Archive Page 2

20
Aug
21

Beloved Blades

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the annoying frequency with which the words, “I’m sorry” have been featured in my daily vocabulary. I mean, there I am, navigating my day with a measure of ease and panache (in my opinion, at least) when BOOM! 

… Suddenly and unexpectedly, I trespass. And when that happens, I immediately feel the need to make amends for my trespass. I say, “I’m sorry” and ask what else I can do to make things right again.

Today the phrase that seems to be popping up with annoying frequency is the phrase, “I FORGOT.” Sometimes, the two phrases appear together. As in, “I’m sorry. I forgot.”

Here is a classic example; I was sent to the grocery store to buy three simple items. Avocados, yogurt, and dish detergent. No need to write anything down… it’s THREE THINGS, for crying out loud!

I zipped in, hit the produce section for the avocados, flew over to dairy aisle for five or six well-chosen flavors of yogurt, and then ZOOP! Up to the cashier to check out. 

As I returned home and proudly displayed my plunder to Joan there on the kitchen counter, she oh-so-lovingly said, “That’s great, sweetie. But where is the dish detergent?” 

“OOPS! Sorry! I forgot!”

And it wasn’t as if I grabbed the avocados and yogurt and then stood there scratching my head, trying to remember what the third thing was. Dish detergent was as far-removed from my brain as… as… as rationalityis removed from today’s internet political debates.

Trust me when I tell you that not all the things I forget are as incidental and easily fixable as an item on the grocery list. 

In my time I have also forgotten:

  • People’s names
  • Appointments
  • Steps in a process
  • Lessons from my past
  • Where things in my house are stored
  • Words to songs I once knew well
  • The last thing Joan said to me

Of course, when it comes to recalling moments or conversations from childhood, or incidents from the Lassie or Rin Tin Tin TV shows, I shine like a star. 

Ask me to name Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks from the past and I won’t miss a beat as I reel off names like DeBerg, Grbac, Moon, Gannon, Bono, Kenney, Huard, and of course, the inimitable Joe Montana. I can tell you the name of Sky King’s airplane (the Songbird), Pat Kelly’s jeep (Ol’ Nellybelle) and the clown on Howdy Doody (Clarabelle) without turning once to Google.

Let’s start by facing the cold, hard facts: my brain – like the rest of my body – is getting older. The file drawers are kind of full and the wheels don’t turn as quickly as they once did.

There is also the issue of PAYING ATTENTION. If I am not making a point of devoting my entire focus to the grocery list Joan is giving me, or to exactly WHERE the lentils are being put away, or to your story about the U2 concert, I will probably not remember it well, if at all.

Finally, I am guilty of hierarchy-making. That is, I encounter some piece of information and instantly rank it as IMPORTANT… WORTH REMEMBERING, or TRIVIAL… DON’T WASTE THE HARD DRIVE SPACE ON THIS. 

And most of the time, the stuff I forget – but needed to remember – was labeled as TRIVIAL when it really wasn’t.

I am not sure I can solve the puzzle of having an aging brain. But I know I can definitely take steps on the other two problems… I can pay more and better attention, and I can choose to treat MORE things as important.

Which is probably a good time to remember that you and I were created by a God who sees EVERY SINGLE one of us as important. Not just important, but SACRED… BELOVED… PRECIOUS. 

But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to King David in this psalm when he tells us: “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him…”          (Psalm 103:15-17, NRSV)

I love that!

That is one verse I am certainly going to work on remembering.

OK, time to head outside and pull some weeds. If I could only remember where I put the sunscreen!

Abundant blessings;

18
Aug
21

Mercy Me

WARNING: This post sounds a lot more like a rant than a thoughtful, well-considered pondering. But let’s withhold judgment for a minute and see where it goes. 

“London calling!”

Who knows? We might end up with something with depth and meaning after all…

Todd* was supposed to be there this morning at 9:00 to help with some yard work. Ever since my back has chosen to betray me, I have started hiring folks to help with the heavy stuff around the yard.

Except Todd didn’t show. Todd didn’t text to say, “Hey, sorry, something came up.” It is now five hours later and not a peep from Todd.

I have no idea where Todd is or whether something horrible possibly happened to him.

I sure hope not because I really like Todd.

Earlier this year we had a similar experience with our remodeling contractor.

No show. No communication. No response to repeated attempts to connect saying, “Hey! What’s happening?”

Finally, out of the blue, after many weeks of radio silence, we finally received a brief note saying, “We’re on it.”

Ah, the small magic and MASSIVE benefit of simple COMMUNICATION. When it happens, it is like oil poured over wounds of anxiety. When it doesn’t, it is like salt rubbed into those same wounds.

I know that sometimes you have nothing to report. I know that sometimes you have bad news that you are very, very reluctant to share. I know that sometimes you are up to your eyeballs in alligators and can’t even think straight, let alone take the time to shoot me a quick note.

I know all of that because I have been on your end of the equation MANY times. 

But you obviously have no idea how calming it is to receive SOMETHING from you. Even if it is just a quick note to say, “Hey… sorry. I know you’re waiting for this, but I don’t have it yet. And honestly, I am not sure when I will. I’ll keep you posted.”

Even a note as simple as that is enormously comforting.

In the end, it is about empathy, isn’t it? It is about nurturing the ability to step wholly into the shoes (or for me today, the flip-flops) of another person and be able to feel their feelings… to silence the “me” – even momentarily – and listen to the “you.”

Now that I think of it that way, I realize Jesus had a few words to say on the subject after all. No, I don’t mean the subject of non-communicative contractors. I mean the subject of EMPATHY. Except when Jesus talked about empathy, he used a different word. He called it “mercy.” For a great parable about the importance of empathy/mercy, flip to Luke 10:30-37 in your Bibles and read all about the man from Samaria who stopped and helped the man from Judea who had been beaten and robbed and left by the roadside to die. 

I don’t know if it really is true or not (because I haven’t given it enough thought), but I am going to conclude today by suggesting that good COMMUNICATION is ultimately about EMPATHY. It is all about the act of taking the time to stop and asking myself, “If our roles were reversed, what would I want to hear from me?”

That’s it. Did that all sound too petty and peevish?

Anyway… if you hear anything from Todd, let him know I am worried about him, OK?

Abundant blessings;

* Not his real name

16
Aug
21

Sorry (Not Sorry)

Lately I find myself apologizing a lot. 

True, it is mostly to my lovely spouse Joan. But that’s just because we spend so much time together. If you and I were to spend time together, I suspect I’d be apologizing to you in direct proportion to that time.

The single, most apologized-over topic in our household is around the timing of putting (or throwing) stuff away. Here is a quick vignette to illustrate what I am talking about…

JOAN:  Hey! What happened to my Diet Coke? It was sitting right here!

ME:     Oh, I thought you were done with it. There was just a tiny bit left, so I threw it away.

JOAN (with justifiable annoyance in her voice):  NO! I wasn’t done with it! You need to ask me before you start throwing stuff away.

ME (Sheepishly):         Sorry.

And… SCENE!

When any of us commit an offense against someone – spouse, family member, or total stranger… and regardless of whether the offense was intentional or not – it is good to apologize. 

But have you noticed how difficult it is to take that simple step? It could be because the first step in making a genuine, heartfelt apology is the recognition that we screwed up. The second prerequisite is feeling genuinely remorseful about our screwup.

And for some of us, that recognition and remorse just don’t exist. 

Last week we were treated to a textbook example of how NOT to make an apology in the person of then New York governor Andrew Cuomo. In his resignation speech, Cuomo said (and I quote), “In my mind, I have never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”

In other words, “It wasn’t my fault. This all happened because of those darned line re-drawers!”

Harriet Lerner – psychologist and author of many books, including her best-selling, The Dance of Anger, has a new book out called Why Won’t You Apologize… Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts. In it she draws some very CLEAR lines between GOOD and BAD apologies. 

A classic bad apology is the one that is really not an apology at all. It goes something like, “I’m sorry if my actions (or words) offended you.” The person is really saying, “I am sure I did nothing wrong whatsoever. But somehow you were wounded in the process, which is too bad.”

Then there is the “I’m sorry, but…” apology. It tries to SOUND like an apology, but quickly launches into a detailed explanation of exactly why the offensive thing happened. My story about the premature disposal of Joan’s Diet Coke is a perfect example. “Well, yes, I’m sorry I threw your Diet Coke away, but there wasn’t much left in the can, and besides, someone might have knocked it over while it was sitting there.”

The best apologies, Lerner says, are the simplest. 

You say, “I’m sorry.” 

Period. 

Full stop.

End of story.

Lerner tells us that the simple apology – owning full responsibility for the insult and regretting it – is the one that most quickly opens the path to healing. A person’s genuine, vulnerable contrition actually draws the offended person compassionately toward them. 

It is the spirit embodied by King David as he was attempting to apologize for his monstrous offense of impregnating Bathsheba and trying to hide his adultery by having her husband Uriah killed. In Psalm 51 David kneels before God and says, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NRSV).

Over my years, I have also learned that there are things that I SHOULD apologize for and things that SHOULD NOT. It has taken me a long time, but I am finally beginning to realize that it is absolutely unnecessary to apologize for actually BEING the person God created me to be. 

You see, there are parts of the essential ME that are pleasing and acceptable to others, while there are also parts of me that just rub some folks the wrong way. 

  • My twisted sense of humor, for example.
  • My emotionality, for another.
  • My lack of organization, for a third. [I could go on and on here, but you get the point.]

But thanks almost entirely to friends in the LGBTQ+ community, I have finally learned to stop expecting everyone to like everything about me. I have also learned to STOP APOLOGIZING for the whole, complete human being God made me to be. 

And for those two gifts, I am deeply grateful.

Trust me… there are still LOTS of rough edges to smooth out and character flaws to overcome.

But with God’s help, I won’t confuse those “projects” with the genuine Russell that God created and loves unconditionally.

Abundant blessings;

12
Aug
21

Well, I declare!

Despite instincts to the contrary, I regularly try to keep an open mind.

Life has shown me again and again the hazards of latching – iron-fistedly – onto a particular thesis or paradigm.

God seems to take great delight, in fact, at throwing cherry bombs into the middle of my settled certainties and watching as they are blown to smithereens.

Multiple burned fingertips and shrapnel wounds have taught me to tread very, very carefully before puffing out my chest and declaring, “HERE I STAND! MY FEET SHALL NOT BE MOVED!!”

[I have no such hesitation, you understand, when it comes to standing up and declaring Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. That is what we refer to as a “layup.”]

All of which is prelude for this moment of puffing out my chest, ascending the soap box and declaring, 

“HERE I STAND… MY FEET SHALL NOT BE MOVED!! COVID VACCINES SAVE LIVES and CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL.”

I feel compelled to make these declarations for one simple reason; because WAY too many people are sending exactly the opposite message (with great conviction, I might add) to the peril of MILLIONS of humans… present and future.

They say, for example; “Whether I am vaccinated or not is a matter of personal freedom.”

BZZZZT! WRONG ANSWER! Vaccination is a matter of community compassion, not personal freedom. Because of the VERY lethal and VERY infectious nature of this disease, your decision NOT to vaccinate endangers ME, your neighbors, your family, and total strangers. 

Contrary to what someone might have told you, you are not free to kill people.

They also cry; “The climate has gone through cycles of increasing and decreasing temperatures for eons. All this ‘climate emergency’ nonsense is just a liberal plot against Big Business.”

BZZZT! SORRY… WRONG AGAIN, Chucko. In defense of my central premise, I’m not going to wear you out with a lot of mind-numbing statistics. Instead, I am going to ask you to visualize our Precious Blue Marble as a living organism… sort of like a human body. 

(This analogy is not actually as far-fetched as you might imagine. Google “Gaia Hypothesis” – or click here – and read it for yourself.)

Then I am going to ask you to imagine what happens when you repeatedly inhale poisonous smoke into that body, or repeatedly wound its outer layer of skin. 

For a while, it doesn’t seem to matter much. But then that abuse eventually catches up. The relentless assault overwhelms the healing process. Permanent damage starts being done. 

And that is what we are seeing today with unprecedented events like the flooding, hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, and droughts that are all happening at the same time.

Once again, people will cry, “PERSONAL FREEDOM!” and yet again they are as wrong as wrong can be. Action that will prevent our planet from burning, shaking, flooding, or choking to death is – yet again – a matter of community compassion. 

The apostle Paul hit the nail right on the head for BOTH of these issues when he sent his first letter to the members of the church in Corinth, Greece. He was trying to resolve issues of dissension in this fledgling church by reminding them of their common bond and connection when he wrote, “Or do you not know that [each of your bodies are] a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NRSV).

When did we forget these essential truths? When did MY RIGHTS come to matter more than OUR COMMON FUTURE?

I pray that we figure out a way to recognize the divine bond that links us all and then join hands to help save one another…

… before it is too late. 

Abundant blessings;

09
Aug
21

A Question of Purpose

Say hello to Rosie and Patrick.

I am quite jealous of them.

And no, not just because their days consist entirely of eating, sleeping, walking, and pooping… although that does seem like a pretty sweet gig.

No, I am jealous of them because they have no questions at all about their purpose(s) in life. 

They both know that beyond the four activities listed above, they are here on earth for one shining, central reason…

… their purpose is to be the loyal, unconditionally loving companions of the people who put kibble into their bowls twice a day.

They pursue that purpose diligently, single-mindedly, and steadfastly every day. That purpose helps them sort through the conflicting demands on their time and zero in – laser-like – on the things that best serve their Purpose.

Lucky dogs.

Since retiring two years ago, I have struggled with the notion of purpose. For most of 2020, of course, my purpose was very straight-forward: STAY ALIVE and UNINFECTED!

Naturally that is still #1 on my list. But I will confess to a degree of befuddlement about what else should be there. 

‘Way back when in my working life, I had occasion to counsel men – usually men in their mid-to-late 50s – on this very topic. In most instances, these were men who were facing sudden unemployment and were now adrift and bereft, uncertain of either the meaning or the purpose of their existence.

In every case, I counseled them not to confuse their WORK with their PURPOSE in life. The two are NOT, I told them, the same thing. [I only reference men here because I never encountered a single woman who needed this reminder. Every woman I’ve ever met somehow knows the difference between WORK and PURPOSE.]

And now, here I sit… needing to hear that same counsel myself. 

For lots of newly retired people, the question of their life purpose is pretty simple and straight-forward: relax, kick back, and take it easy. Work on the yard when it needs it. Play as much golf as humanly possible. Walk to the mailbox once a day. Take up a new hobby. Alphabetize the vitamin supplement bottles.

Except that those are ACTIVITIES. And activities are not PURPOSES. 

A goal of mine in retirement is to write a book. “Well and good,” you might say. “Go ahead, get off your butt, stop talking about it and DO IT!” 

But again: GOALS are also not the same thing as PURPOSES.

I recently listened to a podcast on the topic of PURPOSE. The interviewee made a helpful distinction between the concepts of MEANING and PURPOSE… concepts I have often conflated in my mind. He pointed out that MEANING has to do with looking backward at the events in your life. 

PURPOSE, however, is about looking FORWARD. 

Don’t fret about me too much; I wouldn’t call myself utterly lost and clueless on the subject. I am certain, for example, that SERVING GOD and LOVING PEOPLE still sit right there at the center of my life’s purpose. The fact that they will no longer be done in a professional capacity doesn’t change that at all. 

I am just a little stumped at the moment about just HOW that needs to happen.

Oh well… when in doubt, sit down, take a few deep breaths, quiet your mind, and pray the Wesley Covenant Prayer:

Dear God;

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, 
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.


And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven.  Amen.

Abundant blessings;

03
Aug
21

How Urgent?

If you know me, you know that I walk fast.

That is, I used to walk fast. That was before I became “The Brokeback Guy” in early May.

You will also know that I drive fast. If you doubt my word, just ask Joan. She will set you straight.

I also write fast. 

I drink fast, I eat fast, and sometimes I even talk fast.

As I was out walking the other day, I had to slow my roll considerably because of my aching back. As I slowed from a gallop to a leisurely canter, I thought to myself, “Hey! This slower, more relaxed pace isn’t so bad after all. I can actually see and appreciate my surroundings. Oh look… there’s a hummingbird!!”

I was also prompted to wonder what the rush was in the first place. 

This all prompted me to think back to a conversation I once had with a guy who did a lot of hiring for a Kansas City-based advertising agency. He told me that for him, the quality that drew him most readily to a candidate was – in his words – “a sense of urgency.”

He really liked the idea of hiring someone who he felt was eager and passionate about the work… who could not wait to dive into a project and ardently see it through to completion. 

And I have to say, for most of my working life, that was a great description of the way I approached my daily doings.

While I appreciate the value of living with a sense of urgency, I am also reminded of just how easy it is to bestow the “urgent” status on just about anything. I’d love to develop the discipline of asking:

  • Is it really urgent that I answer that email?
  • Is it really urgent that I make that green light?
  • Is it really, truly urgent that I put the toaster back where it came from?
  • Etc., etc.

Steven Covey tried to teach me and 25 million other people to discern between the URGENT and the IMPORTANT matters in life in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is a profound insight and one that can radically reshape the way we work and live. I tried to apply it as a working person, and now find it is just as important a lesson in my life as a retired guy. 

But as a person of faith, I also need to know what God has to say on the matter. What might the Good Book have to say on the topic of The Proper Pace for Living?

Let’s see… there is Proverbs 20:21 that says, “An estate quickly acquired in the beginning will not be blessed in the end.”

There is this advice from James, the brother of Jesus, who advised, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1:19, NRSV).

If we look in David’s collection of 150 unique Psalms, we find countless reminders of the need to slow down and savor each moment of our fleeting time here on earth. Psalm 103, for example, tells us, “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSV).

Reading these and others begins to give me the impression that God is much more interested in steering me toward life’s QUALITY rather than QUANTITY

I mean, yes, I might proudly hold up a long, completed “TO DO” list at the end of the day. But if I achieved that by buzzing through and ignoring the majesty of Creation spread out all around me, what good is it?

Well, I really need to get on with the day and tend to a bunch of other stuff. But – with God’s help – I will try to slow down and smell the coffee along the way.

Abundant blessings;

30
Jul
21

Silent Encouragement

Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area

One ritual that must be observed as part of any visit to the town of Pacific City, Oregon is The Climb.

That is, The Climb to the top of the giant sand dune at Cape Kiwanda (pictured here).

I have done it several times before and was ready (or so I thought) to do it again on this visit.

Reliable sources tell me it is only 240 feet from the base to the top of that big dune. The legs and feet actually making the climb tell me it is more like 1.5 miles.

And so, early on that Monday morning, my brothers and I set out to make The Climb. As we all expected, Eric – the youngest and fittest brother – was the first one to the top. Somewhat surprisingly, Douglas, the brother who has recently picked up the smoking habit again, made it up in second place. Alan was third, while I was struggling mightily, far behind the others.

Although I have been dealing with acute lower back pain since early May, my back was not the problem. The problem was my leg strength and overall stamina. 

You see, the gym and I have been estranged since my back trouble began. And so as I strained to put one foot in front of the other, that frosty relationship began taking a serious toll.  

Crawling up on my hands and knees worked for a while. It got me as far as the little rock ledge you see there in the photo. As I attained that ledge, however, I turned to myself and said, “OK. That’s it. That’s as far as I can possibly go. I will just sit here and wait for the brothers. I will head back down when they are ready.”

After a few minutes of sitting on the ledge, wheezing, and looking out at the view, I saw that Eric had arrived. He plopped right down beside me. 

Eric glanced over and said, “Hey!”

I looked at him and somehow managed to croak out my own, “Hey” in reply.

And then, for the next several minutes we just sat there in silence, admiring the view. Eric didn’t coax. He didn’t cajole. He didn’t remind me that he and the other bros were waiting for me to gather my strength and join them at the top of the dune.

He just sat with me. Silently.

And waited. 

And then, after a bit more time sitting there like that together, I decided it was time to rally myself and complete The Climb. 

Which I did.

Thinking back, I realized Eric gave me an incredible gift up there on that rock ledge. For one thing, he gave me the gift of silent encouragement. He also gave me the gift of non-judgmental support

And somehow – without the benefit of a single seminary class on pastoral care – Eric blessed me with the gift of presence, right there in my moment of need. 

He taught me – by his example – how to really BE WITH someone who is going through a tough time. And because of the way he went about it, I felt as if the victory of attaining the summit of the dune was completely MINE to claim.

All throughout the Bible, we are shown that God is the God of healing PRESENCE. In Genesis, God says to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3, NRSV). In the last part of God’s speech to Moses from the burning bush, God says, I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you…” (Exodus 3:12, NRSV).

And of course, we remember the words Jesus spoke to his disciples at the top of that mountain in Galilee, after his crucifixion and resurrection; “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NRSV).

All I can say is, thanks a lot, bro. Thank you for reminding me of the amazing power that a silent, non-judging presence can be for someone who has come to the end of their rope. 

I will be more than happy to return the favor, if and when the time comes.

Abundant blessings;

27
Jul
21

Particles of Wonder

Last weekend Joan and I went to the mountains.

It was glorious. It was majestic. It was beautiful. It was awe-inspiring.

It was a breath-taking reminder of the splendor of God’s creation. It drove me to my knees in a grateful prayer of thanksgiving and humility, reminding me of my smallness and God’s greatness.

Then this weekend we went to the Oregon coast.

It was glorious. It was majestic. It was beautiful. It was awe-inspiring.

It was a breath-taking reminder of the splendor of God’s creation. It drove me to my knees in a grateful prayer of thanksgiving and humility, reminding me of my smallness and God’s greatness.

Earlier this month, American billionaires went into space.

When they got back, they said the experience was glorious… majestic… beautiful… awe-inspiring. I suspect the experience also provided them with a vivid reminder of God’s creative genius and majesty and the smallness of human beings, though I did not hear that sentiment spoken out loud.

And of course, all of that is true. God’s creation reveals awe, majesty, splendor, and wonder. Paul makes this exact point in his letter to the Romans when he says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:20, NRSV). 

My Love!

The Psalmist somehow finds the right words to say the same thing in the 8th Psalm: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4, NRSV).

 As true as all of that might be, all that praise and palaver misses a central, glaring truth. And that truth is this: we don’t need to go to the mountains, or to the ocean, or to the limits of space to find grandeur or reminders of God’s creative genius.

All of that resides right there in the eyes of the person sitting across the table from you.

Awe is there too, coursing through the veins of that Starbucks barista, that bus driver, that TSA worker, that preschool teacher, that landscaper, and that barber you visit every fourth week.

I would venture to say that there is just as much mystery, splendor, majesty, and sheer amazingness inside the skin of your brother or sister as you can see at the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Easily.

And so, with that in mind, I offer this prayer: “Lord, today I pray that you would remind me of the on-going miracle of the universe you have created. Help me never gloss over the grandeur that can be found in every single particle of your Creation… especially the people-shaped particles.”

AMEN

Abundant blessings;

25
Jul
21

It’s a Blunder-ful Life

The website Dictionary.com defines a blunder as, “… a gross, stupid, or careless mistake.”

Blunders are errors that reside multiple levels above missteps like, say, putting the pasta away on the baking shelf, or calling John Jim, or taking a sip of your wife’s iced tea instead of your own.

Oh, if only it were that simple.

For me, a blunder is what you call it when your screw-up meets three different criteria; first, it was the wrong thing to do. Second, it could – by taking a minute to stop and think – have been avoided. And third, it caused some kind of not-insignificant damage… either to the blunderer him/herself, or to an innocent bystander. 

Looking back on my life, I can recount errors, mistakes, faux pas, and goof-ups aplenty.

But sadly, also littered across the landscape of my 69 years, are multiple blunders

Let me tell you about one of my most recent. 

It happened earlier this year, when Joan and I were visiting my eldest son, DIL, and their five kids. The nine of us assembled in Houston, preparing to head to a lovely beach house on Galveston Island for the Easter weekend. 

Before heading to the beach, son, two youngest grandsons, and I headed over to the park for some playful time-wasting. The two kids headed immediately to the swing set where they met a friend… the son of my son’s co-worker. 

The game that ensued between the kids was the ever-popular, “Who Can Swing the Highest and Then Jump the Furthest Off the Swing.” At first, the dads were just refereeing the competition by drawing lines in the mulch pit to mark where each kid landed. Then the dads decided to get involved, rudely shoving their children aside, growling, “My turn, junior!”

(They didn’t really do that, but it sounds funnier when I say that…)

Seeing all the fun the dads (my son) and their kids (my grandson) were having, I decided it was time for Grandpa to give it a go. 

As it turned out, that was a really bad idea. 

I mounted the swing and began my ascent. I pumped my legs and got the swing up as high as I could. Once up there in the stratosphere, I realized this was going to be a lot more difficult than either the six- or the 40-year-olds made it look. 

Closing my eyes and hoping for the best, I bailed out at the exact apogee of my next upward swing. Finally airborne, I immediately felt a sharp pain in my right pinkie finger and began twisting in that direction. I landed on my left side with a resounding thud eighteen inches from my takeoff point. Looking down I saw that my right pinkie finger had apparently become tangled in the swing chain and was now bleeding profusely. 

Of course, the dads and kids all rushed over, visibly concerned and asking, “Are you alright? Are you alright?” 

“Well, I think I might lose this fingernail, but otherwise, I think I’m OK,” I replied, no small amount of embarrassment blood rising to fill my cheeks.

Thankfully, the fingernail survived, though dignity and self-esteem took a serious beating that day. Joan got me a bandage to staunch the bleeding, but did not seem terribly sympathetic to my plight. 

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is other than, “Act your age,” or “Think before you act,” or maybe just “Don’t do it, Grandpa. Just don’t.”

The reality is: we all commit blunders. Sometimes the consequences are big. Sometimes they are small. Sometimes we learn from our blunders. Sometimes we just keep on blundering, unenlightened. 

The point is as much as we try, none of us will live a blunder-free life. Hopefully the blunders will be fewer and further between as we (gracefully) age. 

As King Solomon tells us in the book of Proverbs: “I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw…” 
(Proverbs 24:32, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

20
Jul
21

A Way in the Wilderness…

Fifty-two years ago today, an epic adventure took place.

Footprints were placed on a new, unfamiliar landscape. 

Eyes were opened. Discoveries were made… discoveries that were both earth-shaking and life-altering.

Old barriers were broken down and we witnessed the dawn of a sparkly new era, brimming with exciting possibilities. 

And today, July 20, 2021, as if in an homage to that destiny-packed moment in history, the richest man in the world took an 82-year-old woman and a few other folks for a wild ride beyond the edge of the stratosphere.

Yes, of course I am talking about that time in 1969 when I moved – along with mom and dad and my four siblings – from Hilliard, Ohio to Lynnwood, Washington, just north of Seattle.

It was the summer before my senior year of high school. It was the summer when my girlfriend, Terri Finn and I finally declared our undying love to each other. It was also the summer – ironically enough – when the TV program, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers debuted – featuring its catchy theme song that declared, “The bluest skies you’ll ever see are in Seattle. The greenest trees you’ll ever see are in Seattle.”

Well, at least half of that lyric was true. 

A couple of months earlier, my United Methodist pastor father had accepted an appointment to a small church in Lynnwood, Washington. His tenure began on July 1, and so after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (mostly by me), the seven of us packed up the U-Haul truck, the Mercury Colony Park station wagon, and the Coleman pop-up camper and headed west. 

Somewhere along that journey – I like to think it might have been in Kansas City as our little caravan crossed the Missouri/Kansas state line – I had a revelation. 

As much as this whole move seemed like the worst idea in the world… as much as I fought against it and tried to keep it from happening, I realized I had a very clear choice. 

I could decide, A.) to be miserable about it and scowl my way through the coming school year. Or, I could decide, B.) to call this something like “an exciting new adventure” and eagerly anticipate the new sights, sounds, smells, and scenarios that lay ahead.

Somehow, I chose B. And that choice made all the difference in the world.

July 20, 1969 was a Sunday night. So, I asked my parents if we could invite the kids from the church youth group over to our house for a cook-out and to watch the televised account of the Apollo 11 moon landing. 

They said, “Sure! Great idea, Rusty!” and immediately got busy putting plans and menus together. 

I replied, “Gee, thanks a lot! But folks, here is something else. I have also decided that ‘Rusty’ was the name from my old life. From here on, call me Russell. OK?”

It has been said that the only people who like change are babies with wet diapers. 

I get that. But change is something that just comes with the territory of being a human being. 

To live is to be subjected with regular changes. Changes in circumstance, changes in weather, changes in understandings, changes in health, changes in economic status… in short, changes in just about every facet of life. 

Often change feels unwanted, like an assault… like something cruelly imposed by a parent who accepts a pastoral appointment 2,400 miles away from your buddies and girlfriend the summer before your senior year of high school [if I can be a little personal for a moment].

In most cases, we don’t have a choice about the change. But we always DO have a choice about how we will respond to the change. 

Much later on in my faith journey, I discovered – much to my surprise – that God is actually a gigantic fan of change. In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong to call God The Cosmic ChangeMaster.

God created the something of the universe out of the nothing (or out of the chaos) and has never stopped changing or creating since. The prophet Isaiah spoke on God’s behalf and said, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19, NRSV).

So, I pray today that regardless of the change you are facing in life, you might be able to find a way to lean fully into it and come to embrace it as perhaps a “way in the wilderness.”

Abundant blessings;




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