Posts Tagged ‘grace

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.

31
Oct
19

“Nope. Not you.”

rejectedRejection hurts.

“Don’t take it personally,” they say. But sometimes personally is the only way you can take it.

It’s like the time I was cut from the eighth-grade basketball team. The first three practices were the tryouts. The day after the third practice, a piece of paper was thumbtacked to the bulletin board outside the coach’s office. On the paper were the names of the 10 boys who made the team. If your name didn’t appear there, you had been cut.

I remember standing there with the other guys in front of the bulletin board, searching and searching to find my name. One by one they each called out in delight as they saw their names listed.

I got to the bottom of the list and hadn’t seen my name. I went back to the top, convinced I had somehow just overlooked it and went S-L-O-W-L-Y back to the bottom.

It wasn’t there.

I had been cut.

Rejected.

And yes, it was very personal.

Or there was that time in the ninth grade when I called Marsha Westbrook to ask if she wanted to go to Alan’s party with me. I didn’t call it a date, but that’s exactly what it was.

Marsha was a pretty and popular girl. Most of my friends would have agreed that I was punching WAY above my weight limit by asking her out. I took a deep breath as I picked up the phone and dialed her phone number.

It didn’t take her long at all to come up with a response. Without skipping a beat I heard, “No, I don’t think so.” She offered no excuses, no false dodges or made-up conflicts like, “Oh sorry… I have to wash my hair that night.”

Just NO.

Rejection in the most personal way possible.

Becoming an adult has not inoculated me from rejection as I once hoped it might. I have heard, “Nope. Not you,” at job interviews, community theater auditions, attempted bar pick-ups (during my footloose single days between marriages), and in response to grant applications.

All rejections sting. All of them feel deeply personal.

And as other pastors will readily testify, few rejections sting as much as the rejections we sometimes receive from the churches we serve. As the spouse of one pastor I knew once said so eloquently, “Ain’t no hurt like a church hurt.”

I suppose it is partly because the church is the LAST place we would expect to experience rejection. “Surely,” we think to ourselves, “… a group of people committed to following the Lord of Love would refrain from the use of knives and daggers and cudgels in their relationship with their Appointed Shepherd.”

But alas… sometimes we find out that is not the case at all.

I can’t tell you why the topic of rejection has floated to the top of my consciousness so prominently today. Right now I am in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. I haven’t had a door slammed in my face for at least two weeks.

It might be that I am reacting to recent stories about people experiencing the sting of rejection on the basis of some God-given aspect of their identity. This kind of torment still happens today much too frequently and seems to perpetuate from one generation to the next.

It could be that I am still smarting from my personal rejection episodes. I have discovered that rejection is not a wound that heals quickly. The cut goes all the way to the center of your soul.

And so if you are in a season of rejection right now – for whatever reason – I am really sorry. It hurts and it takes a long time to heal.

You also need to know that the rejection you received is often not about you at all. Sometimes it happens for irrational, unpredictable reasons. That company might have known the person they were going to hire before they even placed the ad, but protocol required that they “go through the motions” of searching anyway.

Often the rejection you received is much more about THEM than it is about YOU. It is born from some deep insecurity that can only be assuaged – they believe – by belittling someone else.

My sister… my brother; if you have been rejected, take heart. The only way we ever escape rejection completely is by staying out of the arena completely… by sealing our heart up in an airtight chamber to keep it safe, secure, and utterly dead.

And so at the risk of sounding trite and potentially dismissive, I close with this: never forget that the One who holds the universe in the palm of his hand loves you more profoundly than you will ever be capable of understanding.

As Paul once said, long ago;

 “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”(Ephesians 3:16-17, NRSV).

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**

17
Oct
19

Dragon Slayer

Dragon-SlayerLast night Joan and I took a brisk, 40-minute drive over to Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence, as I am sure you all know, is the home of the University of Kansas.

The purpose of our trip, however, had nothing to do with KU. We were there to attend a concert by the group, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Neither of us knew their music at all. We bought the tickets based solely on the recommendation of friends whose musical taste we trust implicitly.

Thankfully the group was a delightful surprise to us and we had a toe-tapping good time. Think Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with a bit of a country twang. Here is a YouTube video of their song, “I Like to Be With Me When I’m With You.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ2mFxc-Fl4) for a little taste.

But what really caused me to pause and enter “rumination mode” was the name of the tour. There it was – as you can see in this photo – in big bold letters at the back of the stage: GO OUT AND SLAY ALL THE DRAGONS THAT STAND IN YOUR WAY. I believe this is Drew Holcombalso the name of their latest album.

“YES!” I said, thumping my chest bravely. “I will! I will face those dragons down one by one and thrash them with the sword of truth and honor! I will take on the Dragon of Doubt and run him through! I will show no mercy to the Dragon of Critical Commentary! I will whup up on the Nasty Nay-Saying Dragon and make him cry ‘Uncle’!”

“Put me in, coach!” I cried. “I’m ready to SLAY!”

“Hold on there a second, hotshot,” came The Voice in my left ear. “I see you there with that whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11) all cinched up and that breastplate of righteousness and that sword of the Spirit ready to roll… and trust me, it’s an impressive sight.”

“But what if…” the Voice continued, “… what if you charge out there ready for battle and discover that those dragons aren’t all OUT THERE?”

“Wh… what do you mean?” I stammer, suddenly a little unsure how my cavalry charge got re-routed so suddenly.

“I mean, how are you going to respond when you discover that the fiercest ‘dragons’ you are so ready to slay are the ones that live INSIDE of you?”

“Wait… WHAT??” I spluttered.

The Voice explained, “What if I told you that your biggest battles from here forward are going to be the battles you fight with those, let’s call them, ‘less than exemplary’ parts of your own makeup?”

“I know you want to look out at the world and imagine these massive walls of resistance in front of you, flanked by moats filled with fire-breathing crocodiles. But I am here to assure you; that’s all a figment of your over-active imagination.”

“No, son,” the Voice continues… oh, so lovingly, “Your biggest ‘dragon’ is your stubborn insistence on trusting your own resources and abilities much more than you are willing to trust MINE.”

“I know you really like sports analogies, so try this one on for size: the way you are approaching your life right now is like trying to go out there and quarterback the Kansas City Chiefs all by yourself instead of turning the job over to Patrick Mahomes. Only in your case, it’s a thousand times worse.”

“Really?” I said, stupefied. “That bad?”

“Clearly you have never read the part of my book where it says, ‘Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.” For easy reference, you can find those timeless words of advice in verse 5 of the thirty-seventh Psalm.”

“Well,” I said, rubbing my chin thoughtfully. “When you put it that way, it makes a whole lot more sense.”

“Yes,” replied The Voice. “I thought that language would speak to you. But just in case you were ever curious about what my Son might have had to say on the subject, you can also check out what he said in Matthew 19:26 – ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’

“OK,” I said, putting my sword back into its sheath. “Thanks for setting me straight.”

“But tell me this,” I said, after a moment of reflection… “What kind of weapons do I need to fight THOSE dragons?”

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.

 

08
Jul
19

The Overmow

Mowing the lawn“… outdo one another in showing honor.”                                    Romans 12:10, NRSV

My next-door neighbor and I are in a competition.

Not that I’m keeping score or anything, but I think I just went ahead by one earlier today. (Self high five!)

We are competing on neighborliness with a little thing I call the “gracious overmow.”

Here is how it works; if I happen to get out and mow my grass before Tom – my neighbor to the west – mows his, I don’t stop mowing at our property line. I go all the way over to the side of his house… mowing grass that actually belongs to him.

And if Tom happens to get out and mow his grass before me, he does the same.

We never actually talk about it. We just do it.

I have also tried to practice gracious overmowing with my neighbor to the east, but he apparently hasn’t caught on to how the system works.

Honestly, it is a little bit of a pain when I am the one doing the overmowing. It makes my mowing time about 50 percent longer than usual. But when Tom beats me to the punch… it is AWESOME!

Zip, zip! Done!

It all made me wonder… could this be done on a larger scale? Could I find other areas of life in which I might “overdo” a kind gesture?

Could I, for example:

  • “Overshovel” my neighbor’s sidewalk in the winter?
  • Pull weeds from my neighbor’s yard?
  • Fetch my wife a Diet Coke before she even asks me?
  • Graciously allow a fellow motorist to cut in front of me in traffic?
  • Pick up someone else’s dog poop? (Ew, no… scratch that one. Too gross.)
  • Leave that last box of corn flakes on the grocery shelf for someone who might need it more than me?
  • Toss someone’s newspaper a little closer to their house than the paperboy did?

And could I do it, not just for nice guys like my neighbor Tom, but could I do this stuff for total strangers, too? … Or for people that are kind of grumpy, disagreeable, and hard to get along with?

What a concept!

But then, as I was contorting my right arm into a pretzel shape trying to pat myself on the back for having such kind-hearted, altruistic thoughts, I heard a voice. As I listened a little more closely, it seemed to be the voice of Jesus, whispering to me…

“Dude…” he said. “If you call yourself a follower of mine that’s the kind of stuff you should be doing anyway. Routinely. It’s nice, but honestly, it’s no biggie.”

He continues, “Don’t just stop with a few cutesy, quaint little gestures like that. Feed the hungry. Visit the sick. Go to the prisons and comfort those unjustly confined. Locate injustices in the world and become actively engaged in righting them.”

“If you really want to make a difference, take a few risks. Stick your neck out. Try doing something that just might be unpopular enough to LOSE you a friend or two… even though it’s the right thing. Don’t be content to stick to the safe stuff that makes people like you more.”

“Come back and talk to me after you have been unjustly criticized for advocating for the people I tend to hang out with… you know, the misfits, the outcasts, and the people on the margins. I probably won’t give you a medal or anything, but I’ll be pleased.”

Gee thanks, Jesus.

You really know how to rain on a guy’s parade, don’t you?

Think I’ll go mow my yard now.

30
Apr
19

“The Day my Mother Went Crazy”

woman-praying-black-white-sad-sized.630w.tn_I grew up in one of those small towns where everyone knew everything about everyone else.

And so it was no surprise that we all heard some version of the story of the day Mrs. Stanfield (not her real name) had what we called back in the day, “a nervous breakdown.”

One April afternoon, just after school had been dismissed, Mrs. Stanfield snapped. She began screaming horrible things at her children, threatening them with violence, and then threw them all out of the house.

Literally.

As a long time member of the United Methodist Church and an ordained United Methodist pastor, I now feel I have firsthand knowledge of how Mrs. Stanfield’s children felt that day.

These days I feel as if my mother-in-Christ – the United Methodist Church – has suffered a similar kind of nervous breakdown.

On February 26 of this year, under the dome of the Edward Jones Center in St. Louis, Missouri, MUM (Mother United Methodist) lost her marbles completely. That day I felt exactly like my mother had thrown me out of her house, yelling, “NEVER COME BACK HERE AGAIN!”

February 26 was the day the group of global delegates to the special called session of the General Conference voted 438 to 384 to adopt the so-called Traditional Plan… a plan that strengthens the church’s stance of exclusion toward LGBTQ+ people.

I held out hope that MUM would regain her senses… that the church’s Judicial Council would meet and rule that this plan violated not only the denomination’s Book of Discipline but also the spirit of grace on which the church was founded.

And then we would all wake up and realize it was all a bad dream and it was time to get back to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

But that didn’t happen. Yes, the Judicial Council did meet. Yes, they did find certain parts of the Traditional Plan (and the plan of disaffiliation that went along with it) unconstitutional. But in a decision announced just last week, we learned that the very worst parts of the Traditional Plan remain untouched.

The difficult truth I now have to face is that my mother – the United Methodist Church – is officially bigoted and homophobic.

Other people in the community now look at our family with caring, yet pitying eyes… unsure of what to say or how to relate to us.

MUM used to be so different. It was at her knee that I learned all about the guiding principle of grace.

She is the one who carefully instructed me to see complex issues from a “both/and” instead of “either/or” perspective. (“It’s not EITHER the heart or the head, but both,” she said. ”It’s not EITHER social holiness or personal holiness, but both. It’s not science or faith, but both.”)

Her heart was always so big and open… eternally reaching out in creative, loving ways to the very people everyone else had turned their backs on.

She taught us her unique, four-fold approach for discerning truth.

But then… one day something happened to MUM… something that caused some internal spring to snap, resulting in this historic fit of absurd behavior.

Yes, of course, I still love her, but my mother has become utterly unrecognizable to me. I seriously doubt her father, John Wesley, would even recognize her in her current state.

Like Mrs. Stanfield back in my hometown, I suspect MUM’s breakdown has been brewing inside her for a long time. Years and years of accumulated stress finally reached the boiling point until… POW!

Those of us in this family are now faced with the difficult decision of what to do with MUM. There is no question that we will continue to love her because that’s what families do.

And yet it is also understandable that some of us will also choose to take this moment to walk away from her, believing her illness to be irreversible. It will be a difficult decision, but no one will condemn them for making it.

Those who choose to stay with her will be in for a long and painful journey. They will need to make sure she gets the kind of professional help she needs. They need to be ready to face the very real possibility that she will never recover.

Regardless of which way anyone chooses to respond, it is a good time to remember that we serve a Risen Savior…

 

… not a flawed and failing institution.




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