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Tag Archive | "Ronnie McBrayer"

Tea and apple pies


 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

When our friend first moved to our hometown in the Deep South, it was a culture shock. Raised on the slick windy streets of Chicago, he had never eaten grits; did not know what chicken and dumplings were; had not the foggiest idea about pork rinds; and had never been to a church homecoming with “dinner on the grounds.” Nor had he encountered the Southern hospitality dripping from the mouths and handshakes of his new neighbors.

One evening as he and his wife were beginning to settle into these alien surroundings, there was a knock at the door. Out on the stoop was a sweet, small-town Southern lady, gray-haired with apple pie in hand. She gave the usual “welcome to our town” speech and finally ended with an invitation for her new neighbors to join her for worship at the First Baptist Church the next Sunday.

“No ma’am,” said my friend. “I’m an atheist.” The poor woman looked at him, dumbstruck. To relieve the tension she turned to his wife: “What about you, dear?” Again, the answer was shat-tering: “No, I am afraid not. I am Jewish.” The charming saint from the First Baptist Church turned and left, taking her apple pie with her.

It used to be that everyone we met was a bit like us. Not anymore. From religion and race, to politics and lifestyle, the diversity that now surrounds us is far greater than anything we could have imagined a generation ago. So, in shock, we exercise kindness toward those who are like us, and we keep our apple pies away from those we find different than we ourselves. This is hardly hospitality, Southern or otherwise.

In this day and age of connection and social media, we are actually more divided and disconnected than ever. A large reason for this is the lack of face-to-face community, especially with those we consider different.

An Asian tea tradition can inform us here. It is common for Eastern cultures to share tea with strangers as a means of sincere welcome. It’s much more than a quick shot of caffeine. It is an act of hospitable community building, because the more times strangers share tea together, the more like true friends they become.

Tea and apple pies.There just might be something to sharing these with our neighbors that will be good for all of us.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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The Elvis in me—and you


 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Raised in a fundamentalist household, that “filthy rock music” was not allowed. No Rolling Stones. No Bob Dylan. No Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix. The only artist that got a pass was Elvis Presley.

When he tore through “How Great Thou Art” or “Peace in the Valley” like a rhinestoned, side-burned angel, well, my parents could suddenly forgive him for his worldliness, hip-gyrating, and other devilishness. Interestingly enough, in his lifetime, Elvis was nominated for a Grammy 14 different times and received the award three times. But none of these were for his rock music. All three were for his gospel recordings.

In the end, as we once again reflect on the anniversary of his death, the man was a contradiction. He was the King of Rock and Roll, yet his highest career achievement was in gospel. He had 150 albums reach gold or platinum status, but the songs he played the most often were the spirituals and hymns he learned in church as a child.

He was the icon of the sexual revolution, said to be depraved by the older generation, had some 10,000 doses of pain killers and amphetamines prescribed to him in his last year of life, but still called the Bible his favorite book. He died with a dozen substances in his bloodstream, but with a book about Jesus clutched to his chest. He was a conflicted person. But aren’t we all?

Paul said, summarizing the human condition, “When I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. There is a war within me.” Solzhenitsyn wrote the same: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties but right through every human heart.” We are all the combination of darkness and light, good and evil, right and wrong.

I often heard the story of the two wolves growing up, an old Cherokee tale. Everyone has two wolves that live inside of them, as the story goes. One is evil. The other is good. These two are always fighting, one trying to beat the other. The one that will win is the one that is best fed.

We each have a bit of Elvis within us—our better angels and howling devils competing for dominance. It’s no secret which will win. That part of us that we nourish will always carry the day.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Living Unafraid


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

In the late 1800s, an outlaw began burglarizing the Wells Fargo stage coach line. The bandit would wait in a narrow pass, and at just the right moment, would emerge dressed in black, a hood over his head and brandishing a double-barreled shotgun. To match his appearance, he had a deep baritone voice that caused his victims to melt with fear. This terrifying gentleman bandit was nicknamed “Black Bart.”

Wells Fargo finally arrested him in an extravagant apartment in San Francisco. When they removed his dark, menacing hood, Black Bart was not seven feet tall, like some of the witnesses had claimed. He was not young and rugged. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty bandit.

He was Charles Boles, a handsome, well-educated, sixty-year-old clerk too timid to ride a horse or load his gun. Black Bart used the most effective and crippling weapon in his arsenal: Fear. But when unmasked, he was nothing people said he was. He was just an unarmed, deep, shadowy voice in a dark empty suit.

I’m not naive; the world around us is dangerous. Yet, the living Christ has shown this world for what it is: Powerless against those who are in him. This doesn’t mean the world will not hurt us. It does not mean that some of the things we fear won’t take place. It simply means that nothing in this world can finally or completely destroy us.

Imagine that your life is a chess match or a football game, if you like. There comes a point in any such game, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, where the decisive move is made. Yes, the game continues, but it might as well be over, as the final outcome has been determined.

The decisive move in God’s universe came at the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Yes, life goes on. We struggle. We suffer. We wrestle with our phobias and try to keep our fears at bay. But we have hope—not fantasies that the world isn’t the way it actually is—but assurance that Christ has overcome the world, leaving so much that would terrify us as an empty threat.

In these perilous times, we do not have to lose our heads. The power we have been given and the love we have been shown flows from the Providence who is larger than our fears, and when we live in Him, we can live unafraid.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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Paying for your raising


 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Have you ever heard the phrase: “Paying for your raising?” It is the parental cycle of karma, I think. All the sins of your youth and all the ways you hurt your parents, come home to roost in your own children. My father told me regularly that I was going to “pay for my raising.” I didn’t believe him, and now as the father of three teenagers, I still don’t believe him.

I read recently that a child born into a middle-income family this year, excluding the cost of college, will require nearly $250,000 to rear to adulthood. But it costs a lot more than that, believe me!

You can’t pump the serotonin you burned up back into your parents’ brains. You can’t undo all their gray hair, heartburn, and high blood pressure that you caused. Because of you, they had extensive counseling sessions, hormone therapy, and sleepless nights.

Your parents experienced guilt, law enforcement interventions, miserable teacher conferences, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. You did this to your parents! We all did; your kids will do it to you—and there’s no way to repay any of it. Thankfully, there’s no expectation to do so, because most of us would endure all these heartaches again and again for the sake of those to whom we gave life.

Such love has a name. It is the Hebrew word, “Chesed,” usually associated with God’s fatherly love for his children; a word that has no easy English equivalent. Some call it grace, mercy, or kindness, but these attempts fail. “Chesed” is all of these things and more; it is the central Hebrew virtue to which all acts of charity and goodness are attached.

One rabbi, explaining so plainly, says, “When a person works for an employer, and then he gets paid, that pay is really a recycling of his own deeds. It isn’t love. It isn’t kindness. It is earned. But an act of ‘chesed’ cannot be recycled. It is something given or granted without cause.”

Parenthood is based on this kind of unfailing, non-recyclable love. It is an act of steady, secure, unshakable, unearned, uncaused, and sometimes unappreciated compassion. That’s nothing that you or anyone else can pay back, even if you wrote your dad a big fat check for Father’s Day this weekend. He could use the money, I’m sure, but he would do it all over again for the sake of love.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Unconditional love not unconditional surrender 


 

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

We are a nation fond of building stone monuments to the past, and the past we are most quick to memorialize is our history of war. An index of major US monuments reads like a catalogue of conquest. Our most iconic memorial of stone is Arlington National Cemetery. Hundreds of thousands have been buried there, and in a few short decades, it will reach capacity.

It is right to honor the men and women buried in those places, but we do them a disservice if we do not remember them in such a way as to stop filling the ground with the fallen dead of war. Or, at the very least, to reduce those numbers; to learn from the cycle of history, and work furiously to end our dependence upon warfare.

On this Memorial weekend, let us fervently honor those who unselfishly gave their lives, but let us vigorously refuse to glorify the violence that took those lives. After all, “War,” as the often maligned William T. Sherman said, “is hell. It is folly, madness, a crime against civilization. And even its success is over dead and mangled bodies with anguish and lamentation.”

For me to say “war is not the answer” is to do more than quote a Marvin Gaye song. It is to confess faith in Christ as the way to peace and reject the false promises of war. War promises us that when the last battle is fought, the last bomb is dropped, the last enemy is slain, and the last soldier is put to rest in sacred soil, then we will have a world at peace. Yet, war is waged without end, and our cemeteries continue to fill.

The world we want—a world where swords are beaten into plowshares, where mercy and justice flow down like the waters, where every tear will be wiped away from our eyes, and where there will be “no more death or sorrow or crying or pain”—is the world constructed by the unconditional love of God, not the unconditional surrender of our enemies.

So let us gather at our cemeteries and memorials of stone, around the tombs of the known and unknown who gave their lives. And as people of faith, let us also gather around another stone—the stone rolled away by the power and love of Christ, the only love that will bring peace to the world.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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Pushing Stones


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

In Greek mythology, there was a treacherous king named Sisyphus. He was so irritating to the gods that they banished him to hell. But, he was such a wily character that he escaped. Nevertheless, his trickery finally caught up with him and he was condemned to an eternity of rolling a huge boulder to the top of a hill. Then, every time Sisyphus arrived with his rock at the top of the hill, it would roll back down to the bottom. Sisyphus, according to the Greeks, is still struggling with that stone today.

In issues of faith, many of us are like Sisyphus. We are always pushing that rock up the hill, only to see it slip away just as we arrive at a resting place. Proof of our effort is betrayed by words like: “I have got to do better…I must try harder…I need to give more…I should pray longer…I’m not good enough…I ought to read the Bible more often.”

Faith becomes a terribly heavy burden, and like Sisyphus, with his shoulder eternally shoved against the stone, or like the perpetual hamster on a neverending exercise wheel, we turn liberating grace into a repressive pseudo-holiness that is nothing short of a deathtrap. This concept is completely foreign to the spirituality of Jesus. Matthew 11 frames the contrast best.

I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of Jesus’ anti-Sisyphean maxim found there: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.”

We think that our spiritual journey and growth depends upon all that we can do. Many of us live—or rather exist, as we haven’t learned to really live—with the old Protestant work ethic hanging around our necks like a yoke. Boiled down to a bumper sticker mantra we think: “If it’s going to be, then it’s up to me.” That’s nothing short of sacrilege, even if it sounds resolute and brave.

Being a follower of Christ is not about being an adherent to one of the world’s great religions. God save us from enduring any more of that. No, being a follower of Christ is the discipline of being still, and learning to trust the way that leads to life.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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Minimum Protection, Maximum Support


 

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Walt Disney is after your mother. Exhibit A: Bambi. Before the boy can celebrate his first birthday, his mother is shot and killed. Exhibit B: Dumbo. His mother is locked away as she protects him from the jeering crowds because of those massive ears. Exhibit C: Cinderella. She must suffer humiliation at the hands of her wicked stepmother and stepsisters.

Exhibit D: Snow White, a naïve, beautiful teenager, again, at the mercy of her wicked stepmother. She runs away to the woods, moves into a fraternity house with seven men, takes candy from a stranger, and finally runs away with the first man who kisses her. If she had a mother providing appropriate instruction, none of this would have happened. Mowgli. Tarzan. Lilo. Nemo. On and on I could go.

Some have tried to explain that Walt Disney is trying to show that a traditional family (whatever that might mean) is not necessary for happiness. People like feminist Amy Richards believe that the elimination of the mother figure in so many Disney films is simply for dramatic effect. If Walt’s characters had had loving, involved, present moms in their lives, there wouldn’t be much of a plot left.

So, by this logic, Walt Disney is providing instruction for raising resilient, adaptable, successful children. People need to struggle to become strong, and protecting our kids from all adversity is not an act of kindness. It is a crime against their futures. Observe the parent who is over-involved in his or her child’s life. These parents have good intentions, but they cross all boundaries with their micromanaging and uber-protecting ways.

When parents make a child feel that he or she should never suffer pain, rejection, or be deprived of anything, it doesn’t create maturity, it creates monsters. So beware of those for whom everything has come easy; of those who have never struggled; of those who have always had someone else clean up their messes. It’s hard for such people to develop any depth of character.

To succeed, yes, we need instruction and guidance, but not so much that it ruins us. The key is “minimum protection and maximum support,” to quote the late William Sloane Coffin. When one must wrestle against the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” this does more than make great movies. This makes for a great life. Do not take that away from your children.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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To Die Trying


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Beginning in April of 1994, more than two decades ago this month, one million Rwandans were killed, after extremists in the majority Hutu population turned on the Tutsi minority. The movie Hotel Rwanda focuses on the 76 days in which Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, transformed the luxury hotel, over which he was responsible, into a refuge for the terrified.

On the first day of violence, 26 people came to Paul’s home for shelter. They bet their lives on him, and it was a bet that paid off. At the end of that three-month massacre, Paul Rusesabagina had saved 1,268 people in his hotel. Somehow, Paul kept corn and beans in the kitchen; he rationed the water in the pool for drinking when militia cut the utilities; and he took all the room numbers off the doors and burned the registration records, so the roving bands of machete-welding killers would not know the identities of those under his protection.

At one point, Paul and his family were given the opportunity to escape. He packed his family’s bags. It was then the residents of his hotel came and begged him to stay. “Paul,” they said, “we know you are going to be leaving this place tomorrow. But please, if you are really leaving, tell us, because we will go to the roof of the hotel and jump. A better death would be to jump and die immediately.”

Paul said, “By that afternoon I had made the toughest decision of my life. I said to myself, ‘If you leave, and these people are killed, you will never be a free man. You will be a prisoner of your own conscience.’ I then decided to remain behind…and if I was to die, I would die helping my neighbor.”

So, who is your neighbor? That question is incidental, really, as anyone you meet along life’s way fits the definition. “Will you love your neighbor?” That is the primary question, and one we have the opportunity to answer daily.

Will we be called upon to love with the fearsome intensity of Paul Rusesabagina? It’s not likely, but I hope that when the time comes for us to leave this world, we die trying; we leave knowing we have helped and loved our neighbors. This is so much more than a story. It’s the way we save and heal the world.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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God Smiles


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

For two years, the world has combatted the largest Ebola epidemic in history. The current outbreak, beginning in West Africa in 2013, continues even though it has fallen off the front pages of our newspapers. Health workers have been at the forefront of combatting this disease, unselfishly submitting themselves to incredible risk in the process.

They remind me of Christ, who would walk among the diseased and infected, unafraid to touch, to heal, and to love. I heard one of these workers interviewed via radio late last year when the Ebola hysteria was at its peak. The interviewer asked: “What supplies do you need to improve your work?” The nurse gave a surprising, beautiful answer.

She said, “What we need are new biohazard suits; ones with full, clear screens so the patients can see our faces.” She spoke of how patients were scared, sick with this gruesome disease, afraid of dying, isolated from their family and friends, and were being cared for by foreigners who didn’t necessarily speak their language. She concluded: “With new suits they can see our faces…they can see us smile, and be less afraid.”

This nurse is a skilled caregiver, regardless of her technical proficiency, for she understands that the healing process requires kindness, warmth, and clarity as much as it requires antibiotics and oxygen tanks. “They can see our faces,” is simply good medicine.

Her words reminded me of the great Aaronic blessing from the Hebrew Bible: “May God bless you and protect you. May God smile on you and show you grace; look you full in the face and give you peace.” It’s good medicine for sure: to have a life that flourishes, for God to grant peace and grace, and for Providence to smile in our direction.

I don’t have to work very hard to convince you or anyone that this world is a difficult place to live. Ebola. Disappearing airplanes. Ferguson. Boundless war. The Islamic State. Extremism at every turn. And don’t forget the garden variety troubles we all have. It’s enough to blind, isolate, and paralyze us. Yet, through it all, God is smiling.

He is caring, loving, and healing, showing his face to those who will see it. And when we catch his smile, even for the briefest moment, it lets us know that he is here and that he is working to heal our hearts and our world.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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More than a change of scenery


 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

“Repent” is a religious word I’ve heard most of my life, and to this day, it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand with fright. As a child, I heard the call to repent burst from the lips of many a revival preacher.

With the evangelist’s bulging carotids, burning eyes, and angry finger pointing, I could feel the fires of hell licking at my heels. I repented every chance I got (whether I needed it or not). But for most, this kind of intensity is reserved for the sandwich-board-prophets of our time with the declaration that “The End Is Near.”

Still, we should not be robbed of a good word. But what does it mean? It means we must change our minds or turn around. It’s shorthand for starting over, to completely forsake one way of life and take up another. Repentance means our suspicion is replaced by compassion; vengeance is replaced by forgiveness; those we despised because of their race or color or gender are now accepted; and where there was greed, now is found generosity.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine went out and bought this huge, grotesque recreational vehicle that was a rolling luxury home. Satellite television; queen-sized bed; stainless steel appliances; Berber carpet; surround sound. This vehicle was a technological masterpiece, and I was scandalized.

If you’re going to go camping, go camping. Strap on a backpack. Hike a few hills and feel the burn in your thighs and in your lungs. Eat out of a can. Sit around a campfire. Sleep in a tent with a stream lulling you to sleep. Swat bugs. That’s camping. So I said to my friend, “Russ, you can go to the woods and never leave home!” He answered, “That’s the idea.”

We live our lives the same way. Yes, we need to change some things—our attitudes, our priorities, our biases. Instead, we often just rearrange the furniture, change our surroundings a bit, or adjust the landscape. We succeed in taking our dysfunction down the road with us, never experiencing anything that resembles transformation.

Repentance is not about saying a prayer or complying with the wishes of some wild-eyed preacher. It is about conversion. It is about a fundamental change in who you are, not just a change of scenery. Ultimately, it is about becoming who you were always made to be.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net and listen to his talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

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