The Good Old Days

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I’m delighted to bring you this Guest Post by a wonderful blogger and friend, Russell Brown (Russellings of the Spirit). Russell is a recently retired United Methodist pastor who is “still trying to figure out” what his next chapter will look like. He is “reasonably sure,” however, “that writing will comprise a big part of it.” It had better. The world needs his voice!

Remember the “good old days”?

You know…back in January 2020…

…back when we watched movies in movie theaters, went to church in church buildings, when kids went to school in school buildings, when we watched live concerts and sporting events, and we all just willy-nilly shook hands with strangers?

You know…back in the times when only armed robbers wore masks on their faces?

I have to admit…I have caught myself yearning for the return of those “good old days” more than once this week.

And then, in the middle of my nostalgic reverie, this rude thought came crashing in: what if those days are GONE FOREVER…and never coming back?

Say WHAAAAATT????

In asking this I am not giving up hope on the delivery of a Coronavirus vaccine. I absolutely believe the diligent scientists working in their labs will “deliver the goods” someday soon. I also believe that we will eventually all see some relaxing in our state of uber-vigilance.

But I also believe that waiting for life to “go back like it was” might well be an exercise in futility. Because life will never really be “like it was.”

And while we wait for that golden moment to return, we might be robbing ourselves of the hidden treasures of THIS day. As Jesus once famously said,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:25-26)

No. This moment we share is far from perfect. I don’t know a single person who would have sketched this picture of the year 2020 and said, “Yeah! That’s the ticket! Bring it on!”

But let’s not let our disillusionment with what MIGHT HAVE BEEN this year steal the moments of joy that are still here to be unearthed.

LOOK! There’s one right now!

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The Present Light

Encourage Each Other

Thought for the Week

Brooding about our past

and worrying about our future

is the most efficient way

to poison our present.

So

instead

let us

“Encourage each other every day,

while it is still called today.”

~Hebrews 3:13

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Temptation

“Watch and pray so that you don’t fall into temptation.    For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”   ~Matthew 26:41

   In pondering Jesus’ words, it occurred to me that he doesn’t say, “Don’t be tempted.” Why? Because temptation happens–we will be tempted (even Jesus was). Instead, he says, “Watch and pray so that you don’t fall into it.” I had to laugh. Suddenly it wasn’t forbidden fruit I pictured, but dog poop. Now, when I pray Matthew 26:41 (roughly fifty times a day), I think:

“Hey, temptation happens, but you don’t have to step in it!”

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October Madness

Election fever

Tempers boiling

People screaming

Our world on the brink of survival

And then there’s this…

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“You’re welcome.”

~God

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” ~L.M. Montgomery

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Back to the Future (19th Century-Style)

The best version of the future is in the past, and its name is Steampunk.

At age 5, I saw the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and fell in love with the Disney version of the Nautilus submarine, and with the science-fiction of Jules Verne. Later, at the ripe old age of 9, I saw the movie version of The Time Machine and had recurring dreams about the titular device from the H.G. Wells novel. In my 20’s, I actually had a chance to buy the movie prop, and am still kicking myself for not doing so! Those two movies introduced geeks like me to the future as envisioned by Victorian sci-fi pioneers, and set the stage for an alternative universe of collectible models, art, and even functional devices called steampunk! So geek out with me for a few and enjoy this trip… Back to the Future, 19th century-style.

Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slideshow.

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My Experiment in Becoming Human

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Give and You Will Receive

Knowing and doing aren’t the same thing. In my last Experiment in Becoming Human, I wrote about ceasing to try and get something from others, and being set free to give. “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength,” God’s promise told me, His love was all I needed. But living out that promise is another thing.

So once again I prayed. God’s silent-but-certain voice answered, “You’ve been focused on the what. Now focus on the how.”

Over and over again, Jesus tells us to give others the thing we want. It’s a paradox (to us, not to God). And yet, strangely (to us, not to God), the only thing we really have to give to others is the thing we want. The core thing, that is, not “I want a Philly cheesesteak, so I’ll give you one,” but the thing we really want.

And the thing I really want from others (I’m embarrassed to admit) is their attention, to be appreciated and understood, which tells me I’m accepted and loved. And therein lies the challenge, the how. Jesus tells us to think in reverse. We think, “If they earn my attention, I’ll give it to them.” But Jesus says, “No, give it first.” We think, “If they stop being my enemy, I’ll love them.” But Jesus says, “No, love them first.” Not only does He insist on this, He tells us it’s the essence of Life with a capital L, the thing that is so desperately missing in our world.

The first time I ever tried to ski, the instructor told me to lean forward. But every nerve in my body told me to lean backward. So I leaned backward, and again and again I fell backward. Still, I thought, “Once I’m a skier I’ll be able to do it.” “No,” the instructor said, “do it and then you’ll be a skier.”

So my new how, my challenge, when every nerve in my body is telling me to to lean backward and make others listen to me, is to lean forward and listen to them. 

There’s a famous two-part illustration which you may have heard, but it bears repeating: In the first part, a vision of hell, people are sitting around a lavish banquet table with spoons attached to their hands. But while their spoons can reach the food, the spoons are too long to reach their mouths. In the second vision, a vision of heaven, the same scene appears, paradoxically. Only this time, the diners have learned…

To feed each other.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and still running over, will be poured out into your lap. For the measure you give is the measure you will receive.”

~Luke 6:38

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments

It Is My Place

My Featured Blogger this week is the author/s of the blog site Diamonds in Dark Places. My lack of clarity in identifying said author/s is that I’m unsure who she/he/they may be. From a little espionage (reading their posts), I gather that more than one person is involved, possibly family members from more than one generation (kids are mentioned from both parental and grandparental perspectives). So, forgive my vagueness and press on…

Because these “Diamonds,” strive admirably to do just what their site title implies, bring the light of truth and humanity into the darkened places of our world. Their compassion and insight are consistently compelling.

Read on and you’ll see.

Diamonds in Dark Places

image“My dad will help you.”
It was the second time in as many days that my two-year-old granddaughter had uttered this sentiment. “My dad will help.” Her dad, unfortunately, was in Hawaii vacationing with my daughter, which was why I was there in the first place, battling—and losing to—the Diaper Genie. The first time she’d said it, was the evening before while we read bedtime stories. The little pig in the book was clearly distraught, tears shooting in great arcs out of both his eyes.
“Aww, he’s sad,” I narrated. “His kite is stuck in the tree.”
She met my sympathetically woeful expression with reassurance. “My dad will help him.” 

Now, sitting there amidst Genie parts, a “diaper sausage,”1 and a long string of unused bags, her repeated message led me through frustration into contemplation. My train of thought flowed something like this: Wow, my son-in-law is an…

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Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Quips and Quotes, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Promises to Keep

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Seven years ago, in the fall of 2013, I met a man who altered my life forever. Mike, a producer and fledgling screenwriter, had spearheaded the formation of a production company called St. Michael Movies. And now they were casting their second feature film Promises to Keep. Since the main character was a devout Catholic based on Mike himself, Mike took an intense interest in getting the casting right.

I came in second, and was cast in a smaller role. But two days into production, after seeing the lead actor’s performance in a particularly crucial scene, Mike stopped production! “He doesn’t believe what he’s saying,” Mike told the film’s stunned director, “but that other guy, What’s-his-name, does.”

I was “What’s-his-name.” And it was true. I’m not a Catholic, I’m just a garden variety Jesus-follower. But the character Jonathan struck a chord with me. And yes, I did believe what I said in the auditions.

So I was re-cast in the lead role, and a few days later production resumed. It was invigorating and terrifying to begin playing, with minimal prep time, a character who had roughly as many lines as Hamlet. Mike was new to screenwriting, and so, although he wrote good dialogue, he wrote too much (it was trimmed down during editing). But we got there. And in the process I came to know Mike, who I often teased for being “more Catholic than the Pope.”

I struggled with one scene, in particular, in which my character prays for the leading lady’s soul by saying the rosary all night. I had to find a way into his inner life—because that’s what acting is all about. The key, I discovered, was that, where I’m inclined to “just talk to God,” Catholics tend to express their faith through what I call “the two S’s”: symbols and sacraments.

I did find a way in, fortunately, and gave an honest and heart-felt performance, I think. In the process, I came to love Jonathan, and Mike too (although our relationship has been tumultuous at times). And, while I’m still not a Catholic, the two S’s do play a larger role in my faith these days.

 A year later, Mike shocked me by allowing me to become the first non-Catholic (and first non-him) to write a feature film for St. Michael Movies.

Healing River, starring my gifted leading lady from Promises to Keep, Christine Jones, became my first feature film as a writer-director-producer. It’s also Amazon Prime’s top-rated inspirational movie this year.

Is Promises to Keep perfect? No, but it has a tenderness and endearing earnestness rooted in the real-life character of Mike himself…

The man who altered my life forever.

To watch or order Promises to Keep, click here.

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Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir, Movies, Religion/Faith | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments

Keep Passing It On

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Thought for the Week

We were created to be conduits of grace. God doesn’t just rain down grace from the heavens, he distributes it to others through us. Why? Because he wants us to be like him. And if his grace doesn’t flow through us, we never will.

“Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:16

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Kindness Is the Key

Be Kinder..“When you, a mere human, pass judgment on others and yet do the same things as they do, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you disregard the riches of His kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?” ~Romans 2:3-4

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 22 Comments