Archive Page 2

21
Dec
20

My Christmas of Shame

As the Christmas of my 12th year approached, I wanted a Sting-Ray bike so badly I could taste it.

Everybody has one,” I told my parents, although I’m not sure that was technically true. There were probably one or two 12-year-olds in Bangaladesh who did not have Sting-Ray bicycles.

The bike I did have was functional, but a little clunky. It certainly did NOT have a banana seat or cool, high-rise handlebars, or a sparkly candy apple red paint job. Those deficiencies caused me to be seriously ill-prepared in the “popping wheelies” department. 

Sting-Rays, as I’m sure you are aware, are PERFECT for popping wheelies.

My solution was to beg and beg and whine and moan and complain to my parents, beginning sometime in August. I assured them my life would be ruined if I did not soon possess a Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle. The shame, I assured them, would redound to them as the parents of The Kid Without a Sting-Ray. 

Of course, it did not enter my childish brain that I was talking about a very major purchase here. We were not what you would call poor, but with five kids and a stay-at-home mother, there was not a lot of room for extravagance at Christmas time. In all likelihood, my heart’s desire might have eaten up 50 percent of the family Christmas present-buying budget.    

Fast forward to Christmas morning. The kids all woke up early – as usual – and ran downstairs to see what Santa had brought us. We impatiently waited as mom and dad took their sweet time coming downstairs, making coffee, and pretending not to know what we were so excited about. 

Stockings were first, by law. Then came the distribution of all of the other wrapped gifts. My eyes kept scanning for a large present in the shape of a Sting-Ray bicycle, to no avail. 

When everything had been passed out, ooo’d and ahhh’d over, squealed with delight for, or grudgingly thanked for (when the gift was a six-pack of new underwear), there was still no Sting-Ray bicycle in sight. Suddenly my dad looked over and said, “Well, I guess that’s it, kids!” and then with a wink my mother chimed in, “Wait a minute, George… what is that I see out there on the front porch?”

“I don’t know,” my father implishly replied. “Why don’t we go out and look!”

We all trooped out to the porch to see what they could possibly be talking about and there – in all its glory – sat a shiny Quasi-Sting-Ray bicycle.

“Oh look, Rusty!” my father proudly proclaimed. “I guess there was one more thing left after all. And I think it is for YOU!”

My father had taken my old bike – the clunky one described above – painted the frame with some metallic, candy-apple red and green paint, and then replaced the original handlebars with high-rise handlebars and the original seat with a Sting-Ray-like banana seat. 

My father had undertaken a labor of love. He had assessed the wants and needs of his five children, weighed them against the available budget, and come up with a creative solution. He spent hours and hours in a secret place in the garage modifying my bike and turning it into the thing I wanted most in the world.

And in return for his love, hard work, and creativity, what did I do? 

I moped. I sulked. I looked down at the ground and tried to hide my deep disappointment.

I think I managed to mumble out a strained, “Thank you,” but my heart wasn’t in it. 

I knew that all of my Sting-Ray owning friends were going to point and laugh at me when I rode my homemade Sting-Ray down the street. It would be just like wearing a placard around my neck that read, “Hi there! We’re poor.” 

I was ashamed of my parents’ gift.

Today though, I am ashamed of me and the way I reacted. 

I look back on that moment with the hard-won knowledge of what it takes to raise a family. I now know that nothing matters more to a parent than lighting up a child’s face with joy. I know parents are hardwired to do whatever it takes to provide for and protect their children and that the only reward any parent ever wants for all of the work and sacrifice is a smile and hearing a heartfelt, “Thank you, dad,” from that child. 

That Christmas I gave my parents none of those gifts. 

Today, as we approach this COVID Christmas, I hope we can look past the PRESENTS and give thanks for the PRESENCE; the presence of love, the presence of family, and the presence of God incarnate, as the real gifts of this season. 

Merry Christmas and abundant blessings;

17
Dec
20

Trusting the Master Mapmaker

I am not exactly sure when it started, but for a very long time I’ve had a deep fascination with MAPS.

I remember my very real excitement when – at the age of eight or nine – my grandfather handed me a folded, paper map and asked me to navigate as he drove us to the location of our family picnic. 

Of course, the first thing I had to do was turn the map so that it was pointed in the same direction we were driving. But once I got that part figured out, I reveled in being able to say, “OK, grandpa… we have to turn left at the next road we see.”

Oh the POWER!

I think the thing that fascinated me the most about maps was trying to figure out just exactly how they were drawn in the first place. I mean, how can something as HUGE as the entire state of Ohio be accurately drawn on a piece of paper the size of my Big Chief notebook? How was anyone – especially in the days before airplanes – able to draw an accurate picture of exactly how much that river squiggled or exactly where that coastline took a 90-degree bend to the west?

The only reference point I had to the world around me was the stuff I saw right in front of my eyes. It was mystical beyond comprehension how anyone could create a total, unified picture of how everything beyond that fit together.

To be honest, I still find it pretty mystical. 

[And I might or might not just be talking about maps here.]

Later in life, I also realized that successful map use also requires a great deal of TRUST. This is true whether we are talking about paper maps, (yes, Dorothy… there really was once such a thing), or our handheld Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems. When the voice – or the map – says, “Turn left in 500 feet,” we have to trust that this advice is really taking us in the direction we want to go.

All of this brings to mind a section in the book of Job. In case a refresher is needed, Job was the famously faithful man in the Old Testament that God agreed to “test.” And by TEST, I mean visit every possible affliction imaginable on (including putting up with the advice of well-meaning, but misguided “friends”) to see how his faith held out. 

SPOILER ALERT: Job passed the test…

… but not before expressing some serious doubts about whether God actually knew what God was doing. You know, a little like you and I might be tempted to do during a time of global pandemic, political unrest, severe economic distress, personal loss and hardship, and winter.

God listens patiently to Job’s complaint and then replies. Actually, God’s reply covers three entire chapters of the book, so I will just include this tiny snippet here:

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
    I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?’”
                               (Job 38:1-7, NRSV)

I always thought God sounded a little snarky there, but Job got the message… LOUD AND CLEAR. The Master Mapmaker sees and knows the Big Picture… because he CREATED IT!

You and I see only the tiniest slice of reality and from that we draw global, all-encompassing – and usually incorrect – conclusions. Job finally learned that when he trusted the facts that 1.) there IS a map and 2.) that map is totally trustworthy. 

Job was at last able to gaze upon his tiny slice of the known universe and find real joy in it… even when the picture he saw looked gloomy.  

Hopefully I am learning a similar lesson from these fraught, frightening times. Hopefully I am becoming more able to see both the Big Map and the Small Beauties…

… and finding joy in both.

Abundant blessings;

11
Dec
20

Oddball World

“They are SO ODD!”

“I mean, look at that guy over there! What is up with that jacket he’s wearing? The sleeves are WAAAAYY too short and it’s not even zipped up all the way. Makes you want to shout, ‘DUDE! It’s 25 freaking degrees out! Bundle UP, for crying out loud!’”

“And what about THAT couple? I THINK they are together, but he is walking at least three steps in front of her. I’m tempted to wonder if it is a cultural thing, but they don’t look foreign. I mean, why even bother if you’re not even going to stay close enough to have a conversation with each other?”

“Good Lord look out. Here they come. It’s that young family with their two ‘cute’ kids in tow. Except for the fact that their kids are shouting at each other, falling down in the grass and just generally running amok. Don’t they care that some of us are out here trying to have a peaceful walk in the park? Folks… can’t you just control them for half a minute? Is it really necessary to visit this chaos on everyone around you?”

These days it seems that everywhere I turn I run into oddballs… you know, people who don’t LOOK like me, ACT like me, BELIEVE like me, or even SMELL like me. 

I mean, they’re EVERYWHERE! They seem to have gathered together (no doubt in some clandestine location somewhere) and brainstormed all the possible things they could do to unsettle and confound me. 

  • “OK, you, Bill; why don’t you hit him with that goofy walk of yours. You know, the one where you kind of drag your right leg behind you every three steps?”
  • “And Sylvia; your assignment is to post something on social media that is going to just send him up the WALL! You know the hot buttons pretty well, don’t you? Good!”
  • “Which brings us to you, Wally. I want you to try to get in front of him there on the freeway, drive in the far left lane, BELOW the posted speed limit, and just STAY THERE! Think you can handle that?”
  • “Are we good? OK… BREAK!”

Of course, I exaggerate… but only a little.

On way too many occasions I awake to discover that I have once again contorted my stereotypically human desire for peace and order into a less-than-godly antipathy for DIFFERENCE and DIVERSITY. 

I cast my eyes skyward and beseech my Creator, “Please, God! Things have to FIT! They have to MAKE SENSE! Why do you keep throwing me all of these CURVE BALLS? Why are there so many ODDBALLS around? Surely you know how much they UNSETTLE me?”

And God, smiling that perfectly serene (though occasionally annoying) smile, looks down and replies, “Oh my poor, confused child. You are so adorable sometimes in your misguidedness. This world you gaze upon with such disdain is EXACTLY the world I intended. It’s not a mistake.”

God then continued and said, “I made reds, and blues, and greens, and yellows. I also made aquamarine, and chartreuse, and puce, and tamarind…

“… ON PURPOSE!”

“I made short people, tall people, fat people, and skinny people. I made white folks, dark folks, Asian folks, and mingled-color folks. I made Christians, and Jews, and Muslims… Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and atheists…”

“… also ON PURPOSE.”

“I made Republicans, I made Democrats. I made fans of the Labor Party, the Communist Party, the Torries, and the Bharatiya Janata Party in India. I made people who are members of the Polish Solidarity Party, and – just because I have a sense of humor – members of the Polish Beer Lovers Party*…”

“… ALL of that, totally on purpose.” 

“Somewhere along the way, you seem to have forgotten that I am the God of VARIETY! I paint with a wild palette and bold strokes. I never wanted a monotone world, filled only with people who look and act and talk and speak like YOU.”

“In case you are not tracking with me here, Russell, ALL of this ‘oddness,’ as you call it, is absolutely according to my plan. Yes, it does frustrate me a lot when people like you forget that central truth and gripe and complain about the rich variety of my world.”

“You call yourself a student of my Word, but you seem to have forgotten the part in the very beginning – in the book of Genesis, in fact – where it says that I finished my act of CREATION, stood back, looked at it, and called it, “…VERY GOOD.” (Genesis 1:31, NRSV).

I bowed my head, chastened and humbled. “Of course,” I whispered. Of course God created a world of rich variety, texture, color, and depth. OF COURSE God intended us each to find our own place in the midst of this awesome tapestry and still appreciate the differences surrounding us.

“Thank you, God, for explaining all that to me. But God,” I whispered softly. “There is one thing I still don’t understand…”

“Diversity notwithstanding, how is it that people can still root for the RAIDERS??”

Abundant blessings;

* A real thing, by the way

04
Dec
20

Grace in the Wilderness

Yesterday, Joan and I decided to indulge ourselves.

Nothing big, really. Just a quick drop-in to one of our favorite neighborhood ice cream places to get a sweet treat. 

You see, I had just come out of my dermatologist’s office where a sizable chunk of my back had been carved out with the medical version of a melon-baller. I had one of those skin things that goes hand-in-hand with aging and poor sunscreen behavior as a youth. 

[We now interrupt this blog post for an important PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Get your annual derm check, people! Don’t ignore the largest organ in your body!!]

Since I hadn’t cried or shouted out in pain, an ice cream reward seemed to be in order. So, off we headed to the Dairy Delight. As we drove, I was mentally shuffling through their menu items, trying to decide between a hot fudge sundae, a banana milkshake, or a simple, understated cone.

I could almost taste the creamy sweetness as our car drew nearer.

Imagine then my stunned disappointment when we pulled into the empty parking lot and saw the large sign that read, “CLOSED FOR THE SEASON.”

“Nooooo!” I cried in anguish, deferred tears streaming down my face. “How could you DO this to me! I was a good boy at the doctor’s office and I really, REALLY wanted some ice cream! You CAN’T be closed!!”

But they were. 

And no amount of wailing and moaning was going to alter that fact. 

 “It’s OK,” Joan said as she soothingly patted my knee. “We’ll go to a McDonald’s or Dairy Queen or somewhere else.” 

But I wanted THAT place. With THOSE things. And I wanted them RIGHT THEN!

And try as I might, for the rest of that afternoon, I allowed myself to expend most of my psychic energy spewing and sputtering in an epic puddle of disappointment over the rude and untimely closing of the Dairy Delight. 

I am sure most of you are WAAAAY too mature to fuss and fume over something as trivial as a closed ice cream store… But let me ask; have you ever done anything similar?

  • Have you ever consciously chosen to become STUCK in the past?
  • Have you ever WALLOWED in self-pity about a plan that didn’t work out?
  • Have you ever allowed disappointment to blind you to God’s extravagant outpouring of blessing or to the wonders of the world all around you?
  • Have you ever FORGOTTEN that great wisdom of Mick, Keith, Charley, et al, who reminded us in song that, “You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometimes, you just might find… you get what you need”?
  • Well, HAVE YOU?

I certainly have. Sadly, way more than once. 

If you and I allow ourselves a moment of brutal honesty, we cannot avoid the fact that shortcomings and disappointments are more often the RULE rather than the EXCEPTION in life; to wit…

  • … the best professional baseball players fail to hit safely in two out of three attempts. 
  • … the best running backs in football are stopped short of the goal in 99% of their running attempts.
  • … the best books ever written are only ever read by a handful of people. 

And yet God says to us, just as God once said to the flailing, failing children of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah… those very same Israelites who disappointed God over and over again… “Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away.  I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:2-4, NRSV)

Whatever the nature of YOUR particular wilderness today (unless, of course it is something as trivial as a closed-down ice cream store), may you find God’s grace and mercy RIGHT THERE. 

Abundant blessings;

02
Dec
20

New Shoes

This past weekend I observed a personal ritual known as, “The Changing of the Shoes.” It is exactly like the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, except without the pageantry, fuzzy hats, Corgis, Englishness, formality, or really anything else.

My ritual doesn’t even operate by a set schedule. 

It happens when it needs to happen.

The Changing of the Shoes is set in motion when my daily walking shoes finally bite the dust. That moment sends me to the shoe store to buy a new pair. My old walking shoes then “graduate” to the status of yard work shoes, and my dirt-and-dog-doo-encrusted-grass-stained yard work shoes go to that happy Shoe Recycling Place in the sky. 

And as that ritual unfolds, I learn again the lesson that new seasons beget new roles. New roles beget new duties. New duties beget new self-understandings.

And sometimes, new self-understandings beget new questions about how we each fit into the cosmic scheme of things.

[By now I suspect you have guessed that I am no longer talking about SHOES, haven’t you?]

This time of global pandemic has required the adoption new self-understandings by almost every one of us, hasn’t it? Those of us who derive our identities from our work, or our relationships, our hobbies, or our affiliations have struggled to embrace this New Normal.

And unlike my shoes (who slip easily and without complaint into their new roles) many of us scratch and kick and complain loudly when forced into a new way of being… a new way of seeing… a new way of understanding our place in the world. 

Heck, even though it has now been true for 1.25 years, I still find myself resisting the wholehearted adoption of my new “retired guy” identity. “You’re too young to retire!” says the tape that plays repeatedly in my head. 

The thing is, CHANGE doesn’t care. 

CHANGE rolls on, as inexorable as the seasons… inviting us to either dance or die. 

Our gut tells us that CHANGE is the enemy… something to be feared. Our gut wants things to stay as they are; predictable, stable, orderly. 

Our gut wants us to worship something besides the wild, ever-renewing, explosively creative God of the Universe. 

Our gut tells us not to trust the extended hand of the One who whispers to us, “Come ahead, my child. Don’t fear. I’ve got you.”

But then, if we listen really closely, we will hear our faith speaking up and saying, “The God who brought you TO this, will surely bring you THROUGH this.”

God always has. God always will. 

We learn that the God who said, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43: 19, NRSV), is the same God who said, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1-2, NRSV).

New times.

New roles.

New understandings.

Same God. Same rock-solid promises.

But definitely time for some new shoes.

Abundant blessings;

30
Nov
20

Old Faithful

[A warning to readers: this post contains a ton of references to the game of professional football. It is done in service– hopefully – of a larger theological point. Just the same, people who despise football might want to tune out here. You’ve been warned!]

And here I thought I had to wait a long time.

I moved to the Kansas City area in 1980. At that point it had been 10 years since the city’s pro football team, the Chiefs, had been to the championship game, the Super Bowl. When I first set foot in KC, fans were still basking in the warm glow of that championship. 

They were, however, beginning to grow a little antsy, wondering when the next one might come. 

Little did they (we) know that it would be another 39 years until we tasted the sweet nectar of the Lombardi Trophy again. 

Chiefs fans had to wait through the coaching regimes of Marv Levy, John Mackovic, Frank Gansz, Marty Schottenheimer, Gunther Cunningham, Dick Vermiel, and many others. 

We had to watch quarterbacks named Bill Kenney, Todd Blackledge, Steve DeBerg, Elvis Grbac, Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, Tyler Thigpen, Trent Green and countless others struggle to string together successive wins. 

Along the way we did see a couple of stars named Joe Montana and Warren Moon drop out of the sky to light up the Arrowhead horizon a bit.

For the most part, though, the time since 1970 was a long, dry trek through the football wilderness for the Chiefs and their loyal fans…

… which, of course, all changed in 2017 with the drafting of Saint Patrick. Mahomes, that is. 

Now, after 50 years in the desert, the wait is finally over. The Kansas City Chiefs have arrived in the Land of Respectability.

Speaking now as an avid Chiefs fan, 50 years sure seemed like a long time for us to wait. But let’s put all of that waiting into perspective, shall we? 

  • God’s Chosen People – the Israelites – lived as enslaved people in the land of Egypt, waiting for deliverance, for nearly 400 years. 
  • Then, after Pharaoh reluctantly agreed to release them from bondage, it took another 40 years to travel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.
  • The Jewish prophet Isaiah first foretold of the coming of God’s Messiah (or “anointed one”) in the year 356 BCE… in other words, 356 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. 
  • After their military defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the surviving Israelites spent 57 years in exile in Babylon, beginning in the year 587 BCE. 
  • Nearly two thousand years after his death and resurrection, Christians around the world still await the Second Coming of Christ that was promised by the gospel writers. 

I am not sure anyone really likes to wait… for ANYTHING.

But I have noticed that some people are better at waiting than others. These are the people who seem to possess an inner peace, supremely confident in the knowledge that their waiting will not be in vain. 

You know… the way people used to stand and wait for the eruption of the Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park; every hour, on the hour, like clockwork. No panic. No worries.

Waiting for God to act really should be like waiting for Old Faithful. In fact, “Old Faithful” might actually be another good nickname for God, now that I come to think of it. 

In contrast, waiting for the arrival of a football championship depends on so many uncertain variables. It takes the right owner, the right General Manager, the right head coach, the right group of assistant coaches, and the right players all coming together at the right time. 

The word “faithfulness” is used 79 times in the Bible to describe this defining characteristic of God. The Psalmist said, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” (Psalm 119:90, NRSV).

We don’t know exactly WHEN God will fulfill God’s promises… we just know that what God promises, God delivers. And in that certainty, we can wait with patience and hope…

… quite unlike the experience of waiting for the arrival of football glory.  

Abundant blessings;

27
Nov
20

Thanks Be to All

viol

I dislike violence.

I mean, I REALLY dislike it.

I can’t stand violent sports like boxing or Mixed Martial Arts… although I somehow find a way to make an exception for the violence of American football.

I immediately turn away from gratuitous violence on both the small and big screen.

I am so queasy about violence I even have a hard time watching contestants as they are eliminated on game shows. 

Which, I suppose, is why I have such a hard time facing up to the violence that helped pave the way for the life I lead today. 

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, our time of gluttonous gratitude gatherings. And even though it was a somewhat isolated feast for Joan and me this year, it was still quite enjoyable. 

The Thanksgiving holiday always causes me to think back and remember the things I was taught in school about the origins of this special national holiday.

I can still remember being part of a pageant in the fourth grade that commemorated the first Thanksgiving feast… with “Pilgrims” in their construction-paper hats and collars sitting down with their “Native American neighbors” (wearing their multi-colored construction paper headdresses) to thank them for their valuable assistance in coping with the fierce North American winter. 

Nowhere in my entire formal education, however, did I learn about the genocidal violence inflicted upon those original people by the European settlers … violence that was justified as necessary to promote the advance of “civilization.”

Or, if I ever did hear about it, I probably turned away in denial, preferring to believe a more sanitized version of American history. You know… the version where the Europeans and the Native Americans all sat down around a big conference table and respectfully agreed that it would be in everyone’s best interest if those First People uprooted themselves from places they occupied for centuries and squeezed themselves into tiny settlements in some of the most inhospitable parts of the American West. 

As we now know that version is just not the way it happened. Blood was shed. Lives were lost. Families were destroyed. Terrible violence was employed in order to “open up” this country for European expansion. 

Yes, I still believe it is good and necessary to give thanks to God for the bounty and blessings of the life I lead today. It is necessary to admit that I have received unmerited grace and favor, and to be continually humble in receiving it.

But I believe it is also necessary to admit – as much as I detest it – that violence also played a significant part in placing me where I am today.

Today – the day after Thanksgiving – has been officially designated as Native American Heritage Day. And in an historic first, it is worth noting that there are now more Native Americans serving in the U.S. House of Representatives than ever before in our nation’s history. There are six; three women, three men. Three Republicans, and three Democrats. 

To celebrate and sum up the importance of this day, I will close with this fitting quote from one of them:

“Native Americans have a unique opportunity to educate their children and fellow Americans about the legacy and hardships Native Americans have overcome. We know the stories of our ancestors and we pass them on to future generations. Our history and our sovereignty are what bind us together.”

  • Markwayne Mullin, Congressman, Oklahoma, a member of the Cherokee Nation

We also remember that it is the undiluted, unconditional, universal love of God that binds all of us on this awesome planet together.

In our thanksgiving, let us remember to give thanks to ALL who have gone before. 

Abundant blessings; 

25
Nov
20

In Which Circumstances??

Would you look at this mess? 

A worldwide killer virus is floating around in the air, seeking out the most vulnerable among us, killing record numbers of people, especially people of color… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

Not only did this virus cause Joan and I to cancel our plans to join the rest of the family for a long overdue gathering, but now it has been rude enough to smash our SCALED DOWN Thanksgiving plans… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

And what about those working parents out there? What about the folks who have to figure out some way to do their jobs over a video screen, supervise their (often reluctant) remote-learning children, put meals on the table, and maintain a home? 

And you want them to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

And in this time of roiling turmoil outside, when most people can hunker down and bask in the comforting embrace of home and hearth, Joan and I instead wake up each morning to face a construction zone full of dust and noise and sheetrock and extension cords… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

And even though some of the dust of the recent election seems to be settling and new, orderly pieces appear to be falling into place, we still face the reality of a nation deeply divided along racial and political lines… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

And seriously… don’t even get me started on the endless litany of aches and pains and visits to doctors and chiropractors and physical therapists and testing sites and pharmacies and all that other stuff that seems to go hand-in-hand with having attained a **certain** age… and you want me to DO WHAT??

  • “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV)

I have to ask: God, are you sure you really understand what you are asking of us?

I mean, do you have any concept of what we have to deal with down here in the land of flesh and blood and traffic lights and fire ants? 

Do you have the slightest notion of just how tough it is to make it from Point A to Point B some days… even without today’s extra stressors of disease, sleaze, and unease?

And then it hits me; of course you do!

You know EXACTLY what we are up against. You are intimately acquainted with every ache, pain, fear, frustration, joy, disappointment, dream, distress, annoyance, and heartache we will ever face… in a thousandlifetimes.

You know us because you loved us enough to BECOME us.

Nothing about this human experience is foreign to you.

AND YET… you still command us to GIVE THANKS…

… in ALL circumstances. 

You know what? I might just give it a try.

I mean, shoot… whining hasn’t worked.

Throwing a one-man pity party hasn’t worked.

Sulking over here in my corner hasn’t worked. 

Maybe I’ll try your way instead.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Abundant blessings;

23
Nov
20

The Eye of God

Beneath his mask of anger, bluff, and bluster, God sees…

  • God sees the fearful, insecure child hiding inside.

Beneath the surface of the spreader of careless gossip, God sees…

  • God sees the fragile, wounded heart, yearning to belong.

Beneath the exterior of the wild, risk-taking daredevil, God sees…

  • God sees the calloused heart aching to revive a sense of the wonder of life.

Beneath the veneer of the driven, polished, professional high achiever, God sees…

  • God sees the yawning deficit of love and self-regard.

Beneath the façade of cool indifference, God sees…

  • God sees the ocean of anxiety and insecurity.

Beneath the symptoms of depression and despair, God sees…

  • God sees a tender, hopeful heart, eager to connect.

Behind towering walls of debilitating addiction, God sees…

  • God sees the beautiful, flawless mirror of the soul, created to reflect its Source.

God sees what is.

God sees what was.

God sees what could be.

God sees it all.

God invites each of us to open the eyes of our hearts and see… REALLY see. 

… to see as God sees.

… to weep as God weeps.

… to love as God loves.

And then, having seen, to give thanks.

Abundant blessings;

20
Nov
20

“I Surrender!”

Like many men of my age, I was quite the little warmonger as a child.

My friends and I loved to do nothing more after school than get together in the big field behind Jeff and David’s houses and play ARMY. As soon as we got home, we would drop our books, say hello to our parents, grab our toy guns, and head out.

Please understand; these guns didn’t actually shoot anything. Not BBs, not pellets, not even air. We “killed” members of the opposing army by aiming our rifle at them and making some kind of “POW!” noise with our mouths. 

Each soldier was on the honor system to die fair and square when shot by someone from the other side.

One of the hardest things to do in the game of Army, however, was to surrender. 

Surrendering only became necessary when someone from the opposing army stealthfully crept up on your hiding place, pointed his gun at you and said, “OK, Rusty! (my childhood nickname). I see you there behind the garage. Put down your gun and come out with your hands up!”

To be captured was humiliating and embarrassing. Each of us would have preferred to be shot dead, complete with a well-rehearsed death swoon, over being captured by the other side.

Today, even though my last backyard Army battle took place more than 50 years ago, I look around and see that many of us still have the same problem that gripped my boyhood friends and me. 

That is to say, it seems that a lot of us today would rather die than surrender

The health crisis that grips our country is a prime example. The scientists and epidemiologists who have spent their lives studying these things tell us that we are all going to have to – at least temporarily – surrender some of our customary practices to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

They say, for example, that…

  • … we are going to have to surrender our plans for large family Thanksgiving gatherings.
  • … we are going to have to surrender our desire to walk around maskless in public places.
  • … we are going to have to surrender our plans to go to restaurants, sporting events, worship gatherings, and concerts. 
  • … we are going to have to surrender our habit of walking around with dirty hands.

But mostly, the doctors and scientists say, we are going to have to surrender our belief that we are each the masters (or mistresses) of our own domains, free from ANY need to constrain ANY of our behaviors.

We become incensed. We stand up proudly and say – with raised voices – “THAT’S not the America I believe in! No SIR! I live in the land of the FREE! I’m not surrendering my freedom to ANYONE!”

Which is kind of funny, considering all the “surrendering” we each do on a routine, daily basis. 

  • If you are married, you know exactly what I am talking about. Healthy marriages are based on the art of compromise…  in other words, the art of surrendering MY agenda to OUR agenda. 
  • When we get into a car, we surrender to the authority of our local traffic laws.
  • When we get onto a plane (which some people still do, I hear), we completely surrender our lives to the skill of our pilot and the integrity of the air traffic control system. 

And would you believe it? Jesus actually went so far as to teach his disciples that surrender was the key to eternal life! He is recorded in each of the gospels saying something similar, but here are his words from the Gospel of Mark: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?’” (Mark 8:34-35, NRSV). 

For many of us, the idea of surrender can still be frightening. It can suggest a loss of control over the circumstances of our lives. 

But what if, instead of seeing it as a matter of LOSING control, we instead saw surrender as TURNING OVERcontrol… 

… that is, turning over control to the One who designed the whole crazy thing in the first place?

Abundant blessings;




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