Posts Tagged ‘wisdom

05
Aug
20

The Heart of the Matter

Don_HenleyAfter experiencing a somewhat fraught relationship with it for too many years, I finally can say with confidence that I LOVE the Bible.

Whether I am diving into accounts of the trials of God’s people, being seared by the white-hot words of the prophets, humbled by the teachings of Jesus, or alternately challenged, inspired, and puzzled by the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Bible rarely fails to slice through my layers of resistance and pierce my very soul.

It is like the river that is new every time I step into it. And also like the river, I find that it nourishes and sustains me.

I believe God – working through the Holy Spirit – is the invisible author of its words.

But you know what else? Over the years, I have discovered that God is quite a talented multi-media artist. By that I mean God demonstrates a remarkable ability to speak to me (and you, too!) through a limitless number of channels. When I read these words in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge,” (Psalm 19:1-2, NRSV) I hear it saying that God can – and does – speak through any medium God chooses to.

One of which, sometimes, is rock music.

That assertion might sound like heresy to some, but please hear me out…

A couple of days ago, on yet another in an endless string of trips to the grocery store, I turned on the car radio. Don Henley’s song Heart of the Matter was playing. I really like that tune, but for some reason I was uniquely attentive to the song’s words that day. As I listened, I heard Henley sing, “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it’s about… FORGIVENESS.”

BAM! There it is! So, tell me… how is that sentiment any different from the words of Matthew 18:21-22 – “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy times seven.”

Of course, if you listen further in the song, you find out Henley is talking about forgiveness in the realm of a very particular personal relationship, but let’s not be nit-picky.

The point I am trying to make is this; for those with ears to hear it, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all around us. It is not restricted to the pages of the text we recognize as holy canon. It is the ocean we swim in as we live our daily lives.

The problem – as usual – comes not in the hearing of God’s word, but in the doing. How many people have read Matthew 18:21-22 and yet still continued to struggle with forgiving even the TINIEST insult? [I’ll go first… ME, for one.]

Henley’s album, The End of Innocence, on which Heart of the Matter appears, won a Grammy award in 1989, was a six times platinum album (meaning it had sales of more than six million copies), and has received countless plays on the radio since it first appeared. Yet despite the countless number of people who have heard Don Henley musically declare, “Dude… the heart of the matter is FORGIVENESS,” how many have taken that message to heart and actually LIVED it?

I will go ahead and confess I have fallen woefully short on that score.

Today, I invite us to listen with new, eager ears to the world around us. Be ready to be ambushed by the words of Jesus emanating from strange and unexpected places.

Take them to heart.

But even more importantly, LIVE them out!

 

Abundant blessings;

28
May
20

Frozen People

Young and oldI knew it was coming, just as surely as the next episode of The Lone Ranger on Saturday morning TV.

When I was a wee lad and we made the 415-mile trek to see my dad’s parents in St. Louis, Missouri, the first words out of my grandmother’s mouth were guaranteed.

She would grab each one of us, give us a big hug, hold us out at arm’s length and say, “Well just look at you! Look how you’ve GROWN!”

Of course, I always smiled and blushed, but inside I was thinking, “Well, DUH! We haven’t seen one another in over a year! Did you think I would stay the same size FOREVER?”

Nowadays, of course, I do exactly the same thing to my own grandchildren. Joan and I just drove back to Kansas City for the first time in six months and MY… how those three girls had grown! And I didn’t hesitate saying so!

I know that part of my reaction stems from genuine shock. I have clearly forgotten the explosive power of hormones between the ages of nine and 13… especially in girls in that age range.

The last time we saw her – in February – middle grandchild was a little girl. By some strange magic she is now a young woman.

The other part of my stereotypical grandpa reaction – I’m sure – is a kind of wistful sadness… sadness at the fact that my grandchildren are growing up. Somewhere inside me, irrational as it is, lives a desire to freeze them at their cutest, cuddliest ages and experience them that way forever.

But here is the truly weird thing; I do the same with EVERYONE. I expect every person in my circle of relationships to be exactly the same today as they were the last time we met. For example, when Joan tells me that her daughter (my stepdaughter) is dropping by for a visit, I fully expect to see a bright, young, 17-year-old woman coming through the door.

In reality, she is a 40-year-old medical doctor… a partner in a thriving practice here in Fort Collins, CO.

As Keenan Thompson, a.k.a. Diondre Cole might ask, “What’s up with that?”

What’s up with that, I believe, is a robust urge to evade the reality of mortality. By any means possible I long to be able to pretend that time does not advance… that bodies do not age… that physical death does not wait around the corner for me and everyone I hold dear.

All of which, of course, is utter nonsense. And yet a whole bunch of us continue to pretend otherwise.

The psalmist knew this truth over 3,000 years ago when she/he wrote, “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.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSV).

And yet even when people know of and even accept their mortality, finiteness, and temporality it doesn’t mean they are happy about the state of things.

It is time to face the truth; in the midst of a decaying, mortal world, we have to see that it is foolishness to freeze grandchildren, shoot up with Botox, or hop on a skateboard at the age of 75 (although I have no doubt some do exactly that. More power to them!).

There is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable march of time.

What we CAN do… indeed, what we MUST do is to hang on to the One who stands beyond time itself.

Only in God’s loving embrace can we find the infinite that we so desperately seek. As the psalmist continues, “… the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” (Psalm 103:17, NRSV).

 

Abundant blessings;

02
May
20

Me and Rosie and the GOM

Grumpy manFort Collins, Colorado – the place where Joan and I moved last November – is a friendly place.

And when I say friendly, I mean VERY friendly.

Actually, I have an introverted friend here who loves almost everything about Fort Collins. The one thing he doesn’t much care for is the uber-friendliness of the place. I overheard him complaining about it once, saying, “You can’t even make a simple purchase at the neighborhood convenience store without somebody asking you how your day is going and what you have planned later on! I mean COME ON! Just ring up my breath mints and let me leave in peace!”

So, it was no surprise to me today when I was out walking the dogs and was cheerfully hailed by every person we passed.

Everyone, that is, except one. The GOM, as I called him. The Grumpy Old Man.

As we passed on the sidewalk, he had his head down, his hood up (the weather was a little on the chilly side), and he was scowling down toward the ground. I know he was aware of my approach because as I moved toward him, I was doing my best to try and keep two rather frisky, 40-pound Wheaten Terriers somewhat in check.

I glanced over in his direction and said, “Hi!” but instead of a wave, a “Hello,” or even momentary eye contact, the guy just trudged past, continuing to stare down at the sidewalk.

“Hmmm,” I muttered to myself. “I wonder what HIS problem is. Why couldn’t he even be bothered to look up for a second and at least wave?”

I felt rebuffed.

I must have actually given voice to my thoughts, because no sooner had I finished that question than Rosie – the female and by far the more intuitive of the two dogs – spoke up.

“Maybe this isn’t about you, Russell,” she said.

“Oh?” I replied, deftly hiding my astonishment at Rosie’s keen insight.

“Did you ever stop to consider that he just might be carrying a really heavy burden right now?” she asked. “I don’t know… maybe someone close to him like his wife just tested positive for COVID-19. Maybe he just heard some bad news about one of his grandchildren. Maybe he is running out of money and doesn’t know how he will provide for himself and his family over the next month.

And then, pausing right there in the middle of the sidewalk so that I would be forced to turn and look her in the eye, she pointedly asked, “Did you ever think of any of those possibilities? Hmmmm?”

Wow. I had to admit that I hadn’t.

I was – just as Rosie had suggested – so busy making the moment all about me and my momentary pique that I hadn’t bothered to consider what might be going on from GOM’s point of view.

Rosie’s abrupt reality check made me stop and realize; every person we encounter – whether waiting in line at the grocery store, driving on the highway, or walking in the park – is smack dab in the middle of a rich and complex story. It might be a story of heartbreak and anguish, a story of longing and estrangement, a story of joy and triumph, or just a story of dry, flavorless tedium.

It is a story made up of intricate details, colorful characters, and unexpected plot twists. And it is likely a story just as interesting as my own.

And here’s the real kicker: Thanks to Rosie’s prompt, I realized that I don’t have to know all the deep details of your story in order to be compassionate toward you. I just need to assume that you’ve got something going on; something that vexes or challenges or delights you.

We can all take great comfort in knowing there is someone who DOES know every teeny, minute detail of our story and still loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Jesus put it this way: 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).

Next time we are out on our walk, I’m going to try my best to heed Rosie’s advice.

She is pretty astute for someone who regularly sniffs other dogs’ butts.

15
Oct
19

Dueling Drives

drowning_in_informationHow often do you find yourself caught between a pair of strong, yet diametrically opposed desires? For example:

  • Have cake? Eat cake?
  • Exercise body? Veg out?
  • Shave? Cultivate trendy stubble?
  • Spend? Save?
  • Blog? Think about blogging?
  • Rock? Hard place?

This mental impasse happens to me at least once a day. I ponder the features and benefits of Option A – find myself drawn strongly in its direction – and then immediately turn my attention to Option B…

… and then fall in love all over again.

Most of the time I resolve my stalemate by sitting down with a spoon and a big tub of ice cream and burying myself up to the elbows.

Today, however, I find myself caught in no-man’s-land once again with no visible escape hatch and no available answers.

Today I am helplessly caught between (A) a drive to be well informed about current affairs, and (B) a yearning to remain blissfully ignorant of them.

If you have watched the news on TV, read it in a newspaper (kids, you’ll need to go ask your grandparents what a newspaper is),or heard the news on a radio, you know exactly what I mean.

War, violence, hatred, and brutality abound. And that’s just here in my NEIGHBORHOOD!

I used to think of politics as an intellectually entertaining spectator sport… the arena where great ideas vied for my attention and allegiance. These days, however, civil political discourse seems to be as dead as the newspapers that once reported on it.

On the one hand, it seems irresponsible to choose to walk around in a state of willful ignorance. On the other hand, I have an active and curious mind that I believe God fully intended me to use!

And now, in my new status as a retired guy, precious little stands in the way of me binge-watching CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN… maybe a little Fox News now and then… with NPR on in the background ALL DAY LONG!

But honestly, it seems as if I can feel my soul eroding a little bit whenever I try to pay a moment’s attention to the news about events shaping my nation and community.

What’s an intellectually curious human to do?

Maybe this time, instead of pulling out the mint chocolate chip and eating myself into a dairy-induced coma, I’ll try something different. Maybe I’ll try…

… stopping.

… inhaling deeply,

… exhaling.

… listening.

Listening, for example, to the voice of 1 Corinthians 13:2 where the writer tells me, “… if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

So maybe it is time to take stock and realize I will never fully understand everything that is happening around me in the world today.

Maybe I have to ‘fess up and admit that one of the reasons I tune in to all this news is so I can work up a little righteous indignation… indignation that helps me feel empowered when I shake my fist at the man on the screen and tell him how wrong he is (and – in contrast – how right I am).

Maybe my current torn-ness is God’s way of telling me I ought to pay attention to the things that REALLY matter in his kingdom.

Maybe it is time to spend more time working on my capacity to LOVE instead of my capacity to STAY CURRENT.

Maybe. Just maybe.

 

What do YOU think?

05
Sep
19

The man on the bench

Man on a benchI almost missed him, and thereby, his invitation.

The low, one-story building came slowly into view on the left as we drove through Hays, Kansas earlier this week. The building was made of red brick with a corrugated metal roof. It seemed to branch in several directions from a central hub.

I discovered that when it is your turn to sit in the passenger seat during a nine-hour drive, you have a chance to examine the roadside vista in great detail…

… especially when you are crossing the state of Kansas at 78 miles per hour.

I had just about concluded that I was looking at another collection of storage sheds, or a warehouse of some kind when suddenly I saw him; the man on the bench.

Looking a little more closely, I saw that the bench sat on a patio at the rear of one of those brick buildings. As I studied him, I saw that the man seemed to be older… quite possibly in his 80s. He was wearing a gray, long-sleeved shirt and matching pants. He sat motionless on that bench, content to watch the cars zipping by on Interstate 70 at 2:30 on a late August afternoon.

And then it dawned on me… the building was a retirement home. The man was just doing as he darned well pleased, in between the scheduled mealtimes and organized activities there.

As Hank (the name I gave him on the spur of the moment, just to make him a little less anonymous) faded into the rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but wonder.

– What was Hank thinking about as he sat there?

  • Was he reviewing the chapters of his life and cherishing sweet memories?
  • Was he grieving a departed spouse?
  • Was he nursing regrets about opportunities unrealized in his life?
  • Was he silently chastising children whose visits have become less and less frequent as the years pass?
  • Was he trying to imagine what compelled the drivers of each of those cars on the interstate to pass by his patio and bench?
  • Or was he possibly just whistling a tune from his childhood that somehow resurfaced in his mind?

And as he sat there and quietly reflected on his life and the passing parade, Hank issued me a personal invitation.

He invited me to imagine myself, years hence, in a similar posture.

He invited me to consider how I want to be able to look back on my own life when I have plenty of time to sit and think.

Hank invited me to consider the very real possibility that time spent on a bench, alone with one’s thoughts and memories can, in fact, be a surprisingly opulent gift.

He invited me to drop to my knees and give thanks for the rich web of relationships I am part of, remembering that each of them is time-bound and treasured.

But mostly Hank invited me to remember that my story is part of a larger story… a story that is connected to millions of other stories across time and space. He invited me to make friends with the Mystery Beyond and to recognize that he and I have much more in common than either of us will ever realize.

Thanks, Hank.

I accept your invitation.

16
May
19

Portion Control

OK… quick show of hands: who has ever heard the comment, “Why you’re a chip off the old block, aren’t you?”

Personally, I have heard it more than a few times… and I usually take it as high praise.

One reason might be because I am a United Methodist pastor – just like my dad. But I also like to think people are telling me that I occasionally manifest one or two of his better personal qualities.

There is one way, however, that I wish I did not resemble my dad quite so much. That is in the whole area of life we lovingly call “portion control.”

Here is a photo of my late father taken a few years ago. As you can see here, he is rather excitedly preparing to dive headfirst into a serving of peach cobbler.

A REALLY BIG serving of peach cobbler, as you can see. George and Peach-o-Rama

Just like my dad, I also like to eat. And also like my dad, I have zero sense of portion control. I occasionally eat until it hurts, or the buttons on my pants burst… whichever comes first.

Usually, after this kind of eating orgy, I am in serious pain. I can’t walk for a while and when I finally regain my footing, I waddle like a crippled duck. I take an oath – to my reflection in the mirror, to my wife, and to anyone else within earshot – that I will NEVER, EVER do that again.

And I keep that oath. That is, until the next time Joan serves some delicious peach cobbler. And yes, also like my dad, I am a complete SUCKER for peach cobbler.

Then the other day, as I was trying to figure out a cure for this disorder of mine, I realized that food is hardly the only department of my life where I need a little discipline and PORTION CONTROL.

I looked up and (GASP!) caught myself gorging on network TV news. First, there was a heaping helping of Domestic Political Discord. To that, I added a little analysis of Disturbing National Trends, followed with a chaser of Unrest on the International Scene.

By the time I had finished the main course and then tucked into a dessert of Social Media Snark, my capacity was well and truly tested. Not at all surprisingly the effect was remarkably similar to cramming a mountain of peach cobbler into my mouth.

Please understand… I am not at all opposed to staying current on local, national, and international events. I think awareness of our world is critical for every thinking, engaged person.

I am rather advocating for Portion Control… a sensible, balanced approach to the things we choose to stick into our heads and hearts.

However, upon further review, I suddenly realize there actually IS one commodity we can never, ever consume too much of.

Yep… God’s Word.

We can pile our plates high morning, noon, and night with Scripture Salad and still maintain our svelte, girlish figures.

The Psalmist says essentially the same thing when he/she says: “I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”(Psalm 119: 102-103, NRSV).

So crack open your Bibles and eat up!

And don’t be afraid to come back for seconds.

12
Nov
18

It’s Just hair

Well, it’s gone.

We knew the day was coming. Ever since my wife’s cancer diagnosis in late September and the ensuing prescription for chemotherapy, we knew the days of her beautiful, flowing, auburn hair were numbered.

It’s just what happens when those powerful cancer-killing chemicals go racing through a person’s body.

Personally, I was expecting trauma and heartbreak when “HAIR GONE” day came… from me, that is. I knew SHE would handle it just fine.

In fact, anticipating a sky-high level of emotional devastation, I wrote her a lovely little free verse poem called, “It’s Just Hair” to help cushion the blow. (I would share it here, but it is a little too personal and intimate.)

So then, as the stuff began showing up on the pillowcase and coming out in clumps, we realized it was time.

As her hairdresser came to our home one night and gently, lovingly buzzed it right down to the scalp, we were both surprisingly OK. No hair Joan

I went to the utility room, got the broom and dustpan, swept it all up, and tossed it.

BOOM.

GONE.

We looked at her mirrored reflection and marveled at how lovely and round and symmetrical her head is. I made jokes about polishing her “dome” with a cloth now and then.

And then we kissed and smiled, looked each other in the eye and said, “It’s just hair.”

As these things often do, it caused me to lapse into reflection.

Joan with turbanI thought about how easily and how often in my life I have confused form and substance. I mused over the question of why I do that and how annoyingly frequently it occurs. I asked myself, “Self… how is it that you are so quick to recognize the difference between ‘hair’ and ‘her,’ when it comes to your spouse, and yet are often so slow to grant others the same grace?”

And then I got global and wondered, “Am I the only one who puts unreasonable confidence in outward, surface appearances and punts on the hard work of diving a little deeper and trying a little harder to understand the souls of other people?”
And I thought, “Naaaaaah. Probably not.”

I also realized it was time to pull out 2 Corinthians 4:18, commit it to memory and try, yet again, to live by its wise guidance: “… because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Abundant blessings;

24
Sep
18

Adversarity

AdversariesOne of my favorite radio programs is a public radio show called The Moth.

If you have never listened to it, you should. Here is a link to the website: https://themoth.org.

The Moth is people telling stories. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The stories are recorded at public events called StorySlams and cover a wide array of the human experience. On a given week, for example, you might hear someone talk about the year she spent as a member of a sultan’s harem, an addict remembering his long, slow climb to sobriety, or a teacher discussing a group of third-graders and their military maneuvers on the playground.

The stories on The Moth are not all winners, but I always come away from listening feeling somehow enriched.

Last week as the final music of the latest Moth episode was concluding, I realized I still had forty-five more minutes of driving ahead on my hour-long trip. So I set off in search of the next option on the radio dial.

The public radio station had gone to classical music, so that was a quick, “Nope. No thanks.”

My mind having been stimulated by The Moth, I didn’t feel like just zoning out to classic rock or alt beats, or country/western music, so I began searching for talk radio options.

You know, talk radio… that place you go to find intelligent, well-reasoned opinions being expressed and then responded to by other intelligent, well-reasoned counter-opinions.

What I found instead was screaming, ranting tirades by angry radio hosts, responded to either by screaming ranting FANS or screaming ranting FOES of the original viewpoint presented.

The tone was such a jarring contrast to the tone of The Moth that it literally hurt my head to listen. I punched the next button as quickly as I could.

“I know!” I said, to no one in particular. “How about sports talk radio?”

But the result – as you have probably guessed by now – was exactly the same. Screaming, ranting radio hosts, responded to by screaming, ranting callers. I was shocked to discover that the fate of the Free World actually hung on the Cleveland Browns’ decision about who to start at quarterback this week!

And so… I hit the “Power Off” button and spent the rest of my drive in silence, contemplating Life, Love, and Laundry.

Admittedly it was a small sample size from which to draw conclusions, but my experience raised an interesting question for me. It made me ask: is there some fundamental, core reason we need adversaries in order to be fully human?

It certainly seems sometimes, doesn’t it?

I often get the feeling that we go out of our way to set up oppositional types of situations… in all realms of life. Team A doing battle against Team B to determine the winner seems to form the basis of our systems of war, sports, politics, and most business.

Lately, it seems as if “winning you over to MY point of view” is the way we talk to one another, too.

Advocates of this approach suggest that adversarity(yes, I just made that word up) is the only way anything ever improves. They point out that businesses that lack competition become lazy and lackadaisical about innovating or providing exceptional service.

And I am not sure I would really ever work to improve my jump shot if I wasn’t going to use it to try and win a pick-up basketball game.

But we also need to remember that – according to the psalmist – we are each “… fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139), with – I presume – an unbridled capacity to continually hone and refine our God-given abilities.

But does that necessarily mean refining those abilities in the heat of battle?

As I listened to the story-telling on The Moth, delving deeper and deeper into the meat and meaning of a few simple life experiences, I felt the deep tingle of inspiration stirring inside. I loved the open and vulnerable way the storytellers peeled back the layers of their lives and invited me in to look.

I wanted to do the same… and tell the stories that have helped shape MY life.

Without having to threaten to crush or annihilate me, those storytellers coaxed me closer and closer to a willingness to explore similar places in my own life. They beckoned me to walk where wonder and surprise and humor might have swirled together to create a rich place of meaning… to look again at something I might have overlooked before.

Yes, King Solomon also told us, “…iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17).

But sometimes the best tools are made from something a lot softer than iron.

 

Abundant blessings;

06
Jan
18

SHAZAM! Or Ahhhh….

aha momentAnother Mega-Millions Jackpot drawing… another day of not winning for me.

Of course, I am sure my odds of winning would go up dramatically if I actually bought a ticket.

And so, as I try to console myself about that gigantic disappointment, I realize there are quite a lot of other dramatic, life-changing bolts from the blue that did not happen to me today.

For example, I:

  • … was not given my own reality show on network TV.
  • … did not awaken to discover astonishing athletic skills heretofore unknown to me.
  • … did not become impervious to all manner of illness and physical infirmity.
  • … was not suddenly blessed with the singing voice of an angel.
  • … did not abruptly discover the cure for lymphoma, and finally,
  • … did not instantly become a “stable genius” overnight.

And the more I thought about it – here on the traditional day of the Epiphany – the better I find I can relate to the Wise Men.

Epiphany Day is recognized as the day when the Travelers from the East arrived at the manger in Bethlehem. It was the culmination of their two-year journey that began with a decision to follow a new, luminous star that had suddenly appeared in the sky.

It was a journey sparked by the conviction that they would meet – face-to-face – a new royal leader.

A Deliverer.

A Messiah.

Finally, the star stopped moving. It came to rest and illuminated the place where the new king could be found. And what did those very wise, very adventurous men find at the end of their “rainbow”?

They found a humble carpenter, his teenage bride, and their precious toddler son.

And as Matthew’s gospel tells us, they, “… knelt down and paid him homage.” (Matt. 2:11), followed by extravagant gift-giving.

They didn’t say, “Hold up a minute… this is A BARN and an ANIMAL TROUGH! And this “king” is just a BABY! We were expecting to see some kind of powerful RULER with jewels and robes and at least a scepter in his hand! What gives??!!”

But I guess that is why they call these wise men wise.

They were wise because they realized that a Deliverer did not have to conform to a set of accepted expectations in order to be a Deliverer.

They were called wise because they realized that a King didn’t necessarily have to wear a crown.

We call them wise because they realized that a Messiah can be just as powerful a messiah when he arrives in the shape of a baby.

Wisdom was ascribed to these wise men because they saw that answers to the riddles of life do not necessarily have to come in the form of a “bolt out of the blue” super jackpot responses.

May we all have just such an epiphany today.

15
Aug
17

Certainty, Wisdom, and the Fugue

Three tinhornsMy wife and I had some fun over the weekend. We were part of a local musical revue that featured songs and dances from several well-known Broadway shows.

One of my favorite parts of the show was when I got to sing the Fugue for Three Tinhorns from “Guys and Dolls” with two other men.

Even if the name of the song doesn’t ring a bell, you have probably heard it before. It is the song that features an amateur horse race bettor singing, “I’ve got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere, and here’s a guy that says if the weather’s clear…” The other two guys join in, fugue-style – singing the virtues of THEIR picks in the upcoming race; horses named Valentine and Epitaph.

The concluding line of the song is when the three point to their tip sheets and sing in harmony, “I’ve got the horse… right… here!!”

It was fun and (I thought) went rather well.

Thinking back on that show and our song, I suddenly realized our frivolous moment onstage might have actually concealed a deeper message.

That message is about CERTAINTY and the ways we arrive at it.

In the song, each of the bettors believes they have a foolproof source of information. For the first guy, the race day weather is the key. The second bettor’s friend is the jockey’s brother so he feels secure with his “inside” information. The third guy relies strictly on the odds displayed in the tip sheet.

The point is, each bettor believes his horse is THE horse.

In fact, they are each certain of it.

Thinking about the song in those terms brought to mind a phrase I read recently in the book, A Failure of Nerve. This book, written by Rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant Edwin Friedman, includes insightful prescriptions for those who lead during turbulent times.

Friedman says, “An anxious system demands certainty.” Naturally, that anxious system looks to its leader(s) to provide them with the sought-after certainty.

More often than not, leaders are very willing to provide certainty to the anxious system. That certainty usually comes in the form of strong declarations of righteous, unshakable principles. It comes in the form of definitive lines drawn to help us understand who is on the “good side” and who is on the “bad side” of the issue. It comes in the form of vague, but bold-sounding statements of steps that will be taken, “… going forward.”

Sound familiar?

The problem, according to Friedman, is that certainty is almost always the antithesis of wisdom. When we allow anxiety to drive us toward sure and certain answers, we find that we must also silence the voices that challenge our certainty.

The tinhorns in Fugue sought certainty about an uncertain horseracing event in the future. But by definition, the future cannot be certain until it gets here. And when it gets here it is no longer the future!

Learning to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity is absolutely necessary if we hope to achieve wisdom. According to Friedman, our comfort with ambiguity is, “… critical to keeping the human mind from voyaging into the delusion of omniscience.” (A Failure of Nerve, New York: Seabury, 1997).

As I see it, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, and all forms of hate have their roots in the desire for certainty AT ALL COSTS. We look around us and see a dynamic, uncertain, and changing world… and it seems threatening. The dynamism of that world leads some of us to rush out and erect walls of protection against a world that looks less and less like the one we grew up in. It also makes us hostile to the forces of change.

The good news is yes, there is a timeless truth. Yes, there is omniscience and ultimate wisdom. But it does not reside with you or me or anyone equipped only with this puny three pounds of gray matter we have inside our skulls. It resides only with the One who created us and placed us here in love.

Psalm 111:10 reminds us that: “Fear [meaning awe, or respect] of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.” Proverbs 3:5 tells us, “Trust in the Lord… do not rely on your own insight,” and a little later that, “… wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” (Proverbs 8:11).

I believe God calls us to be wise rather than certain. I further believe that the first step on the path to wisdom is HUMILITY… in other words, knowing that we do not know.

May your path lead you to wisdom today.




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