Posts Tagged ‘grace

07
Jan
21

Lord, in your mercy…

… hear our prayer.

  • Hear our prayer for humility in the face of chaos and confusion.
  • Hear our prayer for justice, administered without regard for place or privilege.
  • Hear our prayer for softened hearts and willing hands.
  • Hear our prayer for vital, life-giving connections between all of your people, recognizing common bonds of humanity.
  • Hear our prayer for the resiliency of hope in the middle of dark times.
  • Hear our prayer for a new willingness to listen deeply to voices other than our own, and those who echo us.
  • Hear our prayer for the relief of the physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual suffering of brothers and sisters around the world.
  • Hear our prayer for a supernatural infusion of wisdom into those we have appointed to govern over the unremarkable affairs of our lives.
  • Hear our prayer for new courage to do your will… even in the face of opposition and hardship. 
  • Hear our prayer that the sharp edges of power might be hammered into the productive edges of plowshares.
  • Hear our prayer for gentle rains and warm sunshine to nurture the fragile, green shoots of new life bursting forth all around us. 
  • Hear our prayer for the birth of a new world, reshaped into the image you intended at the Dawn of Creation.

In your name and in the name of your incarnate son, Jesus Christ, we pray…

AMEN

26
Dec
20

An Unfinished Christmas

I may have mentioned this before (apologies to you if this is old, stale news), but Joan and I are in the middle of a giant remodel in our home.

Shortly after moving in to this house, we decided to flip the locations of the kitchen and the dining room. And just for fun, we decided to throw in a living room fireplace replacement project at the same time.

Yes indeed, we are the kind of wacky, carefree scalawags who get our jollies from doing that sort of stuff.

We started planning the project in the spring, just after the onset of COVID-19. Allowing for a little extra time for delays and setbacks, we conservatively estimated it would be finished by Labor Day… and then Thanksgiving… and then Christmas. 

As you can see from these photos, it is almost, but not quite, finished, here on December 26, 2020. 

Having no kitchen for the last three months has been something a struggle for both of us, but especially so for Joan. True to her Italian heritage, she is most at home in her kitchen, cooking up big servings of love for friends and family. 

When the goal of cooking Thanksgiving dinner in the new kitchen died a reluctant death, all eyes turned instead to a lavish Christmas feast. “Sure… you’ll have a functional kitchen by Christmas,” our contractor told us. 

“Functional,” we noted, is not the same as “finished.” And that is exactly what we got when he knocked off for the weekend early Tuesday afternoon. 

Undaunted, we set the dining room table back up, pushed the wet/dry industrial vac into the corner and started COOKING and DECORATING!! And you know what? It actually worked out pretty well.

We nicknamed 2020, “the unfinished Christmas.” And when you stop and think about it, in a way, God could have given the very first Christmas the same name.

Yes, God came to earth in human form, just as the biblical Christmas story tells us. God’s purpose in making this Cosmic House Call was to – as we were told in Matthew’s gospel, “… save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV). 

SAVIOR. That is who Jesus is. That is what his name means. In Jesus, God provided a doorway that humanity had never had access to before… a doorway from sin and death to life and peace. 

And yet despite that gift… despite that doorway… God’s saving work is unfinished until we do our part. 

The life-saving rope can be perfectly thrown to the drowning man; but until the drowning man reaches out and grabs that rope, he is not saved. 

God came to live among us… to live as one of us… to throw us the life-saving rope of God’s love and grace. But the work of Christmas remains unfinished until you and I reach out and say, “YES” to the gift Jesus offers us.

He is still offering it today and will continue to offer it every day for the rest of your life.

Will you take it?

Abundant blessings;

30
Nov
20

Old Faithful

[A warning to readers: this post contains a ton of references to the game of professional football. It is done in service– hopefully – of a larger theological point. Just the same, people who despise football might want to tune out here. You’ve been warned!]

And here I thought I had to wait a long time.

I moved to the Kansas City area in 1980. At that point it had been 10 years since the city’s pro football team, the Chiefs, had been to the championship game, the Super Bowl. When I first set foot in KC, fans were still basking in the warm glow of that championship. 

They were, however, beginning to grow a little antsy, wondering when the next one might come. 

Little did they (we) know that it would be another 39 years until we tasted the sweet nectar of the Lombardi Trophy again. 

Chiefs fans had to wait through the coaching regimes of Marv Levy, John Mackovic, Frank Gansz, Marty Schottenheimer, Gunther Cunningham, Dick Vermiel, and many others. 

We had to watch quarterbacks named Bill Kenney, Todd Blackledge, Steve DeBerg, Elvis Grbac, Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, Tyler Thigpen, Trent Green and countless others struggle to string together successive wins. 

Along the way we did see a couple of stars named Joe Montana and Warren Moon drop out of the sky to light up the Arrowhead horizon a bit.

For the most part, though, the time since 1970 was a long, dry trek through the football wilderness for the Chiefs and their loyal fans…

… which, of course, all changed in 2017 with the drafting of Saint Patrick. Mahomes, that is. 

Now, after 50 years in the desert, the wait is finally over. The Kansas City Chiefs have arrived in the Land of Respectability.

Speaking now as an avid Chiefs fan, 50 years sure seemed like a long time for us to wait. But let’s put all of that waiting into perspective, shall we? 

  • God’s Chosen People – the Israelites – lived as enslaved people in the land of Egypt, waiting for deliverance, for nearly 400 years. 
  • Then, after Pharaoh reluctantly agreed to release them from bondage, it took another 40 years to travel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.
  • The Jewish prophet Isaiah first foretold of the coming of God’s Messiah (or “anointed one”) in the year 356 BCE… in other words, 356 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. 
  • After their military defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the surviving Israelites spent 57 years in exile in Babylon, beginning in the year 587 BCE. 
  • Nearly two thousand years after his death and resurrection, Christians around the world still await the Second Coming of Christ that was promised by the gospel writers. 

I am not sure anyone really likes to wait… for ANYTHING.

But I have noticed that some people are better at waiting than others. These are the people who seem to possess an inner peace, supremely confident in the knowledge that their waiting will not be in vain. 

You know… the way people used to stand and wait for the eruption of the Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park; every hour, on the hour, like clockwork. No panic. No worries.

Waiting for God to act really should be like waiting for Old Faithful. In fact, “Old Faithful” might actually be another good nickname for God, now that I come to think of it. 

In contrast, waiting for the arrival of a football championship depends on so many uncertain variables. It takes the right owner, the right General Manager, the right head coach, the right group of assistant coaches, and the right players all coming together at the right time. 

The word “faithfulness” is used 79 times in the Bible to describe this defining characteristic of God. The Psalmist said, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” (Psalm 119:90, NRSV).

We don’t know exactly WHEN God will fulfill God’s promises… we just know that what God promises, God delivers. And in that certainty, we can wait with patience and hope…

… quite unlike the experience of waiting for the arrival of football glory.  

Abundant blessings;

12
Nov
20

No Strings Attached

Joan thinks of me as a hard-working guy.

  • The truth is, I am lazy to the core.

My doctor and various family members say they are impressed by my health and vitality.

  • The truth is, I hate to exercise and LOVE stuffing my face with “bad” food.

Some folks have described me as mellow and laid-back.

  • The truth is, I often have a hard time controlling my temper.

People have told me they like the way I write.

  • The truth is my writing has more rough edges and blatant errors than it should… especially considering my education and all these years of practice.

I have been complimented for my theological insight and apparent dedication to spiritual disciplines.

  • The truth is, I am much shallower and more spiritually immature than a person who calls himself a Christian really should be.

To some, I appear to be compassionate and actively invested in helping secure the well-being of other people.

  • The truth is, I am mostly concerned about myself and what is best for me.

Reading through this list, you might be tempted to believe I am brutally honest when it comes to self-assessment.

  • The truth is, I dwell mostly in the land of delusion and self-deception.

Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32, NRSV). 

  • The truth is, facing hard realities about oneself is usually the last thing most people want to do.

Why is that do you suppose? I mean, if we take Jesus at his word (and I do), it means most of us regularly choose imprisonment over freedom… illusion over reality… enslavement over liberation.  

I suspect it has to do with the fact that it is a lot more comfortable to live inside our own, carefully constructed “house of mirrors” than it is to face up to the sharp edges of reality. 

  • It reminds me of my friend who refused to see a doctor about his periodic bouts of “heartburn” … right up until he died in his living room recliner of a massive heart attack. 
  • … or the character “Red” Redding (played by Morgan Freeman) in the movie Shawshank Redemption. After spending most of his life behind bars, Red is finally released from prison, but finds that he ultimately can’t handle the freedom of life on the outside. 

Yes, living in the truth is hard. But it is even harder if we neglect to factor God’s amazing, redeeming, life-changing, future-altering GRACE into the picture. 

We can’t ever forget that God SEES exactly who each of us is. God KNOWS us better than we know ourselves. God REMEMBERS every sin, error, and injury from our past. God ANTICIPATES every major and minor slip-up we will commit in the future.

AND YET… God says, “I forgive you. I love you. Because of my infinite, unconditional love for you, I put on flesh and died for you. In that same love, I offer you this new day as a blank slate, here for you to create upon. Yes, I know you will probably find a way to mess it up somehow, but I still give it freely to you… no strings attached.”

To which I can only say, “Hallelujah and AMEN!”

And THAT is the truth.

Abundant blessings;

21
Aug
20

The Heartbreak of RPD

Chocolate on faceIn a wholehearted endorsement of the axiom advising us that confession is good for the soul, I offer this mea culpa today:

Sometimes I suffer from RPD… Resistant Personality Disorder.

What this means is that I will sometimes resist something just for the sake of resisting it. You know, sort of like the child who sticks out his tongue and says, “You can’t make me!”

No one is better suited to bear witness to the truth of this confession than my sainted spouse. She might, for example, point out that I have a smear of chocolate icing on my chin. To which I sometimes reply, “Well, maybe I really want it there!”

Or else she will lovingly point out that the shirt I’ve chosen doesn’t really go with those shorts. Then, in return for her caring compassion she will hear, “That’s OK. I like it, so I’m wearing it.”

And yes, you are right; there is surely a very special place in heaven waiting for her.

Hearing about RPD, you would be right to ask, “Who does that kind of stuff anyway? And why do they do it? Surely everyone is interested in receiving tips on how to be a little bit better version of themselves, aren’t they?”

I will answer your good question this way: sometimes I do it just to be a playful pill. You know… to liven things up around the house a little bit.

At other times, I am probably genuinely miffed. Miffed that someone else saw something amiss with me (my clothes, my hair, my grooming, my attitude, my personality, my whatever) that I did not see myself. And so I become irritated.

In this morning’s meditation from Fr. Richard Rohr (Franciscan priest, author, and founder of the Center for Contemplation and Action in Santa Fe, NM), I was comforted to learn that I might not be alone in my propensity to resist helpful insight. Fr. Rohr wrote, “We all come to wisdom at the major price of both our innocence and our control. Few of us go there willingly; it [wisdom] must normally be thrust upon us.”

Does that sound like YOU at all?

In my own life there was probably no greater example of RPD than my resistance to God’s call to ministry. I can point to moments when I heard – with shocking clarity – a voice saying, “Come serve me” at least 25 years before I actually responded to that call.

My excuses were endless; I knew better. I had my own plan. I wasn’t ready to stop having fun yet. I needed to use my gifts and abilities to “do cool stuff.” I could do “God stuff” around the edges and on the weekends when nothing else was going on.

Thankfully, God didn’t give up. Thankfully, God finally seeped through (actually, more like BROKE through with the full force of a 2×4) my thick skull and got my attention.

Sadly, all these years later and with so much formational experience, I still catch myself occasionally resisting wisdom. Hopefully not as consistently as I once did.

The writer of Proverbs personifies wisdom as God’s co-existing, feminine partner at the very beginnings of the world and gives her these words, “And now my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise… For whoever finds me finds life.” (Proverbs 8:32, 35, NRSV).

How about you? Are you eager to hear wisdom? Do you embrace it, even when it threatens to upset your plans and send you in a new direction?

Or are you still suffering a bad case of RPD?

The cure might be closer than you think.

 

Abundant blessings;

06
Aug
20

There Must Be a Reason

Asking whyMy wife, Joan, is a big fan of “doing things for a reason.”

And there is always a good, solid reason for the things she does.

When cooking her world-famous pasta primavera, for example, [What… you’ve never heard of it?] it is not by whim or accident that the carrots are cut to THAT exact size, or why they go into the water 10 minutes beforethe broccoli florets.

She chose to drive to Loveland via Highway 287 rather than I-25 the other day for the very good reason that Google alerted her to a possible tie-up on the interstate.

For the long-term health of our marriage, it is a really good thing she is wired this way. That’s because – as you might have guessed by now – I am sort of wired with the opposite polarity. “Oh, I don’t know… no reason,” is the phrase that most often comes out of my mouth when Joan asks why I chose THAT particular shirt to wear, or why I am using THAT tool to pull weeds from the yard.

Having a reason for the things one does is smart and commendable. And even though I only sporadically engage in this practice, I highly recommend it…

… except, that is, when it comes to the subject of love.

And to be clear, I am talking here about the selfless, unconditional, Christ-like, agape kind of love when I say this. Romantic-style love usually proceeds on a whole host of reasons… some rational, others not so much.

In the 22nd chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we find Jesus engaged in a street-corner debate with a lawyer. Eager to match wits with this up-and-coming rabbi, the lawyer poses this question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36, NRSV). Knowing that there were 613 laws to choose from, this hot-shot thought he had really painted Jesus into a corner.

As usual though, Jesus quiets the questioner and the crowd with a simple, straightforward response. He answers the lawyer by saying, “Love God, and love your neighbor. Everything else is window dressing ” Or words to that effect.

For me, the really revolutionary part of this response is the two words Jesus does NOT include in his answer.

Jesus’ answer does NOT include the words, “So that…”

In other words, he did not say, “Love your neighbor SO THAT the other guy will thank you.”

He didn’t say, “Love your neighbor SO THAT they will ‘owe you one’ and love you back.”

He didn’t say, “Love your neighbor SO THAT the crime rate in your neighborhood will go down.”

Heck… he didn’t even say, “Love your neighbor SO THAT she will join your church.”

There were, however, two other words that came after the word “neighbor.”  He said, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

Wow! Wild. Radical. Revolutionary. Necessary.

Of course, if anyone had asked Jesus to explain WHY we should love our neighbor, he probably would not have said, “Oh I don’t know… no reason.”

 

He probably would have said something like, “Because your Father told you to!”

05
Aug
20

The Heart of the Matter

Don_HenleyAfter experiencing a somewhat fraught relationship with it for too many years, I finally can say with confidence that I LOVE the Bible.

Whether I am diving into accounts of the trials of God’s people, being seared by the white-hot words of the prophets, humbled by the teachings of Jesus, or alternately challenged, inspired, and puzzled by the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Bible rarely fails to slice through my layers of resistance and pierce my very soul.

It is like the river that is new every time I step into it. And also like the river, I find that it nourishes and sustains me.

I believe God – working through the Holy Spirit – is the invisible author of its words.

But you know what else? Over the years, I have discovered that God is quite a talented multi-media artist. By that I mean God demonstrates a remarkable ability to speak to me (and you, too!) through a limitless number of channels. When I read these words in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge,” (Psalm 19:1-2, NRSV) I hear it saying that God can – and does – speak through any medium God chooses to.

One of which, sometimes, is rock music.

That assertion might sound like heresy to some, but please hear me out…

A couple of days ago, on yet another in an endless string of trips to the grocery store, I turned on the car radio. Don Henley’s song Heart of the Matter was playing. I really like that tune, but for some reason I was uniquely attentive to the song’s words that day. As I listened, I heard Henley sing, “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it’s about… FORGIVENESS.”

BAM! There it is! So, tell me… how is that sentiment any different from the words of Matthew 18:21-22 – “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy times seven.”

Of course, if you listen further in the song, you find out Henley is talking about forgiveness in the realm of a very particular personal relationship, but let’s not be nit-picky.

The point I am trying to make is this; for those with ears to hear it, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all around us. It is not restricted to the pages of the text we recognize as holy canon. It is the ocean we swim in as we live our daily lives.

The problem – as usual – comes not in the hearing of God’s word, but in the doing. How many people have read Matthew 18:21-22 and yet still continued to struggle with forgiving even the TINIEST insult? [I’ll go first… ME, for one.]

Henley’s album, The End of Innocence, on which Heart of the Matter appears, won a Grammy award in 1989, was a six times platinum album (meaning it had sales of more than six million copies), and has received countless plays on the radio since it first appeared. Yet despite the countless number of people who have heard Don Henley musically declare, “Dude… the heart of the matter is FORGIVENESS,” how many have taken that message to heart and actually LIVED it?

I will go ahead and confess I have fallen woefully short on that score.

Today, I invite us to listen with new, eager ears to the world around us. Be ready to be ambushed by the words of Jesus emanating from strange and unexpected places.

Take them to heart.

But even more importantly, LIVE them out!

 

Abundant blessings;

29
Jun
20

Child of Privilege

Shaking hands across a deskI remember the interview very well, even though it happened more than 30 years ago.

It was an excellent job and I really wanted it. I had some of the necessary qualifications, but certainly not all.

And yet, at the conclusion of the interview I was rewarded with a smile, a firm handshake and that truly delightful question, “So, Russell… when can you start?”

I also remember that time a few years later when I stopped to fill my gas tank. This was back in the dark ages before the invention of credit card scanners on gas pumps… if you can imagine such a medieval thing.

I pulled up to the bank of pumps furthest from the cashier’s office. There I saw a hand-lettered cardboard sign that read, “Please pay before pumping.” I shrugged and began walking toward the main building. No biggie.

Right at that moment, the cashier – a white man about my age – turned and saw me through the window. He immediately offered a dismissive wave of the hand as if to say, “Hey, buddy… that’s OK. Go ahead and pump your gas.”

I finished filling my tank and went inside to pay. “Hey, thanks for letting me go ahead and pump my gas first,” I said to the man as I fished out my wallet.

Yeah, sure,” he replied. “We’ve had a bunch of ‘drive-offs’ here lately, so we had to start asking people to pre-pay.”

And then he added, “But you looked OK.”

What he really meant to say was, “You looked white.”

These are two of the more glaring examples of times in my life when I have been on the receiving end of white privilege.

They are troubling, to say the least. What should be even more troubling are the countless times I have received unmerited privilege and been utterly oblivious.

For example…

… all the times I have not been pulled over by the police because I “fit a description.”

… all the times I have not been closely watched as I browsed among the clothes in a suburban department store.

… all the times I have not seen another person cross the street or clutch their purse tightly when I approach them.

… all the times I have been able to make a major purchase with nothing more than a cursory credit and employment check.

… all the times I have not been amazed and delighted to finally see someone on TV who looked like me.

… all the times I have been in a classroom led by a teacher and surrounded by classmates who looked like me.

… all the history lessons I have learned that were filled with people who share my skin tone.

…  the multiple talks my father did not have to give me about the extreme caution I must exercise when driving in a different part of town.

… all the stories I have not heard about how people who look like me are more inclined toward criminal behavior.

… the tendencies toward diabetes and high blood pressure and other ailments that I did not inherit simply because of my race.

The list literally goes on and on.

I will readily confess: turning down an offer of unmerited favor is hard. In fact, I am not sure I have ever done it. If someone wants to grant ME a privilege they might withhold from someone else, my inclination is to receive it, say, “Thank you very much,” and walk on.

In the same way, folks like me who compete on a playing field tilted wildly in our favor rarely speak up to challenge the justice of that field.

But we should. Especially if we take the sentiments of Dr. King seriously in his letter from the Birmingham jail. Seeking to incite the consciences of well-meaning, well-mannered white clergymen, King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

The Good News of Jesus Christ was never intended to function strictly as a tool of individual sanctification. Yes, it begins its work deep in the heart of one person, but it was always our Savior’s intention that that individual spark of saving grace would spread a flame of mercy and justice and peace over the face of the earth.

Now is the time.

We are the people.

Let the hard work commence.

So be it.

13
Apr
20

Team Jesus

Team JesusI made my choice a long time ago.

In the middle of one of the darkest times of my life… when every door seemed to be sealed shut… when my relationships only offered pain and resentment… when the future looked as lifeless as the surface of the moon… when I lacked the energy to even put one foot in front of the other… I cried out to the sky in anguish.

At that moment, I did not even attach a name to the object of my cry. My plea was just a miserable arrow, launched aimlessly into the darkness. Honestly, I did not even believe there was anything there for it to hit.

But then it happened.

As Paul Tillich once said so eloquently in his epic sermon You Are Accepted, “Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual…”

There is no other word that even comes close to describing what happened to me in that next moment. Like a bolt from the blue, I was struck by grace. A deep peace seeped into my soul, displacing the fear, the self-hatred, and the remorse that once filled it. I had no idea how it was going to happen, but I had every confidence that from there forward, everything was going to be OK.

Later, with the help of compassionate friends and family members, I was able to attach a name to my life-altering event. I understood that this most extraordinary rescue came by the hand of Jesus. They also helped me understand that it came – not because I was such a great guy, or because I was the one-millionth customer that day – it came because that’s just how he rolls.

And yes, I knew I was free to turn and walk right back into my old life. No conditions were attached to that rescuing stroke of grace.

Instead I chose – in gratitude – to start following him. I chose to call Jesus the Lord (i.e., the Ruler, the Primary Authority, the True North, the Guidestar, the el Numero Uno) of my life.

Doing so, I came to discover, also meant calling HIS narrative about life THE narrative about life.

Jesus’ narrative about life is nowhere more clearly articulated than in the annual celebration of Easter. When we re-tell the Easter story, we are reminding ourselves of the narrative that says, “To die is to live.” It is the narrative that also says, “Love is stronger than fear… light is stronger than darkness… life is stronger than death.”

In not one, not two, but THREE on-line Easter services yesterday I said the words, I sang the songs, I felt all the feels.

But now here on Easter Monday, I see I am facing a challenge.

I am facing the challenge of actually LIVING as if all that is true. (We all face that challenge, actually).

In other words, if Christ is actually alive and has indeed overcome the grave, I darned sure better ACT LIKE IT! I better immediately jettison the notion that all the hatred and anger in the world is too powerful. I’d better disabuse myself RIGHT NOW of the idea that the forces of darkness have the upper hand.

I had better start speaking and acting and thinking like a member of Team Jesus… that is, like someone who hears him say, “… take courage… “ (Matthew 14:27, NRSV) and then who actually TAKES COURAGE!

If I really believe in the truth of The Greatest Story Ever Told, I need to flush out the bitterness, purge the resentments, and expel the pride that is constantly trying to take root in my soul.

Hymns and candy and Honey-Baked Hams are awfully nice. But if Easter doesn’t show itself in the way I live, I might as well have spent the day yesterday whistling Dixie.

Happy Easter Monday, everybody. How will YOU choose to observe it?

24
Jan
20

Unreasonable

Sweet little old ladyShe was such a sweet lady.

Petite. Probably in her late 70s. Pretty pink knit hat and matching sweater. Cheerful, smiling disposition.

I’ll call her Gladys.

And the way she phrased her request as just as sweet as she was.

All of which served to make the utter unreasonableness of her request easy to miss.

It was about 10 minutes before the service was due to begin. There I was, tuning up with the other members of the praise band at our new church. Since it was my first time to play with them, I wanted to go over a couple of the numbers I felt a little shaky about.

During a little break in the action, Gladys walked (sweetly) up to the leader of the praise band, smiled, and said, “I know I probably should have put in earplugs before coming today, but I wonder if I could ask you to turn your volume down a little bit.”

Mind you, this was for a group made up of two acoustic guitars, three vocalists, and a bass guitar. No drums. No keyboard.

Elijah was a bit taken aback. As he paused, trying to formulate a reply, Gladys continued and said, “Or I suppose I could just sit way in the back.”

Elijah finally found his words and politely replied, “Let us see what we can do.”

Gladys smiled (sweetly, of course), thanked Elijah, and started back to her seat.

After Gladys left, we actually didn’t make any adjustments at all to the volume settings of the microphones or the guitars. We just went on with the service with the exact same settings. Afterward, though, Gladys came up and (sweetly) told us that it really hadn’t been so bad after all.

It was not until much later that I stopped and thought about the nature of sweet Gladys’ request. I am sure to Gladys her request was entirely reasonable. I am sure she believed she was saying, “My ears have difficulty with loud music. Could you help a sweet, little old lady out by turning your volume down a smidge? Please?”

In reality what Gladys had said to us was, “I know you have set all of the sound levels of your instruments and microphones for the best possible listening experience of the entire congregation. But I’d like to ask you to forget THEM and change all of that to accommodate ME.”

“Yes,” Gladys had also said to us, “I could have taken steps to mitigate the issue for myself beforehand, but I didn’t. So I am asking you to kindly elevate my individual needs over the needs of the entire congregation. Thanks.”

Sometimes in life, we all have to deal with unreasonable requests. Sometimes the requestor is surly and unpleasant about it. (Hey! Turn that damned noise DOWN, moron!!”)

And sometimes they are endearing and sweet. Like Gladys.

The question – in either case – is how to respond to an unreasonable request. I wonder…

  • Is it ever necessary to comply with an unreasonable request?
  • Conversely, should every unreasonable request be rejected, out of hand?
  • Should we try to educate the person about just how unreasonable their request really is?
  • Are some people more prone to be on the receiving end of unreasonable requests than others?

Not surprisingly, Jesus had a few things to say about dealing with unreasonable requests. This probably has to do with the fact that he lived in a land and at a time of unreasonable requests.

As he preached there on the hillside one day he said, “But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”(Matthew 5:39-42, NRSV)

Something to think about the next time you face an unreasonable request…

… even if it does come from sweet little Gladys.




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