Posts Tagged ‘courage

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;

21
Apr
20

Someone to believe

“Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.”
Isaiah 43:4, NRSV

George MarshallIf you know the name George Catlett Marshall, you know him as the general who led the U.S. Army through World War II, or as the man who served as the U.S. Secretary of State, or as the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, in honor his plan to rebuild Europe following the devastation of that war.

You may not, however, know him as a poor student whose academic ineptitude was a source of great shame to his father and older brother. As Marshall wrote in his autobiography, “The truth is, I was not even a poor student. I was simply not a student, and my academic record was a sad affair.”[1]

Marshall had his sights set on following in his older brother’s footsteps and attending VMI – the prestigious Virginia Military Academy. But his heart was broken one day when he overheard his brother Stuart talking to their mother. He was begging her not to let George go to VMI. Marshall wrote his brother did not want him to attend VMI because, “… he thought I would disgrace the family name.”[2]

So how does that happen? How does anyone make the journey from hopeless academic underachiever to Nobel Prize winning diplomat in the course of a single lifetime?

Marshall wrote that one of the things that proved to be the key in turning his life around was the extreme nature of his brother’s negative attitude. It drove him not only to prove his brother wrong, but also to OUTDO his brother’s performance at VMI.

Some of us are wired similarly. We hear aspersions being cast on our ability or character and we respond with a defiant, “I’ll show YOU!” surging on to greatness. Others among us might hear those attacks and cave in, whimpering, “You know, they’re right. I really am a schmuck.”

But Marshall had something else going for him. Although his father was disappointed and embarrassed by George, his mother, “… rejoiced in him, offering unconditional love and support.”[3] She even sold the last of her family’s property – including a lot she had hoped to eventually build a house on – to raise the necessary money for Marshall to attend college.

How about you? Do you have someone like that in your corner? Someone willing to tell you how much they love and believe in you? Someone who will go to extreme lengths to show you just how much you mean to them, even when you continue to fall short and miss the mark?

Before you hasten to say “NO,” go back and re-read the Bible verse at the top of the page. These words were originally spoken by the prophet Isaiah and were intended to convey the heart of God. They were addressed to the Israelites living in Babylonian exile to help them understand – even though their future appeared bleak and hopeless – that their Creator considered them precious and valuable.

George Marshall’s mother gave up a valuable piece of real estate to ensure her son’s future. In this passage, God says he will give up NATIONS for you.

We are in the middle of a time that has become incredibly difficult for many people. You may know people who have lost jobs because of this virus. You may know people who have become sick or even some who have died. As the days of isolation stretch into weeks and months, it is hard to see any light on the horizon.

Even on the bright days a cloud seems to have parked itself permanently overhead.

Today, however, we should all stop and take a moment to remember this unchangeable fact; we each have a very powerful SOMEONE in our corner who believes in us. We have someone who will go to outrageous lengths to give us a future with hope.

That SOMEONE loves you more than you will ever know.

 

Abundant blessings;

[1] The Road to Character, by David Brooks. Random House, New York. 2015. Page 106

2 Ibid, p. 107

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?

06
Jan
20

Too Long Coming

Asbury flagsIt is good to see the United Methodist Church finally “grow a pair,” as they say, and take an unequivocal stand on the side of justice and inclusion.

It is just sad that it took them so long to do so.

According to news from the denominational communications folks, a document called the Protocol Of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation was agreed to and signed recently by a significant group of United Methodist bigwigs and poo-bahs.

The gist of this Protocolis that the United Methodist Church will formalize plans for a divorce when its global General Conference meets in May this year. This divorce will involve the people who oppose same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ+ leaving the United Methodist Church and forming their own denomination.

The name of that breakaway denomination has not yet been decided, although rumor has it that The Church of Narrow Mindedness and Exclusion has been officially rejected as an option.

As a person with firsthand experience of divorce, I can tell you that divorces are never good. For anyone. Even the smoothest and most amiable splits cause pain, stress, regret, and bitterness that lasts a long, long time.

Sometimes though, divorce is the only way for both parties to move forward and fully become who they are called to be. I believe this is the exact crossroads the United Methodist Church faces today.

On the one hand, I have to credit the leaders who finally arrived at the conclusion that it was time for the parties to go their separate ways. Some of the details of the split seem designed to minimize the hardship for either group that will result from this de-merger.

 

On the other hand, the length of time it took to finally arrive at this decision is inexcusable. Failing to bite the bullet and split the United Methodist Church YEARS AGO caused untold levels of suffering for untold thousands of good, faithful people. Although this metaphor is probably overstated by several degrees, I liken it to dragging out the decision to divorce in a marriage involving child and spousal abuse.

The longer it takes to decide to split, the more injury keeps being inflicted on the aggrieved parties. Sometimes trying to “stay together for the sake of the children” does more harm than good.

So today, I am really not sure how I feel about this news.

I am now officially retired from United Methodist ministry, so I am not faced with leading a congregation through the morass of discernment in the coming months. I am praying for my pastor pals who are still in the trenches and striving to hear all voices, including God’s, in this challenging time.

As a cradle United Methodist though, I am mostly embarrassed by the church’s foot-dragging and failure to lead. I am not sure it is any longer possible for UMs to march under the banner of “Social Justice Advocates” in any credible way.

So… I guess congratulations to the United Methodist Church for finally taking a stand and doing the right, no matter how painful, thing.

But shame on you for taking 20 years too long to do it.

23
Jan
18

Inspirare

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

I heard an inspiring story yesterday.

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

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

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

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

This is where Ryan’s story comes in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so I ask again: Who inspires you?

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it starts by simply telling someone they inspired us.

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

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

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

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

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

Abundant blessings…

14
Mar
17

License Plates

011012-License-Plate-300x155“UBUIBME”

I am pretty sure – had he lived today in this post-modern, American culture – the Apostle Paul would have included my unique skill among the spiritual gifts he lists in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

Yes… had he written that marvelous epistle in the 21st century instead of the first, I believe that right there alongside miracle working, healing, prophesy, discernment of spirits and wisdom we would find, “Personalized license plate deciphering.”

Call it a gift… call it a sixth sense… call it a silly waste of time, but unless the license plate is intentionally obscure, I seem to have an innate knack for quickly figuring out what these jumbled collections of letters are trying to communicate.

This one, however, took me a couple of extra minutes. UBUIBME. Initially I thought it might be a Swahili word of some kind, known only to speakers of that language. But then in a flash of inspiration it came to me: And it was a great message, too – “You be you; I be me.”

YES! Perfect! Great idea! Why doesn’t each of us just be fully who we are… no pretense, no façade, no phoniness, no personas invented for the purpose of public display. I mean, if we really take the words of scripture seriously we each know that, “… I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” just like it tells us there in Psalm 139:14.

Then maybe we wouldn’t have to spend so much time taking those silly Facebook quizzes that invite us to “discover your ideal pet,” or “figure out which decade you should have been born in” and all the others.

But then I stop and wonder: is that really a good idea? Can I really be all of the honest-to-goodness ME that I am when we are together? Can I… or even SHOULD I… let all of that loose on you? I mean, there are probably some parts that should stay “under the radar” just to prevent you from screaming and running in the opposite direction at top speed.

There also exists the distinct possibility that I might not be completely in touch with all of who I am… a seemingly important prerequisite to “being me.”

It is also true that for some certain percentage of us, the invitation to “go ahead and be the real you” is a tantalizing call to a level of authenticity we find truly liberating. At the same time we need to remember that for a significant portion of the population, the revelation of their authentic identity can bring suspicion and condemnation in some cases and genuine danger in others.

I am referring, of course, to those whose authentic identity is gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, or sexually inquiring. For these there is often great risk associated with standing up and being who they genuinely are. They have repeatedly encountered a world where some would require that the UBUIBME license plate be revised to include an asterisk and the caveat, “… unless you are LGBTQI.”

For the last six months it has been my great pleasure to sing with the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC) in Kansas City. In case you don’t know about them, HMC is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus, this year celebrating its 31st year of existence. The chorus is approximately 150 male voices strong and generally performs three concert cycles each year, beginning in December with the Christmas concert. Prospective singers must audition in order to join HMC.

Of the 150 chorus members, there are about 10 of us who are not gay. And yet, from Day 1 I have felt nothing but a warm and open welcome there. And as long as I hit my notes and do the necessary memorization work, I am sure I always will be.

This warm and open welcome, of course, is exactly the opposite of the reception that most HMC members have received from straight society throughout their lives; condemnation, shame, rejection, isolation, discouragement, and disapproval has more been the norm.

And because of this sadly still-prevalent reality of our world, I have come to appreciate the incredible courage required for my LGBTQI brothers and sisters to stand up, speak out clearly and say, “THIS is exactly who I am!” Yes… they know that their declaration will inspire, give hope and courage, and solidarity with people still living in the dark closet. But they also know that this same declaration might well make their own lives a living hell.

On more than one occasion I have been asked if I would please adjust my identity so as to fit in better with my environment; however, I have never been bullied, teased, beaten, or killed because of who I am. Sadly this is not the case for millions of our brothers and sisters of the LGBTQI community.

I will end today on an upbeat, promotional note. If the issue of authentic identity is one that resonates with you on ANY level, please make plans to attend the Heartland Men’s Chorus spring concert: IDENTIFY. It will be March 25 at 8:00 p.m. at the Folly Theater, and March 26 at 4:00 p.m., also at the Folly. Tickets range in price and can be purchased at http://hmckc.org/order/.

You be you. No matter who you are. And I – God willing – will be me. And together we will reach out to those who live in fear.




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