Posts Tagged ‘death

24
Aug
20

Clearing the Underbrush

WildfireIt hit me as soon as I walked out the door.

Patrick the dog and I were headed out for our long Saturday morning walk. But after five steps and two breaths, it became abundantly clear that our walk on this particular Saturday would just be to the end of the cul-de-sac and back.

You see, we have wildfires burning about 60 miles to the west of our house here in Fort Collins, Colorado. They aren’t as big as those currently burning in California (these only cover a mere 17,000 acres), but they are big enough.

At times, when the wind is just right, the city of Fort Collins is blanketed with thick smoke. It stings your eyes and burns your lungs. The air quality is listed as, “Hazardous for all individuals” by the county health authorities.

Not ideal dog-walking conditions.

As we listen to news reports on the status of the fire-fighting efforts, Joan and I were surprised to hear that very little is currently being done to fight this fire. There are teams on the ground monitoring the situation, yes. But there are no air tankers dropping flame retardants, no big buckets scooping water out of the lake to dump on it, no fire hoses being aimed at the flames.

It is just being watched as it burns.

When I expressed my frustration about this perplexing nonchalance to a neighbor, he smiled a knowing smile and explained, “These things happen every couple of years and are a part of the natural cycle of things. Right now, they are just making sure it doesn’t get out of control and threaten any houses.”

I nodded and thanked him for his insight, but inside I was saying, WHAT? You can’t be serious! Do you really think it is OK to let fire destroy all those trees and choke us with the smoke and ash? What kind of looney tunes philosophy is THAT?”

As it turns out, it is a very sound philosophy indeed.

You see, in the forest, trees die. Leaves fall to the ground. Underbrush accumulates. Dead vegetation threatens to choke out the living. And so periodically, it all needs to be cleaned out. And as it turns out, the cleaning tool that works best for Mother Nature is FIRE.

Every now and then a fire is needed to sweep through and destroy all the dead stuff… to clear the way for something new and fresh and green to be born.

And when I heard that explanation, I began wondering: does God ever take the same approach with us?

What I mean is; do you think we (the human population of Planet Earth) ever get to the point where too much “dead underbrush” has built up in our hearts or in the world? [Metaphorically speaking, of course.]

  • Do you think it’s possible that this “dead underbrush” ever becomes so vast that it threatens to choke out the possibility of anything new popping up and growing?
  • Do you think it is possible that God has identified a periodic need to do a massive “clearing out” of this spiritual and emotional underbrush?
  • Is it conceivable that something that looks like devastation and destruction (something like a global pandemic, for example) might actually be something more like a cosmic press of the “RESET” button?

And finally;

  • Do you think it is possible that the way is being cleared for something new and fresh and vibrant to emerge on the other side of the current devastation?

Please understand, I have grave hesitations about asking these questions. They could sound like I’m saying that God brought about the death and destruction of COVID-19 in order to bring about something new. These questions might make it sound as if I’m saying that God is indifferent to human suffering as long as there is a “greater good” to be accomplished on the other side.

That is not what I am saying at all.

Rather I am trying to point to God’s unlimited capacity to REDEEM. That is, to take a dire and disastrous situation and use it as the fodder for something wondrous, new, and remarkable.

You know… sort of like he did with his son who died on a Roman cross?

In the short run, that thought doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to put up with the coughing, stinging, fear, and wheezing.

But it does offer us the hope that – in the long run – all of this misery just might not be wasted after all.

 

Abundant blessings;

03
Jul
20

To Be Free

Birds flying freeDuring most years, the topic of freedom is something we trot out once a year… like our Christmas ornaments and tax returns.

When the calendar hits early July, we religiously unfurl the red-white-and-blue bunting, light M-80s and Black Cats and thank God and our forebears for the freedom we enjoy as Americans.

But this isn’t most years, is it? This is 2020… the cute little year that turned into a Gremlin when someone forgot the instructions and FED IT AFTER MIDNIGHT!

In one way or another, we have been engaged in a non-stop FREEDOM FORUM for the last three months.

It has been said that those who value freedom most are those to whom it has been denied. And right now, many of us feel as if that is a perfect description of US.

We have been imprisoned in our homes by the coronavirus… yearning for the freedom to enjoy bars, restaurants, and movie theaters.

We have been imprisoned behind all manner of face masks, yearning to see emotions freely expressed on faces of someone besides our spouse and/or pet.

We can’t travel. We can’t go to baseball games. We can’t go to church (well, some of us can’t anyway). We can’t go to our monster truck rallys and tractor pulls the way good Americans should.

“FREEDOM!” our anguished voices cry. “FREEDOM!!”

Seriously?

Are we seriously going to equate this moment of temporary inconvenience with the struggles endured by oppressed people for centuries?

Do we actually dare draw a connection between the shuttered neighborhood multiplex and the systemic denial of essential human rights?

“You can’t tell me to wear a mask! I’m an AMERICAN! I can do whatever the hell I want!” is the crusader’s cry today.

Right now, on the eve of our annual Independence Day celebration, might be a great time to step back, take a breath, and recalibrate what we mean when we use that hefty, consequential, multi-layered word.

It might be time for us to be reminded that freedom comes in many different flavors. There is, of course, the lowest-hanging fruit, the freedom of personal license… the license we each have to wildly swing our fists around in the air if we so choose. A freedom that abruptly ends at the tip of our neighbor’s nose, I might add.

There is political freedom in all its different global iterations.

And we can probably also talk about emotional freedom… our ability to “feel all the feels,” as the kids say.

But when it comes to the freedom that is really worth embracing and celebrating, there is no freedom that can hold a candle to the freedom Christ came to bring us.

Jesus – bearer of Ultimate Truth – tells his disciples that, “… you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32, NRSV). Paul reminds his church in Galatia that, “For freedom Christ has set us free… do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NRSV). Paul also finds it necessary to keep the eyes of his beleaguered Roman believers focused on the new freedom that is theirs when he writes: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:2, NRSV).

Friends, freedom in Christ is the ultimate freedom. It is freedom to live. It is freedom from the bondage of sin. It is freedom from death. It is freedom from worry about the future. It is freedom to be the unique, unrepeatable human being God created you to be, no matter what.

Let’s use today – and every day left to us – to celebrate THAT freedom, shall we?

(But let’s keep the fireworks to a minimum, OK?)

20
Jun
20

This Side of the Desk

When Breath Becomes AirI just finished reading the book When Breath Becomes Air.

I am still drying my eyes.

It is the story of a brilliant, gifted neurosurgeon named Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi seems to be on his way to an illustrious career as that rarest of medical hybrids, a surgeon/scientist. He is married to his med school sweetheart and they are preparing to conceive their first child. His world is suddenly blown to bits when he receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer at the age of 36… just as he is preparing to graduate from his residency program.

Oh yeah… did I mention that it is an autobiography? Kalanithi wrote it himself… as he was in the process of dying.

Watching him navigate the transition from doctor to patient – while remaining fully a doctor – is one of the more intriguing storylines in the book. Midway through his cancer treatment, Kalanithi says that his experience with the disease has helped him realize that, “… the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

If I didn’t know better I’d say he was describing the work of a pastor!

Kalanithi regularly expresses amazement at the way it has been possible for him to know volumes of information ABOUT the body and its diseases without truly grasping the full weight of their impact on the real people he serves as a doctor.

Until suddenly, he finds himself sitting on the other side of the desk.

Today I am trying turn up the dial on my education about the lifelong challenges faced by African Americans. I am reading books, I am talking to people, I am watching movies and documentaries, I am thinking quietly, and I am praying. Please understand… I tick off this list with a sense of embarrassment, not pride. This is all work I should have been doing a long, long time ago.

And believe me, it helps. Ava Duvernay’s powerful documentary, 13th (referring to the 13th amendment to the constitution outlawing slavery) opened my eyes to things I was painfully naïve about. She taught me, for example, about the wide disparity in the legal penalties for possession of crack cocaine (a low-cost, smokable form of the drug, favored in inner-city settings) and powdered cocaine – used almost exclusively by white suburbanites.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg of eye-openers and gut-punchers in store for those who choose to tune in.

Unlike Dr. Kalanithi, however, I will never be visited with the opportunity to suddenly find myself sitting on the other side of the desk… eyes finally opened… perspective finally focused and accurate. I will always only be who I am; the lifelong recipient of a host of benefits derived from a playing field tilted severely in my favor.

But does that deficit mean I can’t be an effective ally to the cause? No. It just means I will never be black.

What it does mean is I will need to work even harder to educate myself… and never stop educating myself. It means I need to take people at their word when they relate their experiences of encountering systemic racism. It means I need to actively use some of my privilege and advantage to advance the cause of justice… not just to make my world more comfortable.

It means I need to redouble my efforts to listen to and follow the advice of the prophet Micah who said, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV).

 

Abundant blessings;

28
May
20

Frozen People

Young and oldI knew it was coming, just as surely as the next episode of The Lone Ranger on Saturday morning TV.

When I was a wee lad and we made the 415-mile trek to see my dad’s parents in St. Louis, Missouri, the first words out of my grandmother’s mouth were guaranteed.

She would grab each one of us, give us a big hug, hold us out at arm’s length and say, “Well just look at you! Look how you’ve GROWN!”

Of course, I always smiled and blushed, but inside I was thinking, “Well, DUH! We haven’t seen one another in over a year! Did you think I would stay the same size FOREVER?”

Nowadays, of course, I do exactly the same thing to my own grandchildren. Joan and I just drove back to Kansas City for the first time in six months and MY… how those three girls had grown! And I didn’t hesitate saying so!

I know that part of my reaction stems from genuine shock. I have clearly forgotten the explosive power of hormones between the ages of nine and 13… especially in girls in that age range.

The last time we saw her – in February – middle grandchild was a little girl. By some strange magic she is now a young woman.

The other part of my stereotypical grandpa reaction – I’m sure – is a kind of wistful sadness… sadness at the fact that my grandchildren are growing up. Somewhere inside me, irrational as it is, lives a desire to freeze them at their cutest, cuddliest ages and experience them that way forever.

But here is the truly weird thing; I do the same with EVERYONE. I expect every person in my circle of relationships to be exactly the same today as they were the last time we met. For example, when Joan tells me that her daughter (my stepdaughter) is dropping by for a visit, I fully expect to see a bright, young, 17-year-old woman coming through the door.

In reality, she is a 40-year-old medical doctor… a partner in a thriving practice here in Fort Collins, CO.

As Keenan Thompson, a.k.a. Diondre Cole might ask, “What’s up with that?”

What’s up with that, I believe, is a robust urge to evade the reality of mortality. By any means possible I long to be able to pretend that time does not advance… that bodies do not age… that physical death does not wait around the corner for me and everyone I hold dear.

All of which, of course, is utter nonsense. And yet a whole bunch of us continue to pretend otherwise.

The psalmist knew this truth over 3,000 years ago when she/he wrote, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSV).

And yet even when people know of and even accept their mortality, finiteness, and temporality it doesn’t mean they are happy about the state of things.

It is time to face the truth; in the midst of a decaying, mortal world, we have to see that it is foolishness to freeze grandchildren, shoot up with Botox, or hop on a skateboard at the age of 75 (although I have no doubt some do exactly that. More power to them!).

There is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable march of time.

What we CAN do… indeed, what we MUST do is to hang on to the One who stands beyond time itself.

Only in God’s loving embrace can we find the infinite that we so desperately seek. As the psalmist continues, “… the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” (Psalm 103:17, NRSV).

 

Abundant blessings;

20
Apr
20

Take Hope

Sprouting green plant“But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” Romans 8:24, NRSV.

Hope is a precious commodity these days.

On some days, it can be harder to find than that ever-elusive toilet paper.

We squint and look at the road ahead and yet see nothing but mist and blur. No one knows with any certainty (even if they say they do) when we can once again be care-free about who we hang out with and in what quantities.

Today we hope for the best while we prepare for the worst.

So let me ask: in those moments when you allow yourself a rose-colored glance into the future, what do you find yourself hoping for? My first thoughts about hope are colored in a very self-absorbed hue; I hope for the safety of my friends and family. I pine for the return of restaurants, concerts, air travel, and baseball. I long to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other congregants in church on Sunday. I hope the stock market stabilizes and stops imitating some kind of psychotic carnival ride.

This kind of hope, I soon realize, is rooted in nostalgia. It is a hope for a return to life, “as it once was.” In that sense, it is a very backward-looking hope.

At other times, I catch myself hoping that this present time of crisis will perform a work of transformation… on me and on the world around me. Once the “all clear” has been sounded, I hope I continue to value solitude and times of quiet contemplation as I do now. I hope I will still eagerly look forward to evening walks with Joan and the dogs, sharing thoughts, jokes, and news of the day.

[Just to clarify, I mean Joan and I sharing those things… not the dogs and me.]

I hope – is this too wildly ambitious to put out there? – that we all might continue to call the people stocking grocery shelves and picking up our trash “essential.” I hope that we would continue understanding and applauding the heroic nature of those who care for our health (and the utter insanity of tying healthcare to employment status). I hope we will walk away from this pandemic with a renewed awareness of just how tightly interdependent we are and how much MY well-being is directly tied to YOURS.

I hope people will stop dying from COVID-19 and that our eyes will be permanently opened to the life-and-death consequences of institutional racism and economic discrimination.

I know that some of these hopes of mine will not come to fruition and others will. But even if two out of three of my hopes fall to the ground with a sickening THUD, I will continue to hope. Like an excellent major league hitter, I am going to be thrilled with a success rate of one out of three.

Over the course of the next few days, my goal is to share stories of hope in this space. I aim to share stories that illustrate the power of hope in the midst of bleak and apparently hopeless circumstances.

If you have one such story, I would love to hear it. Otherwise I will be harvesting them from friends, family, and the World Wide Web.

For today I will just wrap up by reminding us all that sometimes – just as the verse at the top reminds us – hope is not terribly rational. Hope is often that seed dropped onto a hard concrete sidewalk that – by God – is determined to germinate and grow.

It is also a good time to remind us all that hope which is rooted and grounded in faith, is one of the most powerful forces in all of nature. As Paul reminded the wayward worshipers in Corinth, I will also remind us: “[Christ] has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” 2 Corinthians 1:10, NRSV.

Abundant blessings;

16
Apr
20

Safe at home?

Guy in a bunkerLet me ask you: how safe do you feel right now?

I will answer first by confessing that most of the time, I feel pretty safe.

My safety, I am well aware, derives largely from the privilege I enjoy as a white, middle-class, educated, middle-aged, (OK, you caught me. As an OLD…) heterosexual, North American male.

Every one of those demographic categories has privilege written all over it. And with that privilege comes an outsized measure of safety… Safety from violence, safety from discrimination, safety from inherited disease tendencies, safety from rejection, and safety from – in most cases – having to earn your goodwill.

All of this “demographic privilege armor” does NOT, however, make me safe from COVID-19. And so, for one of the very few times in my life I can remember, I find myself looking at the world around me as a place of threat and potential danger.

To cope with that threat, I try to stay inside my house, just like the governor told me to. And when I am out and about, I mask up, I don my nitrile gloves, I stay AT LEAST fifteen feet away from other people, and I wash my hands so often that they are now cracked and dry. Yet even with all of those precautions, I cannot free myself from the idea that a microscopic little virus might still fly up my nose and kill me.

I don’t have to tell you; life in the time of the pandemic feels anything BUT safe.

But this all makes me stop and wonder… are any of us ever really safe? Let’s face it; something is going to get every single one of us someday. None of us is impervious to danger, disease, or distress… no matter how big an arsenal of automatic weapons we own.

And what do we mean by the word “safety” anyway? While we are posing these tough questions, let’s ask this one: just how worthwhile is SAFETY as a life goal anyway?

For answers, let’s go to that timeless source of wisdom, the Bible. Interestingly the word “safety” shows up 33 times in the Old Testament, but only once in the New. And that one time is not even a quote from Jesus. The one New Testament use of the word safety comes in this rather alarming passage from 1 Thessalonians: “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:3, NRSV).

YIKES! Reading that passage you’d almost conclude that the pursuit of peace and safety is a massively bad idea.

I am not sure I would agree with that interpretation of this text. Concern for safety is not really a bad thing.

As we know from the studies of biology and anthropology, human beings are wired for self-preservation. We are not born with shells or poisonous barbs as part of our anatomy, but there are countless other ways that our Designer included systems in our brains and bodies dedicated to helping us “live long and prosper,” to borrow Dr. Spock’s phrase.

Our pursuit of safety gets off track, scripture tells us, in two different ways.

First, we miss the mark when we equate SAFETY with a particular set of external circumstances. That’s because it’s not. True safety is a condition of our hearts. Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:27, NRSV).

In other words, “Hey, don’t worry, y’all. God’s got this.”

Our second error in pursuing safety comes when we believe that it is OUR effort and OUR striving that produces our safety. Wrong again. We can build all the bunkers, fill all the gallon milk jugs, stockpile all the canned food and weapons on earth and not have one ounce more peace than we did before.

Authentic peace and security come from one source and one source only. Jesus put it this way in his parting words to the disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NRSV).

It is only when we surrender our lives completely to his care and guidance that we will find deep, meaningful, and enduring peace.

And that, my friends, is about as safe a bet as you are ever going to make.

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?

08
Apr
20

Give it up

Crown of thornsHere in the U.S., we sing proudly about being citizens of, “The land of the free and the home of the brave.”

And yet most of the time we define freedom as “my right to do whatever I damned well please, whether you like it or not. I mean, if I want to own an arsenal of high-powered weapons or a cage with 45 boa constrictors, you can’t stop me. This is AMERICA, dammit!”

COVID-19 might be changing all that.

We suddenly find ourselves in a situation that demands we allow our actions to be guided by a bizarre concept known as The Greater Good.

Yes, I would love to gather with my fellow Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church members and celebrate Easter Sunday this week.

Yes, I CRAVE the smell of hot dogs, beer, peanuts, and the newly mown grass of the baseball stadium where Joan and I could join thousands of others to revel in America’s Pastime.

No, I don’t like putting on a cloth mask and rubber gloves to make a simple trip to the supermarket. Besides making my ears stick out in a very unflattering way, it chafes and stifles and scratches.

And yet… this moment requires that I put aside MY preferences for the greater good of those around me.

This moment requires that we ALL do the same in a simple act known as SACRIFICE.

Parents long ago learned the meaning of this word. We realized early on – maybe Day Two or Three – that our lives were no longer our own… that every ounce of our energy was now devoted to that fragile new life we’d been entrusted with.

I will admit it; at times I have resented the idea of sacrifice. “It’s not fair…” I have whined, “… that I can’t do what I want to do.” Being the essentially self-centered man I am, it feels unnatural to defer the gratification of ANY of my urges or hungers.

And yet, it seems that every time I have put on my big boy pants, shoved ME aside, and elevated THE NEEDS OF OTHERS, something true and resonant has stirred within. The self-sacrificial act has seemed somehow right and essential… almost as if this is the proper, ordained order of things.

And so today, as we stand smack-dab in the middle of Holy Week (at least on the Christian calendar), it is good to be reminded we are approaching the celebration of history’s ultimate act of self-sacrifice. The faithful will gather in our on-line communities and remember that there was never a purer expression of love than the one we saw demonstrated on that first Good Friday. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16, NRSV).

And then, when we fire up our laptops or iPhones on Sunday morning, we will again be reminded of the truth that LOVE ALWAYS WINS in the epic battle of love vs. power.

I wonder… would it be too much to hope that when next Monday morning rolls around, we all retain that lesson and willingly and even JOYFULLY put the greater good of the world ahead of our personal priorities?

If that happened, that would sure make this AN EASTER TO REMEMBER, wouldn’t it?

 

Abundant blessings;

17
Mar
20

Before and After

Mustang restorationIt was over 20 years ago, but it was a period that still holds the title of “Absolute Worst Time of My Life.”

It was the time when my marriage of 23 years crashed and burned… one hundred percent due to my own immaturity and misanthropy.

It was the time when my struggling advertising and public relations business foundered and then finally ground to a halt.

It was the time when I seemed to be competing with myself to see if the next bad choice could somehow be worse than the last one.

It was the time when I succeeded in not only alienating my then wife, but also both of my sons.

It was a time when I was unable to see any hope or a way out and did not see how it was possible to sink any lower in terms of energy, self-esteem, or faith.

It was the time when I let go any shred of pretense of self-sufficiency, dropped to my knees in anguish, and cried out to God in utter despair.

It was also the time – I now see in retrospect – that my rebirth and redemption began in earnest.

The Bible tells us again and again that God has the desire and the power to redeem… anyone and any situation. Psalm 130:7 says, “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

114 other verses spread across the Old and New Testaments repeat the same theme.

And yes, I believe this truth because I grant God’s Word supreme authority in my life. As we trace through the narrative of God’s activity in the world, we come across the theme of redemption over and over and over again… from the redemption of Noah and his family from the flood, to the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt, to the redemption of the zealot Saul following the death of Jesus, and many others.

Heck, you might even start to believe that communicating the theme of REDEMPTION was one of the main reasons the Bible was written in the first place!

But I also believe in God’s power to redeem because I have experienced it! God redeemed my miserable husk of a life and used it for (I hope) something higher and better than chasing the next sensual gratification.

From my first-hand experience, I have learned that redemption doesn’t mean, “The bad chapter never happened.” Instead, it is God’s assurance that when we lean completely on God, abandoning our own claims to wisdom and nimble adaptability, God gazes on us with loving eyes and says, “I will take this wreckage and create something beautiful and life-giving from it.”

Sort of like the guy who pulled the old, burned-out Mustang off the scrap heap and restored it to better-than-mint condition.

I do not know where the current situation with the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 is going to lead us. Our country seems to be taking dramatic steps to keep us from gathering in large crowds and spreading the disease at exponential rates. I mean, you know things are bad when major league sports franchises close down indefinitely.

Hopefully, these measures will keep us from overtaxing our healthcare systems, leading to tough decisions about who receives care, and who doesn’t.

As hopeful as I am though, I still fear things might get a lot worse before they show signs of getting better.

But wherever we end up three months… six months… or a year from now, I know one thing with absolute certainty. I know that God will continue to be in the redemption business.

I also know that God will – when we put our full trust in him – take the wreckage that is left behind and make something beautiful out of it.

Always has.

Always will.

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.




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