Posts Tagged ‘vision

04
Jul
22

Forward or Backward?

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July.

Celebrating this holiday has rarely ever been a question for me. I mean, who wouldn’t jump at the chance for a day off, a backyard BBQ, a frosty cold adult beverage, all topped off by watching a display of loud, colorful fireworks. 

But something is different this year. 

Something seems psychically, spiritually, and certainly politically out of whack here on July 3, 2022.

My blogger idol Mitch Teemley (find his thoughtful work here) has jarred my consciousness about what it means for anyone… but ESPECIALLY a follower of Christ… to engage in this national festivity. 

We have all witnessed the way this date can easily become a jingoistic bacchanalia of flag-waving excess, raising this nation onto the altar in place of the One God, in the meantime willfully turning a blind eye to the violent and blood-stained chapters of our national story.

Mitch has forced me out of my sleepwalk and invited me to confront this question: What is it exactly that I am celebrating when I celebrate the Fourth of July? 

  • Am I celebrating the publication of the document that declared this nation’s independence from its overbearing British parent? 
  • Am I celebrating the IDEA of a nation “… of the people, by the people, and for the people,” where all are created equal, with preference accorded to none? 
  • Am I celebrating everything this nation is today… warts and all?

And finally, is it even possible to celebrate the IDEA of the nation without acknowledging its shortcomings and monumental moral failures? 

First, as a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, I must remember that I am called to a Higher Citizenship than the citizenship of any particular nation-state. Jesus reminds me that God’s kingdom – that I pray will come, “… on earth as it is in heaven…” – is the only kingdom worthy of my ultimate allegiance. 

Jesus helped us keep these priorities in order when he said: “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, NRSVU). 

But what ARE “… the things that are Caesar’s”?

For example, do I owe “Caesar” (i.e., the political power structures of my country) my unquestioning loyalty? Do I owe “Caesar” silence in the light of injustice? Do I owe “Caesar” the benefit of the doubt? Do I owe “Caesar” a joyous birthday celebration that conveniently glosses over damage being done today (in “Caesar’s” name) to women, people of color, disabled people, people living in poverty, people denied access to education, and numerous other disenfranchised groups?

Jesus’ words also remind me that those who aspire to follow him are called to be instruments of justice wherever and whenever they encounter injustice. “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NRSVU). 

Which, it seems to me, applies even when “Caesar” is the instrument of injustice. 

Frankly, I am torn. I don’t ever remember being this ambivalent about celebrating the Fourth in my life. I have heard some people say, “My country, right or wrong.” I have heard other people say, “Today, I am NOT proud to call myself an American.”

I waver back and forth between those two wildly oppositional poles.

I suppose I could choose to ignore my distress and say, “What the heck. This day is all about the fireworks, beer, and BBQ. Don’t overthink it, bruh.”

Or maybe… just maybe…

I could find a way to COMPLETELY and RADICALLY reframe this holiday. Maybe even give it a new name! 

Hear me out! What if… instead of making this a BACKWARD-LOOKING celebration that forces me to conveniently ignore things like slavery, and the extermination of the First Inhabitants, and similarly ugly chapters, what if I choose to make this a FORWARD-LOOKING celebration? A FORWARD-LOOKING celebration that is about claiming a bold promise for a just and truly compassionate nation?

What if… to cement this FORWARD-LOOKING theme in place a little more solidly… what if instead of calling it the FOURTH of JULY, we call it the FORTH of JULY?? You know… the day when we GO FORTH to work hand-in-hand to create that “shining city on a hill” our Founders envisioned? 

And what if we do that as an expression of our allegiance to Jesus and his vision of God’s kingdom where, “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” enjoys justice, peace, security, and life in equal measure with all other citizens?

What if… 

Now THAT is something I’d shoot off a firework or two about.

Abundant blessings;

25
Jan
22

Clarifying

I remember the first time I got glasses.

I was in my mid-teens… maybe 14 or 15.

Up until that moment, I was pretty satisfied with my view of the world. I mean, sure, there were times when I mistook a “Q” on a street sign for an “O” or a “D.” Or when I had to really squint to see the names of the flavors at the Helen Hutchley’s ice cream store. 

Otherwise, I felt as if I saw the world around me with enough clarity to navigate the tasks of a typical teen’s day.

And so, when mom piped up one day and said, “Rusty, I think we need to go get your eyes checked,” I was mildly miffed.

“Why?” I asked, barely concealing my annoyance. “My eyes are fine.”

And if you are a glasses-wearer yourself, you know how the rest of this story goes. After enduring all the tests at the optometrist’s office and finally being fitted with my first pair of dorky glasses, I was absolutelyDUMBSTRUCK! I believe the first words out of my mouth when I put them on were, “Holy CRAP!” earning me an instant reprimand from both of my folks.

I simply could not believe how much clearer the world around me was. It was a true night and day difference! Several times I pulled the glasses off, put them back on, and pulled them off again, just to experience the astonishing before-and-after contrast. 

I was similarly amazed at how accustomed – and accepting – I had become to my prior, blurred view of life. 

And today, as I count off yet another trip around the sun, I am reflecting on how many times since then I have had that exact, same experience. 

Not with my VISION, but with my PERCEPTION

How many times – I wondered – have I gradually accommodated one way of seeing the world? How easy has it been for me to say over the years, “The way I am seeing the world right now is FINE! I don’t need to test it! Go away!”

And then how many times have I met a loving – or maybe just a persistent and forceful – voice saying, “No. You need some correction. Come. Let’s get you some help.” [Except later, that loving/persistent voice called me “Russell” instead of “Rusty.”]

You would be correct to say, “That’s what spouses are for!” You would also be correct to say, “That is what a connection to the Living God is for!”

The truth is, every one of us can fall prey to one of these four, common vision-distorting syndromes in our lives.

  • MYOPIA. Or near-sightedness. That is, seeing only the things that are closest to us and ignoring anything beyond our immediate environment.
  • HYPEROPIA. Or far-sightedness. This is the polar opposite of myopia. It means seeing everything except that which is right there in front of your nose. 
  • PRESBYOPIA. No. This does not refer to the eyesight of Presbyterians. It is the age-related diminishing of clear eyesight. You will know that presbyopia is involved when you hear the phrase, “Well, we’ve always done it that way, and it’s been fine.”
  • ASTIGMATISM. My optical guide defines astigmatism as, “… a condition marked by an irregularly shaped cornea. This irregularity impacts the way light is focused on the retina, causing distorted, blurred vision across all distances.” As you well know, the cornea is the outermost layer of the eye. In that sense, it is the gatekeeper of all light that you encounter. And when your gatekeeper is out of whack, everything else is, too.

As it turns out, the Bible has a couple of great things to say about the importance of good optical health. The writer of Proverbs said, “Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” (Proverbs 26:12, NRSV). Sort of speaks to that whole “fallibility of perception” thing, doesn’t it?

Later, Jesus said this: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34, NRSV). 

As I scan the calendar, I see that it is just about time for my annual eye exam. While I’m at it, do you think I could also find a place to schedule a perception check-up? 

Abundant blessings;

17
Dec
20

Trusting the Master Mapmaker

I am not exactly sure when it started, but for a very long time I’ve had a deep fascination with MAPS.

I remember my very real excitement when – at the age of eight or nine – my grandfather handed me a folded, paper map and asked me to navigate as he drove us to the location of our family picnic. 

Of course, the first thing I had to do was turn the map so that it was pointed in the same direction we were driving. But once I got that part figured out, I reveled in being able to say, “OK, grandpa… we have to turn left at the next road we see.”

Oh the POWER!

I think the thing that fascinated me the most about maps was trying to figure out just exactly how they were drawn in the first place. I mean, how can something as HUGE as the entire state of Ohio be accurately drawn on a piece of paper the size of my Big Chief notebook? How was anyone – especially in the days before airplanes – able to draw an accurate picture of exactly how much that river squiggled or exactly where that coastline took a 90-degree bend to the west?

The only reference point I had to the world around me was the stuff I saw right in front of my eyes. It was mystical beyond comprehension how anyone could create a total, unified picture of how everything beyond that fit together.

To be honest, I still find it pretty mystical. 

[And I might or might not just be talking about maps here.]

Later in life, I also realized that successful map use also requires a great deal of TRUST. This is true whether we are talking about paper maps, (yes, Dorothy… there really was once such a thing), or our handheld Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems. When the voice – or the map – says, “Turn left in 500 feet,” we have to trust that this advice is really taking us in the direction we want to go.

All of this brings to mind a section in the book of Job. In case a refresher is needed, Job was the famously faithful man in the Old Testament that God agreed to “test.” And by TEST, I mean visit every possible affliction imaginable on (including putting up with the advice of well-meaning, but misguided “friends”) to see how his faith held out. 

SPOILER ALERT: Job passed the test…

… but not before expressing some serious doubts about whether God actually knew what God was doing. You know, a little like you and I might be tempted to do during a time of global pandemic, political unrest, severe economic distress, personal loss and hardship, and winter.

God listens patiently to Job’s complaint and then replies. Actually, God’s reply covers three entire chapters of the book, so I will just include this tiny snippet here:

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
    I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?’”
                               (Job 38:1-7, NRSV)

I always thought God sounded a little snarky there, but Job got the message… LOUD AND CLEAR. The Master Mapmaker sees and knows the Big Picture… because he CREATED IT!

You and I see only the tiniest slice of reality and from that we draw global, all-encompassing – and usually incorrect – conclusions. Job finally learned that when he trusted the facts that 1.) there IS a map and 2.) that map is totally trustworthy. 

Job was at last able to gaze upon his tiny slice of the known universe and find real joy in it… even when the picture he saw looked gloomy.  

Hopefully I am learning a similar lesson from these fraught, frightening times. Hopefully I am becoming more able to see both the Big Map and the Small Beauties…

… and finding joy in both.

Abundant blessings;

21
Jan
19

The Power of Commitment

mlk in prayerIt is admittedly a little odd to peer inside my head today and see the two things taking up most of the space there:

  • The Kansas City Chiefs football team, and…
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Chiefs are there because they lost a heartbreaking game to the New England Patriots last night. In so doing, they missed their chance to go to their first Super Bowl in 49 years.

I attended the game in person with my sons and was on my feet in the cold, yelling myself hoarse from beginning to end.

Dr. King is in my head because today is his day. It is the third Monday of January… the day set aside as a national holiday to honor the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.

I never imagined I would be saying this, but as I sat and listened to a radio documentary on Dr. King’s last march, it struck me that there just might be similar lessons to be gleaned from these two HUGELY dissimilar sources.

In each case, for example, we witness what can happen when a powerful and compelling VISION is raised before a group of people. Yes, of course, a vision of full civil rights and human dignity for African-Americans and a vision of a Super Bowl championship are as different as artichokes and bicycles.

Both quests – however – begin with a vision… a vividly clear picture of a preferred future that calls every person to work together to get there.

Visions excite. Visions motivate. Visions unify. Visions help people sort actions into “essential” and “non-essential.”

Major undertakings simply do not happen without a vision to kick-start them.

And then, once a vision has been raised and people rally behind it, steps are taken toward an OUTCOME. And so outcomes are the next place I see possible parallels between Dr. King and the Chiefs.

My Chiefs fell short of their desired outcome. They lost 37-31 in overtime to the *%#! New England Patriots. Despite a phenomenal regular season, they will not be participating in Super Bowl LIII. That is not to say the season was a total waste. Many great things happened to the Chiefs in the months since NFL play officially began on September 9, 2018.

At the time he was assassinated, Dr. King had a deep uncertainty about the state of racial justice in this country. Historians tell us that he was regularly plagued by self-doubt about his leadership and whether his efforts were making even a small dent in the toxic cloud of racism that spread over this country.

When he died, Dr. King was tired and despondent – especially about the state of the sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. He had traveled there to advocate on their behalf, to gain higher pay and improved working conditions. In fact, in his famous speech the night before his assassination on April 4, 1968, King told his audience that even though he had “been to the mountaintop” and gotten a glimpse of a bright and just future, he had to confess that, “… I might not get there with you.”

It reminded me that sometimes in life we can have visions, we can make plans, we can work hard, taking all of the necessary steps toward the desired outcome, leaving no stone unturned, rallying scores and scores of supporters… only to see our dream elude our hopefully grasping hands.

In our disappointment, it is frequently easy to overlook the value of the journey. When we notice we are not standing at the peak of that mountain it can be tempting to call our quest a failure. We look to find an external “villain” so we can point an accusing finger of blame at them and say, “If only…”

But if we allow ourselves to stay stuck in the trough of that disappointment, it is too easy to miss the golden moments that appear along the way.

The journey to Super Bowl victory is an arduous one… requiring much hard work and sacrifice. But it IS attainable. The journey to Dr. King’s mountaintop where people are judged, “… not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character…” might – sadly – be everlastingly elusive.

But my prayer today is that the difficulty of any quest might never be the reason to avoid the journey.

I have no idea what the primary “driving energy” for professional football players really is. Money? Fame? Status? Pride of achievement? It probably varies from one player to the next.

As we know, Dr. King was motivated by the Good News of Jesus Christ and he stoked the fires of his daily energy with prayer. He took the words of the psalmist very much to heart and lived by this guidance, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5, NRSV).

Today may we each dare to embrace a bold vision of life, and join Dr. King in committing our work to God.

Abundant blessings;

03
Apr
18

The Path He Chose

mlkmountaintop1Want to see the future?

In a way, I think we all do.

I would like to know – for example – when the Kansas City Royals will next play relevant baseball in the month of October… or which stocks to buy today… or when this gray, yucky drizzle will go away.

On a little more serious note, I’d also like to know where our nation’s current political muddle will eventually lead us… or what will happen in our relationships with Russia and China and North Korea and the rest of the world?

As a card-carrying United Methodist, I would love to know how our denomination’s impasse over human sexuality will ultimately play out. Sadly, my question is more about HOW the pending schism will take shape rather than IF it will happen.

At the same time, there are a few things about the future I am perfectly content to remain in the dark about. If possible, I would prefer that the demises of all my friends and family members – as well as my own – catch me totally off guard.

But see, that’s the thing about visionary foresight. It’s either all or nothing. “You git what you git and you don’t pitch a fit!” as someone’s mother once said.

Today (April 3) marks the 50thanniversary of the last speech ever given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an address delivered on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was on hand to lend motivational and leadership support to the 1,300 striking sanitation workers of the City of Memphis.

It had been a tense time in the city of Memphis and in the nation as a whole. In the course of the speech, Dr. King reminded his listeners of the great milestones and the great challenges the movement had experienced to date. He reminded them of the fire hoses and police dogs of Sheriff Bull Connor to the unlawful arrests to the beatings and church bombings they had experienced by that time in 1968.

But he also called to mind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the integration of lunch counters throughout the South, as well as the bus system of Birmingham, Alabama.

It was also a speech in which Dr. King seemed to possess a chillingly accurate vision of his own death. In the best-known part of the speech, toward its conclusion, Dr. King looked into the future… both the future of the Civil Rights movement and his own… and described what he saw there. He said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

Here, in the days immediately following the Christian celebration of Easter, I am reminded of the vision of the future Jesus communicated to his disciples… a vision of his own violent demise, but also of God’s eventual victory over the forces of sin and death. It’s right there in Mark 8:31 – “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Today I stand in awe of both of these men. Try as I might, I still cannot fathom what it means to set out on a path, knowing with absolute certainty it is a path that leads to your violent demise, and yet – despite the clarity of that vision – continuing walking that path in faith and confidence.

The lesson today might be this: ultimately, if the path I walk is a path of my own choosing – based purely on whim, curiosity, and circumstance – it is a path to be wary of… likely strewn with as many dangers as delights.

If, on the other hand, it is a path carved by the hand of God, we can follow it with confidence wherever it leads.

What is the lesson of April 3, 1968, for YOU?

11
Jan
18

Blurred vision

dirty_glasses_635_358I had to clean my glasses today.

They had gotten so crusty and grimy they were getting hard to see through.

When I finally took them off and held them up to the light I was shocked. I was amazed to think how long it took me to finally realize my glasses had been accumulating a world-class layer of schmutz.

(LURKING METAPHOR ALERT!) You see, sometimes we don’t notice right away when our vision is becoming obscured. It starts with just one tiny, insignificant splotch followed by another equally tiny splotch a few hours later and so on… tiny splotch by tiny splotch… until suddenly you have no idea if that is a snow plow, city bus, or elephant looming ahead there in the roadway.

You see, sometimes we have to stop and look AT what we have been looking THROUGH.

But we won’t ever clean our own glasses until we first stop and recognize that they are dirty.

Metaphors aside, as you and I go about the business of observing the world around us and commenting on what we see there, we have to regularly dare to be skeptical about the quality and clarity of our own vision.

That’s something I recognize that I really need to do. But to do that effectively, I need YOUR help. You are in the best place to recognize the smudges obscuring my vision.

So please… let me know. Freely. Unabashedly. Firmly, but – if possible – lovingly.

Maybe instead of scrunching up your face and saying, “EWWWW! Your glasses are so GROSS!” you could say, “Hey, Russell… here’s what I see;”

 

Because who knows… maybe YOUR glasses are dirty, too.

 

Blessings…

02
Jan
18

An Unbreakable Resolution?

new-year-blogWelcome to the first week of 2018!

Welcome to the time of college football, Christmas put-away, refrigerator clean-out, and wistful dreaming of white sand beaches in warm, sunny climes.

Welcome also to the Time of Resolution!

When it comes to resolutions, I’ve got some of the usual suspects already lined up and ready to go… for 2018 I am resolving to lose weight, spend more time at the gym, be more disciplined in my daily devotions, connect more with friends and family, complain less, compliment more, complete stalled creative projects, travel more, etc.

Blah, blah, blah.

The problem is, I know me.

I know I am that guy who regularly talks a good game about vision, goals, and ideals and starts off with a BANG… but then gradually fades down the stretch… falling just short of carrying through with my grand plans.

And so – as a counterweight to this personal tendency toward entropy – I decided to devise another list of resolutions. I call these my “LHF Resolutions,” LHF as in, Low Hanging Fruit.

These are resolutions I will be easily able to keep. In fact, when you read a couple of these you will see that it would actually take MORE effort to break them than keep them.

My LHF resolutions for 2018 include resolutions to:

  • Always be clothed when going out in public.
    • And in a related resolution, that all articles of clothing are worn right side out.
  • Open the garage door before backing the car out.
    • … or before driving it back in again.
  • Exhale the same number of times I inhale.
  • Socks on BEFORE shoes. Never the other way around.
  • Walk on two legs rather than four.

There are more on the list, but I think you get the point.

I had the same list at the beginning of 2017 and I am happy to report a 100 PERCENT success in keeping them!

All kidding aside, do you think there really is such a thing as an UNBREAKABLE resolution? On the one hand, if a resolution really is a resolution, it should be VERY hard to break. The root word of resolution is the word RESOLVE that the dictionary defines as: “determination, firmness or fixedness of purpose.”

So if I really had a “determination” or “firmness or fixedness of purpose” about my goals for the year, wouldn’t it be impossible NOT to accomplish them?

Alas, sometimes even the deepest reservoir of firmness and/or fixedness cannot overcome the shortcomings this human flesh is heir to.

As we enter this New Year, it is good to be reminded that there really is only ONE resolution that is absolutely ironclad and unbreakable: that is God’s resolution to love us and forgive us. In no less than fifty-two separate times in the Old Testament, we are reminded, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

It is a resolution that has been tested again and again. Millennia after millennia of human sin and depravity have given our Creator ample opportunity to throw up divine hands in disgust and say, “OK… that’s it. The deal is OFF! You guys pushed it TOO FAR this time! From now on, it’s just STERN POLICEMAN GOD.”

Thankfully God has continued God’s resolution to love human beings, forgive them, and offer them another chance to love God and one another.

Maybe THIS year we will get it right!

 

Abundant blessings;




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