Posts Tagged ‘right

19
Apr
22

Blessed Reassurance

“OOO! Teacher! I know! Call on ME!”

Oh, how I loved it. How it used to stir my soul. 

There we were, sitting in our neat rows in Mrs. Olds’ fifth grade classroom. She had just posed a question to the entire class… on which topic I am not sure… and I KNEW THE ANSWER!!

My hand shot up. And from my vantage point toward the back in the row by the door I could see that NO ONE ELSE was raising their hand.

Gazing around, her eyes finally landed on me. “Yes, Rusty?” she ventured. [You see back then, someone had the brainwave that the best way to shorten the name “Russell” was to make it “Rusty”. But please don’t tell anyone.]

I took a deep breath, confidently spoke the answer, and – wonder of wonders – I was RIGHT! The reward for my perspicacity was the prize I most coveted in the world; the smiling approval of my teacher.

Yes, I was pleased by the release of pheromones as the Right Answer materialized in my brain. I also loved that I had the confidence to vocalize that answer in front of a room full of my peers. But the form of compensation that mattered the most to me back in the fifth grade was APPROVAL. And ideally, approval from a person with AUTHORITY. 

I wish I could tell you I have changed dramatically in the 60 or so ensuing years.

But I can’t truthfully say that. Sadly, approval is still a tremendously salient “coin of the realm” for me even as an old guy. 

  • I seek Joan’s approval.
  • I seek my sons’ approval.
  • I seek approval from the members of our Wednesday night Community Group.
  • I seek approval from my server at the restaurant, the Target cashier, my cul-de-sac neighbors, and complete strangers I meet on the street.  
  • Back in the day, I sought approval from my bosses.
  • I sought approval from every congregation I ever served and the District Superintendents I answered to.
  • Heck, I am sure I am seeking YOUR approval even now as I choose the words I write.

And frankly, all this approval seeking is exhausting. It is exhausting because I require every word, every thought, and every action to pass through two distinct and different assembly line/inspection processes before they can manifest themselves in the world.

PROCESS #1: 
What is RIGHT in this moment?

PROCESS #2:

What will gain APPROVAL? From… whoever.

At first, this “disease to please” doesn’t sound like a terrible affliction, does it? A person bent on gaining approval will usually be careful, conscientious, and compassionate in their relationships with others. 

 That much is true. But here is the real pathology that lies behind perpetual people pleasing: it leaves the pleaser with no agenda of his/her own. No vision. No ideal other than the ideals of whomever the pleaser is plotting to please.

And as long as the pleaser’s eyes are fixed on hitting targets in THIS world, success will be a hit or miss kind of thing. But if we turn our eyes to Jesus for a moment, we will learn two things.

First, we will hear him remind us that this dogged pursuit of approval probably falls under the heading of “laying up treasures on earth,” which Jesus once said was a really bad idea. (See Matthew 6:19, NRSV). The problem, he says, is spoilage. A little later in that same sermon, he tries to help us set our sights on a higher, nobler target when he says, “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV). 

The second piece of sound guidance we receive from my man JC is the guidance that reminds us that we already have all the approval we will ever need. In fact, we had it AT OUR BIRTH! And we received it from the Highest Authority possible! 

Once again, we listen to the words from the Sermon on the Mount, where we hear, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. [Or – apropos of this blog post; “… or who will approve of you.”] 

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? [Ed. – “Or your worth as a person more than your co-workers’ approval?”]

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, NRSV). 

I sure hope someone out there today is helped by this reminder. But if not, it was still worthwhile because those were all assurances I needed to hear again myself.

Abundant blessings;

23
Feb
22

A Bad Case of the Neat Freaks

Lincoln Logs toy by K’Nex

“But you’re doing it ALL WRONG!” I yelled at my younger brother… my face turning red, my eyeballs bulging, and little jets of steam curling out of my nostrils.

The subject was Lincoln Logs. The project was trying to build a fort from which our plastic army men could defend themselves against all hostile attackers. His assignment – which I THOUGHT was simple enough to understand – was to build the eastern wall. You know, the one where the army guys would stand on the walkway and shoot over the top.

But instead of using the LONG pieces with four notches in them, he was using the really short pieces with only TWO notches.

It never occurred to me that I might not have explained the assignment clearly enough to him. As far as I was concerned, he was apparently just being intentionally difficult and annoying – like younger brothers always seem to be.

That scene took place at least sixty years ago. My faulty memory might have blurred some of the details of the event itself, but not its essence. What I mean by that is; the Russell of today bears a shockingly (and depressingly) close resemblance to the Russell of 1962 when it comes to keeping track of and compulsively following The Rules

“Things must be done correctly. Rules must be followed. Crumbs must be swept off the counter, suitcases must be packed properly, and Lincoln Log forts must be built the right way,” he says. 

“Otherwise, there will be chaos, confusion, death, and destruction.” 

You’re doing it ALL WRONG!” is not an uncommon phrase for 11-year-olds. But wouldn’t you think it would have disappeared completely from the conversations of most 70-year-olds?

I am sorry to report that this is not at all the case. At least when the 70-year-old we are talking about is me.

Those who follow this blog closely will notice this is not the first time I have opined on this subject. It even came up earlier this year. For some reason, the topic of compulsive rule-following seems to occupy a lot of my brain space. 

Why is that do you suppose? Is it because I suspect there is something more sinister and pathological lurking there below the surface? Is it because I fear I am infected with a more deadly disease than simply a bad case of the Neat Freaks?

What is really going on – in my instant, skin-deep analysis – is that I am trying to pull some version of The Ol’ Switcheroo… that is, I am spending time and energy endlessly campaigning about the rightness of countless miniscule items like the alignment of forks and drinking glasses in order to avoid frying those much larger and more consequential fish… fish like racial justice, systemic poverty, hopelessness, homelessness, addiction, and cruelty.

I mean, there is right. And then there is RIGHT.

Fork aligning and T-shirt folding I can do. 

Righting the wrongs of systemic racism? Waaaaay out of my league.

Mother Teresa was not one to let folks like me off the hook quite so easily. Rather than letting us wring our hands about the impossibility of single-handedly healing the ills of the world, she challenged each of us to, “Do small things with great love.”

Even though she has been through the formal canonization process and all, Teresa might have plagiarized Jesus just a little bit on this one. During one of his famous sermons on the importance of faith, Jesus told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20, NRSV).

Correct napkin-folding, furniture arrangement, driving etiquette, and pet care are not entirely UNIMPORTANT pursuits. “Neatness is as neatness does,” as somebody’s mama (not mine) once said. 

But we should not persuade ourselves that getting these things right exempts us from our Christian call to make sure we get that OTHER stuff right, too.

Abundant blessings;

18
Jan
22

Right vs. Righteous

Like many of the rest of you – just a guess here – I like to be right.

I like to give the right answer, er, question, when I watch Jeopardy.

I believe there is a right way and a wrong way to load the dishwasher. And despite the family friction it causes now and then, I prefer to do it the right way (i.e., MY way).

I like to park the car in the right place, facing the right way, with the right amount of distance between my tires and the curb. 

I like to wear the right clothes… very important with the changeable weather we get around here. 

I like to eat the right foods. I like to say the right things. I like to feel the right feelings, think the right thoughts, believe the right beliefs, take the right actions, and root for the right NFL football team (GO CHIEFS!!)

You know, when I stop to think about it, I am not sure I know anyone who knowingly sets out to be wrong… even when they are.

Sometimes though, the pursuit of BEING RIGHT comes at an extraordinarily high cost. Especially when it comes to trivial things like loading (or unloading) the dishwasher, parking the car, shining your shoes, or cooking rice. Trust me. I have the scars to prove it.

And I suspect Jesus, the Old Testament prophets, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would all hasten to remind us that there is a big difference between being RIGHT and being RIGHTEOUS. The book of Proverbs warns us about this dangerous pursuit, saying, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12, NRSV).

The dictionary defines righteous as: morally right or justifiable: acting in an upright, moral way; virtuousNone of which, you’ll note, has anything to do with whether the tines of all the forks are pointing the right direction in the dishwasher. 

When we spend precious time and energy on being RIGHT, we easily lose sight of the call to righteousness. I don’t want to meet Saint Peter some day and hear him say, “Great job on folding those T-shirts correctly, Russell, but what about the hungry, the homeless, and the outcast gathered there on your doorstep every day? Did you forget about them?”

Isaiah the prophet puts it even more bluntly:

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.”
  (Isaiah 58:9-10, NRSV)

The difference, it seems, between RIGHT and RIGHTEOUS is all about who sets the standards. In broad terms I think it is accurate to say that humans set themselves up as the arbiters of what is right while Goddetermines what is righteous

I am a day late with this post that was originally (believe it or not) intended to be a tribute to Dr. King. But I hope we can all be inspired in our own spheres to continually ask the question Dr. King seemed to set as his North Star: What does righteousness require of me today?

And I am pretty sure the answer has nothing to do with how you load the dishwasher.

Abundant blessings;

19
May
21

Tennis anyone?

Watch out for his wicked backhand!

I am not a huge tennis fan, but I do love watching a good, sustained, competitive tennis volley. Each player is moving to the ball… returning their opponent’s shot with confidence… probing to find the perfect angle to sneak the ball past the opponent… hustling to get in position for the return shot…

It reminds me of a few conversations I’ve had lately.

I am sure you know what I’m talking about. The settings are eerily similar; first, there is something in play, only in the case of the conversation it is a Topic of Mutual Interest (TMI for short) instead of a tennis ball. Second, instead of high-performance rackets, the combatants are wielding Perceptions

Custom-built, finely tuned Perceptions

Back and forth flies the TMI, vigorously batted from one side to the other. Sweat begins dripping down the face of each player as they grunt with the exertion of each stroke. Finally, one player breaks through and hits a screaming, utterly unreturnable shot past the flagging defenses of the person on the other side.

Game. Set. Match. On one side, a winner. On the other, a sad, deflated loser.

Flipping back to the tennis setting, we almost always experience great joy and satisfaction when we are the one standing on the winning side of the net. But when we shift our focus to the playing field of the person-to-person conversation, that moment of victory can sometimes ring a little hollow, can’t it?  

 Let’s all confess this right now, in unison: “I LIKE TO BE RIGHT!”

This is certainly true of me. Anytime a person makes a statement that exhibits deep, factual flaws [statements like, for example, “This whole COVID thing is a sham,” or “I’m really not sure these vaccines are safe, so I’m not getting one.” You know… dumb stuff like that] I feel a compulsion to rush in and set the record straight by lobbing a truth bomb and blowing away such blatant tomfoolery. 

But is that always needed? Are there times when there are higher values to uphold than factual correctness?

The Bible speaks frequently about the need to be “righteous,” (also translated as “right”).  By my quick count, the Good Book uses the words “righteous” or “righteousness” a total of 493 times. God is regularly quoted as saying – in effect – “It’s got to be MY way or the HIGHWAY.”

Jesus’ take on righteousness, in contrast, is markedly different than the one we find in the Old Testament. His call was for a right adherence to not necessarily all 613 commandments of the Torah, but to the Two Great Commandments: love God and love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV). 

Here is what Jesus has to say about the relationship of LOVE and RIGHTEOUSNESS, as he quotes Proverbs 21:3: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13, NRSV).

Being so brash as to interpret Jesus’ direct words to you, he seems to be saying here that he is more concerned with right RELATIONSHIP rather than factual or scriptural rightness. In other words, I think Jesus would be totally cool with you if – while stumbling to quote a passage of scripture accurately – you fed a hungry person. 

Which brings me back to my original question; are there times when you and I need to adhere to a higher value than our need to be right all the time? 

If you are married, you already know the answer to this one.

If you are NOT married, the answer is: YES…. there absolutely are times when you need to bite your tongue, refusing to return that shot for the sake of the relationship. 

Much easier said than done, I’m afraid. 

Abundant blessings;

28
Jan
21

It’s Excavation Time

My friend chuckled. “Sure, I’ve been wrong before,” he said. “I think the last time was in 1993.” He then winked and added, “… but I could be wrong about that.”

And although he meant it as a joke, I wasn’t entirely sure he was kidding.

Many of us – your faithful correspondent included – often have a barnacle-like attachment to a foundational set of Life Truths. Those truths inform our actions, shape the way we receive information, color our relationships with the people we meet, and guide our emotions.

And when a person has attained a certain, shall we say, maturity level, they have a tendency to hold on to those anchors even more tightly. They (we) say, “HEY! I’ve lived a lot of life here… I’ve seen hypotheses come and go… I’ve sorted through a lot of chaff to get to the wheat… I’ve weathered a jillion different trends. I think I have earned the right to plant my flag RIGHT HERE and say loudly and proudly, ‘THIS IS WHAT IT IS!’”

 But… what if they’re (we’re) wrong?

Are we even willing to entertain that possibility? Or is our entire campaign now dedicated to proving the iron-clad soundness of our position? Or, as my friend’s T-shirt proudly declares, “I’m not arguing… I’m just explaining to you why I am right.”

If any of this sounds familiar to you, it is probably because I have just sketched you a picture of the political terrain of the U.S. in the year 2021. 

But it actually goes a little deeper than that. It is not just, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It is more like, “I’m right, you’re wrong, and your wrongness is an ominous threat to my personal safety and well-being.”

There are many well-qualified historians who will explain for you – in detail – how we got to this place. Their analyses are worth paying attention to. Likewise, there are baskets full of sociologists who will describe the mechanisms that help encourage and maintain our current state of political and philosophical Balkanization. 

But you are smart enough already to know that widespread, indiscriminate use of social media is a primary culprit. It is a sad truth that most forms of social media thrive on the silo-ification of the populace.  

The real question today is, “What are we – the people on the street – going to do about it?”

And while it might seem massively unfair that WE should have to be the ones to shoulder the burden of reconciliation, it should be clear by now that our political leaders aren’t going to do it for us… no matter how much they bloviate about things like “unity” and “bipartisanship.” 

Because when it comes right down to it, politicians’ daily bread is buttered by a hostile and divided public. 

That is why I am here to suggest that a simple starting place might be for each of us to develop the willingness to utter the phrase, “You know… I might be wrong about that.”

Oooo! Yuck! It stings my fingertips a little just to type those words out! Imagine the pain of actually SPEAKING them out loud! TO ANOTHER PERSON!!

It’s tough! Because saying those words – and MEANING them – requires us to first do a little excavation. Step One involves unearthing each of the Truth Pillars beneath our life’s foundation. Step Two is pulling them apart and examining each of them with a piercing, objective microscope. And then finally, if we discover that one of those Pillars contains serious structural flaws, we have to summon the moral courage to abandon it… sometimes without even knowing what we are going to replace it with. 

As you can see, this is not work for the faint of heart…

… but it is perfect work for the truly humble of heart. 

The Apostle Paul knew – over 2,000 years ago – that you could be trusted with this vital work. That is why he wrote these words, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NRSV)

And so, if Paul trusts you to do it, why shouldn’t I?

Abundant blessings;

27
May
20

Right? Or Wrong?

In my life, I’ve been wrong about a lot of things.

In the sixth grade, I told Marsha Westbrook I was going to marry her.

As this early 90s photo of me and my dad demonstrates, I once thought pleated jeans were a good idea. 539839E7-47A8-44E9-BA41-B9D7E11477C3

A quick check of my closet will show you that I am still holding on to a bolo tie, a 100% polyester “Chaminade” basketball jersey, and a pair of outdoor soccer cleats; clothing choices as wrong as wrong can be.

On the political front, I am a bit loathe to admit it, but there was a time I believed that trickle-down economics made a ton of sense.

At one point I was also convinced that the field of advertising and public relations was my true calling.

Yes, along the way I have also been right about some things too. I was, for example, spectacularly right about asking Joan to marry me. I was also spot on about confessing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My recommendation that our next car be a Toyota Prius is also looking pretty darned savvy right about now.

True… it might be the same way that a broken clock is right twice a day, but we won’t go there right now.

My interest right now is in looking at what happens to us internally when we are either WRONG or RIGHT about something.

For me, when I experience one of those rare moments of rectitude, I tend to get a bit cocky. I strut and preen a bit, like a prize-winning Rhode Island Red. I may (or may not) have even pantomimed a dropping-the-mic move and intoned the word, “BOOM!” to those around me recently.

In short, being right sometimes pumps up my ego a bit.

Being wrong, on the other hand, humbles me. It cuts me down to size and causes me to re-examine myself and my views. Granted, it often takes a shocking event or dramatic revelation to show me the error of my ways. But it also reminds me that I am not – after all – the end-all, be-all whiz kid I previously imagined myself to be.

As King David of Israel once said, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit…” (Psalm 51:17, NRSV). Not, you will note, “… a guy who consistently nails it.”

I suppose what matters most is being right about the right things. As much as I enjoy saying so, it actually doesn’t matter whether I am right about Patrick Mahomes being the next GOAT of the National Football League. (He will be, by the way).

Being right about the things that really matter is a continuous lesson in humility. Being right about marrying Joan means constantly reassessing my decisions and actions to ensure that they line up with BOTH of our sets of needs, not just mine.

Similarly, when you or I decide to make Jesus Christ the North Star of our lives, we also decide that all of our other values and priorities will be CONSTANTLY challenged. We can no longer, as Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, let our STOMACH (or other worldly appetites) be our god.

From here out, Christ followers have to question the impulse instead of just blindly responding to it.

As I write this, the day is young. I have only managed to get out of bed, walk the dog, dress, and eat breakfast. Most of those, I am proud to say went off without a hitch. There is still a VAST open space ahead in which to make mistakes, big and small.

The good news, however, is that with Jesus at the center, I have the unshakable assurance that my life will not be forever defined by those mistakes.

HALLELUJAH!

 

Abundant blessings;

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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