Posts Tagged ‘faith

30
Oct
18

I just can’t.

weeping-1Four.

That is the number of times I have sat in front of my laptop today, fingers poised, intending to write.

I had a few other ideas percolating for my next blog post. But in light of the horrible shootings in Pittsburgh on Saturday, they all seemed odd and irrelevant.

“Write about the shootings,” said my brain.

“Good idea,” replied the fingers. “Give us the words and we will get right on that.”

And so four times I have given this blank screen my best, most intense and threatening stare.

Four times I’ve begun something.

Four times I’ve come up with nothing but drivel.

And so I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I do not possess any words or wisdom necessary to help myself (or anyone else, for that matter) deal constructively with those horrific events.

So today I am just going to grieve.

Today I am just going to look down at the pieces of my broken heart lying here in my hands and weep.

Maybe later I will have a clue about why hatred continues to increase in this country and boil over in senseless acts like this.

Maybe later I will have something like an insight into how we can see and embrace our common humanity, looking beyond superficial differences like race or religion or sexuality or gender or physical ableness.

But today is not that day.

Today is a day just for reaching out to my Jewish brothers and sisters and telling them I consider them beloved, valuable members of my community.

Today is a day to tell them I mourn with them in their time of loss and sorrow.

Today is just a day to weep.

 

27
Aug
18

That Safe Place

Rosie in The PoseMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our 10-month old, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

To say that Rosie is energetic is to say Kansas is flat or the sun is hot. In other words, it is to VASTLY understate the reality of the situation.

One of the biggest challenges Joan and I face each day is figuring out where to put things in order to keep them safe from Rosie’s eager, inquisitive reach.

There was – for example – the night we went to the baseball game with friends. The idea was to have them come back to our place after the game for some of Joan’s yummy peach cobbler. The cobbler was baked ahead of time and had been shoved all the way to the rear of the kitchen counter… presumably safely out of Rosie’s reach.

Imagine our surprise when we opened the door to the kitchen that night and found the pan of cobbler on the kitchen floor, big chunks of it missing in action. Beside it, of course, the innocent, angelic face of sweet Rosie… cobbler crumbs stuck to her beard.

This incident happened over a month ago. Since then, Rosie has grown a few more inches and has an even longer reach. It seems now that only the highest shelves in the closet are now safe from her exploring paws.

Thinking back on that moment (and similar moments with Rosie since then), I was reminded of some of my early adventures in faith. The common link between the two – I realized – is the central question: “Where is the safest place to put it?” Today the “it” is Joan’s peach cobbler. Back then the “it” was my faith.

In my earliest years, I placed my faith in my mom and dad. They were the walking, talking, living, breathing, definition of Ultimate Reality. Their word was Law, their wisdom was unfathomable, and their protection was ironclad.

Right up until, of course, it wasn’t.

Every child at some point experiences a rude awakening to the finite flawedness of mom and dad, and I was no exception. Whether it was that first argument of theirs I happened to overhear, or (in my childlike opinion) an entirely unjustified punishment, or something else, I’m not sure. But I know that at some point the pedestal cracked. I still loved them, of course, but no longer placed 100% of my faith in them.

When I started school, I discovered that my earliest teachers were unlimited fountains of knowledge… book knowledge, life knowledge, cultural knowledge and – in the case of my second-grade teacher Mrs. Forrer – baseball knowledge. And so I changed gears and said, “HERE is where I can put my faith! In my teachers!”

And I did. Right up to the point where I discovered that THEY were limited, too. Mrs. Olds chose to believe Andy when he said that started the fight and then Mr. Garrison could not adequately explain to me why there was such a thing as poverty.

As I grew, I kept trying. I am sure this list is incomplete, but a few of the other places I have put my faith over the years include:

  • My car(s)
  • The government (at every level – local, state, and national)
  • My own intelligence
  • My friends
  • Human nature
  • My race
  • My gender
  • My socio-economic group
  • My religious affiliation

In each case, I was certain my faith had been placed securely. Just as certain, in fact, as we were about where we placed the peach cobbler that night.

And every time that certainty came crashing to the ground… just like that pan of peach cobbler.

Has that happened to you? Are you still searching for that “next safe place” to put your faith after the last one disappointed you? Or have you given up the search entirely, convinced that no place… no person… no group will ever be capable of securely holding the precious gift of your faith?

If that describes you, listen to these words from Psalm 46. They are some of the truest words you will ever hear:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult….

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

  • Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7, NRSV

 

Abundant blessings;

18
Jun
18

In or out?

Apologies in advance to the comedian who said this originally, because I thought it was really funny.

But as much as I would like to give credit where credit is due, I can’t remember your name.

Commenting on the popularity of the cross as an item of jewelry, your line was something like: “I am pretty sure that when he does come back again, the absolute LAST thing Jesus is going to want to see is a CROSS! He’ll be like, ‘Is this somebody’s idea of a cruel joke! That thing gives me NIGHTMARES!’”

It’s a funny line. And he (the comedian) is probably right.

But that doesn’t keep me from getting up every morning, reaching into the miscellaneous whatnot keeper on my closet shelf, and grabbing for the cross necklace lying there.

As you can see from the photo here, it’s a pretty nice one.My cross

It was a seminary graduation present from my loving wife.

No, it is not raw, roughhewn wood, stained with blood and pockmarked with nail holes. And yet, attractive as it is, I am sure it would still give Jesus the heebie-jeebies.

There is never a question about whether I will wear my cross on a given day. But there is ALWAYS the question – IN? or OUT? As in, “Will I wear the cross on the inside of my shirt or on the outside?

For me, each of these alternatives has both an upside and a downside.

The upside of the choice to wear the cross inside my shirt is that it becomes a gently thumping form of personal reminder. As I walk, I can feel it lightly tapping my chest as if to say, “Hey, buddy… don’t forget. You decided to give your life to Christ and to speak words and do deeds that are consistent with who He is! Represent well, homie!”

The downside, of course, is that wearing the cross inside the shirt sometimes feels as if I am HIDING my faith… you know, chickening out and keeping it under wraps.

Wearing my cross on the outside of the shirt, of course, solves that problem. It puts it right out there for all passers-by to see. It becomes a walking proclamation that declares, “Hey! Check it out! Jesus follower here! Anybody want to hear a little Good News? I’m your guy!”

The downside of outside is that very visibility. It can feel a little “holier-than-thou” at one end of the spectrum and “intolerant-of-thou” at the other… neither of which – I believe – is helpful to the cause of Christianity.

Most of the time my default is “inside.” This is mainly because I feel as if need to be reminded of my faith decision MUCH MORE OFTEN than others do.

And also because I do not believe Bible scholars have yet discovered a heretofore unseen coda to Matthew 28:20 that says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… being sure to wear all the cross jewelry and Christian fish symbols you can in the process.”

And finally, I guess I default to “inside the shirt” because, even though I was only six years old the first time I sang it, I still hold fast to the wisdom of that camp song that reminds us that, “They will know we are Christians BY OUR LOVE…”

… and not by the crosses we wear, or by the ecstatic hands we raise in worship, or by the fish symbols on our bumpers, or by the way we vote, or by the number of times we say, “Father God…” when we pray out loud.

Please understand; I am not judging you harshly if you are a person who has decided to wear the cross visibly as part of your daily wardrobe. In fact, I actually admire the boldness of your witness.

I am just saying that the challenge I seek to rise to is the challenge of allowing my life to demonstrate my faith… and not to be bad advertising for it when it doesn’t.

 

So… what will it be today?

In? Or out?

16
Apr
18

The Superhero Next Door

SuperheroesI see the next big superhero movie is about to hit the multiplexes near us very soon.

“I see” as in, “I had my eyes open and somehow did not miss one of the 4,862 recent airings of the trailer.”

Avengers: Infinity War will be released on April 27, and according to the advance hype, it will feature just about every single superhero in today’s Marvel Universe.

Apparently the latest Threat to All Life on Planet Earth is lethal enough that the combined superpowers of Black Panther, Captain America, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Spiderman, Black Widow, The Hulk, Wolverine, and several others too numerous to list here are required to defeat it.

At the end of the movie, as we are all breathing a gigantic sigh of relief that the world has been saved yet again, I am sure we will all be grateful that those costumed crusaders were there again… to save us from certain doom.

Too bad they’re not real.

Or are they?

As I sit here and consider the word “superhero” a little more closely, I think it is entirely possible that I have bumped into one or more of these in recent weeks.

The New Oxford American Dictionary says that a hero is: “…a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities…”And so – by logical extension – a SUPER hero must be a person who is “SUPER admired for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”

As it turns out, I have met several of those recently.

Consider, for example, The Conduit. This is the lively woman who has provided her homebody aunt a vital connection to the world outside her front door, urging the aunt to try things she never would have thought possible on her own.

Or how about Unflappable? He has weathered a withering assault of changes in his community, in his health, in his living arrangements, and in his family and somehow managed to keep a smile on his face and joy in his heart.

There is The Bereaved…a man who has somehow coped with his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent death, taking over 100% of the daily care of their two pre-teen children, all while operating his own small business.

Or Enduro… a man who has been dealing with a nagging chronic pain that has interrupted his work, his social life, all of his relationships, and even his ability to just sit down and peacefully watch television or read a book.

And by all means, we can’t forget Steadfast… though people often do.She keeps showing up, day after day, taking on task after task, filling need after need in her town, her church, and her community. She is so reliable that most people just expect to see her there in the middle of whatever is going on, quietly making sure what needs to get done is done… whether she is thanked adequately or not.

Like the superheroes of the Marvel Universe, there is a secret to the powers and strengths of each of these folks, too. In their case, though their superpowers are not the result of the bite of a radioactive spider, a gamma ray explosion, or citizenship in a faraway mythical realm.

No… each of the superheroes I met has found their strength in a powerful formula known as 1633… the passage of scripture that can be found in the gospel according to John, the 16thchapter, 33rdverse. That is where you will find this ironclad promise: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT).

My superheroes know that the author of these words is their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They trust his word completely and know there is NOTHING in life that cannot be dealt with by the application of a little 1633.

Not illness, not pain, not heartbreak, not disappointment, not setbacks, not frustration, not ANYTHING.

And believe me… they have seen it all.

That is why I’ll take Conduit, Unflappable, Bereaved, Enduro, and Steadfastall day, every day over anyone in the Marvel Universe you care to name.

How about you?

07
Apr
18

James? or David?

James TaylorWhat do you do when your world is out of whack?

This morning I woke up with a nasty head cold. It feels like someone snuck in during the night and stuffed my head full of cotton while I was sleeping. My thinking was so hazy I struggled to tie my shoes correctly.

PLUS… while the calendar says it is April, the weather outside clearly reads “January.” A 19-degree air temperature and frozen puddles outside greet the eye.

To add to the overall disorientation, my wife (a.k.a. confidante, companion, sounding board, lover, friend, anchor, muse, support, reality check) is 1,200 miles away enjoying some sun and sand with her daughter.

My energy is utterly sapped… and it is only 10:00 a.m.

HELP! All of my touchstones have deserted me.

I need a toehold! I need a solid piece of ground to hold onto and get my bearings.

I am sure you remember a time in your life that felt like this. Or worse.

I’m sure each of us has felt ourselves spinning a little out of control now and then.

Where do you turn when your altimeter is whirling like a top and your compass is in the middle of an epileptic seizure?

James Taylor is one option. “When you’re down… and troubled… and you need a helping hand. And nothing, whoa nothing is going right. Just close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there… to brighten up even your darkest nights.”

So I tried it! I closed my eyes… thought about and visualized sweet baby James… and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I’m still waiting for James to make good on his promise.

Today I thank God for the mentors in my life that introduced me to ANOTHER resource… that taught me how to connect with the reliable, unchanging, solid Word of God in all circumstances.

King DavidSomehow the 18thpsalm of David seems like the right place to turn. After a long, long period of being harassed by King Saul, David finally defeated his adversary. And in the moments following his victory, David knew instantly where to turn and give the credit: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2, NRSV).

No doubt if God can deliver David from an entire army of enemies, he can surely deliver me from a head cold, freezing weather, and from missing my sweetheart.

Ahh! That’s better.

Sorry, James.

03
Apr
18

The Path He Chose

mlkmountaintop1Want to see the future?

In a way, I think we all do.

I would like to know – for example – when the Kansas City Royals will next play relevant baseball in the month of October… or which stocks to buy today… or when this gray, yucky drizzle will go away.

On a little more serious note, I’d also like to know where our nation’s current political muddle will eventually lead us… or what will happen in our relationships with Russia and China and North Korea and the rest of the world?

As a card-carrying United Methodist, I would love to know how our denomination’s impasse over human sexuality will ultimately play out. Sadly, my question is more about HOW the pending schism will take shape rather than IF it will happen.

At the same time, there are a few things about the future I am perfectly content to remain in the dark about. If possible, I would prefer that the demises of all my friends and family members – as well as my own – catch me totally off guard.

But see, that’s the thing about visionary foresight. It’s either all or nothing. “You git what you git and you don’t pitch a fit!” as someone’s mother once said.

Today (April 3) marks the 50thanniversary of the last speech ever given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an address delivered on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was on hand to lend motivational and leadership support to the 1,300 striking sanitation workers of the City of Memphis.

It had been a tense time in the city of Memphis and in the nation as a whole. In the course of the speech, Dr. King reminded his listeners of the great milestones and the great challenges the movement had experienced to date. He reminded them of the fire hoses and police dogs of Sheriff Bull Connor to the unlawful arrests to the beatings and church bombings they had experienced by that time in 1968.

But he also called to mind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the integration of lunch counters throughout the South, as well as the bus system of Birmingham, Alabama.

It was also a speech in which Dr. King seemed to possess a chillingly accurate vision of his own death. In the best-known part of the speech, toward its conclusion, Dr. King looked into the future… both the future of the Civil Rights movement and his own… and described what he saw there. He said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

Here, in the days immediately following the Christian celebration of Easter, I am reminded of the vision of the future Jesus communicated to his disciples… a vision of his own violent demise, but also of God’s eventual victory over the forces of sin and death. It’s right there in Mark 8:31 – “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Today I stand in awe of both of these men. Try as I might, I still cannot fathom what it means to set out on a path, knowing with absolute certainty it is a path that leads to your violent demise, and yet – despite the clarity of that vision – continuing walking that path in faith and confidence.

The lesson today might be this: ultimately, if the path I walk is a path of my own choosing – based purely on whim, curiosity, and circumstance – it is a path to be wary of… likely strewn with as many dangers as delights.

If, on the other hand, it is a path carved by the hand of God, we can follow it with confidence wherever it leads.

What is the lesson of April 3, 1968, for YOU?

31
Oct
17

The Real Deal

“To thine own self be true.”
– Polonius, in Hamlet

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God,
and that is what we are.”
– 1 John 3:1, NRSV

“Authentic” is a word that has been crossing my radar screen with increased frequency lately.

Naturally, authenticity would be a theme that would come to mind on that annual holiday we spend dressing up as someone – or something – else.

It also popped up this morning on a local radio talk show. The guest was the owner of a restaurant in town that specializes in Ramen noodles. Yes… that is apparently a thing. During the show, many syllables and much air were employed in identifying the difference between authentic Ramen and… I guess the inauthentic variety.

Over the weekend I had the honor of officiating at the memorial service of a friend of my son’s who died of pancreatic cancer. He and many friends in attendance had spent most of their lives outside the institutional church. However, in the last months of his life, this young man experienced something powerful and convicting that led him to ask me to baptize him a month before his death.

I found myself wrestling deeply with the question of what an “authentic” celebration of his life might look like…. And then not being terribly sure I even understood the question.

Often we give very high “authenticity” marks to people in the public eye who don’t really take the time to weigh and carefully consider their words before speaking. We applaud them as “genuine”… “unfiltered” and “authentic.” We say that those folks are a breath of fresh air in comparison with the carefully crafted words of professional “spin doctors.”

And then it makes me scratch my head and ask, “So then what does the word authentic actually mean?” And then I follow up with myself and ask, “And how has authenticity become such a paramount virtue today?”

One answer I hear is that the word authentic must mean something like “core,” or “essential,” or “foundational.” It’s what is left over when you strip away all of the mystical window dressing.

hotfudge_sundaeBut then I have to ask, “Does that mean all of our efforts to enhance or improve something are fraudulent because they take us away from its ESSENCE? Should I just leave my vanilla ice cream alone and not add the chocolate syrup, whipped cream, chopped nuts, and a cherry… in the name of authenticity?”

I also hear authenticity being defined more along the lines of “raw” and “unprocessed” or that other phrase currently in fashion, “… like it is.” The implication here is that the more spontaneous and unplanned something is, the more authentic it is.

I am not going to lie… as a guy who writes and re-writes and tries to think carefully about words and what they mean, this definition offends me. I am sure it offends me because it seems to assign a higher virtue to unplannedness and spur-of-the-momentness than to thoughtfulness.

And personally, I think that is one messed up set of virtues.

MYRIAD are the examples I can give of times when my ill-considered, spontaneous words caused hurt and complication in a situation.

MYRIAD+ are the examples of times when slow, deliberate, thoughtful consideration of words brought light and healing.

Think about it: what would it look like if we all really followed Polonius’ advice to be “true” to our own selves?

The next, natural question is: which self are we talking about?

  • Is it the self that feels like punching a hole in the wall when the home team fumbles the opening kick-off?
  • Is it the self that can’t resist taking a second helping of apple pie?
  • Is it the self that has deep doubts about its talent or worth?

And are we really the ones to be trusted to choose which of these “selves” we are supposed to be true to?

I believe personal authenticity is all about being the fullest, most complete version of ME that I can be.

And so for me, that includes being every bit of the goofy, thoughtful, impulsive, tender-hearted, self-centered, creative, emotional, dim-witted, spiritual, energetic, joyful, deep, shallow, inconsiderate Russell Brown God made me to be.

But mostly, it means going back to the Source and reclaiming my identity as a Child of God; infinitely beloved by the One who created the whole Universe.

THAT is really who I am.

And it is really – authentically – who you are, too.

Blessings;




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