Posts Tagged ‘neighbor

18
Jun
20

Order out of Chaos

Extension cordsLook at this.

Isn’t it amazing?

My organizational genius of a wife took our laundry basket full of a mishmash of all sizes and styles of extension cords and – armed with only her labelmaker and a few plastic containers – turned it into this miracle of peace and harmony.

Ahhhh! Satisfaction.

So inspired was I by her de-cluttering, systematizing prowess that I immediately turned my attention to the task of taming the long-ignored Garage Beast!

Mission accomplished!

Satisfaction AGAIN!

In spite of the fact that I occasionally seem to be content to wallow around in an untidy environment, there remains something deeply satisfying about bringing order out of chaos.

It seems almost as if this ordering drive might be hard-wired into our humanness, doesn’t it?

Some theologians, in fact,  have argued that the Genesis creation story begins, not with God creating SOMETHING out of NOTHING, but rather with God creating ORDER out of CHAOS. Indeed, we read in Genesis 1:2, “… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Gen. 1:2, NRSV).

But I wonder… if it is true that the impulse to ORDER our world is an essential, defining quality of the human experience… can we ever go overboard with this impulse? In other words, can there be such a thing as TOO MUCH order… and not enough CHAOS?

Lately we have certainly seen a whole lot of chaos in the streets of our major cities. Violent protests have erupted in the wake of murders by armed police officers. Chaos erupts. Order is imposed. MORE chaos erupts. And even more order is imposed.

But then sometimes… somehow… something new gets born out of that chaos. Ask anyone who has ever been present at the moment a brand-new baby is delivered into the world; it is a moment with more chaos and mess and disorder happening all at once than you will likely EVER see anywhere else!

And lest we forget…

  • From the chaos of 40 years of wandering in the desert, the new people Israel was born.
  • From the chaos of the American Revolution, this country was born.
  • From the chaos of riots and unrest in the early 60s, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born.

There is no doubt that this moment is calling forth the need for something new to be born in the way our governments go about the work of ensuring public safety. The day when we need heavily armed, militarily trained phalanxes of police officers to keep the peace is gone… if indeed it ever existed in the first place.

Yes, we need order. Yes, we need peace. But not at the price of our freedom. And not if it means whole segments of our population end up living in daily fear of the very institutions appointed to ensure their safety.

You see, God has been trying to teach us this lesson from Day One… first through Abraham, then Moses, through the judges, the prophets, the kings, and through his only begotten Son, Jesus. God desperately wants us to understand that the only sure path to both peace and freedom is by following the Big Two…  1.) Loving God, and 2.) Loving Neighbor.

Loving our neighbors… WHO they are, AS they are… can be a little chaotic at times. Because let’s face it, some of them are just not that lovable.

But it is also an essential part of the people we are each made to be.

 

Abundant blessings;

30
May
20

Tipping the World

Angry guyI had a great bike ride yesterday.

The sun was out, the sky was blue, and my bike shorts were clean, so why not?

It had been a while since my last ride, so I cut this one a little shorter than usual. As I pedaled out of the driveway, I put in my earbuds, dialed up one of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcasts, and hit the road.

As you would expect, the podcast was really solid, first-class stuff. Brene interviewed Vivek H. Murthy, M.D. Murthy, as you might recall, was the Surgeon General of the U.S. from 2014 to 2017. He has just written a book called Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes-Lonely World.

It was a great interview and sounds like it would be a great book to read. Murthy talked about the actual, physiological effects of loneliness as being the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and emphasized the powerfully healing effects of human connection.

As they concluded the interview, Murthy and Brene both emphasized the need for each one of us to take an action every day that, “… tips the world in the direction of love.” It was one of the most secularly Christian (or maybe it was Christianly secular?) examinations of the Gospel I have ever heard.

Then… as I wheeled into our cul-de-sac… I was confronted by a truly ugly sight. My neighbor Tom’s (not his real name) two kids were standing in his front yard crying. Tom’s ex-wife – who had just dropped them off – was standing by her SUV yelling something I couldn’t understand. At the same time, Tom was striding angrily across the cul-de-sac screaming at our other neighbor Al (also not his real name), saying, “AL, YOU JUST SHUT YOUR F**KING MOUTH AND STAY THE F*** AWAY FROM MY FAMILY!!!”

I was stunned. The scene playing out in front of me was nothing like the warm, friendly Fort Collins, Colorado we have experienced since moving here six months ago.

Al, for his part, was standing in his garage holding his baseball hat by the brim. I hadn’t heard what he had said to Tom, but our remodeling contractor told us earlier that it seemed Al had been drinking as early as 9:30 that morning.

Because I have talked with both of them individually on previous occasions, I know that Tom is very politically progressive and not a churchgoer while Al is very politically conservative and a regular churchgoer. Tom is in his mid-30s and Al is retirement age.

For my part, I just wheeled my bike into the garage, took off my helmet and gloves, and closed the garage door, anxious to remain uninvolved in whatever was going on out there.

Is this how it starts?” I wondered as I poured myself a drink of water. “Does the tension of months and months of isolation, on top of mounting financial pressures, combined with a highly charged political atmosphere finally set neighbor against neighbor and unleash a widespread ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenario?”

That thought was followed quickly by this one: “What would it mean for me to take an action that might ‘tip the world in the direction of love’ in that very moment?”

I stood. And thought. And prayed. And came up with exactly nothing.

You see, that’s the really tough part of this whole discipleship thing. I am good with saying the right words in church or offering a cheerful greeting to the people I pass on my morning walk. But when it comes to stepping up, right in the middle of a situation that is fraught with pain, fear, and anger, I evaporate quicker than the morning dew.

Thinking back to yesterday, I feel I failed. And yet, I still don’t have a solid idea of what loving discipleship might have meant in the middle of that dust-up.

The thing I DO know with absolute certainty, however, is that there is no better time than RIGHT NOW to choose to live as an agent of love toward ALL of our neighbors.

 

Abundant blessings;

18
May
20

Best Foot Forward

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…  you are familiar with all my ways.”
Psalm 139:1-3, NRSV

Chatting over the fenceI had a nice backyard chat with Neighbor Dave the other day. It was my first time to meet Neighbor Dave since we moved here in November.

Don’t worry… Neighbor Dave stayed on his side of the fence and I stayed on mine. We were at least six feet apart the entire time we chatted.

As it turns out, Neighbor Dave (can I just call him Dave from now on? Thanks) just moved here to Fort Collins a month before we did. He and his wife came from California.

Like Joan and me, Dave and his wife are recently retired.

It was a lovely chat. Dave and I each talked about the little projects we are doing on our houses, the things we like about the area, our families, and our sheer delight at the nice, warm weather that was allowing us to get some much-needed yard work done.

When I finally broke it off with my new best buddy, I went inside and told Joan about the great neighbor I had just met and how cool it was that he lived just across our back fence. I probably even said something like, “When all this is over, we’ll have to have Dave and his wife over for dinner.”

And because I had my best foot forward and avoided picking my nose for the ENTIRE time we talked, I am sure Dave went inside and said something very similar to his wife.

That is one reason I like being “the new kid in town.” Every relationship is new. Every person you meet starts out thinking the very best of you. The only thing they know about you is the friendly neighbor face you were holding up as you talked.

They know nothing about all your little quirks and idiosyncrasies… your phobias, fears, prejudices, and flaws. Your bad habits and neuroses and weird notions are utterly invisible to them.

You walk away from your chat, shaking your head and thinking – as I often do, “If they only knew…”

And then – if you happened to think back on the words of Psalm 139 at that precise moment – you recalled that God DOES know all that stuff about you. God knows all the dirt and grime about you there is to know.

In fact – God being God and all – God probably knows stuff about you that you have somehow managed to forget.

God knows it all; the Good… the Bad… and the truly Ugly.

And yet… even with all that super-detailed knowledge… God loves you more than you can possibly understand.

Here is the really shocking news: God’s regard for you is even HIGHER than your high regard for Neighbor Dave. It is that high for two very good reasons:

  • First, because God – through his Son Jesus – has wiped your entire slate of screw-ups clean, and
  • Second, because God knows – far better than you do – what you are truly capable of.

Is that cool or WHAT!

The challenge for most of us is to be able to humbly receive God’s magnificent, unconditional love and then to go out and actually live INTO the lofty vision God has of us.

It is entirely possible that the better Neighbor Dave gets to know me, the less enthused he will be about deepening our relationship.

But Praise God that will never be true about HIM!

 

Abundant blessings;

14
Jan
20

Who Do You Love?

Ethnic diversity

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”       -Jesus (of Nazareth), as quoted in Luke’s gospel; chapter 6, verse 32

This might not shock you to learn but as it turns out, I am a big fan of people.

All kinds of people.

I like the big ones, the small ones, the old ones, and the young ones.

I like men. I like women. I like gender fluid people. I like people who have transitioned from one gender to another.

I like heterosexual people. I like homosexual people. I like bisexual and sexually questioning people too.

I like people who share the same race and ethnicity as me. I like people whose races and ethnicities are nothing like mine whatsoever.

I like American people, Canadian people, and Australian people. I like Italian people, Guatemalan people, Peruvian people, Congolese people, and Vietnamese people. I am sure there are people from countries other than these I would like too, once I got to know them.

As I sat back the other day and gazed upon the size and scope of the list of people I really enjoy being around, I was starting to feel pretty darned pleased with myself.

That is until Jesus came along and messed everything up.

[As usual.]

There I was, just innocently reading over his words in Luke’s gospel one morning, hoping for a little inspiration to start my day when WHAM! He hit me right between the eyes with that passage you see at the top of the page.

He had the audacity to remind me of the hidden common denominator shared by everyone on that list I just trotted out for you.

He peeked beneath my thin egalitarian veneer and noticed that everyone on that list is also a person who likes ME!

He noted that despite the outward appearance of diversity and multifacetedness of my “fave people list,” these are all folks I pretty much see eye-to-eye with. None of them, Jesus pointed out, are people who see the world from a radically different (a.k.a. “wrong”) perspective.

Jesus then bores his X-ray eyes right through me and gives that little scoffing laugh of his; “What credit is it to you if you only love the people who love YOU?” he asks. “Even the worst people on earth do that!”

Wow, Jesus. Kinda harsh.

But, as usual, I have to admit he’s right.

He makes me own up to the fact that I have a really hard time extending love or compassion to folks on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me.

He shines a big ol’ pinpoint searchlight on the bitterness I still carry around in my heart toward people who once did me wrong.

He refuses to let me hold onto my air of superiority toward people who have not enjoyed the same advantages in life I have.

He also turns a divinely deaf ear on all of my excuses about how incredibly difficult it is to get along with these people… how mad they can sometimes make me… or how frustrating they can be.

Instead, he turns, smiles, and gently says to me, “Hey… not only did I LOVE you back when you wouldn’t give me the time of day… I also DIED for you!”

And then he ever-so-sweetly delivers this coup de grace: “I’ll tell you exactly what I told Peter that day on the beach when I cooked breakfast for them after my resurrection: I told him, ‘Feed my sheep…

“ALL of them… “

“Even the Republicans.’”

25
Aug
19

For me?

Puerto Rican tree frogJoan and I (and Joan’s daughter Jessica) are in Puerto Rico for a few days, enjoying our first-ever trip to this island.

What an amazing place! If you have never been, I highly recommend it.

For Jessica, this is a vacation. That’s because Jessica is a working person.

Joan and I, however, are only allowed to call it a “trip” because we are both retired. That means we are legally prohibited from using the word “vacation.”

We are staying in a little seaside spot near Punta Santiago on the east coast of the island. It is far outside the city of San Juan and therefore very peaceful and serene.

The remoteness of our location has allowed us to meet the little tree frog that is known as “the symbol of Puerto Rico,” the coqui. The coqui has a distinctive and piercing call that begins right around sunset and continues until the wee hours of the morning.

Wikipedia tells me that the coqui’s call is made up of two parts… the “co” which is designed to scare away other male frogs, and the “qui” (pron. “key”), which is his come-on to any female frogs in the area.

I am glad I looked this up because when I first heard the call of the coqui, it struck me as the call of the most self-centered little amphibian in the world.

The call I thought I heard him making was, “For me?” repeated over and over and over again.

It made me think about how often I have employed that mating call in my own life.

I had to stop and ask myself if I am only able to appreciate the joy and wonder of life when it is especially designed “for me.”

Am I only able to weep and feel the true depth of sorrow when a tragedy is uniquely “for me”?

I sincerely hope that is not the case. Because if it were, I would truly be a person worth pitying.

When Jesus commanded us to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39), I believe he was commanding us to do away with the notion that there is a distinction between the two.

When I see no distinction between my neighbor’s well being and my own well being, self-care and compassion merge to become the same thing.

Your joy is indeed “for me.” Your sorrow is also, “for me.”

So maybe instead of being annoyed as the little coqui sings me to sleep tonight, I will instead choose to be grateful for his sermon on authentic human compassion.

 

But maybe he could try preaching it a little more quietly though, eh?

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.

04
Sep
18

Leashed Justice

Dog with a leashWhen it first happened, I felt kind of righteous and empowered.

A little later, I began to be unsure.

Later still I just felt bad. And more than a little ashamed of myself.

You see, in my community here in Overland Park, Kansas we have leash laws. This means that when you have your dog out on a walk, you are legally obliged to have him or her on a leash.

It’s not a good idea. It’s not a suggestion.

It’s a LAW.

And happily enough, most people comply with the leash law.

But now and then there are a few folks we meet on the trail who don’t.

When I meet them, I try and speculate on their reasons for ignoring the leash law. I wonder to myself:

  • “Maybe they are new to town and aren’t aware of the leash law.”
  • “Maybe they have extraordinarily well-trained dogs who stay right by their master’s side, or else who come immediately when they are called.”
  • “Maybe their last leash broke and they haven’t been able to afford to go get a new one yet.”

Normally the sight of an unleashed dog wouldn’t bother me. However, the last dog we had (dearly departed little Molly) was VERY aggressive toward other dogs when we were out for a walk. Molly would viciously growl and snap at them and tug on the leash as if to say, “Let me at ‘em! Let me at ‘em!”I worried that an unleashed dog might forget their careful obedience training and respond to her aggressiveness with similar aggression.

Because, you know, they are dogs… animals directly descended from wolves.

So there I was the other day, happily walking Rosie on the walking trail when what did I see but a lab/something or other mix walking up the trail toward us, unleashed. Trailing behind her was her master… holding a folded up leash in her hand.

I paused and had Rosie sit down next to me, warily regarding the other dog. It approached and began sniffing Rosie in a curious, “Hey, what are you all about anyway?” fashion.

As the owner approached I said, tersely, “Is that dog OK?” Meaning is it friendly.

She replied, “Oh yes… she’s fine.”

To which I responded, “You know there IS a leash law in this community.”

The woman seemed a little taken aback by my abruptness. She looked at me and said, “Yes… I know.”

Unsatisfied with her obvious lack of remorse, I pressed the attack. “Well, then maybe then you should try to OBEY IT!”

Bending down to clip the leash on her dog, she sighed tiredly, said, “Have a nice day,” and continued down the trail.

Like I said… my first feelings following that encounter were feelings of righteousness and empowerment. I mean, what the heck?! A law is a law, right? I’M following it… you should too!

But the further the event receded into the past, the worse I felt. Yes, of course, I stood on the side of legality in that situation. But what had I demonstrated to that person by the way I chose to handle the situation? Did I demonstrate kindness? Or compassion? Or anything even remotely Christ-like in the way I responded to her and her dog?

Being the pastoral type that I am, I immediately began flashing back to Paul’s words in Romans 7 and 8. I heard an updated version of his description of the life devoted to serving the LAW compared to the life devoted to serving the SPIRIT.

In those passages, I’m pretty sure Paul wasn’t talking about leash laws, but he might as well have been.

But then here is where I went from being mildly mopey about the whole thing to being ashamed and embarrassed; it was the point at which I asked myself, “OK, caped crusader… you seem to be more than willing to speak out loud and clear against the injustices of suburbanites ignoring leash laws. But tell me… are you just as willing to speak out against REAL social injustices? For example, injustices like systemic racism, or economic injustice, or sexism, or homophobia or hunger? Are you willing to risk consequences that might be more serious than a sullen scowl from a neighbor?”

I sincerely hope my answer to that question would be “YES.” And heck, maybe I am preparing myself to do exactly that.

But for now, I think I will pick a different path for our morning walk… making sure I ALWAYS have my dog on her leash.

 

Abundant blessings;

23
Jan
18

Inspirare

Blowing windPause a moment sometime today and think: who inspires me?

I heard an inspiring story yesterday.

It was the story of a young man named Ryan. Ryan heard about another young man named Luke who had been severely injured in a golf cart accident.

In addition to serious head and chest trauma from the accident, Luke went into cardiac arrest at the hospital in Lubbock, Texas where he was taken for treatment.

Once his heart issues were stabilized, Luke began a grueling daily physical therapy regimen. He and his father worked with therapists every day just to regain even minimal use of his arms and legs. As his father told the story, for the next 18 months, Luke sweated and strained and “worked his tail off” every day without complaining. Luke-and-drew-brees

You can find out more about Luke’s remarkable story by clicking here.

This is where Ryan’s story comes in.

Ryan heard about Luke’s struggle and determination (and mounting hospital bills), he decided to do something. Ryan is an avid baseball player who LOVES to take practice swings. So Ryan decided that every day for the next 100 days, he was going to hit 100 balls in practice. And with each one, he was going to work to raise money to help Luke.

Incidentally, it’s not like Ryan is Luke’s teammate or something. Ryan has never met Luke. Ryan is a total stranger living in another part of the country.

When I heard this story on the evening news, it struck me that this was not just an inspiring story. It is a story ABOUT inspiration.

Luke inspired Ryan. And then Ryan took his inspiration and put it into action.

After seeing this and reflecting on it a bit I realized that I too am regularly inspired.

  • I am inspired by my 94-year-old stepmother. She is happy, alert, fit, and even a little sassy. She lost her husband – my dad – a year ago, but manages to stay upbeat and positive and actively engaged in the world around her.
  • I am inspired by my friend who is dying of lung cancer. He continues to read and write and chronicle the history of his adopted homeland here in Kansas City. Yes, he regularly wonders what lies ahead on his body’s journey, but never in a mopey, morose way. His mindset is one of continuous curiosity and engagement.
  • I am inspired by my single mom Facebook friend. Her marriage recently ended sadly and abruptly. And yet, she continues to make her home a place of security and love for her two small children.
  • I am inspired by people who take personal and professional risks on behalf of principles they believe in strongly… daring to speak their truth even if it might cost them a job.
  • I am inspired by the people who stand up every day in the full flower of their uniqueness and say, “Hey, world; this is me, like it or not.”

And so I ask again: Who inspires you?

You see, I could go on and on and on with my list of people who inspire me. They move in and out of my orbit every day. But the story of Luke and Ryan prompted me to ask two new, different questions about the whole topic of inspiration:

  1. What am I actually doing with my inspiration? …and
  2. Have I bothered to tell any of the folks in my life that they inspire me?

Luke inspired Ryan. And so Ryan did something. He launched his “100 hits in 100 days” campaign.

The language students among you will recall that the word “inspire” comes from the Latin inspirare meaning, “blow into, breathe upon…” This stems from the biblical idea of being breathed upon by the Holy Spirit. (John 20:22, NRSV).

We take the general sense of the word to mean, “to influence or animate with an idea or purpose.” But still, the question remains: can we truly call ourselves inspired if we don’t actually ACT on that inspiration?

Maybe it starts by simply telling someone they inspired us.

A sad fact of existence is that most of us go through our day-to-day lives with little to no awareness of the positive influence you have on the lives of those around you. But trust me… you do.

Thanks to social media, of course, we find out pretty quickly when we affect folks negatively. But not so much on the positive side.

How much would it lift a person’s spirits for you to walk up to them – or better yet, write them a good, old-fashioned LETTER! – telling them that they inspired you. And then follow that up by ACTING on that inspiration!

So… to Joan, Bette, Henry, Ciara, Laura, Luke, Ryan, Mitch, Michael, Jeff, Rob, Connie, Adam, Graham, Eric, Alan, Melinda, Doug and others too numerous to mention, I say THANK YOU. You inspire me daily.

And, Ryan, special thanks to you. You inspired me to write this blog post about inspiration!

Abundant blessings…




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