Posts Tagged ‘change

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.

06
Feb
20

Chew on it

light-bulb-changing“Is this mine to do?”

Sometimes this is an easy question to answer… other times it is surprisingly difficult.

In my experience, it is also a question that most folks do not ask nearly often enough.

I was across town last week, attending a volunteer training session. During one of the morning breaks, I went in to use the restroom. As I entered, the lighting inside the restroom seemed unnaturally dim. It did not take long to see why… one of the two light fixtures was burned out.

After washing my hands, I went to the front desk and reported the issue to the receptionist. “Thanks for letting me know,” she said. “I’ll tell maintenance people about it.”

Later that day – after lunch and during the afternoon break – I once again visited the men’s room. I should note that this was at least four hours after my morning visit.

Once again, the restroom had the same romantic, candlelit ambiance I had experienced during my morning visit. Yes, it would have been the perfect lighting had my wife and I chosen to dine there. But it was not so great for taking care of the actual business at hand.

What to do?

Should I report the problem again? Should I just take matters into my own hands and fix the light myself? I am actually a pretty handy guy and probably could have had it fixed in a jiffy. Or should I just go about my business and trust that the matter would eventually be handled?

In that case, the decision was easy. Fixing the light was NOT mine to do.

In other situations, I find it much more difficult to know what is mine to do and what isn’t.

I have to confess… most of the time I err on the side of over-doing. I have been known to be grossly over-solicitous in my effort to be helpful.

Just ask Joan. It is one thing to bring your spouse a cup of tea in the morning. It is quite another thing to put her half-empty cup and saucer into the dishwasher before she has finished drinking it.

As I have discovered more than once, there is a big difference between helping and doting… or between being compassionate and being unctuous.

I have learned (the hard way) that sometimes the truly compassionate act is to allow the other person to find their own way out of the pickle they are in. If you have ever been a parent you know exactly what I am talking about.

Then there are those other times… the times when I find myself squarely on the other end of the helpfulness spectrum. Those are the times I have been the “Hey! That’s not my job!” guy…

… even when it is.

Jesus regularly spoke in parables and then walked away without elaborating much on their meaning. “Those who have ears to hear, let them listen,” he said on more than one occasion. And yet somehow, the sight of ¾ of his audience standing there scratching their heads did not cause him to alter his approach at all.

“Jesus did not chew people’s food for them,” pastor/author Barbara Brown Taylor once graphically remarked. What she meant – I believe – was that Jesus recognized the value in allowing people to puzzle out meanings for themselves. He likely believed that when folks did some of their own heavy lifting of interpretation, they were far more likely to “own” the results.

 

This is the time in the blog post when I am supposed to wrap it all up with a neat little application illustration… carefully instructing you on how to take this nugget of wisdom and apply it to your own life.

Instead, I think I’ll just end it here and let you chew this one over on your own.

19
Dec
19

More Than Meets the Eye

Optimus PrimeThe word “transformation” continues to be popular in the vocabulary of most Christians today.

This seems to be especially true when it comes to the mission statements of Christian churches… Transforming hearts and minds with the love of Christ,” “Seeking to live as agents of transformation in a broken and hurting world,” “Transforming the world with Christ’s love,” are just a few of the examples I’ve seen.

Heck, if the name weren’t already copyrighted, I suspect many Christians today would vote to adopt the name TRANSFORMERS as a more accurate description of their mission and ministry.

Don’t get me wrong… I really like the word transformation. I have probably used and over-used it more times than I care to admit.

But sometimes I worry that this powerful, important word might become one of those good things that are used so casually and reflexively that they lose their sizzle and ultimately turn into tasteless lumps of verbal Wonder Bread. You know… just like that car commercial you really liked the first time you saw it on TV; and you kept liking right up until the moment they showed it for the 563rdtime.

Recently I got a new, helpful way to understand the power of the word transformation. It was when my niece sent me a picture of her new baby son and just gushed and cooed about what a heavenly little bundle of joy he is.

Sure, you say… that’s just what new moms do. No newsflash here.

But you only say that because you don’t know my niece. You don’t know the sleepless nights my sister spent during said niece’s adolescence wondering where she was or what would ever become of her. You don’t know about each gray hair on my sister’s head that has my niece’s name printed on it. You have no idea the level of stress and turmoil my niece has caused my sister throughout the years.

Actually, I probably don’t really know either.

And so you really can’t appreciate what an unbelievable miracle it is for me to step back and look at this picture of my niece, cradling her precious baby son in her arms, making giant mooneyes at him, and calling him the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

THAT, my friend, is transformation.

It made me remember a similar transformation I experienced when my first child was born. And my second, for that matter.

Outwardly nothing has changed… besides the addition of a brand new life into your world, of course.

What I mean is, I continued to be the same, lazy, self-centered, awkward, charming, clumsy, sinful human I was before the Blessed Event. None of those essential qualities magically went away.

And yet, somehow EVERYTHING was different!

I was now a DAD! I was now responsible 24/7 for the shaping of an entire HUMAN BEING! And – wonder of wonders – this human being was so small and helpless, it was utterly dependent on me and his mother for absolutely one hundred percent of his needs.

There was suddenly no margin for error… no days off… no second chances to shape the kind of person he would grow up to be.

Nothing was different, but EVERYTHING was changed. In the moment I first beheld my newborn child, I was utterly TRANSFORMED.

And when you stop a minute and think about it, what more perfect way could God have found to inaugurate the transformation of our planet than through a similar event… the birth of a baby.

I learned a whole lot about myself that day… as I am certain every new parent does.

But the two lessons that still stick with me here 43 years later are, 1.) Transformation is real and is possible for every person alive, and 2.) Transformation only ever happens from the inside out.

May our world experience abundant transformation, beginning today!

11
Nov
19

No magic wand

The-Roman-Destruction-and-Rebuilding-of-Jerusalem-A14Have you ever played the “magic wand” game?

That’s the game where someone says to you, “If you could wave a magic wand and change ONE THING about your life, what would it be?”

If you are anything like me, you have a really tough time answering that question.

The list of things I would like to change about myself is at least as long as my arm. Would it be the bags under my eyes? Or my gimpy left knee? Maybe I should go with my dismal level of self-discipline at the dinner table, or the erratic nature of my prayer life.

I find the idea of choosing just one thing to be an exercise in utter futility.

If I were a citizen of Israel in the time of Jesus, my answer to the magic wand question would have sprung from my lips even before the person finished asking the question. I would probably have said something like, “I would wave that magic wand and ask that the Messiah would arrive and liberate us from these loathsome Roman oppressors.”

In just a few short weeks, the Christian part of the world will formally (and in some places EXTRAVAGANTLY) celebrate the granting of the first part of that magic wand wish. God’s Anointed Messiah did indeed arrive in Bethlehem of Judea. He came disguised as a tiny, helpless baby born in a barn to a frightened teenage mother and an older, forgiving, earthly father.

Poor people (in the guise of shepherds), rich people (in the guise of Magi from the East), and heavenly hosts stopped everything and celebrated this breaking news, headline event.

The problem was, Jesus’ birth did not accomplish the SECOND part of the magic wand wish. Meaning this Messiah’s arrival did NOT succeed in liberating Israel from Rome’s harsh political yoke.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

The historical record shows us that things actually got much worse for Israel in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. The ultimate defeat for Israel came in Rome’s annihilation of hundreds of Jews and the total destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the year 70 AD, as depicted above.

For Israel – and for the world – the birth of the Messiah was indeed Good News. But it was certainly no magic wand. Jesus’ birth and ministry did absolutely nothing to change the circumstances of his world. What it DID do, however, was to absolutely transform the way his followers were able to relate to those circumstances.

I know, I know… this is really an inappropriately early time to start thinking Christmas and Advent thoughts, and so I will beg your forgiveness on that score. I suppose I have been prompted in this direction by looking around and observing a world that seems to be increasingly enamored of “magic wand solutions.” We buy fistfuls of lottery tickets, hoping that the magic wand of MONEY will help… we change jobs, spouses, hairstyles, homes, and sometimes even bodies hoping one of these magic wands will save us.

I think the Christmas story is meant to be a reminder that the “glad tidings of great joy” was not a magic wand when it first arrived on the scene.

Maybe a better idea for all of us this season would be to quiet ourselves at the side of the manger and remember that the real work of salvation was always intended to work from the inside out instead of the other way around.

Abundant blessings;

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV)




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