Posts Tagged ‘action

05
Jul
21

The Day After

I went to the football game on that Friday night in October. Going to the game was an important ritual in the town where I grew up. In fact, in the 1960s in the midwestern U.S., it was an act as central and essential as going to church on Sunday mornings. 

[Except that the football game was ALWAYS a whole lot more exciting.]

This particular game was a nail-biter. The outcome would determine whether our team went to the playoffs or stayed home. In the last quarter, with 2:30 left in the game and the hometown Wildcats down six, our incredible junior running back, Ronnie Brewer, broke outside on a sweep around left end and rambled 62 yards for the tying touchdown. 

The extra point was good, and we held on for the last two minutes to win the game. The crowd – and the whole town – went wild. It was truly a memorable moment for all of us. 

But for me, the EXTRA memorable thing happened the following Monday at school. That year I was a freshman… new to the school and still awkwardly making friends and finding my way around. But as I walked down the hall toward my locker that Monday morning, I turned the corner and LITERALLY bumped into Ronnie Brewer… the hero of the previous Friday night.

Ronnie just stopped, smiled, said, “Excuse me,” and went on about his business, just like it was any regular school day in Hilliard, Ohio in the month of October. 

Which, of course, it was.

Little ol’ freshman me, however, was still living in the Golden Hour. I had not come down from the high of our school’s (MY school’s) historic football win from Friday. I wanted to keep milking the thrill of that moment for as long as I could, savoring the unbridled joy of it all.

And yet, here was the guy at the center of it all… just sauntering down the hall with his books under his arm, schlubbing along like any one of the other 300 students that day.

It wasn’t until much later in life that I was finally able to learn the great truth about mountaintop experiences; the truth that reminds us we can’t live at the top of the mountain. Sooner or later (and sooner is usually better), we all have to come down. We have to get on with business back down on the ground. 

Ideally, when we come down, we will bring something of the mountain back down with us. We use it to shape our flatland walking and talking in a fresh new way. But we have to understand that any lasting difference in the world is going to be made DOWN HERE and not UP THERE

There is the story in Matthew about Jesus taking three of his most trusted disciples (Peter, James, and John) up to the top of a mountain. While there, they have a profoundly life-changing, mystical experience. When the disciples expressed their desire to remain on the mountain, memorialize the place, and bask in the golden afterglow, Jesus instead hustles them back down the mountain and says, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9, NRSV). 

Today is July 5. For most Americans, it is the day after a day of celebration marked by picnics, parades, and pyrotechnics. For the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, it was the day they all stood around in a circle, looked at one another and said, “OK. Now what?”

Majestic, memorable moments are important. They often ignite a fire in our souls. They either articulate or remind us of a lofty vision of life. They can fill the gas tanks of our motivation and resolve to get out there, take a risk, and make a mark. 

But history wants to remind us that the real difference is made on the day after… the dull, regular, mundane, plodding, routine, endless road of putting one foot after the other until one day the vision becomes reality.

Abundant blessings;

20
Jan
21

Do it now? Or do it later?

One of the people in this house (not naming names) likes to do things RIGHT NOW! Action is his (or her) middle name.

The other one likes to sit with it a bit… let it marinate… wait for additional information to materialize before leaping into action. He (or she) is studious and thoughtful.

Do it before you forget about it!” argues A. “No time like the present.”

What’s the rush?” B asks calmly. “We might not have considered all the angles.”

“Do you want to order pizza tonight?” B asks idly.

Sure,” A replies. “Let me pull up the Krazy Karl’s menu and get our order started. Do you want the combo again?”

“Hang on… hang on. That’s just my first thought. No need to jump right on it. Let’s see… what are some other options?” comes the languid reply from B.

Does this dynamic sound at all familiar to you?

A dispassionate sociologist might observe this interesting blend of personalities and see a healthy tension… one that allows both action and circumspection to vie for supremacy, creating a beneficial blend. 

The people living in the middle of that dynamic might see it as something a lot more discordant… a source of friction and annoyance.

The question we all want answered is… so who is right? Is it better to be the Action Jackson person? Or is the Studious Stewart superior?

Both approaches, of course, have their distinct downsides. Leaping before you look can result in mis-steps, miscalculations, and mistakes. Spending too much time in probing, in-depth analysis can cause you to miss the moment altogether.

As the Bible so wisely tells us, the real answer is, “Both.” The Teacher (and much later, Roger McGuinn and the Byrds) told us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal…
 (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3, NRSV).

But instead of “both,” maybe the real answer is, “Sometimes it’s one, and at other times, it’s the other.”

Which makes me wonder: would that be a preferable answer to other dichotomies we face in life? In this highly fraught moment of mid-January 2021, my thoughts naturally skew in the political direction. 

As we look on from the cheap seats, we see the advocates of conservatism insisting that, “The conservative approach is the only valid approach to governing,” while liberals and progressives loudly and emphatically assert exactly the opposite. 

What if sometimes it was one and at other times it was the other? What if we were to become a people less concerned with defending our TRIBE and more concerned with defending the TRUTH? What if there was a way for us to lift our eyes above the immediacies of our narrow, self-interested cost/benefit analyses and to instead think in terms of the WIDER well-being of the WIDER human race?

What if?

Well, as it turns out, dear friend, there IS a way. And that way is GOD’S way. 

King Solomon in his legendary wisdom writes, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NRSV). 

 What would happen if we all did exactly that?

I’m not sure it would resolve a lot of disputes about what to have for dinner, or where to go on vacation (that is, when we get to go on vacation again), but it would certainly help us figure out where we go from here as a society.

And you know what? I think that would be a pretty good place to start. 

Abundant blessings;

27
Sep
19

The Love Loophole

Jesus-facepalmI love you.

At least I know I am supposed to love you. It is one of the central commands of the Christian faith I profess. (See John 13:34, John 15:12, Romans 12:10, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Peter 1:22, etc., etc.)

And yet I have to admit; I am not always sure what I mean by that.

But you don’t even know me!” you are no doubt saying. “How could you possibly say you love me?”

Good point.

And then there is this question to consider too: how do I distinguish my love for you– a (mostly) complete stranger – from my love for Joan, the woman with whom I held hands, stood before God and a room full of people nearly 20 years ago and exchanged solemn vows?

And while you’re tussling with that one, here is another mind-bender: Is there – should there be – any discernible difference between my love for those of you readers who are warm and wonderful human beings and my love for the monstrously bad eggs of the world?

I know what the answer is supposed to be. I know I am called to emulate Christ and ladle out heaping helpings of unconditional love to every one of you with no consideration given to the life you’ve led, the people you’ve harmed, the Nobel Prizes you’ve won, or the cancer you’ve cured.

Would it shock you to hear me say I fall woefully short of that benchmark EVERY SINGLE DAY?

Didn’t think so.

It almost sounds like a humanly impossible job description to fulfill, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is.

And yet, there it remains; front and center in the preaching of the One I follow.

Easy for you to say,” I grumble under my breath. “You’ve got all that God-dust flowing through your veins. You weren’t ever susceptible to rage, or jealousy, or lust, or envy, or greed like the rest of us.”

And yet even before the words are out of my mouth I know I have never been more off base.

Maybe,” I think, “I can use my thimbleful of Greek language skill and fulfill Christ’s command by philia-ing some folks and storge-ing others while I agape the really super-worthy ones.”

Even as I say it, I can see Jesus facepalming and shaking his head, charitably pitying the depth of my intransigence.

Look, Russell… if my words aren’t clear enough for you,” He says, “why not take a listen to Saint Thomas Aquinas. My buddy Tom once said that authentic love means to ‘selflessly will the good of another.’ Does that help at all?”

Hmmmm. Intriguing.

“So, Jesus,” I ask. “Are you suggesting it might be possible to ‘selflessly will the good’ of a stranger, or a psychopath without feeling all warm and fuzzy toward them? Seriously?”

“When did you ever hear me say that love has anything to do with your feelings?” he says, mercifully declining to add the word “knucklehead” to the end of his sentence. “Love is a VERB. It is much more about what you DO and much less about how you FEEL.”

So go… get out there and do some love. And stop trying to find a legalistic loophole to squeeze yourself through.”

Thanks, Jesus. I’m glad we had this little talk.

 

Now comes the hard part…

08
Aug
19

In Defense of Thoughts and Prayers

Prayer-and-ActionLet’s be clear right off the bat; science has shown that 86% of the time when people respond to a tragedy by offering their “thoughts and prayers,” it is a hollow sentiment.

It sounds good. It sounds empathetic. It sounds compassionate.

But the sound quality is generally where it stops.

That is, of course, in 86% of the cases.

[Actually, there is no science behind this. I am just making this number up to make myself sound good. Sort of like those who send their “thoughts and prayers.”]

Some tragedies – such as the recent mass shootings in the U.S. – demand concrete, practical action in response. No one should be allowed to think that 15 seconds of silence with head bowed at the dining room table adequately addresses ANY of the issues connected with gun violence in this country.

As true as that is, let’s not throw out the whole prayer “baby” with the bathwater.

Prayer – authentically engaged – is so much more than silent moments or mumbled phrases. It is the practice of the presence of God. As Matt Slick – Christian apologist and writer – reminds us: “Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon an all-seeing, all-knowing power that is greater than any of us.”

When faced with the reality of unspeakable heartbreak and senseless tragedy, it is helpful to begin by admitting our dependence and by stepping into a place of humility.

Prayer is my way of saying, “I don’t know how to respond to this stuff. It is beyond my pay grade. It frustrates me, it angers me, it makes me want to run away and hide.”

But when I begin my post-tragedy journey with the words, “Help me, God,” I am actively opening myself to receiving guidance from a source beyond my own abilities.

In that sense, prayer becomes something like “the action before the action,” as a friend of mine once called it.

For me, prayer is not about abrogating my responsibility. It is about better equipping myself to take responsibility. It is about trying to engage every resource – whether natural or supernatural – in pursuit of God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer settles me… it centers me… it helps me take a deep breath and say, “OK, God… let’s do this.”

When the world goes mad and all hell breaks loose, thoughts and prayers are one leg of the stool; plans and strategies are the second; action is the third.

 

I believe all three have a place.

27
Feb
18

The MLK quote I can’t stand…

MLK quoteI am a fan and admirer of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. His sermons and speeches arouse hope and a passion for justice in my heart. But honestly, there is one quotation of his that just bugs the heck out of me.

The quote is: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

Yes… it is a powerful quote.

Yes, it hits the proverbial nail on the head.

Yes, it speaks Truth with a capital “T” and shines a righteous light squarely where it needs to shine.

So what’s my problem with it?

Actually, I love this quote. But I say that it bugs me because it convicts me and makes me squirm in my seat every time I hear it.

This quote throws cold water on my knee-jerk impulse to post negative, snarky Facebook comments about national and world events.

It makes me look into the mirror and ask, “What are YOU doing to spread actual, tangible love in the world?”

I hear the question… I ponder my answer… and I fall silent. Because I am not sure I have an answer.

But I know I have to keep seeking one. Actually, we ALL do.

Our future probably depends on it.

23
Jan
18

Inspirare

Blowing windPause a moment sometime today and think: who inspires me?

I heard an inspiring story yesterday.

It was the story of a young man named Ryan. Ryan heard about another young man named Luke who had been severely injured in a golf cart accident.

In addition to serious head and chest trauma from the accident, Luke went into cardiac arrest at the hospital in Lubbock, Texas where he was taken for treatment.

Once his heart issues were stabilized, Luke began a grueling daily physical therapy regimen. He and his father worked with therapists every day just to regain even minimal use of his arms and legs. As his father told the story, for the next 18 months, Luke sweated and strained and “worked his tail off” every day without complaining. Luke-and-drew-brees

You can find out more about Luke’s remarkable story by clicking here.

This is where Ryan’s story comes in.

Ryan heard about Luke’s struggle and determination (and mounting hospital bills), he decided to do something. Ryan is an avid baseball player who LOVES to take practice swings. So Ryan decided that every day for the next 100 days, he was going to hit 100 balls in practice. And with each one, he was going to work to raise money to help Luke.

Incidentally, it’s not like Ryan is Luke’s teammate or something. Ryan has never met Luke. Ryan is a total stranger living in another part of the country.

When I heard this story on the evening news, it struck me that this was not just an inspiring story. It is a story ABOUT inspiration.

Luke inspired Ryan. And then Ryan took his inspiration and put it into action.

After seeing this and reflecting on it a bit I realized that I too am regularly inspired.

  • I am inspired by my 94-year-old stepmother. She is happy, alert, fit, and even a little sassy. She lost her husband – my dad – a year ago, but manages to stay upbeat and positive and actively engaged in the world around her.
  • I am inspired by my friend who is dying of lung cancer. He continues to read and write and chronicle the history of his adopted homeland here in Kansas City. Yes, he regularly wonders what lies ahead on his body’s journey, but never in a mopey, morose way. His mindset is one of continuous curiosity and engagement.
  • I am inspired by my single mom Facebook friend. Her marriage recently ended sadly and abruptly. And yet, she continues to make her home a place of security and love for her two small children.
  • I am inspired by people who take personal and professional risks on behalf of principles they believe in strongly… daring to speak their truth even if it might cost them a job.
  • I am inspired by the people who stand up every day in the full flower of their uniqueness and say, “Hey, world; this is me, like it or not.”

And so I ask again: Who inspires you?

You see, I could go on and on and on with my list of people who inspire me. They move in and out of my orbit every day. But the story of Luke and Ryan prompted me to ask two new, different questions about the whole topic of inspiration:

  1. What am I actually doing with my inspiration? …and
  2. Have I bothered to tell any of the folks in my life that they inspire me?

Luke inspired Ryan. And so Ryan did something. He launched his “100 hits in 100 days” campaign.

The language students among you will recall that the word “inspire” comes from the Latin inspirare meaning, “blow into, breathe upon…” This stems from the biblical idea of being breathed upon by the Holy Spirit. (John 20:22, NRSV).

We take the general sense of the word to mean, “to influence or animate with an idea or purpose.” But still, the question remains: can we truly call ourselves inspired if we don’t actually ACT on that inspiration?

Maybe it starts by simply telling someone they inspired us.

A sad fact of existence is that most of us go through our day-to-day lives with little to no awareness of the positive influence you have on the lives of those around you. But trust me… you do.

Thanks to social media, of course, we find out pretty quickly when we affect folks negatively. But not so much on the positive side.

How much would it lift a person’s spirits for you to walk up to them – or better yet, write them a good, old-fashioned LETTER! – telling them that they inspired you. And then follow that up by ACTING on that inspiration!

So… to Joan, Bette, Henry, Ciara, Laura, Luke, Ryan, Mitch, Michael, Jeff, Rob, Connie, Adam, Graham, Eric, Alan, Melinda, Doug and others too numerous to mention, I say THANK YOU. You inspire me daily.

And, Ryan, special thanks to you. You inspired me to write this blog post about inspiration!

Abundant blessings…

28
Mar
17

DO IT

Action picture“Wow!” my wife remarked to our friend Bill recently as we sat down with he and his wife for dinner… (not his real name, by the way. But I’m not changing it to protect him from embarrassment. I’m changing it because I am about to say something very positive about him and don’t want him to get all full of himself)… She continued, “You really look good! You look like you’ve lost some weight!”

“Yes,” Bill replied. “A bit over 35 pounds.”

And then the accolades and “atta-boys” really started pouring in. I said, “That’s fantastic! Way to go! I sure wish I could muster up that kind of will power myself!”

“Well,” Bill said, “The thing that really helps with that will power thing is when your doctor tells you that you are at risk for a stroke and diabetes if you don’t get your weight under control.”

Yes, I am sure that statement is absolutely true. A frightening prognosis like that would probably get me off my flabby backside quicker than you can say, “Cholesterol.”

But even with an ample supply of sound, scary medical information, Bill still had to ACT on it. He had to be the one to actually turn down the bread and pasta and potatoes and other carbohydrate-loaded foods and choose something else to eat.

HE had to get himself to the gym and do the exercise that burned up some of his excess fat.

HE had to find a way to ignore the little voices telling him that “one little potato chip won’t hurt,” or that no one was looking or that he OWED IT to himself to celebrate his progress and cheat a little with a banana split.

So yes, Bill… even though you were quick to brush it off, you richly deserved the praise we offered.

After saying good night and going our separate ways, I began to think about my own situation and areas of my life where a change of attitude or behavior is needed. And I will confess that while my imprudent approach to eating is certainly one of those areas, it is far from the only one.

I also realized that in every single one of those “areas for improvement”, it is not a lack of information that stalls me.

It is a lack of ACTION.

Paolo Friere, the Brazilian educator, said it this way: “We make the road by walking.”

Morganna Bailey, in her recent TED Talk put it this way: “Clarity comes from ACTING, not from thinking.”

Author Randa Abdel-Fattah said, “Belief means nothing without actions.”

Mark Twain was a little wittier when he said the same thing: “Actions speak louder than words, but not as often.”

And finally Jesus of Nazareth said it like this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21, NRSV). (Emphasis mine. But I’m sure Jesus would agree.)

Yes, yes. But don’t these people understand that acting can be a little SCARY? Because once you act… once you DO a certain, tangible thing, or take a concrete STEP, you can’t un-act.

We don’t have the same magic editing functions on our actions that come with this lovely word-processing software I’m using here. That software lets me go back, erase, rewrite, revise, and perfect these words until they are JUST RIGHT.

My actions are forever what they originally were.

Maybe that explains the popularity of the many forms of social media these days. Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter allow us to believe and speak things with gusto and passion without actually requiring that we take any sort of ACTION.

In the end though, it may all be exactly what Shakespeare called it: “Much ado about nothing.”

So where are you willing to act today? What purposeful deed can flow from your well-developed system of beliefs?

Think about it.

 

Then ACT.




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