Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ

21
May
18

The “Never Enough Club”

productivity-01I wasn’t very productive today.

But then again, I’m on vacation. Productivity is not really expected of people on vacation… is it?

Two weeks ago, on the other hand, I was NOT on vacation. It was a Thursday as I recall… a day that started off with a cup of coffee, a walk of the dog, and a list of items I was eager to complete and cross through.

And yet, I sat back and mused at the end of that Thursday… “What the heck happened? I was a whole lot less productive than I wanted to be today.”

Looking at my sad list of uncompleted items, I was somewhat consoled by the knowledge that lives would not be lost, relationships would not be destroyed, nor would cancer remain uncured as a result of my sloth.

EXAMPLE: I didn’t stop the newspaper or mail delivery in advance of our vacation… a task that absolutely had to be done. But it could just as easily be done tomorrow.

But it made me pause and wonder how often I am guilty of labeling my days as either good or bad based on my own personal level of productivity.

Check a lot of stuff off the list = good day.

Don’t = bad day.

Isn’t that a little bit sad?

I am not saying productivity is something to be sneezed at. Not at all.

We each have a calling to produce SOMETHING in life. And ideally, it is something that utilizes our unique God-given gifts.

Painters produce paintings. Cooks produce meals. Salespersons produce sales. Writers produce strings of coherent words. Clowns produce terrified children.

We each depend on the productivity of others to navigate even the simplest passages of our day. The light bulb you just turned on, the water that just flowed through your showerhead, and the YouTube cat video you just chuckled at were all produced by productive people… folks just like YOU!

What kind of world would it be if none of us produced ANYTHING?

But I have to level with you… there are a couple of places I keep getting tripped up in this whole conversation about productivity. The first is in my tendency to draw a direct connection between my (or anyone else’s, for that matter) WORTHand my level of PRODUCTIVITY. It is hard to ignore the pulsing message in my head that says, “The more you produce, the more you are worth.” 

My second snare comes in my tendency to pass judgment about the overall SCOPE of my productivity. I’m not even sure “scope” is the right word, but here is what I mean; every week I write an approximately 2,500-word sermon and a 700-800 word blog post (or two). But because I am not currently working on either a book or a screenplay, (or both) I regularly feel like a writer wannabe… a poser.

I might visit two or three people in the hospital and pray with them as they prepare for surgery, but because I am not instigating a nationwide movement to provide spiritual care for the elderly and disabled, I feel like a slacker.

I exercise vigorously at the gym at least three times a week; not including daily walks with Rosie the dog. But because I am not regularly putting marathon notches in my belt, I feel like a slug.

It is very difficult to publicly admit these defects in my thinking. As you read them, you immediately see how overly concerned I am with the imagined assessments of OTHERS about my life and me. I am also showing you how difficult it is for me to take Jesus at his word when he says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Matthew 6:26, NRSV).

Here is where you say, “How about practicing what you preach, pastor.”

Are you a member of this club, too? Do you regularly flagellate yourself with the phrase, “never enough”? Do you get twitchy when you take a vacation? Are “to do” lists your highest form of artistic expression?

Well then, come over here and sit with me a moment, my friend. Take off your shoes. Put down your iPhone (unless you are currently reading this blog on it. Then please, continue holding it). Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the breeze of the moment as it caresses your face.

Be reminded – as I must continually remind myself – that God’s mercy and love are not production-based. They pour over you like a waterfall… the same as they pour over the woman who runs her own company, competes in Ironman Triathlons, raises four special needs children, grows her own arugula, and is working on a script for Fox Searchlight, all at the same time.

Take as gospel truth the statement that you earned this magnificent extravagance merely by the heroic act of being born.

Seize it.

Revel in it.

Celebrate it.

And then go out and take a slow walk in your bare feet… smiling all the way.

07
May
18

More than skin deep

Tat photo 1“Hey… is that a tattoo?”

The question caught me off guard for a moment. I was sitting there in my car, arm extended, offering my credit card to the woman in the cute little tollbooth there at the front end of the car wash.

“Why yes… yes, it is,” I answered, finally remembering I did, in fact, have a tattoo on my left forearm.

Even though she didn’t ask me to, I went on to elaborate: “You probably can’t see it from your angle, but these are my father’s initials… a lower case “g” and a lower case “b” connected together, with a cross there at the top.”

Glancing in my rearview mirror to verify that there really weren’t too many folks in line behind me, I elaborated on my elaboration… “This is in memory of my dad. His name is Dads logoGeorge Brown and he was a pastor… so we added the cross on top there.”

“Very nice,” she said with a smile as she handed me my credit card receipt. “Sign here.”

Had I been the only one in line at that moment I would have gone on to explain that dad died last year… two days after his 90thbirthday. I would have added that my four siblings and I all got this identical tattoo less than a month before his death and were able to assemble at his bedside there in Everett, Washington and show him what we had done.

I would have also told her that at the moment of the Big Reveal, my ever-eloquent younger brother said something touching like, “Dad, throughout your life, you have made a permanent impression on each of us, so we decided to make another permanent impression as a way of honoring and remembering you.”

I would have told her that we then each shed a tear and hugged him close.Family photo with dad

I would have also gone on to explain that the tattoo is on my left, inside forearm because that is the same side as my heart. It is also there so that I can look down and see it clearly when I am trying to play something on the guitar.

After all, my dad is the one who first inspired my love of music.

Back when I was a young man in my late 50s, I said somewhat whimsically one day, “You know… when I turn 60, I’m going to get a tattoo.”

Of what I had no idea. But I knew it had to be something significant… meaningful… thought-provoking.

That birthday came and went and I remained inkless. I am sure that was mostly because my tattoo had not yet revealed itself to me. But I knew one day it would.

So I waited.

I have to admit; until this moment of inspiration came, I really didn’t “get” tattoos. I was not necessarily opposed to them. In fact, I am the guy who would regularly comment on the ink of the person in front of me in the grocery checkout line.

It was just that I could never “do the math” required to fathom why a person would endure the pain and expense involved to put permanent artwork on their skin.

But then the car wash cashier helped me see how my tattoo could be a portal…

… to a deeper meaning,

… to a cherished memory,

… to an opportunity to connect with a stranger.

And while my study of Christian scripture fails to turn up any evidence of Jesus having any ink (WWJT?), or any policy on those who do, he DOES regularly seem to reveal himself as a fan of things like LOVE, deep meaning, and connection with others.

So… what do you think?

  • Are you tattooed? If so, what themes/images are most important to you?
  • Are you opposed to tattoos? Why?
  • If you do not have one today, do you think you might ever? Why or why not?
  • If not via the tattoo route, what will you do today to promote meaning, memory, and connection in your life?
24
Apr
18

The idol of safety

Security imageThey were just sitting there at their table in that Waffle House… chatting, drinking coffee, and reliving adventures from earlier that night.

They were just out for a stroll on the sidewalk on an unseasonably beautiful spring day… drinking in the warm glow of the sun. Some jogging, some pushing strollers, some in oblivious WWT (walking while texting) mode.

They were just making their way between classes… thinking about prom, today’s homework assignment, an argument they overheard before leaving for school, college choices.

And then, in the blink of an eye, their lives ended… every one of their hopes, dreams, fears, random thoughts, vacation plans, secret crushes, and song lyrics came exploding, screaming, crashing to the ground.

And those of us left behind reacted.

We moaned and wailed and shook our fists.

We marched.

We wrote letters.

But we also cowered… wondering, “What if that had been ME? What if I had been in that Waffle House… on that sidewalk… in that school… at that ungodly moment?”

And even though we don’t like to admit it out loud, deep within the hidden recesses of our heart we ask ourselves if we will ever feel safe in ANY Waffle House, on ANY sidewalk, in ANY high school, or ANY place beyond the cozy cocoon of our home?

In moments like these, I catch myself coming dangerously close to elevating SAFETY and SECURITY to the place of utmost importance in my life. I mean;

  • … OF COURSE, I don’t want to be mowed down by an angry loner with an all-too-easily-acquired automatic weapon.
  • … OF COURSE, I don’t want to die under the wheels of a rented van careening down a tranquil city sidewalk.
  • … OF COURSE, I don’t want to be suddenly sucked up into the whirling vortex of an early spring Midwestern tornado.
  • … OF COURSE, I would much rather finish up my time here in this veil of tears in the middle of a peaceful, pain-free sleep.

But then I am forced to concede that no matter how careful I am, there is really nothing I can do to prevent any of these things from happening… and also that my life and health are at MUCH greater risk from a traffic mishap than from a terrorist or lunatic-related event.

The sad fact is that when we start to worry about the awful things that might happen to us at a Waffle House, a school, a shopping mall, or a baseball game, we begin to allow fear to rule our lives.

Another way to say that is that we have consciously asked God to step OFF of the throne and invited FEAR to sit there instead.

If we are living in fear and profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we have heard Jesus say, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own…” (Matt. 6:34), and have replied, “Sorry, Jesus. You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.”

RIGHT NOW is all any of us have.

RIGHT NOW is full of meaning, blessing, and wonder… but we can only taste that meaning, blessing, and wonder if we dare to lay fear aside and open our eyes to it.

Henri Nouwen, the great theologian, and psychologist, talked about the same idea using the word PATIENCE. His words are especially relevant today:

“Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.”

I pray that you and yours are safe today and will be safe every day after today.

But I also pray that you do not sell the treasure of today for the fear of an unknown tomorrow.

Abundant blessings;

10
Apr
18

Beloved

Seize the day imageIt happened again.

Sunday morning… there we all were; about 10 minutes before the worship service was scheduled to begin.

I walked in, set my stuff down, and made my way back down the brown-carpeted center aisle – exchanging pleasantries and greetings with some of the early arrivers (which, in this church, is virtually the entire congregation).

There they were, in their customary places… fifth pew from the front, west side, side-by-side on the aisle.

“How are you ladies today?” I asked.

“Oh, you know,” she said, offering a wry smile. “Same as ever.”

“Do you think it’s really going to snow like they said it was?”

Shhhh!” Her sister said in mock horror. “Don’t say it out loud or it will happen!”

And then, at 9:30 p.m. the call came. It had been a massive stroke at 3:30 that afternoon. She and her sister were chatting and doing their respective things… she was playing with the cats… when suddenly…

An ambulance and then a helicopter got her in front of the very best stroke specialists around. But they conferred and agreed; it was too late. The damage was severe and irreparable.

No eye was dry as we gathered around her bed and watched the life support systems being turned off and withdrawn.

Tears were shed. Long hugs were exchanged. Prayers were said. Comfort was offered. Her forehead was anointed with oil.

In the stunned silence of the drive home from the hospital, I kept saying the same thing to myself… over and over again.

“But… I JUST TALKED TO HER!”

As if death has no right to be sudden and unannounced.

As if I was due some kind of advance notice so that I might adequately prepare myself.

Once again I was reminded… as I have been reminded on numerous occasions in the past, and yet somehow, continue to forget and need to be re-reminded of… life is an incredibly fleeting and precious thing.

In one instant here… brimming over with laughter or tears or snow flurries or sunlight or loving friends or annoying neighbors or mismatched socks or ragged sweatshirts or cake or barbeque or squealing, frisky grandchildren…

… and the next instant, gone.

And so I stare into the mirror and ask the guy staring back,“How dare you take any moment of your life for granted? How dare you treat your life as anything less than a gift and a miracle? SHAME ON YOU for failing to squeeze every drop of meaning from even the tiniest moment!”

All of that is true. And yet I know, as sure as I am sitting here typing these words right now, that the lure of amnesia is powerful. As this day begins its unfolding, I will most certainly forget the lesson of that late night call. I will lapse into banality and routine, smudging the beauty of my NOW with a yawn or a gripe.

And so I pray; Holy, God… as you surely now receive your beloved daughter into your arms and welcome her into her eternal home, comfort all who love her. Breathe the breath of your holy, healing Spirit into each broken heart.

And by that same Holy Spirit, please, God, keep me awake. Prod me – gently or violently – whenever I threaten to doze off.

Thank you.

AMEN.

07
Apr
18

James? or David?

James TaylorWhat do you do when your world is out of whack?

This morning I woke up with a nasty head cold. It feels like someone snuck in during the night and stuffed my head full of cotton while I was sleeping. My thinking was so hazy I struggled to tie my shoes correctly.

PLUS… while the calendar says it is April, the weather outside clearly reads “January.” A 19-degree air temperature and frozen puddles outside greet the eye.

To add to the overall disorientation, my wife (a.k.a. confidante, companion, sounding board, lover, friend, anchor, muse, support, reality check) is 1,200 miles away enjoying some sun and sand with her daughter.

My energy is utterly sapped… and it is only 10:00 a.m.

HELP! All of my touchstones have deserted me.

I need a toehold! I need a solid piece of ground to hold onto and get my bearings.

I am sure you remember a time in your life that felt like this. Or worse.

I’m sure each of us has felt ourselves spinning a little out of control now and then.

Where do you turn when your altimeter is whirling like a top and your compass is in the middle of an epileptic seizure?

James Taylor is one option. “When you’re down… and troubled… and you need a helping hand. And nothing, whoa nothing is going right. Just close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there… to brighten up even your darkest nights.”

So I tried it! I closed my eyes… thought about and visualized sweet baby James… and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I’m still waiting for James to make good on his promise.

Today I thank God for the mentors in my life that introduced me to ANOTHER resource… that taught me how to connect with the reliable, unchanging, solid Word of God in all circumstances.

King DavidSomehow the 18thpsalm of David seems like the right place to turn. After a long, long period of being harassed by King Saul, David finally defeated his adversary. And in the moments following his victory, David knew instantly where to turn and give the credit: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2, NRSV).

No doubt if God can deliver David from an entire army of enemies, he can surely deliver me from a head cold, freezing weather, and from missing my sweetheart.

Ahh! That’s better.

Sorry, James.

03
Apr
18

The Path He Chose

mlkmountaintop1Want to see the future?

In a way, I think we all do.

I would like to know – for example – when the Kansas City Royals will next play relevant baseball in the month of October… or which stocks to buy today… or when this gray, yucky drizzle will go away.

On a little more serious note, I’d also like to know where our nation’s current political muddle will eventually lead us… or what will happen in our relationships with Russia and China and North Korea and the rest of the world?

As a card-carrying United Methodist, I would love to know how our denomination’s impasse over human sexuality will ultimately play out. Sadly, my question is more about HOW the pending schism will take shape rather than IF it will happen.

At the same time, there are a few things about the future I am perfectly content to remain in the dark about. If possible, I would prefer that the demises of all my friends and family members – as well as my own – catch me totally off guard.

But see, that’s the thing about visionary foresight. It’s either all or nothing. “You git what you git and you don’t pitch a fit!” as someone’s mother once said.

Today (April 3) marks the 50thanniversary of the last speech ever given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an address delivered on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was on hand to lend motivational and leadership support to the 1,300 striking sanitation workers of the City of Memphis.

It had been a tense time in the city of Memphis and in the nation as a whole. In the course of the speech, Dr. King reminded his listeners of the great milestones and the great challenges the movement had experienced to date. He reminded them of the fire hoses and police dogs of Sheriff Bull Connor to the unlawful arrests to the beatings and church bombings they had experienced by that time in 1968.

But he also called to mind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the integration of lunch counters throughout the South, as well as the bus system of Birmingham, Alabama.

It was also a speech in which Dr. King seemed to possess a chillingly accurate vision of his own death. In the best-known part of the speech, toward its conclusion, Dr. King looked into the future… both the future of the Civil Rights movement and his own… and described what he saw there. He said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

Here, in the days immediately following the Christian celebration of Easter, I am reminded of the vision of the future Jesus communicated to his disciples… a vision of his own violent demise, but also of God’s eventual victory over the forces of sin and death. It’s right there in Mark 8:31 – “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Today I stand in awe of both of these men. Try as I might, I still cannot fathom what it means to set out on a path, knowing with absolute certainty it is a path that leads to your violent demise, and yet – despite the clarity of that vision – continuing walking that path in faith and confidence.

The lesson today might be this: ultimately, if the path I walk is a path of my own choosing – based purely on whim, curiosity, and circumstance – it is a path to be wary of… likely strewn with as many dangers as delights.

If, on the other hand, it is a path carved by the hand of God, we can follow it with confidence wherever it leads.

What is the lesson of April 3, 1968, for YOU?

13
Mar
18

Viriditas

Tulips in springIt’s happening.

Can you feel it?

If you stand REEEEEEALLLY still and cock your head a little to the left you can almost hear the new blades of grass shoving against the soil.

In a few places around my yard, a foolhardy daffodil or two has even broached the surface, looked around and hollered, “HEY! Where is everybody?? It’s springtime, Y’all!! Let’s get this party STARTED!!”

Right here where we sit on the calendar… right after the arrival of Daylight Saving Time… is positively pregnant with promise.

It’s a time of becoming.

It’s a time of eager anticipation.

It’s a time that teases us with visions of endless possibility.

It is also a time when I inevitably miss the message God has hidden inside the buds of the lilac bush.

I glance around my yard and my neighborhood, noting the dynamic costume change going on and mistakenly believe THAT is the main attraction.

You’ve seen it too; trees start pulling on their pale green sweaters … flowerbeds begin spreading their multi-hued quilts… dead, brown straw wakes up and breaks out the vibrant spring wardrobe.

I take it all in and say to myself, “THAT’S what I need! I need to SPIFF IT UP a bit! I need to break out some new threads! I need to do the same kind of extreme make-over I see happening all around me in the natural world. That is what will breathe new life into my weary soul!”

And so that’s what I do.

I start a new project.

I plan a new adventure.

I buy a new pair of shoes.

And in the process, I totally miss the real message hidden in the buds of spring.

As it turns out, the Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), observed the coming of spring nearly a millennium ago and accurately captured its true meaning.

Fr. Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation, quoted Hildegard and observed, “[She] often used the word viriditas, the greening of things from within…. She recognized a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform it into energy and life. She also saw an inherent connection between the physical world and the divine Presence. This connection translates into energy that is the soul and seed of everything, an inner voice calling you to ‘Become who you are; become all that you are.’” 

When the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus seeking answers to life’s persistent mysteries, Jesus told him rather directly to attain the new life he was seeking meant that he would have to be, “… born of water and spirit.” (John 3:5).

In other words, Nicodemus needed to “green from within.”

There is no doubt that the time of greening up and sprucing up is upon us. Heck, it might even be time for a new tie, pair of shoes or dress… whichever suits you best.

But as we take one more admiring glance in the mirror, let’s try to remember that the real transformation needs to start from WITHIN.

Abundant blessings…




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