Posts Tagged ‘mask


Masked Man

Support them or oppose them… love them or hate them… I think we can all agree: facemasks are a major PAIN.

Show of hands: how many times have you done the infamous mid-parking-lot-spin-around-while-slapping-your-forehead as you suddenly realize the store you are about to enter requires masks and you left yours in the glove compartment of the car?

For me, too many times to count.

And how many times have you found yourself huffing and puffing on the elliptical machine thinking, “Help! I can’t breathe! Why am I covering up my nose AND mouth at a time when I need to be gulping in MORE air… not less??!!”

Pop quiz: how many facemasks are in your possession right now? Six? Eight? A dozen? Do you have one to match every outfit you wear?

The ultimate insult for Joan and I was last week’s return flight from Munich, Germany to Denver. Eight and a half hours of masking on the flight from Munich to Newark, NJ… three more masked hours in the Newark airport… and then three and a half hours of maskedness on the flight from Newark to Denver. 

SHEESH! NEVER have I been more relieved to tear a mask off my face than when we stepped out the doors of the DIA West terminal.

But, like them or not, facemasks will continue to be a fact of life for us for a while yet. 

So why not look on the bright side and try to make the best of a really annoying thing?

Let me give you one quick example of what I’m talking about. Let’s say… just to offer a wild and completelyrandom example… you had some delicious BBQ ribs for dinner. And then, right after dinner, you went to a meeting – facemasks mandatory! – at your church. Partway through the meeting, you realize that you have chunks of that delicious BBQ still stuck in your teeth. Wearing a facemask lets you work away at dislodging that meat with your tongue without anyone realizing what you are doing! 

Or what if – in that same meeting – someone said something that really rubbed you the wrong way. If you’re wearing a facemask, you can just stick your tongue out at them, completely incognito!

Masks let you rip off an undercover yawn, make secret “duck lips” at someone, or even a put on a surreptitiously mocking frowny face as your neighbor tells you yet one more “tale of woe” about all the leaves in his yard. 

(You just have to be careful your eyes don’t give you away.)

Besides all of THESE benefits of facemasks, what about the endless list of things we can do with them AFTER this pandemic is over. Slingshot, anyone? Egg carrier? Risqué bikini? 

Of course, I kid. 

Masks are an unfortunate, but necessary, part of living in a pandemic-plagued world. As much as we dislike wearing them, we do so as an expression of care for our fellow humans. 

You know what else? Our personal freedoms are absolutely undiminished by our positive responses to a mask mandate.

And so, while we are busily masking ourselves to prevent the spread of disease, I thought it might be a good time to be reminded of this simple fact: we can never “mask” our true selves from God. 

As Psalm 139:1-4 (NRSV) so eloquently reminds us: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.”

Assuming all those words are true, how does that make you feel? Do you feel nervous? Vulnerable? Anxious? Paranoid? OR do those words have the effect they were intended to have… that is, do they assure and comfort you?

Being known intimately AND YET still loved unconditionally by the One Who Made You should be GOOD NEWS. In fact, it should be the best news you’ve ever heard. 

So, no matter what mask you are wearing today, know that God sees you. And KNOWS you. And LOVES you.

Abundant blessings;


What Do YOU Need?

You wore a mask! 

Good for you!

And you did it for the most altruistic of reasons! You did it, first and foremost, for the benefit of people around you. I mean, sure, you were also doing it to protect yourself. But as the scientists told us repeatedly, the wearing of face masks was primarily a measure designed to keep ME from spreading the disease to YOU.

Thank you very much and KUDOS!

Today though, as the number of new cases of COVID-19 gets smaller and smaller every day, mask requirements are being relaxed. People are returning to Disneyland, to ball parks, to concerts, and to grocery stores, brazenly showing the bottom half of their faces.

As we revel in our newfound freedom, though, I worry. 

Yes, I worry about a “fourth wave” (or is it the fifth?) of COVID that might return to take more lives. But I also worry that the relaxation of mask requirements will also cause a relaxation of our practice of acting “for the benefit of others.”

Let’s start out by admitting right out of the gate that Americans have never really been good at the whole, “… for the benefit of others” thing. We are the land of the rugged individual where the word FREEDOM means MYfreedom to do as I darned well please… and to heck with how my actions might affect YOU.

  • We are, after all, the people who hacked and shot and blasted our way across the prairies of North America, snatching the land away from people who were here thousands of years before us. 
  • We are the self-appointed “protectors of the planet” (unless, of course, we are talking about protecting the planet from global climate change) who will stop at nothing to make the world safe for democracy.
  • We are the people who invent and innovate and devise our own solutions to problems, regardless of the work other people have done.

But the pandemic seemingly changed all that. The overwhelming majority of us came to understand that simply “looking out for number 1” is an ethos that can carry deadly consequences.

At first, looking around and seeing people wearing masks – “for the benefit of others” – was incredibly exciting for me. It almost made me believe I was watching the emergence a whole new national ethos. 

Now I’m not so sure. 

Now it seems as if we are quickly falling back into our old habits and patterns. It is almost as if we’ve decided that the idea of measuring our actions by the yardstick of how they affect, or benefit others is something that only applies when there is a global supervirus lurking about.

To which I say, just as the heartbroken young boy said to Shoeless Joe Jackson as he left the courthouse following his trial for perpetrating the Chicago Black Sox scandal in 1919, “SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOE!”

As the popular internet meme so wisely says, “Bees don’t make honey for themselves. Trees don’t eat the fruit they produce. They each demonstrate the truth that says life is best when it is lived FOR OTHERS.” 

Or as this guy named Jesus of Nazareth also said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12, NRSV). The people listening to him in that moment knew exactly what he meant by the phrase, “… as I have loved you.” They knew that it meant they were called to love one another TOTALLY… UNCONDITIONALLY… and SACRIFICIALLY.

They knew he meant that – if it came to it – they were called to give up their lives for someone else… just as Jesus had.

Like many others I am really, really tired of masking. I am likewise tired of staying six feet away from people who aren’t part of my “tribe.”

But – with the help of God – I am going to try and shape my actions by what YOU need instead of what I want.

Abundant blessings;


The Challenge of Vigilance

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Matthew 24:42, NRSV

Standing guardIt was just a quick little trip into the convenience store.

We needed some ice for our trip back from the mountains.

Just in, “Bag of ice, please,” swipe my debit card, grab the ice, and go.

But, in my haste, I forgot to put on my facemask.

In some places wearing a facemask is optional. In others it is strongly suggested. However, here in Larimer County, Colorado where Joan and I live, it is THE LAW. Fines and jail time are possible for the unmasked.

Usually, I am not this devil-may-care. I am obedient to the rules to a fault. In this case, however, I just got lazy and took my eye off the ball for the briefest of moments.

It made me stop and realize: being vigilant is HARD!

Being vigilant is exactly what is called for as this pandemic continues unabated. We all (well, most of us at least) have been taking extra precautions with our hygiene and social contact for a long time now. And by all indications, we will need to keep doing so for a long time yet to come.

But this is not the time for patting ourselves on the back. Vigilance is still called for.

Vigilance means NEVER taking your eye off the ball. It means being the guy (or gal) standing watch at 2:36 a.m. and resisting the urge to “just rest my eyes” for a bit. It means keeping just as much focus on Day 463 as you had on Day 1. It means seeing the hidden threat in even the most seemingly innocent transactions…

… like popping into the Quikee Mart for a bag of ice.

But can I level with you here for a second? Sometimes I get really tired of being vigilant. Sometimes I just want to go back to being the un-vigilant, lazy slob I used to be and not have to go through a personal protective gear check-list every time I stick my nose out the door.

From the sounds of the verse above, I think Jesus recognized the potential for the same kind of lassitude to creep into our spiritual lives. He knew the strength of the gravitational pull of our habit of sleepwalking through life. He knew that without an on-going commitment to vigilance in actively nurturing our connection with the Ground of our Being (or God, if you will), most of us would probably devolve into talking animals equipped with opposable thumbs.

Jesus recognized that “vigilance of spirit” is absolutely vital.

He knew there is no such thing as being “kind of vigilant.” The evidence of scripture suggests he saw it as a very a binary thing, meaning Jesus would probably agree with the phrase, “If you’re not ON, you’re OFF.”

I think Jesus also recognized that vigilance is hard for most of us. Heck, even his closest, dearest disciples fell asleep on the most climactic, eventful night of his earthly life.

Coronavirus will be absolutely unforgiving if we relax our vigilance during this pandemic. One little slip-up in mask wearing or hand washing is all it takes to become infected.

Thankfully, the One who watches over our souls is not like that. He urges us to vigilance yet forgives us when we falter… giving us another chance to stay awake and pray.

Are you awake?

Are you ready?


The Real Deal

“To thine own self be true.”
– Polonius, in Hamlet

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God,
and that is what we are.”
– 1 John 3:1, NRSV

“Authentic” is a word that has been crossing my radar screen with increased frequency lately.

Naturally, authenticity would be a theme that would come to mind on that annual holiday we spend dressing up as someone – or something – else.

It also popped up this morning on a local radio talk show. The guest was the owner of a restaurant in town that specializes in Ramen noodles. Yes… that is apparently a thing. During the show, many syllables and much air were employed in identifying the difference between authentic Ramen and… I guess the inauthentic variety.

Over the weekend I had the honor of officiating at the memorial service of a friend of my son’s who died of pancreatic cancer. He and many friends in attendance had spent most of their lives outside the institutional church. However, in the last months of his life, this young man experienced something powerful and convicting that led him to ask me to baptize him a month before his death.

I found myself wrestling deeply with the question of what an “authentic” celebration of his life might look like…. And then not being terribly sure I even understood the question.

Often we give very high “authenticity” marks to people in the public eye who don’t really take the time to weigh and carefully consider their words before speaking. We applaud them as “genuine”… “unfiltered” and “authentic.” We say that those folks are a breath of fresh air in comparison with the carefully crafted words of professional “spin doctors.”

And then it makes me scratch my head and ask, “So then what does the word authentic actually mean?” And then I follow up with myself and ask, “And how has authenticity become such a paramount virtue today?”

One answer I hear is that the word authentic must mean something like “core,” or “essential,” or “foundational.” It’s what is left over when you strip away all of the mystical window dressing.

hotfudge_sundaeBut then I have to ask, “Does that mean all of our efforts to enhance or improve something are fraudulent because they take us away from its ESSENCE? Should I just leave my vanilla ice cream alone and not add the chocolate syrup, whipped cream, chopped nuts, and a cherry… in the name of authenticity?”

I also hear authenticity being defined more along the lines of “raw” and “unprocessed” or that other phrase currently in fashion, “… like it is.” The implication here is that the more spontaneous and unplanned something is, the more authentic it is.

I am not going to lie… as a guy who writes and re-writes and tries to think carefully about words and what they mean, this definition offends me. I am sure it offends me because it seems to assign a higher virtue to unplannedness and spur-of-the-momentness than to thoughtfulness.

And personally, I think that is one messed up set of virtues.

MYRIAD are the examples I can give of times when my ill-considered, spontaneous words caused hurt and complication in a situation.

MYRIAD+ are the examples of times when slow, deliberate, thoughtful consideration of words brought light and healing.

Think about it: what would it look like if we all really followed Polonius’ advice to be “true” to our own selves?

The next, natural question is: which self are we talking about?

  • Is it the self that feels like punching a hole in the wall when the home team fumbles the opening kick-off?
  • Is it the self that can’t resist taking a second helping of apple pie?
  • Is it the self that has deep doubts about its talent or worth?

And are we really the ones to be trusted to choose which of these “selves” we are supposed to be true to?

I believe personal authenticity is all about being the fullest, most complete version of ME that I can be.

And so for me, that includes being every bit of the goofy, thoughtful, impulsive, tender-hearted, self-centered, creative, emotional, dim-witted, spiritual, energetic, joyful, deep, shallow, inconsiderate Russell Brown God made me to be.

But mostly, it means going back to the Source and reclaiming my identity as a Child of God; infinitely beloved by the One who created the whole Universe.

THAT is really who I am.

And it is really – authentically – who you are, too.


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