Posts Tagged ‘care

12
Aug
21

Well, I declare!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… before it is too late. 

Abundant blessings;

25
Feb
21

Knowing You… Loving You

They know me so well.

” No endorsement of this product should be implied from this ad.

They know I drive a 2009 Nissan Altima.

They know I play the guitar. (Fortunately, they aren’t terribly clued in about my fumbling, stumbling skill level).

They know I am a grandfather.

They know I originally hail from Hilliard, Ohio. 

They are intimately familiar with my on-line purchasing habits, regularly offering me similar items at lower prices (and better quality). 

They know my political persuasions, my religious preferences, my sexual orientation, and my favored color palette. 

Heck, the marketing trolls of the internet somehow even know that I have chronic right shoulder pain and occasionally (when I eat too late) experience nighttime bouts of acid reflux … a fact I have only ever discussed with Joan behind our closed bedroom door. 

“How is it possible…” I ask, shaking my fist toward the heavens, “… that such total, uncaring strangers know me so WELL?”

But we all know the answer to that question, don’t we? This kind of deep, granular-level reconnaissance on each one of us is today’s coin of the realm. 

Nothing is hidden from BIG DATA. BIG DATA is in charge of our lives. Your phone listens in on the conversation you had with your next door neighbor and then **SHAZAM!!** up pops an ad for beekeeping equipment on your news feed.*

It is a scary and unsettling reality of Life in the Connected Age.

And yet, in a perverse and twisted way, isn’t this also the answer to a prayer? What I mean is, haven’t each of us, starting at a very young age, yearned for someone to KNOW us? 

No… we didn’t seek to be known for the purpose of being marketed at. But haven’t we each longed for someone to know us completely – head to toe – in order that we might have the experience of being LOVED… totally and unconditionally?

Because let’s face it; it takes no great depth of soul to take a shine to the online dating profile version of a person. But it takes something very close to divinity to love someone when every wart, freckle, and character flaw is exposed.

But THAT is exactly the love God offers us.

It is exactly the love we are wired to crave.

It is also exactly the love we are called to offer one another. 

Abundant blessings;

  • an actual event in my life
13
Jun
20

To Callous, or Not to Callous

My guitarsBlogosphere, meet my guitars. The Martin Dreadnought acoustic is the one on the left and the Fender American Stratocaster (with double humbucker pickup) is the one on the right.

Guitars, meet the blogosphere.

I love these instruments and miss them fiercely whenever Joan and I travel.

Lately I have found that coming up here in the evening and playing them is a great tonic for my soul.

I have been playing for a few years now, but don’t really consider myself a guitarist. I’m just a guy who fools around on the guitar now and then. In case you are curious, there are two foolproof ways you can tell that that I am not a real guitarist:

  • First, I have not named my guitars.
  • Second, I only have two of them.

(It suddenly occurs to me there is a third, foolproof way to verify my “non-guitarist” status: listen to me play.)

Most of the time, I play in order to calm and entertain myself. Sometimes I sit down and try to learn a new song to add to my repertoire. Sometimes I just come to work on simple scales and finger exercises.

Since I am no longer taking weekly lessons or playing in a jam band or the church’s praise band, there is not a regular, external motivation to keep at it.

No motivation, that is, except for the maintenance of my callouses.

Anyone who plays guitar with regularity will attest to the importance of healthy callouses on the fingertips of the fretting hand. Callouses are the toughened areas of skin that keep the steel wires of the guitar string from cutting into you and making you bleed all over the lovely woodwork. If you don’t play with some level of frequency, your callouses will get soft. Playing will become painful.

In that sense, you could say that playing the guitar is the exact opposite of engaging in the disciplines of the Christian spiritual life.

In the world of the guitar, the discipline and regularity of practice helps BUILD UP and harden your fingertips. It prevents your playing and practice from being painful.

The aim of the spiritual disciplines, on the other hand, is to SOFTEN us… to make us more OPEN and VULNERABLiE to the world around us… to EXPOSE us to the “still, small voice” of God that Elijah heard, or to make us more susceptible to the pain and heartbreak of a neighbor who isn’t necessarily part of our “tribe.”

The goal, in other words, of all the Christian study and prayer and fasting and worship we do should be to heighten our compassion (from the Latin, com passio, “to feel with.”).

When Jesus blessed the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) during his Sermon on the Mount, he was talking about exactly these people: the people for whom the callouses around their hearts have worn away and softened.

The culture instructs us to “toughen up” and blast our way through the pain and tragedy and heartbreak of the world around us. “Take charge!” is the battle cry. “Grow thick callouses!”

But a mere two verses later (in Matt. 5:5) Jesus tells us who will REALLY inherit the earth.

Maybe we should listen to him!

02
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 2

One man counseling another(In yesterday’s installment, I recounted one of my most abysmal performances as a pastoral counselor. Troy, a congregant, had come to see me with an incredible mountain of problems including job loss, cancer, his wife’s infidelity, and parenting challenges, all raining down on him at once.

When we left our story, the pastor was wringing his hands in despair, searching and praying for the right word for Troy’s situation…)

Not wanting too many more silent seconds to pass between us, I gave Troy my most sincere, pastoral look, reached out and confidently placed my hand on his left shoulder and said – with an air of authority that was manufactured out of thin air – “Troy… the thing to remember at times like this is just what it says in the Bible: ‘This too shall pass.’”

And then, to add an extra measure of sincerity to the drivel I had just dispensed, I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded.

The reaction I fully expected to receive (and probably should have received) from Troy was something like, “What? Are you seriously kidding me? ‘This too shall pass??’ I could have pulled a random fortune cookie out of a jar and gotten something better than that drivel!”

But, to his everlasting credit, Troy just nodded, thanked me for my time, and stood up to leave.

After that it took me several minutes to compose myself. I was stunned at the level of absolute ineptitude I had displayed in my conversation with Troy. I honestly pondered the possibility of searching for a new line of work… on the spot. Clearly that “call to ministry” I thought I had heard was a wrong number.

Fast-forward six months. I have not heard from Troy or heard about him. I had maybe seen him at church one time in passing since our meeting. And I may or may not have pretended to drop something on the floor when he passed… just to avoid making eye contact.

And then one night it happened… there was an event at church for parents and their children. I was on duty to greet folks as they came in and help them find their way around. And here came Troy… with his two children in tow.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Nothing to do but to step up, look him in the eye and face the music. It might even be that he has wiped any memory of my face and name from his mind… if I’m lucky.”

So, I bucked up… walked up to Troy… stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there, Troy. It’s been a while since we talked. How are things with you anyway?” I tried not to telegraph the fact that I was positioning myself to deflect a punch from his right hand I was reaching out to shake it.

“Pastor Brown!” he said… in a loud, overly enthusiastic voice. (Drat! He recognized me!) And then he went on, “Hey, do you remember that time last fall when we met in your office? You know, when I was in such a messed-up situation and I came to see you?”

“Yeah… sure,” I said… playing along. “I’ve been wondering how things are going for you now. That sure was a bad time for you, wasn’t it?”

He said, “Boy, it sure was. Hey… do you remember the advice you gave me? When you told me ‘this too shall pass’?”

I was getting ready to defend myself, explaining I had been engaged in a spiritual fast the day we met and was clearly delirious from hunger when he interrupted me, grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously saying,“Man, I can’t thank you enough. That was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at that moment. It helped me take a step back from the funk I was in and just take a breath.

“And you know what? Things are really getting better. I got a new job, so we changed schools and got my daughter away from those bullies… my wife married her boyfriend and I am getting good treatments for my melanoma.”

“But I just really wanted to thank you for helping me get through that. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

And so, we shook hands, I thanked Troy for his kind words, and we went our separate ways.

At the time I offered it, “This too shall pass,” was a trite, unthinking response that was thoroughly unresponsive to the depth of Troy’s dilemma. I have since checked and found it is also advice that can be found nowhere in the Bible.

What I saw though in that six-month reunion was the power of the Holy Spirit to take the very worst of my efforts and transform it into something powerful and healing.

Right now, “This too shall pass” feels like a trite, almost cruel platitude in the midst of the current pandemic. Sure, it will pass, but who knows when it will pass? Who knows how many lives will be lost in the process? Who knows the long-lasting damage that will be done to our economy by this extended shut-down?

“This too shall pass” is not particularly biblical or earth-shaking as advice goes. But it is true. There WILL be a day in the future when sports resume, when there are stories on the news besides the daily COVID-19 death toll, when kids are back in school, when concerts happen again, and when folks – maybe more than before the pandemic – gather again in church.

No, “This too shall pass” may not be particularly profound.

But somehow my anxious heart – like Troy’s – finds great peace and comfort in knowing it is true.

 

Praise God!

23
Oct
19

GLOW

support groupMy wife GLOWs.

Every fourth Thursday of the month.

From 5:30 to 7:00.

And because she GLOWs, we glow (and grow) together as a family.

You see, GLOW is the name of the women’s cancer support group Joan attends at a nearby church. In an amazingly providential stroke, it turned out that there was a GLOW meeting last year on the exact same day she received her cancer diagnosis.

She has been going (and GLOWing) ever since.

GLOW is not necessarily a reference to the fact that many of the group’s members have undergone radiation therapy for their cancer. It is an acronym. It stands for God Loves Outrageous Women.

The GLOW Girls are indeed outrageous. Outrageously optimistic. They are also fierce. They are funny. They laugh together and they cry together. Sometimes they go to lunch together.

They also pray together. A LOT.

When the GLOW Girls gather on the fourth Thursday of the month, they share information with each other. For example, one woman got a lot of relief for the neuropathy in her feet from acupuncture. So she shared the name and phone number of her acupuncturist.

They share their joys, and much too regularly they share their sorrows.

I have never personally found myself on the receiving end of devastating news like a cancer diagnosis like Joan has. I have, however, gone through the devastation of a divorce. I have felt the anguish and soul-searching and the sting of a hundred “what ifs” that are all part of that terrible journey.

Divorce plunged me into moments of searing loneliness… a loneliness so deep I felt like I would never emerge from it.

And because of that experience, I also know what it feels like when someone extends a hand into that loneliness and says, “Hey there. I see you. I know what’s happening. I’ve been there.”

It felt a lot like what I imagine a drowning man might feel when grabbing hold of a life preserver.

At some point along the way, every one of us will have to travel through a dark valley. Those valleys will each be different and unique, but they will share some basic characteristics. They will frighten us, they will arouse anger, they will shake our faith to its core.

They will also try to isolate us and make us feel alone and defenseless.

When the time comes for your dark valley, I pray you will also be blessed by the gift of a supportive community… just like I found with my friend. Just like Joan has found with the GLOW Girls.

Honestly, though, communities can’t cure you. They can’t take your pain and fear away. They can’t magically change the dire nature of whatever it is you are facing.

But they can remind you that you are not alone. They can serve as a tangible, flesh-and-blood representation of the loving Creator who walks beside you through this dark moment.

They can help you laugh. They can help you cry. They can join you for lunch. They can recommend a good acupuncturist.

They can also help you carry your impossible burden, just like Paul tells us we are supposed to do: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV).

 

… and they just might help you glow a little when things get really dark.




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