Archive Page 2

08
Jun
20

A Cracked Shell

Cracked egg shellSomething seems to be leaking… and I can’t help but believe that’s a good thing.

In fact, I hope you are starting to leak a little, too.

When you and I first come into the world as babies, we have a soft spot on top of our heads. This spot is also known by its formal name, fontanelle, from a French word meaning “small fountain.”

The fontanelle is only one of many things that makes babies weak and vulnerable. They can’t walk. They can’t talk. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t clean themselves. Every sight amazes them, every sound startles them, every nerve ending in a baby’s body seems to be exquisitely on edge.

Babies lack any kind of filter to help them stem the onslaught of sensation.

They are utterly defenseless and exposed.

But then, time passes. Then they (we) get older. Then they (we) grow filters. Then they (we) develop coping mechanisms. Then, slowly and steadily, we start to grow exoskeletons that shield us from the white-hot intensity of the world around us.

As we age, we become less soft… less vulnerable… harder.

And sometimes those exoskeletons fit so well and feel so comfy-cozy that we curl up inside them. We close our eyes and go to sleep in our shells while outside us the storms swirl and rage.

And sometimes we forget to wake up… until it is too late.

I can’t help but notice… something has been happening to my shell over the past couple of weeks.

My shell has been cracked. Hammer blows named Breonna Taylor and Amahd Arbery and George Floyd, and Just Mercy, and #blacklivesmatter, and “Am I Next?”, and systemic racism, and Unequal Justice have been raining down on it.

My shell is cracking, and the world is leaking in on me… startling me and arousing me from my nap.

It feels somehow cold and unsafe…

… and yet also somehow exactly right.

I discover that I am slowly awakening. For one thing, I am awakening to the hard, cold implications of what it means to stand on the side of Jesus.

It is becoming abundantly clear to me that if I stand up and tell the world I am on the side of Jesus; I am, in effect, abandoning my shell altogether.

If I dare to tell the world that I stand on the side of Jesus, I understand that I am obliged to join him in saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Come to me, all you who are systematically denied justice. Come to me, all you who have seen hope snuffed out like a candle wick. Come to me all you that are hungry, and tired, and poor, and addicted. Come to me, all of you, and I will give you the rest you so richly deserve and which you have been so steadfastly denied.” (Matthew 11:28, with a few editorial additions).

In some ways, my shattered-open shell feels a little like a death.

In other ways, it feels like a rebirth… like becoming as helpless as a baby all over again.

May we each today be blessed with leaking margins and an uneasy soul. May we each be aroused and unsettled and hear the call of our brothers and sisters in pain. May we stand defiantly on the side of Jesus and choose to love those that he loved.

 

Abundant blessings;

06
Jun
20

Agents of Change

Fists upIt is no startling revelation to say that we are in a time my friend Max would have referred to as, “… a yeasty moment.”

Something is bubbling. Strong, unseen forces are at work, above and below the surface. Change is afoot everywhere you look. I walk apprehensively as the ground seems to buckle and surge with every step I take.

THE GIVEN: Life on this planet will not be the same on the other side of whatever-this-is as it was before. Hard truths are being voiced. Ancient wounds are being uncovered. Old, solid, accepted solutions are being exposed for what they really are: defense mechanisms for an oppressive status quo.

There will be no “the way it used to be” to go back to. It was lost in the fire.

All of which makes me ask: how does authentic change happen in the world? And when I say CHANGE, I mean lasting, elemental, paradigm-shifting change. BC/AD-level stuff.

Sometimes change is violent… sudden and unavoidable. Mount St. Helens blows up and redefines an entire part of the map.

Other change – changes in the way we treat deadly diseases, for example –happens only through a creeping, glacially slow evolutionary process.

Changes in social structures and the laws that support them seem to fall somewhere between those two extremes.

Describing the process of change is easy: first comes the recognition of the need for change. That recognition grows and spreads until some empowered person (or group of people) takes the necessary and effective steps and institutes the change.

Lastly, the change leaders dig in and prepare to defend that change against the inevitable assaults from those who oppose it.

As I said, describing the process of change is easy. Carrying it out is anything but.

Thinking back, I can recall one change in my own life I made with relative speed and ease. After watching this video of a TED Talk, (Click here), I immediately decided to change the way I tied my shoes.

Just about every other change in my life has been preceded by much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth… even when I agreed the change was needed.

Right now, we are at the “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth” phase of the change in our way of being a nation. The killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers last week has ignited a tinderbox of rage, sweeping up even those most committed to staying on the sidelines. The brazen injustice of that act combined with the frustration of the coronavirus lockdown, the rampant loss of economic security, and an already bitterly divided electorate are all helping feed the flames engulfing our cities today.

Some of us want immediate, wholesale, revolutionary change. We spray-paint obscenities on public buildings, set dumpsters ablaze, lock arms and chant in the streets. We ignore curfew orders, police loudspeakers, and clouds of teargas, daring authorities to arrest us.

Some of us want to sit calmly at a bargaining table and rationally work out the size and shape of the change. We want to be social engineers, carefully drawing our blueprints. We disapprove of the tactics used by our boisterous sisters and brothers and wish they would stop breaking things and alienating people.

What neither of us quite seems to realize is that BOTH of these voices are needed to affect change. I have no doubt that were it not for the loud, obnoxious voices of the sit-ins, peace marches, and draft card burnings, this country might still be mired in the swamps of Viet Nam. Without the rude PETA people throwing buckets of red paint at people wearing fur coats, there might never have been any meaningful animal-welfare laws passed.

The loud voices call the moderates “sellouts.” The calmer voices call the loud ones, “radicals” and “anarchists.”

I pray that each extreme in this debate might see the vital role played by the other and that real, lasting, just change will arise from this troubling moment of national anguish.

Of course, the only real, lasting, soul-deep change in the world AND its people is the change of comes from faith in Christ. As Paul reminds us, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, NRSV)

Praise God for change. Praise God for justice. Praise God for reconciliation.

Abundant blessings;

04
Jun
20

Things I don’t have to do…

George Floyd protestsBut let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24, NRSV

In my life, there are a lot of things I HAVE to do. I have to help out around the house. I have to pay my taxes. I have to regularly demonstrate my love and affection toward Joan. CORRECTION! I WANT to regularly demonstrate my love and affection toward Joan. I have to obey the law. I have to behave graciously toward my neighbors.

But there is also another list. Here below I present only a partial list of things I don’t have to do… simply because I am a white male.

  • I don’t have to carry around the knowledge that I might be pulled over by the police at any time, in any part of the city, even if I am flawlessly obeying every traffic law.
  • I don’t have to have a carefully-worked-out script committed to memory in the event I am pulled over by the police and questioned.
  • I don’t have to make sure I am holding a young child’s hand on one side and a cute dog on a leash on the other side whenever I want to take a walk outside, just so I don’t arouse the suspicions of my white neighbors.
  • I don’t have to monitor the way I walk through any retail store, constantly making sure the clerks don’t find a reason to suspect me of shoplifting.
  • I don’t have to sit down with my two male children and have a serious talk with them about how lethal it is to wear the skin tone they were born with.
  • I don’t have to wonder if this evening’s jog might be the last one of my life.
  • I don’t have to sit down for an entire evening of mindless televised entertainment and wonder why I don’t see anyone on the screen that looks like me.
  • I don’t have to feel the pressure to be twice as qualified, twice as astute, twice as eager, and twice as willing to be flexible as white candidates when I apply for a job.
  • I don’t have to worry that I have a substantially higher chance of being wrongfully convicted of a crime than a white person. Specifically, if I were black, I would be SEVEN TIMES more likely to be wrongfully convicted for murder, THREE-AND-A-HALF TIMES more likely to be wrongfully convicted of sexual assault, and FIVE TIMES more likely to be wrongfully convicted of drug crimes than a white person, (according to a study by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of California Irvine.)
  • I don’t have to worry if my family doctor (of a different race) is actually listening closely and working carefully to diagnose my health concerns.
  • I don’t have to lose sleep wondering whether my children are being afforded the same opportunities and given the same tolerance and understanding in their classrooms as the children of white parents.

And finally, I don’t have to feel a sense of mind-numbing rage at the report of yet another citizen of my race and ethnicity being murdered in cold blood by the police simply for the crime of being my race and ethnicity.

As an older, white male, I have the luxury of being able to scan the news, shake my head, say, “Ain’t it a shame!” and then go right back to watering my lawn and wondering what’s for dinner.

I pray God will afflict my heart and the hearts of millions of others with the same pain that lives DAILY in the hearts of those denied that luxury.

02
Jun
20

The Magic Bullet

Wheat germEarlier today, I was busy in the kitchen, whipping up a new batch of my famous homemade granola. Before you get too excited about my domestic skills, it is literally one of four things I know how to make… and then only by carefully following directions.

As I carefully measured out the ¾ cup of Kretschmer’s Wheat Germ, I suddenly flashed back to my childhood. I remembered when my father proudly brought home our first vacuum-sealed jar of Kretschmer’s Wheat Germ. He announced that it was an amazing superfood, packed with all manner of vitamins and nutrients and – no doubt – secret superpowers, too.

Dad told us that the way to eat it was to just sprinkle it on our breakfast cereal, ice cream, waffles, or anything else we might eat. And then, as I imagined it, we would just stand back and let the magic happen.

 

I am sure I was daydreaming about the incredible biceps I would soon sprout and the amazing strength and endurance I would be blessed with in a day or two.

Three weeks and MANY sprinkles of wheat germ later, nothing.

Bupkis.

Nada.

I was sorely disappointed with wheat germ and – to be honest – a little dismayed with my dad for promoting such a worthless product. I was still too young to realize there were little things like sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet that were all critical elements in my quest to be a 10-year-old he-man.

I wish I could say that this was the last time in my life that I have caught myself believing there must be some kind of quick fix, magic bullet solution to life’s challenges.

Take this present moment, for example; I want a COVID-19 vaccine tomorrow.

I want an effective economic fix right NOW.

And maybe more than anything else, I want a Harry Potter-style wand to wave at the pernicious evil of systemic racism to make it vanish completely FOREVER.

As a privileged white male, I have to confess that I have been walking around with my head in the clouds. Until this nightmarish year began unleashing its fury on us, I had convinced myself that, in the area of racial justice, things in this country were vastly improved compared to the world of my 10-year-old, wheat-germ-eating self.

“Guess again, paleface,” scream today’s headlines.

It is unthinkable that we still live in a place where a person cannot jog, go to school, shop in a clothing store, play on a playground, walk in a neighborhood, or wear a particular kind of clothing without a legitimate fear of being killed because of the color of their skin.

It is horrifying to think that the scales of justice are STILL being tipped unequally by presence of something as benign as melanin.

This week, I have had my nose rubbed in a reality that my African American brothers and sisters face 24 hours of every day of their lives. The difference is that I can turn away from it and think about something else any time I choose to.

They can’t.

This whole situation just really sucks, and I want it to go away… NOW! SHAZAM!

But see, as long as I keep seeing the problem as existing somewhere OUT THERE, it’s not going to go away. Not now. Not ever. It is exactly like the quote (mistakenly) attributed to Benjamin Franklin says; “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

I am complicit. I am part of the problem. As long as I relish my white privilege and passively cluck my tongue at the “bad people” out there, I help perpetuate the nightmare.

I cry out with King David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NRSV).

And then I pray, “Show me, Lord. Show me how you are calling me to stand up and act on your behalf in the pursuit of justice.”

 

But today, I weep.

30
May
20

Tipping the World

Angry guyI had a great bike ride yesterday.

The sun was out, the sky was blue, and my bike shorts were clean, so why not?

It had been a while since my last ride, so I cut this one a little shorter than usual. As I pedaled out of the driveway, I put in my earbuds, dialed up one of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcasts, and hit the road.

As you would expect, the podcast was really solid, first-class stuff. Brene interviewed Vivek H. Murthy, M.D. Murthy, as you might recall, was the Surgeon General of the U.S. from 2014 to 2017. He has just written a book called Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes-Lonely World.

It was a great interview and sounds like it would be a great book to read. Murthy talked about the actual, physiological effects of loneliness as being the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and emphasized the powerfully healing effects of human connection.

As they concluded the interview, Murthy and Brene both emphasized the need for each one of us to take an action every day that, “… tips the world in the direction of love.” It was one of the most secularly Christian (or maybe it was Christianly secular?) examinations of the Gospel I have ever heard.

Then… as I wheeled into our cul-de-sac… I was confronted by a truly ugly sight. My neighbor Tom’s (not his real name) two kids were standing in his front yard crying. Tom’s ex-wife – who had just dropped them off – was standing by her SUV yelling something I couldn’t understand. At the same time, Tom was striding angrily across the cul-de-sac screaming at our other neighbor Al (also not his real name), saying, “AL, YOU JUST SHUT YOUR F**KING MOUTH AND STAY THE F*** AWAY FROM MY FAMILY!!!”

I was stunned. The scene playing out in front of me was nothing like the warm, friendly Fort Collins, Colorado we have experienced since moving here six months ago.

Al, for his part, was standing in his garage holding his baseball hat by the brim. I hadn’t heard what he had said to Tom, but our remodeling contractor told us earlier that it seemed Al had been drinking as early as 9:30 that morning.

Because I have talked with both of them individually on previous occasions, I know that Tom is very politically progressive and not a churchgoer while Al is very politically conservative and a regular churchgoer. Tom is in his mid-30s and Al is retirement age.

For my part, I just wheeled my bike into the garage, took off my helmet and gloves, and closed the garage door, anxious to remain uninvolved in whatever was going on out there.

Is this how it starts?” I wondered as I poured myself a drink of water. “Does the tension of months and months of isolation, on top of mounting financial pressures, combined with a highly charged political atmosphere finally set neighbor against neighbor and unleash a widespread ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenario?”

That thought was followed quickly by this one: “What would it mean for me to take an action that might ‘tip the world in the direction of love’ in that very moment?”

I stood. And thought. And prayed. And came up with exactly nothing.

You see, that’s the really tough part of this whole discipleship thing. I am good with saying the right words in church or offering a cheerful greeting to the people I pass on my morning walk. But when it comes to stepping up, right in the middle of a situation that is fraught with pain, fear, and anger, I evaporate quicker than the morning dew.

Thinking back to yesterday, I feel I failed. And yet, I still don’t have a solid idea of what loving discipleship might have meant in the middle of that dust-up.

The thing I DO know with absolute certainty, however, is that there is no better time than RIGHT NOW to choose to live as an agent of love toward ALL of our neighbors.

 

Abundant blessings;

29
May
20

Fear of Being Feared

I cannot express it more clearly or powerfully than these words of Deltha Katherine Harbin. So I will just step aside and let her speak for herself and her husband Phillip.

My thanks to Lindsey Choguaj for the original post.

Phillip Harbin picMy husband is 31 years old. My husband can proofread a paper to perfection! He makes the best pork chops and neckbones. My husband was raised in an extremely wholesome home where they were not even allowed to watch Harry Potter. My husband has never tried any drugs, not even weed. He has never stolen from anyone, not even a corner store. My husband treats me and our sons like royalty. He serves at our local church faithfully and helps anyone he can.

None of this stopped my husband from becoming a suspect in Semmes. My husband wanted to do me a favor one night when he got home late from work. He got my keys and drove around the corner to fill my tank at the gas station. While there, an older white woman was at a pump across from him and he noticed she appeared very nervous and stared at him. He said she got in her vehicle and got on her phone and pulled off to an area near the gas station. Within minutes police cars pulled in and surrounded him. He was questioned about why he was out. He was questioned about his activity earlier in the day. He was told he fit a description. They asked who’s car he was driving. He was told he could not leave. He was told the description was simply a black man. Not a 5 ft 7 inch black man of around 220 lbs who loves WWE, macaroni and cheese, and the Temptations. Just black.

The older woman was now watching and the cops revealed she had called in his suspicious behavior of pumping gas. And now he was a suspect because he fit the description of being black. He was humiliated. He was emasculated. He was angry. He was helpless. He was on his way to being cuffed when a white man stepped in. An older white man told the officers they were wrong and that my husband had come from a different direction than the robbery they had mentioned. The officers released my husband after this. Not because my husband told them multiple times he was innocent. Not because there were two car seats in the back of my car. My husband’s voice meant nothing. The only voice that penetrated those badges was a white one.

My hard working, kind hearted, silly husband was guilty because of his skin and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. The sight of him caused a woman to call the police. He said he wanted to scream. He wanted to fight. He wanted yell at the top of his lungs that he was a man and he mattered. If he had, he would be deemed aggressive. He would be resisting so he said he kept telling himself he had to make it home to me and the boys. He knew these men could kill him and justify it.

He came home a changed man. I am a changed woman. We cried. We prayed and we have healed since this took place but it changed us. Issues that once felt somewhat distant became our reality. So, when you dismiss the plight of black men in America you diminish the ever present fear within our community. You are willfully ignorant. If you think people make this up or are only apprehended by the police when they deserve it… you are part of the problem.

Open your eyes but more importantly open your hearts to the reality of being black in America. We don’t get the luxury of ignoring it because we live it. This picture of my precious family looks threatening to some people. My boys are cuddly and cute until they aren’t anymore and then they become a threat too. My heart aches for our country and I feel so helpless. Lord, please heal the hearts and minds our land! 

28
May
20

Frozen People

Young and oldI knew it was coming, just as surely as the next episode of The Lone Ranger on Saturday morning TV.

When I was a wee lad and we made the 415-mile trek to see my dad’s parents in St. Louis, Missouri, the first words out of my grandmother’s mouth were guaranteed.

She would grab each one of us, give us a big hug, hold us out at arm’s length and say, “Well just look at you! Look how you’ve GROWN!”

Of course, I always smiled and blushed, but inside I was thinking, “Well, DUH! We haven’t seen one another in over a year! Did you think I would stay the same size FOREVER?”

Nowadays, of course, I do exactly the same thing to my own grandchildren. Joan and I just drove back to Kansas City for the first time in six months and MY… how those three girls had grown! And I didn’t hesitate saying so!

I know that part of my reaction stems from genuine shock. I have clearly forgotten the explosive power of hormones between the ages of nine and 13… especially in girls in that age range.

The last time we saw her – in February – middle grandchild was a little girl. By some strange magic she is now a young woman.

The other part of my stereotypical grandpa reaction – I’m sure – is a kind of wistful sadness… sadness at the fact that my grandchildren are growing up. Somewhere inside me, irrational as it is, lives a desire to freeze them at their cutest, cuddliest ages and experience them that way forever.

But here is the truly weird thing; I do the same with EVERYONE. I expect every person in my circle of relationships to be exactly the same today as they were the last time we met. For example, when Joan tells me that her daughter (my stepdaughter) is dropping by for a visit, I fully expect to see a bright, young, 17-year-old woman coming through the door.

In reality, she is a 40-year-old medical doctor… a partner in a thriving practice here in Fort Collins, CO.

As Keenan Thompson, a.k.a. Diondre Cole might ask, “What’s up with that?”

What’s up with that, I believe, is a robust urge to evade the reality of mortality. By any means possible I long to be able to pretend that time does not advance… that bodies do not age… that physical death does not wait around the corner for me and everyone I hold dear.

All of which, of course, is utter nonsense. And yet a whole bunch of us continue to pretend otherwise.

The psalmist knew this truth over 3,000 years ago when she/he wrote, “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.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSV).

And yet even when people know of and even accept their mortality, finiteness, and temporality it doesn’t mean they are happy about the state of things.

It is time to face the truth; in the midst of a decaying, mortal world, we have to see that it is foolishness to freeze grandchildren, shoot up with Botox, or hop on a skateboard at the age of 75 (although I have no doubt some do exactly that. More power to them!).

There is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable march of time.

What we CAN do… indeed, what we MUST do is to hang on to the One who stands beyond time itself.

Only in God’s loving embrace can we find the infinite that we so desperately seek. As the psalmist continues, “… the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” (Psalm 103:17, NRSV).

 

Abundant blessings;

27
May
20

Right? Or Wrong?

In my life, I’ve been wrong about a lot of things.

In the sixth grade, I told Marsha Westbrook I was going to marry her.

As this early 90s photo of me and my dad demonstrates, I once thought pleated jeans were a good idea. 539839E7-47A8-44E9-BA41-B9D7E11477C3

A quick check of my closet will show you that I am still holding on to a bolo tie, a 100% polyester “Chaminade” basketball jersey, and a pair of outdoor soccer cleats; clothing choices as wrong as wrong can be.

On the political front, I am a bit loathe to admit it, but there was a time I believed that trickle-down economics made a ton of sense.

At one point I was also convinced that the field of advertising and public relations was my true calling.

Yes, along the way I have also been right about some things too. I was, for example, spectacularly right about asking Joan to marry me. I was also spot on about confessing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My recommendation that our next car be a Toyota Prius is also looking pretty darned savvy right about now.

True… it might be the same way that a broken clock is right twice a day, but we won’t go there right now.

My interest right now is in looking at what happens to us internally when we are either WRONG or RIGHT about something.

For me, when I experience one of those rare moments of rectitude, I tend to get a bit cocky. I strut and preen a bit, like a prize-winning Rhode Island Red. I may (or may not) have even pantomimed a dropping-the-mic move and intoned the word, “BOOM!” to those around me recently.

In short, being right sometimes pumps up my ego a bit.

Being wrong, on the other hand, humbles me. It cuts me down to size and causes me to re-examine myself and my views. Granted, it often takes a shocking event or dramatic revelation to show me the error of my ways. But it also reminds me that I am not – after all – the end-all, be-all whiz kid I previously imagined myself to be.

As King David of Israel once said, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit…” (Psalm 51:17, NRSV). Not, you will note, “… a guy who consistently nails it.”

I suppose what matters most is being right about the right things. As much as I enjoy saying so, it actually doesn’t matter whether I am right about Patrick Mahomes being the next GOAT of the National Football League. (He will be, by the way).

Being right about the things that really matter is a continuous lesson in humility. Being right about marrying Joan means constantly reassessing my decisions and actions to ensure that they line up with BOTH of our sets of needs, not just mine.

Similarly, when you or I decide to make Jesus Christ the North Star of our lives, we also decide that all of our other values and priorities will be CONSTANTLY challenged. We can no longer, as Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, let our STOMACH (or other worldly appetites) be our god.

From here out, Christ followers have to question the impulse instead of just blindly responding to it.

As I write this, the day is young. I have only managed to get out of bed, walk the dog, dress, and eat breakfast. Most of those, I am proud to say went off without a hitch. There is still a VAST open space ahead in which to make mistakes, big and small.

The good news, however, is that with Jesus at the center, I have the unshakable assurance that my life will not be forever defined by those mistakes.

HALLELUJAH!

 

Abundant blessings;

18
May
20

Best Foot Forward

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…  you are familiar with all my ways.”
Psalm 139:1-3, NRSV

Chatting over the fenceI had a nice backyard chat with Neighbor Dave the other day. It was my first time to meet Neighbor Dave since we moved here in November.

Don’t worry… Neighbor Dave stayed on his side of the fence and I stayed on mine. We were at least six feet apart the entire time we chatted.

As it turns out, Neighbor Dave (can I just call him Dave from now on? Thanks) just moved here to Fort Collins a month before we did. He and his wife came from California.

Like Joan and me, Dave and his wife are recently retired.

It was a lovely chat. Dave and I each talked about the little projects we are doing on our houses, the things we like about the area, our families, and our sheer delight at the nice, warm weather that was allowing us to get some much-needed yard work done.

When I finally broke it off with my new best buddy, I went inside and told Joan about the great neighbor I had just met and how cool it was that he lived just across our back fence. I probably even said something like, “When all this is over, we’ll have to have Dave and his wife over for dinner.”

And because I had my best foot forward and avoided picking my nose for the ENTIRE time we talked, I am sure Dave went inside and said something very similar to his wife.

That is one reason I like being “the new kid in town.” Every relationship is new. Every person you meet starts out thinking the very best of you. The only thing they know about you is the friendly neighbor face you were holding up as you talked.

They know nothing about all your little quirks and idiosyncrasies… your phobias, fears, prejudices, and flaws. Your bad habits and neuroses and weird notions are utterly invisible to them.

You walk away from your chat, shaking your head and thinking – as I often do, “If they only knew…”

And then – if you happened to think back on the words of Psalm 139 at that precise moment – you recalled that God DOES know all that stuff about you. God knows all the dirt and grime about you there is to know.

In fact – God being God and all – God probably knows stuff about you that you have somehow managed to forget.

God knows it all; the Good… the Bad… and the truly Ugly.

And yet… even with all that super-detailed knowledge… God loves you more than you can possibly understand.

Here is the really shocking news: God’s regard for you is even HIGHER than your high regard for Neighbor Dave. It is that high for two very good reasons:

  • First, because God – through his Son Jesus – has wiped your entire slate of screw-ups clean, and
  • Second, because God knows – far better than you do – what you are truly capable of.

Is that cool or WHAT!

The challenge for most of us is to be able to humbly receive God’s magnificent, unconditional love and then to go out and actually live INTO the lofty vision God has of us.

It is entirely possible that the better Neighbor Dave gets to know me, the less enthused he will be about deepening our relationship.

But Praise God that will never be true about HIM!

 

Abundant blessings;

13
May
20

Final Exam

Stressed out dudeUrgent: [ˈərjənt]
Adjective. calling for immediate attention: PRESSING

 Today I am thinking back to that time when urgency seemed to rule my life.

It was a time when everything had to be done RIGHT NOW! Nothing could wait.

It was a time when I seemed to vibrate with nervous energy, spinning first this plate, then that one, praying I could reach each of them before any wobbled wildly and fell to the ground.

Back then, no matter how fast I ran, or how quickly I got there, some plates still fell and broke. Most of the time, I am embarrassed to admit, the plate that broke was the one labeled “Family Time.”

The thing is, I knew better. I knew my pace was unsustainable. I knew the value of keeping Sabbath time and allowing all my dendrites and synapses to stop their machine-gun firing and cool off a little.

But see, it was so INVIGORATING! When you live in the Urgent Zone you just feel so ALIVE!

Right up until the moment you don’t, of course.

Of course, these days, all of that has changed. Here in quarantineretirementland, there is very little that can be called urgent. If I don’t get it done today, there is always tomorrow. And if I don’t get it done tomorrow, well, there’s always the next day.

No one will die. No buildings will collapse. No sermon will be unpreached if essential “To Do” list items remain unchecked.

I’m not going to lie… it feels GREAT not to be spending my day chasing deadlines, shooting off emails, making phone calls, and driving across town. I especially love spontaneously taking naps just because I can.

But it also feels a little… I don’t know… indulgent? Self-centered? Lazy even? Shouldn’t I be building something, or planting something, or writing something instead of sitting here reading this novel?

This moment of discomfort – I now realized – is exactly the moment Jesus always picks to show up with his next Teachable Moment.

He interrupts the antsiness of my reading time and says, “Russell… I can see it is time to refresh your memory about one of the key lessons from my Sermon on the Mount. Because either you dozed off in the middle of it or have completely forgotten what I said.”

“Uh, sure, Jesus,” I stammered. “Go ahead.”

“Before you retired, you seemed absolutely WEDDED to the idea that your WORTH was tied to your PRODUCTIVITY. I had hoped retirement would have shaken that idea loose, but clearly it has not.”

He continued, “Since it has clearly slipped your mind, here is what I had to say on the subject… I said, ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.’” (Matthew 6:28-29, NRSV).

“Remember that one?” He paused, obviously waiting for a response.

“Uh, yes! Of course!” I said, proud to be able to show off my Bible knowledge to the Lord of Life.

“Well, I really meant it.” He continued, “You are in good health and – Me willing – have a lot of good years left. The thing I want you to focus on is really LIVING the time you have. Smell the roses, sip the coffee, sing along with the radio, gaze at the sunset, cuddle with Joan, walk the dogs.”

“When it is all said and done, I am not going to ask how many sermons you preached, how many churches you built, or how many “likes” you got on Facebook on a given day.”

“My questions are going to be: ‘Did you love God?’ And, ‘Did you love your neighbor?’ And the bonus question will be, ‘Did you truly LIVE while you were alive?’”

And then he gave me that sly Jesus wink and said, “Now that you know the questions on the Final Exam, get out there and prepare to ANSWER them!”

 

Abundant blessings;




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