Posts Tagged ‘life

02
Apr
19

Padless living

“Sometimes life feels like playing football with no pads.”

–       R. Brown, 2019

Ferocious tackleIn a time long ago and far away, I played football. The American version, that is. The kind that requires helmets, shoulder pads, thigh pads, kneepads, cleats, and (sometimes) rib pads.

There was never a doubt in my mind about the need for all that padding. The player-on-player contact is always forceful and unforgiving. The point – after all – is for me to smash into the other guy with all my might and knock him down to the ground.

Fortunately for me, the playing phase of my football career ended in junior high school after I suffered first a concussion and then a severely twisted ankle. The closest I get to a real football game now is on my living room couch in front of the TV screen.

I know, I know… some of you tough guys are reading that last line and intoning the word “Wimp!” toward your computer screen right now.

And I am totally OK with that.

While I have successfully avoided having my bell rung, ACL torn, or femur snapped on the gridiron all these years, I must confess I have not been quite as successful avoiding injury on the field of LIFE.

I have discovered that sometimes – as the wise philosopher at the top of this page remarked – the game of life bears a striking resemblance to playing football without the benefit of pads.

Sometimes we have an idea… an idea that seems truly inspired and brilliant to us. We take our precious idea, excitedly put it out there in front of other people, and then watch it get tackled, and smashed, and pummeled to bits.

At other times we become vulnerable toward another person… opening up the depths of our heart and soul to them in a way that leaves us truly exposed. And then occasionally – not every time, happily – that person rewards our vulnerability with scorn or (even worse) indifference.

Or we might choose to adopt a cause that is virtuous and noble – capable (at least in our mind) of rendering a genuine, positive change in the world. We wave the flag, beat the drum, call out to rally the troops, only to find ourselves met with a deafening, hurtful silence.

It can feel quite a bit like football without pads.

Sometimes those body blows are instructive learning moments… shedding light on a heretofore-unseen weakness in my idea/feeling/cause. So I use the pain of that moment as a guide to my efforts to “shore up” that which was flimsy and inadequate.

At other times though, my response to those experiences of “full contact rejection” is to retreat to my corner, cower, lick my wounds, and make a vow to never again put myself out there like that.

OK… full disclosure; my first impulse upon rejection is almost ALWAYS to choose the retreating, cowering, licking, vowing option.

Getting back out there again after getting your block knocked off is a really hard thing to do. You know EXACTLY what that bodyslam feels like and you are not anxious to repeat the experience.

And I don’t know if this observation is actually true or not, but it seems to me as if more and more people are lining up these days, taking aim, and eagerly waiting to blast away at risk takers.

Sometimes that pounding is enough to convince you that the sidelines of life is the best place to spend the game… safely spectating.

But I hope you don’t.

I hope you will trust Jesus when he assures you, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

I hope you will keep putting yourself out there… padless and vulnerable.

I hope you will choose to learn from the pain of those bumps and bruises and maybe even come to give THANKS for them.

I hope you will never accept the lie that tells you that WATCHING life is the same as LIVING it.

The world needs your gifts…

… even if we don’t always act like we do.

 

Abundant blessings;

28
Feb
19

Here in the aftermath…

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21, NRSV)

GC2019 floorToday, words fail.

And yet, I have always been encouraged that the attempt to assemble appropriate words can often be the beginning point of the process of healing.

So I press on…

I traveled to St. Louis, MO early Monday morning to observe the proceedings of the special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was a session with one task on hand: to resolve, once and for all, more than 45 years of bitter wrangling in the church over whether or not we will include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the life of the church.

While it is true that the two main issues at stake in General Conference 2019 were whether the United Methodist Church would permit LGBTQ+ people to be ordained as pastors and whether UMC pastors will be able to perform same-sex weddings, the real issue was inclusion.

Because if we assign one group of people a different, diminished set of rights than other people enjoy, we effectively exclude them.

I went to St. Louis hopeful. For months and months, I have heard a groundswell of support for something called the One Church Plan. The One Church Plan was structured to allow progressive United Methodist congregations to stay progressive, centrist congregations to stay centrist, and conservative congregations to stay conservative… while all still continuing life under the United Methodist tent

It seemed like a no-brainer.

But when I arrived I was reminded: the gathering in St. Louis was a global gathering. It was made up of not only delegates from North America (2/3 of whom said they supported the One Church Plan), but also delegates from Europe, Central and South American, the Philippines, and sub-Saharan Africa… where the UM church is seeing its most dynamic growth.

I was also reminded that many of these global delegates come from countries where homosexuality is a crime punishable by fine, jail time and in some instances, corporal punishment.

And yet, even on the four-hour drive from Kansas City to St. Louis, I was still hopeful. For the last eight months, I have been praying daily for the conference and the delegates. My prayer has been for God’s spirit to move through the hearts and minds of each delegate and that LOVE be the guiding force in the deliberations in St. Louis.

Since entering the ministry in 2001, I have seen firsthand the damage our church’s current policy has done to people who are something other than heterosexual.  My fervent hope has been that the church might no longer be an instrument of injury in those lives and would instead start being an instrument of healing and welcome.

The best chance for something new to happen was General Conference 2019

OCP voteYet those hopes were dashed Monday afternoon as the One Church Plan was defeated by 50 votes… then dashed further as the Traditional Plan– featuring even stricter condemnations of LGBTQ+ persons – was passed.

I was heartbroken.

Today I am still heartbroken. I am heartbroken as a person. I am heartbroken as a member of the United Methodist Church. I am heartbroken as the pastoral leader of two United Methodist congregations. I am sure I am still in the aftermath of the moment of trauma, but right now I feel like my mother just evicted and disowned me.

No one is terribly clear where things are going from here. Some people are talking about leaving the denomination altogether. Some people are talking about organizing an effort to “de-globalize” the United Methodist Church, making the North American church its own discrete entity with its own Book of Discipline. Some are saying this has been their church home since birth and will continue to be, no matter what.

And some – I imagine – are rejoicing that the United Methodist Church has finally “done the right thing” and “followed God’s teaching.”

For me for now, fretting over the future of the United Methodist Church does nothing good for my soul right now. I have to try and remember that my call is to discern and do God’s will in this next moment… and the moment after that… and the moment after that… for the rest of my life.

I pray that people are somehow able to see the face of Jesus even through the thick fog that is often produced by his church.

I pray for the healing of LGBTQ+ United Methodist people who have heard this ruling from the church and in it heard the words, “Because of who you are, you don’t belong here.”

God bless each of you. This is not the end of God’s story. It might just be the beginning of something extraordinary and new.

12
Jan
19

Scratch it!

backscratcher_0406Have you ever had an itch?

I mean the kind that was located at that exactly perfectly unreachable spot on your back… just right THERE.

An intense itch. The kind that would not be ignored nor trifled with.

It is now winter here in the northern hemisphere and what that means for many of us is DRY SKIN.

And with dry skin comes (come?) ITCHES.

And let’s just go ahead and say it: itches are bitches.

So in the midst of this delicious agony, if you are so blessed as to have a partner or spouse or a really, really selfless friend who will scratch that itch for you… you know true bliss.

I mean really… is there anything that feels better than having an unreachable back itch lovingly, yet firmly SCRATCHED?

I know one answer you are considering to this question… and I would actually beg to differ.

As I think back on it that was exactly my experience when I finally gave up all my excuses, dropped all my studied, sophisticated resistance and said, “YES” to Jesus Christ.

It was as if a lifelong itch had at last been scratched.

Things that once didn’t add up, now made sense.

Longings that so often went unsatisfied were finally quieted.

The light bulb went on in a dark, dark room and put my anxious heart at ease.

Paul says it this way in his letter to the Romans: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…” (Romans 8:19, NRSV).

The entirety of creation knows that Jesus Christ is the only effective scratch to the itch that has bedeviled it for centuries.

And the funny thing is all we have to do – to get rid of that itch – is ask.

AMEN!

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.

06
Feb
18

Barcode Faith*

Barcode scannerMy friend Mike died yesterday.

Mike had been in the process of dying of cancer for the past six months or so.

I had been to see Mike over the weekend and if not for the full, gray beard and knit stocking cap he still wore, I would not have recognized him. He was a pale, confused shell of the intense, vibrant, lively man I first met more than 20 years ago.

Mike’s wife contacted me yesterday morning and said he had declined rapidly since then. The hospice nurse had given him no more than 24-48 hours.

I was able to get to their home – where hospice had set up a bed for Mike – and pray with them, read some scripture, and anoint his forehead with oil.

Then, at about 9:00 last night, I received the text from Mike’s wife telling me that he had died peacefully earlier that evening. She expressed gratitude for the brief, informal bedside service.

In many ways, it was a similar scene to the one that played out just a few months ago with my son’s high school chum, Brandon. Brandon died in the hospice facility rather than at home, but the journeys of Mike and Brandon through the last stages of their lives on earth were very similar.

From the stunned incredulity of the initial diagnosis to the evangelical frenzy of research into the latest findings about treatments, cures, experiments, and support groups, to the disappointment with treatment results, to declarations of their unyielding commitment to fight on, to unexpected turnarounds, to the final stages of the relentless decline of mind, body, and spirit… Mike and Brandon’s journeys bore eerie similarities.

There was one marked difference, however.

About a month before he died – on the eve of his 40th birthday – Brandon asked me to baptize him.

Throughout most of his life, Brandon had never really professed a religious faith of any kind. He had dabbled here and there with spiritual forms that appealed to his voracious intellect, but always found deep flaws in every one of them, he said, that prevented him from pledging allegiance to any.

But something somewhere changed. Over the course of many meetings and conversations over coffee, Brandon casually asked me one day if I would baptize him… in a church… with friends and family present.

I was delighted by his request and agreed to immediately set something up. But his request was not followed by a secret, personal moment when I gleefully carved a notch in my pastor’s belt. I can honestly say I did nothing overt to steer him in that direction.

And even though I had similar conversations and cups of coffee with Mike as his disease progressed… and even though Mike was also a card-carrying member of the “spiritual, not religious” fraternity, no request for baptism and confession of Jesus as Lord and savior ever came from him.

All of which begs several questions: based on the story of these two journeys, do you believe there is a difference in Mike’s eternity vs. Brandon’s? And if so, what is that difference? And why?

Surprisingly, there is a correct answer to this question; and that answer is: “God and God alone knows.”

As the renowned writer in Christian spiritual formation, Dallas Willard, once famously opined, it is unreasonable to believe that God operates with the faith equivalent of a system of barcodes. What that means is; if you went into a store and pulled a barcode off of a box of Cheerios and slapped it onto a claw hammer, the scanner at the cash register would tell you that the claw hammer was actually a box of Cheerios.

In the same way, it is reasonable to believe that when we show up at the gates of eternity, God probably does more than scan us with his Holy Barcode Reader… using the question, “Did she/he speak the magic phrase before they died?” as his guide.

I am sure the analysis goes deep… even deeper than actually looking to see whether we are, in fact, a hammer or a box of Cheerios.

Believe it or not, God has actually spoken directly to the “barcode faith” question on several different occasions. You can find one quote in the book of Isaiah, in the 55th chapter, ninth verse: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, NRSV).

We see another commentary in the book of I Samuel when the prophet Samuel is preparing to anoint Jesse’s runt-of-the-litter son David as the next king of Israel. Samuel (as prophets often do) speaks God’s mind and says, “… for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7, NRSV).

Please join me today in praying for the families of Mike and Brandon as they struggle to cope with life without the dearly beloved husbands, sons, fathers, and friends these two men were.

Join me also in making a renewed commitment every day to living a life that would be pleasing to the deep-looking, all-knowing eye of God.

 

* (Today’s post is the story of the deaths of two friends. Out of respect for the families I am not using the real names of the main characters.)




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow Russellings of the Spirit on WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: