Archive Page 2

31
Oct
17

The Real Deal

“To thine own self be true.”
– Polonius, in Hamlet

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God,
and that is what we are.”
– 1 John 3:1, NRSV

“Authentic” is a word that has been crossing my radar screen with increased frequency lately.

Naturally, authenticity would be a theme that would come to mind on that annual holiday we spend dressing up as someone – or something – else.

It also popped up this morning on a local radio talk show. The guest was the owner of a restaurant in town that specializes in Ramen noodles. Yes… that is apparently a thing. During the show, many syllables and much air were employed in identifying the difference between authentic Ramen and… I guess the inauthentic variety.

Over the weekend I had the honor of officiating at the memorial service of a friend of my son’s who died of pancreatic cancer. He and many friends in attendance had spent most of their lives outside the institutional church. However, in the last months of his life, this young man experienced something powerful and convicting that led him to ask me to baptize him a month before his death.

I found myself wrestling deeply with the question of what an “authentic” celebration of his life might look like…. And then not being terribly sure I even understood the question.

Often we give very high “authenticity” marks to people in the public eye who don’t really take the time to weigh and carefully consider their words before speaking. We applaud them as “genuine”… “unfiltered” and “authentic.” We say that those folks are a breath of fresh air in comparison with the carefully crafted words of professional “spin doctors.”

And then it makes me scratch my head and ask, “So then what does the word authentic actually mean?” And then I follow up with myself and ask, “And how has authenticity become such a paramount virtue today?”

One answer I hear is that the word authentic must mean something like “core,” or “essential,” or “foundational.” It’s what is left over when you strip away all of the mystical window dressing.

hotfudge_sundaeBut then I have to ask, “Does that mean all of our efforts to enhance or improve something are fraudulent because they take us away from its ESSENCE? Should I just leave my vanilla ice cream alone and not add the chocolate syrup, whipped cream, chopped nuts, and a cherry… in the name of authenticity?”

I also hear authenticity being defined more along the lines of “raw” and “unprocessed” or that other phrase currently in fashion, “… like it is.” The implication here is that the more spontaneous and unplanned something is, the more authentic it is.

I am not going to lie… as a guy who writes and re-writes and tries to think carefully about words and what they mean, this definition offends me. I am sure it offends me because it seems to assign a higher virtue to unplannedness and spur-of-the-momentness than to thoughtfulness.

And personally, I think that is one messed up set of virtues.

MYRIAD are the examples I can give of times when my ill-considered, spontaneous words caused hurt and complication in a situation.

MYRIAD+ are the examples of times when slow, deliberate, thoughtful consideration of words brought light and healing.

Think about it: what would it look like if we all really followed Polonius’ advice to be “true” to our own selves?

The next, natural question is: which self are we talking about?

  • Is it the self that feels like punching a hole in the wall when the home team fumbles the opening kick-off?
  • Is it the self that can’t resist taking a second helping of apple pie?
  • Is it the self that has deep doubts about its talent or worth?

And are we really the ones to be trusted to choose which of these “selves” we are supposed to be true to?

I believe personal authenticity is all about being the fullest, most complete version of ME that I can be.

And so for me, that includes being every bit of the goofy, thoughtful, impulsive, tender-hearted, self-centered, creative, emotional, dim-witted, spiritual, energetic, joyful, deep, shallow, inconsiderate Russell Brown God made me to be.

But mostly, it means going back to the Source and reclaiming my identity as a Child of God; infinitely beloved by the One who created the whole Universe.

THAT is really who I am.

And it is really – authentically – who you are, too.

Blessings;

23
Oct
17

Soul Hygiene

brushing-teeth-too-hardMy mom would be so proud of me.

She has been gone now for 47 years, but I have to believe she is looking on from the Next Realm and smiling a proud, satisfied smile.

You see for the past 47 years – more, in fact – hardly a day has gone by on which I have not brushed my teeth. Every single one of them.

Big deal, you say?

So what?

Giant YAWN!!??

Well, let me tell you; for quite a long time during my childhood, the practice of regular teeth brushing caused tremendous battles between my mother and me.

I really don’t understand why, but back then brushing my teeth was one of my least favorite things in the whole world to do.

When bedtime rolled around, I just wanted to put on my PJs, crawl under the covers and zonk out. I didn’t have time to detour to the bathroom for any sort of hygienic nonsense.

My mother tried everything. She cajoled me, threatened me, withheld my allowance and told me scary stories about toothless boys eating nothing but Jello for the rest of their lives. At one point she made me come back into the living room and breathe on her to demonstrate the minty freshness of my mouth.

Nevertheless, I resisted. It was a pain and a chore and I just flat didn’t want to do it.

What a strange, strange child I was!

Today I wouldn’t dream of starting and ending my day without brushing my teeth. Now and then you might catch me brushing them in the middle of the day, too. And flossing!

Obviously somewhere along the way, something changed. The thing I once saw as a tedious chore, forced upon me by cruel, uncaring authority figures suddenly became an important discipline in my life.

After all that resistance I came to see the value of brushing my teeth. No one had to watch over me and badger me to do it… I finally WANTED to brush my teeth. In fact, I looked forward to doing it. I actually have come to miss it dearly during those times when – for one reason or other – I am unable to brush my teeth.

That which was once a CHORE and an IMPOSITION on my precious time has somehow become a valuable DISCIPLINE. I am not sure it has morphed all the way to the status of being a JOY yet, but hopefully, it will get there while I still have teeth left to brush. I am not sure when or how this transformation of my attitude happened, but it did. Today I am an avid tooth brusher!

But I have to confess; I have still not quite arrived at that same place when it comes to my daily prayer and scripture-reading discipline.

Don’t get me wrong: I am much farther along the transformation road than I once was. I no longer require an authority figure to stand guard over me, threatening to withhold my allowance if I don’t do my daily devotional reading. (But honestly… is that really an accomplishment to crow about for a guy who was ordained into Christian ministry 12 years ago? Yeah, probably not.)

I still regularly let obstacles block my path on the way to “the reading chair.” A schedule that looks too full… an early household chore that MUST be attended to… a grumpy or lazy state of mind that rears its head and says – in a low, surly voice – “Aw, just skip it today.” All of these can too easily derail my noble intent.

My goal is to arrive at that place where I feel just as incomplete and ill-prepared to face the world without my daily dose of prayer and scripture as I would with unbrushed teeth.

I’m not there yet.

But I believe I am getting there.

Would you please pray for me?

26
Sep
17

Blessing? Curse? You pick…

Work in the labI heard a story on the radio last week that scared the beejeebers out of me.

(Sorry for the strong language.)

The report said that for the first time ever, scientists in a lab have edited a piece of human DNA. (All Things Considered program on National Public Radio… September 20, 2017).

Apparently, we always knew that DNA could be edited, but last week was the first time it was actually done in a lab.

The story talked about the fact that this breakthrough could give us the ability to correct certain genetic anomalies in the womb and drastically reduce the incidence of birth defects.

It also talked about the possible dark and sinister uses of gene editing… such as people being able to order “designer babies” that are a little taller, a little more athletic, a little blonder than other children.

In a very real way, the idea of gene editing revives memories of eugenics… The pseudo-science of selective breeding that helped give birth to the Master Race dream of Hitler and the Nazis.

Shivers literally went down my spine as I thought about the prospects of the “haves” (those who might afford designer babies) becoming stronger more beautiful and more intelligent, while the rest of us have to do it the old-fashioned way: taking whatever nature gives us.

I mean… if you think there is “class warfare” and divisiveness in our country now, it is probably a PICNIC compared to what it might be in a gene-edited future.

Can you say DYSTOPIA?

But then – as I sometimes do – I turned off the radio and kept thinking about the story. You can do that when you’re on a long drive.

And here is where that extra thinking led me: it led me to the question, “Has there ever been an example of one of humanity’s “great strides of discovery” that has NOT carried seeds of both blessing and curse with it?”

Grog the Caveman was no doubt excited when he discovered that fire could warm the inside of the cave and impart a lovely flavor to the mastodon steak he prepared. But he soon discovered his new invention could also burn down the entire forest.

Glo the Cavewoman was thrilled to find that a stone, cut into a round, wheel-like shape, could help her move heavy objects with ease. But she also discovered that it could be used to power a gigantic, gas-guzzling SUV.

The splitting of the atom gave us a source of energy that did not require us to rape the earth through strip mining or fossil fuel development. But it also gave birth to the atomic bomb.

We award Nobel Prizes every year for all kinds of scientific breakthroughs designed to benefit humankind, but then we remember that the man who started the prize – Sir Alfred Nobel – was also the inventor of dynamite.

Surely there must be some, but can you think of any discovery or breakthrough that can be accurately classified as “pure good”?

I mean, besides Jolly Ranchers.

The reality is, the “goodness” or “badness” of most things – including discoveries in science – is not inherent. They become good or bad as you and I pick them up and use them.

The way we use it gives money the power to be a blessing or a curse.

The hands at the controls are what make an airliner either a device for expedited travel or a tool for terror.

And yes, I’ll go there: it is our hands and our intentions that cause guns to be either good or evil. Their moral character is not stamped in at the factory. (Although let me quickly add: it is INSANE that we can’t/won’t pass more laws to limit their availability).

As Mark 7:21 tells us: “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come…” And it is also from within, from the human heart, seeded and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, that loving intentions come. (My paraphrase).

My hope and prayer today would be not, “O Lord, help us refrain from discovering things that might be put to dangerous uses,” but rather, “Lord, continue to guide us in your way so that as we continue to use our amazing minds to discover new things we will always choose to put them to use to accomplish YOUR holy purposes.”

AMEN.

25
Sep
17

Help Me See

Anthem protest photoI need help.

I need help with a lot of things, actually.

I need help with exercise. Left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t do it with much regularity. So I exercise in a class with a group of other guys.

I need help with eating. No, not the “lifting the fork and spoon to my mouth part” of eating. More like the “eating stuff that is good for me and avoiding stuff that is bad” part.

I need help packing for trips. Or at least my wife seems to think I do. (Shhhh… I’m going to let her keep thinking that, too.)

I need help dressing. Seriously. I mean, who knew a red polo shirt doesn’t go with brown plaid cargo shorts?

Apparently everyone.

But with all those areas of life where I struggle and need “a little help from my friends,” there is one thing I definitely do not need help with; and that is my ability to live in denial of life’s difficult realities.

Throughout my life, I have had a LOT of practice with this denial skill and – as many who know me will attest. As a result, I believe I have achieved a dubious degree of mastery.

Here are just a few examples of some of life’s hard realities I have been able to deny:

  • Because of my education, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of illiteracy.
  • Because of my income and net worth, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of poverty.
  • Because of my healthy, loving family of origin, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of family dysfunction.
  • Because of my gender (male), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of sexism.
  • Because of my race (white), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of racism.

Mind you; as much as is humanly possible, I try NOT to live in denial of any of these realities of life. They exist. They put a stain on the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters. They systematically undermine the values on which our country was founded.

But then I tune into the debate around national anthem protests… and I notice that some of the voices in that debate seem to be intent on helping me continue to live in a state of denial.

  • Those voices equate taking a knee during the anthem with anti-Americanism and disloyalty to our country.
  • They suggest that professional athletes have no right to express opinions on matters outside the realm of their employment.
  • They further suggest that all of us – including members of the marginalized classes – should place loyalty to country over everything else… including our sense of justice.
  • But mostly those voices seem to be saying that we should all continue to live in denial of some fundamental inequalities in our system of legal justice, particularly as it is applied to African Americans.

Thanks, but no thanks guys. I already have too much denial in my life to atone for. I don’t need help adding more.

The help I really need now is help to open my eyes to life’s hard truths… and keeping them open; even if it stings a little.

18
Sep
17

Try to Remember…

remember-clip-art“Sorry. I forgot.”

Boy… If I had a dollar for every time those words have come out of my mouth, I would have a LOT of money.

But then after I got that money, the challenge for me would be remembering where I put it!

It is a rather annoying part of my make-up I’ll admit. Forgetting can certainly increase friction on the home front – “Oh, sorry, honey… I forgot to ask her! Sorry, sweetheart! I forgot to bring that inside!” etc., etc.

Forgetting also increases gasoline expenditures… with all of that turning around and driving back to the store for those three things I forgot to buy.

And let’s not even start on the conversation about someone forgetting to renew his or her (actually, his) passport until TWO DAYS before a recent trip out of the country.

In my defense, I can say that I don’t discriminate in my forgetfulness. I forget big things, I forget small things; I forget things about people who are close to me, I forget things about casual acquaintances. I forget the names of black people, white people, gay people, straight people, American-born and non-American born people, Republicans and Democrats alike.

And this forgetting thing somehow doesn’t seem to DECREASE with the accumulation of birthday candles on my cake either… hard as that might be to believe.

It does trouble me, yes. It troubled me enough, in fact, to have some neurological tests done recently. (Weirdly, they came back saying my brain is perfectly OK.)

 But as troubling as MY forgetfulness is, I find myself significantly more worried about OUR forgetfulness. And by OUR, I mean humanity’s.

In the past thirty days we have experienced more than our fair share of calamitous events in this part of the world; two monster hurricanes that wreaked havoc and devastation… wildfires scorching thousands of acres of forest and destroying homes in the American west… and a giant earthquake just to our south in Mexico.

In every one of these situations, we saw incredible outpourings of heroic compassion. People who were complete strangers reached out to help their neighbors. I remember sitting in spellbound awe listening to a radio story about a man in Texas going from house to house to house in his bass boat helping people get to shelters, saving their pets, and delivering aid.

Money has been pouring into the American Red Cross and other assistance groups since even before the first hurricane hit. People in little churches and towns all around the country have been reaching out as if to say, “I may have never met them, but those are my brothers and sisters there in Texas and Florida and Oregon and Washington and Arizona whose lives are being torn apart by these disasters. I need to HELP!”

But then… Even before the waters have begun to recede… we forget.

  • We forget the humanity we share.
  • We forget the fragile nature of life on this planet.
  • We forget we live in a nation that once said we find “strength in diversity.”
  • We forget we are each made of the spiritual DNA of a loving, compassionate God.
  • We forget the “Love one another” commandment from John 15:5… or else we have edited it and added our own little caveat that says, “… but only in times of dire emergency.”
  • We forget the deep joy that comes from carrying our neighbor’s burden … and then also double forget Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” that is found in the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

diverse gatheringBut some things we remember all too well…

Sadly, we seem to remember to pick up the fears, prejudices, and mistrust of other people that we momentarily laid aside when the storms hit.

  • We “remember” the monumental importance of staking out our positions and platforms and defending them against all manner of heretical critique.
  • We remember who the “insiders” and the “outsiders” are and we rush to reinforce our walls of protection.

It’s funny; hurricanes, floods, fires, and earthquakes seem to remind us who our neighbors are.

But guess what… they’re the same people when the sun is out and the day is calm!

Let’s try to remember that.

Abundant blessings;

05
Sep
17

Caught in the rain

caught in the rainIt happened again.

We got caught in the rain.

For the second time this week, my wife and I decided we would go ahead and take a hike… even though the weather forecast said rain was likely.

And for the second time, the local weather forecasters proved to be annoyingly accurate. (When I want them to be right, they are wrong. And when I want them to be wrong, they are right. What’s up with that??)

In both instances the skies got dark, the temperature dropped dramatically, the winds started whipping the trees around, and the heavens opened up almost EXACTLY halfway through our hike.

Forge ahead? Turn back? Zero difference.

In neither case were we adequately prepared for the rain… despite the forecasts and my trusty weather radar app.

On the first hike we each had hoodies in the backpack; nice, long-sleeved fleece hoodies… with zero water repelling qualities.

The second time we didn’t even have those.

(Isn’t there a saying that begins something like, “Mad dogs and Englishmen…”?)

If something like this has ever happened to you, your reaction might have been similar to ours. We started out by shaking our fists at the storm… exasperated by its mean-spirited decision to ruin our outing.

Because, you know… storms are like that.

Next, we tried to hide from it. On the first hike the woods were pretty thick, so the tall conifers provided a measure of shelter. We hung out for a while under a particularly dense patch but then realized the storm was NOT going to blow over anytime soon.

Our next approach could best be described as “dejected trudging.” It was a kind of, “OK, this thing isn’t going to stop, we need to get back to the car, so let’s just grit our teeth and slog it out.”

Squish… squish… squish we went one unhappy step after the other.

Then it happened.

At some point, on both hikes, in the middle of the dejected trudging, a switch flipped; for both of us. A moment of awareness dawned, right there in the middle of the pelting raindrops. In nearly perfect synchronization, we looked at each other, started to laugh and said something like, “Well this is certainly an adventure, isn’t it?”

Our “moment” certainly didn’t make the rain stop… didn’t make our shoes less squishy, or warm us up at all. But it certainly did impart a different spirit to the remainder of the hike.

It made me wonder if there might be any rich veins of metaphor “ore” to be mined in this experience.

Like, for example, might there be any parallels between our experience of these actual, meteorological storms and other “storms” of life?

Such as; is it ever my tendency to start out denying the possibility of storms… to embark on the journey without paying any attention to the clouds gathering on the horizon?

Maybe.

Or to react initially with anger when the rain actually does arrive… to see it as a very personal, vindictive attack on ME?

Hmmmmm…

And then, is it possible that I might ever try to find some kind of silly, inadequate shelter in which to hide from the storm’s relentless presence? Or that I might then turn from my “hiding strategy” to a grim, teeth-clenched trudging acceptance of it?

Yes… it is entirely possible.

The real question is: do I ever arrive at the last stage – the stage of embracing the rain-soaked moment and seeing it as a kind of adventure? Am I ever able to shift gears and see the new outlooks and skills required of me by this downpour… skills that might have been needed, but were lacking heretofore?

In terms of a goal, “laughing in the rain” might be a little excessively Pollyanna-ish at this point. Some rainstorms (both the literal and metaphorical kind) are truly life threatening and dangerous.

But based on our recent hiking experience, I pray I will be able to spend significantly less time in the denial and angry fist-shaking stages and move more quickly to something hopeful and productive.

 

Abundant blessings…

30
Aug
17

“Unprecedented”

Flood evacueesFor the past few days, I have been utterly hypnotized by the news coverage of the recent events in Houston, TX and the visit of Hurricane Harvey.

I am guessing the fact that I have a son, daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren living in the Houston area probably makes me more attentive to Harvey-related news than the average bear.

But still…

(They are fine, by the way. Thanks for asking. They live in a part of the metro area that is on very high ground and is away from the worst of the flooding.)

I have watched spellbound as on-the-scene reporters from NBC, ABC, CBS, the Weather Channel, have all struggled to come up with new adjectives to describe what they are seeing.

When “incredible,” “amazing,” “unbelievable,” and “awesome,” all start to fall short, you know you are in the presence of meteorological greatness.

But the adjective that really caught my attention on Sunday was one that came from the mouth of the National Weather Service. It was the word “unprecedented.”

“Unprecedented.” As in, “…we have never ever seen anything like this before.”

And if THESE GUYS – the people who are supposed to keep detailed records of all the weather precedents – are using the word “unprecedented,” you know this is a BIG, DANGED DEAL. Maybe the biggest danged deal EVER!

See… when something has precedents you know how to behave. You say, “OK, the last time this happened, we did X. So we should probably do something very much like X again.”

But when you call it unprecedented (is it OK if I dispense with the quotation marks around the word now?), you are telling the world, “I got nothin’. Fresh out of answers over here.”

If I were a trained weather professional, I imagine I would be very reluctant to unleash the “U” word. I’d be afraid it would make me look… unprepared. Or unprofessional.

So why is it, do you suppose, that I have the sneaking suspicion that God continues to call me out into the “unprecendentednesses” of life?

I mean, it really seems that every time I discover myself standing at an intersection, between Path “A” and Path “B” with Path “A” representing familiar, precedented ground and Path “B” being strange turf, I could swear I hear God’s still, small voice whispering, “B, Russell. Go with B.”

It doesn’t help that you find stuff in the Bible like Isaiah 43:18 that says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Or Isaiah 65:17 where God says, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Or 2 Corinthians 5:17 where Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”

To be clear… I am pretty sure unprecedented floods with historic property damage and disruption of life are NOT on God’s “approved” list of adventures… Noah notwithstanding.

But when you read a few of these passages and see God’s handiwork, you begin to get the feeling God actually encourages unprecedentedness and newness… blatantly disregarding my preference for comfort and familiarity.

Who knows? Maybe he does.

Where does that leave a “safety seeker” like me?

Hmmmmm….

 




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.