Archive Page 2

16
Apr
18

The Superhero Next Door

SuperheroesI see the next big superhero movie is about to hit the multiplexes near us very soon.

“I see” as in, “I had my eyes open and somehow did not miss one of the 4,862 recent airings of the trailer.”

Avengers: Infinity War will be released on April 27, and according to the advance hype, it will feature just about every single superhero in today’s Marvel Universe.

Apparently the latest Threat to All Life on Planet Earth is lethal enough that the combined superpowers of Black Panther, Captain America, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Spiderman, Black Widow, The Hulk, Wolverine, and several others too numerous to list here are required to defeat it.

At the end of the movie, as we are all breathing a gigantic sigh of relief that the world has been saved yet again, I am sure we will all be grateful that those costumed crusaders were there again… to save us from certain doom.

Too bad they’re not real.

Or are they?

As I sit here and consider the word “superhero” a little more closely, I think it is entirely possible that I have bumped into one or more of these in recent weeks.

The New Oxford American Dictionary says that a hero is: “…a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities…”And so – by logical extension – a SUPER hero must be a person who is “SUPER admired for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”

As it turns out, I have met several of those recently.

Consider, for example, The Conduit. This is the lively woman who has provided her homebody aunt a vital connection to the world outside her front door, urging the aunt to try things she never would have thought possible on her own.

Or how about Unflappable? He has weathered a withering assault of changes in his community, in his health, in his living arrangements, and in his family and somehow managed to keep a smile on his face and joy in his heart.

There is The Bereaved…a man who has somehow coped with his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent death, taking over 100% of the daily care of their two pre-teen children, all while operating his own small business.

Or Enduro… a man who has been dealing with a nagging chronic pain that has interrupted his work, his social life, all of his relationships, and even his ability to just sit down and peacefully watch television or read a book.

And by all means, we can’t forget Steadfast… though people often do.She keeps showing up, day after day, taking on task after task, filling need after need in her town, her church, and her community. She is so reliable that most people just expect to see her there in the middle of whatever is going on, quietly making sure what needs to get done is done… whether she is thanked adequately or not.

Like the superheroes of the Marvel Universe, there is a secret to the powers and strengths of each of these folks, too. In their case, though their superpowers are not the result of the bite of a radioactive spider, a gamma ray explosion, or citizenship in a faraway mythical realm.

No… each of the superheroes I met has found their strength in a powerful formula known as 1633… the passage of scripture that can be found in the gospel according to John, the 16thchapter, 33rdverse. That is where you will find this ironclad promise: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT).

My superheroes know that the author of these words is their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They trust his word completely and know there is NOTHING in life that cannot be dealt with by the application of a little 1633.

Not illness, not pain, not heartbreak, not disappointment, not setbacks, not frustration, not ANYTHING.

And believe me… they have seen it all.

That is why I’ll take Conduit, Unflappable, Bereaved, Enduro, and Steadfastall day, every day over anyone in the Marvel Universe you care to name.

How about you?

10
Apr
18

Beloved

Seize the day imageIt happened again.

Sunday morning… there we all were; about 10 minutes before the worship service was scheduled to begin.

I walked in, set my stuff down, and made my way back down the brown-carpeted center aisle – exchanging pleasantries and greetings with some of the early arrivers (which, in this church, is virtually the entire congregation).

There they were, in their customary places… fifth pew from the front, west side, side-by-side on the aisle.

“How are you ladies today?” I asked.

“Oh, you know,” she said, offering a wry smile. “Same as ever.”

“Do you think it’s really going to snow like they said it was?”

Shhhh!” Her sister said in mock horror. “Don’t say it out loud or it will happen!”

And then, at 9:30 p.m. the call came. It had been a massive stroke at 3:30 that afternoon. She and her sister were chatting and doing their respective things… she was playing with the cats… when suddenly…

An ambulance and then a helicopter got her in front of the very best stroke specialists around. But they conferred and agreed; it was too late. The damage was severe and irreparable.

No eye was dry as we gathered around her bed and watched the life support systems being turned off and withdrawn.

Tears were shed. Long hugs were exchanged. Prayers were said. Comfort was offered. Her forehead was anointed with oil.

In the stunned silence of the drive home from the hospital, I kept saying the same thing to myself… over and over again.

“But… I JUST TALKED TO HER!”

As if death has no right to be sudden and unannounced.

As if I was due some kind of advance notice so that I might adequately prepare myself.

Once again I was reminded… as I have been reminded on numerous occasions in the past, and yet somehow, continue to forget and need to be re-reminded of… life is an incredibly fleeting and precious thing.

In one instant here… brimming over with laughter or tears or snow flurries or sunlight or loving friends or annoying neighbors or mismatched socks or ragged sweatshirts or cake or barbeque or squealing, frisky grandchildren…

… and the next instant, gone.

And so I stare into the mirror and ask the guy staring back,“How dare you take any moment of your life for granted? How dare you treat your life as anything less than a gift and a miracle? SHAME ON YOU for failing to squeeze every drop of meaning from even the tiniest moment!”

All of that is true. And yet I know, as sure as I am sitting here typing these words right now, that the lure of amnesia is powerful. As this day begins its unfolding, I will most certainly forget the lesson of that late night call. I will lapse into banality and routine, smudging the beauty of my NOW with a yawn or a gripe.

And so I pray; Holy, God… as you surely now receive your beloved daughter into your arms and welcome her into her eternal home, comfort all who love her. Breathe the breath of your holy, healing Spirit into each broken heart.

And by that same Holy Spirit, please, God, keep me awake. Prod me – gently or violently – whenever I threaten to doze off.

Thank you.

AMEN.

07
Apr
18

James? or David?

James TaylorWhat do you do when your world is out of whack?

This morning I woke up with a nasty head cold. It feels like someone snuck in during the night and stuffed my head full of cotton while I was sleeping. My thinking was so hazy I struggled to tie my shoes correctly.

PLUS… while the calendar says it is April, the weather outside clearly reads “January.” A 19-degree air temperature and frozen puddles outside greet the eye.

To add to the overall disorientation, my wife (a.k.a. confidante, companion, sounding board, lover, friend, anchor, muse, support, reality check) is 1,200 miles away enjoying some sun and sand with her daughter.

My energy is utterly sapped… and it is only 10:00 a.m.

HELP! All of my touchstones have deserted me.

I need a toehold! I need a solid piece of ground to hold onto and get my bearings.

I am sure you remember a time in your life that felt like this. Or worse.

I’m sure each of us has felt ourselves spinning a little out of control now and then.

Where do you turn when your altimeter is whirling like a top and your compass is in the middle of an epileptic seizure?

James Taylor is one option. “When you’re down… and troubled… and you need a helping hand. And nothing, whoa nothing is going right. Just close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there… to brighten up even your darkest nights.”

So I tried it! I closed my eyes… thought about and visualized sweet baby James… and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I’m still waiting for James to make good on his promise.

Today I thank God for the mentors in my life that introduced me to ANOTHER resource… that taught me how to connect with the reliable, unchanging, solid Word of God in all circumstances.

King DavidSomehow the 18thpsalm of David seems like the right place to turn. After a long, long period of being harassed by King Saul, David finally defeated his adversary. And in the moments following his victory, David knew instantly where to turn and give the credit: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2, NRSV).

No doubt if God can deliver David from an entire army of enemies, he can surely deliver me from a head cold, freezing weather, and from missing my sweetheart.

Ahh! That’s better.

Sorry, James.

03
Apr
18

The Path He Chose

mlkmountaintop1Want to see the future?

In a way, I think we all do.

I would like to know – for example – when the Kansas City Royals will next play relevant baseball in the month of October… or which stocks to buy today… or when this gray, yucky drizzle will go away.

On a little more serious note, I’d also like to know where our nation’s current political muddle will eventually lead us… or what will happen in our relationships with Russia and China and North Korea and the rest of the world?

As a card-carrying United Methodist, I would love to know how our denomination’s impasse over human sexuality will ultimately play out. Sadly, my question is more about HOW the pending schism will take shape rather than IF it will happen.

At the same time, there are a few things about the future I am perfectly content to remain in the dark about. If possible, I would prefer that the demises of all my friends and family members – as well as my own – catch me totally off guard.

But see, that’s the thing about visionary foresight. It’s either all or nothing. “You git what you git and you don’t pitch a fit!” as someone’s mother once said.

Today (April 3) marks the 50thanniversary of the last speech ever given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an address delivered on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was on hand to lend motivational and leadership support to the 1,300 striking sanitation workers of the City of Memphis.

It had been a tense time in the city of Memphis and in the nation as a whole. In the course of the speech, Dr. King reminded his listeners of the great milestones and the great challenges the movement had experienced to date. He reminded them of the fire hoses and police dogs of Sheriff Bull Connor to the unlawful arrests to the beatings and church bombings they had experienced by that time in 1968.

But he also called to mind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the integration of lunch counters throughout the South, as well as the bus system of Birmingham, Alabama.

It was also a speech in which Dr. King seemed to possess a chillingly accurate vision of his own death. In the best-known part of the speech, toward its conclusion, Dr. King looked into the future… both the future of the Civil Rights movement and his own… and described what he saw there. He said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

Here, in the days immediately following the Christian celebration of Easter, I am reminded of the vision of the future Jesus communicated to his disciples… a vision of his own violent demise, but also of God’s eventual victory over the forces of sin and death. It’s right there in Mark 8:31 – “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Today I stand in awe of both of these men. Try as I might, I still cannot fathom what it means to set out on a path, knowing with absolute certainty it is a path that leads to your violent demise, and yet – despite the clarity of that vision – continuing walking that path in faith and confidence.

The lesson today might be this: ultimately, if the path I walk is a path of my own choosing – based purely on whim, curiosity, and circumstance – it is a path to be wary of… likely strewn with as many dangers as delights.

If, on the other hand, it is a path carved by the hand of God, we can follow it with confidence wherever it leads.

What is the lesson of April 3, 1968, for YOU?

27
Mar
18

My own Facebooklessness

Facebook iconSomething had to change. And it had to change soon.

I would compare the feeling I was dealing with to the very earliest nibblings of an oncoming head cold… you know; those times when you know something is a little out of kilter but you’re not entirely sure what it is.

I looked and saw my normally puckish, buoyant outlook on life taking on unfamiliar, churlish overtones… I noticed my already woefully short attention span getting even shorter. I noticed that I seemed to be more reactive and less thoughtful and deliberate.

The guy looking back from the mirror didn’t seem nearly as likable as he did a few short years ago.

Alarmed at where symptoms like these might eventually lead, I did my own armchair diagnosis.

The diagnosis? Acute Facebookitis!

The cure? Phased withdrawal from the social media miracle known as Facebook.

According to the Facebook stats page, I have been a part of that universe since 2008. (Is that really possible?)

And for the most part, I have really LOVED it!

  • Where else can one find a platform from which to dispense one’s own slightly off-center commentary on the world and know that many more than two or three people sitting around your dining room table will hear it?
  • Where else can you go and regularly see pictures of family members who live 2,000 miles away from you?
  • And where else – pray tell – can you go and take a quiz to clarify which month you REALLY should have been born in?

But it was becoming increasingly clear to me: ever since entering semi-retirement, I have been spending waaaay too much time Facebooking. One sure-fire indicator (to me) that I was overdosing on this form of social media was my belief that posting my calm, rationally composed political views on Facebook would actually change someone else’s opinion!

I know… right?

And so… I started cutting back.

The first step was to remove the Facebook app from my phone. YIKES! That step was HUGE. I had no idea – until after the fact – how much time I spent every day mindlessly picking up my phone, tapping that friendly, blue icon and peeping in on the spiffed up, sanitized lives of a whole bunch of different people.

I didn’t realize it at first, but I soon became aware that I usually came away from that time feeling somehow “less than”. Studies have now shown conclusively that people who passively scroll through Facebook are more prone to depression than others. Psychologists theorize that this is because we look at the exciting and glamorous posts from our friends and judge our own lives to be rather shabby in comparison.

And let’s not even get started on political “discussions” on Facebook. Treading onto this turf guarantees one of two things will most certainly happen: 1.) You will be loudly affirmed and encouraged to continue holding the views you now hold, or 2.) You will be ridiculed, mocked, belittled, and condemned to hell for those same views.

And honestly… I am not sure either of those results helps me grow as a person.

I am pleased to tell you that removing the Facebook app from my phone brought an unexpected level of tranquility into my life. Since it was no longer there to check, I was instantly cured of the twitchy, impulsive practice of taking out my phone and “just checking.” I was actually free to lift up my eyes, talk to people around me, and notice the subtle shadings of spring beginning to appear.

And then came the season of Lent… that great time of self-denial and reflection on the Christian calendar. Could I go completely cold turkey and even give up Facebook on my laptop?

Here we are, in the last week of Lent, and I am happy to report that the withdrawal has been (mostly) painless. Since February 14 I have not maligned or been maligned by political adversaries. I have not tested my I.Q., or found out my celebrity crush, or investigated the amazing array of skin rejuvenation products available. I have not snarked or jeered at the fates of the basketball teams of my friends.

And not once have I pined for a life other than the one I am living right now!

On the other hand, I have also not congratulated anyone on their son or daughter’s piano recital, seen the photos of my siblings’ European vacation, told a high school buddy “Happy Birthday” or marveled at the wit and faith of one of my pastor pals.

In the end, I guess I have to conclude that Facebook is a lot like fire; kept under control and used judiciously and carefully it has an enormous capacity for good. Used mindlessly it can cause enormous harm.

Facebook – and all other forms of social media – are tools. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is up to you and me to use them wisely.

19
Mar
18

Third Rails

AR 15 pictureWalking away from my mailbox Saturday, I thought back to August 2013. That was when the United States Postal Service – as a cost-saving move – proposed doing away with the Saturday delivery of mail.

If you think back, you will recall that proposal was met with LOUD howls of protest. In fact, I am not sure a proposal to immediately abolish all reruns of Matlock would have caused a greater hue and cry across the great landscape of retired America.

Needless to say, the USPS quickly dropped the idea like the proverbial hot potato.

And so now, as I look down at the sad harvest of one flyer for a local dentist, one for a landscaping company, an invitation to a “pre-retirement seminar,” a home improvement catalog, and our monthly gas bill, I breathe a grateful sigh of relief. Glancing briefly heavenward I pray, “Thank you Lord that I didn’t have to wait until Monday to receive this gold!”

The United States Postal Service was clearly facing some financial challenges. And while raising postage rates is always a quick and easy remedy, I thought they should have been commended for also considering cost-cutting measures.

And honestly… given the fact that 99.85% of my mail these days is either junk mail or bills, (yours too?) dispensing with Saturday mail delivery seemed to make perfect, reasonable, rational sense.

But the fact that people who proposed doing away with Saturday delivery were very nearly burned at the stake should have alerted us that something else was going on here… something beyond whether the idea was reasonable or rational.

Somewhere buried beneath the surface of the issue of Saturday mail delivery lays a very live, very hot third rail of EMOTION. As the USPS executives figured out very quickly, when you touch that third rail, you get burned very badly.

And so, as we engage in the national debate around guns and gun regulation, it is very clear the same principle applies here. Advocates of stricter rules around gun ownership, tighter background checks, and the abolition of assault-style weapons (people like me, in other words) feel our ideas make perfectly reasonable, rational sense.

I mean, honestly; who besides a combat soldier really needs a gun like an AR-15?

But as soon as those reasonable, rational proposals are advanced, they are just as quickly cut down in a barrage of pushback from gun owners.

Folks over here on my side of the debate can argue until we are blue in the face that, “No… no one is coming to take your guns away from you,” and that “This is NOT the first step in a government takeover,” to absolutely no avail.

It is too late; a nerve has been hit… an emotion has been stirred… the third rail has been touched. The opportunity for calm, reasoned conversation on the topic has disappeared.

Personally, I have never owned a gun in my life… and never will. And so for me, the issue has zero emotional content.

That is clearly not the case for those who have grown up around guns. For them, this topic is LOADED with emotion… emotion I can’t even begin to fathom.

This debate is VITAL. It needs to continue and laws need to change.

But until we gun control advocates can understand and speak to the emotional side of the debate, I fear no middle ground will be found and more and more Americans will die needlessly from gun violence.

13
Mar
18

Viriditas

Tulips in springIt’s happening.

Can you feel it?

If you stand REEEEEEALLLY still and cock your head a little to the left you can almost hear the new blades of grass shoving against the soil.

In a few places around my yard, a foolhardy daffodil or two has even broached the surface, looked around and hollered, “HEY! Where is everybody?? It’s springtime, Y’all!! Let’s get this party STARTED!!”

Right here where we sit on the calendar… right after the arrival of Daylight Saving Time… is positively pregnant with promise.

It’s a time of becoming.

It’s a time of eager anticipation.

It’s a time that teases us with visions of endless possibility.

It is also a time when I inevitably miss the message God has hidden inside the buds of the lilac bush.

I glance around my yard and my neighborhood, noting the dynamic costume change going on and mistakenly believe THAT is the main attraction.

You’ve seen it too; trees start pulling on their pale green sweaters … flowerbeds begin spreading their multi-hued quilts… dead, brown straw wakes up and breaks out the vibrant spring wardrobe.

I take it all in and say to myself, “THAT’S what I need! I need to SPIFF IT UP a bit! I need to break out some new threads! I need to do the same kind of extreme make-over I see happening all around me in the natural world. That is what will breathe new life into my weary soul!”

And so that’s what I do.

I start a new project.

I plan a new adventure.

I buy a new pair of shoes.

And in the process, I totally miss the real message hidden in the buds of spring.

As it turns out, the Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), observed the coming of spring nearly a millennium ago and accurately captured its true meaning.

Fr. Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation, quoted Hildegard and observed, “[She] often used the word viriditas, the greening of things from within…. She recognized a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform it into energy and life. She also saw an inherent connection between the physical world and the divine Presence. This connection translates into energy that is the soul and seed of everything, an inner voice calling you to ‘Become who you are; become all that you are.’” 

When the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus seeking answers to life’s persistent mysteries, Jesus told him rather directly to attain the new life he was seeking meant that he would have to be, “… born of water and spirit.” (John 3:5).

In other words, Nicodemus needed to “green from within.”

There is no doubt that the time of greening up and sprucing up is upon us. Heck, it might even be time for a new tie, pair of shoes or dress… whichever suits you best.

But as we take one more admiring glance in the mirror, let’s try to remember that the real transformation needs to start from WITHIN.

Abundant blessings…




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