Posts Tagged ‘gifts

16
Apr
19

Where is the Justice?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

– Isaiah 55:8-9

Panera bread picYesterday was a truly gorgeous day here in the Kansas City area.

Yes, the weather was a perfect 78 degrees, sunny, with a gentle easterly breeze, rustling the newly leafing branches of the trees.

THAT was a genuine delight.

But what made the day especially lovely was the news my wife and I heard from her oncologist.

Yesterday we found out that after five months of chemotherapy, major, invasive surgery, and untold hundreds of prayers, Joan’s scans showed NOTHING.

As in, NADA, zero, zip, bupkis tumors or cancerous presence in her body.

It was the result we had been hoping and praying for but had not dared speak aloud.

THANK YOU, JESUS! And thank you SCIENCE! And thank you wonderful, caring medical professionals!

And so, since we were only two blocks away from a Panera Bread store – and since it was nearly lunchtime – we decided to celebrate with a fresh, tasty lunch.

And then as we finished our lunch and stepped outside, back into the beautiful day God had provided, I thought about my great-grandparents.

Honestly, I am not sure why they entered my mind at that moment. As far as I know, I never met any of my great-grandparents.

No matter why I thought of them, here is HOW they entered my framework at that moment. As Joan and I stepped out the door of Panera I thought, “Wow! We have just received a clean bill of health from a disease that only three generations ago would have probably been a death sentence for someone. And we followed that up by rather effortlessly enjoying a delicious, well-prepared meal… a meal that would have required monumental efforts by my great-grandparents to prepare.”

I then realized that the only difference between MY outcomes and my great-grandparents’ outcomes was the entirely accidental timing of my birth.

1951 vs. 1851.

And I thought, “Oh, what a MASSIVE difference 100 years makes.”

Faced with such a disparity in outcomes – based on something as arbitrary and capricious as a birthday – the natural question I was prompted to pose is: where is the justice?

How is it that such a minuscule span on history’s timeline can mean such a huge discrepancy in overall quality of life? How does that square with any notion of fairness?

Or we could widen our lens a bit and ask the question of geographical justice. We could ask, “How is it that a child born today in one part of the world can have such an enormously higher chance of survival and good health than a child born in another part?”

Or in an example that hit very close to home for us this week: “How can it be even remotely just that a family member who has successfully battled back from breast cancer can suddenly die in her sleep from cardiac arrest?”

Or – apropos of yesterday’s news – how cruel and unjust was it to watch the great cathedral of Notre Dame burning on the Monday of Holy Week?

What did ANY of these people do to earn these outcomes… either the good ones or the bad ones? How do any of us hope to understand the notion of JUSTICE in such a twisted setting as this?

And alas… I find that the longer I sit and stew over this question, the further and further I drift from any sort of answer. The paltry power of these three pounds of grey matter inside my skull is clearly no match for this cosmic conundrum.

As reason escapes, I find I am left only with a decision; the decision of how to live in a world like this. Will I choose to live as if I am forever the butt of some cruel joke… always looking around, expecting either the chair or the rug to be pulled out from under me, for the amusement of some Celestial Prankster?

Or will I choose to live in faith… accepting the reality of the utter unsearchableness of the universe, yet confident that behind all of it there is a loving, compassionate Hand that holds me, protects me, provides for me, and comforts me… even in those times when nothing seems to make a lick of sense.

The message of Easter is ALWAYS relevant, but maybe it becomes even more relevant during times of confusion, heartache, and a temptation toward cynicism.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
– Luke 24:5, NRSV

The message of the empty tomb is meant to remind ALL of us that the worst thing is never the last thing… that even when we can’t see it or understand it, we are surrounded and sustained by love.

… and that there will never be anything in the world more powerful than LOVE.

 

Holy Week blessings to each of you.

02
Apr
19

Padless living

“Sometimes life feels like playing football with no pads.”

–       R. Brown, 2019

Ferocious tackleIn a time long ago and far away, I played football. The American version, that is. The kind that requires helmets, shoulder pads, thigh pads, kneepads, cleats, and (sometimes) rib pads.

There was never a doubt in my mind about the need for all that padding. The player-on-player contact is always forceful and unforgiving. The point – after all – is for me to smash into the other guy with all my might and knock him down to the ground.

Fortunately for me, the playing phase of my football career ended in junior high school after I suffered first a concussion and then a severely twisted ankle. The closest I get to a real football game now is on my living room couch in front of the TV screen.

I know, I know… some of you tough guys are reading that last line and intoning the word “Wimp!” toward your computer screen right now.

And I am totally OK with that.

While I have successfully avoided having my bell rung, ACL torn, or femur snapped on the gridiron all these years, I must confess I have not been quite as successful avoiding injury on the field of LIFE.

I have discovered that sometimes – as the wise philosopher at the top of this page remarked – the game of life bears a striking resemblance to playing football without the benefit of pads.

Sometimes we have an idea… an idea that seems truly inspired and brilliant to us. We take our precious idea, excitedly put it out there in front of other people, and then watch it get tackled, and smashed, and pummeled to bits.

At other times we become vulnerable toward another person… opening up the depths of our heart and soul to them in a way that leaves us truly exposed. And then occasionally – not every time, happily – that person rewards our vulnerability with scorn or (even worse) indifference.

Or we might choose to adopt a cause that is virtuous and noble – capable (at least in our mind) of rendering a genuine, positive change in the world. We wave the flag, beat the drum, call out to rally the troops, only to find ourselves met with a deafening, hurtful silence.

It can feel quite a bit like football without pads.

Sometimes those body blows are instructive learning moments… shedding light on a heretofore-unseen weakness in my idea/feeling/cause. So I use the pain of that moment as a guide to my efforts to “shore up” that which was flimsy and inadequate.

At other times though, my response to those experiences of “full contact rejection” is to retreat to my corner, cower, lick my wounds, and make a vow to never again put myself out there like that.

OK… full disclosure; my first impulse upon rejection is almost ALWAYS to choose the retreating, cowering, licking, vowing option.

Getting back out there again after getting your block knocked off is a really hard thing to do. You know EXACTLY what that bodyslam feels like and you are not anxious to repeat the experience.

And I don’t know if this observation is actually true or not, but it seems to me as if more and more people are lining up these days, taking aim, and eagerly waiting to blast away at risk takers.

Sometimes that pounding is enough to convince you that the sidelines of life is the best place to spend the game… safely spectating.

But I hope you don’t.

I hope you will trust Jesus when he assures you, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

I hope you will keep putting yourself out there… padless and vulnerable.

I hope you will choose to learn from the pain of those bumps and bruises and maybe even come to give THANKS for them.

I hope you will never accept the lie that tells you that WATCHING life is the same as LIVING it.

The world needs your gifts…

… even if we don’t always act like we do.

 

Abundant blessings;

13
Dec
18

Christmas Present

It is one of the hardest questions I ever have to answer at this time of year. I puzzle over it for hours and still really don’t ever come up with a good answer.

Christmas listThe question in question is, “So, Russell… what do you want for Christmas?”

My wife asks me… my kids and stepkids and their spouses all ask me… beginning usually before Thanksgiving.

And yet somehow every year I continue to respond with a big, blank look and a sentence like, “Ummm… let me think about that and get back to you.”

And then I never do.

There could be a couple of reasons I might struggle so much with this question. It could be that my Christmas wishes include too many things that are huge and expensive and beyond anyone’s gift-giving budget.

For example, I would LOVE to attend the Kansas City Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp in Arizona some year. The price tag, however, for the five-day trip is a mere $4,000. Not including transportation.

I also don’t think it would be right to tell my son I’d like a 12-string guitar for Christmas… Or that the model I would really love to receive is the Taylor 956 CE, priced at an entirely reasonable $5,399.

That’s just not the kind of thing a loving father does.

Clothes are always a good gift to give me… mainly because I never buy them for myself. But if you start asking questions like, WHAT KIND of clothing, I freeze up and begin to stammer and stutter. The most detailed guidance you will get from me will be something like, “Uh… something nice?”

But there might also be a positive reason I have a hard time with this question. It might be that I feel so grateful and blessed with what I already have in life that I can’t think of a single thing that I want or need.

I may also have learned the lesson that adding more “stuff” to one’s life does not increase anyone’s level of happiness. I might have learned that additional “stuff” usually only increases the recipient’s hunger for more and more “stuff.”

And yet… the Christian faith tells me “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NRSV) Consequently, if I can’t come up with any concrete gift ideas for myself, maybe I am thwarting my family’s opportunity to be blessed through their giving!

Of course, I am kidding. No matter what our net worth is or how much we have in our bank account, we have God has enriched us each more than we can possibly imagine.

Today I count you as one of my richest blessings and look forward to celebrating the miracle of LOVE INCARNATE with you throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

 

Abundant blessings;

24
Sep
18

Adversarity

AdversariesOne of my favorite radio programs is a public radio show called The Moth.

If you have never listened to it, you should. Here is a link to the website: https://themoth.org.

The Moth is people telling stories. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The stories are recorded at public events called StorySlams and cover a wide array of the human experience. On a given week, for example, you might hear someone talk about the year she spent as a member of a sultan’s harem, an addict remembering his long, slow climb to sobriety, or a teacher discussing a group of third-graders and their military maneuvers on the playground.

The stories on The Moth are not all winners, but I always come away from listening feeling somehow enriched.

Last week as the final music of the latest Moth episode was concluding, I realized I still had forty-five more minutes of driving ahead on my hour-long trip. So I set off in search of the next option on the radio dial.

The public radio station had gone to classical music, so that was a quick, “Nope. No thanks.”

My mind having been stimulated by The Moth, I didn’t feel like just zoning out to classic rock or alt beats, or country/western music, so I began searching for talk radio options.

You know, talk radio… that place you go to find intelligent, well-reasoned opinions being expressed and then responded to by other intelligent, well-reasoned counter-opinions.

What I found instead was screaming, ranting tirades by angry radio hosts, responded to either by screaming ranting FANS or screaming ranting FOES of the original viewpoint presented.

The tone was such a jarring contrast to the tone of The Moth that it literally hurt my head to listen. I punched the next button as quickly as I could.

“I know!” I said, to no one in particular. “How about sports talk radio?”

But the result – as you have probably guessed by now – was exactly the same. Screaming, ranting radio hosts, responded to by screaming, ranting callers. I was shocked to discover that the fate of the Free World actually hung on the Cleveland Browns’ decision about who to start at quarterback this week!

And so… I hit the “Power Off” button and spent the rest of my drive in silence, contemplating Life, Love, and Laundry.

Admittedly it was a small sample size from which to draw conclusions, but my experience raised an interesting question for me. It made me ask: is there some fundamental, core reason we need adversaries in order to be fully human?

It certainly seems sometimes, doesn’t it?

I often get the feeling that we go out of our way to set up oppositional types of situations… in all realms of life. Team A doing battle against Team B to determine the winner seems to form the basis of our systems of war, sports, politics, and most business.

Lately, it seems as if “winning you over to MY point of view” is the way we talk to one another, too.

Advocates of this approach suggest that adversarity(yes, I just made that word up) is the only way anything ever improves. They point out that businesses that lack competition become lazy and lackadaisical about innovating or providing exceptional service.

And I am not sure I would really ever work to improve my jump shot if I wasn’t going to use it to try and win a pick-up basketball game.

But we also need to remember that – according to the psalmist – we are each “… fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139), with – I presume – an unbridled capacity to continually hone and refine our God-given abilities.

But does that necessarily mean refining those abilities in the heat of battle?

As I listened to the story-telling on The Moth, delving deeper and deeper into the meat and meaning of a few simple life experiences, I felt the deep tingle of inspiration stirring inside. I loved the open and vulnerable way the storytellers peeled back the layers of their lives and invited me in to look.

I wanted to do the same… and tell the stories that have helped shape MY life.

Without having to threaten to crush or annihilate me, those storytellers coaxed me closer and closer to a willingness to explore similar places in my own life. They beckoned me to walk where wonder and surprise and humor might have swirled together to create a rich place of meaning… to look again at something I might have overlooked before.

Yes, King Solomon also told us, “…iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17).

But sometimes the best tools are made from something a lot softer than iron.

 

Abundant blessings;




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