Posts Tagged ‘faith

24
Oct
20

Happy birthday, Andy

Yesterday was Andy’s birthday.

His first 39 birthdays were celebrated here on earth. The last three have been celebrated in Andy’s new, celestial home. 

Having the good fortune to be born exactly halfway between them, Andy was a childhood friend of my sons, Adam and Graham. The three of them played soccer together, hung out together, got in trouble together, grew older and (somewhat) wiser together.

Andy was always a ball of scarcely contained energy, savage humor, razor-sharp wit, and boundless curiosity. He was the kind of guy adults would meet and walk away saying, “That dude’s going to make a mark on the world someday. Not sure what kind of mark, but it won’t be missed, that’s for sure.”

When high school ended, as is often the case, Adam, Graham, and Andy’s common path split into three unique, divergent byways.

Over the ensuing twenty years, I heard very little about Andy and his travels. I knew that he inherited his mother’s passion for the world outside the United States and eventually found a career with the U.S. State Department. I also heard – through my sons – that he did a lot of “burning the candle at both ends” before finally getting married and fathering two beautiful sons of his own.

I next reconnected with Andy when four years ago – totally out of the blue – he called me on the phone and asked if we could meet for coffee. 

When we met at the neighborhood Panera, Andy cut straight to the chase. He sat down, tentatively sipped his coffee, and said, “About three weeks ago I found out that I have stage four pancreatic cancer. My parents are doing research on some experimental therapies, but the outlook is not good. I might have a year left, at most.”

He took another sip of his coffee, bit into a bagel, and – with his mouth full – asked, “So… what’s new with you?”

Classic Andy.

He told me his diagnosis had been – to put it mildly – a stunning alarm bell. Now, with the end of his life no longer some vague, far-off possibility in the murky, uncertain future, Andy’s priorities had dramatically shifted. He was now keenly interested in trying to wrap his brain around the realities of a “life beyond this life,” as he put it, “before I take the big Dirt Nap.” 

Thus began a year-long series of weekly meetings between Andy and I at Panera Bread Co.

I should clarify… the subject wasn’t always God and the afterlife when we met. As an intensely political creature, Andy also had a lot to get off his chest about the mournful state of the union and the duplicity of his elected representatives. 

But mostly we talked about God… the reliability of evidence for God’s existence… the gross inability of the institutional church to present a relevant and compelling case for faith… the afterlife (“…why should I even believe there is one?”)… the profusion of conflicting faith claims and traditions… the persistence of evil in a redeemed world… you know, the usual stuff. 

Andy’s father, Tom, told me I should be very proud that Andy kept meeting with me and asking questions. He said, “Andy is a tough audience. He takes no prisoners and suffers no fools.” And while I agreed that Andy came at the topic with a lot of intelligence and skepticism, I found him to possess a genuine openness and eagerness to learn… this despite the F-bombs he regularly dropped in the middle of our discussions.

I never left our conversations entirely sure whether I had “broken through” with Andy (whatever that means), until one day he surprised me with a request. He looked at me and asked, “Would you baptize me?”

It was an open, eager question, asked casually… the same way he might have asked, “Would you like a bagel?” But it was clear that he knew exactly what he was asking and why. And so, on a Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by a few friends and family members, we met in the chapel of a nearby church and celebrated Andy’s new life in Christ. 

It wasn’t QUITE what he wanted… he asked for the full dunk immersion treatment… but it was a Christian baptism, nonetheless, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Then, less than a month later, in the local Hospice House, enfolded in the loving embrace of many of his family and friends, Andy left this world and entered the next. I had gone over a couple of days before he died with my guitar… thinking that a few lightly strummed tunes might be a soothing accompaniment for everyone. After the first two chords at his bedside, however, Andy turned weakly toward me and said, “Russ… would you please stop.”

Classic Andy. 

Since then, his parents have told me that I helped Andy grow in his faith at a critical time. And I suppose there is some truth in that. But I look back on those Wednesdays at Panera as the time when Andy helped me grow in ways I hadn’t even thought possible.

And for that, I will be eternally grateful. 

Rest in peace, Andy. Rest forever in the arms of the God who loves you.

Abundant blessings… especially to you, Tom and Jodi.

05
Oct
20

One Coin… Two Sides

So, have you ever seen this translation of the Bible? It’s the one that starts with the words, “In the beginning, God got political.”

No. Of course you haven’t seen that translation. I just now concocted that verse.

But I did so to make a point. The point is that whenever two or more people try to figure out the best way to do life together, politics enters the picture. 

Person A’s priorities and interests bump into Person B’s priorities and interests. What happens when those priorities and interests don’t mesh smoothly? Decisions have to be made about how to mesh those non-meshing interests.

And when that happens, BOOM! Politics enters the picture. 

I mean, God could have chosen to keep the universe sweet, simple, unspoiled, and void. But God didn’t. God decided to make a world. And God followed that up by making people. And that’s where this whole political mess began.

Some people of faith argue that faith is all about developing a personal relationship with God. And yet, from cover to cover, the Bible tells an intensely political story. In the Old Testament, God’s chosen people – the Israelites – continuously tried to follow God’s leading as they asked themselves, “How do we structure the society as a whole so that it reflects faithfulness to God?” Their story is a saga of ebb and flow… success and failure… faithfulness and infidelity in that project.

The Old Testament book of Amos offers a heavy dose of declaring God’s will for justice for the poor and marginalized and liberation for those living in bondage. 

And when God saw that the appointed “shepherds” (read “religious leaders”) of Israel were failing to attend to the interests of those on the margins of society, God issued this scathing rebuke through the prophet Ezekiel,“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:15-16, NRSV).

Yikes!

Then we jump to the New Testament and see that one of Jesus’ favorite themes is “the kingdom of God,” or its companion phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” In fact, in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) we see him employing one of these phrases on 84 separate occasions. And as Warren Carter, my New Testament seminary professor famously said, “REMEMBER! If it’s repeated, it’s IMPORTANT!”

Keep in mind… at the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, he and all of Israel were subjects of the Roman Empire. In other words, they were part of the Kingdom of Rome. For someone to stand up and publicly declare allegiance to “the kingdom of God,” was seen as a daring, if not downright seditious, political statement. It was the same as saying, “I am NOT part of Rome’s kingdom.”

One of Jesus’ main actions was healing broken, forgotten, marginalized people. Parables like the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son all serve to illustrate his preferential leaning toward the outcasts of the world. 

Some call it mercy. Some call it justice-seeking. Some call it both.

Later in the New Testament, we hear another example of a similar kind of open political rebellion. The apostle Paul regularly declares that “Jesus is Lord.” (Acts 10:36, Acts 11:20, Acts 20:21, Romans 1:4, Romans 5:21, etc., etc.). When he said this in the context of his time, his audience also heard him declaring, “Caesar is NOTLord.” 

Based on much reading and prayerful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that faith is inescapably political. They are two sides of the one coin… the coin known as, “Humans living together in God’s creation.”

For those still wondering WHICH is the most faithful political horse to back during the upcoming election free-for-all, may I recommend this guidance from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, 12th chapter? That is where we read:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:14-19, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

03
Oct
20

A Tangled History

Yesterday I wrote about the way politics and faith seem to live on polar opposite ends of the known universe. (a post which you can read in its entirety here.)

As we check the historical record, however, it seems they have not always been such oppositional bedfellows.

In the earliest pages of Hebrew literature, we see that guidance about how to live life was actually a pretty simple process; God spoke. People listened… or didn’t. Consequences followed. God spoke again, and the process repeated itself.

Among ancient civilizations, Israel was not alone in claiming some kind of divine authority as a guidestar. However, Israel was unique in clinging to the notion that Yahweh sought an on-going relationship with all the world’s inhabitants… beginning with them.

In the early stages of that relationship, there was no intermediary. God spoke directly to Adam and Eve… directly to Noah… directly to Abraham… and to Isaac and others. 

As the people became more numerous, we came the time of the Judges. These were not judges in the sense of today’s legal system. They were actually the first intermediaries God used to communicate God’s eternal words of guidance. (One of the earliest, and most respected judges of that time was a woman named Deborah. You can find her story in the Bible in the book of Judges, chapters 4 and 5). But the basic idea was the same… God spoke to the judges… the judges passed God’s words along to the people… the people either complied or didn’t. Consequences followed, and the cycle repeated itself.

But it wasn’t until the early Israelites stopped and looked around them that the real trouble started. When they looked to the north, south, and east, they saw the nations on every side were ruled by mighty kings from splendid palaces. They sat down on the floor – very much in the manner of a stubborn child – and said, “If they can have kings, so can WE!”

God tried to talk them out of it, warning of the lurking dangers, to no avail. Israel held its breath until it turned blue and passed out. And so, God threw up God’s hands in frustration, relented and said, “Fine. Suit yourself. Have all the kings you want. You’ll be sorry!” Or words to that effect. (1 Samuel 8:19-22, NRSV). 

And thus began history’s long, painful saga of the numerous attempts to answer the question, “Who will lead this nation?”

Some of those attempts have leaned on the leadership skillsets of extraordinarily talented people… and then on their somewhat less-talented offspring. Others have attempted to re-establish the idea that God is really in charge, working through a humanly engineered theocracy (from the Greek theokratia meaning “rule of God”). Most of the time we saw that those were theocracies in name only. People were still calling all the shots, merely invoking God’s imprimatur as they did.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Age of Enlightenment ushered in the consensus that it was a dangerous, unseemly thing to mingle the realms of the ethereal and the ephemeral. And as that consensus grew and took root, great thinkers of the day (such as Sir Francis Bacon), believed they had finally severed any of the dodgy connections that remained between faith and politics. 

But just like the south’s legendary kudzu plant, those connections simply would not die. We see remnants of them today in evangelical Christian groups like the Religious Right, Liberty University, and organizations such as Ed McAteer’s Religious Roundtable, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Tim LaHaye’s Council for National Policy, and many others.

Those connections also thrive at the other end of the ideological spectrum. The so-called progressive Christians have been known to mix a strong dose of political agenda in with their theology as well. As a result, some of their churches tend to look more like social service agencies than places of worship. 

The examples of excess we see on both the right and left leave us all wondering: is there even such a thing as a BALANCED, or MODERATE mixture of faith and politics? Or are these two things that should simply be forever separated… 

… like matches and gasoline?

Hmmm… where might we look for an answer to that question?

Hey! What are the chances that maybe the Bible has something to say on the topic?

Tune in next time.

Abundant blessings;

01
Oct
20

The Intersection

Sometimes they seem to go together like…

Concept of where Religion and Politics intersect.

… anchovies and marshmallows, or

… toddlers and Harleys, or

… armadillos and highways, or

… two other things that really, really don’t go together at all.

And no, I am not talking about Joe Biden and Donald Trump. I am talking about faith and politics

I mean, just look at these two! Politics is so very… OF this world. It happens right in the middle of the sloppy “sausage-making” of all the laws and policies that govern our lives together. 

In the often-unseemly world of politics, heads roll, dreams die, spirits wilt. Fortunes (and reputations) are made or lost… certainly altered… forever by the single stroke of a pen. It is an arena rife with name-calling, cheating, character assassination, graft and fraud.

YUCK!

Faith, conversely, purports to offer each of us a platform from which to take a higher, loftier perhaps, more principled relationship to the world around us. It invites us, in the words of Saint Paul, to, “… look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen…” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV) as the way to secure our footing. 

Like I said… armadillos and anchovies.

But are these two realms really so incompatible after all?

For the rest of this post – and maybe lapping over into one or two additional posts – I would like to try and answer three basic questions: first, IS THERE a relationship between faith and politics? Second, SHOULD THERE BE a relationship between them (whether there is one or not), and finally, what should that relationship LOOK LIKE… assuming there is and should be a relationship.

During my time serving as the pastor of several different local churches, I regularly heard members of the congregation say something like, “Faith and politics don’t mix.” Sometimes the comment was much more pointed than that. It was more like, “Pastor… I’d sure appreciate it if you’d just keep your politics out of it and just focus on preaching the WORD OF GOD!”

And in a very real sense, I had to agree with them. It would be utterly misguided for anyone who calls him or herself a follower of Jesus Christ (especially a pastor!) to promote the idea that the REAL savior of humankind is a card-carrying Republican or Democrat. 

Our hope – as Jesus reminds us – should only be built on the solid rock of God’s eternal promises. (Matthew 7:24-27). 

And yet, there is this central, unmistakable fact that none of us can avoid; faith and politics both have to do with LIVING OUR LIVES. 

These strange bedfellows both concern themselves with how you and I THINK… how we TREAT one another… how we MAKE DECISIONS… and how we set our PRIORITIES.  

They both claim they are based on a set of VALUES. They both claim that a system of MORALITY lies at the center of their work.

And it should not come as any great surprise when I tell you that even the most deeply spirit-centered, faith-based people I have met also have some pretty strongly held political views, too. 

We may not like it. It might feel “icky” at times. But whether we like it or not, faith and politics DO have a connection to one another. It is a connection we can trace just about as far back as time itself.

Moses and Pharaoh, anyone? 

A much more intriguing question to ask might be, “What kind of relationship should faith and politics have?”

But maybe we will leave just that one for another time.

Abundant blessings;

23
Sep
20

Two Years On…

Today is the day when – two years ago – our world turned upside down.

After experiencing a long bout of various gastrointestinal distresses, Joan went made an appointment with her doctor. She went in on a Wednesday to get a few tests done. You know… just to eliminate some possibilities.

The next day, at around 6:00 p.m., Joan noticed that she had missed a phone call. There was a voice mail message from her primary care physician saying simply, “Please call the office as soon as you can.”

At that moment, our hearts both plunged straight toward our shoes. 

You see, this is not our first rodeo. We both knew that if the call was simply to tell Joan that the tests were all normal… nothing to worry about… the doctor would have just said that on the message. 

On the other hand, if the news was bad, she would not leave a message. She would want to discuss it with Joan and talk about next steps. We both knew that in this case, no news was bad news.

Even at that late hour, Joan tried to return the doctor’s call, with no luck. She got the answering service saying they would be happy to take a message for the doctor. 

We were then faced with somehow trying to pass the rest of that evening and the night with no news and the worst possible case scenarios running through our heads.

As you might imagine, there was not a lot of sleeping at the Brown house that night.

The next day, Joan called the doctor’s office as soon as they opened up. She got straight through to her doctor and received the news we had spent the last 14 hours imagining; the tests showed that there was cancer. In the months ahead there would be chemotherapy, followed by surgery, followed by more chemotherapy. 

As one of our worst nightmares unfolded before us, we were nevertheless able to sniff out a couple of blessings hiding there in the middle of the forest fire. 

The first was Joan’s doctor’s attitude. She refused to talk about what “stage” the cancer was, or to offer her opinion on the odds of survival. She just said, “Let’s not worry about any of that right now. What we’re going to do is get busy and attack this with everything we’ve got and hope for the best.”

The other blessing/super weird thing about that day were our plans for that evening. Months and months before that fateful day, we had heard that Billy Joel was coming to town to play a concert. We both love Billy Joel, and so we immediately called up a few friends and made plans to go out to dinner together and then carpool to the concert site. Together we would rock the night away, dancing to hits like Uptown Girl, New York State of Mind, Big Shot, We Didn’t Start the Fire, It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me, and of course – somewhere on the set list – Piano Man. Probably as the encore.

 And so, as irony would have it, that blueprint for a wonderful evening of friends, food, and fun was scheduled for THAT VERY DAY… the day of Joan’s diagnosis. 

We decided not to ruin everyone else’s evening by sharing our news over dinner, so we just force-smiled our way through the dinner, the drive, and the concert. 

In a way, the whole thing was kind of a welcome respite. But every now and then during the concert I would wrap my arm around Joan’s shoulder, squeeze her tight, look down into her eyes and mouth the words, “I love you,” over the din of the music.

The journey of the last two years has changed both of us forever. We got Joan connected with one of the best gynecological oncologists in the region. Her surgery was a success. Chemotherapy was not really the torture chamber we had feared (I know… easy for me to say, right?). 

Joan lost all of her hair and was significantly weakened by the entire process, but all of her critical blood counts and cancer markers have gone down and stayed down since they officially declared her “in remission.”

Of course, we don’t know what the future – long-term or short-term – holds for us. But then again, who does? 

Life is different these days than it was two years ago. But it is also somehow sweeter… more precious… more open to quotidian mystery and wonder than it ever was before. We miss fewer opportunities to kiss and stroke one another’s hair – now that hers has grown back. The importance of our faith and our family has jumped for both of us exponentially. Neither of us holds back when the need arises to say, “I need help,” or “I need to rest a little,” or, “I appreciate you so much.”

We cannot even begin to express our gratitude to the friends, family members, church friends, and total strangers who have picked us up and carried us through these days. Sometimes Psalm 103:13-16 informs us: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
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.”

At other times, we lean heavily on Matthew 6:26-27, where we hear Jesus saying, 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?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

But the verse that has lent it’s comforting shadow to us more than any other over these past 24 months comes from the pen of King Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NRSV). 

Whatever you might be going through yourself right now, I pray you might find a way to make these words YOUR theme also.

Abundant blessings;

17
Aug
20

Questioning Church

Church and coronavirusFor most of my life, there has been very little question about church.

To be sure, different chapters have witnessed different relationships to church.

There was the “blind obedience” stage, the “I’m just here to meet cute girls” stage, the “open rebellion/rejection” stage, the “social obligation” stage, the “HEY! There really is something powerful and important going on here!” stage, and the, “paid professional cheerleader” stage.

Today, following the one-year anniversary of my retirement from the ministry, I find I am still trying to figure out what to call this current stage.

As Joan and I settled into our new lives here in Fort Collins, CO, I was all set to call it the “Active, volunteer participant” stage.

But then along came The ‘Rona. And with it the top-to-bottom questioning of everything about Life Itself, including the church part.

Our little Lutheran church here has made the best of a difficult situation. Every week we have a time-flexible worship service and a time-bound Zoom service of Holy Communion. It is a little strange (but actually, a little fun, too) to sit on our couch with cups of coffee and our dogs, singing hymns, listening to the sermon, praying the prayers, and reciting the Apostle’s Creed.

We willingly accept that these strange times call for some strange practices… at least for a while.

This time of pandemic, however, has stolen one of my favorite parts of engaging with a faith community; it has rudely moved in and snatched away the experience of physically gathering with fellow journeyers. I believe there is something sacred – and essential – about different lives and experiences coming together once a week to see each other’s faces and engage in acts of worship.

But the longer this strange new church world goes on, the more I find myself asking questions. Questions like:

  • “What IS church supposed to be about anyway?
  • “What am I – as an unpaid, unprofessional Christ-follower – supposed to be about at this stage of my life?”
  • “What is the actual connection between encountering the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and the need to gravitate to the same place at the same time every seven days?”
  • “Why does the action of ‘making disciples’ actually require the presence of a lovely, comfortable, technically-equipped building?”

And finally…

  • “Is it possible that this unsettling, disorienting time might be calling all Jesus-followers to work together to give birth to a new way of being the church?”
    • I mean let’s face it… it has been 500 years since the last Reformation (which, oddly enough, happened roughly 500 years after the PREVIOUS reformation). Do we think it is possible that God is sending a not-so-subtle message that it is time for the next Reformation?

I would love to hear YOUR thoughts on the subject.

First; how has this time of pandemic re-shaped your relationship to church?

Second, what messages might Christians be called to take from this odd time?

 

Abundant blessings;

11
Aug
20

U2Charist?

U2 picAre they? Or aren’t they?

Inquiring minds want to know: is U2 a Christian band? Or are they just a rock band that – if you look at some of their lyrics and squint really hard – you can occasionally see a Christianish theme… like one of those “Magic Eye” posters from the 90s?

This is a question with legions of fans willing to go to the mat to defend both the “YES” and the “NO” responses.

In 2014, New Yorker reporter Joshua Rothman wrote an essay in which he explored the theological roots of the legendary Irish rockers. He investigated a variety of sources and interviewed U2 band members to try and resolve the issue once and for all.

On the “YES” side of the debate, we have a book titled, Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, one of several books exploring the theological ideas in lead singer Bono’s lyrics. Rothman also points out that many churches around the world (most, oddly enough, Episcopalian) have held “U2charists”—full services at which traditional church music is replaced with songs by U2.

But what about the band members themselves? What is their story?

The nucleus of U2 met when they were still in high school, in a town just outside of Dublin. While still in high school, Bono, lead guitarist the Edge, and drummer Larry Mullen grew close to a faith community called Shalom, whose members Bono has described as living on the Dublin streets “like first-century Christians.”

Shalom was a big presence in their lives during the recording of U2’s first two albums, “Boy” and “October” (“Gloria,” the best song on “October,” has a liturgical chorus, sung in Latin). The turning point came just as the “October” tour was set to begin: the Edge announced that he wanted to leave U2, because the twin demands of piety and rock stardom could not be reconciled.

As the group grew musically (and, we can assume, spiritually), the period known as The Troubles descended on their native Northern Ireland. Protestants and Catholics took to the streets in violent, bloody clashes that ultimately left more than 3,600 people dead. Based on their first-hand experience of the horror of inter-religious warfare, it should not come as a surprise that Bono was once quoted as saying, “I love Jesus. But I can’t stand the church.”

Their song, Sunday, Bloody Sunday speaks directly to the heart of that historic conflict.

Some of their songs – Yahweh, With or Without You, Carry Each Other, Where the Streets Have No Name – seem to point their lyrical force directly to the heart of the Christian gospel message. Others – while melodically rich – seem to be nothing more than sappy boy/girl love songs or social protests.

Perhaps a better question – meaning a better question than: Are U2 Christians, or aren’t they?” – might be this one: If you are indeed a person of faith, why force the world to GUESS about it? I mean, why not just come right out and SAY?

I can’t answer that question for Bono, the Edge, et. Al., but I certainly can answer it for myself. During those times when I am trying to present a brave front to my fellow believers, my answer would be something like, “I am often not overt about my faith because I want to let my life speak for itself. For me, it is more important that faith be CAUGHT instead of TAUGHT.”

During the other times – the times when I am opening up and being honest with myself and with you – my answer is, “I don’t come right out and announce my faith because I fear being ostracized by non-believers, or nominal Christians. I just want to be thought of as, ‘one of the guys.’”

Kind of pitiful, isn’t it? I mean, considering everything that Jesus sacrificed for ME.

Joshua was right when he said, “… choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15, NRSV).

We all have to make that choice.

But we also have to decide to fearlessly and unabashedly DECLARE that choice to those around us. As Jesus himself said, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33. NRSV).

Something to think about…

 

Abundant blessings;

09
Jul
20

Puzzle People

Jigsaw puzzleAs you can see from the photo immediately to the right, Joan and I have almost completed this 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. All that remains are fitting the last pieces of the pale blue sky together.

This puzzle was very much a quarantine-inspired undertaking.

“Good job!” You might be tempted to say. “Way to go!”

You would, however, immediately withdraw your lavish words of praise when I confess to you it has taken us nearly 90 days to get to this point.

We began the project with great enthusiasm, dumping the box out onto our dining room table, grouping all of the similarly colored pieces together, bringing over snacks and drinks, taking turns studying, fussing, fiddling, and painstakingly fitting pieces together.

After a couple of sessions each, the wind of motivation suddenly left our sails. The puzzle just sat there for days… fragmented… silently judging us.

About a month ago, as we both sat staring dejectedly at the scattered pile of pieces, Joan and I looked at one another and said, “I guess we’re just not puzzle people.”

Puzzle people (and God bless you if you are one) must possess great powers of concentration. They must be infinitely patient. They must be able to visualize patterns and connections in their mind’s eye. They must have a finely-honed appreciation for solitude… or else possess the ability to work well with others.

Puzzle people are able to play the long game and do not set their sights on immediate gratification.

As I sat down and began listing out all of these traits, I found myself muttering, “How awesome would it be to be a Puzzle Person. Too bad I’m not wired that way at all.”

But then I stopped and looked again. I noticed that in spite of these serious impairments in my God-given proclivities, I was less than 30 pieces away from finishing this puzzle. The bliss of hearing that soft “CLICK” as I drop the final piece into place is just hours away.

“Is that amazing or what?” I whispered. “How did that happen?”

And then I remembered that sometimes God sneaks up behind us and surprises us with a totally unexpected result in a situation we thought we had completely figured out.

(Hang on here… I am not claiming divine intervention was at work in our puzzle progress. I am beginning to piece together a spiritual analogy of sorts. Hang in with me for a minute…)

Throughout the pages of scripture, we find countless examples of God deputizing people who believed they were hopelessly ill-equipped to do necessary deed. There are scenes of denial and protest and, “Sorry God, you’ve got the wrong guy/gal. Go pick someone else.” Following by that hopelessly inadequate person suddenly stepping up and delivering the goods.

There is Moses, for example.

And Gideon.

And Deborah.

And Ruth.

And Esther.

And David (later, KING David).

And Ezekiel.

And Peter.

And Saul (later, Paul)

And on and on, ad infinitum.

I don’t believe these stories are meant to teach us that sometimes God swoops in and supernaturally imbues hapless schlubs with magical new powers. Although I am sure that does happen sometimes.

What if the point of these stories is more to show us how God intervenes and opens our eyes to abilities we already have, yet which we have somehow submerged under layers of doubt and despair?

What if it is the case that each of those “unlikely biblical heroes” (and each of us, too) already had those remarkable faculties FROM DAY ONE and just needed a godly “nudge” to believe in and USE them?

Imagine that!

 

Gee… maybe I AM a puzzle person after all!

18
Jun
20

Order out of Chaos

Extension cordsLook at this.

Isn’t it amazing?

My organizational genius of a wife took our laundry basket full of a mishmash of all sizes and styles of extension cords and – armed with only her labelmaker and a few plastic containers – turned it into this miracle of peace and harmony.

Ahhhh! Satisfaction.

So inspired was I by her de-cluttering, systematizing prowess that I immediately turned my attention to the task of taming the long-ignored Garage Beast!

Mission accomplished!

Satisfaction AGAIN!

In spite of the fact that I occasionally seem to be content to wallow around in an untidy environment, there remains something deeply satisfying about bringing order out of chaos.

It seems almost as if this ordering drive might be hard-wired into our humanness, doesn’t it?

Some theologians, in fact,  have argued that the Genesis creation story begins, not with God creating SOMETHING out of NOTHING, but rather with God creating ORDER out of CHAOS. Indeed, we read in Genesis 1:2, “… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Gen. 1:2, NRSV).

But I wonder… if it is true that the impulse to ORDER our world is an essential, defining quality of the human experience… can we ever go overboard with this impulse? In other words, can there be such a thing as TOO MUCH order… and not enough CHAOS?

Lately we have certainly seen a whole lot of chaos in the streets of our major cities. Violent protests have erupted in the wake of murders by armed police officers. Chaos erupts. Order is imposed. MORE chaos erupts. And even more order is imposed.

But then sometimes… somehow… something new gets born out of that chaos. Ask anyone who has ever been present at the moment a brand-new baby is delivered into the world; it is a moment with more chaos and mess and disorder happening all at once than you will likely EVER see anywhere else!

And lest we forget…

  • From the chaos of 40 years of wandering in the desert, the new people Israel was born.
  • From the chaos of the American Revolution, this country was born.
  • From the chaos of riots and unrest in the early 60s, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born.

There is no doubt that this moment is calling forth the need for something new to be born in the way our governments go about the work of ensuring public safety. The day when we need heavily armed, militarily trained phalanxes of police officers to keep the peace is gone… if indeed it ever existed in the first place.

Yes, we need order. Yes, we need peace. But not at the price of our freedom. And not if it means whole segments of our population end up living in daily fear of the very institutions appointed to ensure their safety.

You see, God has been trying to teach us this lesson from Day One… first through Abraham, then Moses, through the judges, the prophets, the kings, and through his only begotten Son, Jesus. God desperately wants us to understand that the only sure path to both peace and freedom is by following the Big Two…  1.) Loving God, and 2.) Loving Neighbor.

Loving our neighbors… WHO they are, AS they are… can be a little chaotic at times. Because let’s face it, some of them are just not that lovable.

But it is also an essential part of the people we are each made to be.

 

Abundant blessings;

30
Apr
20

It Certainly is Puzzling

“… 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

During this time of pandemic, jigsaw puzzles have caught FIRE!

Not literally, of course. What I mean is, sales of jigsaw puzzles have absolutely skyrocketed in popularity as people search for healthy activities while socially isolated at home.

So Joan and I thought, “Why not?”

Granted, we have not really been big “puzzle people” in the past, but it seemed like a good, harmless, fun family bonding activity and a welcome respite from endlessly cleaning our counters.

Here is a picture of 10 days of our progress on a relatively simple 500-piece puzzle: Partial puzzle

I am proud to report that I am responsible for at least four of those blue edge pieces on the top and three or four of the yellow connections there in the middle while Joan has done the rest.

Sad, isn’t it?

I don’t know… I sit down there now and then with every intention of making some genuine progress. I squint and strain and test out one connection after another. Sometimes my efforts are rewarded with the satisfying “CLICK” of a fit, but most of the time it is just an exercise in futility.

And then I remember that the hedges really need to be trimmed and ZIP! I’m out of there!

I am sure glad that God doesn’t do the same with me.

Because even though I am the product of God’s supernaturally creative power, I’m sure I am a regular puzzle to him. If I listen really closely, I can hear God say things like, “Why did you do THAT, Russell?” or, “Come on, pal… you should be able to figure that out for yourself,” or, “DUDE! What do you need? A big flashing neon sign in the sky??”

And yet, unlike me with that jigsaw puzzle, God doesn’t throw up his hands in frustration saying, “What’s the use? This is just never going to come together.” Instead God hangs in there… patiently working with the material on hand… confident that there will ultimately be a connection.

The key – whether working with jigsaw puzzles or people – is faith.

And in case the meaning of that word “puzzles” you, check out this definition offered by the writer of the book of Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV).

FAITH is what keeps me searching through the pile of funny looking pieces to find just the ONE that fits next to this one.

Faith can see the unseen. It persists in spite of discouragement and frustration, knowing that everything we need is there somewhere, even if we can’t see it.

Don’t be fooled: faith is not a passive acceptance of the status quo. It is the invisible energy that fuels our ability to continue slogging through a difficult passage.

This time – the time of global pandemic when no one really has a good picture of the future and when everyone is frustrated with the lack of progress – is the kind of time that is TAILOR-MADE for faith…

… and jigsaw puzzles.

 

Abundant blessings!




Russellings Archives

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow Russellings of the Spirit on WordPress.com

~ A Divine Unraveling ~

Poetry ~ Musings ~ Christian Ethos ~ Storiettes

My Pastoral Ponderings

Pondering my way through God's beloved world

One Third Culture Kid

Reflections on growing up a TCK

All The Shoes I Wear

Writing Down The Bones

Just Being Me

My life and faith - without a mask.

La Tour Abolie

An eclectic mixture of personal essays, stuff about writing, stuff about books and far out philosophy from an old baggage in a book-tower.

Eden in Babylon

a topical new musical and other progressive, creative works

Luna

Pen to paper.

_biblio.bing_

A law student and an avid reader. Along with your desired book reviews you're gonna get great book suggestions. Books of all genre with detailed review. Thank you, Visit Again ❤️

Humanitarian Explorer

Traveling the world to discover and meet needs

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Steadfast Pictures

Visual Media for God's Glory!

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

yadadarcyyada

Vague Meanderings of the Broke and Obscure

Pics and Posts

Goodies from my mailbox and camera

My Spirals

• Hugs and Infinities

Shreya Vikram

Blurring the lines between poetry and prose

%d bloggers like this: