Posts Tagged ‘love


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.




An Unbreakable Resolution?

new-year-blogWelcome to the first week of 2018!

Welcome to the time of college football, Christmas put-away, refrigerator clean-out, and wistful dreaming of white sand beaches in warm, sunny climes.

Welcome also to the Time of Resolution!

When it comes to resolutions, I’ve got some of the usual suspects already lined up and ready to go… for 2018 I am resolving to lose weight, spend more time at the gym, be more disciplined in my daily devotions, connect more with friends and family, complain less, compliment more, complete stalled creative projects, travel more, etc.

Blah, blah, blah.

The problem is, I know me.

I know I am that guy who regularly talks a good game about vision, goals, and ideals and starts off with a BANG… but then gradually fades down the stretch… falling just short of carrying through with my grand plans.

And so – as a counterweight to this personal tendency toward entropy – I decided to devise another list of resolutions. I call these my “LHF Resolutions,” LHF as in, Low Hanging Fruit.

These are resolutions I will be easily able to keep. In fact, when you read a couple of these you will see that it would actually take MORE effort to break them than keep them.

My LHF resolutions for 2018 include resolutions to:

  • Always be clothed when going out in public.
    • And in a related resolution, that all articles of clothing are worn right side out.
  • Open the garage door before backing the car out.
    • … or before driving it back in again.
  • Exhale the same number of times I inhale.
  • Socks on BEFORE shoes. Never the other way around.
  • Walk on two legs rather than four.

There are more on the list, but I think you get the point.

I had the same list at the beginning of 2017 and I am happy to report a 100 PERCENT success in keeping them!

All kidding aside, do you think there really is such a thing as an UNBREAKABLE resolution? On the one hand, if a resolution really is a resolution, it should be VERY hard to break. The root word of resolution is the word RESOLVE that the dictionary defines as: “determination, firmness or fixedness of purpose.”

So if I really had a “determination” or “firmness or fixedness of purpose” about my goals for the year, wouldn’t it be impossible NOT to accomplish them?

Alas, sometimes even the deepest reservoir of firmness and/or fixedness cannot overcome the shortcomings this human flesh is heir to.

As we enter this New Year, it is good to be reminded that there really is only ONE resolution that is absolutely ironclad and unbreakable: that is God’s resolution to love us and forgive us. In no less than fifty-two separate times in the Old Testament, we are reminded, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

It is a resolution that has been tested again and again. Millennia after millennia of human sin and depravity have given our Creator ample opportunity to throw up divine hands in disgust and say, “OK… that’s it. The deal is OFF! You guys pushed it TOO FAR this time! From now on, it’s just STERN POLICEMAN GOD.”

Thankfully God has continued God’s resolution to love human beings, forgive them, and offer them another chance to love God and one another.

Maybe THIS year we will get it right!


Abundant blessings;


War? Seriously?

You have to admit, without hearing daily casualty counts it is hard to tell how the war is going.

No… I’m not talking about the war on terror, or the Afghan war, or the perpetual state of war and unrest in the Middle East.

I’m talking, of course, about the “war on Christmas” being waged throughout our fair land.

No doubt you have heard about some of the tragic losses that have been incurred by faithful, practicing Christians since the war began several years ago.war-on-christmas-decaf

WARNING: Read no further unless you have a high tolerance for graphic language and vivid descriptions of heartless, heinous acts. But here at the Bureau of Relentless Enquiry (or B.O.R.E. for short), we have it on very good authority that:

  • Elementary schools no longer stage “Christmas plays” featuring Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men and first graders dressed as sheep. Horrors!
  • Retail salespeople actually use the phrase, “Happy holidays!” when serving Christian customers in their stores. Yes! It’s true!
  • Starbucks has FREQUENTLY employed seasonal cup designs that have blatantly suggested that the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is NOT THE ONLY THING to celebrate at this time of year.
  • And…
  • Well, OK. That’s pretty much all I’ve got.

If it sounds like I am making light of this subject, you’re right.

I am.

Primarily because some of the reading I did years ago that taught me about times long ago when people who professed the Christian faith did so at their very real and unambiguous personal peril.

We are talking beatings, imprisonings, property seizings, and even killings. Not imagined personal slights and rebuffs.

No, I view the entire “war on Christmas” narrative as essentially a seasonally-adjusted expression of angst triggered by the fact that we live today in a world that is less white, less America-dominated, less Judeo-Christian, and less beholden to cherished tradition than it was 50 years ago.

I am suggesting here that you should translate the cry, “Help! They’re attacking Christmas!!” as really saying, “Help! Please make the world stop changing so fast!!”

It FEELS like an attack on Christmas because it just so happens that the changing shape and complexion of the world occurs at the exact moment that Christianity – and institutional religions of ALL stripes – are experiencing times of historic decline.

I frankly suspect there are Hindu households in the world where matriarchs and patriarchs gather and wring their hands about the “War on Gangaur”. *

Honestly though: the barista who chirps, “Happy holidays!” as he hands you your half-caf, skinny vanilla mocha frappuccino is NOT actually saying, “Fie on Christmas!” in some secret, satanic barista code.

He is, rather, saying, “Hey, I know this is a special time of year for lots of people. But I am not going to blurt out something that makes an assumption about what makes it special for YOU. I am going to offer you a warm greeting that you are free to interpret as you see fit.”

He also says it because the suits at corporate TOLD him to.

The Christian, theological point of Christmas is LOVE INCARNATE. In other words, “love in the flesh”… Love with skin on… Love that ACTS. It is summed up right there at the beginning of John’s gospel where it says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among them.” (John 1:14, NRSV).

And call me a naïve, one-worlder tree-hugger if you want to, but somehow I can’t connect a manufactured kind of religious prickliness with “love in the flesh.”

Remember the stuff I said at the beginning of this piece… where I pooh-poohed the idea of a “war on Christmas”?

I take it back. There IS a war on Christmas.

It is being waged by those who work to suck the love out of the season with protests that are actually “much ado about nothing.”

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas!

JOY to all.

*Gangaur” is the colorful and one of the most important festivals of people of Rajasthan and is observed throughout the state with great fervor and devotion by women who worship Gauri, the consort of Lord Shiva during March–April. Source: Wikipedia.

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