Posts Tagged ‘life

29
Jul
22

Plagued by Purpose

Deep Thinker

There was a time… I remember it well… when the answer was so simple, it wasn’t even necessary to ask the question.

Those were the days when you only had to look one branch down on the family tree to know what your life was all about. 

Back then, asking why you were here on this planet was akin to picking up a hammer and asking why ITexisted. 

We each knew we were here to carry on… to receive and then pass the baton… to stoke the fires of family tradition, keeping them burning for those who come after. 

It was a sacred trust we dared not interrupt.

Those of us raised in that time knew it was only either saints or psychos who heard voices calling them to undertake BOLD, HISTORY-SHAPING ventures. For the rest of us, ours was to keep our heads down, our noses clean, and our shoulders firmly pressed against the wheel.

Until it wasn’t.

One day, everything turned upside down. One day, planes full of new high school graduates started taking off and flying west over the ocean. The next day, those same planes flew back filled with body bags. No one ever fully explained to us why it was necessary, or when it would end, or what we hoped to gain. They just kept sending more of us over there to die.

So, we stopped trusting them. We stopped assuming they were right. Until they could come up with better answers, we officially declined the job of Cultural Continuity Custodians

Because they were YOUR answers and not OURS, those answers were automatically WRONG. We didn’t believe it was true until we discovered it ourselves. In pursuit of that truth, we employed every tool of discovery imaginable. 

And so today, many years later, here I sit. Wondering. 

  • Are we here to be blind stewards of tradition, obediently carrying forward that which has been handed us?
  • Are we instead called to be students of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, understanding that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” and be done with it?
  • Or was it a good thing that we once opened this Pandora’s Pouch of Pulsating Possibilities and realized our power to CHOOSE and SHAPE the world we inhabit?

So, what is my purpose?

What is YOUR purpose?

What, in broader terms, is the purpose of life PERIOD?

For the definitive answer, we turn to the Source of all definitive answers. Jesus himself.

In the fourth chapter of John, after Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well (you know… the town outcast to whom Jesus offered comfort and a new vision for her future), he gave this very succinct definition of his purpose: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (John 4:34, NRSVU). 

There it is. Simple and straightforward… deftly summarizing shelves and shelves of books on the topic: FINDING LIFE’S PURPOSE.

Do God’s will. In this moment. And this moment. And this moment. Ad infinitum… until you look back and behold a life filled with a long string of moments of divine obedience. 

  1. Do God’s will.
  2. Complete God’s work. 

Simple as that.

Abundant blessings;

30
Jun
22

Short and Sweet

It was a great visit with the granddaughters.

Three of them – two 14-year-olds and one 12-year-old – went back home yesterday after five raucous, fun-filled, tiring days with us here in Fort Collins.

Even though we both waved good-bye and then went IMMEDIATELY to bed and took long naps, Joan and I agreed on one thing: their visit was far too short.  

In fact, each one of the activities that took place while they were here seemed like they were WAY too short. The whitewater rafting trip, the horseback ride, the kayaking, the hiking, and each one of the dinners we had together seemed to end much too quickly, leaving each of us wanting MORE.

As I thought about it, I realized this is a recurring theme in my life. The “good stuff” seems to end much too quickly, while the “bad stuff” seems to linger FOREVER.  

Have you noticed that, too? 

I know, I know… in the realm of “profound insights,” this one ranks very near the bottom of the list. It almost qualifies for, “Well, DUH!”status. 

But thinking about this universal human experience led me to a different place. I started wondering if this is how it will feel at the end of my life… when I am staring the Grim Reaper in the face and looking back on the totality of my years.

Will I stop and say, “Wait! That wasn’t long enough! I need a LITTLE BIT MORE! Please???”

Or will I be standing there, tapping my foot impatiently and then saying to the guy with the sickle, “You’re LATE! What kept you? You should have been here YEARS ago!”

In my life, I have known many people you could call “old.” Some of them have been full of good spirits and energy, with eyes that crinkle with laughter, even as they feel the accumulated effects of age and gravity on their bodies. They are clearly fascinated to see what happens next on life’s great adventure.

I have known others who are tired, sick, pain-filled, and miserable. I often hear them say things like, “I don’t know what I am still doing here. I am ready to go… any time.”

At the ripe, old age of 70, I still feel like I am in the front car of a zany, uncharted carnival ride, making unexpected twists and turns as it zips along, barely under control. My health (knock wood… “For the most part…”) is not an issue. My financial house is in order (again… “for the most part…”), and so the onset of seniority is not a terribly frightening prospect for me. 

But I can certainly understand how old age can be a VERY different experience, filled with fear, grief, pain, remorse, and distress. 

Every one of us, though, faces the same reality. It is the reality spelled out by the psalmist when she/he says, “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, NRSVU). 

We – you and I – are amazingly finite realities. We live under the illusion that our lives and lifespans comprise the entirety of human existence, when the truth is, they are a tiny blip on God’s radar screen. 

Which makes it even more miraculous to consider God’s estimation of us. Even though we are grains of dust on top of the piano, God – Creator of All That Is – considers every one of us his Masterpiece. And God loves each of us blades of grass with a love that knows no bounds, forgiving our transgressions to a thousand generations.

Personally, I think that is pretty cool. And it helps me come to grips with the fact that when I am ready to unfasten my seatbelt and step off this wacky roller-coaster, it is going to feel ENTIRELY too short a trip.

Abundant blessings;

21
Mar
22

Risky Business

What do you consider the riskiest thing you have ever done?

Image courtesy of The Guardian: New Zealand

Back in the early 90s, I started my own business. It was a little advertising and public relations agency based in Kansas City.

But here’s the thing: I really don’t consider that risky. It came about through the confluence of opportunity, aptitude, contacts, and conditions and seemed like a very natural next step in my professional life. 

 Looking back, I would have to rank the hitchhiking trip I took in college from Tacoma, Washington to Columbus, Ohio and back again as the SECOND riskiest thing I’ve ever done.

The riskiest? That’s easy; deciding to LOVE.

If you have ever loved – especially loved another person – I don’t have to tell you that the act of loving is incredibly risky. In comparison to those who love, Evel Knievel jumping his motorcycle through a hoop over 20 flaming school buses is a total risk-taking milquetoast.

Love means pulling out that most tender, vulnerable, excruciatingly private part of YOU and offering it to someone else. Love is like voluntarily laying your life down on the tracks in front of the onrushing locomotive of ANOTHER HUMAN BEING and waiting to see what happens next.

Sometimes you walk away horribly wounded and disfigured.

At other times, you soar higher and farther and faster than you could ever imagine.

Yes indeed; our love for one another is incredibly risky. But sometimes it works out exactly as we had hoped.

GOD’S love for us, on the other hand, is always risky. Always reckless. Always fraught with danger. And in just about every single case, that divine love is a totally one-sided affair. 

At the risk of getting WAAAAY too anthropomorphic, try to put yourself in God’s shoes for a moment. Imagine pouring out 100% of your heart and soul on someone who seems utterly incapable of reciprocating. Over and over and over again you find new ways to demonstrate that NOTHING is more important to you than that human being.

To show them your love…

  • You splash beautiful sunsets across the sky EVERY DAY. 
  • You sprinkle fascinating people into their lives.
  • You continually whisper, “I love you SOOOO MUCH!” into their ears.
  • You build them the most miraculous and intricate container in which to live.
  • You LITERALLY move mountains to show them the power and depth of your love.

And in return? Bubkes. Zip. Nada. Zilch. You wonder if you might have gotten the same response if you had done nothing at all. 

And then… you decide to offer your beloved the most extravagant, outrageous, magnificent expression of love possible. You decide to sacrificially offer them… YOU.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

And wonder of wonders… some see this gift for what it was and bow down and give thanks. Some receive it with joyful hearts and allow this gift’s power to transform them from the inside out. 

Some of these people that you’d been chasing since the beginning of time finally turned around and really SAW you for the first time. And they praised you. And they made brand new beginnings with their lives.

And yet, most kept their heads down, unimpressed, and kept right on shuffling through their lives, one step at a time. 

And to those who saw you and responded, you sent… boundless, unconditional LOVE.

And to those who ignored you and your gift, you sent… boundless, unconditional LOVE. 

Because that’s just who you are.

Abundant blessings;

21
Sep
21

Testing… Testing…

Fall is many things.

Fall is cooler weather. Fall is turning leaves. 

Fall is back-to-school, pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, football, turning leaves, wardrobe revision, Halloween, the end of mowing, and the roll-out of next year’s new auto models. 

But most of all, fall is a TEST

Fall puts every one of us to an unerring litmus test… revealing us to be either 1.) a backward looker, 2.) a forward looker, or 3.) a liver in the moment(er). 

Which one are you?

  • Do you feel the approach of fall and wail and gnash your teeth, bereft over the fact that you can tangibly feel summer slip-sliding away?
  • Or are you the one who reaches into the drawer to grab that extra T-shirt while intoning, “Welp… looks like winter is just around the corner! Buckle up!” 
  • Or do you revel in every pumpkin-spiced moment of this ephemeral gem of a season?

Personally, I love fall. I love the riot of color, the ramp-up of activity, the cool evenings, and the comfy days. I love the beginning of football season and the wind-down (for fans of the Kansas City Royals such as me) of baseball. And now that I’m retired, I love the fact that fall means kids are back in school, allowing Joan and I to travel to popular places without battling such huge crowds.

For all its perfection, though, fall always seems to come to an end WAAAAAY too quickly. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have heard myself moan and say, “Gee whiz! It seems like we just went straight from summer into winter this year, with nothing in between.” 

What do you think; is it possible that fall is so sweet because it is so short

A little bit like this present, advanced stage of life, methinks. 

All of us feel the tug-of-war that pulls us between the temptation to agonize over our past faux pas’ and our titillating hopes and dreams for the future. We older folks probably lean more to the former than the latter I imagine.

In rare moments of self-awareness, we reluctantly admit that neither our past nor our future is accessible to our influence. Yet despite the force of this searing insight, it is still not enough to keep us from overlooking and discounting the treasure laying right HERE at our feet. 

And just like the fleeting season of fall, we suddenly turn around and realize it has all gone **POOF!** and disappeared in a big puff of smoke. 

There is nothing you or I can do to slow the inexorable march of the hours of the day, the seasons of the year, or the rapid advance of our own mortality. 

What we can do, though, is breathe deeply, savor richly, and give thanks to God for the beauty of this immeasurable moment called LIFE. As the psalmist so eloquently reminds us, “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. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children — with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” (Psalm 103:15-18, NRSV).

Happy Pumpkin Spicing, y’all!

Abundant blessings;

14
Sep
21

My Own NGH List

Ninjas ASSEMBLE!

Last night the newly-crowned, 15-year-old champion of the show, American Ninja Warrior gazed earnestly into the camera and assured me, “Hey! If you can dream it and work hard, you can do ANYTHING!”

REALLY?” I replied, reaching to my left for another handful of popcorn, noticing the twinge in my shoulder as I did so. “You honestly think so?”

But hey… you have to love the kid’s heart. He started out with nothing but a dream. 

And then, with a lot of dedication and special training equipment (like his own custom-built Salmon Ladder, Jumping Spider, and Warped Wall), he took his nimble, 15-year-old body and trained it into championship shape. 

But as I sat and snacked and listened to earnest young Kaden speak, my NGH list expanded by one.

“NGH” is shorthand for “Never Gonna Happen.” [Or if you want to be a little more grammatically formal, call it the NGTH List; “Never Going To Happen.”] 

This is the list I keep of the things that are CLEARLY never going to happen in my lifetime. Despite Kaden’s heartfelt pep talk, I knew that becoming the next American Ninja Warrior is light years beyond my personal radar screen. 

It’s NGH… Never Gonna Happen.

Just like my dream of playing in the NBA. NGH. Or climbing Mount Everest. Also NGH. To this list I should probably also add my childhood fantasies of becoming a firefighter, or a policeman, or game show host.

NONE of those are Ever Gonna Happen.

On one hand, I find that moving things onto my NGH List is a very liberating exercise. I mean, if I keep on believing that the day will come when I finally learn to fly a plane, or become a ventriloquist, or sculpt Joan’s lovely image in marble, I invite nothing but frustration and disappointment the longer those goals remain unachieved. 

Moving that kind of stuff onto my NGH List frees me up to discover more reasonable, age-and-ability-appropriate sources of fulfillment.  

On the other hand, I have to ask myself; “Is a rapidly expanding NGH List a sign that I’ve thrown in the towel? Given up? “Settled?” Ceased dreaming?”

I think I was 19 years old when I first uttered the phrase, “Someday, I’m going to write a book.” Today, at nearly 70 years, that dream remains unfulfilled. 

Please understand: I’ve started several books. One even grew to a little more than 11,000 words. 

Each time, however, I have abandoned the effort as I became overwhelmed, discouraged, lost, or disappointed with the sub-standard quality of my effort. But then I pick up someone else’s printed, published work, and become simultaneously inspired and intimidated

And yet, despite the internal turmoil this causes me, I am still not willing to move “Write a book” onto my NGH List.

Ultimately, I (and probably all of us) must look soberly at our goals and ask the question, “Is this quest ‘of God’? Or is it just me and my idle fantasizing?” Another way of asking the same question might be: “Is this THING part of my divinely-appointed PURPOSE in life? Or not?” 

If the answer to that question is YES, nothing should stop you from carrying it out. If it is NOT, you should waste no time adding it to your own personal NGH List

I take a measure of comfort from the Bible’s story of the Israelites. Their divinely appointed purpose (recorded in Genesis 12:3) was to be a set-apart people through whom God would bless all of Creation.

But to get there, they had to endure 400 years of enslavement in Egypt, 40 years of wandering aimlessly in the Sinai wilderness, and then untold months of vicious, mortal combat before they finally “arrived.” I am sure most of them wanted to put “Be God’s Chosen People” on their NGH List at around year six of their time in Egypt.

And yet, despite all the delays, all the setbacks, all the disappointments, and all the dead-ends, God’s purpose for the Israelites was ultimately fulfilled. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NRSV).

Today, no matter what new things are being added to YOUR NGH List, take heart. Wait on God. Renew your confidence that God has a purpose and a path for you.

Abundant blessings;

09
Aug
21

A Question of Purpose

Say hello to Rosie and Patrick.

I am quite jealous of them.

And no, not just because their days consist entirely of eating, sleeping, walking, and pooping… although that does seem like a pretty sweet gig.

No, I am jealous of them because they have no questions at all about their purpose(s) in life. 

They both know that beyond the four activities listed above, they are here on earth for one shining, central reason…

… their purpose is to be the loyal, unconditionally loving companions of the people who put kibble into their bowls twice a day.

They pursue that purpose diligently, single-mindedly, and steadfastly every day. That purpose helps them sort through the conflicting demands on their time and zero in – laser-like – on the things that best serve their Purpose.

Lucky dogs.

Since retiring two years ago, I have struggled with the notion of purpose. For most of 2020, of course, my purpose was very straight-forward: STAY ALIVE and UNINFECTED!

Naturally that is still #1 on my list. But I will confess to a degree of befuddlement about what else should be there. 

‘Way back when in my working life, I had occasion to counsel men – usually men in their mid-to-late 50s – on this very topic. In most instances, these were men who were facing sudden unemployment and were now adrift and bereft, uncertain of either the meaning or the purpose of their existence.

In every case, I counseled them not to confuse their WORK with their PURPOSE in life. The two are NOT, I told them, the same thing. [I only reference men here because I never encountered a single woman who needed this reminder. Every woman I’ve ever met somehow knows the difference between WORK and PURPOSE.]

And now, here I sit… needing to hear that same counsel myself. 

For lots of newly retired people, the question of their life purpose is pretty simple and straight-forward: relax, kick back, and take it easy. Work on the yard when it needs it. Play as much golf as humanly possible. Walk to the mailbox once a day. Take up a new hobby. Alphabetize the vitamin supplement bottles.

Except that those are ACTIVITIES. And activities are not PURPOSES. 

A goal of mine in retirement is to write a book. “Well and good,” you might say. “Go ahead, get off your butt, stop talking about it and DO IT!” 

But again: GOALS are also not the same thing as PURPOSES.

I recently listened to a podcast on the topic of PURPOSE. The interviewee made a helpful distinction between the concepts of MEANING and PURPOSE… concepts I have often conflated in my mind. He pointed out that MEANING has to do with looking backward at the events in your life. 

PURPOSE, however, is about looking FORWARD. 

Don’t fret about me too much; I wouldn’t call myself utterly lost and clueless on the subject. I am certain, for example, that SERVING GOD and LOVING PEOPLE still sit right there at the center of my life’s purpose. The fact that they will no longer be done in a professional capacity doesn’t change that at all. 

I am just a little stumped at the moment about just HOW that needs to happen.

Oh well… when in doubt, sit down, take a few deep breaths, quiet your mind, and pray the Wesley Covenant Prayer:

Dear God;

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, 
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.


And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven.  Amen.

Abundant blessings;

02
Feb
21

Should we be nice?

Today, while taking the dogs for a walk in the park, I saw a hand-painted sign leaning against a fence. It was big… probably four feet high and six feet wide. Every letter on the sign was painted a different color, and it said:

“BE KIND.”

As the dogs and I finished our walk, I looked at the minivan across the parking lot and saw a message there in white letters across the back window. It said:

“I HOPE SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS TO YOU TODAY.”

“Wow!” I thought to myself. “How cool is THAT! I go out and find myself surrounded by positive, uplifting messages. With everything going on in the world today, those people have decided they are going to be positivity evangelists!”

“Well done, y’all!” (In case you are not aware, “y’all” is the plural of “you” in many parts of the country.)

There was nothing complicated about either message. They weren’t inviting me to join a club. They weren’t trying to sell me on a complex doctrine. They didn’t want me to give them a percentage of my income every month. They didn’t have a sneaky pyramid scheme that required me to enlist friends and family members. 

They were just putting the good juju out there in the atmosphere, hoping it connected with someone.

And then I had to stop and wonder, “Why can’t the Christian faith be simple and straightforward like that? Why do we have to muddy it up with all those convoluted theological dogmas and ‘rules of engagement’? Don’t we want to entice people and not repel them?”

“I mean, couldn’t Christians just say we are part of the ‘BE KIND CLUB’ and let it go at that?” 

For a lot of folks, it seems like a pretty big leap to say they believe in a deity who became a human being, died, and then came back from the dead three days later. But it is not hard at all to encourage them to say, “I believe in being kind to other people.”

So, what’s the problem? Why are we (Christians) so hung up on whether someone speaks the exact “phrase that pays” instead of just worrying about what they DO?

In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess that I am trolling you here a bit. I actually DO believe that confessing Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of one’s life DOES make a qualitative difference in that life. I also believe that a person’s actions and words are much more important than their professed systems of belief… even though those actions and words flow directly FROM those systems of belief. And I ABSOLUTELY believe that there is much more to the Christian faith than just being kind to other people.

In fact, would it surprise you to hear me say that I don’t believe that the Christian faith has much at all to do with being nice to people?

Loving them? Yes. Absolutely. Unconditionally, even. But as Jesus demonstrated over and over again, LOVING another person doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with BEING NICE to them.

Jesus gave a very succinct summary of his mission on earth in John’s gospel when he said, “… I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NRSV). 

In other words, he came to revive relationships, break cycles of addiction, lift up the downtrodden, snap chains of injustice, bring hope, infuse possibility. In short, he came break down every barrier that separates people from the abundant life God always intended for them (us). 

If being kind, gentle, and sweet to a person helped connect them with that “abundant life,” so be it! Jesus would be like, “Bring on the kind, gentle, and sweet.” If, on the other hand, bringing about abundant life meant employing the proverbial “swift kick in the pants” approach, he would not hesitate to administer that.

So yes, let’s redouble our efforts. Let’s offer a smile to a total stranger on the sidewalk. Let’s make eye contact and give a kind word to the cashier at the convenience store. Let’s pay for the person behind us in the McDonald’s drive-through. Let’s call someone on the phone, “just because…”

But let’s also join Team Jesus and help bring the abundant life he was after. 

Abundant blessings;

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;




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