Posts Tagged ‘life

20
Nov
20

“I Surrender!”

Like many men of my age, I was quite the little warmonger as a child.

My friends and I loved to do nothing more after school than get together in the big field behind Jeff and David’s houses and play ARMY. As soon as we got home, we would drop our books, say hello to our parents, grab our toy guns, and head out.

Please understand; these guns didn’t actually shoot anything. Not BBs, not pellets, not even air. We “killed” members of the opposing army by aiming our rifle at them and making some kind of “POW!” noise with our mouths. 

Each soldier was on the honor system to die fair and square when shot by someone from the other side.

One of the hardest things to do in the game of Army, however, was to surrender. 

Surrendering only became necessary when someone from the opposing army stealthfully crept up on your hiding place, pointed his gun at you and said, “OK, Rusty! (my childhood nickname). I see you there behind the garage. Put down your gun and come out with your hands up!”

To be captured was humiliating and embarrassing. Each of us would have preferred to be shot dead, complete with a well-rehearsed death swoon, over being captured by the other side.

Today, even though my last backyard Army battle took place more than 50 years ago, I look around and see that many of us still have the same problem that gripped my boyhood friends and me. 

That is to say, it seems that a lot of us today would rather die than surrender

The health crisis that grips our country is a prime example. The scientists and epidemiologists who have spent their lives studying these things tell us that we are all going to have to – at least temporarily – surrender some of our customary practices to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

They say, for example, that…

  • … we are going to have to surrender our plans for large family Thanksgiving gatherings.
  • … we are going to have to surrender our desire to walk around maskless in public places.
  • … we are going to have to surrender our plans to go to restaurants, sporting events, worship gatherings, and concerts. 
  • … we are going to have to surrender our habit of walking around with dirty hands.

But mostly, the doctors and scientists say, we are going to have to surrender our belief that we are each the masters (or mistresses) of our own domains, free from ANY need to constrain ANY of our behaviors.

We become incensed. We stand up proudly and say – with raised voices – “THAT’S not the America I believe in! No SIR! I live in the land of the FREE! I’m not surrendering my freedom to ANYONE!”

Which is kind of funny, considering all the “surrendering” we each do on a routine, daily basis. 

  • If you are married, you know exactly what I am talking about. Healthy marriages are based on the art of compromise…  in other words, the art of surrendering MY agenda to OUR agenda. 
  • When we get into a car, we surrender to the authority of our local traffic laws.
  • When we get onto a plane (which some people still do, I hear), we completely surrender our lives to the skill of our pilot and the integrity of the air traffic control system. 

And would you believe it? Jesus actually went so far as to teach his disciples that surrender was the key to eternal life! He is recorded in each of the gospels saying something similar, but here are his words from the Gospel of Mark: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?’” (Mark 8:34-35, NRSV). 

For many of us, the idea of surrender can still be frightening. It can suggest a loss of control over the circumstances of our lives. 

But what if, instead of seeing it as a matter of LOSING control, we instead saw surrender as TURNING OVERcontrol… 

… that is, turning over control to the One who designed the whole crazy thing in the first place?

Abundant blessings;

24
Oct
20

Happy birthday, Andy

Yesterday was Andy’s birthday.

His first 39 birthdays were celebrated here on earth. The last three have been celebrated in Andy’s new, celestial home. 

Having the good fortune to be born exactly halfway between them, Andy was a childhood friend of my sons, Adam and Graham. The three of them played soccer together, hung out together, got in trouble together, grew older and (somewhat) wiser together.

Andy was always a ball of scarcely contained energy, savage humor, razor-sharp wit, and boundless curiosity. He was the kind of guy adults would meet and walk away saying, “That dude’s going to make a mark on the world someday. Not sure what kind of mark, but it won’t be missed, that’s for sure.”

When high school ended, as is often the case, Adam, Graham, and Andy’s common path split into three unique, divergent byways.

Over the ensuing twenty years, I heard very little about Andy and his travels. I knew that he inherited his mother’s passion for the world outside the United States and eventually found a career with the U.S. State Department. I also heard – through my sons – that he did a lot of “burning the candle at both ends” before finally getting married and fathering two beautiful sons of his own.

I next reconnected with Andy when four years ago – totally out of the blue – he called me on the phone and asked if we could meet for coffee. 

When we met at the neighborhood Panera, Andy cut straight to the chase. He sat down, tentatively sipped his coffee, and said, “About three weeks ago I found out that I have stage four pancreatic cancer. My parents are doing research on some experimental therapies, but the outlook is not good. I might have a year left, at most.”

He took another sip of his coffee, bit into a bagel, and – with his mouth full – asked, “So… what’s new with you?”

Classic Andy.

He told me his diagnosis had been – to put it mildly – a stunning alarm bell. Now, with the end of his life no longer some vague, far-off possibility in the murky, uncertain future, Andy’s priorities had dramatically shifted. He was now keenly interested in trying to wrap his brain around the realities of a “life beyond this life,” as he put it, “before I take the big Dirt Nap.” 

Thus began a year-long series of weekly meetings between Andy and I at Panera Bread Co.

I should clarify… the subject wasn’t always God and the afterlife when we met. As an intensely political creature, Andy also had a lot to get off his chest about the mournful state of the union and the duplicity of his elected representatives. 

But mostly we talked about God… the reliability of evidence for God’s existence… the gross inability of the institutional church to present a relevant and compelling case for faith… the afterlife (“…why should I even believe there is one?”)… the profusion of conflicting faith claims and traditions… the persistence of evil in a redeemed world… you know, the usual stuff. 

Andy’s father, Tom, told me I should be very proud that Andy kept meeting with me and asking questions. He said, “Andy is a tough audience. He takes no prisoners and suffers no fools.” And while I agreed that Andy came at the topic with a lot of intelligence and skepticism, I found him to possess a genuine openness and eagerness to learn… this despite the F-bombs he regularly dropped in the middle of our discussions.

I never left our conversations entirely sure whether I had “broken through” with Andy (whatever that means), until one day he surprised me with a request. He looked at me and asked, “Would you baptize me?”

It was an open, eager question, asked casually… the same way he might have asked, “Would you like a bagel?” But it was clear that he knew exactly what he was asking and why. And so, on a Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by a few friends and family members, we met in the chapel of a nearby church and celebrated Andy’s new life in Christ. 

It wasn’t QUITE what he wanted… he asked for the full dunk immersion treatment… but it was a Christian baptism, nonetheless, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Then, less than a month later, in the local Hospice House, enfolded in the loving embrace of many of his family and friends, Andy left this world and entered the next. I had gone over a couple of days before he died with my guitar… thinking that a few lightly strummed tunes might be a soothing accompaniment for everyone. After the first two chords at his bedside, however, Andy turned weakly toward me and said, “Russ… would you please stop.”

Classic Andy. 

Since then, his parents have told me that I helped Andy grow in his faith at a critical time. And I suppose there is some truth in that. But I look back on those Wednesdays at Panera as the time when Andy helped me grow in ways I hadn’t even thought possible.

And for that, I will be eternally grateful. 

Rest in peace, Andy. Rest forever in the arms of the God who loves you.

Abundant blessings… especially to you, Tom and Jodi.

27
Jun
20

Daring to Follow

Us vs them tribalismI just tried an experiment on Facebook to see what might happen.

I didn’t originally intend to make this experiment the topic of a blog post, but the results were so interesting I just had to share them with y’all. (Or you‘uns, whichever plural form of “you” you prefer.)

It recently occurred to me that within my circle of Facebook friends and acquaintances, are a bunch of people who readily identify themselves as conservatives and a bunch who consider themselves liberals, or progressive. “Why not…” I thought to myself, “… ask both groups the same question and see how similar or different the responses are?”

My first post, earlier this week, was headlined, “SERIOUS QUESTION: FOR CONSERVATIVES ONLY.” The question was, “What do you see as the biggest threat facing our country today?” A couple of days later I reposted the same question but asked only those who identify themselves as progressives to respond.

Before I tell you what people in my – admittedly totally unscientific survey – said, stop a minute and come up with your own answer. The only ground rule is that you may NOT answer with the name of any prominent national politician.

Although people articulated their answers in a lot of different ways, there were genuine threads of commonality running through the responses from both sides.

On the conservative side there were a couple of short answers like, “Breakdown of the family,” and “National debt,” but many of the respondents really tried to dig below the surface and come up with something more foundational. Clif echoed the thoughts of many of his conservative brethren when he said, “… destruction of social capital through unproductive and unnecessary conflict driven by tribalism and disrespect.” Meaning; we spend an inordinate amount of time choosing up sides and then demonizing anyone on the OTHER side.

Boom! I believe you nailed it, Clif.

On the other side of the coin there were, again, a few short, single-issue answers such as, “Health care,” “climate change,” “COVID-19,” and “government deregulation,” but most respondents here also tried to dig a bit below the surface and identify something more root-like.

The themes of greed and “inflated self-interest” were probably the biggest themes in the answers from progressive folks. But then Abe took that theme to the next level when he said, “The extreme liberalization of economies is diminishing the power of legitimate governments to put in place regulations that address big issues like the existential threat of climate change.”

You probably don’t need me to translate, but what I heard Abe saying was, “When everyone thinks only about gratifying their own desires, they rarely come up with solutions that benefit the populace as a whole.”

Tribalism.

Division.

Greed.

Self-interest.

Racism.

Can you see the thread running through each of these? In each case folks – on both sides of the political spectrum – are identifying the exact same soul sickness Jesus repeatedly addressed throughout his ministry. Jesus knew that when we exclusively think about OURSELVES and OUR NEEDS, we as individuals (and we as a nation) are on a one-way road to misery, conflict, and ultimately ruin.

When the rich young ruler asked Jesus about the secret to eternal (or the ultimately fulfilled) life, Jesus told him that in addition to following the law… “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” (Luke 18:22, NRSV).

When the need arose to clarify his mission and purpose to his closest followers Jesus minced no words. He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NRSV).

When he faced the end of his earthly life and sought to impart his ultimate marching orders to his followers there in the Garden, Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13,NRSV).

Put simply, sacrificing our needs and wants to ensure our neighbor’s well-being is not an act reserved for the saintliest among us.

It is the path Jesus prescribed for every one of us.

Do we dare to follow?

Do we dare NOT to?

 

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;

28
May
20

Frozen People

Young and oldI knew it was coming, just as surely as the next episode of The Lone Ranger on Saturday morning TV.

When I was a wee lad and we made the 415-mile trek to see my dad’s parents in St. Louis, Missouri, the first words out of my grandmother’s mouth were guaranteed.

She would grab each one of us, give us a big hug, hold us out at arm’s length and say, “Well just look at you! Look how you’ve GROWN!”

Of course, I always smiled and blushed, but inside I was thinking, “Well, DUH! We haven’t seen one another in over a year! Did you think I would stay the same size FOREVER?”

Nowadays, of course, I do exactly the same thing to my own grandchildren. Joan and I just drove back to Kansas City for the first time in six months and MY… how those three girls had grown! And I didn’t hesitate saying so!

I know that part of my reaction stems from genuine shock. I have clearly forgotten the explosive power of hormones between the ages of nine and 13… especially in girls in that age range.

The last time we saw her – in February – middle grandchild was a little girl. By some strange magic she is now a young woman.

The other part of my stereotypical grandpa reaction – I’m sure – is a kind of wistful sadness… sadness at the fact that my grandchildren are growing up. Somewhere inside me, irrational as it is, lives a desire to freeze them at their cutest, cuddliest ages and experience them that way forever.

But here is the truly weird thing; I do the same with EVERYONE. I expect every person in my circle of relationships to be exactly the same today as they were the last time we met. For example, when Joan tells me that her daughter (my stepdaughter) is dropping by for a visit, I fully expect to see a bright, young, 17-year-old woman coming through the door.

In reality, she is a 40-year-old medical doctor… a partner in a thriving practice here in Fort Collins, CO.

As Keenan Thompson, a.k.a. Diondre Cole might ask, “What’s up with that?”

What’s up with that, I believe, is a robust urge to evade the reality of mortality. By any means possible I long to be able to pretend that time does not advance… that bodies do not age… that physical death does not wait around the corner for me and everyone I hold dear.

All of which, of course, is utter nonsense. And yet a whole bunch of us continue to pretend otherwise.

The psalmist knew this truth over 3,000 years ago when she/he wrote, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSV).

And yet even when people know of and even accept their mortality, finiteness, and temporality it doesn’t mean they are happy about the state of things.

It is time to face the truth; in the midst of a decaying, mortal world, we have to see that it is foolishness to freeze grandchildren, shoot up with Botox, or hop on a skateboard at the age of 75 (although I have no doubt some do exactly that. More power to them!).

There is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable march of time.

What we CAN do… indeed, what we MUST do is to hang on to the One who stands beyond time itself.

Only in God’s loving embrace can we find the infinite that we so desperately seek. As the psalmist continues, “… the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” (Psalm 103:17, NRSV).

 

Abundant blessings;

11
May
20

CHANGE

Universe pictureWhat moves the world?

What kind of force does it take

To cause even the tiniest shudder?

And alter – even microscopically – the unflinching orbit

Of lives?

Of fates?

Of destinies?

Of kingdoms?

Of stars?

Is it great beauty?

Unbearable suffering?

An explosion of wisdom?

The threat of extinction?

 

Or is it all just a whispy candycloud

Covered in dreams?

Are we all merely following tracks?

Tradition tracks

Carved in the

Bedrock marble of our souls

By forces beyond our influence

And greater than our gods?

 

It is not unheard of, you know.

Gravity has been defied

In days gone by.

The poles have been reversed

The die has been uncast

The other shoe has been arrested midfall.

 

Once upon a time.

 

These are the times to remember…

HE is the only one who can.

HIS is the strength to cleave time itself.

In HIM – him alone – do we find

HOPE

POWER

LIFE

LOVE (the unconditional kind)

PEACE

JOY

MEANING

REDEMPTION

“Behold! I am making all things new,” said the One In Charge. (Rev. 21:5, NRSV).

20
Apr
20

Take Hope

Sprouting green plant“But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” Romans 8:24, NRSV.

Hope is a precious commodity these days.

On some days, it can be harder to find than that ever-elusive toilet paper.

We squint and look at the road ahead and yet see nothing but mist and blur. No one knows with any certainty (even if they say they do) when we can once again be care-free about who we hang out with and in what quantities.

Today we hope for the best while we prepare for the worst.

So let me ask: in those moments when you allow yourself a rose-colored glance into the future, what do you find yourself hoping for? My first thoughts about hope are colored in a very self-absorbed hue; I hope for the safety of my friends and family. I pine for the return of restaurants, concerts, air travel, and baseball. I long to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other congregants in church on Sunday. I hope the stock market stabilizes and stops imitating some kind of psychotic carnival ride.

This kind of hope, I soon realize, is rooted in nostalgia. It is a hope for a return to life, “as it once was.” In that sense, it is a very backward-looking hope.

At other times, I catch myself hoping that this present time of crisis will perform a work of transformation… on me and on the world around me. Once the “all clear” has been sounded, I hope I continue to value solitude and times of quiet contemplation as I do now. I hope I will still eagerly look forward to evening walks with Joan and the dogs, sharing thoughts, jokes, and news of the day.

[Just to clarify, I mean Joan and I sharing those things… not the dogs and me.]

I hope – is this too wildly ambitious to put out there? – that we all might continue to call the people stocking grocery shelves and picking up our trash “essential.” I hope that we would continue understanding and applauding the heroic nature of those who care for our health (and the utter insanity of tying healthcare to employment status). I hope we will walk away from this pandemic with a renewed awareness of just how tightly interdependent we are and how much MY well-being is directly tied to YOURS.

I hope people will stop dying from COVID-19 and that our eyes will be permanently opened to the life-and-death consequences of institutional racism and economic discrimination.

I know that some of these hopes of mine will not come to fruition and others will. But even if two out of three of my hopes fall to the ground with a sickening THUD, I will continue to hope. Like an excellent major league hitter, I am going to be thrilled with a success rate of one out of three.

Over the course of the next few days, my goal is to share stories of hope in this space. I aim to share stories that illustrate the power of hope in the midst of bleak and apparently hopeless circumstances.

If you have one such story, I would love to hear it. Otherwise I will be harvesting them from friends, family, and the World Wide Web.

For today I will just wrap up by reminding us all that sometimes – just as the verse at the top reminds us – hope is not terribly rational. Hope is often that seed dropped onto a hard concrete sidewalk that – by God – is determined to germinate and grow.

It is also a good time to remind us all that hope which is rooted and grounded in faith, is one of the most powerful forces in all of nature. As Paul reminded the wayward worshipers in Corinth, I will also remind us: “[Christ] has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” 2 Corinthians 1:10, NRSV.

Abundant blessings;

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?

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.

02
Mar
20

Saggy Clay

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”(Isaiah 64:8, NRSV)

Potters wheel photoOne of my favorite courses in college was Pottery 101. We started out the class by learning all about the properties of clay. We then learned about shaping it into small, simple patterns, firing it in the kiln and coloring it with various glazes. But the real draw of Pottery 101 was the chance to try our hands at shaping that wet, luxuriant, earthy stuff on a genuine POTTER’S WHEEL!

It probably took me two weeks of trying, but eventually, I was able to successfully center my clay as it spun around on the wheel. This is the first, most important part of the pot-throwing process. If you can’t center your clay on the wheel, you aren’t going to be able to do anything else with it.

One of the important lessons I learned about clay during that class was that it is not infinitely malleable. You can only screw up your ashtray (or flower vase, or soup bowl, or whatever it is you are making) so many times.

At a certain point, the clay begins to lose its elasticity. You have to throw that lump away and start all over again with a different one.

Sometimes I wonder if that could be true about me, too. Sometimes I feel as if God has had me on the wheel for a long time, spinning, shaping, gently drawing me into the shape he wants… only to watch that rascally clay rebel and morph into something else entirely.

My life story traces a history of a lot of “do-overs” and “start again” moments… all of them necessary and all of them representing – I believe – a slightly more faithful shaping of the raw material of ME into the Potter’s image.

But lately, I have thought back to my Pottery 101 class and wondered, “How much more shaping is really possible with this saggy, worked over, stiff, inelastic Russell clay? Am I getting to the point where God might be on the verge of throwing up his hands in sheer exasperation and saying, ‘OK! That’s it. I’m done with this lump. Someone go get me another one.’”

Thankfully, however, the God of Israel, the Lord of all creation, the Source of My Life, is not a quitter. Yes, the material may be a lot less limber than it was… yes, the clay may occasionally bark and complain and say stuff like, “NO! I don’t WANT to do that! I’m too old! I’m not made to bend into that shape!”

But The Potter never gives up.

Of course, here in the day-to-day realm of human experience, the clay always has the option to decline the hand of the Potter. Any of us, at any time, can say, “Naw. Thanks anyway. I’m done. No more shaping. No more nudging. No more jabbing and poking me into shape. Let’s just leave this whole thing the way it is.”

You and I can stiffen and resist and refuse all we want. But rest assured, The Potter will never give up on us.

Hallelujah! And amen.




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