Posts Tagged ‘responsibility

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.

06
Feb
20

Chew on it

light-bulb-changing“Is this mine to do?”

Sometimes this is an easy question to answer… other times it is surprisingly difficult.

In my experience, it is also a question that most folks do not ask nearly often enough.

I was across town last week, attending a volunteer training session. During one of the morning breaks, I went in to use the restroom. As I entered, the lighting inside the restroom seemed unnaturally dim. It did not take long to see why… one of the two light fixtures was burned out.

After washing my hands, I went to the front desk and reported the issue to the receptionist. “Thanks for letting me know,” she said. “I’ll tell maintenance people about it.”

Later that day – after lunch and during the afternoon break – I once again visited the men’s room. I should note that this was at least four hours after my morning visit.

Once again, the restroom had the same romantic, candlelit ambiance I had experienced during my morning visit. Yes, it would have been the perfect lighting had my wife and I chosen to dine there. But it was not so great for taking care of the actual business at hand.

What to do?

Should I report the problem again? Should I just take matters into my own hands and fix the light myself? I am actually a pretty handy guy and probably could have had it fixed in a jiffy. Or should I just go about my business and trust that the matter would eventually be handled?

In that case, the decision was easy. Fixing the light was NOT mine to do.

In other situations, I find it much more difficult to know what is mine to do and what isn’t.

I have to confess… most of the time I err on the side of over-doing. I have been known to be grossly over-solicitous in my effort to be helpful.

Just ask Joan. It is one thing to bring your spouse a cup of tea in the morning. It is quite another thing to put her half-empty cup and saucer into the dishwasher before she has finished drinking it.

As I have discovered more than once, there is a big difference between helping and doting… or between being compassionate and being unctuous.

I have learned (the hard way) that sometimes the truly compassionate act is to allow the other person to find their own way out of the pickle they are in. If you have ever been a parent you know exactly what I am talking about.

Then there are those other times… the times when I find myself squarely on the other end of the helpfulness spectrum. Those are the times I have been the “Hey! That’s not my job!” guy…

… even when it is.

Jesus regularly spoke in parables and then walked away without elaborating much on their meaning. “Those who have ears to hear, let them listen,” he said on more than one occasion. And yet somehow, the sight of ¾ of his audience standing there scratching their heads did not cause him to alter his approach at all.

“Jesus did not chew people’s food for them,” pastor/author Barbara Brown Taylor once graphically remarked. What she meant – I believe – was that Jesus recognized the value in allowing people to puzzle out meanings for themselves. He likely believed that when folks did some of their own heavy lifting of interpretation, they were far more likely to “own” the results.

 

This is the time in the blog post when I am supposed to wrap it all up with a neat little application illustration… carefully instructing you on how to take this nugget of wisdom and apply it to your own life.

Instead, I think I’ll just end it here and let you chew this one over on your own.

16
Dec
19

Christmas Difference

Christmas PlaceChristmas 2019 is going to be very different for me from most Christmases in my recent memory.

For one thing, Joan and I will celebrate this Christmas in a whole different part of the country. That is because on November 21 we moved from Overland Park, Kansas to Fort Collins, Colorado… as fortune would have it, just two days before the skies opened and dropped fifteen and one-half inches of snow on Fort Collins, Colorado.

Timing is indeed everything.

Christmas in a new town with new neighbors and new community traditions will probably bring an engaging hybrid of emotions of disorientation and intrigue. I am sure there is a lot of similarity in the way Coloradans and Kansans celebrate the Yuletide, but you never know…

This is also going to be our first Christmas in the past 10 years we have not been part of the Christmas Place experience. For the uninitiated, Christmas Place is the name our former neighborhood adopts between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It is the time when all 22 homes on those two perpendicular cul-de-sacs try to outdo one another in sheer electrical voltage drawdown. If you ever saw the movie, Christmas with the Cranks, you know exactly the scene I am describing.

If I sound a little jaded and grinchy about the whole thing, it is probably because I am… a little bit. Putting the lights and displays up in November and taking them back down again in January (or whenever) is a gigantic pain in the butt. On the other hand, the delight our efforts bring to the wider community never fails to dissolve that pain completely away. Tour buses from nearby senior citizen homes and lines of cars stream through Christmas Place every evening just to “OOOO!!” and “AHHHH!!” our handiwork.

This year, however, will be a very different scene at ChezBrown. Our new Fort Collins home will have, A.) a giant wreath hung on the front of the garage, and B.) our large nativity scene in the yard.

That’s it!! (Please don’t tell the folks back in Kansas!)

But the thing that might be the most different about Christmas 2019 will be that for the first time in a really long time, I will not be leading Advent and Christmas Eve worship services anywhere! I will instead be there sitting there in a pew, holding my lovely bride’s hand, participating in a service that someone else has designed and is fretting over the details of.

And I know I will be smiling the whole time.

My heart really goes out to those clergy families who experience the entire Advent and Christmas season as a non-stop flurry of activities, deadlines, obligations, projects, and expectations. It is the usual stress of the holy season times three for these folks.

That is why, knowing that stress and turmoil as intimately as I do, I am really looking forward to experiencing Christmas from the peanut gallery, as it were. This will be a time to see whether I am actually capable of slowing down, breathing deeply, opening my eyes, and soaking in the spirit of the moment instead of feeling the need to frenetically stage-manage a hundred different projects, all building to a climactic crescendo at 12:01 a.m. Christmas morning.

But with all that will be different about Christmas 2019 at our house, I am sure many other things will be exactly the same… foremost among those the time of celebrating God’s greatest gift to the world.

So how about you? What kind of Christmas will Christmas 2019 be for you? Will it be a time of change?… a time of cherished tradition?… a time of epic busyness?… or maybe a time of deep sadness and grief?

And maybe more importantly, how will we each make it a time to recommit our hearts to giving and receiving God’s gift of unconditional, sacrificial love?

18
Mar
19

Freedom cancer

Cancer cellSix months ago, I didn’t know much about cancer.

If I’m being honest, I would have to tell you I didn’t really want to know anything about it. I called it “the ‘C’ word.”

But then September 21 happened. That was the date of my wife received her cancer diagnosis.

I can’t tell you that I know much more about cancer now than I did then, but I have learned a couple of things.

I learned that cancer is cell division gone haywire.

As you probably know, as human beings, we are each giant cell-producing machines. Old cells die and new ones take their place… at the rate of about 100 billion new red blood cells and over 4 million epidermal skin cells every day, just to name two types of these cells.

Cancer describes the situation in which normal, orderly cell division goes awry and cells start dividing in a non-orderly, chaotic fashion. New cells are created that have no correspondence to replacing old cells that have died.

In other words, cancer is a deadly disease process that bears a striking resemblance to a naturally ordained process of the human body. Some gene somewhere deep in the DNA sends an incorrect signal, which causes wacky, willy-nilly cell division.

As I thought about this description, I began to wonder… is it possible there is a similar kind of disease process at work inside the DNA of our culture… especially regarding the FREEDOM gene?

I absolutely believe that freedom is hard-wired into the socio-cultural DNA of human beings. Witness the lengths to which people living in totalitarian cultures will go to be free. Witness the waves of immigration into free, democratic countries. Witness Paul’s statement in Galatians 5:1 – “For freedomChrist has set us free,” or this sentiment a little later reminding us that, “… you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters.”(Galatians 5:13, NRSV).

To be human means to crave freedom.

But here lately it seems we have seen a basic mutation of the freedom gene. “Freedom” seems to have become mutated into “license” and “unfettered self-indulgence… heedless of consequences to others.”

We want to be free to smoke tobacco products, no matter how much second-hand smoke we generate, or how much pressure we put on the nation’s health-care system. We want to be free to ride a motorcycle without crash helmets, or drive cars without seatbelts, no matter how many of us end up in the emergency room.

And of course, we want to be free to own any kind of high-powered automatic or semi-automatic firearm our little heart’s desire… no matter what kind of death and destruction they continue to cause.

I fear we may have entered a time when the cancer of personal license has deformed any idea of “common good” right out of our FREEDOM genome. And sadly, this particular form of cancer seems to be more prevalent in the United States of America than in any other place in the world.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote extensively of the intimate relationship between freedom and responsibility. He talks at length about Jesus Christ freely deciding to bind himself to the lives of those he came to serve… and then set them free as a result.

The American Libertarian writer and politician Harry Browne went a step further when he said, “Freedom and responsibility aren’t interconnected things; they are the same thing.”

If I am to insist that my freedom have no boundaries at all, I am – by definition – asking you to give up a measure of your freedom. I am saying that my freedom to inhale and exhale the smoke of burning tobacco leaves is more important than your freedom to breathe clean air.

And I call that a mutated, cancerous kind of freedom.

Today my wife is taking her last chemotherapy infusion for the cancer that invaded her body. The signs are good that the chemo – and surgery – have done their work and eradicated all signs of this demon from her.

And so we rejoice and thank God.

But I wonder… is there any kind of chemotherapy available for our nation’s “freedom cancer”?

I pray we can find that cure…

… and find it soon.

19
Jan
18

Dudley Do-Right

1-bluemarble_westJudging by the speed with which he sprang into action, I assumed I was about to step on a landmine.

TIME: the morning after Thanksgiving.

PLACE: the kitchen of my son and daughter-in-law’s home in suburban Houston.

Since my son was obviously tied up with the task of making chocolate chip pancakes for the small army of children in the house, I decided to play the role of “helpful Grandpa” and make the coffee.

I walked over, grabbed the pot from the machine, and began filling it from the tap.

That’s when my son bolted from his post at the griddle, yelling “NOOOOOOO!” in a high-pitched, panic-filled voice. Honestly, from his reaction, I thought the baby was about to swallow a Brillo pad.

He ran over, yanked the coffee pot from my hand, dumped out the offending water, and began to sternly lecture me on the RIGHT WAY to make coffee. Which, in his house, meant using the filtered water from the pitcher in the refrigerator.

“Of course,” I thought. “My son is an engineer by trade. So for him, there is a right way to do a thing and a wrong way to do it. And never the twain shall meet… or something like that.”

Personally, I have always been more of a fan of the “right enough” approach to doing things. For example, I don’t sweat it when I notice that the sheet is a little longer on my side of the bed than my wife’s when we make it in the morning. I also tend to just unwrap and hang the ornaments on the Christmas tree… giving zero consideration to which ones I am putting in the higher, more visible locations.

And if I am going to be completely transparent here I will confess to secretly mocking the folks who seem (to me) to be a little too focused on “the right way” to make coffee, make the bed, or hang the Christmas ornaments. In fact, the phrase, “Get a life” may or may not have been mumbled under my breath a few times on these occasions.

HOWEVER – I think we can all agree that there is really only ONE way to hang a roll of toilet paper (over the top), and ONE right way to put on shoes and socks (sock, shoe, sock shoe vs. sock, sock, shoe, shoe). Am I right?

All kidding aside – “upon further review,” as they say in the NFL – I might have to admit that there really IS value in knowing and adhering to “the right way” to do a thing. I, for one, would never consent to heart bypass surgery from a doctor committed to a “right enough” approach (“Yeah… I think we got that vein pretty well stitched on there. It should hold.”), or to driving on a freeway overpass built by a “right enough” structural engineer.

All of which begs the question: is there a “right way” to live our lives? Or are there “right enough” approaches that can also get the job done?

In the creation story, the Bible tells us that for about a day and a half, life on our Big Blue Marble worked absolutely PERFECTLY. Everything was completely in line with the vision of the Creator and hummed along like a well-oiled machine.

And then along came the fly in the ointment: FREEDOM OF CHOICE! (introduced, as the story goes, by the Creator herself!).

Suddenly the sentient beings could choose. They could choose RIGHT, RIGHT ENOUGH, or outright WRONG. And if you continue reading the story you see that more often than not, the SBs (sentient beings) chose WRONG… often spectacularly so. They continued choosing wrong to the point that Creator said of the sentient beings, (and I quote), “I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:8, NRSV)

Wow! Why would Creator do that? Why mess up a perfectly perfect arrangement by introducing choice into the equation?

It’s almost as if Creator is sending the message that the value of FREEDOM TO CHOOSE is an even higher value than ALWAYS CHOOSING THE RIGHT WAY.

It’s like this: sometimes I do right.

Sometimes I do right enough.

Sometimes I do wrong… even knowingly.

But I am deeply grateful for the love of a Creator who trusts me enough to grant me that choice.




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