Posts Tagged ‘joy

09
Mar
20

“Let me OFF!”

Merry go roundWell, it’s that time of year again.

It is the time of year when the antennae of clergyfolk in the United Methodist Church are exquisitely attuned to every minor shift in the wind, every minute rise or fall in barometric pressure, every nuance of conversation.

Yes, this time on the calendar – from late January to mid-April(ish) or so – is APPOINTMENT-SETTING TIME! That means it is the time of year when it is possible for any United Methodist pastor to answer a phone call and hear the words, “Hello (insert name here). This is your District Superintendent calling. I have an opportunity I would like to discuss with you. Is now a good time to talk?”

Even though I am now retired and blessedly aloof from that whole business, I still feel sympathy pangs for my brothers and sisters of the cloth when this time of year rolls around. I am still haunted by vivid memories of tensing up every time the phone rang and a certain suspicious area code showed up on Caller ID.

For pastors in the United Methodist Church, this is at least a three-month exercise of walking on – no, LIVING on – eggshells.

At the root of the anxiety that attends appointment-setting time is the very real fact that almost no one likes change. Not even pastors. We humans seem to be willing to do anything in our power to maintain the status quo… even when the status quo is patently unacceptable.

And when the pace of change in the world around us accelerates, our desire to hold onto something solid and unchanging zooms up proportionately.

It may be that I am more aware of this since I am well into my dotage, but everywhere I look today, I see change:

  • The technology of living (telephones, TVs, appliances, automobiles, banks, grocery stores, etc.) is changing.
  • The climate is changing.
  • The country’s (and the world’s) demographic contours are changing.
  • Social customs are changing.
  • The political, religious, cultural, and moral landscapes are all changing… with some changing more rapidly than others.
  • My own health and the health of those close to me is changing… and mostly not for the better.
  • Heck, even the rules of my favorite games – baseball and football – are changing.

In that kind of a topsy-turvy world, I can easily identify with the urge to slow down the merry-go-round or jump off of it completely. And yet, there is a HUGE difference between being annoyed by the pace of change (which is most of us… with the exception of babies with dirty diapers) and actively working to hold back its tide. The effort to stop or roll back the changing face of society is the urge that lies at the core of all of the world’s regressive movements.

But as much as I grouse and whine about change… as much as I dredge up stories of “the good old days,” I have to stop and remember… this is not my ride.

It is not mine to control. It is not mine to resist. It is not mine to counter-program or attempt to sabotage.

“This…” in the words of the ancient psalmist, “… is the day the Lord has made.”

This is not some warped, funhouse-mirror parody version of the day the Lord meant to make. This is EXACTLY the day the Lord has made.

On purpose.

In that case then, we should follow the rest of the psalmist’s advice that says: “… let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24, NRSV).

AMEN.

12
Feb
20

Being a parent…

Parent silouhetteI’ve been an acrobat.

But I have never done more juggling, flipping, and contorting than I have as a parent.

I’ve been an artist.

But I have never helped create anything more beautiful than my children.

I’ve been heartbroken.

But nothing has caused my spirit to be more downcast and deflated than parenting.

I have devised intricate solutions to intractable problems.

But I have never been as thoroughly stumped than I have as a parent.

I have been to the summit of the most exhilarating mountain peaks in the world.

But my pride has never soared higher than the pride that comes from being a parent.

I have commanded the loyalty and attention of legions of soldiers.

But I have never felt more powerless than when trying to correct or instruct my children.

My heart has been stirred to compose epic symphonies of love.

But I have never known a love more bone-jarring and explosive than my love for my children.

Millions have walked this path before me. Millions will walk it after.

Mountains of wisdom have piled up, grains of insight as wide as an ocean beach.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Yet somehow everything is unexpected… unseen… novel.

A parent’s wounds never heal. They are rubbed raw every day.

Energy is always in short supply. The box of answers remarkably empty.

“Why would you ever subject yourself to that?” some might ask.

“How can I imagine life without it?” I answer.

08
Feb
20

Loveland

Two days ago I went into my nearby U.S. Post Office here in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The purpose of my trip – I am eager to tell you – was to mail a Super Bowl LIV Champions KANSAS CITY CHIEFS hat to my son who lives in Houston, TX.

YAY CHIEEEEEEEFS!!

Anyway, as I was standing there in line waiting my turn at the counter, I saw the box you see here below. Loveland boxAs a new resident of the area, I did not know this was a thing, but apparently, if you put your stamped, sealed Valentine’s Day card in this box, it will be re-mailed (and postmarked) from nearby Loveland, Colorado.

At first, I didn’t get it… probably because when locals say the town’s name, everyone here just runs the word together, making it sound like “LOVE-lund”.

The light bulb finally went on. “OH! I get it,” I muttered to myself. “LOVE. LAND.… the land of love!” I added, “What a perfect postmark to have on your Valentine’s Day card!”

And then – because the line was long and the lady at the window was asking the clerk to see every stamp design available and then MEASURE them to see which one was perfectly square (seriously!) – I began to ruminate.

“What would it be like,” I wondered, “… to actually live in a place that had earned the name Love Land?”

“What would it be like to live in a place where love was the actual governing principle every person there lived by?”

“How would lawmaking be different? How would development and city planning be different? What difference would it make in the way we cared for people on the margins? How would neighborhood relations be different?”

(Actually, I am not sure that part would be a whole lot different than they are now. We are blessed to have utterly DELIGHTFUL neighbors!)

And then… what if that name applied not only inside the city limits of one town but what if it applied to the whole COUNTRY? Or the whole WORLD?

What, indeed, would that be like?

And then my mind started down the other side of the question. I asked myself (because the lady was still trying to make up her mind about which stamp to buy), “So if ‘Love Land’ is not an accurate name for where we live now, what might we call it instead? Self-Centeredsville? Tribal Town? Faction City?”

Some days it sure seems that way, doesn’t it?

But then I heard this thoughtful comment on the radio from Ziggy Marley… son of the late, great reggae artist Bob Marley. Two days ago would have been Bob’s 75thbirthday. The reason for the radio interview was to celebrate that landmark birthday and ask Ziggy to reflect on his father’s life and career.

The interviewer (NPR’s Scott Simon) asked, “Your father’s music always held up the ideals of love and peace as central themes. What do you think he would make of the world we have on our hands today?”

After a moment’s reflection on the question, Ziggy said, “You know, I think the majority of people are good people, are peaceful people. But we’re just not loud, we’re just not on the TV, we’re not in the news — it’s just the people making war in the news.”

I think he is right.

We might not live in Love Land today… but we really don’t live in Hatredsville either.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”Matthew 5:43, NRSV

20
Jan
20

Love Out Loud

MLK quoteA year or so ago, I got fed up. Squared.

First I was fed up with the escalating rancor and divisiveness in nearly every segment of American society. Yes, ill will seems to center primarily in the political realm, but it certainly doesn’t stop there.

As a member of the United Methodist Church, I was witnessing a loud, bitter ecclesial food fight in my denomination over a fairly simple question: who will be included and who won’t.

But I was also fed up with myself. As much as I despised the malice of the moment, I seemed powerless to avoid adding fuel to the fire. I heard people spewing all kinds of ignorant, ill-informed opinions and – as chagrined as I am to admit it – leaned heavily toward wanting to yell at them to just shut their damned mouths and crawl back under the rock they came from.

Really helpful.

Really Christ-like, dude.

And then Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rolled around. And this time, I decided to pay attention. I decided Dr. King might have some light to shine on our current situation. After all, he lived and preached in an era at LEAST as fraught and divided as our own.

And as it turns out, he did. And it was a word that hit the nail right on the head and humbled me at the same time.

You remember the quote. It goes like this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

What does it look like to bring light into darkness?

How do I… or you or ANYONE… bring love into a world of hate?

I am not sure I really know the answer. But I know it is absolutely the right question.

I am not sure I have yet put my life onto the trajectory Dr. King had in mind. But I did do one thing in response to that quote; I wrote a song. It is a simple, probably sophomoric song, but it has chords and a rhythm, three verses and a chorus. Truth be told, it is kind of catchy.

It goes a little something like this:

Every one of us can talk like we mean it.

And make some witty social media posts,

Or we can squash an idea and demean it.

And treat other folks just like they were ghosts.

 

We want to know that we’ve got the right answer…

And those who can’t see it are wrong.

That kind of thinking starts to spread like a cancer,

Which is why you should all sing along….

 

CHORUS

            Let’s start to LOVE OUT LOUD,

            Let our actions do the work of our words.

            Yes, we can LOVE OUT LOUD           

            Live a life that’s bound to be heard

 

I hope my brother finds a place at the table

I hope my sister finds a future of peace

But while I sit here and hope – they’re at the end of their rope

Waiting for injustice to cease.

 

CHORUS

            And so let’s LOVE OUT LOUD,

            Let our actions do the work of our words.

            Yes, we can LOVE OUT LOUD           

            Live a life that’s bound to be heard

 

Well, you’ve got every right to be angry

You’ve got a right to shake your fist at the sky

You’ve been put in your place – left out of the race

And no one ever told you why.

 

But instead of lashing out in your anger

Why not start to build a brand new world?

Come on let’s each lend a hand – help LOVE take a stand

And let your freedom flag be bravely unfurled.

 

CHORUS

            So yes, let’s LOVE OUT LOUD,

            Let our actions do the work of our words.

            Yes, we can LOVE OUT LOUD           

            Live a life that’s bound to be heard

 

 

All of us need to do more light-shining and love-bringing… now more than ever. I am not sure what that looks like immediately, but maybe we can start by singing!

25
Dec
19

Christmas Blessings to YOU!

Christmas blessings

16
Dec
19

Christmas Difference

Christmas PlaceChristmas 2019 is going to be very different for me from most Christmases in my recent memory.

For one thing, Joan and I will celebrate this Christmas in a whole different part of the country. That is because on November 21 we moved from Overland Park, Kansas to Fort Collins, Colorado… as fortune would have it, just two days before the skies opened and dropped fifteen and one-half inches of snow on Fort Collins, Colorado.

Timing is indeed everything.

Christmas in a new town with new neighbors and new community traditions will probably bring an engaging hybrid of emotions of disorientation and intrigue. I am sure there is a lot of similarity in the way Coloradans and Kansans celebrate the Yuletide, but you never know…

This is also going to be our first Christmas in the past 10 years we have not been part of the Christmas Place experience. For the uninitiated, Christmas Place is the name our former neighborhood adopts between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It is the time when all 22 homes on those two perpendicular cul-de-sacs try to outdo one another in sheer electrical voltage drawdown. If you ever saw the movie, Christmas with the Cranks, you know exactly the scene I am describing.

If I sound a little jaded and grinchy about the whole thing, it is probably because I am… a little bit. Putting the lights and displays up in November and taking them back down again in January (or whenever) is a gigantic pain in the butt. On the other hand, the delight our efforts bring to the wider community never fails to dissolve that pain completely away. Tour buses from nearby senior citizen homes and lines of cars stream through Christmas Place every evening just to “OOOO!!” and “AHHHH!!” our handiwork.

This year, however, will be a very different scene at ChezBrown. Our new Fort Collins home will have, A.) a giant wreath hung on the front of the garage, and B.) our large nativity scene in the yard.

That’s it!! (Please don’t tell the folks back in Kansas!)

But the thing that might be the most different about Christmas 2019 will be that for the first time in a really long time, I will not be leading Advent and Christmas Eve worship services anywhere! I will instead be there sitting there in a pew, holding my lovely bride’s hand, participating in a service that someone else has designed and is fretting over the details of.

And I know I will be smiling the whole time.

My heart really goes out to those clergy families who experience the entire Advent and Christmas season as a non-stop flurry of activities, deadlines, obligations, projects, and expectations. It is the usual stress of the holy season times three for these folks.

That is why, knowing that stress and turmoil as intimately as I do, I am really looking forward to experiencing Christmas from the peanut gallery, as it were. This will be a time to see whether I am actually capable of slowing down, breathing deeply, opening my eyes, and soaking in the spirit of the moment instead of feeling the need to frenetically stage-manage a hundred different projects, all building to a climactic crescendo at 12:01 a.m. Christmas morning.

But with all that will be different about Christmas 2019 at our house, I am sure many other things will be exactly the same… foremost among those the time of celebrating God’s greatest gift to the world.

So how about you? What kind of Christmas will Christmas 2019 be for you? Will it be a time of change?… a time of cherished tradition?… a time of epic busyness?… or maybe a time of deep sadness and grief?

And maybe more importantly, how will we each make it a time to recommit our hearts to giving and receiving God’s gift of unconditional, sacrificial love?

30
Sep
19

Sometimes it’s complicated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow wow.




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