Posts Tagged ‘love

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!

13
Dec
18

Christmas Present

It is one of the hardest questions I ever have to answer at this time of year. I puzzle over it for hours and still really don’t ever come up with a good answer.

Christmas listThe question in question is, “So, Russell… what do you want for Christmas?”

My wife asks me… my kids and stepkids and their spouses all ask me… beginning usually before Thanksgiving.

And yet somehow every year I continue to respond with a big, blank look and a sentence like, “Ummm… let me think about that and get back to you.”

And then I never do.

There could be a couple of reasons I might struggle so much with this question. It could be that my Christmas wishes include too many things that are huge and expensive and beyond anyone’s gift-giving budget.

For example, I would LOVE to attend the Kansas City Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp in Arizona some year. The price tag, however, for the five-day trip is a mere $4,000. Not including transportation.

I also don’t think it would be right to tell my son I’d like a 12-string guitar for Christmas… Or that the model I would really love to receive is the Taylor 956 CE, priced at an entirely reasonable $5,399.

That’s just not the kind of thing a loving father does.

Clothes are always a good gift to give me… mainly because I never buy them for myself. But if you start asking questions like, WHAT KIND of clothing, I freeze up and begin to stammer and stutter. The most detailed guidance you will get from me will be something like, “Uh… something nice?”

But there might also be a positive reason I have a hard time with this question. It might be that I feel so grateful and blessed with what I already have in life that I can’t think of a single thing that I want or need.

I may also have learned the lesson that adding more “stuff” to one’s life does not increase anyone’s level of happiness. I might have learned that additional “stuff” usually only increases the recipient’s hunger for more and more “stuff.”

And yet… the Christian faith tells me “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NRSV) Consequently, if I can’t come up with any concrete gift ideas for myself, maybe I am thwarting my family’s opportunity to be blessed through their giving!

Of course, I am kidding. No matter what our net worth is or how much we have in our bank account, we have God has enriched us each more than we can possibly imagine.

Today I count you as one of my richest blessings and look forward to celebrating the miracle of LOVE INCARNATE with you throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

 

Abundant blessings;

30
Oct
18

I just can’t.

weeping-1Four.

That is the number of times I have sat in front of my laptop today, fingers poised, intending to write.

I had a few other ideas percolating for my next blog post. But in light of the horrible shootings in Pittsburgh on Saturday, they all seemed odd and irrelevant.

“Write about the shootings,” said my brain.

“Good idea,” replied the fingers. “Give us the words and we will get right on that.”

And so four times I have given this blank screen my best, most intense and threatening stare.

Four times I’ve begun something.

Four times I’ve come up with nothing but drivel.

And so I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I do not possess any words or wisdom necessary to help myself (or anyone else, for that matter) deal constructively with those horrific events.

So today I am just going to grieve.

Today I am just going to look down at the pieces of my broken heart lying here in my hands and weep.

Maybe later I will have a clue about why hatred continues to increase in this country and boil over in senseless acts like this.

Maybe later I will have something like an insight into how we can see and embrace our common humanity, looking beyond superficial differences like race or religion or sexuality or gender or physical ableness.

But today is not that day.

Today is a day just for reaching out to my Jewish brothers and sisters and telling them I consider them beloved, valuable members of my community.

Today is a day to tell them I mourn with them in their time of loss and sorrow.

Today is just a day to weep.

 

28
Aug
18

Fish Nibble Love

I had to look it up.

The name of the fish is Garra Rufa. They are sometimes referred to as “doctor fish” and they have apparently become the hottest thing in spa treatments. That’s because if you put your feet into a tub full of them, they nibble off all of the dead skin.

But nowhere in the literature did it tell me that the tiny Garra Rufa fish could also serve as an instrument of religious revelation.

In November 2014 I was fortunate to lead a group of people from my church on a 10-day pilgrimage to Israel. This is an experience I cannot recommend highly enough for those who aspire to follow Christ. The experience of walking in the exact same places where Jesus walked, seeing some of the exact same things he saw, breathing the same air he breathed is soul-changing.

Yardenit baptismal siteOn Thursday of that first week, the itinerary called for us to stop at Yardenit (meaning “little Jordan”). Yardenit is a place on the banks of the Jordan River that has been set up to allow pilgrims to stop and either re-enact their baptisms or be baptized for the first time… in the JORDAN RIVER!

I was not going to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I paid my money to rent the obligatory white robe, went to the locker room and put it on over my swimming suit, and got into line.

When my turn came I was dipped under the murky, brown water of the Jordan by two people and had the Trinity invoked in my name, and was anointed with oil… an EXTREMELY powerful moment for me.

But you know what I remember most about that whole experience? I remember that as I stood there in line, waiting to be dunked, the little Garra Rufa fish were swimming around my feet. And then they began nibbling away at all the dead skin they could find. Yardenit 2I’m sure it was a delightful buffet for them.

At first, it startled me … and then it tickled… and then became very annoying. I mean, here I was, trying to be all spiritual and holy and there are these little fish, nibbling on my feet under the water. But as this was all happening, a really odd thought hit me. The thought that hit me was this: “I wonder if these same little fish nibbled at JESUS’ feet when HE was here being baptized?”

And the moment I asked that question, it was like WHAM! This whole, lofty, theological concept that we call INCARNATION suddenly became very, very real to me. We read John’s gospel where it says, “And the word became flesh and lived among us…”(John 1:14, NRSV), and we can be very analytical and thoughtful about what that means. But it wasn’t until I finally got this image of Jesus… standing right there in that water… having his feet nibbled on by these pesky little fish, that the whole thing became really real for me.

And then, I don’t mind telling you, it was a moment that jumped up there right alongside the moment of witnessing the birth of my first child, or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. It became a moment when the raw reality of God and God’s love for me came up and smacked me in the face like an open hand.

WHAAACK!!!

I started to weep on the spot and could not keep the words of John 3:16 from running through my mind. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

Or, as I paraphrased it at that moment, “For God so loved the world that he allowed his feet to be nibbled on by little fish!”

That is real love, folks. Love that bends down and experiences the full range of humanity… from the sublime to the ridiculous… from the mountaintop to the outhouse… from the holy moment of baptism to the annoying little fish nibbles… THAT is the real deal.

And that is the real love God offers YOU today.

13
Aug
18

Scattered

 

Us on Ranier

Left to right: my son Graham, Alan, Eric, me, Douglas. Not pictured: mother of the bride, Melinda. Sorry, sissy.

A couple of weeks ago, my siblings and I had one of our all-too-rare get-togethers.

 

Rare because hanging out regularly is hard when separated by 2,000 miles of American soil. As providence would have it, the occasion of my niece’s wedding (in the lovely Cascade Mountain town of Roslyn, Washington) offered us a great excuse to do some yakking and catching up.

I’m not sure if I have ever said this here before, but I LOVE my brothers and my sister. They are some of the sharpest, funniest, kindest, looniest human beings you will ever have the joy of meeting. I automatically become a better person simply by spending time in their presence.

ALL visits with them are too short… no matter how long they are.

But besides kibitzing and marrying off Melinda’s youngest daughter, we had another assignment to carry out. We decided this would be a great time to carry out an ash-scattering our dad had requested as part of his final instructions to us.

Not only had dad drawn up a detailed plan for his funeral service prior to his death in January 2017, (including scripture readings, music, and poetry to be read), he also made up a list of five places where his cremated ashes were to be scattered.

As we stood there on the flanks of Mt. Rainer and scattered 1/5 of dad’s earthly remains, we also read a poem… written by one of the pastors dad served with early on in his ministry.

Part of the time included sharing some reflections on all of the ways dad’s influence helped shape us into the people we are today. I hope to offer some of those thoughts in a later posting.

And even though this poem clearly endorses cremation vs. burial of the body, I don’t offer this as a condemnation of those who choose burial.

I simply wanted to share that poem here, both as a way of celebrating the unique and unrepeatable life of George C. Brown, Jr., but also as one way of thinking about what is left behind when the breath of life leaves these mortal bodies of ours.

CREMATION

For me, no sepulcher when I am stilled, no grave to hold

Disintegrating into dust that part of me which loving life

Met each morning, wonder-filled.

Instead, to the winds my elements fling! That they may, perchance,

With lilting song reach high hills at sunset,

And meadows wet with dew where I have longed to go.

No marble shaft, engraved with platitudes when I am gone.

Only some heart, once loved, to realize that my eager mind

And long-suppressed dreams have been lured to greater altitudes.

The winds will search across the universe, find blue waters,

Moon drenched plains, little coves…

A thousand havens I have longed to see.

Deep vales at daybreak where white mists rest… there I will be.

Yet part of me, ever and anon, will hesitate, rise high into the sunlight

Then ride a homing breeze to linger briefly

On a dear one’s breast.

So look not down, when henceforth you think of me,

You, whom I so much love!

But lift your heads, your eyes, your hearts,

And look up, over, above, and beyond… for there I will be!

And now may the sweet benediction of God’s love, peace, and grace

Rest upon this life that has closed in our midst… but has not closed.

In faith and high hope, we commit his body

To the elements from which it came…

And his spirit to the God who gave it.  AMEN!

– Rev. Dr. Floyd Faust

09
Jul
18

Loving the imperfect

Joan and I don’t eat out at restaurants very often.

As I believe I have mentioned in this space before, this is mainly because my wife is an awesome cook. I love to eat the things she so lovingly and creatively prepares. To give you a little teaser, here is a photo of last night’s delectable entrée; Spinach stuffed chicken breast: Spinach stuffed chicken breast

Thanks to our somewhat sheltered culinary existence, I do not have a favorite place or a favorite dish at my favorite place. Our rare forays out are almost always adventures of discovery.

And because I tend to be a very suggestible kind of guy, my general practice is to order the thing on the menu that is pictured there in a lovely, full-color close-up photo… with the juices dripping off, a pat of butter slowly melting, and flavor whisps wafting off the page.

I just point to it and tell the server, “I’ll have one of THOSE, please!”

And if you have ever ordered this way, you know what happens next. After an unbearably long waiting period, the server returns, places that pure, beatific item in front of you with a big smile with the word, “Enjoy!” and then disappears in a puff of smoke.

Then you look down at your plate… and you are instantly crushed and heartbroken. Because the thing sitting there looks NOTHING like the picture from the menu.

  • It’s not the same SIZE!
  • It’s not the same SHAPE!
  • It’s not the same COLOR!
  • The lighting is all wrong!
  • The butter is not melting down the side in anything nearly resembling the hypnotic way it was in the picture.

Your disappointment is palpable.

And yet you have not yet even taken Bite #1.

But here is the magical thing that almost always happens next… at least for me. I somehow dry my bitter tears, pick up my knife and fork, vowing to make the best of a bad situation, and TAKE A BITE!

And then in at least 95 percent of the cases I discover… IT’S REALLY GOOD! Despite my initial disappointment.

And as I savor that first bite I say to myself, “You know… it’s not perfect, but I love it!”

And just as I uttered that phrase, I realized I said exactly the same thing less than a week ago… on the Fourth of July. As Joan and I took the day off to recognize and celebrate the designated birthday of our country I paused, placed my hand over my heart, looked at a flag, and said, “This country is certainly not perfect, but I love it!”

Then I remembered I had recently said the same thing about the United Methodist Church… where I have been ordained and continue to serve: “It’s sure not perfect, but I love it!”

In all three cases, it was good to be reminded that LOVE does not depend on the PERFECTION of the object of your love.

So… do I see great problems today in our country and worry about the direction it is headed? Or am I worried about the denomination I serve and the way it is currently choosing to carry out its mission? Am I deeply concerned with the future of both?

Yes, yes, and yes.

But do I also have an abiding confidence in the soundness of the foundation on which each of these stands? Do I believe they are still the best examples available of what it means to be a nation and what it means to be a church? And do I dearly love each of them despite their massive flaws and imperfections?

Again… yes, yes, and yes.

I also realize that loving – my country, my church, or another person – does not mean giving up the expectation that they will keep working to become a better example of their ilk.

And so if I – flawed, defective mortal that I am – have the capacity to love the imperfect, then surely the flawless, omnipotent One who created me must have that same capacity times INFINITY!

Which is probably why Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”or why John 3:16 says, “For God so lovethe world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,”or why Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Which is probably also why I should also take Joan at her word when she says she loves ME… warts and all!

Now THAT, my friends, is the real miracle.

 

Abundant blessings;




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