Posts Tagged ‘love

10
May
18

Forgive them Father, For They Have Spinned

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:12, NRSV

way-forward-commission-2017-cob-umcom-cropped-623x388Sometimes, my wife really knows how to push my buttons.

When she wants to effectively get under my skin, she calls me SpinMaster. And no, it is not due to my prowess on the stationary bicycle. It is a rather non-flattering reference to my pre-ministry professional life in the field of public relations.

I earn the SpinMaster nickname anytime she suspects I am giving an overly rosy – and misleading – slant on domestic events.

Which is exactly why “SpinMasters” was the first word that came to mind as I read the recommendation the Council of Bishops is taking to the Commission on the Way Forward for the resolution of our denomination’s ancient impasse on human sexuality.

They named their proposal the “One Church Plan.” And when I read the first two words of that title, my immediate reaction is, “What’s not to like about that? We all want to be one church, don’t we?”

Then as I read the details of their recommendation, I realized that title represented a clear case of episcopal spin… concealing the reality of a global denomination willing to engage in a cowardly desertion of a historic opportunity to stand for justice in favor of structural unity.

In another demonstration of the fine art of spin, the plan favored by the Council of Bishops defends its choice, saying that it allows the United Methodist Church to proceed, “… with as much contextual differentiation as possible and as much unity as possible.”

On that, I have to call bullshit.

In this instance, the phrase “contextual differentiation” is merely one more attempt to put rosy red lipstick on a dirty pig. It attempts to disguise the idea that individual churches or annual conferences (our geographical areas) will be able to vote to continue discounting the humanity of LGBTQ+ United Methodists.

The Bishops defend “One Church” by saying that it honors traditional orthodoxy while allowing for “new understandings” of human sexuality.

Here is the 411: “traditional orthodoxy” – i.e., the scriptural warrants against same-sex relationships, codified into the current United Methodist Book of Discipline with the phrase, “… the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching…” (paragraph 304.3, 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline)– is both bigoted and wrong. It is EXACTLY the same statement as if the Discipline read, “… the practice of being an African-American is incompatible with Christian teaching,” or, “… the practice of being a woman is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It is a case of elevating a narrow, culture-bound interpretation of scripture to the status of canon law. Except that United Methodists don’t have such a thing as “canon law.” But you get the point…

If my church goes down the path of allowing individual congregations (or conferences) to hold an up-or-down vote on whether to be inclusive and welcoming or not, it might as well just say, “As a church, we’re really not sure whether it’s OK to discriminate against people over a God-given characteristic, so we’re going to let each church decide on its own.”

This would be exactly the same statement as the one made by President Trump after last year’s Charlottesville, VA protests when he said, “… there are good people on both sides.”

NEWS FLASH, Bishops: Bigotry is NEVER good or acceptable, no matter how you spin it.

But wait! There’s more! Besides the incredible moral cowardice demonstrated by this Plan, those of us who pastor local congregations must now look forward to that day when we ask our church to assemble and vote… “Are we going to be a ‘thumbs up to gays’ church, or a ‘thumbs down to gays’ church?”

And then what if it is a 51-49 vote? Or even a 60-40 or 70-30 vote? Will 30 percent of the people – whichever side that is – have to just pick up and leave that church?

And then what if they DON’T leave?

And what about the pastor? If I happen to stand on the opposite side of the question from the “winning” side of that vote, how can I possibly stay and authentically minister to the flock that remains?

Our Episcopalian, our Lutheran, and our Presbyterian cousins have each grappled with this question in their recent histories. Each of their “Council of Bishops” equivalent knew that there was no happy “middle path” that would allow them to remain intact. Each knew that global unity of the denomination was at risk no matter which decision they took.

And yet…  they each decided to stand firmly on the side of justice. They decided to include rather than exclude.

Yes, they each paid a heavy price for that decision in terms of lost members and lost revenue.

But no one ever said standing on the side of justice was easy or cost-free.

Just ask Jesus.

07
May
18

More than skin deep

Tat photo 1“Hey… is that a tattoo?”

The question caught me off guard for a moment. I was sitting there in my car, arm extended, offering my credit card to the woman in the cute little tollbooth there at the front end of the car wash.

“Why yes… yes, it is,” I answered, finally remembering I did, in fact, have a tattoo on my left forearm.

Even though she didn’t ask me to, I went on to elaborate: “You probably can’t see it from your angle, but these are my father’s initials… a lower case “g” and a lower case “b” connected together, with a cross there at the top.”

Glancing in my rearview mirror to verify that there really weren’t too many folks in line behind me, I elaborated on my elaboration… “This is in memory of my dad. His name is Dads logoGeorge Brown and he was a pastor… so we added the cross on top there.”

“Very nice,” she said with a smile as she handed me my credit card receipt. “Sign here.”

Had I been the only one in line at that moment I would have gone on to explain that dad died last year… two days after his 90thbirthday. I would have added that my four siblings and I all got this identical tattoo less than a month before his death and were able to assemble at his bedside there in Everett, Washington and show him what we had done.

I would have also told her that at the moment of the Big Reveal, my ever-eloquent younger brother said something touching like, “Dad, throughout your life, you have made a permanent impression on each of us, so we decided to make another permanent impression as a way of honoring and remembering you.”

I would have told her that we then each shed a tear and hugged him close.Family photo with dad

I would have also gone on to explain that the tattoo is on my left, inside forearm because that is the same side as my heart. It is also there so that I can look down and see it clearly when I am trying to play something on the guitar.

After all, my dad is the one who first inspired my love of music.

Back when I was a young man in my late 50s, I said somewhat whimsically one day, “You know… when I turn 60, I’m going to get a tattoo.”

Of what I had no idea. But I knew it had to be something significant… meaningful… thought-provoking.

That birthday came and went and I remained inkless. I am sure that was mostly because my tattoo had not yet revealed itself to me. But I knew one day it would.

So I waited.

I have to admit; until this moment of inspiration came, I really didn’t “get” tattoos. I was not necessarily opposed to them. In fact, I am the guy who would regularly comment on the ink of the person in front of me in the grocery checkout line.

It was just that I could never “do the math” required to fathom why a person would endure the pain and expense involved to put permanent artwork on their skin.

But then the car wash cashier helped me see how my tattoo could be a portal…

… to a deeper meaning,

… to a cherished memory,

… to an opportunity to connect with a stranger.

And while my study of Christian scripture fails to turn up any evidence of Jesus having any ink (WWJT?), or any policy on those who do, he DOES regularly seem to reveal himself as a fan of things like LOVE, deep meaning, and connection with others.

So… what do you think?

  • Are you tattooed? If so, what themes/images are most important to you?
  • Are you opposed to tattoos? Why?
  • If you do not have one today, do you think you might ever? Why or why not?
  • If not via the tattoo route, what will you do today to promote meaning, memory, and connection in your life?
27
Feb
18

The MLK quote I can’t stand…

MLK quoteI am a fan and admirer of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. His sermons and speeches arouse hope and a passion for justice in my heart. But honestly, there is one quotation of his that just bugs the heck out of me.

The quote is: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

Yes… it is a powerful quote.

Yes, it hits the proverbial nail on the head.

Yes, it speaks Truth with a capital “T” and shines a righteous light squarely where it needs to shine.

So what’s my problem with it?

Actually, I love this quote. But I say that it bugs me because it convicts me and makes me squirm in my seat every time I hear it.

This quote throws cold water on my knee-jerk impulse to post negative, snarky Facebook comments about national and world events.

It makes me look into the mirror and ask, “What are YOU doing to spread actual, tangible love in the world?”

I hear the question… I ponder my answer… and I fall silent. Because I am not sure I have an answer.

But I know I have to keep seeking one. Actually, we ALL do.

Our future probably depends on it.

26
Feb
18

S is for Significance

two-sparrows(This post is the third in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

JOAN: (my spouse of 18 years and winner of the Nobel Prize for Longsuffering and Patience) “What’s wrong, honey?” she turned toward me and asked… a concerned look creasing her brow.

ME: (yet again, playing dumb… a part I have mastered through many years of diligent practice). “Nothing. Why do you ask?”

JOAN: “That sigh you just made. It sounds like something is bothering you.”

ME: (wracking my brain to recreate each detail of the past five minutes… recalling that, yes indeed I DID sigh audibly just a moment ago, and yes indeed, there IS something troubling me… all the while wondering how she does that…) “Well, I guess I am a little worried about the meeting coming up at church tomorrow. I’m afraid things might get a little messy and I’m not sure how I’m going to handle it when they do.”

… all of this then followed by a probing and thoughtful conversation about the issues in play, my personal dilemma, challenges facing the church, and possible solutions.

It really was a great conversation… one that ultimately helped me through a very difficult passage. It also further solidified the truth of the thesis that I married way UP when I married this lady.

It was also a conversation that might never have happened at all… absent Joan’s ability to see the SIGNIFICANCE of something as small and barely audible as my involuntary exhalation of breath.

All of which causes me to wonder: how do we draw the line between significant and insignificant in the world around us? And what do we mean by the word SIGNIFICANCE anyway? The New Oxford American Dictionary offers this definition: “The quality of being worthy of attention; importance…”

Based on that definition I have to ask: Where might I find the standard used to measure the “importance” or “worthiness of attention” of anything? Is it purely a subjective yardstick or is there some universal standard? Case in point: a complete stranger, hearing the same sigh Joan heard, might not have attached any significance to it at all.

In today’s wonderful world of social media, we say that a topic is “trending” when it catches the attention of some critical mass of people in the Twitter-verse. Then and only then is that topic considered SIGNIFICANT and worthy of our collective attention.

But then what does that metric say about ME? Or YOU? Can either of us be considered significant if we lack vast armies of Twitter followers or Facebook Fans?

Maybe that explains why we hear about so many young people with a burning ambition to “be famous”. Maybe it is their way of saying, “I want to know that I actually MATTER in the world.”

I am part of a faith tradition that tells me my life is highly significant… even lacking 50,000 Twitter followers or my own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Addressing the topic of personal significance, Jesus once famously comforted a group of people – each of whom had far fewer than 100 Facebook friends – by saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NRSV).

This, my friends, is TRUTH, in all caps.

You matter. More than you can possibly know. God said so.

This divine reminder of the worth of ALL persons is one part of the reason I chose to make the word SIGNIFICANCE part of my name acrostic.

I also chose this word as a way of reminding myself to keep my eyes and ears peeled for the hidden significance in the world around me. I want to know what that glance meant, or how that rock came to be exactly THERE, or how this street got its name, or how many hours it took to build this chair.

Including the word SIGNIFICANCE also carries (for me) an inherent moral obligation to guard against dismissing any person (or their viewpoint) as “insignificant” or unworthy.

I am sure this is all part of the burden and blessing of being an artist; their heightened state of alertness to meaning and significance and nuance is great fodder for their work. But I’m sure it also makes it hard to just “turn off” for a bit and enjoy a little therapeutic mindlessness.

So yes… I am significant. I celebrate that.

You are significant. I acknowledge and appreciate that.

The world around us is both significant and magnificent and a mystery waiting to be explored.

I love that!

30
Jan
18

The Allure of the Forbidden

Apple and snakeMany years ago, when my youngest son was 16, he came to me with a “plan”.

I put the word “plan” in quotes here because it was really more like an announcement and a challenge, cleverly blended together.

“Hey, dad!” he said, feigning nonchalance. “Guess what? I’m going to get a tattoo.”

I folded down one corner of my newspaper, looked over at him, and said, “OK,” with equal disinterest and insouciance. “That’s cool,” and then immediately returned to whatever article I was pretending to read.

In truth, I was not at all OK with my 16-year-old son getting a tattoo… no matter where he planned to put it. And it’s not that I had anything against tattoos. I still don’t for that matter. I just thought 16 was WAY too young for him to start making permanent marks on his body.

No, I chose to respond with artificial indifference hoping that it would blunt the most appealing parts of his “plan” – the elements of danger, intrigue, and parental disapproval.

As it turned out, the ploy WORKED! That brief chit-chat was both the first and the last time I ever heard the word “tattoo” exit his lips. Still to this day – 22 years later – my son remains inkless.

So why is it, do you suppose, that the forbidden thing exerts such a powerful allure to us? It is a phenomenon that finds its origins in the earliest annals of biblical history. God swept his arm out over the entirety of creation and said, “See all of this? Lots of great fruit and veggies out there. Have at it! Eat anything you want. Anything at all… except for the fruit on THAT tree right over there.”

Naturally, “that tree over there” immediately became the most appealing tree in the entire world.

My wife and I have recently discovered that this attraction to the world outside the boundaries is not limited to humans. Our new puppy Rosie totally turns up her nose at the pile of “legal” chew toys and heads straight for shoes, socks, chair legs, newspapers, and anything else that we try to keep her away from.

Here she is, chewing blissfully on the shower squeegee while ignoring the “bully stick” we purchased from the pet store.Rosie with squeegee

So what is it? Do we have some kind of hardwired distrust of authority? When someone intones, “Do this!” does our DNA automatically signal, “Nope”?

I’m not sure I buy this answer at all. I am enough of a dork that I want to know where the lines are so that I can color inside them. Too long a stretch of driving on a highway without seeing a speed limit sign makes me nervous.

Is it because we are so enamored of our personal freedom that we see any kind of limit as a threat to that freedom? We are, after all, the nation born from a passionate rebellion to limits placed on our national aspirations.

Or… perhaps there is a belief – living deep within our chromosomes – that the verboten thing is somehow superior to the permitted one? I mean, it would have to be, wouldn’t it? Otherwise, why would it be off limits? If everyone had free, unfettered access to the thing it wouldn’t be special, right?

Or maybe we are all just trying to add a little spice to our lives by seasoning it with a dash of risk and adventure… like my son with his tattoo plan. I am sure this was the reason I sneaked those first few cigarettes out of my father’s pack of Newports and shared them with my friends down behind the fairgrounds.

Smoking was rebellious and dangerous, so automatically it was EXCITING.

I’m really not sure what the answer is.

Maybe you have a theory. If so, I’d love to hear it.

I know the impulse to disobey is still something that courses through my bloodstream. DAILY. I am almost always able to rein it in, but it is still there. But honestly, wouldn’t a life of rigid, total observance of every boundary be borderline miserable?

And what does any of this have to do with living faithfully under the reign of God?

The apostle Paul tells us that the call of God-in-Christ is a call, not to misery, but to freedom. He says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers, and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14, NRSV).

Slavery to love = freedom? I’ll buy that, Mr. Paul.

But I’m still puzzled about why my fellow humans and I are drawn so powerfully to forbidden fruit.

19
Jan
18

Dudley Do-Right

1-bluemarble_westJudging by the speed with which he sprang into action, I assumed I was about to step on a landmine.

TIME: the morning after Thanksgiving.

PLACE: the kitchen of my son and daughter-in-law’s home in suburban Houston.

Since my son was obviously tied up with the task of making chocolate chip pancakes for the small army of children in the house, I decided to play the role of “helpful Grandpa” and make the coffee.

I walked over, grabbed the pot from the machine, and began filling it from the tap.

That’s when my son bolted from his post at the griddle, yelling “NOOOOOOO!” in a high-pitched, panic-filled voice. Honestly, from his reaction, I thought the baby was about to swallow a Brillo pad.

He ran over, yanked the coffee pot from my hand, dumped out the offending water, and began to sternly lecture me on the RIGHT WAY to make coffee. Which, in his house, meant using the filtered water from the pitcher in the refrigerator.

“Of course,” I thought. “My son is an engineer by trade. So for him, there is a right way to do a thing and a wrong way to do it. And never the twain shall meet… or something like that.”

Personally, I have always been more of a fan of the “right enough” approach to doing things. For example, I don’t sweat it when I notice that the sheet is a little longer on my side of the bed than my wife’s when we make it in the morning. I also tend to just unwrap and hang the ornaments on the Christmas tree… giving zero consideration to which ones I am putting in the higher, more visible locations.

And if I am going to be completely transparent here I will confess to secretly mocking the folks who seem (to me) to be a little too focused on “the right way” to make coffee, make the bed, or hang the Christmas ornaments. In fact, the phrase, “Get a life” may or may not have been mumbled under my breath a few times on these occasions.

HOWEVER – I think we can all agree that there is really only ONE way to hang a roll of toilet paper (over the top), and ONE right way to put on shoes and socks (sock, shoe, sock shoe vs. sock, sock, shoe, shoe). Am I right?

All kidding aside – “upon further review,” as they say in the NFL – I might have to admit that there really IS value in knowing and adhering to “the right way” to do a thing. I, for one, would never consent to heart bypass surgery from a doctor committed to a “right enough” approach (“Yeah… I think we got that vein pretty well stitched on there. It should hold.”), or to driving on a freeway overpass built by a “right enough” structural engineer.

All of which begs the question: is there a “right way” to live our lives? Or are there “right enough” approaches that can also get the job done?

In the creation story, the Bible tells us that for about a day and a half, life on our Big Blue Marble worked absolutely PERFECTLY. Everything was completely in line with the vision of the Creator and hummed along like a well-oiled machine.

And then along came the fly in the ointment: FREEDOM OF CHOICE! (introduced, as the story goes, by the Creator herself!).

Suddenly the sentient beings could choose. They could choose RIGHT, RIGHT ENOUGH, or outright WRONG. And if you continue reading the story you see that more often than not, the SBs (sentient beings) chose WRONG… often spectacularly so. They continued choosing wrong to the point that Creator said of the sentient beings, (and I quote), “I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:8, NRSV)

Wow! Why would Creator do that? Why mess up a perfectly perfect arrangement by introducing choice into the equation?

It’s almost as if Creator is sending the message that the value of FREEDOM TO CHOOSE is an even higher value than ALWAYS CHOOSING THE RIGHT WAY.

It’s like this: sometimes I do right.

Sometimes I do right enough.

Sometimes I do wrong… even knowingly.

But I am deeply grateful for the love of a Creator who trusts me enough to grant me that choice.

11
Jan
18

Blurred vision

dirty_glasses_635_358I had to clean my glasses today.

They had gotten so crusty and grimy they were getting hard to see through.

When I finally took them off and held them up to the light I was shocked. I was amazed to think how long it took me to finally realize my glasses had been accumulating a world-class layer of schmutz.

(LURKING METAPHOR ALERT!) You see, sometimes we don’t notice right away when our vision is becoming obscured. It starts with just one tiny, insignificant splotch followed by another equally tiny splotch a few hours later and so on… tiny splotch by tiny splotch… until suddenly you have no idea if that is a snow plow, city bus, or elephant looming ahead there in the roadway.

You see, sometimes we have to stop and look AT what we have been looking THROUGH.

But we won’t ever clean our own glasses until we first stop and recognize that they are dirty.

Metaphors aside, as you and I go about the business of observing the world around us and commenting on what we see there, we have to regularly dare to be skeptical about the quality and clarity of our own vision.

That’s something I recognize that I really need to do. But to do that effectively, I need YOUR help. You are in the best place to recognize the smudges obscuring my vision.

So please… let me know. Freely. Unabashedly. Firmly, but – if possible – lovingly.

Maybe instead of scrunching up your face and saying, “EWWWW! Your glasses are so GROSS!” you could say, “Hey, Russell… here’s what I see;”

 

Because who knows… maybe YOUR glasses are dirty, too.

 

Blessings…




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