Posts Tagged ‘love

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.

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;




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