Posts Tagged ‘life

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.

21
Jan
20

Soul Winter

Dead leaves 2Yep.

Just poked my head out the window and confirmed something I’ve suspected for about a month now.

IT’S WINTER! (Unless, of course, you happen to live in the southern hemisphere).

And by the looks of things, it plans to continue being winter for quite a bit longer.

And so far here in my part of the country, it’s not that cute, cuddly, Currier-and-Ives kind of winter that looks like a beautiful snow globe someone has shaken up.

No. It is more that kind of slice-through-your-bones, punch-you-in-the-face, steal-all-your-joy-and-your-peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich-too kind of winter.

Winter is that time of year when you would swear that a massive crop-dusting plane flew over the whole country and dumped a load of DDT on everything.

In the winter, all plant life is dead. And brown. And gross. Take a look at these… I shot these pictures in our neighborhood while I was out walking the dog this morning. Note the remarkable lack of life in evidence here. Dead leaves 1

As winter trudges slowly by, it is sometimes tempting to look around at the deadness of the world and conclude that this condition will never, ever end. I have to admit… from the vantage point of January 21, 2020, warm weather and green grass seem like an impossible pipe dream somewhere out there on the eternal horizon.

Experience, however, tells us a different story. Experience keeps us from looking at the dead leaves and plunging into deep despair. Today we look at all this brown grass and detritus around but we don’t abandon hope. Even though our spirits might flag at this depressing sight, we grab ourselves by the lapels (or collar. Or bootstraps) and remind ourselves that this dreary, weary season will surely pass.

We have seen it happen before. And because we have seen it before, we are confident we will see it again.

This confidence goes by another name. It is also called FAITH.

In the case of the seasons, our faith has its roots firmly in our experience.

But what happens if we don’t have an experience like the certainty of spring to base our hope on?  What if we look around and see gloom and doom and have strong reasons to wonder if things will EVER be different?

That is precisely when a different kind of faith is called for. That is when we each need to reach a little deeper into our knapsack and search around a bit.

As a Christ-follower, I have the story of Easter to latch onto… the story that provides a graphic illustration of the truth that says, “Even when things look their bleakest, there is still hope. With God, the worst thing is never the last thing.”

As one who strives (and struggles) to live by his guidance, I can also consider myself an inheritor of the promise that Jesus gave the members of his inner circle on the night he was arrested. He told them, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

In the valleys we each face from time to time, we may lack the kind of hopeful certainty that we get when we watch winter inevitably give way to spring. But God is here to remind us that God’s promise of new life on the other side of something that looks like death is just as sure… just as reliable… just as much of a “lock” as the green crocus buds that will be showing up here in a couple of months.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with your own version of a “winter of the soul,” take heart…

God’s spring is just around the corner.

03
Jan
20

Back to the Grind

fireworksAll I can say today is a loud, “Whew!”

Another Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year/Hannaukah/Kwaanza/Festivus season has come and gone and has successfully wrung me out like a wet dishrag.

And just to make things extra merry and bright, this year Joan and I decided to add “uprooting and moving to a different city and state” to our list of holiday festivities. Based on our experience, I can safely offer you this hard-won advice: DON’T DO IT!

I am reluctant to do so, but I will go ahead and admit it; for all of the stress and strain at this time of year, it is also kind of fun. True, there is a lot of work involved in “making spirits bright,” even with our family’s low-key approach.

Even so, there is something attractive to me about the event-centered life: you know, the one that involves regular cycles of visualizing, planning, preparing, anticipating, implementing, cleaning up, and then starting all over again.

But now, here I sit, gazing out the window… with all the holiday commotion behind and not much merrymaking ahead on the horizon.

Today is just a regular old routine Friday in early January… with regular old daily routine stuff to do.

Isn’t it glorious?

As much a fan as I am of Special Events, Holidays, Mass Celebrations (such as Independence Day, etc.), and other such hi-jinks, I also realize they can easily distract us from a simple, but important truth about life: the truth that reminds us that most of the time, life happens in the “in-between times.”

You know what I mean. I am talking about those times when we aren’t popping champagne corks or lighting the fuses of firecrackers, or ripping some beautifully-wrapped paper from a lovely gift.

Life happens when we are sweeping the kitchen floor.

Life happens when we are paying the bills.

Life happens when we are chopping onions for Taco Tuesday.

Life happens when we are shaving, or bathing, or dressing, or doing the laundry, or mowing the lawn, or feeding the dogs, or taking out the garbage.

Life happens on the plains and in the valleys… not just on the mountain tops.

That is an essential part of the message of the Christmas season we just came through. The Eternal Word did not decide to become flesh in a palace surrounded by attendants, gold lampstands, and chariots.

Incarnation happened instead in a dull, uninspiring, routine place to a couple of dull, uninspiring, routine people… as if to tell us all, “See! The miraculous has a home in the mundane! Do not overlook anything or anyone in life. EVERYTHING is pregnant with possibility! Every moment can be a holy moment! The wonder of life is not confined to the moments of special celebration! Wake up and smell the roses, people! It is all right there at your fingertips!”

… or words to that effect.

The challenge for me this year – as it is every year – will be to actually practice what I preach and to recognize the daily blessings that rain down upon me.

Excuse me while I put on another pot of coffee and just soak in the moment…

29
Oct
19

This Old Table

And so it begins.

Earlier today Joan and I bid a fond farewell to the lovely distressed barnwood table (and six matching chairs) as it was toted out of our breakfast room.

So many meals around that table.

So many great conversations.

So many important and memorable family moments.

So many glasses of wine. (SO many…)

This was the table where my youngest brother Eric was sitting when he rolled a Yahtzee of sixes ON THE FIRST ROLL at our 2012 family Thanksgiving gathering.

This is the table where my sister sat in her pjs, reading Rolling Stone magazine, as sunlight streamed in through the windows and the fall foliage formed a colorful backdrop.

Grandkids graduated to this table when they finally demonstrated that their table manners have matured sufficiently.

But alas… try as we might, Joan and I could not discern a place this table would fit in the new, smaller house into which we will soon move.

And so off it goes… ready to help another family make new memories. Here is what we are now left with… for meals and sessions of blog post writing: Tiny table

Later today that trusty table will be followed out the door by a chest of drawers, an armoire, a bedside table, and a lovely headboard… each one dripping with cherished memories.

In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, we are in the process of moving. We have sold our home in Overland Park, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City), and will be moving the middle of next month to Fort Collins, Colorado.

It is a move partially of choice and partially of necessity. There are family members in Colorado as well as the beauty and splendor of the Rocky Mountains… not to mention several excellent micro-breweries and a thriving cultural scene.

It is a move Joan and I are both looking forward to as the beginning of a new adventure.

But like the beginning of any new adventure, it will also involve an abundance of amputations.

We will sever our relationships with a lot of our stuff… like that amazing table.

As we move, we will be chopping off connections with barber, hairdresser, doctors, neighborhood handyman, familiar surroundings, this set of friends and neighbors, our church, our Overland Park and Kansas City traditions, this house, and a hundred other things that have helped define our lives in this place.

We fully anticipate those will each be replaced by a Fort Collins-shaped equivalent over the course of the next few months.

But for now, all I can see is the wispy trail of fond memories hanging in the air as pieces of our home begin departing.

The inescapable, enduring truth about life is that things end. And in their ending, they make room for something else to begin. The warm frolic of summer ends, making room for the cozy cuddling of winter. The effusive energy of youth ends and makes room for the patient wisdom of age.

It is necessary – for a time – to mourn life’s endings. But we should take care not to get stuck there. We don’t want to miss the new adventure waiting to unfold.

At times like this, it is good to be reminded that this life consists of things that endure and things that don’t. And according to our Teacher, true wisdom consists in building our lives on the kind of material that endures, instead of on the other kind:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.”(Matthew 7:24-26, NRSV).

 

01
Jul
19

Graduation Day

Olivia graduatingAh, graduation.

I remember it… vaguely.

But as luck and family circumstance would have it, I had a chance to relive that magic moment a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I were privileged to travel to Corvallis, Oregon to see my niece, Olivia, graduate from Oregon State University.

GO BEAVERS!

It reminded me of how awesome it felt to be able to look at that long list of “To Do’s” and put the word DONE beside them.

Final papers? DONE!

Final exams? DONE!

Final classes? DONE!

Final projects? DONE!

Final cleaning and walk-through of your off-campus apartment? DONE!

Final tearful gathering with college friends? DONE!

Those first few days after walking onstage to receive one’s hallowed sheepskin is a good time to breathe deeply and bask in the warm afterglow of accomplishment.

And so, in that magic moment with her mom, and dad, and sister, I didn’t have the heart to burst Olivia’s bubble and tell her about the NEXT project waiting for her around the corner… the one called “GETTING LIFE DONE.”

It would have seriously rained on her parade to tell her just how slippery and elusive this project will be. I mean, I’ve been working on it for 67 ½ years now, and am just beginning to feel like I understand the “deliverables.”

I mean, what kind of sadistic uncle would show up and tell the new graduate about all the funky twists and turns, the outrages, the injustices, the dense fog, or the surprising GRACE she will bump into on her way to completing this next assignment?

Without a doubt, this is going to be the most challenging project she has ever faced. Fortunately for her though, there is help.

For starters, Olivia has a couple of wise, loving parents to turn to. I know they will devote every ounce of their energy and imagination to helping her navigate the path ahead.

And like any good dad, I know that if my brother doesn’t know the answer to her question right away, he’ll just make something up.

It’s what guys do.

There is also the extended family of goofballs, clowns, and scalawags to provide comic relief, if not actual assistance.

Olivia also has a wise-beyond-her-years younger sister who loves her fiercely she can lean on anytime she needs to.

And because she has actively built a strong network of friends over the years, Olivia will have all of those folks behind her, too… ready to step up and do whatever is needed, whenever it is needed.

I don’t think anyone would argue that getting life done is truly one of the most challenging assignments any of us will ever face. Having family and friends to mentor us along the way is incredibly helpful.

But I hope none of us who needs it ever hesitates to reach out our hand for the biggest, most capable, most dependable, and wisest resource around; Jesus.

True, his original words, recorded in Matthew 11:28-30, were NOT addressed to a 21stcentury, tech, and social-media saturated world. But when he looked out at his audience of first-century peasants and said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” I can’t help but imagine he saw you and me there in the crowd, too.

So congratulations on your amazing achievement, Olivia. Graduating from college is a HUGE accomplishment for which you and your mom and dad should be enormously proud.

Blessings to you as you face the road ahead.

Please know that you have all kinds of help available when and if you need it…

 

… including a zany uncle and a savior.

16
May
19

Portion Control

OK… quick show of hands: who has ever heard the comment, “Why you’re a chip off the old block, aren’t you?”

Personally, I have heard it more than a few times… and I usually take it as high praise.

One reason might be because I am a United Methodist pastor – just like my dad. But I also like to think people are telling me that I occasionally manifest one or two of his better personal qualities.

There is one way, however, that I wish I did not resemble my dad quite so much. That is in the whole area of life we lovingly call “portion control.”

Here is a photo of my late father taken a few years ago. As you can see here, he is rather excitedly preparing to dive headfirst into a serving of peach cobbler.

A REALLY BIG serving of peach cobbler, as you can see. George and Peach-o-Rama

Just like my dad, I also like to eat. And also like my dad, I have zero sense of portion control. I occasionally eat until it hurts, or the buttons on my pants burst… whichever comes first.

Usually, after this kind of eating orgy, I am in serious pain. I can’t walk for a while and when I finally regain my footing, I waddle like a crippled duck. I take an oath – to my reflection in the mirror, to my wife, and to anyone else within earshot – that I will NEVER, EVER do that again.

And I keep that oath. That is, until the next time Joan serves some delicious peach cobbler. And yes, also like my dad, I am a complete SUCKER for peach cobbler.

Then the other day, as I was trying to figure out a cure for this disorder of mine, I realized that food is hardly the only department of my life where I need a little discipline and PORTION CONTROL.

I looked up and (GASP!) caught myself gorging on network TV news. First, there was a heaping helping of Domestic Political Discord. To that, I added a little analysis of Disturbing National Trends, followed with a chaser of Unrest on the International Scene.

By the time I had finished the main course and then tucked into a dessert of Social Media Snark, my capacity was well and truly tested. Not at all surprisingly the effect was remarkably similar to cramming a mountain of peach cobbler into my mouth.

Please understand… I am not at all opposed to staying current on local, national, and international events. I think awareness of our world is critical for every thinking, engaged person.

I am rather advocating for Portion Control… a sensible, balanced approach to the things we choose to stick into our heads and hearts.

However, upon further review, I suddenly realize there actually IS one commodity we can never, ever consume too much of.

Yep… God’s Word.

We can pile our plates high morning, noon, and night with Scripture Salad and still maintain our svelte, girlish figures.

The Psalmist says essentially the same thing when he/she says: “I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”(Psalm 119: 102-103, NRSV).

So crack open your Bibles and eat up!

And don’t be afraid to come back for seconds.




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