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Thanks, Mom

“If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too???”

If I had a dollar for every time my mother spoke that phrase, I’d probably have… I don’t know… eleven or twelve dollars. 

This was her standard, go-to response when I offered a feeble attempt to justify some crowd-following behavior with my own canned phrase, “But mom! Everybody else is doing it!”

Like many other “momisms” of the day, (alongside “Clean your plate! There are children starving in China!” and, “If you keep making that face, it’s going to freeze that way!”) this one ultimately became a great source of humorous nostalgia between my siblings and me. 

To be sure, we loved our mother deeply. But as we got older, we also got a real kick out of remembering and chuckling at some of the well-worn phrases we heard growing up. 

I had occasion to remember this delightful chestnut just yesterday when Joan and I were out driving. Looking over, she noticed I was driving 48 mph in a 40-mph speed zone and gently urged me to “Slow down a little, please sweetie.” I instantly time-travelled back to the age of eight and replied, “But look… everybody else is driving this fast!” 

Say it with me now; “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too???”

HA! Good one, mom!

But then I stopped and pondered for a moment. Despite the fact that I’m sure all 7 billion of earth’s current inhabitants have heard some version of that phrase at least once in their lives, is it really fair to call this wisdom useless and outdated?

I mean, isn’t there something actually valuable being said here… despite the fact that it is cloaked in layer upon layer of triteness, overuse, and banality?

So, I stopped – mid-chuckle – and considered the possibility that my mom was not literally talking about cliff-jumping, but rather using an analogy (or is it a metaphor?) to illustrate an important life principle. 

  • MAYBE she was saying that I should think for myself. 
  • MAYBE she was suggesting that societal norms aren’t always a good North Star for all my decisions.
  • MAYBE she was encouraging me to have the courage to resist peer pressure… even when it might cost me acceptance and friendship.
  • And MAYBE she was saying something very close to the advice the Apostle Paul gave his merry little band of Christ-followers in the city of Rome when he said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect…” (Romans 12:2, NRSV). 

As you might recall, that group of Roman citizens who had heard the Good News and decided to take up their cross and follow Jesus, was ENCASED in a culture that was utterly hostile to their Christian worldview. The pull to conform to that culture was a pull they had to resist every single day.

But I’ll have to confess… when I have occasion to stumble across a long line of people one-by-one jumping off of a tall cliff, the thought DOES cross my mind; “Hmmm. Why are they doing that? Why would so many of them be jumping if it was such a bad thing? Maybe I’ll just give it a try and see what it’s all about. What’s the worst that could happen?”

But then, either the voice of my mother from 50 years ago, or Paul’s words – or quite possibly both – echo in my ear. I step back, turn around, and walk away from that cliff. 

So, I guess I will just have to conclude by saying, “Mom… I’m so sorry I laughed at your advice… even after hearing it for the twelfth time. You were absolutely right…”

“… and I love you.”

Abundant blessings;


Going Next Level…

guitar pictureIt’s time to move on… to the next level.

I feel like I’m ready. But sometimes I have to wonder if I am entirely willing.

In one sense, I am talking about my guitar playing. I have been taking guitar lessons for about two years now. I feel as if I have learned a few cool songs and am comfortable playing them.

Sit down sometime and I’ll get your foot tapping with a passable version of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Pride and Joy. Or maybe you’d rather hear Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton.

I would certainly not go so far as to call myself a guitarist… or really even a guitar player.

But I will readily own the description of being “a guy who enjoys the guitar.”

Recently though I have felt a little “plateaued” in my guitar playing and – as I mentioned – experienced the urge to “take it up a notch.”

But I hesitate… because in the back of my mind I know exactly what that means. For starters, it means MORE WORK. It means more time spent in practice… more drilling on the fundamentals… tackling songs that are more complex and require greater effort to master. And I’m sure that somewhere along the way, a greater understanding of music and music theory wouldn’t hurt either.

You know… learning things like the difference between the frigian. Locrian, and Mixolydian scales for starters.

But then the more I think about the price of moving to the next level, the more I begin to think, “Well, maybe floating along here at ‘Advanced Beginner’ status isn’t so bad after all. I mean, I entertain myself and audiences composed of generous, non-critical people. Why go to all that trouble to get a little bit better? I’m not going to try to earn a living with my guitar playing after all.”

And then it occurred to me: isn’t it great that “taking it up a notch” in our spiritual life turns out to be exactly the opposite kind of endeavor from “taking it up a notch” on the guitar?

While advancing in guitar mastery entails MORE (more time, more energy, more learning, more complexity, more patience), advancing in our spiritual lives puts the downbeat on LESS (less striving, less anxiety, less reliance on ME, less worry about outcomes, less fear, less drivenness, less pride, less stress).

On the surface, that sounds like great news. Great news, that is, until I realize just how deeply wired I am for the MORE approach to living; more work, more money, more “stuff”, more friends, more fun, more education… everything around us encourages us to grab for more of EVERYTHING.

The path of LESS often feels so strange and alien to me.

But then somehow I am encouraged to stop and listen to Jesus’ words on the topic:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30

I don’t know how good a guitar teacher Jesus would have been.

But I think this is the song I need to work on next.


Abundant blessings;

– Russell

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