Posts Tagged ‘new

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;

28
Apr
20

It’s a Group Thing

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NRSV)

Group exercise classExercise – even in the best of times – is a struggle for me.

Here in the time of global pandemic it has become a Mount Everest.

Even though I seem to do it a lot, I’ll admit it: I have never enjoyed exercise. My favorite part of that whole process, I always say, is the part where I am FINISHED!

And so, imagine my excitement when, several years ago, I discovered a great way to overcome my inborn aversion to sweating and straining; WORKOUT CLASSES!

A workout class, I discovered, offers many benefits over going and grunting on my own. For starters, there is REGULARITY. The class meets every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:00 a.m., rain or shine, motivation or no.

There is CAMARADERIE! There you are, surrounded by other people enduring the same pain. Yes, it’s true; misery does indeed love company. And if those other folks are the right kind of people, you can exchange snarky remarks and high fives with them as the class grinds on.

But for me, the biggest benefit of a group workout is the HIGHER STANDARD it entails. Here is what I mean by that: every workout class I have ever been involved with is led by an instructor. The instructor is usually (not always, but usually) a person highly trained in the science of body mechanics. The good ones will always demonstrate both the RIGHT WAY and the WRONG WAY to do that bicep curl, or that tricep kickback, or that abdominal crunch.

Of course, I can always choose to either follow or ignore their guidance. But it is good to have that higher standard to measure myself against. Left to my own devices, I would probably just slap-dash it through a few moves on the same old machines I use every time and call it good.

That is why this is such a difficult (i.e., lackadaisical) exercise time for me. The gyms are all CLOSED! Classes are not meeting! I am left to my own so-so devices to keep this Temple in shape.

Oddly enough, I find some of these same observations can be made about my spiritual life. Sure, there are many good reasons for folks to cultivate a solitary devotional discipline. Numerous are the biblical citations of Jesus “going off by himself” to pray and connect with God.  (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Luke 6:12, Luke 9:18, Luke 11:1, to name a few).

And yet, shocking as it might seem, the exact same advantages of a group approach to physical exercise seem also to apply to SPIRITUAL exercise. Group-based spiritual exercise (a.k.a. “corporate worship”) also offers the benefits of REGULARITY, CAMARADERIE, and HIGHER STANDARDS one finds in a typical workout class.

Like most (responsible) worshiping congregations in this time of the COVID-19 crisis, ours has been meeting exclusively in the on-line format since early March. So, unlike my group exercise classes, we can all still enjoy the benefits of REGULARITY and HIGHER STANDARDS in our spiritual pursuits.

But I have to tell you… I really do miss the camaraderie part.

  • I miss handling the printed paper bulletin.
  • I miss singing together.
  • I miss standing and sitting together.
  • I miss turning and offering a sign of God’s peace to my pew neighbors.
  • I miss taking the offering plate from the person on my left and handing it off to the person on my right.
  • I miss standing when it is our row’s turn and shuffling forward to the front of the sanctuary.
  • I miss receiving the broken piece of bread (“the body of Christ, given for you”) and the thimblecup of wine (“the blood of Christ, shed for you”) from the anointed hands of my neighbors.
  • I miss milling around in the foyer after the service, sipping coffee and chit-chatting with folks.

But mostly I miss being regularly reminded that the body of Christ consists of a bunch of odd-looking, beautiful, regular, extraordinary, messed-up, serene, beloved, neglected people just like me.

And somehow, that just doesn’t quite come through on Facebook Live.

Abundant blessings!

20
Mar
20

Change is Coming

CoronavirusThink back; do you recall events in your life that CHANGED you? I mean, changed you in a profound, lasting, BC/AD kind of way?

I believe I was forever changed that time my dad suffered third-degree burns on his upper thigh.

He had left me at home by myself when he went to bring my mom and new baby brother home from the hospital. I was nine years old at the time.

As he left the house, dad accidentally left a pot full of boiling water and plastic baby bottles on the stove. The water boiled away and the bottles all melted. I didn’t know what the bad smell in the house was and so I went outside to sit on the front porch to get away from it. When dad, mom, and baby brother returned, the house was filled with smoke and the pot was in flames. When he grabbed the pot to run out the back door with it, dad splashed hot, melted plastic on his leg, causing third-degree burns.

I blamed myself for his injury and spent the rest of my youth trying to atone for my mistake. I believe that childhood episode engendered my overblown sense of responsibility for the well being of those around me… a trait I carry to this day.

My mother’s death was another event that wrought a change of the deepest, most elemental kind in my life. Mom died of lymphoma, exactly one month after I graduated from high school. For most of my life, she had been my cheerleader, encourager, friend, buffer, and confidant. After her death, I drifted rather aimlessly through life… rudderless and self-absorbed.  My grief wounds ultimately healed, of course, but the change her death caused in my life was long-lasting and fundamental.

I can bring to mind several other intersections along my journey that had similar effects; our family’s cross-country move the summer before my senior year of high school… my marriage… the birth of each of my children… my divorce… my spiritual rebirth… my first U2 concert. (JK!)

In each case, as I think back on those personal milestones, I can clearly describe pre-event Russell and post-event Russell. Sometimes it was a change for the better; sometimes it was a change for the opposite of better. In every case though, these events jolted and dazed me… knocking me off of my feet and leaving me grasping for a handrail.

This event we are all experiencing right now – the COVID-19 outbreak – is exactly one of those kinds of haymakers. Except in our case, it is a haymaker that has landed on the chin of the entire world at the same time.

Collectively we are still right in the middle of the landing of the punch. The opponent’s fist is in mid-swing… still connected to our jaw. It’s like one of those artfully choreographed fight scenes shot in super SLO-MO.

Soon we will spin around… hit the mat… see stars… and then shake our head and wonder what the hell just hit us. Sadly, we are a LOOOOOONG way from getting back on our feet and putting up our dukes, ready for the next foe.

Not even the wisest soothsayers can tell us how long this time will last or how bad it will get before it is over. But it doesn’t take a King Solomon to know that ALL of us will somehow be different on the other side.

What kind of change will it bring? Will we be kinder to each other? Will we have a better understanding of community and interdependence? Will we show a deeper appreciation for the world and people around us, remembering how concerned about each other we were?

Maybe. Hopefully.

Or will we quickly revert to our standard, “Every person for themselves, look out for #1” approach, becoming even more self-centered and callous than we were before?

Gee, I sure hope not.

Even though I roundly reject the idea that God sent the COVID-19 virus to teach us to love one another, I passionately embrace the idea that we can emerge from this pandemic as new, transformed people… with a new awareness of the intricate interconnection of our lives.

Every day I pledge to surround each of you with love and prayers for your wholeness, health, safety, and security. I am also asking God to open my eyes to ways I can directly serve my neighbors in need.

I am already feeling just how precious you each are and how much I need each one of you in my life.

Together – with God’s help – we can make it through this.

09
Mar
20

“Let me OFF!”

Merry go roundWell, it’s that time of year again.

It is the time of year when the antennae of clergyfolk in the United Methodist Church are exquisitely attuned to every minor shift in the wind, every minute rise or fall in barometric pressure, every nuance of conversation.

Yes, this time on the calendar – from late January to mid-April(ish) or so – is APPOINTMENT-SETTING TIME! That means it is the time of year when it is possible for any United Methodist pastor to answer a phone call and hear the words, “Hello (insert name here). This is your District Superintendent calling. I have an opportunity I would like to discuss with you. Is now a good time to talk?”

Even though I am now retired and blessedly aloof from that whole business, I still feel sympathy pangs for my brothers and sisters of the cloth when this time of year rolls around. I am still haunted by vivid memories of tensing up every time the phone rang and a certain suspicious area code showed up on Caller ID.

For pastors in the United Methodist Church, this is at least a three-month exercise of walking on – no, LIVING on – eggshells.

At the root of the anxiety that attends appointment-setting time is the very real fact that almost no one likes change. Not even pastors. We humans seem to be willing to do anything in our power to maintain the status quo… even when the status quo is patently unacceptable.

And when the pace of change in the world around us accelerates, our desire to hold onto something solid and unchanging zooms up proportionately.

It may be that I am more aware of this since I am well into my dotage, but everywhere I look today, I see change:

  • The technology of living (telephones, TVs, appliances, automobiles, banks, grocery stores, etc.) is changing.
  • The climate is changing.
  • The country’s (and the world’s) demographic contours are changing.
  • Social customs are changing.
  • The political, religious, cultural, and moral landscapes are all changing… with some changing more rapidly than others.
  • My own health and the health of those close to me is changing… and mostly not for the better.
  • Heck, even the rules of my favorite games – baseball and football – are changing.

In that kind of a topsy-turvy world, I can easily identify with the urge to slow down the merry-go-round or jump off of it completely. And yet, there is a HUGE difference between being annoyed by the pace of change (which is most of us… with the exception of babies with dirty diapers) and actively working to hold back its tide. The effort to stop or roll back the changing face of society is the urge that lies at the core of all of the world’s regressive movements.

But as much as I grouse and whine about change… as much as I dredge up stories of “the good old days,” I have to stop and remember… this is not my ride.

It is not mine to control. It is not mine to resist. It is not mine to counter-program or attempt to sabotage.

“This…” in the words of the ancient psalmist, “… is the day the Lord has made.”

This is not some warped, funhouse-mirror parody version of the day the Lord meant to make. This is EXACTLY the day the Lord has made.

On purpose.

In that case then, we should follow the rest of the psalmist’s advice that says: “… let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24, NRSV).

AMEN.

06
Jan
20

Too Long Coming

Asbury flagsIt is good to see the United Methodist Church finally “grow a pair,” as they say, and take an unequivocal stand on the side of justice and inclusion.

It is just sad that it took them so long to do so.

According to news from the denominational communications folks, a document called the Protocol Of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation was agreed to and signed recently by a significant group of United Methodist bigwigs and poo-bahs.

The gist of this Protocolis that the United Methodist Church will formalize plans for a divorce when its global General Conference meets in May this year. This divorce will involve the people who oppose same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ+ leaving the United Methodist Church and forming their own denomination.

The name of that breakaway denomination has not yet been decided, although rumor has it that The Church of Narrow Mindedness and Exclusion has been officially rejected as an option.

As a person with firsthand experience of divorce, I can tell you that divorces are never good. For anyone. Even the smoothest and most amiable splits cause pain, stress, regret, and bitterness that lasts a long, long time.

Sometimes though, divorce is the only way for both parties to move forward and fully become who they are called to be. I believe this is the exact crossroads the United Methodist Church faces today.

On the one hand, I have to credit the leaders who finally arrived at the conclusion that it was time for the parties to go their separate ways. Some of the details of the split seem designed to minimize the hardship for either group that will result from this de-merger.

 

On the other hand, the length of time it took to finally arrive at this decision is inexcusable. Failing to bite the bullet and split the United Methodist Church YEARS AGO caused untold levels of suffering for untold thousands of good, faithful people. Although this metaphor is probably overstated by several degrees, I liken it to dragging out the decision to divorce in a marriage involving child and spousal abuse.

The longer it takes to decide to split, the more injury keeps being inflicted on the aggrieved parties. Sometimes trying to “stay together for the sake of the children” does more harm than good.

So today, I am really not sure how I feel about this news.

I am now officially retired from United Methodist ministry, so I am not faced with leading a congregation through the morass of discernment in the coming months. I am praying for my pastor pals who are still in the trenches and striving to hear all voices, including God’s, in this challenging time.

As a cradle United Methodist though, I am mostly embarrassed by the church’s foot-dragging and failure to lead. I am not sure it is any longer possible for UMs to march under the banner of “Social Justice Advocates” in any credible way.

So… I guess congratulations to the United Methodist Church for finally taking a stand and doing the right, no matter how painful, thing.

But shame on you for taking 20 years too long to do it.

19
Dec
19

More Than Meets the Eye

Optimus PrimeThe word “transformation” continues to be popular in the vocabulary of most Christians today.

This seems to be especially true when it comes to the mission statements of Christian churches… Transforming hearts and minds with the love of Christ,” “Seeking to live as agents of transformation in a broken and hurting world,” “Transforming the world with Christ’s love,” are just a few of the examples I’ve seen.

Heck, if the name weren’t already copyrighted, I suspect many Christians today would vote to adopt the name TRANSFORMERS as a more accurate description of their mission and ministry.

Don’t get me wrong… I really like the word transformation. I have probably used and over-used it more times than I care to admit.

But sometimes I worry that this powerful, important word might become one of those good things that are used so casually and reflexively that they lose their sizzle and ultimately turn into tasteless lumps of verbal Wonder Bread. You know… just like that car commercial you really liked the first time you saw it on TV; and you kept liking right up until the moment they showed it for the 563rdtime.

Recently I got a new, helpful way to understand the power of the word transformation. It was when my niece sent me a picture of her new baby son and just gushed and cooed about what a heavenly little bundle of joy he is.

Sure, you say… that’s just what new moms do. No newsflash here.

But you only say that because you don’t know my niece. You don’t know the sleepless nights my sister spent during said niece’s adolescence wondering where she was or what would ever become of her. You don’t know about each gray hair on my sister’s head that has my niece’s name printed on it. You have no idea the level of stress and turmoil my niece has caused my sister throughout the years.

Actually, I probably don’t really know either.

And so you really can’t appreciate what an unbelievable miracle it is for me to step back and look at this picture of my niece, cradling her precious baby son in her arms, making giant mooneyes at him, and calling him the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

THAT, my friend, is transformation.

It made me remember a similar transformation I experienced when my first child was born. And my second, for that matter.

Outwardly nothing has changed… besides the addition of a brand new life into your world, of course.

What I mean is, I continued to be the same, lazy, self-centered, awkward, charming, clumsy, sinful human I was before the Blessed Event. None of those essential qualities magically went away.

And yet, somehow EVERYTHING was different!

I was now a DAD! I was now responsible 24/7 for the shaping of an entire HUMAN BEING! And – wonder of wonders – this human being was so small and helpless, it was utterly dependent on me and his mother for absolutely one hundred percent of his needs.

There was suddenly no margin for error… no days off… no second chances to shape the kind of person he would grow up to be.

Nothing was different, but EVERYTHING was changed. In the moment I first beheld my newborn child, I was utterly TRANSFORMED.

And when you stop a minute and think about it, what more perfect way could God have found to inaugurate the transformation of our planet than through a similar event… the birth of a baby.

I learned a whole lot about myself that day… as I am certain every new parent does.

But the two lessons that still stick with me here 43 years later are, 1.) Transformation is real and is possible for every person alive, and 2.) Transformation only ever happens from the inside out.

May our world experience abundant transformation, beginning today!

18
Sep
19

Change is Good?

Moving dayI preach change all the time.

When some flavor of change seems to be looming on the horizon, I find scripture to cite to assure folks that God is not just GOOD with change but often actually goes out of his way to make it happen.

I’ll start my campaign with a little Isaiah 43:18-19 where the prophet speaks for the Almighty, saying, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it,”following with some Revelation 21 with “See, I am making all things new,” and then if none of that works, I will deliver the coup de grace with some 2 Corinthians action: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”(2 Corinthians 5:17, NRSV).

Easy to preach. Much harder to practice, as it turns out.

I am in the middle of a whole barge-load of change right now in my own life and am suddenly discovering the truth of the saying, “Babies with dirty diapers are the only ones who really appreciate change.”

First, there is the change of status from “working guy” to “retired guy.” I am barely two months into that brave new world and still a little shaky on my feet.

Now Joan and I are preparing to sell our house, pack up our world, and move from Overland Park, Kansas to Ft. Collins, Colorado.

It is a good move, one that will put us in a wonderful, healthy, friendly, very “beercentric” mountain community. We will be closer to Joan’s daughter and chief medical advocate. We will have quick access to some of the most amazing scenery in the entire U.S.

So what’s there to complain about?

Well, there is the whole MOVING thing, for starters. The packing, the cleaning, the lifting, the redecorating, the broken dishes… what a pain!

Then, once we are physically settled in to the new place, there is all the rest of the readjustment/reacclimating process. I have to find a new doctor… a new barber… a new church… a whole new set of friends… a new vet… a new mechanic… EVERYTHING! And I am completely convinced that none of them will be as good as the ones I have now.

Sometimes late at night, while Joan sleeps soundly beside me, I lie awake staring at the ceiling and ask, “What if I can’t make this adjustment? What if this is just all too much change for me to cope with?”

If I were completely honest about it, I suspect my real fear about this move is my suspicion that the core of my identity is somehow tied to this place where I have lived for nigh unto 44 years now.

It’s silly. I know.

But then I think of the Israelites and their forced march into exile in the year 587 BCE. Jerusalem was not only their home but was – according to sacred teaching – the actual, physical dwelling place of the God who called them.

Their home WAS their identity.

But then they discovered something extraordinary. There, in the middle of their exile lives in Babylon, they discovered the real source of their identity. There they were: thousands of miles from their home and the Temple… depressed and defeated. Their foundation was not just shaken but shattered. They had no idea if they were ever going to see their home again, let alone resume their status as God’s Chosen People.

But there – right in the middle of their darkest moment – the voice of God came to them through the prophet and told them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”(Jeremiah 29:4-6, NRSV).

In other words, “Be Here Now. Don’t look for your purpose and identity anyplace other than where you are at this exact moment. I am with you in EVERY place, not just when you are in Jerusalem.”

Hmmmm. That is really good to know.

Do you think that applies to Ft. Collins, Colorado, too?

08
Dec
18

A Gift to Share

Advent candle imageToday I would like to share a special gift with you, my beloved WordPress family. This is a poem written for this Advent season by my friend and counselor, Warren. I loved it and wanted you to catch a whiff of the promise it makes for this holy time.

ADVENT CHILD
God of love appearing at solstice as a child
knows that, while my welcome mat grows bare
with signs of wear after all those Santa trips in and out gathering my bag of gifts, perhaps there still could be something new”
for him among the wrapping, ribbons and bows
that elicits more joy than merely Ahs and Ohs.

So I simply want to share with you this time around,
that after our guests go home and the tree comes down
and the sky turns dark again – and while this may not
seem like new good news to you after so many Advent
calendars counting each day after day until the Child
has come and gone – I must say if I may that Christmas
seems quite new for me this year since I decided
to make room for the Child to stay.

Warren L. Molton    12.6.18

 

Make room. You will never regret that you did.

Abundant blessings;

30
Aug
17

“Unprecedented”

Flood evacueesFor the past few days, I have been utterly hypnotized by the news coverage of the recent events in Houston, TX and the visit of Hurricane Harvey.

I am guessing the fact that I have a son, daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren living in the Houston area probably makes me more attentive to Harvey-related news than the average bear.

But still…

(They are fine, by the way. Thanks for asking. They live in a part of the metro area that is on very high ground and is away from the worst of the flooding.)

I have watched spellbound as on-the-scene reporters from NBC, ABC, CBS, the Weather Channel, have all struggled to come up with new adjectives to describe what they are seeing.

When “incredible,” “amazing,” “unbelievable,” and “awesome,” all start to fall short, you know you are in the presence of meteorological greatness.

But the adjective that really caught my attention on Sunday was one that came from the mouth of the National Weather Service. It was the word “unprecedented.”

“Unprecedented.” As in, “…we have never ever seen anything like this before.”

And if THESE GUYS – the people who are supposed to keep detailed records of all the weather precedents – are using the word “unprecedented,” you know this is a BIG, DANGED DEAL. Maybe the biggest danged deal EVER!

See… when something has precedents you know how to behave. You say, “OK, the last time this happened, we did X. So we should probably do something very much like X again.”

But when you call it unprecedented (is it OK if I dispense with the quotation marks around the word now?), you are telling the world, “I got nothin’. Fresh out of answers over here.”

If I were a trained weather professional, I imagine I would be very reluctant to unleash the “U” word. I’d be afraid it would make me look… unprepared. Or unprofessional.

So why is it, do you suppose, that I have the sneaking suspicion that God continues to call me out into the “unprecendentednesses” of life?

I mean, it really seems that every time I discover myself standing at an intersection, between Path “A” and Path “B” with Path “A” representing familiar, precedented ground and Path “B” being strange turf, I could swear I hear God’s still, small voice whispering, “B, Russell. Go with B.”

It doesn’t help that you find stuff in the Bible like Isaiah 43:18 that says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Or Isaiah 65:17 where God says, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Or 2 Corinthians 5:17 where Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”

To be clear… I am pretty sure unprecedented floods with historic property damage and disruption of life are NOT on God’s “approved” list of adventures… Noah notwithstanding.

But when you read a few of these passages and see God’s handiwork, you begin to get the feeling God actually encourages unprecedentedness and newness… blatantly disregarding my preference for comfort and familiarity.

Who knows? Maybe he does.

Where does that leave a “safety seeker” like me?

Hmmmmm….

 




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