Archive Page 2

12
Apr
22

Easter, God’s Will, and the War in Ukraine

Since the beginning of time, war has been hell. 

Image courtesy of BBC News

War costs millions of innocent lives. In the blink of an eye, war destroys people, communities, vegetation, and futures.

Some of us have seen war firsthand. Most of us have just seen it on TV, or read about it in textbooks. 

Today, everything is different. 

The hellish brutality of war is, of course, unchanged. What is different about this Ukraine war is its immediacy. This brutal, unprovoked, unconscionable assault by Russia on Ukraine is perhaps the most widely viewed act of mass barbarism in human history. 

And thanks to cell phone video cameras, drones, satellites, and 24/7 news coverage, nothing about this conflict has been left to the imagination. We can now sit in our living rooms quietly sipping our tea as we watch unspeakable horror spew out before our eyes. 

It is hard to take, isn’t it?

Seeing such violence and devastation “up close and personal,” day in and day out, affects each of us in different ways. It causes some of us to turn away in disgust. It causes some of us to turn away in denial, hardening our hearts as a way of protecting them. It causes some of us to cry, scream, and shake our fists at the TV screens. 

And it causes some of us to question how a loving, all-powerful God could possibly allow such carnage and brutality to continue to exist, unpunished.

This is one of those times when evil seems to have the upper hand. Our best theology feels like a blanket of cotton candy that’s been asked to stop a hail of bullets. 

We pray. We worry. We remind ourselves of evil’s historically abysmal track record (like, 0-for-alltime). We write checks to UNICEF and Red Cross and other aid organizations.

And then we pray some more.

In the end, none of it seems to matter. The Mangling Maw of Red Death keeps swallowing everything in its path. This moment has become one of those times when even the most faithful among us wonder how we dare talk about God’s will being done, “… on earth as it is in heaven.”

Then I pause and think, “This must have been what the disciples felt like on that Saturday morning… the day after watching their leader – the One who was supposed to be the promised Messiah – brutally tortured and executed by an earlier Evil Empire.”

They must have felt similar feelings of despair… grief… anger… and helplessness. They too must have questioned the basis of their fragile faith. 

If those 11 lost, grieving souls could speak to us today, they might patiently remind us that it is NOT God’s will that thousands of innocent people die horrible deaths in Ukraine. They would tell us it is assuredly NOT God’s will that homes, churches, schools, apartment and office buildings, and trees be wantonly destroyed. 

If they could, they would look us in the eye and say, “Sometimes in life, evil seems to win the day. Sometimes every hope we have for a world of peace, prosperity, and health seems to crumble to dust, right before our eyes. Sometimes faith seems foolish.”

At that point, the Israelites – you know… the ones who were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years – slowly nod their heads and say, “Yo. True that.”

Those disciples in one voice would then speak up and remind us of what happened on that first Resurrection Day… the day they finally learned the difference between FAITH and WISHES. They would remind us what it felt like to see that powerful demonstration of God’s unlimited power to draw LIFE from DEATH… PEACE from CHAOS… LIGHT from DARKNESS. They would testify to the change that came over their lives in that one, profound, history-bending instant. 

And then they would reach out calmly, lovingly, place their hands on our shoulders and say, “That day finally taught us that with God, the WORST thing is never the LAST thing. No matter how bad everything around you looks.”

Today, that slim, trembling branch is the one I choose to cling to. I know it’s easy to say that from the comfort of my warm, intact, unbombed home here in Fort Collins, Colorado. But my ease doesn’t make God’s promise any less true… any less reliable. 

Easter should teach us that God’s will can certainly be thwarted for a time…

… But it can never be ultimately defeated.

EVER!

Abundant blessings;

07
Apr
22

Did You Notice?

My preferred posture… 8 days out of 10

Sometimes it is easier not to notice. 

I’m not talking about merely SEEING… skimming briskly across the surface, dipping in a toe here, then here…

… absorbing just enough substance from which to fashion a quip, a comment, a post…

… sometimes committing outright “thought theft” to make people think we noticed.

Seeing… but not genuinely noticing.

We play the part. We say the words. We settle for “close enough.”

No… I don’t mean SEEING. I mean NOTICING. Deep, masterclass level noticing.

Noticing with the eyes of our soul.

We tend to avoid it because we sense that noticing… really noticing… comes with strings attached.

It joins us.

It bonds us.

It commits us to advancing the well-being of that which we noticed.

Because here is how it works; the eyes of our soul are connected to our affections.

Our affections are connected to our compassion.

And our compassion is connected to our action.

Inescapably connected. Like one bone to another.

  • How do I notice – for example – the systems of injustice and racism that still brutalize the lives of my African American brothers and sisters and still not ACT?
  • How do I notice the damaging effects of humankind’s poisoning behaviors on the delicate systems of LIFE on this planet and still fail to ACT?
  • How do I notice the rampant gnawing hunger for MEANING and PURPOSE among my global kinfolk and still sit here on my hands doing NOTHING about it?

Looking… seeing… noticing… makes me feel small… overwhelmed… overmatched by what I notice.

And so… sometimes I decide it is better not to notice in the first place. 

As I turn my head in the vain attempt to find some nice, soft sand in which to bury it, something stops me. I hear the voice that reminds me I worship the God who SEES… who deeply NOTICES… everything.

I am reminded of the story of Hagar – the slave girl impregnated by Abraham and then sent into the desert to die by Abraham’s wife Sarah. God noticed Hagar there in her misery and had compassion on her, leading her to gratefully declare: “’You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’” (Genesis 16:13, NRSV).

I’m sure Hagar meant to say, “The One who notices me.”

This God is also the God who inspired these words of the psalmist: 

“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 discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.”
      (Psalm 139:1-4, NRSV)

As we read these words, we understand them as words of gratitude and reverence… not as some kind of paranoid complaint, the way a modern reader might hear them.

You and I are supremely NOTICED – and therefore supremely LOVED – by the One who created it all. 

And so, if it is true that you and I are created in the image of this God, it means we are also created to NOTICE and LOVE the world we inhabit.

Every bit of it.

Abundant blessings;

03
Apr
22

Lent and the GTS

The ubiquitous logo

I miss Facebook.

You see, my chosen Lenten discipline this year was pursuing a fast (i.e., a period of intentional self-denial) from Facebook. Facebook had become something I found myself being sucked into WAAAAY too often. I rationalized that I used it mainly to stay in touch with out-of-state family members. But the truth is, I used it for many other purposes… most of which were much less noble than I was willing to admit.

But mainly, Facebook had become a GIGANTIC TIME SUCK (GTS) and I decided I needed to forcefully wean myself from for a time.

Thank you, Lenten fasting discipline. Your timing was perfect.

For the first four or five days, it was rough. Gone were the photos of other people’s dream vacations and new toys. “Adios” to the truly groan-worthy puns and memes. Vanished in a puff of smoke were those ill-informed political opinions – and sports takes – that I so enjoyed ripping into and exposing the fallacy of. 

And believe it or not, I really came to miss those times when friends would post truly profound truths about life that made me pause, scratch my chin, and say, “Hmmmm. Never thought of it that way before.”

And oh yes… this “fast” has also caused me to live without those delightful pictures of grandchildren, siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews that so regularly warm the cockles of my heart. 

Who am I kidding… here now on Day 33 of my fast, it is still rough. Every day I have the sense that some genuinely good “stuff” is passing me by… never to be seen again.

At the same time, I don’t miss Facebook AT ALL!

I don’t miss all the trivial nonsense. I don’t miss the disruptive ads. I don’t miss the pointless bickering, based on the mistaken notion that it is possible to argue someone over to your side of any question. I don’t miss the “VagueBook” postings that make me guess where that picture was taken, or what that bizarre phrase really means. I don’t miss the invitations to jump into a multi-level marketing scheme. I don’t miss the crowing, “Hey! Look what WE’RE doing right now! Don’t you wish you were this cool, too??” posts. 

But most of all, I don’t miss the GIGANTIC TIME SUCK (GTS) Facebook had become in my life.

They warned me about it before I even signed up. But did I listen? NOOOO! “I’m too smart for that,” I replied, with a thinly disguised air of superiority. “I’ll be the master of my own domain. I won’t fall for those schemes designed to draw me in and trap me. I am immune to their fiendish addiction tricks.”

As it turned out, I wasn’t immune. 

Not at all.

Which is really the point of any kind of fast, isn’t it? When we become so dependent on a THING that we imagine that we can’t do without it (of course except for essential things like air, water, food, God, and human community), it might be a signal that it is time to take a step back and reevaluate our affections. To ask ourselves, “Is that _____ really that important, in the grand scheme of things? Do I really need it as much as I think I do?”

I know – without the slightest shadow of a doubt – that the very SECOND Lent is over (on Easter morning, April 17, 2022), I will be eagerly scrolling through to see what I missed. I will lap up all those vacation photos, corny memes, passionate political punditry, and hot sports takes like a man in the desert laps up water. 

I am a bit ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.

But hopefully, in the meantime, I will have gained a little distance. Maybe this period of intentional denial will teach me to stop for a beat or two before diving so readily into this (or any) form of electronic voyeurism. 

Maybe I will emerge from this fast on Easter morning with a new commitment to things like silence… reflection… prayer… listening… meditation… and rest.

It’s a long shot, but who knows?

After all, this is the time of year of resurrection and new birth, isn’t it?

Abundant blessings;

29
Mar
22

Pray a Prayer of Peace

With everything going on in the world today, I know your prayer list is probably full to overflowing. 

But I wonder… can I coax you into squeezing ONE MORE group of people onto it? Just for today?

Please?

Can I ask you to pause a moment and say a quick prayer for United Methodist pastors and their families?

In case you don’t know, this time – from about February to late May – is an incredibly stressful time of year for this group of people. It is the time of year when they each wait on pins and needles for THE CALL. That is, the call from their Bishop or District Superintendent that begins pleasantly enough, (“Good evening, Russell! How are things with you and the family?”) then rapidly disintegrates into a conversation that can COMPLETELY turn their world upside down (“The Cabinet met yesterday and discerned the need for a change we’d like you to think about.”)

A quick primer for you non-United Methodists in the crowd: every United Methodist pastor is appointed to serve a particular church by the Bishop and the Bishop’s Cabinet. That appointment is always a ONE YEAR deal. 

Always.

Every December, the pastor, and a group of volunteer leaders in that church, begin a discernment process. The process is designed to answer the question: “Is this pastor still right for this church?” And conversely, “Is this church still right for this pastor?”

Hopefully, the answer is always YES by both. Hopefully that relationship continues blissfully on, year after year after year. 

But every United Methodist pastor knows there is always the possibility of the COSMIC CURVEBALL. By that I mean, a call that comes TOTALLY from left field from one of the Grand Poobahs of Methodism that utterly trashes your designs for the future. It’s the one that goes, “The Cabinet met yesterday and discerned the need for a change we’d like you to think about.”

I received two of those calls in my ministerial career. And let me tell you, few things have rocked my socks more than those phone calls did. 

On one hand, you know you are free to decline the offer and say “NO.” 

On the other hand, you know that when you signed up to be a pastor in the United Methodist tradition, you signed up to ITINERATE. That is, to GO when the Spirit (or her representative, the Cabinet) says, “GO!” 

You know that when (if) you say yes, there will be at least three months of “treading water” at your current place until you report to your new location on July 1. 

You also know that saying “YES” means you are facing a brand-new environment for you, for your spouse and children (if you have any), a brand-new set of possibilities and problems, a brand-new congregation, a brand-new house, a brand-new school system, a brand-new chance to FINALLY get it right, and a brand-new context for ministry.

So many “brand-news” in such a short period. 

So, in comparison to everything else roiling the world today, this probably ranks as a teeny-tiny issue in God’s eyes. But for someone who has been in these shoes, I can tell you; it is kind of an agonizing few months. You don’t completely relax until that Magic Methodist Moment (July 1) rolls around and the new ministry calendar begins. 

So yes, please… if you can spare a moment to pray a prayer of peace for those folks, I know they would appreciate it.

Thanks a bunch.

Abundant blessings;

24
Mar
22

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie

Earlier this week, we celebrated an anniversary.

It was the third anniversary of Joan joyfully and triumphantly ringing the brass bell that marked the end of her chemotherapy and the beginning of her remission from cancer.

It has been a remarkable three years indeed.

During that time, we have uprooted and moved our home 600 miles to the west, traveled the world, endured a global pandemic, remodeled a home, mourned a parent’s death, hiked, laughed, wept, and occasionally even acted like goofballs.

In the moment of Joan’s diagnosis… and in the immediate aftermath… our focus was on what cancer took from us. As we held each other and sobbed, we grieved the fact that;

  • Cancer took our composure. 
  • Cancer took our faith in the power of healthy habits to ward off disease.
  • Cancer took our peace.
  • For a time, cancer stole our sleep.
  • Cancer (well, chemo, actually) took Joan’s lovely auburn hair.
  • Cancer took our cherished visions for the future.
  • Cancer took just about every other topic of conversation.

But here, today, three years into Joan’s remission, we have been able to refocus. God has helped train our eyes to see the things cancer could never take. 

We now know, for example, that cancer could never take;

  • Our love for each other
  • The love and support of family and friends
  • Our gratitude for the gift of every new day
  • Our faith in the God who promised us – just as he promised Joshua – that, “… As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, NRSV)
  • The beauty of this amazing world
  • The joy of simple pleasures like a good cup of coffee, a romp with the doggies, a stimulating book, a glimpse of snow-capped mountains, a FaceTime chat with grandkids, the warmth of a cozy blanket, a quiet moment of prayer, a freshly baked loaf of banana bread, or a sassy new pair of shoes.

Without a doubt, on this third anniversary of Joan’s remission we celebrate that cancer did not, could not possibly take from us; namely…

  • The “… peace of God, which surpasses understanding.” (Philippians 4:7). 

Besides cancer, the list is very short of the things that can so profoundly shake your foundations. It is one of those events that draws a big, bold “Before” and “After” line through life. And not just the life of the one who was diagnosed, but through everyone connected to that person. 

When it arrives, breaking down the front door of your life with an axe, like it does, cancer demands a top-to-bottom redefinition of What Matters Most. It smashes every one of the precious mementoes there on your shelf and laughs in your face. 

And suddenly, you find you have not one, but TWO battles on your hands. The first is the medical battle… the one you fight with the help of doctors, nurses, technicians, and researchers. 

But the second battle is the spiritual battle. It is the battle to hold fast to the purpose, meaning, and peace that was hardwired into you by God before you were even born. 

It is the battle for your soul.

I know there are some folks who feel as if we are at one of those “shaking of the foundations” moments in the world today. There is the political animus here at home, the brutal slaughter of the people of Ukraine, the slow degradation of our air and water supplies, the continuing COVID crisis, and the rise of rates of addiction and hopelessness, just to name a few issues off the top of my head. 

When THAT PICTURE is the one we stare at all day long, it is easy to conclude that all is indeed lost. 

But we have a choice. We can choose to focus on another picture. 

We can choose the picture Moses chose to see during his 40 years in the wilderness. We can choose to see the picture Jesus chose during his 40 days of fasting, or on the stormy Sea of Galilee, or in the Garden of Gethsemane.  

We can choose to see the picture of the God of All Creation, seated on the throne of heaven, holding each of us in his loving arms and – in the face of the storms raging all around – clearly speaking the words Jesus spoke to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

21
Mar
22

Risky Business

What do you consider the riskiest thing you have ever done?

Image courtesy of The Guardian: New Zealand

Back in the early 90s, I started my own business. It was a little advertising and public relations agency based in Kansas City.

But here’s the thing: I really don’t consider that risky. It came about through the confluence of opportunity, aptitude, contacts, and conditions and seemed like a very natural next step in my professional life. 

 Looking back, I would have to rank the hitchhiking trip I took in college from Tacoma, Washington to Columbus, Ohio and back again as the SECOND riskiest thing I’ve ever done.

The riskiest? That’s easy; deciding to LOVE.

If you have ever loved – especially loved another person – I don’t have to tell you that the act of loving is incredibly risky. In comparison to those who love, Evel Knievel jumping his motorcycle through a hoop over 20 flaming school buses is a total risk-taking milquetoast.

Love means pulling out that most tender, vulnerable, excruciatingly private part of YOU and offering it to someone else. Love is like voluntarily laying your life down on the tracks in front of the onrushing locomotive of ANOTHER HUMAN BEING and waiting to see what happens next.

Sometimes you walk away horribly wounded and disfigured.

At other times, you soar higher and farther and faster than you could ever imagine.

Yes indeed; our love for one another is incredibly risky. But sometimes it works out exactly as we had hoped.

GOD’S love for us, on the other hand, is always risky. Always reckless. Always fraught with danger. And in just about every single case, that divine love is a totally one-sided affair. 

At the risk of getting WAAAAY too anthropomorphic, try to put yourself in God’s shoes for a moment. Imagine pouring out 100% of your heart and soul on someone who seems utterly incapable of reciprocating. Over and over and over again you find new ways to demonstrate that NOTHING is more important to you than that human being.

To show them your love…

  • You splash beautiful sunsets across the sky EVERY DAY. 
  • You sprinkle fascinating people into their lives.
  • You continually whisper, “I love you SOOOO MUCH!” into their ears.
  • You build them the most miraculous and intricate container in which to live.
  • You LITERALLY move mountains to show them the power and depth of your love.

And in return? Bubkes. Zip. Nada. Zilch. You wonder if you might have gotten the same response if you had done nothing at all. 

And then… you decide to offer your beloved the most extravagant, outrageous, magnificent expression of love possible. You decide to sacrificially offer them… YOU.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

And wonder of wonders… some see this gift for what it was and bow down and give thanks. Some receive it with joyful hearts and allow this gift’s power to transform them from the inside out. 

Some of these people that you’d been chasing since the beginning of time finally turned around and really SAW you for the first time. And they praised you. And they made brand new beginnings with their lives.

And yet, most kept their heads down, unimpressed, and kept right on shuffling through their lives, one step at a time. 

And to those who saw you and responded, you sent… boundless, unconditional LOVE.

And to those who ignored you and your gift, you sent… boundless, unconditional LOVE. 

Because that’s just who you are.

Abundant blessings;

09
Mar
22

“I want it. I’ll take it.”

“How is it with your soul?”

This is the question John Wesley – founder of Methodism – recommended leaders of small groups go around and ask each member as they began their weekly gatherings.  

Today, I will ask it of you. How is it with YOUR soul?

OK. I’ll start. Furrowing my brow and listening carefully with my Soul Stethoscope, I find significant unsettledness there. 

This is probably the third time I have sat down at my laptop to write this blog post. Each attempt has been inspired by events swirling around me and my heart’s response. And yet each attempt has faltered. Too much swirling. Too few coherent words with which to describe it. 

One of those dancing threads is the current horror we are witnessing in Ukraine. Nightly news reports regularly afflict me with a poisonous potion of tears, rage, and complete helplessness. I ask; How can something happen in 2022? What can be done to stop it? How am I called – both as a humanitarian and a Christian – to help alleviate this unbelievable level of innocent suffering. 

Tears.

Rage.

Helplessness.

Twisting around that first thread is this one: “I’ve seen this story before. Many times over.” As appalling as the Russian invasion of an independent, democratic country and the accompanying slaughter of civilian men, women, and children is, it is a familiar refrain. 

For untold millennia, one group has looked at land next door and said, “I want it. I’ll take it.”

This phrase is the story of every act of violence perpetrated in human history. It is the motto that has driven every robbery, every murder, every rape, every colonization, every enslavement, and every crime committed by one person against another from the beginning of time.

The European explorers who first landed on this continent were guided by this motto. The words were occasionally polished up and nobilified and even burnished with a shiny missionary patina. But it was exactly the same underlying motivation.

“I want it. I’ll take it.”

And when those first settlers wanted free laborers to plant their fields, raise their children, harvest their crops, and build their homes, they sent ships to Africa and TOOK them. They took people from their birthlands. They also took them from their languages. They took them from their communities. They took them from their families. They took them from their faiths and symbols. 

“I want it. I’ll take it.”

The taking has continued, unabated, to this day. And as I look around at the wealth and advantage spread at my feet, I am also called to face the fact that I have benefited from that taking. 

And I have remained silent.

That is the third, and final, thread weaving throughout this tapestry of tumult in my soul today. That thread is the recognition of my overt complicity in the tragedy of these times. No, I am not driving a tank on the outskirts of Kyiv. No, I did not pilot a slave ship through the Middle Passage. No, I did not whip or rape one of the hands on my cotton plantation. 

But it is no leap of imagination to recognize an ancestor of that same TAKING impulse living in my heart today. 

It begins with the belief that all agendas but mine are trivial and unimportant. It begins when I find myself listening to RESPOND instead of to UNDERSTAND. It begins when the righteousness of my cause supplants the righteousness of all others. It begins when I can’t let go of an ancient injury until “justice” (my personal justice, that is) is finally served. 

We are right when we see evil at work in the world and call it by name. We are right when we work to end its reign.

But we are badly off target and self-deluded when we fail to recognize the capacity for evil we each carry in our own hearts. 

Abundant blessings;

04
Mar
22

Who… not WHERE

Where matters. I think we can all agree on that, can’t we?

But HOW MUCH does it – or should it – matter? That question might provoke some lively banter among us.

By WHERE, of course, I am talking about the place you call HOME. The place where you enter, breathe a sigh of relief, relax, kick off your shoes, and whisper, “Made it!” as you hang your keys on the hook.

Growing up, I believed nothing was more important than WHERE. My hometown (Hilliard, Ohio, incidentally. Go Wildcats!) was where my roots grew. It was where my identity was shaped. It was the place my friends and family – most of them, at least – lived. It was the place I knew like the back of my hand. It was unthinkable that I might go anyplace else and live. 

Unthinkable, that is, until the summer of 1969 when my father announced he had taken a pastoral appointment in Lynnwood, Washington… a suburb of Seattle. And since my siblings and I were too young to break away and forge out on our own, it meant we were moving too.

Did I mention this was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school?

I cried. I cursed. I rebelled. I hatched plans to secede. 

Ultimately, however, I moved with the family.

And since finally making that “impossible” adjustment to a new WHERE, I find I have changed my thinking significantly on the topic.

WHERE, I decided, can be anywhere. Sure, there are some places that have a warmer climate, a lower property tax rate, a more compatible political bent, a better economy, or more tourist attractions nearby. 

In the end, though, aren’t I the same ME in each of those WHEREs?

 I guess what I’m asking is, does my WHERE really have any effect on my WHO?

After 45+ years living in the Kansas City metro area, Joan and I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado. We have been here a little over two years, but honestly, I am still struggling to acclimate. I mean, yes, it is a beautiful place. There are stunning mountains less than an hour away. There are great parks and lakes and restaurants right here in town. It is a progressive (mostly) political climate. Yes, the real estate is MUCH more expensive than KC’s, but we were lucky enough to buy before it went stark raving bonkers. 

And yet, for all the amazing pluses of this place, I still have a hard time calling it HOME. 

I am going to stop my little pity party for a minute and turn the question toward YOU. What do you think about this whole question? How much does WHERE matter to you? How much influence does WHERE exert on your life?

If you are like a lot of people, WHERE matters a LOT! Perhaps even ultimately.

And so, as you consider your response to those questions, pause for a moment. Imagine that, for you, nothing matters more than WHERE. Now… think about the people of Ukraine. At least one million of them – by the most recent count – have packed up and left their beloved WHERE behind. Most leaving with nothing more than the few clothes that might fit into a backpack or small suitcase. Most leaving with ZERO guarantee that their WHERE will even be there when they can finally return.

And for many of those Ukrainian people, WHERE matters more than anything.

How well would you deal with that situation?

My brain doesn’t work well enough to process that question. 

Nor can I even come close to imagining the experience of seeing my WHERE bombed into a pile of rubble by people I thought I knew. 

At such an unnerving, heartbreaking time like this, we are all called to stop and remember that none of us are defined by our WHEREs. We are instead defined by our WHOs. As in, WHO you were created by… WHO you belong to… and WHO holds your right hand in times of trial.

When their future was dark, uncertain, and bleak, God spoke to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah and reminded them: “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13, NRSV).

Please pray for Ukraine. Please click here to donate to UNICEF and help the children of Ukraine. They are the ones paying the heaviest cost of this brutal, evil, senseless war. 

Hug your own loved ones tight and thank God for your WHERE…

… wherever it might be.

Abundant blessings;

25
Feb
22

Not Schmeople!

Look at this cool seashell I found! Have you ever seen anything like it?

Of course you have. That was a silly thing to say. But I’ll wager you haven’t seen a ton of them. Landlubbers like me don’t get down here to Sanibel Island very often to stumble upon them. 

I love seashells. The variety of shapes, sizes, and colors is mindboggling to me. Speaking of which, get a gander at this conch shell I picked up, while just out walking around minding my own business.

Strolling the beach, I am like a kid in a candy store. Or a oenophile in a vineyard… whichever analogy works best for you.

By the third day, however, walking barefoot on the sand, I find the thrill has decreased a bit. I notice, for example, that there are enough of that cool striped shell I found to make a cute family of sea turtles out of them. 

Oh yeah,” I say, looking down. “Another one of those.” I walk by unfazed, checking the horizon. At this rate, I’ll be saying something like, “Shells, schmells” by the end of the week.

But here is the thing; seashells don’t lose their luster. They don’t become any less amazing, beautiful, unique, strange, colorful, or intriguing just because I see them every day. Any change that happens is in meI allow my eyes and my heart to take seashells for granted. Seashells don’t become less wonderful. It is ME who loses – or perhaps relinquishes is the better word – the capacity to appreciate their innate wonder.

Hallelujah that God doesn’t treat us the same way! Can you imagine if your Creator gazed down casually on you one day and said, “Oh yeah. Another one of those.”

Or even worse: “People, schmeople. Whatever.”

Praise God that will never happen! That’s because every last one of us matters to God. Every last one of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” in the words of the psalmist. (Psalm 139:14, NRSV). Every last one of us is unconditionally loved, treasured, and celebrated. 

Which is only one of the manifold reasons the current situation in Ukraine is so unspeakably tragic. Besides the violence, bloodshed, and destruction of property, we see people… precious, unrepeatable, beloved people… being trampled underfoot and turned into “schmeople.”

Today, of course, I pray for Ukraine. I pray for its leaders and its defenders. I pray for those who have fled. I pray for those who have decided to stay. I pray for the families whose roots extend deep into Ukrainian soil, whether they still live there or not. I pray for wisdom on the part of other world leaders who seek to save lives and end this conflict.

But most of all, I pray for the elimination of the mindset that sees people as expendable pawns in some kind of global chess match… 

… or as nameless, faceless grains of sand on an endless, anonymous beach. 

Please, Lord, hasten the day dawn when each of us sees one another the way YOU see us.

AMEN.

Abundant blessings;

23
Feb
22

A Bad Case of the Neat Freaks

Lincoln Logs toy by K’Nex

“But you’re doing it ALL WRONG!” I yelled at my younger brother… my face turning red, my eyeballs bulging, and little jets of steam curling out of my nostrils.

The subject was Lincoln Logs. The project was trying to build a fort from which our plastic army men could defend themselves against all hostile attackers. His assignment – which I THOUGHT was simple enough to understand – was to build the eastern wall. You know, the one where the army guys would stand on the walkway and shoot over the top.

But instead of using the LONG pieces with four notches in them, he was using the really short pieces with only TWO notches.

It never occurred to me that I might not have explained the assignment clearly enough to him. As far as I was concerned, he was apparently just being intentionally difficult and annoying – like younger brothers always seem to be.

That scene took place at least sixty years ago. My faulty memory might have blurred some of the details of the event itself, but not its essence. What I mean by that is; the Russell of today bears a shockingly (and depressingly) close resemblance to the Russell of 1962 when it comes to keeping track of and compulsively following The Rules

“Things must be done correctly. Rules must be followed. Crumbs must be swept off the counter, suitcases must be packed properly, and Lincoln Log forts must be built the right way,” he says. 

“Otherwise, there will be chaos, confusion, death, and destruction.” 

You’re doing it ALL WRONG!” is not an uncommon phrase for 11-year-olds. But wouldn’t you think it would have disappeared completely from the conversations of most 70-year-olds?

I am sorry to report that this is not at all the case. At least when the 70-year-old we are talking about is me.

Those who follow this blog closely will notice this is not the first time I have opined on this subject. It even came up earlier this year. For some reason, the topic of compulsive rule-following seems to occupy a lot of my brain space. 

Why is that do you suppose? Is it because I suspect there is something more sinister and pathological lurking there below the surface? Is it because I fear I am infected with a more deadly disease than simply a bad case of the Neat Freaks?

What is really going on – in my instant, skin-deep analysis – is that I am trying to pull some version of The Ol’ Switcheroo… that is, I am spending time and energy endlessly campaigning about the rightness of countless miniscule items like the alignment of forks and drinking glasses in order to avoid frying those much larger and more consequential fish… fish like racial justice, systemic poverty, hopelessness, homelessness, addiction, and cruelty.

I mean, there is right. And then there is RIGHT.

Fork aligning and T-shirt folding I can do. 

Righting the wrongs of systemic racism? Waaaaay out of my league.

Mother Teresa was not one to let folks like me off the hook quite so easily. Rather than letting us wring our hands about the impossibility of single-handedly healing the ills of the world, she challenged each of us to, “Do small things with great love.”

Even though she has been through the formal canonization process and all, Teresa might have plagiarized Jesus just a little bit on this one. During one of his famous sermons on the importance of faith, Jesus told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20, NRSV).

Correct napkin-folding, furniture arrangement, driving etiquette, and pet care are not entirely UNIMPORTANT pursuits. “Neatness is as neatness does,” as somebody’s mama (not mine) once said. 

But we should not persuade ourselves that getting these things right exempts us from our Christian call to make sure we get that OTHER stuff right, too.

Abundant blessings;




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