Archive Page 2

10
Aug
18

A Supernatural Stillness

PhonelessnessOh, the horror of it!

Honestly, I’m not sure how I made it through. It was without a doubt the longest 35 minutes of my life.

Thankfully though, I am still here to tell the tale. Shaken, but not overcome. Tested, but still standing.

What was this baptism by fire I was forced to endure, you might ask… this supreme challenge… this Waterloo of the soul?

If you’re ready, I’ll tell you. Brace yourself: Yesterday, at about 4:30 p.m., I left the house to take Rosie on her afternoon walk… AND DID NOT TAKE MY PHONE with me!

There I was, with absolutely NO ability to pull up the weather radar and check on the progress of the approaching thunderstorm.

  • … Completely cut off from access to the Royals’ starting line-up for that night’s game.
  • … with NO WAY to look at vital emails that might have arrived in the last 10 minutes that – no doubt – might have had the power to change my life…
  • … NO HEADPHONES piping music into my skull as I walked.
  • … ISOLATED from the power to send or receive texts from friends or family. Or complete strangers, for that matter.
    • I mean, honestly… what if during that time my wife had paused her shopping cart and texted, “Hey, just finishing up here at Target. Do you need anything?” What then smart guy??

It was an eerie reminder of what life in the dark ages of the mid-90s was like.

How did I handle this frightening situation, you no doubt are wondering. What kind of coping skills did I draw on?

At the risk of making this episode sound a whole lot less heroic than I want you to believe, I am forced to admit that it was actually kind of nice.

  • I found myself taking a much closer look at the rich variety of weeds, plants, and trees growing by the side of our path.
  • I made actual eye contact and offered a greeting to other people out enjoying their own afternoon strolls.
  • I was able to listen to the mid-August song of the cicadas trilling their monotone notes.
  • And – wonder of wonders – I was prompted by the silence to pause in prayer and thank God for the rich palette of life spread out there before me.

I am not really sure I would call yesterday’s phoneless moment an epiphany by any stretch. But it was definitely a moment I wanted to repeat again… SOON.

It was one of those (sadly) rare, unfiltered, uncurated times when I found myself freed from my customary layers and layers of digital buffering.

It was a moment when I inhaled pure life and exhaled gratitude.

It was also a moment that brought me into close contact with a necessary humility, reminding me of my status as CREATURE, not CREATOR.

In spite of all of that, it is highly likely that when I wake up tomorrow I will still be the guy who loves to listen to music, look at weather radar, sports results, emails, and texts from friends on my phone.

But hopefully I will also be a little more of the Psalm 46:10* guy I was there for a brief moment.

 

Abundant blessings;

 

 

* “Be still, and know that I am God…”

30
Jul
18

Stories and Suitcases

Couple with suitcasesI’ve always said, if there’s a suitcase, there’s a story.

Rosie and I were out on our afternoon walk through the neighborhood today. I tried to coax her onto a little longer route than we normally take, but she wasn’t having ANY of it. We had gone scarcely 20 yards into Route B and already she began turning back and tugging the leash in the opposite direction.

I complied (as I usually do) and turned up Grandview Street instead of trying to coerce her further west toward Kessler.

We had gone about a block along Grandview when I looked to the left and noticed a mini-flurry of activity there on the side street.

There I saw a young man and a young woman opening the trunk of a small Toyota sedan. The young man was wearing a gray backpack and pulling a black, rolling-bag suitcase out of the trunk.

The young woman had a small carry on-type bag in her left hand and was already walking ahead, pulling a navy blue suitcase behind her.

The young man closed the trunk of the car and together they began walking toward the front door of one of the houses on the street.

Immediately, a hundred possible explanations for the little vignette I had just witnessed began swirling through my brain; I thought, “This is a young newlywed couple just arriving home from their honeymoon; no… the young woman was returning from a month of study abroad in Italy and her brother – the young man – had driven to the airport to pick her up. All the suitcases, of course, belonged to her.”

Or maybe it was the son and daughter-in-law (or daughter and son-in-law) of the residents of the home, just arriving from Texas for a summer vacation in Overland Park, Kansas! (Because seriously… who wouldn’t?)

Or maybe they were a bright, young coed team of door-to-door suitcase salespeople, just beginning to canvass this block with samples of their wares in tow?

Like I said… show me a suitcase, and I’ll show you a story.

Actually, show me a PERSON and I’ll show you a story.

Seeing that young couple and finding myself speculating on who they were and why they were carrying suitcases made me stop and realize several essential truths about the world:

  • Suitcases in hand or not, each of us is on a journey.
  • And each of us has a story.
  • And each of those stories is richer, more complex, more textured and more filled with meaning and depth than the rest of us (those not living that particular story) can possibly imagine.

Sadly, in these times when social media channels have become our default mechanism of communication, STORY often becomes one of the first casualties.

You see, I can relate to you more quickly and easily if I can pigeonhole you. And I can pigeonhole you more easily if I can turn you into a two-dimensional, cardboard cutout image of yourself.

  • “You’re a liberal!”
  • “You’re a conservative!”
  • “You’re a millennial!”
  • “You’re a women’s libber!” (As if anyone actually uses that phrase anymore!)
  • “You’re gay!”
  • “You’re a religious fanatic!”

The truth is: we are each made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). And being made in God’s image means that we are each COMPLEX, multi-faceted, impenetrable, inscrutable entities… more full of mystery and meaning than anyone might readily like to admit.

And each of us – just like the God who made us – is pretty darned awesome and worthy of a little reverence.

So here is my “thought starter” for you today: if mine is suitcases, what is the thing that makes YOU stop and think about the breadth of another person’s story?

And this: how can each of us resist the temptation to pigeonhole one another?

 

Abundant blessings;

27
Jul
18

Daily Lifting

Weight liftingA couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were doing some landscaping.

There were some new bushes to plant, but in order to do so, holes first had to be dug.

Normally I don’t mind digging holes… especially if they are for the purpose of receiving a new, decorative plant.

On this occasion, however, my hole digging encountered an obstacle. There was a big rock buried about six inches below the surface that had to be removed before further digging was possible.

Did I mention the rock was big? It was actually capital B-I-G big!

I would have preferred to just go find another place to dig and leave the rock where it was, but in this case “another place” was not really an option. Symmetry demanded it go right THERE.

And so I dug around it as much as I could, but then had to try and reach under it and just pull it out with my bare hands.

It was danged heavy and required a lot of grunting, tugging, sweating, and praying. In the end, I was finally able to free the rock from its comfortable resting place.

Planting could now commence.

In the process of this effort, I noticed something very interesting. I noticed that the final effort to lift the rock out of the hole required some real strength. And because I am a guy who follows a regular regimen of exercise that includes resistance training (i.e., weight lifting), I had the strength necessary to lift out the rock.

On a day-to-day basis, however, my work doesn’t require me to lift a lot of rocks. (Pastors usually try to give jobs like that to church committees.)HOWEVER… without the routine of working out and steadily building up my strength, I would not have been prepared for that one, extraordinary moment.

I think it is safe to say that we can see the same principle at work in regard to the way we develop our connection with God.

Day in and day out we may not face situations that require an intense, concentrated, super-powerful connection with the Source of All That Is. We may not be faced with decisions that might alter the course of our – or someone else’s – lives… we may not be desperately in search of “the peace that passes understanding” in order to make it to and through the next moment.

But if we are not routinely and consistently engaging in the practices that habituate us to the sound of God’s voice and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we might be just as unprepared for that kind of spiritual “heavy lifting” as I would have been to physically lift that rock in my garden.

To clarify: I am not saying that God’s help and presence are conditional or that God ignores your cry if you aren’t a daily pray-er. I am merely trying to reiterate the insight we find in James 4:8 – “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

I’d like to say more on the subject, but it’s a great day outside and lawn work awaits.

 

Abundant blessings;

19
Jul
18

Unedited You

Writing is hard.

WritingWriting well is harder. (Or should that be “Writing good…”?)

Yet, in spite of all the hurdles and pitfalls involved, I would much rather write than talk.

The problem with talking is that it is so… INSTANT. A situation arises… words are called for… they spill out of your mouth in some kind of order… and then all sorts of conclusions and assumptions begin congealing around them.

There was that time – for example – when I decided to break the ice with a complete stranger over the cold cut tray at a friend’s Christmas party. “So…” my chatty banter began, “Are you one of Fred’s neighbors who are part of the effort to fight that nasty development the ABC Real Estate Company is planning for the neighborhood?”

“Well, no,” the stranger replied… very deliberately. “I am actually on the board of directors of the ABC Real Estate Company.”

Or then there was that other time when a 50ish couple was leaving the worship service with an uber-cute six-or-seven-year-old boy in tow. I had not recalled seeing them before, so to make a little friendly conversation as hands were being shaken I smiled and said, “Oh! Is this your grandson you’ve brought with you to church today!”

Their smiles suddenly faded, replaced by a now frosty façade as the man replied, “No. This is our SON.”

Strangely I don’t think we saw them too many times in church after that.

But when I am here at my keyboard, I enjoy an INFINITE number of chances to start… stop… correct… erase… edit… and perfect my words before they ever cross your radar screen. If something looks even the slightest bit askew, POOF! Away it goes into the electronic ether.

When I write, I can look back and notice that I have used the word AMAZING five times in a row. Then I can simply mouse over at least two “amazings”, right click to pull up the thesaurus function and replace them with “startling” and “remarkable” and end up sounding a little less dull and unimaginative than I really am.

Writing takes a lot more work than talking, to be sure. But I really prefer presenting the world with EDITED Russell vs. UNEDITED, raw Russell.

EDITED Russell is smooth and articulate. He uses the right word at the right time. His conversation is sprinkled with texture, nuance, and wit. Heck, he can even be called borderline witty and wise now and then.

UNEDITED Russell can be downright clumsy. He hesitates… uses the wrong word at the wrong time… offends people – always unintentionally, of course. He often lets emotions rather than cool, thorough thoughtfulness shape his words. In the right situation, he has even been known to let a profanity escape his lips.

People find edited Russell likable… but they admit unedited Russell can often be more than a little annoying.

All of which makes God and God’s assessment system a marvel that most of us will never even come close to wrapping our minds around.

That’s because – as I read the words of scripture – God not only LOVES unedited Russell, and (insert your name here…) – God actually PREFERS the unedited version of each of us. God’s emissary, Paul of Tarsus, tells his church in Rome, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”(Romans 5:6, NRSV).

King David was a big advocate of coming to God with one’s complete, unvarnished, unedited self and just laying it out there in its most raw form. At the time of one of his deepest funks, he wrote, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”(Psalm 51:17, NRSV).

And apparently, God doesn’t want us to edit ourselves OR our prayers. That’s why there is such a thing as the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26 reminds us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

So I’m sure I will probably continue to edit my writing. I will make every attempt to edit my speaking, thinking, and acting… especially when you and I are together.

But let’s just all take this moment to rejoice at the reminder that God’s nature is to open his arms wide and give a big ol’ godly bear hug to the real, unedited YOU.

10
Jul
18

An Amazing Rescue

Thailand Cave SearchI can’t even imagine what that must have been like.

There you are; riding your bike home from a soccer practice when someone in the group suggests that you turn off the road and head into a nearby local park.

“Hey! Let’s go check out this cave!” they say. “I saw it last year and it is really cool.”

You enter… and it IS really cool. I mean, hey! It’s a CAVE!

Then something compels you to go deeper and deeper just to see what might be around the next bend. Maybe it’s because you’re a 12-year-old boy and that’s just what 12-year-old boys do.

Intoxicated by the boyish joy of adventure and discovery, you don’t even know that outside the mouth of the cave – back where your bikes are parked – the rain has started. You don’t know that it is a real “toad strangler” of a rainstorm, dumping buckets of water down on the park… filling the low places in your cave with water.

But then, when you turn around to head back out, you discover the gut-grabbing truth: your cave is flooded.

You are trapped.

There is no way out.

And on top of all of that, no one even knows where you are.

“Holy mother of God,” and similar expressions seem appropriate at that moment.

In the course of my ministry, I have spoken with numerous people who can perfectly relate to those now internationally famous Thai boys… “The Wild Boars” as we now call them. I have known:

  • People who have ventured into dark places… just out of curiosity… to see what they were like.
  • People who went deeper and deeper because… well, why not?
  • People who suddenly found themselves trapped in that dark place with no conceivable way out… desperate… panicked… out of options and out of hope.

But just like the Wild Boars, many of those people also discovered that they weren’t forgotten. They discovered that the world contains remarkable people (and a Remarkable Person) who are willing to sacrifice everything to dive down into that dark place and bring them back out into the light… even if it means doing so at the cost of their own lives.

We all rejoice today at the incredible rescue of the 12 Wild Boars and their coach. I am certain the wheels are already turning in Hollywood to produce a cinematic retelling of this “real-life drama.”

With the rest of the world, I thank God for the bravery of the Thai Navy SEALS and the scores of other volunteers who made this miracle happen.

But I also pray this event will spur us to remember that “great rescue operation” that happened over 2,000 years ago where WE were pulled out of the darkest of dark places and returned to the light.

In case you’ve forgotten, it is recounted right here, in Romans 5:8 – “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

Praise God for ALL miraculous rescues…

… but especially for mine.

09
Jul
18

Loving the imperfect

Joan and I don’t eat out at restaurants very often.

As I believe I have mentioned in this space before, this is mainly because my wife is an awesome cook. I love to eat the things she so lovingly and creatively prepares. To give you a little teaser, here is a photo of last night’s delectable entrée; Spinach stuffed chicken breast: Spinach stuffed chicken breast

Thanks to our somewhat sheltered culinary existence, I do not have a favorite place or a favorite dish at my favorite place. Our rare forays out are almost always adventures of discovery.

And because I tend to be a very suggestible kind of guy, my general practice is to order the thing on the menu that is pictured there in a lovely, full-color close-up photo… with the juices dripping off, a pat of butter slowly melting, and flavor whisps wafting off the page.

I just point to it and tell the server, “I’ll have one of THOSE, please!”

And if you have ever ordered this way, you know what happens next. After an unbearably long waiting period, the server returns, places that pure, beatific item in front of you with a big smile with the word, “Enjoy!” and then disappears in a puff of smoke.

Then you look down at your plate… and you are instantly crushed and heartbroken. Because the thing sitting there looks NOTHING like the picture from the menu.

  • It’s not the same SIZE!
  • It’s not the same SHAPE!
  • It’s not the same COLOR!
  • The lighting is all wrong!
  • The butter is not melting down the side in anything nearly resembling the hypnotic way it was in the picture.

Your disappointment is palpable.

And yet you have not yet even taken Bite #1.

But here is the magical thing that almost always happens next… at least for me. I somehow dry my bitter tears, pick up my knife and fork, vowing to make the best of a bad situation, and TAKE A BITE!

And then in at least 95 percent of the cases I discover… IT’S REALLY GOOD! Despite my initial disappointment.

And as I savor that first bite I say to myself, “You know… it’s not perfect, but I love it!”

And just as I uttered that phrase, I realized I said exactly the same thing less than a week ago… on the Fourth of July. As Joan and I took the day off to recognize and celebrate the designated birthday of our country I paused, placed my hand over my heart, looked at a flag, and said, “This country is certainly not perfect, but I love it!”

Then I remembered I had recently said the same thing about the United Methodist Church… where I have been ordained and continue to serve: “It’s sure not perfect, but I love it!”

In all three cases, it was good to be reminded that LOVE does not depend on the PERFECTION of the object of your love.

So… do I see great problems today in our country and worry about the direction it is headed? Or am I worried about the denomination I serve and the way it is currently choosing to carry out its mission? Am I deeply concerned with the future of both?

Yes, yes, and yes.

But do I also have an abiding confidence in the soundness of the foundation on which each of these stands? Do I believe they are still the best examples available of what it means to be a nation and what it means to be a church? And do I dearly love each of them despite their massive flaws and imperfections?

Again… yes, yes, and yes.

I also realize that loving – my country, my church, or another person – does not mean giving up the expectation that they will keep working to become a better example of their ilk.

And so if I – flawed, defective mortal that I am – have the capacity to love the imperfect, then surely the flawless, omnipotent One who created me must have that same capacity times INFINITY!

Which is probably why Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”or why John 3:16 says, “For God so lovethe world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,”or why Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Which is probably also why I should also take Joan at her word when she says she loves ME… warts and all!

Now THAT, my friends, is the real miracle.

 

Abundant blessings;

02
Jul
18

Play Ball!

Football soccer ball baseballI love baseball.

I mean I REALLY love baseball; despite the fact that I am hexed enough to be a Kansas City Royals fan for life.

When I tell you that I love baseball, I mean I love everything about it.

I love the pace of the game. I love the skill it takes to play it well – primarily because I absolutely, positively lack that skill.

I love the history and lore of baseball… the rich traditions, the iconic players from days of yore, the sacred stadia that no longer exist, and the hidebound rulebook that governs all play.

I love the utter unpredictability of the game… the way that, for example, on one day a hapless team (such as the Royals) can rise up for a moment and defeat the reigning World Champions.

I love the absence of a clock to dictate the completion of a game.

Yes indeed… I do love me some baseball and mourn its absence when the other, imposter sports take center stage during the winter.

And yet, despite the depth of my passion for America’s pastime, the World Cup forces me to make this admission: SOCCER (or football, as the rest of the world calls it) offers a much better analog for this adventure we call life.

As I sat on my couch the other day and watched the ebb and flow of whichever World Cup match it was, the thought occurred: “This game… the pace, the way play unfolds, the way participants act and react to one another… reminds me A LOT of the way my life feels sometimes.”

In the American version of football, a team lines up on the field, executes a complex combination of violent maneuvers, stops, and goes back to plan the next combination of violent maneuvers.

Things happen in carefully scripted episodes.

Not so much in soccer.

American football is also a game of specialization. Each person on the team has ONE very tightly defined role to play. Heck, there is even a guy on the roster whose only job is to bend over and throw the football backward between his legs over a distance of 15 yards… and then gratefully reach out and receive his hefty, six-figure paycheck.

Soccer could not be more different. Except for the goalies, everyone can do everything at any moment. Just as in life.

In soccer, the action is continuous and non-stop. Everything happens on the fly. Yes, there are strategies and tactics involved, but they are made and adjusted while running from one end to the other.

Just as in life.

American football also features continuous coaching. Players go to the sidelines to look at diagrams on laptop computers while the voices of experts sitting in boxes high above the field are piped directly into the ears of other players.

In soccer… it’s just you, the ball, and the game. Also just like in life.

And while the spoils in American football most often go to the biggest, strongest, most powerful players, soccer is remarkably egalitarian. Small, medium-sized, and large people can all play.

Want to round up a group of friends for a quick, friendly game of soccer? Just find some players, an open area, and a ball.

Want to play a game of American football? Well, let’s see; we’ll need helmets and shoulder pads, a ball, a couple of H-shaped goal posts, a large, lined field, a game clock and someone to operate it. Oh, and a referee with a whistle would be good, too.

So despite the fact that I grew up watching and loving American football (and STILL actually prefer it to soccer), I have to admit: soccer bears a much closer resemblance to LIFE than football.

But both of these fall woefully short as metaphors in the whole area of OUTCOME. You see, in soccer, or football, or even my beloved baseball, there must be a WINNER and a LOSER.

One must always prevail over the other. (Otherwise, how do you know where to put the trophy?)

In God’s Great Game, however, Yogi Berra had it exactly right. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”God hangs the victor’s garland around the neck of EVERY player on the field and says, “I love you” as they come off.

And in Jesus’ upside-down scoreboard system, “… the last will be first, and the first will be last,”(Matthew 20:16, NRSV).

You know what else I just realized?

God probably likes American football just as much as soccer.




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