Posts Tagged ‘strength

09
Mar
19

Repentance Muscle

“From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”(Matthew 4:17)

Muscle builderMost of us have muscles that can use a little strengthening.

Maybe it’s a bicep to allow you to do a little heavier lifting, or a deltoid for a little faster throwing of a baseball, or maybe you need a stronger glute for whatever it is glutes help you do.

Personally, I could stand some stronger hamstrings. Mainly because I keep pulling the ones I have now.

As I was preparing for the arrival of the season of Lent the other day, I encountered another muscle of mine that appears to be in EXTREMELY flabby condition.

This muscle needs some serious building up, starting right NOW.

It’s my REPENTANCE muscle.

I decided that building up the repentance muscle is exactly the purpose of the church’s observance of the season of Lent.

So what does that mean, exactly? And how does one do that?

REPENTANCE is a churchy-sound word for a very basic human practice. It is about stopping… recognizing that you have wandered off your chosen (or necessary) path… turning around… and heading back in a better direction.

For example, I was driving along a little two-lane country road the other day which had a posted speed limit of 55 mph. I glanced down at my speedometer and saw that it read 71. So my act of repentance was to ease off the accelerator and bring the little Prius down to a more reasonable 62.

Writing is another activity that involves a lot of repentance. We tap out some keys in a sequence that seems to make sense, step back, read it, and say, “EGAD! That’s a bunch of hogwash!” We then work to make the needed corrections. Or sometimes we repent by throwing out the work completely.

So how does one BUILD UP one’s repentance muscle?

I mean, what do you do with any of your other muscles if you want to strengthen them? You put extra STRESS on them for a limited time, right? You overload them in a measured way, under supervision, let them rest, and then do it again.

Then gradually, the exercise physiologists tell us, the muscle becomes stronger.

And so there I was… sitting there thinking about what Lent was really supposed to be about (because pastors do that kind of stuff), and the light bulb suddenly clicked on! Maybe THAT’S the real point of all this fasting, praying, meditating, journaling, and reflection we do during Lent!

Maybe Lent is the “spiritual gym” where we really focus on getting that repentance muscle whipped into shape.

And like any good exercise program, it doesn’t really work if you focus on it once and then ignore it for the next 364 days. It has to become a regular part of your life! It has to shape and re-energize the way you go about everything else you do.

I mean, sure, a handful of potato chips would really hit the spot about now. But (grunt!) do I really need it? (Sweat!)

(Ugh!) Naaa. Probably not.

05
Mar
19

Confessions of a human punching bag

Boy cryingIf memory serves, sixth grade was the last time I was ever in a genuine fistfight.

It was a hot summer day. As usual, I was at the community swimming pool with my friends splashing, diving, and horsing around. When suddenly, out of the clear blue sky another kid started dunking me. A total stranger, no less! And yet somehow this kid seemed to conclude that it would be a lot of fun to start pushing MY head underwater.

I was not particularly big in the sixth grade, but I was definitely wiry. As I recall, I eluded the bully pretty well and managed to slip in a couple of devious dunks of my own.

Like many bullies, he did not appreciate my guile at all. After yet another successful (and embarrassing) dunk I heard him grunt and say, “Let’s take this outside.”

Meaning outside the gate of the swimming pool.

Meaning into the parking lot.

Meaning to engage in an honest-to-goodness fistfight in front of crowds of our friends.

Of course, I took him up on it… despite having absolutely no clue how to fight and being five inches shorter and – probably – 20 pounds lighter than this guy.

And yes, it was exactly as bad as you might be imagining. The guy apparently knew what he was doing because I took a beating. The only thing that stopped him from continuing to pound the snot out of me was when one of the lifeguards saw the fight (if you can call it that) and came out and broke it up.

Since that day I have successfully avoided all opportunities to serve as anyone’s human punching bag…

…that is until this past week.

Or at least that is how I am choosing to describe my experience of recent events in my life.

The unusually cold and snowy winter here has dealt me a few vicious body shots. And just when it seems we might have turned the corner on winter, new snowfalls and single-digit temperatures arrive.

I’ll never trust Punxatawney Phil again!

My wife’s current round of chemotherapy has come with a much more punishing set of side-effects this time… which sort of knocks the wind out of me, too.

Last week, my denomination made the decision to turn its official, worldwide policy in the direction of harsh judgment and exclusion rather than Christ-like love (which you can read about here). That connected with me like a powerful right cross to the jaw.

And then, to top it all off, on Wednesday I was jolted by the jarring uppercut of a massive head cold.

Waaaaa!

I really wanted to respond to this past week by doing exactly what I did in the sixth grade; I wanted to run home to my mom, have her wash the blood off my lip, hold me in her arms, and say, “There, there… you’re OK. Everything’s going to be alright.”

But then I heard Kassem’s story. On a radio program called Snap Judgment, Kassem told what it was like to live inside the country of Syria. He talked about living with the hourly reality of falling bombs, scrounging for any kind of food – delighted to find a handful of grass to eat – and hearing the wails of starving children wherever he went.

His story went into excruciating detail about barely surviving a Sarin gas attack but having to watch friends and neighbors suffocate and die right in front of him.

And as I drove along and listened, I wept for Kassem. And I realized I had no clue what it means to be truly beaten up by the world. And I wondered to whom he turns for comfort and solace in the middle of that kind of hell on earth?

Next year it will be 50 years since my mother has been physically available to embrace me, dry my tears, and tell me not to worry… and assure me that everything is going to be OK.

But before she left us, she helped me figure out the best way to gain comfort during those times when it feels like the punches are coming from every direction.

She pointed me to the words of Jesus and his reminder of life’s reciprocity principle: “… give, and it will be given to you…. for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”(Luke 6:38, NRSV).

Need soothing? Dish up a little soothing to a troubled friend.

Need reassurance? Find somebody that needs it and give them some.

Need peace? Give peace.

Thanks, mom. I really needed that.

11
Jun
18

INDIVISIBLE

Indivisible banner artAll that hard work for the last three months… and suddenly POOF! it’s done.

As I write this, I have just finished singing with the Heartland Men’s Chorus in a concert called, “INDIVISIBLE: Songs of Remembrance and Resistance.”The weekend included one Saturday night and one Sunday afternoon performance at the Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

The concert consisted of two halves: the first half featured the world premiere of a series of songs telling the story of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. As you may or may not be aware, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in Washington, D.C. in March 1921 to the memory of those who died in that First World War without ever being recognized or identified. This piece of music was written because this year – 2018 – marks the 100thanniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.WETU photo 1

As we rehearsed this moving and powerful music over the past three months, members of the chorus had an opportunity to talk with a soldier who actually served as one of the guards (they call themselves “sentinels”) at the Tomb.  His testimony of standing by that tomb in the darkness of early dawn with no visitors around was very poignant.  The special bond he said he felt with that soldier who served, fought, and died, all without any kind of recognition touched each of the Chorus members deeply.

The half of the concert was the Songs of Remembrance part. Members of the Soldier’s Chorus of the U.S. Army Choir sang the oratorio with us.

The second half of the concert was the Songs of Resistance segment. It included an ensemble singing Michael Jackson’s hit, Man in the Mirror. We also performed a recently written piece called This Grass, recounting the recent controversies in Charlottesville, VA and elsewhere over the removal of statues dedicated to soldiers of the Confederate army.

But the most difficult piece – both to perform and to listen to – was a number called The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.  In an incredibly creative and provocative arrangement, the verbatim last words of African-American men killed by police officers since 1999 were set to music. There was Trayvon Martin’s voice saying, “What are you following me for?”,Michael Brown pleading, “I don’t have a gun! Stop shooting!”,Eric Garner gasping for breath, pleadingly saying, “I can’t breathe!” and four others.

WETU photo 2The one that I always struggled to sing without openly sobbing was the part of Amadou Diallo. When he was shot and killed in February 1999 in New York City, his last words were, “Mom, I’m going to college.”

It was an incredible concert to be in and – according to my wife – to watch. I loved the music… I loved the staging… I loved the emotion it generated… but what I probably loved most was the title: INDIVISIBLE.

This single word speaks Truth and fills me with hope. It boldly declares that we cannot be divided… despite the best efforts of some to divide and isolate on the basis of color, gender, sexuality, or any other criteria. It speaks of a strong, deep bond in the core of our souls. It defiantly raises a fist and says a loud “NO!” to the forces working actively to pull people apart because of their differences.

And even though it involved three months of damned hard work to learn this music and commit it to memory, I am really sorry to see it end. I wish we could sing this concert in every city in every state. I want to remind TONS MORE folks that our differences are the MORTAR that holds the bricks of our country together… it isn’t some kind of menace or aberration. From the earliest days, we have always understood that the strength of our country is our diversity.

Fortunately, for folks in the Kansas City area, our local ABC television affiliate, KMBC, produced and will air a special documentary on the making of the concert. You can see it on June 20 at 9:00 p.m.

For everyone else I would just ask: take that word – INDIVISIBLE– grab it with both hands… hold it tightly to your chest… let it fill your heart with courage and your spine with steel.

It really is who we are.

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?

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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