Posts Tagged ‘God

06
Nov
18

The Real Problem

Dreamer image“Your situation…” a wise person once said to me, “… is never the problem.”

Pregnant pause.

“The problem… “ they continued, “… is your RELATIONSHIP to your situation.”

And for the most part, I agreed with and appreciated this pearl of wisdom when I first heard it.

I mean, how often are we prone to believe that if we can just change something about our situation… by getting a new job, a new spouse, a new haircut, a new hometown, a new car, a new political leader, a new wardrobe, or a new pet… that life will finally be whole, complete and perfect?

I confess I have fallen for that faulty line of reasoning more than once.

And yet, this wise saying – like many wise sayings – has its flaws.

If your situation, for example, involves you being in poverty, being abused, being otherwise exploited, being denied justice, or being trapped in a cycle of addiction, then yes… your situation IS the problem.

You need advocates and empowerment to change that situation.

But for the most part, I am firmly on board with the “change your attitude instead of your situation” wisdom.

True… I may just be trying to steel myself against a potentially MASSIVE disappointment as I watch today’s election results trickle in. I may be preparing to (somehow) take a hopeful, positive relationship to a thoroughly sucky future political situation.

But still… I thought it might be a good time to remind all of us of the amazing power we each hold. Even when things don’t turn out the way we would prefer we each have the power to shape our own outlook on the world.

As it turns out, today is a good day to read and re-read this election day wisdom from that famous first-century political pundit, the Apostle Paul where he reminds us where to keep our focus: “…  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, emphasis mine).

Happy voting!

Abundant blessings;

22
Oct
18

Drawing a Line

Hello!

I have an assignment for you today.

When you find yourself at a place where you have a little flexibility in your schedule, I would like you to stop and draw me a picture.

I would like you to draw me a picture of a person. Please.

It can be a self-portrait, a picture of your spouse or significant other, a picture of a total stranger, or some mythical person… It doesn’t matter.

And just to take a little pressure off, let me add this one additional condition: you can choose to make your drawing a crude, stick figure person, like this: Stick_figure

OR you can decide to make it a detailed, shaded, textured, nuanced genuine work of art, like this:

Mona Lisa

Totally up to you.

OK?

Alright… so this is not a real assignment. You don’t really HAVE to stop and draw me a picture. (Unless you really, really want to).

But I know that if I were on the receiving end of an assignment like this (a REAL assignment… not just some made-up blogger trick assignment), I know which drawing option I would choose.

Due to both a lack of talent and a lack of motivation, I would choose to produce the quick, stick figure drawing option.

And I think that most of us who aren’t professional portrait artists would do the same, wouldn’t we?

The upside of choosing the “stick figure caricature” option, of course, is that it is MUCH quicker and easier.

The downside is that it is much less accurate… much less helpful.

And while you and I don’t ever receive assignments like this in real life, we DO regularly face a similar choice.

When any of us encounters another human being, we are always faced with the choice of how much time and energy we will invest in creating an accurate, detailed picture of that person.

Whether it is someone we have known for a lifetime or someone we just met 10 minutes ago, we can choose to either quickly sketch a stick-figure caricature of them… OR we can spend the necessary time to develop a detailed, shaded, textured, nuanced portrait.

Yes… option “A” (the stick figure option) is quicker and easier. And so often in today’s world, we are motivated to choose solutions that are quick and easy.

But the quick option is usually not accurate or helpful.

This subject seems particularly relevant today…, as those of us in the U.S. are right in the middle of a white-hot political season.

And you know how it goes with election-time advertising messages: MY favored candidate is always painted with the crudest, boldest “good guy” brush-strokes, while the opposing candidate is painted even more crudely as “the very incarnation of evil.”

Somehow we sense that these “cartoon image” pictures of politicians are not really accurate. And yet, most voters rely on very little besides what they see on TV or hear on the radio when choosing for whom to vote.

In the end, our voting decisions (and PLEASE get out and vote!) are very binary; “YES” to this one, “NO” to this one.

No room for maybes.

Let’s not apply that approach to the other people in our lives, OK? Let’s dare to spend the time to try and understand the mystery, the depth, the multi-hued and deeply layered nature of each person.

Let’s recall that when the Psalmist sings God’s praises and says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” (Psalm 139:14, NRSV), that he also means you, and you, and you, and you, and EVERY person ever.

We also need to remember that you don’t have to be an accomplished artist to consider the rich detail of each person you meet.

 

Abundant Blessings;

20
Oct
18

Our unwelcome, uninvited visitor

uninvited visitorWe received the official word on the morning of September 21.

That was the day we found out that most of our attention and energy, for now, will focus on dealing with my wife’s cancer diagnosis.

It was the last thing either of us was prepared – or wanted – to hear from her doctor.

But there it was; unavoidably real… clinically stark… terrifying.

At first, it was like an explosion that knocked us both off of our feet.

It left us dazed, reeling, and with an intense ringing in our ears. For several minutes we just stumbled around the house blindly, saying, “Wait… what?” to each other.

Many of you have been on the receiving end of this exact hammer blow and know all too well what a game-changer this news really is.

Somewhere in your brain, you know that very soon there will be a mad flurry of activity. Phone calls will be made, research will be done, appointments will be set, references will be checked, schedules will be changed, tests will be run, and prayers will be said.

But right now, it is just the two of you and this 800-pound gorilla that appeared out of nowhere and took a crap in the middle of your living room.

It is all a little too much to process, and so you choose not to do what you really can’t.

But there, in the middle of all of the smoke and wreckage and feces, you look around and notice a few things.

And you start to wonder;

  • Was it purely coincidence that years earlier I had served alongside a pastor whose spouse just happens to be one of the pre-eminent gynecological oncologists in this area… someone whose name came up repeatedly when discussing specialists to see?

  • Was it purely by chance that three weeks earlier I made an appointment to meet with my counselor that very morning at 11:00 a.m.?

  • Was it total happenstance that we had tickets to go with our friends to the Billy Joel concert the exact same night as this diagnosis?

In another stage of my faith life, I might have said that the only acceptable evidence that God had actually intervened in a frightening, life-threatening situation was when people saw an unexpected and miraculous reversal of that situation.

For example,

  • The sea instantly becoming dry land…
  • The blind person suddenly regaining her sight…
  • The wheelchair-bound paraplegic jumping up and dancing for joy…
  • Cancerous tumors miraculously vanishing.

But age and experience have taught me that there are a whole host of other ways God intervenes in our lives… actively sending a continuous stream of little alerts to us, each designed to say, “I’m here. I’ve got you. You will never be alone for one second as you go through this… even during those times when you feel like you are.”

I know that lots of you have faced news like this in your lives and somehow found the means to cope with it. I take great strength from your examples… even the times when you just had to, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

I think I’ll be doing that a lot.

But it is also greatly reassuring to know that the One who made me and made my wife is right here with us, holding our hand and guiding us through.

“For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear,
I will help you.’”

– Isaiah 41:13, NRSV

08
Sep
18

The Perfect Day

Weather radar picHere where I live, it has been raining all day today.

It also rained a bit yesterday, but then it rained a LOT the day before.

All this rain helped me remember an innocent, idle thought from Monday… the day before all the rain decided to come calling. It was nothing… just a blip that briefly flitted through my brain.

When the thought came I was out walking. The sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing, and the temperature was a perfect 73 degrees.

In fact, everything about that moment was perfect… including my health and overall disposition. In concert with this amazing symphony of perfection, I thought, “Wow! How cool! I wish I could hang on to this moment FOREVER!”

I am sure everyone has had at least one “golden moment” like that… if not recently, then certainly in the not-too-distant past.

I hardly had time to wipe the smile off my face when that thought balloon popped, only to be replaced by the next one, which said, “Are you sure you mean that?” followed quickly by one that read, “Do you realize what you are actually saying?”

“Well, yes, I thought I did,” I said. “What’s wrong with yearning for a perfect life and perfect world?”

But then I began to visualize the answer to my own question. What if it was ALWAYS 73 degrees? What if it NEVER rained? What if clouds never formed in the sky above me? What if I was always chipper and pain-free and strong?

I suppose residents of San Diego, CA can cope with that kind of horrible nightmare, but the more I thought about it, the less that vision appealed to me. I realized it would be a life of utter monotony. All of the color and texture and variety of life would dry up and blow away… not to mention the grass and trees in my front yard.

And then I wondered; is that really what I mean by the word “perfection”? An endless monotone progression of bland, pleasing sameness? Do I really yearn for a life devoid of change, challenge, or uncertainty?

Taken to its extreme, of course, the concept of “perfection through uniformity” is the vision that gives birth to systems where difference is punished and variation becomes the enemy.

On second thought, no thanks. I’ll opt instead for the world God created. And by that, I mean the world where the weather changes, where seasons are different, where people speak different languages, prefer different foods, love different movies, and vote for different candidates.

Yeah. Give me that kind of perfection. Give me the perfection of change, difference, diversity, novelty, and surprise.

Bring on the rain!

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;

21
Aug
18

Game on!

Little League signDo you like to compete?

Some people do… and some people (I understand) don’t.

And it seems as if for those who do like to compete, EVERYTHING is a competition.

Heck, I once knew a guy who was so competitive he used to time himself on how long it took to pass out the daily multi-vitamins to him and his wife. (“New personal best today!” 16.2 seconds!!)

OK… I’ll come clean. That was me.

I will confess to being one of those competition junkies… you know, people who not only love sports but who also tread very close to the line of professing that competition is the essence of life.

(It’s not, by the way.)

Thankfully I am not addicted to competition to the point of wagering or insisting that everything else in life must revolve around me getting my sports fix. It is, however, not out of the question to conclude that I may occasionally have a hard time maintaining eye contact with my wife when there is a game being televised at the place where we are having dinner.

And it is not just sport. It is most of them. No…, not golf. No, not hockey. Not bowling. Not NASCAR. Not professional bass fishing. Not NBA basketball.

But pretty much everything else. Why just last night my son and I were sitting spellbound in front of a professional cricket match between Jamaica and Trinidad/Tobago.

Last month, as my siblings and I were in Washington State scattering my dad’s ashes, we spent time reflecting on all the ways – good and bad – that dad influenced us. We agreed that his very advanced case of Sports-o-philia had a decided effect on all five of us.

I guess I’m saying I come by this affliction honestly. Or at least genetically.

Sports are fun, don’t get me wrong. There is the unexpectedness, the “anything can happen” element, the hometown pride they (sometimes) create, the spectacle of human athleticism on display, and the camaraderie that is all part of being a FAN (short for FANATIC).

But as much enjoyment as I receive from sports (both in the watching and the playing), I can’t help but wonder what kind of atmosphere all the attention to sports really creates in this country… economic benefits aside.

Some would argue – and I have heard them – that competition is what makes this country GREAT. Good ideas bumping heads with each other in healthy, open competition inevitably produce GREAT ideas.

Some defend the value of competition by quoting Proverbs 27:17 and reminding us that, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”

But I also know that by its very nature competition creates WINNERS and LOSERS. I know that when we place such a high value on the outcome of our competitions, people come to understand those categories (winner and loser), as something larger than just a fleeting status report.

They come to understand them as statements of personal IDENTITY.

People can get way too caught up in the outcome of an event that is meant to be nothing more than a trifling pastime… witness the fact that Super Bowl Sunday is always the day when record numbers of domestic violence incidents are reported.

When any of us come to see the yardstick of our eternal worth as the WON/LOSS record of our hometown football, baseball, soccer, basketball, or croquet team, it is time to give ourselves a quick “Matthew 6:26” reality check.

And so, as you despondently look up from the sports page, having just seen that your “boys in blue” are 36 games out of first place with 42 games left to play in the season, hear Jesus whispering in your ear and 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?”

Look up and say, “Why yes I am!”

And then go out and have a nice, uncompetitive game of catch with your kid.

 

Abundant blessings;

13
Aug
18

Scattered

 

Us on Ranier

Left to right: my son Graham, Alan, Eric, me, Douglas. Not pictured: mother of the bride, Melinda. Sorry, sissy.

A couple of weeks ago, my siblings and I had one of our all-too-rare get-togethers.

 

Rare because hanging out regularly is hard when separated by 2,000 miles of American soil. As providence would have it, the occasion of my niece’s wedding (in the lovely Cascade Mountain town of Roslyn, Washington) offered us a great excuse to do some yakking and catching up.

I’m not sure if I have ever said this here before, but I LOVE my brothers and my sister. They are some of the sharpest, funniest, kindest, looniest human beings you will ever have the joy of meeting. I automatically become a better person simply by spending time in their presence.

ALL visits with them are too short… no matter how long they are.

But besides kibitzing and marrying off Melinda’s youngest daughter, we had another assignment to carry out. We decided this would be a great time to carry out an ash-scattering our dad had requested as part of his final instructions to us.

Not only had dad drawn up a detailed plan for his funeral service prior to his death in January 2017, (including scripture readings, music, and poetry to be read), he also made up a list of five places where his cremated ashes were to be scattered.

As we stood there on the flanks of Mt. Rainer and scattered 1/5 of dad’s earthly remains, we also read a poem… written by one of the pastors dad served with early on in his ministry.

Part of the time included sharing some reflections on all of the ways dad’s influence helped shape us into the people we are today. I hope to offer some of those thoughts in a later posting.

And even though this poem clearly endorses cremation vs. burial of the body, I don’t offer this as a condemnation of those who choose burial.

I simply wanted to share that poem here, both as a way of celebrating the unique and unrepeatable life of George C. Brown, Jr., but also as one way of thinking about what is left behind when the breath of life leaves these mortal bodies of ours.

CREMATION

For me, no sepulcher when I am stilled, no grave to hold

Disintegrating into dust that part of me which loving life

Met each morning, wonder-filled.

Instead, to the winds my elements fling! That they may, perchance,

With lilting song reach high hills at sunset,

And meadows wet with dew where I have longed to go.

No marble shaft, engraved with platitudes when I am gone.

Only some heart, once loved, to realize that my eager mind

And long-suppressed dreams have been lured to greater altitudes.

The winds will search across the universe, find blue waters,

Moon drenched plains, little coves…

A thousand havens I have longed to see.

Deep vales at daybreak where white mists rest… there I will be.

Yet part of me, ever and anon, will hesitate, rise high into the sunlight

Then ride a homing breeze to linger briefly

On a dear one’s breast.

So look not down, when henceforth you think of me,

You, whom I so much love!

But lift your heads, your eyes, your hearts,

And look up, over, above, and beyond… for there I will be!

And now may the sweet benediction of God’s love, peace, and grace

Rest upon this life that has closed in our midst… but has not closed.

In faith and high hope, we commit his body

To the elements from which it came…

And his spirit to the God who gave it.  AMEN!

– Rev. Dr. Floyd Faust




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