Posts Tagged ‘love

25
Aug
19

For me?

Puerto Rican tree frogJoan and I (and Joan’s daughter Jessica) are in Puerto Rico for a few days, enjoying our first-ever trip to this island.

What an amazing place! If you have never been, I highly recommend it.

For Jessica, this is a vacation. That’s because Jessica is a working person.

Joan and I, however, are only allowed to call it a “trip” because we are both retired. That means we are legally prohibited from using the word “vacation.”

We are staying in a little seaside spot near Punta Santiago on the east coast of the island. It is far outside the city of San Juan and therefore very peaceful and serene.

The remoteness of our location has allowed us to meet the little tree frog that is known as “the symbol of Puerto Rico,” the coqui. The coqui has a distinctive and piercing call that begins right around sunset and continues until the wee hours of the morning.

Wikipedia tells me that the coqui’s call is made up of two parts… the “co” which is designed to scare away other male frogs, and the “qui” (pron. “key”), which is his come-on to any female frogs in the area.

I am glad I looked this up because when I first heard the call of the coqui, it struck me as the call of the most self-centered little amphibian in the world.

The call I thought I heard him making was, “For me?” repeated over and over and over again.

It made me think about how often I have employed that mating call in my own life.

I had to stop and ask myself if I am only able to appreciate the joy and wonder of life when it is especially designed “for me.”

Am I only able to weep and feel the true depth of sorrow when a tragedy is uniquely “for me”?

I sincerely hope that is not the case. Because if it were, I would truly be a person worth pitying.

When Jesus commanded us to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39), I believe he was commanding us to do away with the notion that there is a distinction between the two.

When I see no distinction between my neighbor’s well being and my own well being, self-care and compassion merge to become the same thing.

Your joy is indeed “for me.” Your sorrow is also, “for me.”

So maybe instead of being annoyed as the little coqui sings me to sleep tonight, I will instead choose to be grateful for his sermon on authentic human compassion.

 

But maybe he could try preaching it a little more quietly though, eh?

05
Aug
19

Mr. Tidy Guy

Tidy guyI hate messes.

I confess freely and fully to you now that I am a compulsive tidier-upper. Some (such as my loving wife) might even say I verge on being obsessive-compulsive about my tidying.

Things lying around on the kitchen counter that don’t belong there make me just a little crazy. And so… they get tidied.

In my wake, half-finished cans of Diet Coke get dumped (sorry honey!), today’s edition of the newspaper gets recycled (if it is after 2:00 p.m.), dust bunnies get swept away, and aimlessly wandering pens or pencils get returned to their proper homes.

Try as I might, I have been unable to confine my tidying to my own home. Microscopically crooked pictures on the walls of doctor or dentist’s offices don’t stay that way for very long when I am around.

I will also confess that it takes every ounce of self-restraint I can muster to keep from reaching over and wiping that little spot of mustard off a child’s cheek at our neighborhood McDonald’s.

I realize that this behavior is much more an affliction than a virtue, and yet, I persist… neatening up the world, one disorderly trash pile at a time.

I wonder what is really going on here. What do you think the deeper drivers of this neatnik-ness might be?

I wonder if it has anything to do with looking out every day at a world that seems to get messier and messier by the minute… heaping tragedy on top of disaster on top of sorrow, on top of sin?

I wonder if the visions of lives permanently disfigured by violence, addiction, poverty, war, or natural disasters make me feel like I have to DO SOMETHING to bring a tiny piece of order into this landscape of chaos?

I wonder if I am engaging in some kind of silly antidote to my own sense of helplessness in the face of a world that seems to have run a little amok… as if to say, “Well, the politicians in this country might lack the spines to enact any kind of common-sense gun laws that could bring down the epic levels of gun violence we see here today, but at least my living room carpet is nicely vacuumed.”

It is entirely possible.

But then I am forced to reflect on the fact that Jesus didn’t ever promise me that life would suddenly become neat and orderly when I decided to follow him.

In one place in John’s gospel, Jesus promised that life with him would be ABUNDANT. (John 10:10). So I guess it is possible for life to be abundant and messy at the same time, right?

In another place, Jesus is actually on record as promising the continuation of messes and problems; “… in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

Today I hereby resolve to try and do a better job of leaving Joan’s Diet Coke cans alone when I find them.

However, odds are pretty good that I will continue to be Mr. Tidy Guy both at home and abroad.

But I will also try to remember – as I look out on the massiveness and complexity of the piles of mess in the world – that those messes do not have the final word. As unsolvable and un-tidiable as they might look, they have already been brought under the authority and control of the One who is far greater than any mess imaginable.

 

So, if you will excuse me… I’ve just spotted an errant scrap of paper on my front lawn.

01
Aug
19

Ash-A-Palooza 2019

“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Matthew 19:30, NRSV

Sibling hugI consider myself a committed, albeit deeply flawed, follower of Jesus Christ. I try to live my life by his example, in spite of failing and coming up short time after time after time.

Nevertheless, I keep trying.

I also take Jesus at his word, as captured in the canon of the New Testament… even when I don’t understand exactly what he is trying to say. Take for example the story in Matthew 17 where Jesus and Peter are talking about the folks who collect the so-called “Temple tax.” After asking Peter from whom the “kings of the earth” receive their tribute, Jesus says this to him: “…go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”(Matthew 17:27, NRSV).

Huh?

Whatever he meant there, I am going to assume that it is true, deep, and wise.

I just don’t happen to get it.

I also take him at his word in the Matthew 19 passage quoted at the top of this page about the “firsts” and the “lasts.” Even so, I have to admit that in my multiple years of life on this planet, I have rarely seen examples of the truth of this statement in action.

What I mean is; those who are “first” in life seem to remain stubbornly at the front of the line while the folks at the back – whether socially, economically, or politically – often seem to be permanently welded to those rearward positions.

And so I consider it nothing short of a praise-the-Lord-Hallelujah style miracle to be able to tell you that I saw the truth of this Matthew 19:30 passage acted out right in front of me this past week.

Allow me to explain: growing up, the very LAST people I wanted to be associated with were my siblings. I considered them to be the most annoying, troublesome, frustrating, clumsy, idiotic, and just plain UNCOOL human beings on the face of the earth.

EVERY ONE OF THEM!

You see, I am the oldest of the five offspring of George and Lyn Brown. We stair-step down from me, just about every 1 ½ to two years to Melinda, Douglas, Alan, all the way down to the baby, Eric.

(The baby, incidentally, celebrated his 60thbirthday earlier this year.)

My parents were continually admonishing me about my duty to “be an example to your younger brothers and sister,” throughout my life and I frankly resented them for it.  I could not wait to graduate from high school and finally get out of the oppressive, sibling-infested environment of our house.

But my… how several decades of time and multiple life-shaping experiences can change things.

Today those annoying pests who once occupied the lowest rungs on my Personal Preference Ladder have leap-frogged themselves all the way to the top… just a couple of rungs down from my Savior and my lovely wife.

We began growing closer when my mother died of lymphoma in 1970. Through marriages, divorces, illnesses, victories, defeats, children, and grandchildren, we have been steadily closing the gap every year.

But what really cemented them into their permanent, favored place in my heart was our recently-concluded sojourn, somewhat whimsically titled, “Ash-A-Palooza 2019: Brown People Go Back Where They Came From.”

This was a trip that covered seven days, 2,000 miles, 300 songs, hundreds of laughs, and lots of tears.

It was the fulfillment of a request from our father to have his cremated ashes spread to five different locations around the U.S. Each location he chose held special significance to him and to our family.

Last summer we sprinkled some of his ashes onto the flank of Mt. Rainer in Washington State and into the Pacific Ocean. This year’s leg of the trip took us to St. Louis (his birthplace), Columbus, Ohio (the birthplace of each of the kids), and the shores of Lake Michigan, at the summer camp where he and my mother met in the summer of 1947.

This trip generated too many stories to tell in one short blog post, so I won’t even try. Needless to say, it reconnected us to one another in special and spiritual ways. It reconnected us with people and places in our history.

But most of all, it reconnected me – and I am sure all of us – to the beauty and wonder that is this strange thing we call FAMILY.

The last have indeed become the first…

… even if they are still a bunch of knuckleheads.

08
Jul
19

The Overmow

Mowing the lawn“… outdo one another in showing honor.”                                    Romans 12:10, NRSV

My next-door neighbor and I are in a competition.

Not that I’m keeping score or anything, but I think I just went ahead by one earlier today. (Self high five!)

We are competing on neighborliness with a little thing I call the “gracious overmow.”

Here is how it works; if I happen to get out and mow my grass before Tom – my neighbor to the west – mows his, I don’t stop mowing at our property line. I go all the way over to the side of his house… mowing grass that actually belongs to him.

And if Tom happens to get out and mow his grass before me, he does the same.

We never actually talk about it. We just do it.

I have also tried to practice gracious overmowing with my neighbor to the east, but he apparently hasn’t caught on to how the system works.

Honestly, it is a little bit of a pain when I am the one doing the overmowing. It makes my mowing time about 50 percent longer than usual. But when Tom beats me to the punch… it is AWESOME!

Zip, zip! Done!

It all made me wonder… could this be done on a larger scale? Could I find other areas of life in which I might “overdo” a kind gesture?

Could I, for example:

  • “Overshovel” my neighbor’s sidewalk in the winter?
  • Pull weeds from my neighbor’s yard?
  • Fetch my wife a Diet Coke before she even asks me?
  • Graciously allow a fellow motorist to cut in front of me in traffic?
  • Pick up someone else’s dog poop? (Ew, no… scratch that one. Too gross.)
  • Leave that last box of corn flakes on the grocery shelf for someone who might need it more than me?
  • Toss someone’s newspaper a little closer to their house than the paperboy did?

And could I do it, not just for nice guys like my neighbor Tom, but could I do this stuff for total strangers, too? … Or for people that are kind of grumpy, disagreeable, and hard to get along with?

What a concept!

But then, as I was contorting my right arm into a pretzel shape trying to pat myself on the back for having such kind-hearted, altruistic thoughts, I heard a voice. As I listened a little more closely, it seemed to be the voice of Jesus, whispering to me…

“Dude…” he said. “If you call yourself a follower of mine that’s the kind of stuff you should be doing anyway. Routinely. It’s nice, but honestly, it’s no biggie.”

He continues, “Don’t just stop with a few cutesy, quaint little gestures like that. Feed the hungry. Visit the sick. Go to the prisons and comfort those unjustly confined. Locate injustices in the world and become actively engaged in righting them.”

“If you really want to make a difference, take a few risks. Stick your neck out. Try doing something that just might be unpopular enough to LOSE you a friend or two… even though it’s the right thing. Don’t be content to stick to the safe stuff that makes people like you more.”

“Come back and talk to me after you have been unjustly criticized for advocating for the people I tend to hang out with… you know, the misfits, the outcasts, and the people on the margins. I probably won’t give you a medal or anything, but I’ll be pleased.”

Gee thanks, Jesus.

You really know how to rain on a guy’s parade, don’t you?

Think I’ll go mow my yard now.

14
Jun
19

Coming Out

hmc_full-color-portfolio-image_585x400I like to sing.

Correction; I absolutely LOVE to sing.

And so it was with real joy and excitement that I accepted my friend’s invitation three years ago to audition for a group called the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC). My friend had just been hired as the new artistic director of HMC. He knew of my love of singing from long-ago church connections and decided to reach out to me.

Heartland Men’s Chorus hails from Kansas City and is a civic singing group which has been in existence for 33 years. Oddly enough, the Chorus is made up almost entirely of males. I say almost because we admitted our first female member two years ago. 

HMC performs three concerts per season, including a Christmas program, a spring show, and a summer show. One of the three concerts is usually a “pops” concert of some kind while the other is often connected with a social justice cause.

An example of the latter was our spring 2017 concert titled “Indivisible… Songs of Resistance and Remembrance” which included the song, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. This haunting piece took the actual recorded last words of seven unarmed black men shot by law enforcement officers (including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Trayvon Martin) and set them to music.

Our concerts almost always include 13-14 intricate, beautiful, harmonious numbers, they last for over two hours with music that is 100 percent memorized. 

All the singers (except for the occasional professional “guest soloist”) are volunteers, yet prepare and perform like professionals. 

Oh… did I also mention that Heartland Men’s Chorus is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus? 

And even though I am a straight, middle-aged, married guy, they have welcomed me warmly.

It may have been that I imagined – when I first began singing with them – that the singers in the chorus would have a lot to gain by singing with me. I am, after all, a pastor, an open, progressive thinker, and a solid lower bass. 

Little did I suspect that it would instead be me who gained the most from our association.

For example, I gained a much greater appreciation of how to blend my voice with others. 

But I also gained an understanding of what it means to live a courageous life… daring to declare your true, God-given identity to the world knowing it might cost you friends, family, job, and even physical harm.

With the chorus I have gained an understanding of the correct way to shape different vowel sounds for maximum clarity.

But I also gained an understanding of the life-saving importance of having a safe, accepting community where people don’t have to guard every word, thought, and gesture.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus has taught me a valuable lesson about the level of work it takes to prepare a performance that people willingly pay hard-earned money to see.

But it has also taught me that a common mission can unify a group of people that once might have seemed impossibly disparate. 

We had an absolute BLAST preparing and singing last week’s concert: “Rock You… a Wild Ride  Through the Music of Queen.” The soloists were absolutely on point. The harmonies were tight and melodious. The backing band kicked serious booty.

But most of all, I was overjoyed to be able to be part of a group of people who had the courage to stand up in front of the world and say, “Check it out! This is who I AM! I am not ashamed of that and you will never convince me there is any reason I SHOULD BE ashamed.”

It is now up to me to continue to live that lesson in my everyday life.

30
Apr
19

“The Day my Mother Went Crazy”

woman-praying-black-white-sad-sized.630w.tn_I grew up in one of those small towns where everyone knew everything about everyone else.

And so it was no surprise that we all heard some version of the story of the day Mrs. Stanfield (not her real name) had what we called back in the day, “a nervous breakdown.”

One April afternoon, just after school had been dismissed, Mrs. Stanfield snapped. She began screaming horrible things at her children, threatening them with violence, and then threw them all out of the house.

Literally.

As a long time member of the United Methodist Church and an ordained United Methodist pastor, I now feel I have firsthand knowledge of how Mrs. Stanfield’s children felt that day.

These days I feel as if my mother-in-Christ – the United Methodist Church – has suffered a similar kind of nervous breakdown.

On February 26 of this year, under the dome of the Edward Jones Center in St. Louis, Missouri, MUM (Mother United Methodist) lost her marbles completely. That day I felt exactly like my mother had thrown me out of her house, yelling, “NEVER COME BACK HERE AGAIN!”

February 26 was the day the group of global delegates to the special called session of the General Conference voted 438 to 384 to adopt the so-called Traditional Plan… a plan that strengthens the church’s stance of exclusion toward LGBTQ+ people.

I held out hope that MUM would regain her senses… that the church’s Judicial Council would meet and rule that this plan violated not only the denomination’s Book of Discipline but also the spirit of grace on which the church was founded.

And then we would all wake up and realize it was all a bad dream and it was time to get back to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

But that didn’t happen. Yes, the Judicial Council did meet. Yes, they did find certain parts of the Traditional Plan (and the plan of disaffiliation that went along with it) unconstitutional. But in a decision announced just last week, we learned that the very worst parts of the Traditional Plan remain untouched.

The difficult truth I now have to face is that my mother – the United Methodist Church – is officially bigoted and homophobic.

Other people in the community now look at our family with caring, yet pitying eyes… unsure of what to say or how to relate to us.

MUM used to be so different. It was at her knee that I learned all about the guiding principle of grace.

She is the one who carefully instructed me to see complex issues from a “both/and” instead of “either/or” perspective. (“It’s not EITHER the heart or the head, but both,” she said. ”It’s not EITHER social holiness or personal holiness, but both. It’s not science or faith, but both.”)

Her heart was always so big and open… eternally reaching out in creative, loving ways to the very people everyone else had turned their backs on.

She taught us her unique, four-fold approach for discerning truth.

But then… one day something happened to MUM… something that caused some internal spring to snap, resulting in this historic fit of absurd behavior.

Yes, of course, I still love her, but my mother has become utterly unrecognizable to me. I seriously doubt her father, John Wesley, would even recognize her in her current state.

Like Mrs. Stanfield back in my hometown, I suspect MUM’s breakdown has been brewing inside her for a long time. Years and years of accumulated stress finally reached the boiling point until… POW!

Those of us in this family are now faced with the difficult decision of what to do with MUM. There is no question that we will continue to love her because that’s what families do.

And yet it is also understandable that some of us will also choose to take this moment to walk away from her, believing her illness to be irreversible. It will be a difficult decision, but no one will condemn them for making it.

Those who choose to stay with her will be in for a long and painful journey. They will need to make sure she gets the kind of professional help she needs. They need to be ready to face the very real possibility that she will never recover.

Regardless of which way anyone chooses to respond, it is a good time to remember that we serve a Risen Savior…

 

… not a flawed and failing institution.

09
Apr
19

Need Answers?

Shell answer manIf you want to know what is right, just ask me…

… on virtually ANY topic.

Let’s start with DRIVING. I can tell you how fast you should be driving, which lane you should be in, how (and when) to pass, when to put on your turn signal, how much space you should allow me as you merge into my lane, and exactly how often you should wash your car.

In fact, I just returned from a cross-town trip in my car and offered just about every one of these pieces of advice to other drivers I met on the road.

I am sure my wife is pulling my leg when she insists that other drivers don’t appreciate my wisdom.

I can also tell you the right way to raise your children… especially if you are having a hard time with their behavior in a restaurant, grocery store, or other public places.

SPORTS? I’m your guy.

I have all the right answers for the manager (and players) for our hometown baseball team. I can tell the players when to swing at a pitch and when to let it go by. I can tell them how fast to run the bases, how far back to stand in the field, and – importantly – how long their pant legs should be.

I can tell the manager when to take a pitcher out, when to leave him in, when to steal a base, when to bunt, when to bring someone up from the minors, and when to send them down.

I regularly speak this wisdom directly into the TV screen during games, with little to no effect.

I have just as many right answers to offer the coach, general manager, and scouts for our hometown professional football team, too.

Unsure where you stand on any of the complex political issues of the day? Just give me a call at 1-800-KNOWITALL and I will happily illuminate you.

Heck, I have answers for you on finance, hygiene, etiquette, grooming, clothing style, lawn care, faith, food, and patriotism…

… just to name a few.

Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about what a wonderful world this would be if only you would each seek – and then apply – my impeccable guidance to the issues you face.

Of course, I kid.

Or do I?

I have discovered that one of the consequences of living in a world filled with people who are not me, who do not live (or believe) in lockstep with me, who sometimes even seem to REVEL in taking a different path, is that I sometimes find it hard NOT to judge… or take a critical view… of “those people.”

Sometimes I do it under the guise of “offering helpful advice.” “This approach worked for me…I’m sure it would work for you, too!”

Sometimes though I fear I might do it out of a deep-seated need to elevate ME… by diminishing YOU.

When Jesus told us (in Luke 6:37), “Do not judge and you will not be judged…” he was giving us several different kinds of life guidance all at once.

Of course, he was guiding us on helpful social norms. He knew that we can easily become irritants to people who constantly receive correction from us… even when we are on target with our critiques.

But I think the primary purpose of this teaching was to help us each develop GRACE and HUMILITY as a necessary prerequisite for loving our neighbors.

See, if I only see you as a “project” to work on instead of as a fully capable, full-functioning child of God with a rich uniqueness to offer the world, I have committed the fundamental sin of IDOLATRY; that is, I am guilty of trying to remake you in MY image, instead of allowing space for the imago dei in which you were originally created to flourish.

My bad.

So you do you and I’ll do me.

And hopefully, we will BOTH observe a common, respectful Code of Conduct when next we meet on the highway.




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