Posts Tagged ‘God



21
Oct
19

Go Do Love

Reading the paperYesterday at church I heard an inspiring sermon.

The pastor challenged me (well, all of us actually) to make an intentional practice of acknowledging the many-layered, complex, rich, and vibrant nature of every person we meet.

She told us that one way of doing that, for example, might be by making eye contact with the McDonald’s counter person as they hand you your Egg McMuffin and senior coffee… thanking them and genuinely caring about what kind of day they are having.

I don’t remember if she said this, or if I just made my own translation of her message, but the goal I set myself to accomplish was to go and, “Do Love.”

So that was my Monday project; to do love… to friends, to my spouse, to my neighbors and siblings, yes. But also to complete strangers and maybe even– get this! – to people who DON’T LOVE ME!

But before setting out on that kind of grand quest, I needed to fortify myself with a little coffee. DANG! That’s right! The people I order my Guatemalan Fair Trade coffee from haven’t shipped me my refill order yet! I KNOW I placed the order in plenty of time to ensure I didn’t run out.

What is wrong with them anyway? Is it too much to ask that an order be fulfilled in a somewhat timely way? “Lunkheads,” I mutter, under my breath.

Oh, well. I can always pop down the street and grossly overpay for some kind of Starbucks foofoo blend.

So… before heading out on my “love doing” mission, let me give the front page of the newspaper a quick glance. Who knows… I might find a story about something that will dramatically re-shape my day.

OH MY GOSH! Would you look at that! Another senseless homicide on the east side yesterday! A local school board member is arrested on a child pornography charge! And look at this, on page A2: lies, underhanded dealings, and character assassination coming out of our nation’s capital! (Have they no shame? Someone just needs to grab each one of those clowns and sit them in a corner by themselves for the next 30 days! They are a disgrace to the office!)

And don’t even get me started on the news of the horror show of the international scene; war and atrocity in this country, massive corruption here, natural catastrophes brought on by manmade climate change (while the deniers keep denying), and crushing preventable poverty in other places.

It makes me feel so sad and helpless. It all just makes my BLOOD BOIL!

And unfortunately, the sports page offers me little relief from all the front-page mayhem. There I find a scathing article about the inept coaching job at my alma mater in their loss on Saturday. I find I agree with the reporter’s every word, but it only succeeds in working me into a little more of an emotional lather.

OK… I just need to put down the paper, grab my car keys and head out the door. Just like Jake and Elwood, I am on a “Mission from God” today. I’ve got some LOVE to do. I’d better go do it before I forget how.

I calmly, serenely and lovingly pull out on to the busy, four-lane road, and wouldn’t you know it; some MORON in a blue Ford F-150 pickup truck decides his time is way more important than mine and zips into the lane in front of me. Simultaneously my left foot hits the brake and my right hand hits the horn… as unprintable words escape my lips, just for added emphasis.

I make a right at the next corner, another right, and then a third right at the corner after that. I end up back in my own driveway, defeated before I have even started.

“I just can’t,” I sigh, turning off my engine. “Not today.”

I mean, how does God expect me to go out and love all these people who are SO UNLOVABLE? So messed up! So stubbornly self-centered and IMPOSSIBLE!! Why should I waste my time and energy on people like that when it probably won’t make a darned bit of difference??

And before the words are even out of my mouth I hear, “Well, he loved YOU, didn’t he?”

 “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”(1 John 4:19-20, NRSV).

 

**GULP**

11
Oct
19

Celebrating Women in Ministry

Female pastorFrom watching the TODAY Show this morning, I learned that today – October 11 – is the International Day of the Girl. Seems like something I should have known already.

I hope you won’t take offense at being called girls, but to celebrate this day, I want to give a big shout-out to female pastors.

I have had the privilege of knowing some phenomenal women who have answered the call to ordained ministry and who have served Christ faithfully, tirelessly, and creatively… all while enduring challenges we male clergy types have never even imagined experiencing.

  • I, for example, have never had a congregant come through the hand-shake line and compliment me on my hairstyle, utterly ignoring every word of my painstakingly prepared message.
  • I have also never heard the comment – overtly or covertly – that “men just don’t belong in the pulpit.” (And yes, that is still being said in 2019 in reference to female clergy).
  • No one has ever told me that they couldn’t focus on my message because I was “too pretty.”
  • My denomination has not systematically overlooked my leadership abilities when appointment-setting time rolls around.
  • I have never been called “overly emotional” (even though I really am an overly emotional guy).
  • Concerns have never been expressed about how I will balance my parenting responsibilities with my ministry.
  • I have never been “accidentally” groped while serving Holy Communion. (And just to be crystal clear; the quotes there around the word “accidentally” mean there was nothing accidental at all about the groping. And yes, that happened just a year ago to a female clergy friend).
  • And the list goes on and on, ad nauseum

It was only fifty years ago that the Methodist Church (pre-merger) began ordaining women. The largest protestant denomination in the world (the Southern Baptist Conference) still cites 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”)for its outlandish refusal to permit women to have any position of power in the Southern Baptist Church.

[So just a question for you here, SBC: are you also “all in” with Paul’s instructions on how to treat our slaves? Or on the covering of heads? Or the Levitical ordnances against mixing fibers in our clothing? Just curious…]

Even though I would love to believe that the CHURCH would be the last place we would find injustice, intolerance, and bigotry, it is just not the case.

Even here.

Even now.

So, blessings and much love on this International Day to you Shelly, Gayla, Maria, Kara, Nancy, Barb, Nanette, Libby, Melinda, Trudy, Sylvia, Sharon, Amy, Dee, Anne, Karen, Stephanie, Ally, Shayla, Esther, Joyce, Ashlee, Jada, Lisa, Rebecca, Nadia, and to every woman who nevertheless persists in following God’s call on your life.

We need you now more than ever.

And to the rest of us, let’s do everything we can to support and encourage these women as they lead us in following Christ.

04
Oct
19

The Guatemalan Giggle of Grace

Guatemala 2016 (9)In my life, moments of grace have come in many different forms.

The compassionate word. The gentle glance. The understanding touch. The sweet smile.

My heart will always reserve a special place for that day when grace came in the form of a giggle.

It happened in 2003, on my first trip to Guatemala. This was a trip with two professors and 11 other students from Saint Paul School of Theology.

It was not a mission trip in the traditional sense that phrase has come to be understood. The seminary called it an “immersion trip.” The purpose of this trip was to immerse the participants in the history and culture of a place heretofore unfamiliar to us.

We were not going there to do anything in particular. Rather we were going to Guatemala to learn. In fact, the professor who served as the primary trip organizer encouraged us to think of this as a “reverse mission trip.”

What he meant by this, he explained, was that we were not traveling to Guatemala to bring something TO the people we would meet there. Instead, we were going there to receive something FROM them. That something was their stories, their perspective, and a glimpse through their eyes of the place they call home. It was an outlook he hoped would counteract the usual paternalistic attitude most Norte Americanos take when traveling to this part of the developing world.

After two days of lectures in Guatemala City, our group hit the road. Our first stop was in the town of Chimaltenango to meet with three of the principal leaders of the “Heart of Women’s Cooperative.”

In our semester of reading in preparation for the trip, we learned a lot about the inhuman horrors of the 36-year Guatemalan civil war. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book, I, Rigoberta Menchu provided graphic detail of the arrests, mass executions, torture, rape, and destruction of the indigenous Guatemalan people at the hands of government soldiers.

But we all agreed afterward that until we sat in the same room with two women who actually LIVED that experience, we had no clue what it was really like. These women told us, through tears, of how they watched husbands, fathers, and sons hunted down and slaughtered… About how the women of the village all had to band together to figure out how to survive in the war’s aftermath… and about how they had been propelled to begin their cooperative by a vision of peace for their children.

When they finished speaking, I wanted to speak to these brave women directly and thank them for taking the time to share their story with us. I wanted to look directly into their eyes, take their hands and express my gratitude.

The only obstacle was my limited high school Spanish vocabulary. I knew “Thank you” (gracias) because, duh… who doesn’t? But since I didn’t know the word for “story,” I hurried over to find one of our translators. Fernando, our primary translator was talking to someone else at that moment, so I found Jamie, the high school son of one of the professors. Jamie had been taking Spanish in school for eight years and so was very fluent. I said, “Jamie… quick: how do I say ‘story’ in Spanish?”

Without hesitation, he turned to me and said, “Cuento.”

I thanked him and went back to the women. Taking their hands one by one and looking into their eyes I said, “Gracias para su cuento. Gracias para su cuento.”

To my great surprise and dismay, my heartfelt thanks did not produce the response I expected. The women nodded to me, turned shyly to one another and began giggling.

I turned around, puzzled, and sheepishly made my way back to the bus.

Once on the bus, I found Fernando, the other translator, and explained to him what had just happened. When I finished my story, Fernando threw back his head and added the impact of his laughter to my already fragile ego.

“Oh, Russell,” he said between guffaws. “The word cuento means something like ‘fable’ or ‘fairy tale.’ So, in essence, you just told those women, ‘Thank you for your fairy tale.’”

Which started Fernando laughing all over again… at my expense I might add.

At first, I was just sick. I thought, “How could I say such a stupid thing? These women just finished pouring out their hearts to us, telling us about the most horrific period of their entire lives, only to hear the dumbass gringo come up and thank them for their FAIRY TALE! Jeez! If someone said something that stupid to me, I think I’d want to punch them right in the face!”

“They should send me home right now before I do any more damage.”

As I sat there wallowing in my pool of shame, I suddenly paused and remembered the giggle that passed between those women. Yes, I realized, they knew I had used the wrong word for “story.” They knew I should have said, “Gracias para su historia,” instead of cuento.

But they weren’t mad at me.

They were amused. They knew I was trying to express gratitude even as I failed miserably to do so.

Their giggle said, “Poor Yanqui and his botched SpanishBut he’s trying, isn’t he?”

It was then I realized that in that giggle, I had received grace.

Gracias, mujeres. Via con dios.

 

03
Oct
19

The Staged Life

Joan and I are now living the “staged life.”

And I really don’t like it. At all.

Here’s the deal; two weeks ago, we put our house on the market. We are in the process of doing what many retired folks before us have done… we are downsizing and moving to the mountains.

If you have gone through the house-selling exercise, you kind of know the drill. First, you go around and fix everything that needs fixing. You paint some walls, you redo that powder room, you clear all the wonderful, sentimental junk out of the basement and garage… either by donating it or pitching it.

And then… you meet with THE STAGER!

The stager is the person who goes through your house and makes it all pretty and presentable for all the potential buyers parading through your home.

The stager takes pictures from your bookshelves. They ruthlessly reduce the number of knick-knacks and doodads festooning your walls. They tell you to get rid of this chair and that bookend and to move that lamp from THERE to THERE.

The job of the stager is to look at your house through the eyes of a stranger and try to make it as impersonal and inviting as possible.

Often, to achieve the desired “show home” look, the seller (i.e., us) has to take junk from a countertop and shove it into a drawer, the garage, or inside a cabinet. To illustrate, I present here Exhibit A: the clean countertop in the first picture and then in the next picture, the junk-Countertopinfested cabinet where everything got shoved.

 

Now Joan and I are not slovenly people. We do, however, occasionally leave dirty plates in the sink, Diet Coke cans on the kitchen counter, newspapers piled by the chair, and socks crumpled on the floor like most of the rest of you.

But when the bell rings and we find out that a prospective buyer wants to come look at the house, we kick into hyper-tidying mode and SWOOSH it all away.

What a pain.

It makes me wonder if I am ever guilty of “staging” my life in the eyes of God. That is toJunk underneath
say, do I ever try to shove all of the messy, flawed, imperfect, unsightly aspects of myself under the counter and pretend to be the human version of a “show home”?

Am I deluded enough to believe there is a garage big enough or a closet shelf high enough to squirrel away all of my defects and blemishes?

And do I honestly ever believe that God would look upon me the same way a prospective buyer looks at our house… going over it all with a magnifying glass and white gloves, searching for any possible defect that would justify a “thumbs down” decision?

Of course not. At least, I don’t think so.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul made the utterly preposterous suggestion that being open and forthcoming about our flaws might actually draw us CLOSER to God… if you can believe that. He is on record saying, “…but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”(2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NRSV).

Say WHAAAAT?

And if that doesn’t make your head spin around enough, check out this nugget from James, Jesus’ kid brother: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”(James 5:16, NRSV).

Which sounds as if he is saying that it is not only OK but even healthy to let other people see the metaphorical “dirt” under my rugs.

So much to process… so very little grey matter with which to process it.

Cleanliness might be next to godliness when it comes to our homes and hands. But I am eternally grateful that God understands when I fail to bring him a spotless life.

 

30
Sep
19

Sometimes it’s complicated

Rosie and Patrick in the kitchenIt seemed like a good idea at the time.

Our little Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier puppy Rosie had grown to her full size and was becoming a handful for Joan and me.

Yes, a fuzzy, lovable, cute handful. But a handful nonetheless.

We decided that instead of trying to match her level of playful puppiness stride for stride we would try to find Rosie a canine companion.

Ideally, this companion would be a neutered male Wheaten… approximately the same age as Rosie. Finding exactly that dog was a long shot at best, but as providence would have it, the breeder we bought Rosie from was about to retire Rosie’s daddy Patrick from sire service and was seeking a friendly family home for him.

[Theological side-note: I am really not convinced that God spends a lot of time engineering the connections of people and their pets. But it did all fall together pretty smoothly for us, so why not hand out a little Divine credit?]

Adding Patrick to the family has been exactly the remedy we were looking for. Rosie and her daddy get along famously and romp and play with each other in the back yard to the point of exhaustion.

But here in the last week, Joan and I have woken up to an inescapable fact about life with TWO dogs as opposed to ONE: it complicates things.

We have to keep track of two different immunization schedules. We have to buy twice as much dog food and pay twice the vet bills. We have to find house- and dog-sitters that are willing to watch over two animals instead of just one. We have to double our vigilance at the off-leash dog park. We have to wash double the number of muddy footprints from the carpet after a rain. And when it comes to bath time… well, you can just imagine what that is like with two active, energetic dogs.

In fact, right after bath time this past Saturday, Joan and I very nearly looked at each other and asked, “Was it really a good idea to bring a second dog into our home?”

But then something stopped us right at the brink of asking the question. I don’t think either of us wanted to go where that question might have taken us.

We probably refrained from asking the question because we have become quite fond of our Patrick.

But we also might have stopped short because we have never said that a simple, uncomplicated life is one of the goals we are pursuing.

It is also possible that we didn’t ask the question because we each remembered those times in our lives when increasing life’s complications has also led us to increased joy.

Any parent who has gone from one child to two (or from zero to one, for that matter) knows exactly what I am talking about.

David Brooks, in his latest book, The Second Mountain, makes a distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness, which he says is mostly a temporary and situational state, and is about expanding the self. Joy – a much more durable and lasting commodity – is about surrendering the self. Or in the words of Jesus,  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NRSV).

Brooks goes on to say that two of the things that open us more fully to a life of joy are our CONNECTIONS and our COMMITMENTS… connections to other people, to our community, and to our souls… and the steadfastness of our commitments to abide with each of those.

All of which – I feel compelled to add – sounds like the exact opposite of living a simple, uncomplicated life.

Still, I am reluctant to draw the conclusion that our choice is between a life that is simple, neat, tidy, uncomplicated and joyless or the life that is connected, committed, messy, complex, and full of joy.

I know it is not that cut-and-dried. The lives of the desert mothers and desert fathers demonstrate the great joy to be found in extreme simplicity.

For now, I think I will just stick with drawing the conclusion that bringing Patrick into our lives – muddy paws and all – was a good move after all.

Bow wow.

27
Sep
19

The Love Loophole

Jesus-facepalmI love you.

At least I know I am supposed to love you. It is one of the central commands of the Christian faith I profess. (See John 13:34, John 15:12, Romans 12:10, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Peter 1:22, etc., etc.)

And yet I have to admit; I am not always sure what I mean by that.

But you don’t even know me!” you are no doubt saying. “How could you possibly say you love me?”

Good point.

And then there is this question to consider too: how do I distinguish my love for you– a (mostly) complete stranger – from my love for Joan, the woman with whom I held hands, stood before God and a room full of people nearly 20 years ago and exchanged solemn vows?

And while you’re tussling with that one, here is another mind-bender: Is there – should there be – any discernible difference between my love for those of you readers who are warm and wonderful human beings and my love for the monstrously bad eggs of the world?

I know what the answer is supposed to be. I know I am called to emulate Christ and ladle out heaping helpings of unconditional love to every one of you with no consideration given to the life you’ve led, the people you’ve harmed, the Nobel Prizes you’ve won, or the cancer you’ve cured.

Would it shock you to hear me say I fall woefully short of that benchmark EVERY SINGLE DAY?

Didn’t think so.

It almost sounds like a humanly impossible job description to fulfill, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is.

And yet, there it remains; front and center in the preaching of the One I follow.

Easy for you to say,” I grumble under my breath. “You’ve got all that God-dust flowing through your veins. You weren’t ever susceptible to rage, or jealousy, or lust, or envy, or greed like the rest of us.”

And yet even before the words are out of my mouth I know I have never been more off base.

Maybe,” I think, “I can use my thimbleful of Greek language skill and fulfill Christ’s command by philia-ing some folks and storge-ing others while I agape the really super-worthy ones.”

Even as I say it, I can see Jesus facepalming and shaking his head, charitably pitying the depth of my intransigence.

Look, Russell… if my words aren’t clear enough for you,” He says, “why not take a listen to Saint Thomas Aquinas. My buddy Tom once said that authentic love means to ‘selflessly will the good of another.’ Does that help at all?”

Hmmmm. Intriguing.

“So, Jesus,” I ask. “Are you suggesting it might be possible to ‘selflessly will the good’ of a stranger, or a psychopath without feeling all warm and fuzzy toward them? Seriously?”

“When did you ever hear me say that love has anything to do with your feelings?” he says, mercifully declining to add the word “knucklehead” to the end of his sentence. “Love is a VERB. It is much more about what you DO and much less about how you FEEL.”

So go… get out there and do some love. And stop trying to find a legalistic loophole to squeeze yourself through.”

Thanks, Jesus. I’m glad we had this little talk.

 

Now comes the hard part…

18
Sep
19

Change is Good?

Moving dayI preach change all the time.

When some flavor of change seems to be looming on the horizon, I find scripture to cite to assure folks that God is not just GOOD with change but often actually goes out of his way to make it happen.

I’ll start my campaign with a little Isaiah 43:18-19 where the prophet speaks for the Almighty, saying, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it,”following with some Revelation 21 with “See, I am making all things new,” and then if none of that works, I will deliver the coup de grace with some 2 Corinthians action: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”(2 Corinthians 5:17, NRSV).

Easy to preach. Much harder to practice, as it turns out.

I am in the middle of a whole barge-load of change right now in my own life and am suddenly discovering the truth of the saying, “Babies with dirty diapers are the only ones who really appreciate change.”

First, there is the change of status from “working guy” to “retired guy.” I am barely two months into that brave new world and still a little shaky on my feet.

Now Joan and I are preparing to sell our house, pack up our world, and move from Overland Park, Kansas to Ft. Collins, Colorado.

It is a good move, one that will put us in a wonderful, healthy, friendly, very “beercentric” mountain community. We will be closer to Joan’s daughter and chief medical advocate. We will have quick access to some of the most amazing scenery in the entire U.S.

So what’s there to complain about?

Well, there is the whole MOVING thing, for starters. The packing, the cleaning, the lifting, the redecorating, the broken dishes… what a pain!

Then, once we are physically settled in to the new place, there is all the rest of the readjustment/reacclimating process. I have to find a new doctor… a new barber… a new church… a whole new set of friends… a new vet… a new mechanic… EVERYTHING! And I am completely convinced that none of them will be as good as the ones I have now.

Sometimes late at night, while Joan sleeps soundly beside me, I lie awake staring at the ceiling and ask, “What if I can’t make this adjustment? What if this is just all too much change for me to cope with?”

If I were completely honest about it, I suspect my real fear about this move is my suspicion that the core of my identity is somehow tied to this place where I have lived for nigh unto 44 years now.

It’s silly. I know.

But then I think of the Israelites and their forced march into exile in the year 587 BCE. Jerusalem was not only their home but was – according to sacred teaching – the actual, physical dwelling place of the God who called them.

Their home WAS their identity.

But then they discovered something extraordinary. There, in the middle of their exile lives in Babylon, they discovered the real source of their identity. There they were: thousands of miles from their home and the Temple… depressed and defeated. Their foundation was not just shaken but shattered. They had no idea if they were ever going to see their home again, let alone resume their status as God’s Chosen People.

But there – right in the middle of their darkest moment – the voice of God came to them through the prophet and told them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”(Jeremiah 29:4-6, NRSV).

In other words, “Be Here Now. Don’t look for your purpose and identity anyplace other than where you are at this exact moment. I am with you in EVERY place, not just when you are in Jerusalem.”

Hmmmm. That is really good to know.

Do you think that applies to Ft. Collins, Colorado, too?




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