Posts Tagged ‘humble

18
Mar
21

Going First

Going first comes naturally to me.

Going first doesn’t always mean finishing first, just FYI.

It all started when I volunteered to be the first of five children born to Lyn and George Brown, some [mumble, mumble] years ago.

That meant I got to be the first guinea pig for them to test all of their new parenting theories on. I was the first to walk… the first to ride a bike… the first to fall down and skin my elbow… the first to go to school… first to get my driver’s license… and the first to see exactly what the consequences were for violating the family rulebook.

Each time the stork delivered a new bundle of joy to the Brown house, mom and dad were able to tweak their parenting skills a little more, so that by the time #5 came along, they were absolute paragons of parenting perfection. 

You’re welcome, siblings!

Going first soon became a way of life for me. Naturally when neighbor Marc Downer and I were standing on top of the flat-roofed garage behind our house on Norwich Street with bedsheets [excuse me… I mean PARACHUTES], tied to our waists, I was the first one to jump off and test our theory of aerodynamics. 

NEWS FLASH: It didn’t work.

Even though the resulting twisted ankle and bruised head would have taught most people a lesson, I nevertheless persisted. Well into early adulthood I continued to push myself to the head of the line at home, in the classroom, and on the playground. 

In fact, many, many years later when I was one of an army of associate pastors in the largest United Methodist Church in the country, I raised my hand and offered to lead their maiden attempt to develop a “satellite” campus in a suburban location.

Now some of you hearing this narrative might be quick to point me to Jesus’ words from Matthew 19:30 wherein he admonishes Peter and some of the other eager beaver disciples by saying, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30, NRSV). You might even double up your scripturally-based finger wagging with this gem from Proverbs: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, NRSV). 

To which I would probably reply: “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to YOU!”

No… I’m sorry. As tempted as I might be, I would not say that. Yes, I would THINK it, but those exact words would probably stay bottled up inside me.

Mostly, though, I would have to agree with you.

One of the biggest things I discovered through my years of going first is that it is usually a very humbling experience. When you stick your toe into waters no one has ventured into before, you end up making a lot of mistakes. You are doing everything for the first time without the benefit of being able to look at the “teachable moments” from a predecessor. 

Just ask some of the people who had the misfortune of being members of my staff in that first satellite campus church. 

For me, a more relevant scripture passage than those above is this one from First Corinthians. In it we hear Paul explaining some of the fundamentals of church leadership to a skeptical audience: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7, NRSV). 

Perhaps this is “wishful hearing” on my part, but I think Paul is saying, “Look… somebody has to go first. Somebody has to get out there and whack down the weeds and underbrush to clear the trail. Somebody has to blunder out and make all the initial mistakes. But whether you are firstsecond, or somewhere toward the end of the line, the only thing that matters is getting God’s work done.”

And so, if I can make someone else’s road a little less bumpy by jumping to the front of the line and becoming a cautionary tale for God’s greater glory, I’m good with that…

… as long as I also get to go first in the cafeteria. 

Abundant blessings;

20
Jun
20

This Side of the Desk

When Breath Becomes AirI just finished reading the book When Breath Becomes Air.

I am still drying my eyes.

It is the story of a brilliant, gifted neurosurgeon named Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi seems to be on his way to an illustrious career as that rarest of medical hybrids, a surgeon/scientist. He is married to his med school sweetheart and they are preparing to conceive their first child. His world is suddenly blown to bits when he receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer at the age of 36… just as he is preparing to graduate from his residency program.

Oh yeah… did I mention that it is an autobiography? Kalanithi wrote it himself… as he was in the process of dying.

Watching him navigate the transition from doctor to patient – while remaining fully a doctor – is one of the more intriguing storylines in the book. Midway through his cancer treatment, Kalanithi says that his experience with the disease has helped him realize that, “… the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

If I didn’t know better I’d say he was describing the work of a pastor!

Kalanithi regularly expresses amazement at the way it has been possible for him to know volumes of information ABOUT the body and its diseases without truly grasping the full weight of their impact on the real people he serves as a doctor.

Until suddenly, he finds himself sitting on the other side of the desk.

Today I am trying turn up the dial on my education about the lifelong challenges faced by African Americans. I am reading books, I am talking to people, I am watching movies and documentaries, I am thinking quietly, and I am praying. Please understand… I tick off this list with a sense of embarrassment, not pride. This is all work I should have been doing a long, long time ago.

And believe me, it helps. Ava Duvernay’s powerful documentary, 13th (referring to the 13th amendment to the constitution outlawing slavery) opened my eyes to things I was painfully naïve about. She taught me, for example, about the wide disparity in the legal penalties for possession of crack cocaine (a low-cost, smokable form of the drug, favored in inner-city settings) and powdered cocaine – used almost exclusively by white suburbanites.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg of eye-openers and gut-punchers in store for those who choose to tune in.

Unlike Dr. Kalanithi, however, I will never be visited with the opportunity to suddenly find myself sitting on the other side of the desk… eyes finally opened… perspective finally focused and accurate. I will always only be who I am; the lifelong recipient of a host of benefits derived from a playing field tilted severely in my favor.

But does that deficit mean I can’t be an effective ally to the cause? No. It just means I will never be black.

What it does mean is I will need to work even harder to educate myself… and never stop educating myself. It means I need to take people at their word when they relate their experiences of encountering systemic racism. It means I need to actively use some of my privilege and advantage to advance the cause of justice… not just to make my world more comfortable.

It means I need to redouble my efforts to listen to and follow the advice of the prophet Micah who said, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV).

 

Abundant blessings;

08
May
20

The “Simple” Life

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

HandymanHGTV lies.

Home repair and remodeling never happens with that kind of speed or ease.

Where is that time-lapse photography effect when I really need it? Eh?

Case in point: our two wall sconces. (Actually, I am trying to impress you with the fact that I can use the word “sconce” in a sentence with reasonable accuracy). 

Once we got most of our boxes unpacked here in Fort Collins, we looked around to see what needed fixing or updating. High on the list was the replacement of the two Miami Vice-looking wall sconces, circa 1989.

Our domestic arrangement specifies that Joan is the BRAINS and I am the BRAWN of the operation. So naturally, she picked out just the right design for the new sconces and then turned it over to me to install them.

Piece of cake, right?

Nope. Not right. Not even a crumb of a morsel of a piece of cake.

I won’t bore you with the 101 details of how this simple, straightforward task spiraled out of control and turned into an electrical engineering graduate degree final exam question. I’ll just say that a professional has now been called to come and sort through the carnage left behind by yours truly.

In the dusty aftermath, what stands out in my mind is the phrase I muttered to myself in the course of my third (or was it the fourth?) trip to Home Depot: “Can’t anything be SIMPLE anymore?”

That question was meant to be a comment on a string of recent events in my life, all featuring surprise appearances of unexpected complexity.

In a way, though, it could be a question about our world today. Over the course of the last two months, I am sure we have all had reason to stop and ask, “Can’t any part of life be simple and straightforward anymore?”

The current COVID-19 pandemic has turned routine activities like going to the store, going to church, going to the doctor’s office, or taking a vacation into intricate logistical dances. Heck, even having a drink with friends requires high-speed internet service and a high-def webcam.

The yearning for simplicity in daily life is strong these days and it is understandable. But we have to watch out that the yearning for simpler daily lives doesn’t morph into a misguided kind of nostalgia for an imaginary “simpler time” that frankly never was.

No matter what anyone might tell you, life has never been simple. It has only been different.

Possessing a brain and a heart and a soul and a spirit automatically muddies the waters. Living among other similarly equipped sentient beings multiplies the complexity exponentially.

I might be missing something, but from where I sit there are really only two available responses to the reality of living in this three-dimensional, seven-billion-piece jigsaw puzzle we call THE WORLD: 1.) Try to hide from it, or 2.) Embrace it.

It won’t be easy, but I am going to try to go the “embrace it” route. What will that mean? You ask. Well, for starters it will mean…

  • … I will have to become committed to continuous learning.
  • … I will have to be prepared to be regularly humbled and/or confused.
  • … I will have to turn and ask for help – probably more often than I like to.
  • But most of all, it will mean I will have to be at peace with being the guy who doesn’t have all the answers.

For those of you who do not (yet) have the privilege of knowing me personally, you have no idea how tough that last bullet-point item will be for me. I’m the guy who likes to know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING.

But you know what? It’s really OK if I don’t.

Because I serve an awesome God who DOES!

Hallelujah!




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