Posts Tagged ‘choice

28
Jul
20

“The Beast Tamer”

Hedge trimmer“OK. That’s it,” I said to myself. “Today is the day!”

My exasperation with the state of the hedge along our back fence finally hit the breaking point last Friday. I headed to the garage in search of the hundred-foot-long extension cord, step ladder, and electric clippers… preparing to tame the unruly green beast.

I had been putting off this loathsome chore for several weeks now, but the time had finally come. Several small pets from around the neighborhood had apparently gotten lost inside my hedge and their owners were concerned.

My hedge comes honestly by its nickname “The Beast.” It is at least 100 feet long and – when allowed to grow unchecked – reaches 12 or 15 feet in height. Not content to grow upward, it also bushes out horizontally in a very shaggy, unkempt manner.

With all equipment finally in order (and Joan standing by, ready to dial 911), I began to operate.

About ten minutes into the procedure, I was interrupted by the delightful Scottish brogue of Hugh, our neighbor-behind-the-hedge. Hugh had come out onto his deck, was waving his arm and cheerfully hailing me. “Hey there, neighbor! Would you like to borrow THIS? It’ll make the job a lot easier!”

In Hugh’s left hand was a shiny red electric hedge trimmer with a 22-inch blade. My sad excuse for a hedge tool had only a stubby 16-inch blade.

Hugh (and no, I did not make up this name. My Scottish neighbor really IS named “Hugh.”) headed over and in the twinkling of an eye was standing at the base of my ladder, red, 22” trimmer in hand.

“Here… let me show you how it works,” Hugh said. And in an instant, he had commandeered my extension cord and began trimming massive swaths of hedge. “You see,” he said, “You really need to get right back there or else you’ll be out here again in two weeks doing the same thing.”

After turning over his red “Beast Tamer” to me, Hugh exited by the rear gate, but not before saying, “And don’t worry about the top. I’ll just trim that from my side when you’re done.”

And then, in less time than it took me to grab Hugh’s hedge trimmer and ascend the step ladder, I sensed that a mystical transformation had taken place. Suddenly, an EVENT (a neighbor stopped what he was doing and helped me trim my hedges) became a STORY (“I live in this great neighborhood where people go out of their way to help each other.”)

And hopefully, in the retelling of this dull, dry, quotidian event I have been able to illustrate something that is both a primary penchant, but also a fundamental need of human beings everywhere… the need for STORIES. (To that end, may I recommend one of my favorite bloggers to you, Mitch Teemley and his blog, The Power of Story at: https://mitchteemley.com).

Every day you and I stumble through a collection of seemingly happenstance, unrelated moments of our lives. We get up, water the house plants, walk the dogs, shower, eat a little yogurt and granola, and do a thousand other things before we turn off the bedside lamp and close our eyes.

Throughout that haphazard progression, we are niggled by a fundamental hunger for MEANING. We look at this tangle of these random, multi-colored threads and ACHE to believe that if we flip the frame over and look at the other side, we will see a beautiful, flowing, coherent, tapestry. A yearning to make sense of the world around us is an essential part of being human. In our heart of hearts, we know that a narrative of randomness and arbitrarity is ultimately corrosive to our souls.

And so, we must each choose the narrative we will live by.

Not just the one that helps make sense of today, but the one that helps make sense of FOREVER. Because it is only in the setting of that meta-narrative that our mundane mini-narratives can add up to anything at all.

Today I join the Old Testament hero Joshua in declaring, “As for me and my household, we will serve [choose] the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15, NRSV).

And trust me when I tell you, in my life I have done extensive shopping at the Narrative Mall and after much painful trial and error, I have chosen THIS ONE as the one I will live by.

Why?

Because as Beast Tamers go, this one beats them ALL!

 

Abundant blessings;

16
Jul
20

The Sound of Roadblocks

Road-Closed-Ahead-SignMost of the time, we (maybe I should say “I”) misread roadblocks.

It’s like the time my grandmother bought us a piano. I think I was eight or nine years old. Grandma thought that was the perfect age for me to begin my journey into a lifetime of joy-filled music-making.

To help make Grandma’s dream a reality, my mother found a willing teacher through our church – Mrs. Nelson – and got me started. I went over to Mrs. Nelson’s house at 4:00 every Tuesday afternoon after school for my 30-minute lesson.

I maybe completed four total lessons before I tearfully begged my mom to let me quit. Piano was BORING! It was HARD. The piano teacher smelled funny. I missed playing baseball with my friends after school. I told my mother I HATED piano lessons and considered them to be a form of child abuse.

Mom finally gave in to my whining and that was that. Fortunately, she played the piano, so the instrument did not just sit in our dining room gathering dust.

I read the monotony of basic piano lessons as a roadblock that said, “Avoid this road! Find another way!”

The difficulty of learning to play the piano was an early example of a roadblock I have encountered, but it was hardly the last.

Almost every new skill I have ever learned – whether it was playing the guitar, hitting a baseball, learning the Spanish language, becoming a homeowner, or properly exegeting a passage of scripture – seemed to begin as a roadblock.

Some of those roadblocks I interpreted as saying, “Avoid this road! Find another way!” Others I read as, “Dig a little deeper! Try a little harder!”

How do you decide which message your roadblocks are sending?

Most of the time, I believe it is better to lean in the direction of the “try harder” interpretation. Personally, since my default mode is “lazy,” I would find it too easy to be dissuaded from exerting a lot of effort in pursuit of a goal.

Sometimes, though, we really need to detour and find another road. I mean, heck, if I hadn’t broken it off with Marsha Westbrook in the sixth grade, I would never have met the lovely woman I am married to today!

The current pandemic has certainly provided more than its share of roadblocks, hasn’t it?

  • It has crossed its arms and stood defiantly in the way of my efforts to volunteer with the local hospice and our church’s praise band.
  • It has obfuscated our attempts to make friends in our new town.
  • It has befuddled our plans to travel to visit family.

I recently realized that I have a choice about these roadblocks. I can choose to fuss and fume and complainabout them. Or I can pause a moment and listen to them.

And when I choose to listen to them, I find out something very interesting about roadblocks… I find that they have the power to reveal something profound about God and the nature of the universe God made.

Roadblocks have the power to remind me – actually ALL of us – that God is the God of Unlimited Options. Whereas I might see TWO, or on a good day, THREE options ahead of me, God can see BEAUCOUP! (which is French for “a ton.”)

My task then, is to, as the psalmist reminds us, “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10) and listen for the other options God is revealing.

Shhhh. Do you hear that?

It is the sound of your roadblocks speaking.

22
Jun
20

Is This Such A Good Idea?

Growing-Flower-in-ConcreteThere is a basic premise behind this post you should be aware of before proceeding further. The premise is: GOD EXISTS.

Of course, you may continue reading even if you disagree with my basic premise. You just might not enjoy it as much as others.

The question I want to raise here might sound blasphemous to people of faith, but it is one that has troubled me for a long time. So, I figured, what the heck… the blog space might be a good place to chew it over.

That question is: WAS GOD CRAZY? IS GOD CRAZY?

In asking this absurd question, I am not worried about a lightning bolt shooting down from heaven, leaving behind a pile of charred cinders where I once sat. This question comes from the same place as the fable of the seven blind men standing around the elephant, feeling different parts of the beast and saying, “No… THIS is what an elephant is!”

My question comes from a place of a hopelessly flawed and incomplete understanding of something that is infinitely larger and infinitely more complex than my pea-sized brain can grasp.

Actually I am betting that God is more amused than angered by my question.

But here is where my question comes from: with the availability of the infinite power, knowledge, and authority befitting a being named GOD, why did said God choose to leave so much raw agency in OUR shaky hands?

Honestly, sometimes God’s choice to give human beings the gift of free will feels a little like a parent choosing to give a three-year-old a handgun, the keys to a car, and a can of gasoline and then saying, “Good luck with all of that!”

And as you and I and a host of bad actors all around us continue to soil and char and trash our world and its inhabitants, it boggles my mind to try and figure out why God chooses to keep extending our, “… dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”(Gen. 1:28, NRSV).

Is that really turning out to be such a great idea?

To help guide us on our stumbling, faltering way, of course, God has blessed us with a ROAD MAP.  It is all spelled out exquisitely in that sixty-six-book collection known as The Bible.

I mean, yes, God INSPIRED the words of the Bible (as it says there in 2 Timothy 3:167), but here again, God left the TRANSCRIPTION of God’s word in the hands of flawed, fallible human beings.

God then took this silliness a step further and deputized some of these same stumbling, blind, three-year-olds (people like ME, for example) to speak on behalf of The Almighty and lead others into something resembling faithful obedience.

Hence my original question: “Is God crazy?”

On one hand, it all seems like a system exquisitely designed for failure. That is, until one tiny bud of green life pushes its way up through the blanket of ash and begins craning its neck toward the sun… reminding anyone who cares to listen that, “… where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (Romans 5:20, NRSV).

It might not always seem true, but it always has been, always is, and always will be true; Grace overcomes sin. Light overcomes darkness. Love overcomes hate.

So maybe this IS the way it is supposed to work after all.

 

Abundant blessings;

13
Apr
20

Team Jesus

Team JesusI made my choice a long time ago.

In the middle of one of the darkest times of my life… when every door seemed to be sealed shut… when my relationships only offered pain and resentment… when the future looked as lifeless as the surface of the moon… when I lacked the energy to even put one foot in front of the other… I cried out to the sky in anguish.

At that moment, I did not even attach a name to the object of my cry. My plea was just a miserable arrow, launched aimlessly into the darkness. Honestly, I did not even believe there was anything there for it to hit.

But then it happened.

As Paul Tillich once said so eloquently in his epic sermon You Are Accepted, “Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual…”

There is no other word that even comes close to describing what happened to me in that next moment. Like a bolt from the blue, I was struck by grace. A deep peace seeped into my soul, displacing the fear, the self-hatred, and the remorse that once filled it. I had no idea how it was going to happen, but I had every confidence that from there forward, everything was going to be OK.

Later, with the help of compassionate friends and family members, I was able to attach a name to my life-altering event. I understood that this most extraordinary rescue came by the hand of Jesus. They also helped me understand that it came – not because I was such a great guy, or because I was the one-millionth customer that day – it came because that’s just how he rolls.

And yes, I knew I was free to turn and walk right back into my old life. No conditions were attached to that rescuing stroke of grace.

Instead I chose – in gratitude – to start following him. I chose to call Jesus the Lord (i.e., the Ruler, the Primary Authority, the True North, the Guidestar, the el Numero Uno) of my life.

Doing so, I came to discover, also meant calling HIS narrative about life THE narrative about life.

Jesus’ narrative about life is nowhere more clearly articulated than in the annual celebration of Easter. When we re-tell the Easter story, we are reminding ourselves of the narrative that says, “To die is to live.” It is the narrative that also says, “Love is stronger than fear… light is stronger than darkness… life is stronger than death.”

In not one, not two, but THREE on-line Easter services yesterday I said the words, I sang the songs, I felt all the feels.

But now here on Easter Monday, I see I am facing a challenge.

I am facing the challenge of actually LIVING as if all that is true. (We all face that challenge, actually).

In other words, if Christ is actually alive and has indeed overcome the grave, I darned sure better ACT LIKE IT! I better immediately jettison the notion that all the hatred and anger in the world is too powerful. I’d better disabuse myself RIGHT NOW of the idea that the forces of darkness have the upper hand.

I had better start speaking and acting and thinking like a member of Team Jesus… that is, like someone who hears him say, “… take courage… “ (Matthew 14:27, NRSV) and then who actually TAKES COURAGE!

If I really believe in the truth of The Greatest Story Ever Told, I need to flush out the bitterness, purge the resentments, and expel the pride that is constantly trying to take root in my soul.

Hymns and candy and Honey-Baked Hams are awfully nice. But if Easter doesn’t show itself in the way I live, I might as well have spent the day yesterday whistling Dixie.

Happy Easter Monday, everybody. How will YOU choose to observe it?

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)

06
Nov
18

The Real Problem

Dreamer image“Your situation…” a wise person once said to me, “… is never the problem.”

Pregnant pause.

“The problem… “ they continued, “… is your RELATIONSHIP to your situation.”

And for the most part, I agreed with and appreciated this pearl of wisdom when I first heard it.

I mean, how often are we prone to believe that if we can just change something about our situation… by getting a new job, a new spouse, a new haircut, a new hometown, a new car, a new political leader, a new wardrobe, or a new pet… that life will finally be whole, complete and perfect?

I confess I have fallen for that faulty line of reasoning more than once.

And yet, this wise saying – like many wise sayings – has its flaws.

If your situation, for example, involves you being in poverty, being abused, being otherwise exploited, being denied justice, or being trapped in a cycle of addiction, then yes… your situation IS the problem.

You need advocates and empowerment to change that situation.

But for the most part, I am firmly on board with the “change your attitude instead of your situation” wisdom.

True… I may just be trying to steel myself against a potentially MASSIVE disappointment as I watch today’s election results trickle in. I may be preparing to (somehow) take a hopeful, positive relationship to a thoroughly sucky future political situation.

But still… I thought it might be a good time to remind all of us of the amazing power we each hold. Even when things don’t turn out the way we would prefer we each have the power to shape our own outlook on the world.

As it turns out, today is a good day to read and re-read this election day wisdom from that famous first-century political pundit, the Apostle Paul where he reminds us where to keep our focus: “…  because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”(2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV, emphasis mine).

Happy voting!

Abundant blessings;

19
Jan
18

Dudley Do-Right

1-bluemarble_westJudging by the speed with which he sprang into action, I assumed I was about to step on a landmine.

TIME: the morning after Thanksgiving.

PLACE: the kitchen of my son and daughter-in-law’s home in suburban Houston.

Since my son was obviously tied up with the task of making chocolate chip pancakes for the small army of children in the house, I decided to play the role of “helpful Grandpa” and make the coffee.

I walked over, grabbed the pot from the machine, and began filling it from the tap.

That’s when my son bolted from his post at the griddle, yelling “NOOOOOOO!” in a high-pitched, panic-filled voice. Honestly, from his reaction, I thought the baby was about to swallow a Brillo pad.

He ran over, yanked the coffee pot from my hand, dumped out the offending water, and began to sternly lecture me on the RIGHT WAY to make coffee. Which, in his house, meant using the filtered water from the pitcher in the refrigerator.

“Of course,” I thought. “My son is an engineer by trade. So for him, there is a right way to do a thing and a wrong way to do it. And never the twain shall meet… or something like that.”

Personally, I have always been more of a fan of the “right enough” approach to doing things. For example, I don’t sweat it when I notice that the sheet is a little longer on my side of the bed than my wife’s when we make it in the morning. I also tend to just unwrap and hang the ornaments on the Christmas tree… giving zero consideration to which ones I am putting in the higher, more visible locations.

And if I am going to be completely transparent here I will confess to secretly mocking the folks who seem (to me) to be a little too focused on “the right way” to make coffee, make the bed, or hang the Christmas ornaments. In fact, the phrase, “Get a life” may or may not have been mumbled under my breath a few times on these occasions.

HOWEVER – I think we can all agree that there is really only ONE way to hang a roll of toilet paper (over the top), and ONE right way to put on shoes and socks (sock, shoe, sock shoe vs. sock, sock, shoe, shoe). Am I right?

All kidding aside – “upon further review,” as they say in the NFL – I might have to admit that there really IS value in knowing and adhering to “the right way” to do a thing. I, for one, would never consent to heart bypass surgery from a doctor committed to a “right enough” approach (“Yeah… I think we got that vein pretty well stitched on there. It should hold.”), or to driving on a freeway overpass built by a “right enough” structural engineer.

All of which begs the question: is there a “right way” to live our lives? Or are there “right enough” approaches that can also get the job done?

In the creation story, the Bible tells us that for about a day and a half, life on our Big Blue Marble worked absolutely PERFECTLY. Everything was completely in line with the vision of the Creator and hummed along like a well-oiled machine.

And then along came the fly in the ointment: FREEDOM OF CHOICE! (introduced, as the story goes, by the Creator herself!).

Suddenly the sentient beings could choose. They could choose RIGHT, RIGHT ENOUGH, or outright WRONG. And if you continue reading the story you see that more often than not, the SBs (sentient beings) chose WRONG… often spectacularly so. They continued choosing wrong to the point that Creator said of the sentient beings, (and I quote), “I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:8, NRSV)

Wow! Why would Creator do that? Why mess up a perfectly perfect arrangement by introducing choice into the equation?

It’s almost as if Creator is sending the message that the value of FREEDOM TO CHOOSE is an even higher value than ALWAYS CHOOSING THE RIGHT WAY.

It’s like this: sometimes I do right.

Sometimes I do right enough.

Sometimes I do wrong… even knowingly.

But I am deeply grateful for the love of a Creator who trusts me enough to grant me that choice.

23
Aug
16

Those chores!

Mopping-floor

“Rusty! Have you done your chores yet?!”

I can still hear my mother’s voice asking that bothersome question today… 46 years after she left us.

Because usually the answer was “No, mom.” Followed by the intentionally vague, yet somewhat promising-sounding, “In a minute.”

My chores back then were simple. Those on the “daily” list were: Take out the trash. Make my bed. Clean my room. Feed the dog. The weekly tasks were a little bigger and more demanding; mowing the grass and shining the shoes, for example.

I used to hate chores. They cramped my style. They cut into my free, unfettered time of idleness. They cost me valuable energy and were not fun. The sound of the word itself is grating; “chore” sounds exactly like “bore” and inspires me to do nothing but “ignore.”

Isn’t it interesting how a few decades of time and life experience can change things?

Because today I must confess: I have a whole list of them and I LOVE my chores!

Besides the normal waking up and getting rolling duties (which become more like chores with each new birthday), I am responsible for making coffee, walking the dog, giving the dog her pills, feeding her, watering the porch plants and the tree out front, and watering the transplanted bush, hanging plant, and also the basil plants in back. On Thursdays, add to that list collecting and taking out the trash, on Fridays, watering the houseplants, and now and then emptying the dishwasher.

And that doesn’t even count weekly mowing, trimming, and weed pulling in the yard!

My chores fill me with a real sense of purpose and accomplishment. They make me feel like a valuable, contributing member of the household team. Dried up, dead plants and a tubby puppy would be the result of me slacking on my chores… neither of which would be good.

But for all of the vital, necessary, “meaning-giving” purposes they serve, it dawned on me recently that my chores can also work against me. It occurred to me that my beloved chores can serve as a benevolent barrier to doing the quiet “soul work” that I need to do.

To shamelessly steal Stephen Covey’s categories, chores are urgent. They call for one’s attention and energy RIGHT NOW. They must be done! Soul work – on the other hand – is not urgent. It does not come screaming for my attention.

Of course when you hold the two up to the light and compare them, anyone can see that an hour spent in the yard, pulling up weeds, edging around the side of the house, or mowing is a LOT more productive than quietly meditating in the chair in my office, reading the Bible, or writing a blog post.

My chores produce a visible residue of effort… something that can be pointed to with pride as clear evidence of one’s value. Especially when you bag the clippings!

Time spent tending the interior landscape produces no such pile of evidence. It happens quietly and sweatlessly. Its work is hidden from view… locked away in the intricate crevices of the infinite interior. Its results emerge slowly and gradually… almost imperceptibly.

Soul work is certainly not urgent. It is, however, important.

And it seems the more anxious I am… the more eagerly I feel the need to have my worth validated by YOU, the more readily I am drawn away from soul work and toward my chores. Away from the important and toward the urgent.

Dear Lord, today help me discern more clearly between the urgent demands on my life and those that are important… those that feed the eternal dimensions of my soul and those that deal only with matters of the surface.

Because the world will certainly survive a slightly shabby lawn. But it may not survive a whole collection of shabby souls.




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