Posts Tagged ‘change

20
Jul
21

A Way in the Wilderness…

Fifty-two years ago today, an epic adventure took place.

Footprints were placed on a new, unfamiliar landscape. 

Eyes were opened. Discoveries were made… discoveries that were both earth-shaking and life-altering.

Old barriers were broken down and we witnessed the dawn of a sparkly new era, brimming with exciting possibilities. 

And today, July 20, 2021, as if in an homage to that destiny-packed moment in history, the richest man in the world took an 82-year-old woman and a few other folks for a wild ride beyond the edge of the stratosphere.

Yes, of course I am talking about that time in 1969 when I moved – along with mom and dad and my four siblings – from Hilliard, Ohio to Lynnwood, Washington, just north of Seattle.

It was the summer before my senior year of high school. It was the summer when my girlfriend, Terri Finn and I finally declared our undying love to each other. It was also the summer – ironically enough – when the TV program, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers debuted – featuring its catchy theme song that declared, “The bluest skies you’ll ever see are in Seattle. The greenest trees you’ll ever see are in Seattle.”

Well, at least half of that lyric was true. 

A couple of months earlier, my United Methodist pastor father had accepted an appointment to a small church in Lynnwood, Washington. His tenure began on July 1, and so after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (mostly by me), the seven of us packed up the U-Haul truck, the Mercury Colony Park station wagon, and the Coleman pop-up camper and headed west. 

Somewhere along that journey – I like to think it might have been in Kansas City as our little caravan crossed the Missouri/Kansas state line – I had a revelation. 

As much as this whole move seemed like the worst idea in the world… as much as I fought against it and tried to keep it from happening, I realized I had a very clear choice. 

I could decide, A.) to be miserable about it and scowl my way through the coming school year. Or, I could decide, B.) to call this something like “an exciting new adventure” and eagerly anticipate the new sights, sounds, smells, and scenarios that lay ahead.

Somehow, I chose B. And that choice made all the difference in the world.

July 20, 1969 was a Sunday night. So, I asked my parents if we could invite the kids from the church youth group over to our house for a cook-out and to watch the televised account of the Apollo 11 moon landing. 

They said, “Sure! Great idea, Rusty!” and immediately got busy putting plans and menus together. 

I replied, “Gee, thanks a lot! But folks, here is something else. I have also decided that ‘Rusty’ was the name from my old life. From here on, call me Russell. OK?”

It has been said that the only people who like change are babies with wet diapers. 

I get that. But change is something that just comes with the territory of being a human being. 

To live is to be subjected with regular changes. Changes in circumstance, changes in weather, changes in understandings, changes in health, changes in economic status… in short, changes in just about every facet of life. 

Often change feels unwanted, like an assault… like something cruelly imposed by a parent who accepts a pastoral appointment 2,400 miles away from your buddies and girlfriend the summer before your senior year of high school [if I can be a little personal for a moment].

In most cases, we don’t have a choice about the change. But we always DO have a choice about how we will respond to the change. 

Much later on in my faith journey, I discovered – much to my surprise – that God is actually a gigantic fan of change. In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong to call God The Cosmic ChangeMaster.

God created the something of the universe out of the nothing (or out of the chaos) and has never stopped changing or creating since. The prophet Isaiah spoke on God’s behalf and said, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19, NRSV).

So, I pray today that regardless of the change you are facing in life, you might be able to find a way to lean fully into it and come to embrace it as perhaps a “way in the wilderness.”

Abundant blessings;

02
Dec
20

New Shoes

This past weekend I observed a personal ritual known as, “The Changing of the Shoes.” It is exactly like the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, except without the pageantry, fuzzy hats, Corgis, Englishness, formality, or really anything else.

My ritual doesn’t even operate by a set schedule. 

It happens when it needs to happen.

The Changing of the Shoes is set in motion when my daily walking shoes finally bite the dust. That moment sends me to the shoe store to buy a new pair. My old walking shoes then “graduate” to the status of yard work shoes, and my dirt-and-dog-doo-encrusted-grass-stained yard work shoes go to that happy Shoe Recycling Place in the sky. 

And as that ritual unfolds, I learn again the lesson that new seasons beget new roles. New roles beget new duties. New duties beget new self-understandings.

And sometimes, new self-understandings beget new questions about how we each fit into the cosmic scheme of things.

[By now I suspect you have guessed that I am no longer talking about SHOES, haven’t you?]

This time of global pandemic has required the adoption new self-understandings by almost every one of us, hasn’t it? Those of us who derive our identities from our work, or our relationships, our hobbies, or our affiliations have struggled to embrace this New Normal.

And unlike my shoes (who slip easily and without complaint into their new roles) many of us scratch and kick and complain loudly when forced into a new way of being… a new way of seeing… a new way of understanding our place in the world. 

Heck, even though it has now been true for 1.25 years, I still find myself resisting the wholehearted adoption of my new “retired guy” identity. “You’re too young to retire!” says the tape that plays repeatedly in my head. 

The thing is, CHANGE doesn’t care. 

CHANGE rolls on, as inexorable as the seasons… inviting us to either dance or die. 

Our gut tells us that CHANGE is the enemy… something to be feared. Our gut wants things to stay as they are; predictable, stable, orderly. 

Our gut wants us to worship something besides the wild, ever-renewing, explosively creative God of the Universe. 

Our gut tells us not to trust the extended hand of the One who whispers to us, “Come ahead, my child. Don’t fear. I’ve got you.”

But then, if we listen really closely, we will hear our faith speaking up and saying, “The God who brought you TO this, will surely bring you THROUGH this.”

God always has. God always will. 

We learn that the God who said, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43: 19, NRSV), is the same God who said, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1-2, NRSV).

New times.

New roles.

New understandings.

Same God. Same rock-solid promises.

But definitely time for some new shoes.

Abundant blessings;

26
Sep
20

Editing Myself

[**WARNING** This post has been edited!!!]

Just yesterday, the moment I’ve been waiting for all these years FINALLY HAPPENED! I was SO excited!

See, this guy – out of the clear, blue sky – zinged me with an unnecessarily harsh comment. But this time, instead of leaving me perplexed and speechless the way these things usually do, I had the PERFECT comeback!

The only problem was, my “perfect comeback” didn’t cross my mind until five hours after the original zinger. And, of course, by then it was too late. 

Has anything like that ever happened to you? 

That is probably the reason I find myself so drawn to the written word. When I write, I don’t have to be sharp… witty… spontaneous… or nimble with my communication. I can sit, stew, ponder, and carefully choose my words before releasing them. 

And then, if that first combination of letters and syllables doesn’t quite fit, I can go back, cross them out, and choose different words to take their place. 

Come to think of it, that “editability” factor may be part of the reason for the popularity of social media. (Although, I have yet to see much evidence of editing in most of the Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram posts I am privy to].

Too often, left to my own devices (and the demands of the moment), my words are anything but polished gems. They spill out, roughhewn, onto the ears of innocent bystanders… sometimes illuminating, sometimes irritating, sometimes amusing, sometimes utterly baffling.

In this I suspect I am not alone.

Which is why I find it so important to remember God’s profound understanding of our weaknesses and shortcomings. God knows that when I snap at Joan or a neighbor, or say, “expecially” instead of “especially,” it is because I am a flawed and sinful being.

God remembers who I am and God forgives me.

But maybe more important than remembering God’s abiding forgiveness of US is the task of remembering Paul’s advice to the church folks at Colossae: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive…”(Colossians 3:12-13, NRSV). 

The state of our separation from God and what theologian Paul Tillich called the “Ground of Our Being” is profound and irreparable… except through our humble confession and the grace of Jesus Christ.

My personal hope is that I will remember both God’s rich forgiveness of ME and Paul’s guidance to forgive OTHERS. And if that happens, maybe my words will come from a different place than that blemished, mercurial emotion-pot inside me. 

And if THAT happens, maybe it will cut down my “editing” task just a bit in the future.

Abundant blessings;

02
Sep
20

Time for a jolt?

As a child of the 60s, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about protests. 

Granted, most of my participation in the anti-war or civil rights protests of that era consisted of watching them on TV from the safety of my parent’s living room. 

Then again, there was that one time when five or six of my friends and I “took over” the roof of the administration building on our college campus for a few hours in order to protest the Vietnam War. 

The quotation marks around the words “took over” in that last sentence stem from the fact that no one really seemed to much mind us being up on the roof of the admin building. They studiously ignored our chanting and passionate singing of “We Shall Overcome.” We maintained that righteous rooftop vigil right up until it was time to head home and finish the term papers that were due the next day. 

While it is true that I was personally a bit of a protest weenie, I see real value in taking a grievance to the streets. I believe that the Vietnam War might have dragged on for years longer had it not been for those anti-war peaceniks. The struggle for civil rights – though far from resolved even today – might not have gained even token footholds without the people who were willing to gather publicly and express their collective outrage at America’s Jim Crow status quo.

As I think about protestors, I also think about the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire… the young man in Beijing (and his friends) who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square… and of Nelson Mandela sitting alone in a South African jail cell for 27 years.

At the time most of these people were labeled extremists… kooks… dangerous radicals. So-called reasonable people denounced their tactics as wholly unnecessary. They urged calm, cogent conversation as the preferred way to solve society’s problems. 

But as history has demonstrated again and again, calm, cogent conversation doesn’t always move the needle. Sometimes, it takes an abrupt JOLT!

As it turns out, no one understood the strategic use of the abrupt JOLT quite as well as Jesus of Nazareth. He employed it regularly in the rhetorical technique known as “prophetic hyperbole.” A great example shows up in Mark’s gospel where we read these jolting words: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.” (Mark 9:43-45, NRSV). 

Does he really mean people should cut off their own hands or feet? 

Or when he told the rich young man that salvation meant selling everything he owned, giving the money to the poor and following him, did he mean that literally?

My guess would be that Jesus didn’t really intend for his words in Mark to be taken as a literal command. In the other one, maybe he did. But maybe not. 

You see, Jesus was a revolutionary. He came to turn the status quo of the world upside down. He did not come for calm, reasoned discussions. He came to instigate radical, top-to-bottom life change. 

In fact, when this man – sometimes called the Prince of Peace – talked about his earthly mission in Luke’s gospel he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51, NRSV). 

Jesus sought to WAKE PEOPLE UP! To shake them from their complacency! To stress the urgency of the moment. 

Please understand… I am not saying that the people taking violently to the streets today are shining examples of Christ-like behavior. I have no insight into their hearts or minds. Many, I feel certain, are interested only in mayhem and destruction. 

What I AM saying is that sometimes the world finds itself in a place where a good, old-fashioned JOLT of prophetic hyperbole is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

What do you think… is this that kind of time? 

21
Aug
20

The Heartbreak of RPD

Chocolate on faceIn a wholehearted endorsement of the axiom advising us that confession is good for the soul, I offer this mea culpa today:

Sometimes I suffer from RPD… Resistant Personality Disorder.

What this means is that I will sometimes resist something just for the sake of resisting it. You know, sort of like the child who sticks out his tongue and says, “You can’t make me!”

No one is better suited to bear witness to the truth of this confession than my sainted spouse. She might, for example, point out that I have a smear of chocolate icing on my chin. To which I sometimes reply, “Well, maybe I really want it there!”

Or else she will lovingly point out that the shirt I’ve chosen doesn’t really go with those shorts. Then, in return for her caring compassion she will hear, “That’s OK. I like it, so I’m wearing it.”

And yes, you are right; there is surely a very special place in heaven waiting for her.

Hearing about RPD, you would be right to ask, “Who does that kind of stuff anyway? And why do they do it? Surely everyone is interested in receiving tips on how to be a little bit better version of themselves, aren’t they?”

I will answer your good question this way: sometimes I do it just to be a playful pill. You know… to liven things up around the house a little bit.

At other times, I am probably genuinely miffed. Miffed that someone else saw something amiss with me (my clothes, my hair, my grooming, my attitude, my personality, my whatever) that I did not see myself. And so I become irritated.

In this morning’s meditation from Fr. Richard Rohr (Franciscan priest, author, and founder of the Center for Contemplation and Action in Santa Fe, NM), I was comforted to learn that I might not be alone in my propensity to resist helpful insight. Fr. Rohr wrote, “We all come to wisdom at the major price of both our innocence and our control. Few of us go there willingly; it [wisdom] must normally be thrust upon us.”

Does that sound like YOU at all?

In my own life there was probably no greater example of RPD than my resistance to God’s call to ministry. I can point to moments when I heard – with shocking clarity – a voice saying, “Come serve me” at least 25 years before I actually responded to that call.

My excuses were endless; I knew better. I had my own plan. I wasn’t ready to stop having fun yet. I needed to use my gifts and abilities to “do cool stuff.” I could do “God stuff” around the edges and on the weekends when nothing else was going on.

Thankfully, God didn’t give up. Thankfully, God finally seeped through (actually, more like BROKE through with the full force of a 2×4) my thick skull and got my attention.

Sadly, all these years later and with so much formational experience, I still catch myself occasionally resisting wisdom. Hopefully not as consistently as I once did.

The writer of Proverbs personifies wisdom as God’s co-existing, feminine partner at the very beginnings of the world and gives her these words, “And now my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise… For whoever finds me finds life.” (Proverbs 8:32, 35, NRSV).

How about you? Are you eager to hear wisdom? Do you embrace it, even when it threatens to upset your plans and send you in a new direction?

Or are you still suffering a bad case of RPD?

The cure might be closer than you think.

 

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;

11
May
20

CHANGE

Universe pictureWhat moves the world?

What kind of force does it take

To cause even the tiniest shudder?

And alter – even microscopically – the unflinching orbit

Of lives?

Of fates?

Of destinies?

Of kingdoms?

Of stars?

Is it great beauty?

Unbearable suffering?

An explosion of wisdom?

The threat of extinction?

 

Or is it all just a whispy candycloud

Covered in dreams?

Are we all merely following tracks?

Tradition tracks

Carved in the

Bedrock marble of our souls

By forces beyond our influence

And greater than our gods?

 

It is not unheard of, you know.

Gravity has been defied

In days gone by.

The poles have been reversed

The die has been uncast

The other shoe has been arrested midfall.

 

Once upon a time.

 

These are the times to remember…

HE is the only one who can.

HIS is the strength to cleave time itself.

In HIM – him alone – do we find

HOPE

POWER

LIFE

LOVE (the unconditional kind)

PEACE

JOY

MEANING

REDEMPTION

“Behold! I am making all things new,” said the One In Charge. (Rev. 21:5, NRSV).

20
Mar
20

Change is Coming

CoronavirusThink back; do you recall events in your life that CHANGED you? I mean, changed you in a profound, lasting, BC/AD kind of way?

I believe I was forever changed that time my dad suffered third-degree burns on his upper thigh.

He had left me at home by myself when he went to bring my mom and new baby brother home from the hospital. I was nine years old at the time.

As he left the house, dad accidentally left a pot full of boiling water and plastic baby bottles on the stove. The water boiled away and the bottles all melted. I didn’t know what the bad smell in the house was and so I went outside to sit on the front porch to get away from it. When dad, mom, and baby brother returned, the house was filled with smoke and the pot was in flames. When he grabbed the pot to run out the back door with it, dad splashed hot, melted plastic on his leg, causing third-degree burns.

I blamed myself for his injury and spent the rest of my youth trying to atone for my mistake. I believe that childhood episode engendered my overblown sense of responsibility for the well being of those around me… a trait I carry to this day.

My mother’s death was another event that wrought a change of the deepest, most elemental kind in my life. Mom died of lymphoma, exactly one month after I graduated from high school. For most of my life, she had been my cheerleader, encourager, friend, buffer, and confidant. After her death, I drifted rather aimlessly through life… rudderless and self-absorbed.  My grief wounds ultimately healed, of course, but the change her death caused in my life was long-lasting and fundamental.

I can bring to mind several other intersections along my journey that had similar effects; our family’s cross-country move the summer before my senior year of high school… my marriage… the birth of each of my children… my divorce… my spiritual rebirth… my first U2 concert. (JK!)

In each case, as I think back on those personal milestones, I can clearly describe pre-event Russell and post-event Russell. Sometimes it was a change for the better; sometimes it was a change for the opposite of better. In every case though, these events jolted and dazed me… knocking me off of my feet and leaving me grasping for a handrail.

This event we are all experiencing right now – the COVID-19 outbreak – is exactly one of those kinds of haymakers. Except in our case, it is a haymaker that has landed on the chin of the entire world at the same time.

Collectively we are still right in the middle of the landing of the punch. The opponent’s fist is in mid-swing… still connected to our jaw. It’s like one of those artfully choreographed fight scenes shot in super SLO-MO.

Soon we will spin around… hit the mat… see stars… and then shake our head and wonder what the hell just hit us. Sadly, we are a LOOOOOONG way from getting back on our feet and putting up our dukes, ready for the next foe.

Not even the wisest soothsayers can tell us how long this time will last or how bad it will get before it is over. But it doesn’t take a King Solomon to know that ALL of us will somehow be different on the other side.

What kind of change will it bring? Will we be kinder to each other? Will we have a better understanding of community and interdependence? Will we show a deeper appreciation for the world and people around us, remembering how concerned about each other we were?

Maybe. Hopefully.

Or will we quickly revert to our standard, “Every person for themselves, look out for #1” approach, becoming even more self-centered and callous than we were before?

Gee, I sure hope not.

Even though I roundly reject the idea that God sent the COVID-19 virus to teach us to love one another, I passionately embrace the idea that we can emerge from this pandemic as new, transformed people… with a new awareness of the intricate interconnection of our lives.

Every day I pledge to surround each of you with love and prayers for your wholeness, health, safety, and security. I am also asking God to open my eyes to ways I can directly serve my neighbors in need.

I am already feeling just how precious you each are and how much I need each one of you in my life.

Together – with God’s help – we can make it through this.

09
Mar
20

“Let me OFF!”

Merry go roundWell, it’s that time of year again.

It is the time of year when the antennae of clergyfolk in the United Methodist Church are exquisitely attuned to every minor shift in the wind, every minute rise or fall in barometric pressure, every nuance of conversation.

Yes, this time on the calendar – from late January to mid-April(ish) or so – is APPOINTMENT-SETTING TIME! That means it is the time of year when it is possible for any United Methodist pastor to answer a phone call and hear the words, “Hello (insert name here). This is your District Superintendent calling. I have an opportunity I would like to discuss with you. Is now a good time to talk?”

Even though I am now retired and blessedly aloof from that whole business, I still feel sympathy pangs for my brothers and sisters of the cloth when this time of year rolls around. I am still haunted by vivid memories of tensing up every time the phone rang and a certain suspicious area code showed up on Caller ID.

For pastors in the United Methodist Church, this is at least a three-month exercise of walking on – no, LIVING on – eggshells.

At the root of the anxiety that attends appointment-setting time is the very real fact that almost no one likes change. Not even pastors. We humans seem to be willing to do anything in our power to maintain the status quo… even when the status quo is patently unacceptable.

And when the pace of change in the world around us accelerates, our desire to hold onto something solid and unchanging zooms up proportionately.

It may be that I am more aware of this since I am well into my dotage, but everywhere I look today, I see change:

  • The technology of living (telephones, TVs, appliances, automobiles, banks, grocery stores, etc.) is changing.
  • The climate is changing.
  • The country’s (and the world’s) demographic contours are changing.
  • Social customs are changing.
  • The political, religious, cultural, and moral landscapes are all changing… with some changing more rapidly than others.
  • My own health and the health of those close to me is changing… and mostly not for the better.
  • Heck, even the rules of my favorite games – baseball and football – are changing.

In that kind of a topsy-turvy world, I can easily identify with the urge to slow down the merry-go-round or jump off of it completely. And yet, there is a HUGE difference between being annoyed by the pace of change (which is most of us… with the exception of babies with dirty diapers) and actively working to hold back its tide. The effort to stop or roll back the changing face of society is the urge that lies at the core of all of the world’s regressive movements.

But as much as I grouse and whine about change… as much as I dredge up stories of “the good old days,” I have to stop and remember… this is not my ride.

It is not mine to control. It is not mine to resist. It is not mine to counter-program or attempt to sabotage.

“This…” in the words of the ancient psalmist, “… is the day the Lord has made.”

This is not some warped, funhouse-mirror parody version of the day the Lord meant to make. This is EXACTLY the day the Lord has made.

On purpose.

In that case then, we should follow the rest of the psalmist’s advice that says: “… let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24, NRSV).

AMEN.

02
Mar
20

Saggy Clay

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”(Isaiah 64:8, NRSV)

Potters wheel photoOne of my favorite courses in college was Pottery 101. We started out the class by learning all about the properties of clay. We then learned about shaping it into small, simple patterns, firing it in the kiln and coloring it with various glazes. But the real draw of Pottery 101 was the chance to try our hands at shaping that wet, luxuriant, earthy stuff on a genuine POTTER’S WHEEL!

It probably took me two weeks of trying, but eventually, I was able to successfully center my clay as it spun around on the wheel. This is the first, most important part of the pot-throwing process. If you can’t center your clay on the wheel, you aren’t going to be able to do anything else with it.

One of the important lessons I learned about clay during that class was that it is not infinitely malleable. You can only screw up your ashtray (or flower vase, or soup bowl, or whatever it is you are making) so many times.

At a certain point, the clay begins to lose its elasticity. You have to throw that lump away and start all over again with a different one.

Sometimes I wonder if that could be true about me, too. Sometimes I feel as if God has had me on the wheel for a long time, spinning, shaping, gently drawing me into the shape he wants… only to watch that rascally clay rebel and morph into something else entirely.

My life story traces a history of a lot of “do-overs” and “start again” moments… all of them necessary and all of them representing – I believe – a slightly more faithful shaping of the raw material of ME into the Potter’s image.

But lately, I have thought back to my Pottery 101 class and wondered, “How much more shaping is really possible with this saggy, worked over, stiff, inelastic Russell clay? Am I getting to the point where God might be on the verge of throwing up his hands in sheer exasperation and saying, ‘OK! That’s it. I’m done with this lump. Someone go get me another one.’”

Thankfully, however, the God of Israel, the Lord of all creation, the Source of My Life, is not a quitter. Yes, the material may be a lot less limber than it was… yes, the clay may occasionally bark and complain and say stuff like, “NO! I don’t WANT to do that! I’m too old! I’m not made to bend into that shape!”

But The Potter never gives up.

Of course, here in the day-to-day realm of human experience, the clay always has the option to decline the hand of the Potter. Any of us, at any time, can say, “Naw. Thanks anyway. I’m done. No more shaping. No more nudging. No more jabbing and poking me into shape. Let’s just leave this whole thing the way it is.”

You and I can stiffen and resist and refuse all we want. But rest assured, The Potter will never give up on us.

Hallelujah! And amen.




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