Posts Tagged ‘power

28
Jul
20

“The Beast Tamer”

Hedge trimmer“OK. That’s it,” I said to myself. “Today is the day!”

My exasperation with the state of the hedge along our back fence finally hit the breaking point last Friday. I headed to the garage in search of the hundred-foot-long extension cord, step ladder, and electric clippers… preparing to tame the unruly green beast.

I had been putting off this loathsome chore for several weeks now, but the time had finally come. Several small pets from around the neighborhood had apparently gotten lost inside my hedge and their owners were concerned.

My hedge comes honestly by its nickname “The Beast.” It is at least 100 feet long and – when allowed to grow unchecked – reaches 12 or 15 feet in height. Not content to grow upward, it also bushes out horizontally in a very shaggy, unkempt manner.

With all equipment finally in order (and Joan standing by, ready to dial 911), I began to operate.

About ten minutes into the procedure, I was interrupted by the delightful Scottish brogue of Hugh, our neighbor-behind-the-hedge. Hugh had come out onto his deck, was waving his arm and cheerfully hailing me. “Hey there, neighbor! Would you like to borrow THIS? It’ll make the job a lot easier!”

In Hugh’s left hand was a shiny red electric hedge trimmer with a 22-inch blade. My sad excuse for a hedge tool had only a stubby 16-inch blade.

Hugh (and no, I did not make up this name. My Scottish neighbor really IS named “Hugh.”) headed over and in the twinkling of an eye was standing at the base of my ladder, red, 22” trimmer in hand.

“Here… let me show you how it works,” Hugh said. And in an instant, he had commandeered my extension cord and began trimming massive swaths of hedge. “You see,” he said, “You really need to get right back there or else you’ll be out here again in two weeks doing the same thing.”

After turning over his red “Beast Tamer” to me, Hugh exited by the rear gate, but not before saying, “And don’t worry about the top. I’ll just trim that from my side when you’re done.”

And then, in less time than it took me to grab Hugh’s hedge trimmer and ascend the step ladder, I sensed that a mystical transformation had taken place. Suddenly, an EVENT (a neighbor stopped what he was doing and helped me trim my hedges) became a STORY (“I live in this great neighborhood where people go out of their way to help each other.”)

And hopefully, in the retelling of this dull, dry, quotidian event I have been able to illustrate something that is both a primary penchant, but also a fundamental need of human beings everywhere… the need for STORIES. (To that end, may I recommend one of my favorite bloggers to you, Mitch Teemley and his blog, The Power of Story at: https://mitchteemley.com).

Every day you and I stumble through a collection of seemingly happenstance, unrelated moments of our lives. We get up, water the house plants, walk the dogs, shower, eat a little yogurt and granola, and do a thousand other things before we turn off the bedside lamp and close our eyes.

Throughout that haphazard progression, we are niggled by a fundamental hunger for MEANING. We look at this tangle of these random, multi-colored threads and ACHE to believe that if we flip the frame over and look at the other side, we will see a beautiful, flowing, coherent, tapestry. A yearning to make sense of the world around us is an essential part of being human. In our heart of hearts, we know that a narrative of randomness and arbitrarity is ultimately corrosive to our souls.

And so, we must each choose the narrative we will live by.

Not just the one that helps make sense of today, but the one that helps make sense of FOREVER. Because it is only in the setting of that meta-narrative that our mundane mini-narratives can add up to anything at all.

Today I join the Old Testament hero Joshua in declaring, “As for me and my household, we will serve [choose] the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15, NRSV).

And trust me when I tell you, in my life I have done extensive shopping at the Narrative Mall and after much painful trial and error, I have chosen THIS ONE as the one I will live by.

Why?

Because as Beast Tamers go, this one beats them ALL!

 

Abundant blessings;

29
Jun
20

Child of Privilege

Shaking hands across a deskI remember the interview very well, even though it happened more than 30 years ago.

It was an excellent job and I really wanted it. I had some of the necessary qualifications, but certainly not all.

And yet, at the conclusion of the interview I was rewarded with a smile, a firm handshake and that truly delightful question, “So, Russell… when can you start?”

I also remember that time a few years later when I stopped to fill my gas tank. This was back in the dark ages before the invention of credit card scanners on gas pumps… if you can imagine such a medieval thing.

I pulled up to the bank of pumps furthest from the cashier’s office. There I saw a hand-lettered cardboard sign that read, “Please pay before pumping.” I shrugged and began walking toward the main building. No biggie.

Right at that moment, the cashier – a white man about my age – turned and saw me through the window. He immediately offered a dismissive wave of the hand as if to say, “Hey, buddy… that’s OK. Go ahead and pump your gas.”

I finished filling my tank and went inside to pay. “Hey, thanks for letting me go ahead and pump my gas first,” I said to the man as I fished out my wallet.

Yeah, sure,” he replied. “We’ve had a bunch of ‘drive-offs’ here lately, so we had to start asking people to pre-pay.”

And then he added, “But you looked OK.”

What he really meant to say was, “You looked white.”

These are two of the more glaring examples of times in my life when I have been on the receiving end of white privilege.

They are troubling, to say the least. What should be even more troubling are the countless times I have received unmerited privilege and been utterly oblivious.

For example…

… all the times I have not been pulled over by the police because I “fit a description.”

… all the times I have not been closely watched as I browsed among the clothes in a suburban department store.

… all the times I have not seen another person cross the street or clutch their purse tightly when I approach them.

… all the times I have been able to make a major purchase with nothing more than a cursory credit and employment check.

… all the times I have not been amazed and delighted to finally see someone on TV who looked like me.

… all the times I have been in a classroom led by a teacher and surrounded by classmates who looked like me.

… all the history lessons I have learned that were filled with people who share my skin tone.

…  the multiple talks my father did not have to give me about the extreme caution I must exercise when driving in a different part of town.

… all the stories I have not heard about how people who look like me are more inclined toward criminal behavior.

… the tendencies toward diabetes and high blood pressure and other ailments that I did not inherit simply because of my race.

The list literally goes on and on.

I will readily confess: turning down an offer of unmerited favor is hard. In fact, I am not sure I have ever done it. If someone wants to grant ME a privilege they might withhold from someone else, my inclination is to receive it, say, “Thank you very much,” and walk on.

In the same way, folks like me who compete on a playing field tilted wildly in our favor rarely speak up to challenge the justice of that field.

But we should. Especially if we take the sentiments of Dr. King seriously in his letter from the Birmingham jail. Seeking to incite the consciences of well-meaning, well-mannered white clergymen, King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

The Good News of Jesus Christ was never intended to function strictly as a tool of individual sanctification. Yes, it begins its work deep in the heart of one person, but it was always our Savior’s intention that that individual spark of saving grace would spread a flame of mercy and justice and peace over the face of the earth.

Now is the time.

We are the people.

Let the hard work commence.

So be it.

27
Jun
20

Daring to Follow

Us vs them tribalismI just tried an experiment on Facebook to see what might happen.

I didn’t originally intend to make this experiment the topic of a blog post, but the results were so interesting I just had to share them with y’all. (Or you‘uns, whichever plural form of “you” you prefer.)

It recently occurred to me that within my circle of Facebook friends and acquaintances, are a bunch of people who readily identify themselves as conservatives and a bunch who consider themselves liberals, or progressive. “Why not…” I thought to myself, “… ask both groups the same question and see how similar or different the responses are?”

My first post, earlier this week, was headlined, “SERIOUS QUESTION: FOR CONSERVATIVES ONLY.” The question was, “What do you see as the biggest threat facing our country today?” A couple of days later I reposted the same question but asked only those who identify themselves as progressives to respond.

Before I tell you what people in my – admittedly totally unscientific survey – said, stop a minute and come up with your own answer. The only ground rule is that you may NOT answer with the name of any prominent national politician.

Although people articulated their answers in a lot of different ways, there were genuine threads of commonality running through the responses from both sides.

On the conservative side there were a couple of short answers like, “Breakdown of the family,” and “National debt,” but many of the respondents really tried to dig below the surface and come up with something more foundational. Clif echoed the thoughts of many of his conservative brethren when he said, “… destruction of social capital through unproductive and unnecessary conflict driven by tribalism and disrespect.” Meaning; we spend an inordinate amount of time choosing up sides and then demonizing anyone on the OTHER side.

Boom! I believe you nailed it, Clif.

On the other side of the coin there were, again, a few short, single-issue answers such as, “Health care,” “climate change,” “COVID-19,” and “government deregulation,” but most respondents here also tried to dig a bit below the surface and identify something more root-like.

The themes of greed and “inflated self-interest” were probably the biggest themes in the answers from progressive folks. But then Abe took that theme to the next level when he said, “The extreme liberalization of economies is diminishing the power of legitimate governments to put in place regulations that address big issues like the existential threat of climate change.”

You probably don’t need me to translate, but what I heard Abe saying was, “When everyone thinks only about gratifying their own desires, they rarely come up with solutions that benefit the populace as a whole.”

Tribalism.

Division.

Greed.

Self-interest.

Racism.

Can you see the thread running through each of these? In each case folks – on both sides of the political spectrum – are identifying the exact same soul sickness Jesus repeatedly addressed throughout his ministry. Jesus knew that when we exclusively think about OURSELVES and OUR NEEDS, we as individuals (and we as a nation) are on a one-way road to misery, conflict, and ultimately ruin.

When the rich young ruler asked Jesus about the secret to eternal (or the ultimately fulfilled) life, Jesus told him that in addition to following the law… “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” (Luke 18:22, NRSV).

When the need arose to clarify his mission and purpose to his closest followers Jesus minced no words. He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NRSV).

When he faced the end of his earthly life and sought to impart his ultimate marching orders to his followers there in the Garden, Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13,NRSV).

Put simply, sacrificing our needs and wants to ensure our neighbor’s well-being is not an act reserved for the saintliest among us.

It is the path Jesus prescribed for every one of us.

Do we dare to follow?

Do we dare NOT to?

 

Abundant blessings;

10
Jun
20

Doing Love

Joan and me 1Please pause for a moment and pity poor Joan.

Joan – for those of you who don’t know – is my spouse. And since we just celebrated our 20th anniversary on Cinco de Mayo, she has occupied that status for 20 years, poor soul.

At the start of our courtship, it was all cumquats and marmalade… or some other, better phrase carrying the equivalent meaning of “24/7 magic.” I was utterly charming, fun, and thoughtful. I thought of her needs first, sang sweetly in her ear, found new ways to make her laugh, and regularly surprised her with creative, elaborate gifts.

She really sparkled, too, with inner and outer beauty, energy, graciousness, and a boundless sense of adventure.

And so on one enchanted day – as a chorus of bluebirds chirped above us – we decided to make the arrangement permanent.

But then, somewhere along the way, something happened. We moved in together. We started sharing our lives… ALL of our lives… not just the sparkly, shiny, wild, crazy, outrageous, “starry-eyed lovers” parts.

We started seeing fun little details about each other that we somehow missed before; like the way someoneinsists that the table be set like THIS instead of like THAT. Or the way little piles of dirty clothes seem to appear hither and yon. Or the way a pitcher of iced tea gets put back in the refrigerator with less than a teaspoon of liquid left in it.

(OK… that’s all me, just in case you were wondering).

Somewhere along the way, the cumquats and marmalade and “24/7 magic” began to sparkle a little less as the ordinary threatened to usurp the extraordinary.

And it was at that precise moment, I would submit, that Joan and I discovered the real meaning of the word LOVE.

Long, long ago, you see, I subscribed to the pop culture notion that love is all about a particular FEELING. I bought the line that says love is that butterflies-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach excitement that comes when your hormones get a turbo boost in the presence of your beloved.

I can thank Jesus – and marriage – for setting me straight on that.

Jesus helped me by the words he spoke in John 15:12 – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In reflecting on this passage, pastor and author Cary Nieuwhof once said, “You can’t COMMAND a feeling.” Feelings come and feelings go, triggered by all manner of stimuli.

So clearly the kind of LOVE Jesus is talking about – the kind that CAN be commanded – is something much more actionable.

This kind of love is a way of living. It is a way of relating to other people. Ultimately this kind of love seems to be – before it is anything else – a way of SEEING. Jesus’ love is a way of seeing the world and its inhabitants that will then give shape and texture to our words, our actions, and even our attitudes.

The same thing happens in marriage. Joan and I always love one another. But we don’t have warm and gushy feelings toward each other 24/7/365. Sometimes we get on each other’s last nerve. Sometimes we get really annoyed with each other. Sometimes we each do stuff that just really pisses the other one off.

And yet, as feelings come and go, driven by the events of the day, love abides.

The world we live in today needs a LOT. It needs healing. It needs humility. It needs repentance. It needs justice. It needs forgiveness. It needs boldness, and creativity, and ENERGY.

But more than anything else, the world today needs a healthy dose of that no-nonsense, Jesus-commanded, action-oriented, all-encompassing, world-changing, boundary-destroying kind of LOVE.

 

Abundant blessings;

31
Oct
19

“Nope. Not you.”

rejectedRejection hurts.

“Don’t take it personally,” they say. But sometimes personally is the only way you can take it.

It’s like the time I was cut from the eighth-grade basketball team. The first three practices were the tryouts. The day after the third practice, a piece of paper was thumbtacked to the bulletin board outside the coach’s office. On the paper were the names of the 10 boys who made the team. If your name didn’t appear there, you had been cut.

I remember standing there with the other guys in front of the bulletin board, searching and searching to find my name. One by one they each called out in delight as they saw their names listed.

I got to the bottom of the list and hadn’t seen my name. I went back to the top, convinced I had somehow just overlooked it and went S-L-O-W-L-Y back to the bottom.

It wasn’t there.

I had been cut.

Rejected.

And yes, it was very personal.

Or there was that time in the ninth grade when I called Marsha Westbrook to ask if she wanted to go to Alan’s party with me. I didn’t call it a date, but that’s exactly what it was.

Marsha was a pretty and popular girl. Most of my friends would have agreed that I was punching WAY above my weight limit by asking her out. I took a deep breath as I picked up the phone and dialed her phone number.

It didn’t take her long at all to come up with a response. Without skipping a beat I heard, “No, I don’t think so.” She offered no excuses, no false dodges or made-up conflicts like, “Oh sorry… I have to wash my hair that night.”

Just NO.

Rejection in the most personal way possible.

Becoming an adult has not inoculated me from rejection as I once hoped it might. I have heard, “Nope. Not you,” at job interviews, community theater auditions, attempted bar pick-ups (during my footloose single days between marriages), and in response to grant applications.

All rejections sting. All of them feel deeply personal.

And as other pastors will readily testify, few rejections sting as much as the rejections we sometimes receive from the churches we serve. As the spouse of one pastor I knew once said so eloquently, “Ain’t no hurt like a church hurt.”

I suppose it is partly because the church is the LAST place we would expect to experience rejection. “Surely,” we think to ourselves, “… a group of people committed to following the Lord of Love would refrain from the use of knives and daggers and cudgels in their relationship with their Appointed Shepherd.”

But alas… sometimes we find out that is not the case at all.

I can’t tell you why the topic of rejection has floated to the top of my consciousness so prominently today. Right now I am in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. I haven’t had a door slammed in my face for at least two weeks.

It might be that I am reacting to recent stories about people experiencing the sting of rejection on the basis of some God-given aspect of their identity. This kind of torment still happens today much too frequently and seems to perpetuate from one generation to the next.

It could be that I am still smarting from my personal rejection episodes. I have discovered that rejection is not a wound that heals quickly. The cut goes all the way to the center of your soul.

And so if you are in a season of rejection right now – for whatever reason – I am really sorry. It hurts and it takes a long time to heal.

You also need to know that the rejection you received is often not about you at all. Sometimes it happens for irrational, unpredictable reasons. That company might have known the person they were going to hire before they even placed the ad, but protocol required that they “go through the motions” of searching anyway.

Often the rejection you received is much more about THEM than it is about YOU. It is born from some deep insecurity that can only be assuaged – they believe – by belittling someone else.

My sister… my brother; if you have been rejected, take heart. The only way we ever escape rejection completely is by staying out of the arena completely… by sealing our heart up in an airtight chamber to keep it safe, secure, and utterly dead.

And so at the risk of sounding trite and potentially dismissive, I close with this: never forget that the One who holds the universe in the palm of his hand loves you more profoundly than you will ever be capable of understanding.

As Paul once said, long ago;

 “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”(Ephesians 3:16-17, NRSV).

29
Jan
19

You Belong

ice-cream-bikeThree doors down from the house I grew up in lived a family named the Thompsons.

There was Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Thompson (that was back in the time when kids didn’t know adults’ first names) and their three sons.

If you were one of the kids who got invited to hang out at the Thompson house, you knew you had really MADE IT.

You see, the Thompson family was in the ice cream business. They maintained a fleet of those big three-wheeled bicycles that carried a big freezer in the middle and a line of jingly, chimey bells on the handlebar (see photo). And if you DID get invited to hang out at the Thompsons, you knew it meant unfettered access to free Creamsicles, Fudgesicles, Bomb Pops, ice cream sandwiches, and all manner of frozen confections.

And yes, I am proud to say that I was a regular guest at Chez Thompson. That is, right up until the day when I committed the cardinal sin of actually ASKING them if I could have a Fudgesicle. You see, Thompson house protocol dictated that while ice cream might be offered, it was never REQUESTED.

It was a moment that provided me with one of my earliest memories of how it feels to BELONG… and then – in the twinkling of an eye – to NOT belong anymore.

And although it would be a stretch to credit this insight to my experience with the Thompsons, it amazes me to this day how much of my life has been a search to BELONG.

People much smarter than me have recognized the need to BELONG as a universal human longing.

We want to feel a sense of belonging in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in formal and informal groups of every kind.

But I don’t know… do you think it’s possible to overemphasize belonging? Can we concentrate so much effort on where we “fit in” that we start to make belonging an end in itself?

History is replete with examples of the damage that is done when we start putting a lot of energy into trying to figure out who belongs and who doesn’t.

Taking a quick inventory of my own belonging, I have discovered that I am part of an uncomfortable number of DOMINANCE groups. Here is what I mean by that: I am white… I am male… I am a Baby Boomer… I am American… I am middle class… I am Christian… I am college-educated… I am straight… I am married… I am a homeowner… I am able-bodied and of (mostly) sound mind… I am an oldest child.

I could go on, but you get the point. If there is a group that has been granted privilege and position in today’s world, I belong to it. And for most of those groups I just listed, I did absolutely nothing to qualify for entrance.

I just showed up.

Which is why I just want to take a moment to appreciate the courage of people who – for one reason or another – often find themselves on the outside looking in.

 

I have never personally experienced having doors slammed in my face because of my skin color or my gender or my religion or my nationality or my sexual preference or my physical ableness. I cannot imagine the ongoing pain of regularly hearing – directly or indirectly – “Sorry… you just don’t belong here.”

As a pastor, I can console you with the reassurance that every person matters equally in the eyes of God. I can show you the places in the Bible where God tells the Israelites to welcome the alien and the stranger, or where Jesus goes out of his way to include people that everyone else turns their backs on.

Because it’s all true.

But I can’t help wondering if that reassurance helps at all.

Dear God, please grant these your comfort. Help them know the warmth of your loving embrace. Fortify them for the days ahead and let them experience the wideness of your welcome.

And maybe, while you’re at it, break open the hearts of the privileged just a little wider.

AMEN.

03
Dec
18

Storm Shield

One of my favorite apps to pull up on my phone is an app called “Storm Shield.”

It is a weather radar app that allows me to see CURRENT weather radar as well as a view of what the weather radar will look like in the FUTURE.

I enjoy opening this app periodically so I can look at what is going on in the world, meteorologically. I feel like a genuine weatherman as I peer at my phone and make uneducated guesses about where that big ol’ patch of thunderstorms will be heading next.

And let’s face it… who doesn’t love getting a little peek into the future? Even if it is just the next few hours of weather?

But as fond as I am of this app, I must take its developers to task here a little: despite its reassuring name, not ONCE has this app ever actually shielded me from a storm. Winds have tousled my hair and rain has fallen on me JUST LIKE IT DID before I bought it!

Besides being a fan of the FUTURE feature of the app, I also love having the ability to shrink or widen the perspective. I can look either at this view:

Storm shield 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or THIS one: Storm shield 1

… or even wider if I so desire.

I’m not going to lie; all this power – including the ability to peer into the future – makes me feel a bit like The Great and Powerful Oz!

I think the urge to “look beyond” ourselves and see an enlarged picture of our world is a fairly basic human tendency.

I mean, who knows? Maybe it is exactly this “looking beyond” urge that supplies the energy for space exploration, and undersea voyages, and archeological digs.

It is certainly the reason we will likely never face a shortage of movies on the subject of time travel.

Yes… we all want to “see beyond” our present moment and setting, but it seems we really only want that vision if it fits in with the way we see the world right now.

 

In this age of relativism and inflated self-importance, we really don’t want to be bothered to consider a cosmic point of view that might dare to challenge our seat on the Throne of Power of our lives.

I make this statement because of the research that shows an ever-accelerating rise in the number of people who reject any notion of God or Ultimate Reality or a Higher Power, preferring instead to operate by the seat of their own, omnipotent pants.

They do have a point. This is, after all, the God who said (through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah):

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
–       Isaiah 55:8-9, NRSV

This is probably not the God from whom you would ever hear a phrase like, “Yeah, OK… whatever you think. That’s cool.”

This Advent season we have just embarked on is a time to be reminded of our utter subordinacy as humans. It is a time when God said, “I know you are impatient for a solution to the web of ills that surround you, but rest assured; I’ve got this.”

And then – at Christmas – we saw that God did INDEED have it!

So thanks anyway, but I think I will just be content to rely on my Storm Shield app for my “far and wide” glimpses of reality.

And I’ll try to be a little more prepared the next time that green blob starts moving in my direction.

 

Abundant blessings;

16
Apr
18

The Superhero Next Door

SuperheroesI see the next big superhero movie is about to hit the multiplexes near us very soon.

“I see” as in, “I had my eyes open and somehow did not miss one of the 4,862 recent airings of the trailer.”

Avengers: Infinity War will be released on April 27, and according to the advance hype, it will feature just about every single superhero in today’s Marvel Universe.

Apparently the latest Threat to All Life on Planet Earth is lethal enough that the combined superpowers of Black Panther, Captain America, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Spiderman, Black Widow, The Hulk, Wolverine, and several others too numerous to list here are required to defeat it.

At the end of the movie, as we are all breathing a gigantic sigh of relief that the world has been saved yet again, I am sure we will all be grateful that those costumed crusaders were there again… to save us from certain doom.

Too bad they’re not real.

Or are they?

As I sit here and consider the word “superhero” a little more closely, I think it is entirely possible that I have bumped into one or more of these in recent weeks.

The New Oxford American Dictionary says that a hero is: “…a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities…”And so – by logical extension – a SUPER hero must be a person who is “SUPER admired for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”

As it turns out, I have met several of those recently.

Consider, for example, The Conduit. This is the lively woman who has provided her homebody aunt a vital connection to the world outside her front door, urging the aunt to try things she never would have thought possible on her own.

Or how about Unflappable? He has weathered a withering assault of changes in his community, in his health, in his living arrangements, and in his family and somehow managed to keep a smile on his face and joy in his heart.

There is The Bereaved…a man who has somehow coped with his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent death, taking over 100% of the daily care of their two pre-teen children, all while operating his own small business.

Or Enduro… a man who has been dealing with a nagging chronic pain that has interrupted his work, his social life, all of his relationships, and even his ability to just sit down and peacefully watch television or read a book.

And by all means, we can’t forget Steadfast… though people often do.She keeps showing up, day after day, taking on task after task, filling need after need in her town, her church, and her community. She is so reliable that most people just expect to see her there in the middle of whatever is going on, quietly making sure what needs to get done is done… whether she is thanked adequately or not.

Like the superheroes of the Marvel Universe, there is a secret to the powers and strengths of each of these folks, too. In their case, though their superpowers are not the result of the bite of a radioactive spider, a gamma ray explosion, or citizenship in a faraway mythical realm.

No… each of the superheroes I met has found their strength in a powerful formula known as 1633… the passage of scripture that can be found in the gospel according to John, the 16thchapter, 33rdverse. That is where you will find this ironclad promise: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT).

My superheroes know that the author of these words is their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They trust his word completely and know there is NOTHING in life that cannot be dealt with by the application of a little 1633.

Not illness, not pain, not heartbreak, not disappointment, not setbacks, not frustration, not ANYTHING.

And believe me… they have seen it all.

That is why I’ll take Conduit, Unflappable, Bereaved, Enduro, and Steadfastall day, every day over anyone in the Marvel Universe you care to name.

How about you?

05
Mar
18

S is for Serve

(This post is the fourth in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

I hear it when we sit down to eat at a restaurant. “Hi, chauffeurthere! My name is Jean Luc and I’ll be your server tonight.”

I hear it when young men and women volunteer for a stint in their country’s armed forces. They talk about serving their country.

I hear it when someone is thrown in jail. “Joe will be serving a ten-year sentence for armed robbery.”

But honestly, outside of those three settings (and possibly on the tennis court), I can’t tell you that I hear many people using the word “serve” much at all anymore.

Why is that, do you suppose?

Is it because to serve can seem a little demeaning or subordinate? If I serve, I am, by definition, a servant. Aren’t servants the people the rich and famous employ to drive their cars, cook their food, clean their pools, and shine their shoes?

And hey…where is the glamour or power in THAT? You and I are movers and shakers and big fat DEALmakers! The whole idea of serving seems to mean putting the needs and priorities of another person AHEAD of my own.

We don’t want to BE servants. We want to HAVE servants!

But then we hear the persistent, intruding voice of Jesus breaking into our reverie, saying, “… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matt. 20:26-27, NRSV) and we wonder if he might have known something we have missed.

This conversation about serving causes me to think of a woman I once knew long ago. Her name was Susan. Susan worked as a receptionist at a prominent economic development council downtown.

Every time I had a reason to call someone in that office, I got the impression from Susan that there was absolutely nothing in the WORLD that was more important to her than putting me in touch with the person I was calling. If they did not answer their extension, Susan came back on the line and offered to leave her post and try and go track them down in person.

When I told Susan I was fine leaving a message, she assured me that she would do everything in her power to make sure they received my message and returned my call… as soon as possible.

And I have no doubt she did exactly that.

Susan had a true servant’s heart.

Yes, you can say that Susan was just doing the job she was paid to do… and you would be right. But the spirit she brought to that job sent the message to everyone she met that nothing was more important to her than SERVING others.

Susan was no Jesus. But her servant’s heart endowed every phone call with a fresh sort of dignity and worth. Even if I was just calling my friend Jim to invite him to have lunch with me, I hung up the phone feeling revived and energized.

I think the bottom line in all of this is that there IS real power in serving. But it is that peculiar kind of “upside down” power Jesus so famously promoted.

It is the power that comes from giving instead of getting.

It is the power that comes from emptying rather than filling.

It is the power that comes from being all about YOU instead of being all about ME.

And sadly, it is exactly the power that the world seems to be desperately short of these days.

 

Hi. My name is Russell. How can I serve you today?

19
Feb
18

U is for Undaunted

(This post is the second in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

The entire lifetime of Janis Joplin.

The whole of the time encompassing the birth, infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, kindergarten years, elementary school, awkward puberty, high school, initial dabblings in music, endless practice, mastery, brilliance, slogging along, touring, recording, stardom, struggle… the whole ride, all the way up to the tragic and untimely deaths of Janis… or Jimi Hendrix… or Jim Morrison… or Kurt Kobain…

27 years.

Nelson_Mandela-2008Which, as it turns out, is the same amount of time Nelson Mandela spent in jail on Robben Island, and in Pollsmoor and Victor Vester Prisons in South Africa.

Do you remember the moment? Do you remember seeing the live video, via satellite, on the day of his release in 1990?

I do.

I remember the joy exploding from his face… the throngs of adoring South Africans lining the streets, ten deep, calling his name, singing, dancing.

I remember the stoic scowls of the prison officials and guards.

Mandela emerged that day – from Hell – undaunted.

Whole. Unbroken. Unbowed.

27 years??? How is that even possible?

Was Mandela secretly a Marvel superhero… bitten by a radioactive spider… or born on a planet with a red sun in a far-off parallel universe… or charmed by a magic potion?

Or did he just figure out a way to tap into a hidden spring of Something… Something that might live inside every single one of us?

Can I too live undaunted?

Can I tap into the same Source he found?

Or must I first be martyred… unjustly imprisoned… stripped of freedom, dignity, and humanity in order to gain access to the deep wellspring from which Mandela drank?

Or is it mine for the asking?

Can it be found by those seeking release from different prisons; from the prisons of addiction, resentment, fear, or despair?

Is it available to those wounded only by rejection, hostility, loneliness, prejudice, or greed and not by clubs, bullets, and whips?

How deep do my wounds have to be?

How close to death’s doorstep must I crawl in order to taste this True Freedom?

Jesus says, “Yes. You can have it, too… whoever you are.”

Jesus says, “Come to me… for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28).

Yes. We too can live undaunted.




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