same. I would love to hear the words: “Well done” on both ends… with maybe the phrase, “… good and faithful servant” added to the post-mortem pronouncement.

My nominees:

1.) Weekly Devotion (https://weeklydevotion.com)

2.) Pedantry.com (https://wibble.blog)

3.) Destination Humanity (https://destinationhumanity.com)

4.) Jesusocial (https://jesussocial.wordpress.com)

5.) Defining Yellow (https://definingyellow.com)

6.) Swerve Strikes Again (https://swervestrikesback.wordpress.com)

 

The Questions for you:

  • Other than where you live right now, where else on earth would you choose to live if you could?
  • What person currently living has had the most profound influence on your life? Why?
  • Why do you blog?
  • Dogs? Cats? Something else? Why?
  • What do you believe happens when we die?
10
May
18

Forgive them Father, For They Have Spinned

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:12, NRSV

way-forward-commission-2017-cob-umcom-cropped-623x388Sometimes, my wife really knows how to push my buttons.

When she wants to effectively get under my skin, she calls me SpinMaster. And no, it is not due to my prowess on the stationary bicycle. It is a rather non-flattering reference to my pre-ministry professional life in the field of public relations.

I earn the SpinMaster nickname anytime she suspects I am giving an overly rosy – and misleading – slant on domestic events.

Which is exactly why “SpinMasters” was the first word that came to mind as I read the recommendation the Council of Bishops is taking to the Commission on the Way Forward for the resolution of our denomination’s ancient impasse on human sexuality.

They named their proposal the “One Church Plan.” And when I read the first two words of that title, my immediate reaction is, “What’s not to like about that? We all want to be one church, don’t we?”

Then as I read the details of their recommendation, I realized that title represented a clear case of episcopal spin… concealing the reality of a global denomination willing to engage in a cowardly desertion of a historic opportunity to stand for justice in favor of structural unity.

In another demonstration of the fine art of spin, the plan favored by the Council of Bishops defends its choice, saying that it allows the United Methodist Church to proceed, “… with as much contextual differentiation as possible and as much unity as possible.”

On that, I have to call bullshit.

In this instance, the phrase “contextual differentiation” is merely one more attempt to put rosy red lipstick on a dirty pig. It attempts to disguise the idea that individual churches or annual conferences (our geographical areas) will be able to vote to continue discounting the humanity of LGBTQ+ United Methodists.

The Bishops defend “One Church” by saying that it honors traditional orthodoxy while allowing for “new understandings” of human sexuality.

Here is the 411: “traditional orthodoxy” – i.e., the scriptural warrants against same-sex relationships, codified into the current United Methodist Book of Discipline with the phrase, “… the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching…” (paragraph 304.3, 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline)– is both bigoted and wrong. It is EXACTLY the same statement as if the Discipline read, “… the practice of being an African-American is incompatible with Christian teaching,” or, “… the practice of being a woman is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It is a case of elevating a narrow, culture-bound interpretation of scripture to the status of canon law. Except that United Methodists don’t have such a thing as “canon law.” But you get the point…

If my church goes down the path of allowing individual congregations (or conferences) to hold an up-or-down vote on whether to be inclusive and welcoming or not, it might as well just say, “As a church, we’re really not sure whether it’s OK to discriminate against people over a God-given characteristic, so we’re going to let each church decide on its own.”

This would be exactly the same statement as the one made by President Trump after last year’s Charlottesville, VA protests when he said, “… there are good people on both sides.”

NEWS FLASH, Bishops: Bigotry is NEVER good or acceptable, no matter how you spin it.

But wait! There’s more! Besides the incredible moral cowardice demonstrated by this Plan, those of us who pastor local congregations must now look forward to that day when we ask our church to assemble and vote… “Are we going to be a ‘thumbs up to gays’ church, or a ‘thumbs down to gays’ church?”

And then what if it is a 51-49 vote? Or even a 60-40 or 70-30 vote? Will 30 percent of the people – whichever side that is – have to just pick up and leave that church?

And then what if they DON’T leave?

And what about the pastor? If I happen to stand on the opposite side of the question from the “winning” side of that vote, how can I possibly stay and authentically minister to the flock that remains?

Our Episcopalian, our Lutheran, and our Presbyterian cousins have each grappled with this question in their recent histories. Each of their “Council of Bishops” equivalent knew that there was no happy “middle path” that would allow them to remain intact. Each knew that global unity of the denomination was at risk no matter which decision they took.

And yet…  they each decided to stand firmly on the side of justice. They decided to include rather than exclude.

Yes, they each paid a heavy price for that decision in terms of lost members and lost revenue.

But no one ever said standing on the side of justice was easy or cost-free.

Just ask Jesus.

07
May
18

More than skin deep

Tat photo 1“Hey… is that a tattoo?”

The question caught me off guard for a moment. I was sitting there in my car, arm extended, offering my credit card to the woman in the cute little tollbooth there at the front end of the car wash.

“Why yes… yes, it is,” I answered, finally remembering I did, in fact, have a tattoo on my left forearm.

Even though she didn’t ask me to, I went on to elaborate: “You probably can’t see it from your angle, but these are my father’s initials… a lower case “g” and a lower case “b” connected together, with a cross there at the top.”

Glancing in my rearview mirror to verify that there really weren’t too many folks in line behind me, I elaborated on my elaboration… “This is in memory of my dad. His name is Dads logoGeorge Brown and he was a pastor… so we added the cross on top there.”

“Very nice,” she said with a smile as she handed me my credit card receipt. “Sign here.”

Had I been the only one in line at that moment I would have gone on to explain that dad died last year… two days after his 90thbirthday. I would have added that my four siblings and I all got this identical tattoo less than a month before his death and were able to assemble at his bedside there in Everett, Washington and show him what we had done.

I would have also told her that at the moment of the Big Reveal, my ever-eloquent younger brother said something touching like, “Dad, throughout your life, you have made a permanent impression on each of us, so we decided to make another permanent impression as a way of honoring and remembering you.”

I would have told her that we then each shed a tear and hugged him close.Family photo with dad

I would have also gone on to explain that the tattoo is on my left, inside forearm because that is the same side as my heart. It is also there so that I can look down and see it clearly when I am trying to play something on the guitar.

After all, my dad is the one who first inspired my love of music.

Back when I was a young man in my late 50s, I said somewhat whimsically one day, “You know… when I turn 60, I’m going to get a tattoo.”

Of what I had no idea. But I knew it had to be something significant… meaningful… thought-provoking.

That birthday came and went and I remained inkless. I am sure that was mostly because my tattoo had not yet revealed itself to me. But I knew one day it would.

So I waited.

I have to admit; until this moment of inspiration came, I really didn’t “get” tattoos. I was not necessarily opposed to them. In fact, I am the guy who would regularly comment on the ink of the person in front of me in the grocery checkout line.

It was just that I could never “do the math” required to fathom why a person would endure the pain and expense involved to put permanent artwork on their skin.

But then the car wash cashier helped me see how my tattoo could be a portal…

… to a deeper meaning,

… to a cherished memory,

… to an opportunity to connect with a stranger.

And while my study of Christian scripture fails to turn up any evidence of Jesus having any ink (WWJT?), or any policy on those who do, he DOES regularly seem to reveal himself as a fan of things like LOVE, deep meaning, and connection with others.

So… what do you think?

  • Are you tattooed? If so, what themes/images are most important to you?
  • Are you opposed to tattoos? Why?
  • If you do not have one today, do you think you might ever? Why or why not?
  • If not via the tattoo route, what will you do today to promote meaning, memory, and connection in your life?
30
Apr
18

My Truth

brilliant ideaIt’s finally happened!

That million dollar idea I have been sitting here waiting to pop into my head JUST DID!

POP!

So before I dash down to the U.S. Patent Office and secure this brilliant brainstorm under legal lock and key, I thought I would first share it with YOU.

Pinkie swear you won’t steal it?

OK… good.

It is really an idea for an entire LINE of products rather than a single solitary item. Admittedly I have only come up with two products for the line so far. But I am sure more will be forthcoming.

All I have to do is sit here perfectly still and wait for The Muse to descend.

So… the product line is called My Truth. And the two products in the line so far are 1.) a bathroom scale and, 2.) a blood pressure cuff.

The inspiration for the My Truth line came from my own personal frustration with the dogged tendency of the “traditional” models of these products to regularly disappoint me.

You might also be familiar with this same kind of disappointment in your life. If so, well, my friend, that disappointment is EXACTLY why you are an ideal customer for either the My Truth bathroom scale or the My Truth blood pressure cuff!

(Cue generic, accentless TV Announcer voice here…) “Tired of those pesky ‘accurate’ readings on your scale and blood pressure cuff that keep reminding you that you need to cut down on desserts, exercise more, lower your sodium intake or adopt generally healthier habits?

“Then you need MY TRUTH! The bathroom scale/blood pressure cuff programmed to give you only GOOD NEWS!

“Just set the read-out for the results you seek and VOILA! See that awesome answer EVERY TIME you step on the scale and/or pump up the cuff!”

“Gone are the days of feeling guilty about falling short of your health goals! With My Truth, you’re always a WINNER! Call now and order yours! Taxes and shipping extra.”

So… whaddya think?

Should I start shopping for that Maui beachfront property now, or should I visit the Lamborghini dealership first?

Of course, this is a “patently” ridiculous idea. I say this acknowledging that I have seen other ideas I labeled as “ridiculous” go on to make gigantic piles of money for their originators (“Pet Rocks” or “Hatchimals” anyone?)

The truth is: you and I need regular and ample doses of truth in our lives… even when that truth disappoints or displeases us.

We need an unmoving north star by which to navigate… acknowledging that our own subjective ability to stay on course is fatally flawed.

But where do we find that North Star? Can we rely on friends? Or spouses? Or family members? On our “guts”?

In many cases, the answer is probably “YES.”

But not in every case.

As far as I know, there is only one source that we can count on to be unerringly true every time we consult it… whether we like that truth or not.

But unlike the friends or family members who might drop a Truth Bomb on us now and then, we can be assured this “truth dispenser” is motivated ONLY by love.

Every. Single. Time.

Jesus said, “… you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”(John 8:32, NRSV).

But he never said the truth wouldn’t sting a little bit now and then.

 

Abundant blessings;

24
Apr
18

The idol of safety

Security imageThey were just sitting there at their table in that Waffle House… chatting, drinking coffee, and reliving adventures from earlier that night.

They were just out for a stroll on the sidewalk on an unseasonably beautiful spring day… drinking in the warm glow of the sun. Some jogging, some pushing strollers, some in oblivious WWT (walking while texting) mode.

They were just making their way between classes… thinking about prom, today’s homework assignment, an argument they overheard before leaving for school, college choices.

And then, in the blink of an eye, their lives ended… every one of their hopes, dreams, fears, random thoughts, vacation plans, secret crushes, and song lyrics came exploding, screaming, crashing to the ground.

And those of us left behind reacted.

We moaned and wailed and shook our fists.

We marched.

We wrote letters.

But we also cowered… wondering, “What if that had been ME? What if I had been in that Waffle House… on that sidewalk… in that school… at that ungodly moment?”

And even though we don’t like to admit it out loud, deep within the hidden recesses of our heart we ask ourselves if we will ever feel safe in ANY Waffle House, on ANY sidewalk, in ANY high school, or ANY place beyond the cozy cocoon of our home?

In moments like these, I catch myself coming dangerously close to elevating SAFETY and SECURITY to the place of utmost importance in my life. I mean;

  • … OF COURSE, I don’t want to be mowed down by an angry loner with an all-too-easily-acquired automatic weapon.
  • … OF COURSE, I don’t want to die under the wheels of a rented van careening down a tranquil city sidewalk.
  • … OF COURSE, I don’t want to be suddenly sucked up into the whirling vortex of an early spring Midwestern tornado.
  • … OF COURSE, I would much rather finish up my time here in this veil of tears in the middle of a peaceful, pain-free sleep.

But then I am forced to concede that no matter how careful I am, there is really nothing I can do to prevent any of these things from happening… and also that my life and health are at MUCH greater risk from a traffic mishap than from a terrorist or lunatic-related event.

The sad fact is that when we start to worry about the awful things that might happen to us at a Waffle House, a school, a shopping mall, or a baseball game, we begin to allow fear to rule our lives.

Another way to say that is that we have consciously asked God to step OFF of the throne and invited FEAR to sit there instead.

If we are living in fear and profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we have heard Jesus say, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own…” (Matt. 6:34), and have replied, “Sorry, Jesus. You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.”

RIGHT NOW is all any of us have.

RIGHT NOW is full of meaning, blessing, and wonder… but we can only taste that meaning, blessing, and wonder if we dare to lay fear aside and open our eyes to it.

Henri Nouwen, the great theologian, and psychologist, talked about the same idea using the word PATIENCE. His words are especially relevant today:

“Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.”

I pray that you and yours are safe today and will be safe every day after today.

But I also pray that you do not sell the treasure of today for the fear of an unknown tomorrow.

Abundant blessings;

21
Apr
18

What I’ve Learned Recently…

small ripplesIt is totally possible:
That when things happen to you and you describe them as “unwelcome,” or “weird,” or “unexpected,”  or even “disastrous,” that these events actually conform perfectly to God’s will.

It is equally possible:
That when things happen in your life that you describe as “perfect,” “orderly,” “expected,” and “exactly as it should be,” that these events run absolutely contrary to God’s will.

Just a helpful hint for today.

Romans 12:2“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.




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