Posts Tagged ‘new

14
Jun
21

New Glasses

He noticed!” said Joan with a hint of surprise in her voice.

Yes he did…,” I replied, adding, “…That’s because Elijah is a Professional Noticer of Things.”

Elijah, operating the sound board for our church’s outdoor worship service yesterday, noticed that I had a new pair of glasses and commented on them. In fact, he was very complimentary of my style choice.

His comment was noteworthy because in the nearly six weeks since I acquired these new glasses, the number of people who have noticed their newness and commented on them is a very small number indeed. 

Elijah noticed my new glasses, I reasoned, because Elijah is an artist. I believe it is the artist’s job to notice stuff… to attune their exquisite antennae to every shape, size, and nuance in their world… to penetrate below the surface of their quotidian environment and see that which is unseen by most… and then use their chosen medium to help the rest of us see it, too.

But then, after making my clever quip, I stopped and pondered a moment: is that kind of “noticing” strictly the province of artists? Are they the only ones tasked with that special “seeing”? Does it require an innate, inborn set of skills to perceive novelty, beauty, diversity, and wonder in our world?

Or is that something any of us can/should be able to do?

If you have a chance to spend even five minutes in the presence of a small child – say three or fewer years of age – you will soon discover that for them, EVERYTHING about the world is amazing, incredible, and totally AWESOME! In their eyes, there are remarkable new discoveries to be found around every corner! 

They think the world is a veritable smorgasbord of wonder and delight on which to feast their inquiring little eyes.

Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, are those of us who have been around the sun a few times… the folks who can come to feel – if we’re not careful – as if we’ve “seen it all.” On occasion it seems to us that all the sheen and luster has worn off our bright, shiny world. 

“Been there, done that, got the T-shirt” threatens to become our mantra. Our eyes can glaze over, our perspectives can become jaded, and we can say, “AMEN! Ain’t it the truth!” when we hear The Teacher saying, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NRSV).

We trumpet the virtue of our world-weariness and think of ourselves as, “savvy… sophisticated… urbane… refined… aware.” 

Everything we see is SO gauche and jejune and we simply can’t be bothered.

How sad!

How dull!

And when you come right down to it, how utterly ungodly.

Loving God means knowing and loving God’s creation. And central to loving God’s creation is recognizing that God is in the business of Continuous Renewal. The prophet Isaiah talks about this when he speaks on God’s behalf and tells the Israelites, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19, NRSV). 

When we allow our hearts to be transformed by the in-breaking power of the Holy Spirit, WE also become new… blessed with the capability to see newness all around us. Paul understood this transformation perfectly. He described it when he wrote, “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).

So, is it possible to be mature, experienced, and wonder-filled all at the same time? 

I’d say, “Absolutely!” 

All it takes is a new pair of glasses.

Abundant blessings;

16
Feb
21

Something from Nothing

For some time now I have had a soft spot in my heart for entrepreneurs.

Take Frederick W. Smith, for example. While a student in the business school at Yale University, Smith wrote a paper that outlined a wacky idea for an overnight package delivery service. 

Smith got a “C” on the paper, along with his professor’s gentle reminder that the assignment was to write about a business idea that actually had a chance of being implemented.

Undaunted, young Mr. Smith decided he really believed in what he had written and decided to go out and make it happen. The business Smith described in that “C” paper turned out to be the blueprint for the company that is known today as Federal Express… the company Smith still serves as chairman and CEO.

Through my undergraduate years, I remember hearing the stories of the steam engine stoker turned insurance salesman turned filling station operator named Harlan Sanders who – in his spare time – tinkered around with different combinations of herbs and spices and a method of pressure-frying chicken that eventually took America by storm under the brand name Kentucky Fried Chicken

I was fascinated by the tale of the milkshake mixer salesman named Ray Kroc who helped a couple of brothers named McDonald franchise their simple-menu hamburger stand concept that ultimately created an entirely new category of restaurant.

As I began to study them, I noticed that most entrepreneur stories seemed to follow a similar arc. They each seemed to begin with a restless spirit and a curious mind trapped inside a dull, one-dimensional job. That mind asks – and keeps asking – “What if…?” somehow impervious to all of the voices of reason that counsel the safe path. 

Bold leaps are taken… usually with disastrously disappointing initial results. Nevertheless, the Restless Spiritsoldiers on. He or she makes major and minor adjustments to the vision before hazarding the climb back up the ladder to the high dive platform. Friends, family members, distant relatives, all offer The Restless Spirittheir sincerely considered advice, saying that it is probably time to discard the pipe dream and get back to work on something proven and practical.

But then, in a scene reminiscent of the movie Castaway (starring Tom Hanks), the tinder of that ridiculous idea suddenly begins to smoke… we see a tiny flame somewhere down there at the bottom. That tiny flame grows and grows until it finally becomes an epic bonfire of business success. 

Or maybe it doesn’t. Ever.

But as is the case with most entrepreneurs I have ever met, the lack of a tangible result does not stop or even slow them down. They just keep plugging away.

In that sense, the instinct to entrepreneurism seems to have a lot in common with the instinct toward art. Somewhere, somehow in the deep recesses of the mind of the artist (and/or the entrepreneur), a seed is dropped. There our little seed finds fertile soil, moisture, warmth, and an energizing spark. The seed coat is broken and the radicle, the plumule, and the cotyledons (yes… I Googled all of those words) begin to unfold, gasping hungrily toward the rays of the morning sun. 

The artist/entrepreneur nurtures the tender shoot, strategically clearing its path of obstacles and threats until it begins to demonstrate a more robust grip on its surroundings. 

And in the process, each of these experiences the sheer joy of creating SOMETHING out of NOTHING. 

But you know what else? It is also the joy that motivated God to create YOU and ME and our amazing WORLD in the first place. It is also the joy that God planted within the breast of every one of us. It is the joy that we are each invited to experience… whether we see ourselves as artists or entrepreneurs or not. 

When the Bible tells us we are made, “… in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27), it means that we are endowed with the same core traits as the One who made us. It means that if God is love, WE are love. It means if God is about relationships, WE are about relationships. It means if God creates, WE create.

What will you create today?

Abundant blessings;

02
Dec
20

New Shoes

This past weekend I observed a personal ritual known as, “The Changing of the Shoes.” It is exactly like the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, except without the pageantry, fuzzy hats, Corgis, Englishness, formality, or really anything else.

My ritual doesn’t even operate by a set schedule. 

It happens when it needs to happen.

The Changing of the Shoes is set in motion when my daily walking shoes finally bite the dust. That moment sends me to the shoe store to buy a new pair. My old walking shoes then “graduate” to the status of yard work shoes, and my dirt-and-dog-doo-encrusted-grass-stained yard work shoes go to that happy Shoe Recycling Place in the sky. 

And as that ritual unfolds, I learn again the lesson that new seasons beget new roles. New roles beget new duties. New duties beget new self-understandings.

And sometimes, new self-understandings beget new questions about how we each fit into the cosmic scheme of things.

[By now I suspect you have guessed that I am no longer talking about SHOES, haven’t you?]

This time of global pandemic has required the adoption new self-understandings by almost every one of us, hasn’t it? Those of us who derive our identities from our work, or our relationships, our hobbies, or our affiliations have struggled to embrace this New Normal.

And unlike my shoes (who slip easily and without complaint into their new roles) many of us scratch and kick and complain loudly when forced into a new way of being… a new way of seeing… a new way of understanding our place in the world. 

Heck, even though it has now been true for 1.25 years, I still find myself resisting the wholehearted adoption of my new “retired guy” identity. “You’re too young to retire!” says the tape that plays repeatedly in my head. 

The thing is, CHANGE doesn’t care. 

CHANGE rolls on, as inexorable as the seasons… inviting us to either dance or die. 

Our gut tells us that CHANGE is the enemy… something to be feared. Our gut wants things to stay as they are; predictable, stable, orderly. 

Our gut wants us to worship something besides the wild, ever-renewing, explosively creative God of the Universe. 

Our gut tells us not to trust the extended hand of the One who whispers to us, “Come ahead, my child. Don’t fear. I’ve got you.”

But then, if we listen really closely, we will hear our faith speaking up and saying, “The God who brought you TO this, will surely bring you THROUGH this.”

God always has. God always will. 

We learn that the God who said, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43: 19, NRSV), is the same God who said, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1-2, NRSV).

New times.

New roles.

New understandings.

Same God. Same rock-solid promises.

But definitely time for some new shoes.

Abundant blessings;

24
Sep
20

The Right Question…

Since we now live in a new state, Joan and I recently decided to do a little exploring.

We drove to the southwestern part of Colorado and set ourselves up in the lovely little town of Ridgway. We highly recommend it, in case you are ever looking for a picturesque, unspoiled, little mountain getaway town. 

On our third day there we asked our GPS, “How far is it to Telluride?” We had heard great things about the town of Telluride and wanted to drive over and do a little exploring.

Our GPS quite accurately told us it was 15 miles from Ridgway to Telluride…

… as the crow flies, that is.

We discovered that if you happen to be a human instead of a crow, limited to traveling in a car across paved roads – as we were – there is a completely different answer to the question, “How far is Telluride?”

That answer is thirty-nine miles

That trivial little exercise caused me to wonder; could we be in the midst of one of those times when some of us are not asking the right question?

With a major political election looming on the immediate horizon, the question seems obvious; Trump or Biden? Democrat or Republican? Liberal or conservative? 

Pick your side. Make your speech. Cast your ballot.

But what if those are not really the right questions at all?

What if the right (better) questions are somehow deeper… more fundamental and essential? And what if these better questions concern the kind of people you and I will BE from here on out instead of which political horse we choose to hitch our wagon(s) to?

Make no mistake… I am watching the current political hullabaloo like a hawk. At times it is more entertaining than an NFL game. At other times, it is more frightening than a Stephen King novel. And I definitely do have a favorite in this race.

But the more I watch this show and the more blood that is spilled, the more discouraged I get about the real benefits of ANY potential outcome. 

We can change the political circumstances in which we live. But until we fundamentally change the people we are – the way we think, the way we interact with one another, and the way we live our lives – neither of these would-be political messiahs is really going to make much difference at all.

I propose that a better question for us each to ask ourselves today might be this one: what kind of edges will my life have from here on out?

What I mean by that is…

  • Will the edges of my life be made up of a hard, impenetrable shell? Will I pour all of my energy into fortifying myself against anything that might penetrate and possibly harm me? Will I “batten down the hatches” and look upon anything unfamiliar as a dangerous threat? Will I echo Simon and Garfunkel as they sang, “I am a rock… I am an island”?
  • Or will my edges be soft and vulnerable? Will they be easily punctured by the voice, the views, or the needs of another? Will I/we dare to open ourselves to the stranger? Will I/we dare to occasionally say to someone, “I don’t know. I might be wrong about that. Let me think about it”? Will we be humble and open to the needs of our neighbors?

The temptation in unsettling, uncertain, anxious times is to try and build as strong a wall as we possibly can. To seek safety. To armor-plate the edges of our lives.

And yet, as natural an instinct as shell-building seems to be, it is the polar opposite of the model of Christlikeness. 

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”(Matthew 11:28, NRSV).

And the writer of 1 Peter said, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NRSV).

Yes, it is a vitally important time in our political life as a country. But I hope we can each find a way to look past the noise and smoke, ask the right question…

… and then perform our civic duty accordingly.

Abundant blessings;

24
Aug
20

Clearing the Underbrush

WildfireIt hit me as soon as I walked out the door.

Patrick the dog and I were headed out for our long Saturday morning walk. But after five steps and two breaths, it became abundantly clear that our walk on this particular Saturday would just be to the end of the cul-de-sac and back.

You see, we have wildfires burning about 60 miles to the west of our house here in Fort Collins, Colorado. They aren’t as big as those currently burning in California (these only cover a mere 17,000 acres), but they are big enough.

At times, when the wind is just right, the city of Fort Collins is blanketed with thick smoke. It stings your eyes and burns your lungs. The air quality is listed as, “Hazardous for all individuals” by the county health authorities.

Not ideal dog-walking conditions.

As we listen to news reports on the status of the fire-fighting efforts, Joan and I were surprised to hear that very little is currently being done to fight this fire. There are teams on the ground monitoring the situation, yes. But there are no air tankers dropping flame retardants, no big buckets scooping water out of the lake to dump on it, no fire hoses being aimed at the flames.

It is just being watched as it burns.

When I expressed my frustration about this perplexing nonchalance to a neighbor, he smiled a knowing smile and explained, “These things happen every couple of years and are a part of the natural cycle of things. Right now, they are just making sure it doesn’t get out of control and threaten any houses.”

I nodded and thanked him for his insight, but inside I was saying, WHAT? You can’t be serious! Do you really think it is OK to let fire destroy all those trees and choke us with the smoke and ash? What kind of looney tunes philosophy is THAT?”

As it turns out, it is a very sound philosophy indeed.

You see, in the forest, trees die. Leaves fall to the ground. Underbrush accumulates. Dead vegetation threatens to choke out the living. And so periodically, it all needs to be cleaned out. And as it turns out, the cleaning tool that works best for Mother Nature is FIRE.

Every now and then a fire is needed to sweep through and destroy all the dead stuff… to clear the way for something new and fresh and green to be born.

And when I heard that explanation, I began wondering: does God ever take the same approach with us?

What I mean is; do you think we (the human population of Planet Earth) ever get to the point where too much “dead underbrush” has built up in our hearts or in the world? [Metaphorically speaking, of course.]

  • Do you think it’s possible that this “dead underbrush” ever becomes so vast that it threatens to choke out the possibility of anything new popping up and growing?
  • Do you think it is possible that God has identified a periodic need to do a massive “clearing out” of this spiritual and emotional underbrush?
  • Is it conceivable that something that looks like devastation and destruction (something like a global pandemic, for example) might actually be something more like a cosmic press of the “RESET” button?

And finally;

  • Do you think it is possible that the way is being cleared for something new and fresh and vibrant to emerge on the other side of the current devastation?

Please understand, I have grave hesitations about asking these questions. They could sound like I’m saying that God brought about the death and destruction of COVID-19 in order to bring about something new. These questions might make it sound as if I’m saying that God is indifferent to human suffering as long as there is a “greater good” to be accomplished on the other side.

That is not what I am saying at all.

Rather I am trying to point to God’s unlimited capacity to REDEEM. That is, to take a dire and disastrous situation and use it as the fodder for something wondrous, new, and remarkable.

You know… sort of like he did with his son who died on a Roman cross?

In the short run, that thought doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to put up with the coughing, stinging, fear, and wheezing.

But it does offer us the hope that – in the long run – all of this misery just might not be wasted after all.

 

Abundant blessings;

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.




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