Posts Tagged ‘significance

26
Apr
21

Your Real Name

As Juliet once famously asked, looking heavenward from her balcony, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

Juliet’s ambivalence on the topic of names is understandable; if her lover Romeo hadn’t been cursed with the surname “Montague,” their affair would have been totally copasetic. 

For the rest of us though, names seem to matter… a LOT!

They connect us to a family history, for one thing. They provide the good folks at Ancestry.com with a healthy revenue stream for another. They give us clues about identities or qualities our parents hoped to instill in us, or perhaps detected in the first hours of our lives. 

Take Hunter, for example. Or Rex (Latin for “king”). Or Linda (Spanish for “beautiful”), or any name with blatant biblical origins such as Ruth, or Deborah, or Paul, or any one of the 12 disciples.

On a personal note, I have been engaged in a lifelong tug-of-war with my feelings about my name. My grandfather’s name was George Clifford Brown. My father’s name was George Clifford Brown, Jr. And for reasons I was never privy to, I got the name George RUSSELL Brown. I guess my dad SORT OF wanted to carry on the family lineage but didn’t want me to be burdened by carrying that oh-so-pretentious “III” through life. 

As a very young guy I decided GEORGE sounded “too adult,” so I went with a shortened version of my middle name. That is why, to all my friends and family thereafter I was RUSTY

That name, however, caused me to become the butt of a Sunday school teacher’s cruel joke. I thought it was a little strange that day when she called on me read a passage from the lesson. The subject of the lesson was the Dead Sea Scrolls and as I read aloud, I read that the author described the scrolls as having, “… a rusty brown color.”

Hardy har har, Mrs. Crompton. At least the rest of the class enjoyed your little stunt.

When my family moved from Ohio to the suburbs of Seattle just before my senior year of high school, I decided it was high time for a rite of passage. That was when I dropped RUSTY and went with RUSSELL.

Then, ten years later, I got my next name surprise. When applying for my first passport, that I discovered I had been misspelling my own name. There, in black and white, on my birth certificate, on the space marked, “Middle Name,” it read: RUSSEL. 

One “L”. Not two. 

Now, thanks to the website, “Behind the Name.com,” (https://www.behindthename.com), I have discovered that the name GEORGE comes from the Greek and means “farmer or earthworker,” while Russell (two “Ls”) is derived from French meaning “little red one.” 

How’s THAT for auspicious? 

Here’s the thing though; at this ripe and maturing age, I am finally at peace with my name. As the jokester once said, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.”

I have also come to learn that there two other names that mean a lot more to me… much more than “Rusty,” or “Russell,” (or “Russel,”) or “George.”

As John the Evangelist tells me in the book of 1 John, I have been given the name CHILD OF GOD; “See what great love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God!”

(1 John 3:1, NRSV). 

And Jesus himself called me the best name of all. He has called me “friend.” He was really talking to his original group of disciples when he said this, but I hear Jesus speaking directly to me in John’s gospel when he says, “… but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15, NRSV).

And you know what? YOU have also received those two awesome names!

How cool is THAT!!

Abundant blessings;

19
Oct
20

Beware the sinister sort!

I apologize if this question is too personal, but I am going to forge ahead and ask it anyway: how is your memory?

I ask because I find that mine is betraying me more these days than it ever has. Joan will mention a conversation we had just recently about some highly germane household subject, and I will reply, “Huh? Are you really sure we talked about that? I don’t remember that conversation at all!”

She will be then forced to prove to me that yes indeed, we really did talk about having chicken for dinner tonight after all. 

I don’t know… do you suppose there could be some kind of crazy correlation between birthdays and hard drive space?

NAAAAAH! Surely not. I can still remember my mother saying to my younger self, “Sometimes I get the feeling that everything I say to you goes in one ear and out the other!”

Of course, ask me to name Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks from the 90s and I won’t miss a beat as I reel off names like DeBerg, Grbac, Moon, Gannon, Bono, and of course, the inimitable Joe Montana. I can tell you the name of Sky King’s airplane (the Songbird), Pat Kelly’s jeep (Ol’ Nellybelle) and the clown on Howdy Doody (Clarabelle) without turning once to Google.

Yes, scientists will actually validate that as we grow older, our brains lose some of their elasticity and with it the ability to hold on to certain key pieces of information.

Or maybe we all become like that kid in the Doonesbury cartoon who raised his hand in the middle of class and said, “Teacher… may I please be excused? My brain is full.”

Maybe there is something else going on. Something deeper… more sinister… something with more relationship-damaging potential. 

Maybe we (I) forget things because we (I) have engaged in SORTING. That is, sorting information into the categories of IMPORTANT vs. UNIMPORTANT. Then, once appropriately sorted, we (I) hang on to the tidbits we (I) decide are worth hanging on to and chuck out everything else, just like old potato peelings. 

Sorting behavior is troubling because it reveals uncomfortable truths about what I put into the “important” or “unimportant” hoppers. It would tell me, for example, that my priority system considers TV and football trivia to be more valuable to retain than information about the smooth operation of my household. 

Or maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe someone more conversant with senior brain health can set me straight on the real cause of why I remember what I do and forget everything else.

In the light of that conversation, however, isn’t it simply AWESOME to take this moment and celebrate the fact that God doesn’t SORT? How amazing to recall that our Creator doesn’t use those IMPORTANT and UNIMPORTANT baskets to toss things – or people – into? I love being reminded of the sacred worth of “all creatures, great and small” under God’s economy?

 The psalmist tells us: “The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him…”
         (Psalm 103:15-17, NRSV)

Jesus echoes the same theme when he says to the people gathered around him, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs on your head are numbered.” (Matthew 10:29, NRSV).

Today, if you find yourself engaged in a never-ending search for significance, I have some really, really Good News for you: your search is OVER!

YOU MATTER! In fact, you matter more than you can possibly imagine. 

That is because you matter infinitely to the One who created you. 

And I really don’t think it is possible to be more important than that.

Abundant blessings;

30
Mar
20

Am I Essential?

Jigsaw puzzle piecesOn March 25, the governor of Colorado issued an official, legally binding, mandatory, “Stay at Home” order to try and help stop the spread of the COVID-19 disease that is now ravaging the country.

As retired persons, this order did not really require much of a change for Joan and me. “Stay at home” is a pretty accurate description of our daily routine anyway.

For others I know, this order represented a tsunami of upheaval. Schools have been closed. Jobs and income have been cut off. Panic and uncertainty about the future abound.

In reading over the text of the Governor Polis’ March 25 statement, one phrase stuck out to me in particular. It was the phrase that said, “Unless you work for a critical business or are doing an essential activity, you should stay home.”

The governor’s office did not follow that statement with detailed guidance that might help citizens know if their business is indeed “critical” or if their activity is “essential.”

A couple of days after the “Stay at Home” order, for example, a great debate ensued about whether gun stores could be legitimately classified as “essential businesses.” For people on both sides of the discussion, it was crystal clear that the verdict should fall their way.

Thinking back over my somewhat checkered work history, I seem to remember various bosses working to assure me that the function I was performing was both “essential” and “critical” to the health and well-being of the operation. “Yes, Russell… I know that screwing those caps on those bottles SEEMS like dull and pointless work to you, but let me assure you – it isn’t. That mindless work you are doing is ESSENTIAL to our company’s mission. And besides, we are paying you to do it, so there’s that…”

Does anyone really want to think of their work as uncritical or non-essential? According to the article that has received the most requests for reprinting in its nearly 100-year history, the Harvard Business Review tells us that the #1 motivator of people in their work is a “… sense of significance.” In other words, people seek some assurance that their work actually matters somehow to someone.

My sister-in-law works in a toy store in the Portland, OR area. Some of you might be tempted to say, “Who needs toys in the middle of a pandemic? Surely that is a non-essential business.” But they are selling – by phone and web orders only – a TON of puzzles for quarantined Oregonians desperately in need of a diversion from the virus.

The truth is, each of us is essential. Each of us matters. No matter what kind of work we do – or don’t do – we are each creatures of infinite value. That is why the loss – or the discounting – of any one of us is so cosmically tragic. The great Puzzle of Life is diminished when any piece is lost.

That value I speak of is not conferred upon us by our job descriptions, our family ties, our education levels, our special skills, our social connections, or our net worth. Your significance was conferred on you at birth by the One who first breathed the breath of life into your nostrils.

Seeking to assure his first-century audience on this same subject, Jesus said to them, “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?” (Matthew 6:26, NRSV).

I don’t think there was a Coronavirus outbreak happening when he said this, but Jesus looked deeply and saw the unrest in his listeners’ hearts. He knew that the poor, Jewish peasants of 34 A.D. Israel needed the same kind of assurance that we middle-class 2020 Americans are seeking; the assurance that our lives really do count for something.

And so even if you work today in a business that has been stamped with the scarlet letter “N” (for non-essential), take heart…

You matter where it matters most.

Abundant blessings to you and yours;

09
Dec
19

Does it really matter?

Lutheran crossWe interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this breaking news: Joan and I attended church yesterday.

But not just any church. We attended a (wait for it…) LUTHERAN CHURCH!

And after the service, we turned our heads, looked at each other, and said, nearly simultaneously, “Hey… that was really nice! We should come here again.”

The reason this qualifies as headline breaking news is that I have considered myself a dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool United Methodist for as long as I can remember. It is the faith I was born into, confirmed in, married in (twice), and ordained to preach in.

The origin story of the Methodist movement – midwifed into the world by brothers John and Charles Wesley – speaks to my soul. Its liturgies and worship styles comport with my ecclesial leanings perfectly… just enough ritual “pomp” to signify the gravitas of the worship moment, but not so much as to be suffocating. Its heritage of social justice advocacy resonates with the guidance of my own conscience.

There are so many things about the United Methodist way of being a Jesus follower that strike exactly the right tone with me. And yes, I am of the generation to whom denominational labels actually mean something.

And yet… the recent behavior of my “home” denomination has caused me to question whether the United Methodist Church really deserves my permanent allegiance.

Faced with the destinal (and yes, I am declaring that this IS a real word) moment of planting itself wholly on the side of justice and letting the institutional chips fall where they may, United Methodism waffled.

Rather than choosing to forge a polity that said, “All means all,” leaders of the church instead chose to say, “Let’s just fashion this really big, morally beige umbrella where those who support inclusion and those who oppose it can all exist under it together. Let’s keep the family together, no matter what kind of pain that inflicts on the children.”

So that is one HUGE reason I am a lot less infatuated with United Methodism these days.

And honestly, I am also still stinging from a world of hurt that was inflicted upon me at the end of my next-to-last appointment. If you know anything about church life, you know there is always a lot of pain being inflicted at any given moment… some intentional, some not. For me, the wounds were deep and lasting and still bring a sour taste to my mouth when I think about the place where it all happened.

I guess the question I find myself faced with in the end is: does it really matter?

That is, does it really matter if I call myself a United Methodist follower of Jesus, or a Lutheran follower of Jesus, or a Seventh Day Adventist follower of Jesus, or a “Frisbiterian” follower of Jesus (this is a sect invented by a Frisbee-throwing friend of mine who posited that when we die, our souls just fly up and get stuck on the roof)?

I think we can all agree that the answer is no… it really doesn’t matter.

In fact, if we look closely at the evidence in scripture, it would be hard to find evidence that Jesus himself had any real preference for how we might choose to follow him. When he said (in John 14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” I believe he was more inviting us to emulate his relationship with God rather than subscribe to a set of formal religious doctrines.

Our journey from “the one Church, apostolic and universal” to today’s eleventy-billion shades of the Christian faith does a lot to promote the understanding that choosing a faith community is all about finding the right “fit”.

But is “fit” really “it”?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But it sure is hard to stay on the journey when you’ve got blisters on your feet.

26
Feb
18

S is for Significance

two-sparrows(This post is the third 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.)

JOAN: (my spouse of 18 years and winner of the Nobel Prize for Longsuffering and Patience) “What’s wrong, honey?” she turned toward me and asked… a concerned look creasing her brow.

ME: (yet again, playing dumb… a part I have mastered through many years of diligent practice). “Nothing. Why do you ask?”

JOAN: “That sigh you just made. It sounds like something is bothering you.”

ME: (wracking my brain to recreate each detail of the past five minutes… recalling that, yes indeed I DID sigh audibly just a moment ago, and yes indeed, there IS something troubling me… all the while wondering how she does that…) “Well, I guess I am a little worried about the meeting coming up at church tomorrow. I’m afraid things might get a little messy and I’m not sure how I’m going to handle it when they do.”

… all of this then followed by a probing and thoughtful conversation about the issues in play, my personal dilemma, challenges facing the church, and possible solutions.

It really was a great conversation… one that ultimately helped me through a very difficult passage. It also further solidified the truth of the thesis that I married way UP when I married this lady.

It was also a conversation that might never have happened at all… absent Joan’s ability to see the SIGNIFICANCE of something as small and barely audible as my involuntary exhalation of breath.

All of which causes me to wonder: how do we draw the line between significant and insignificant in the world around us? And what do we mean by the word SIGNIFICANCE anyway? The New Oxford American Dictionary offers this definition: “The quality of being worthy of attention; importance…”

Based on that definition I have to ask: Where might I find the standard used to measure the “importance” or “worthiness of attention” of anything? Is it purely a subjective yardstick or is there some universal standard? Case in point: a complete stranger, hearing the same sigh Joan heard, might not have attached any significance to it at all.

In today’s wonderful world of social media, we say that a topic is “trending” when it catches the attention of some critical mass of people in the Twitter-verse. Then and only then is that topic considered SIGNIFICANT and worthy of our collective attention.

But then what does that metric say about ME? Or YOU? Can either of us be considered significant if we lack vast armies of Twitter followers or Facebook Fans?

Maybe that explains why we hear about so many young people with a burning ambition to “be famous”. Maybe it is their way of saying, “I want to know that I actually MATTER in the world.”

I am part of a faith tradition that tells me my life is highly significant… even lacking 50,000 Twitter followers or my own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Addressing the topic of personal significance, Jesus once famously comforted a group of people – each of whom had far fewer than 100 Facebook friends – by saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NRSV).

This, my friends, is TRUTH, in all caps.

You matter. More than you can possibly know. God said so.

This divine reminder of the worth of ALL persons is one part of the reason I chose to make the word SIGNIFICANCE part of my name acrostic.

I also chose this word as a way of reminding myself to keep my eyes and ears peeled for the hidden significance in the world around me. I want to know what that glance meant, or how that rock came to be exactly THERE, or how this street got its name, or how many hours it took to build this chair.

Including the word SIGNIFICANCE also carries (for me) an inherent moral obligation to guard against dismissing any person (or their viewpoint) as “insignificant” or unworthy.

I am sure this is all part of the burden and blessing of being an artist; their heightened state of alertness to meaning and significance and nuance is great fodder for their work. But I’m sure it also makes it hard to just “turn off” for a bit and enjoy a little therapeutic mindlessness.

So yes… I am significant. I celebrate that.

You are significant. I acknowledge and appreciate that.

The world around us is both significant and magnificent and a mystery waiting to be explored.

I love that!




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