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I wrote the obituary for Mike, it’s below. I thank you all for the prayers of family, friends and neighbors. I am in awe of the touch of love through eyes and arms and words through people, whether they were close to me (or Mike) or not, every touch matters. I see that now in a way I never saw it before.

Right now, I know this one thing. Mike was a healthy man with no history of heart disease. His death was both out of his control and mine. And for this reason, I understand, Mike’s passing is part of the journey set before me and my young adult kids;  we must all walk this road in faith and trust. We cannot know what lies ahead, but I rest in my God as best I can although this night of sorrow is long. I am so grateful for the presence of the Holy Spirit from whom I draw my hope.

The Obituary

Mike headshotMichael Leigh Brown died Saturday, Dec 13, 2014 of a massive heart attack at home; he was 64. Mike was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, the youngest son of Vernon Stockton Brown and Lina Snead Brown (both deceased). He attended the University of Georgia, served in the U.S. Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, worked at Georgia Public Television, and in 1982 married his beloved wife, Irmgarde Berzins Brown. In 1987, he moved to Havre de Grace, Maryland and began his 27-year career at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a television director and videographer. In 1997, he and his wife adopted two children, Arturs “Kip” Brown and Vernon Sergei Brown from Riga, Latvia at ages four and five; seven years later, they adopted Liliana Victoria Brown from St. Petersburg, Russia at fifteen. In addition to his creative work for the government, Mike donated his time and talents to both Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air and more recently, Restore Church in Havre de Grace. Mike participated in several para-church organizations: Kairos Prison Ministry, Walk to Emmaus, and Cursillo. Mike volunteered at two orphanages in Africa: Children of Zion Village in Katima, Namibia, and Village of Hope, Zambia. He and his wife were leading a team to Africa in the fall of 2015. Mike was a man of faith who walked out his beliefs by working for the good of his community, both near and far.

Mike used his video skills to create personal projects (see his YouTube channel, vydeoynkhorne), record family and life events, as well as church activities. Mike was a history buff, a Robert E. Lee re-enactor, a regular blood donor to the Red Cross, an avid reader, a conspiracy theorist, an investigator into the cryptic, and a champion for ambidexterity and healthy living.

Mike is survived by his wife, three children, and brother, Vernon Stockton Brown, Jr. and several cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Visitation with the family will be Thursday, December 18th, 2 – 4 pm followed by a Memorial Service at 6:30 pm at St. Patrick’s Fellowship Hall at 650 Pennington Avenue, Havre de Grace, MD. There will be no viewing as Mike requested his body be donated to science. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the benevolence fund of Restore Church, Havre de Grace [https://restorechurch.cloverdonations.com/give-online/] or one of the orphanages he supported.

Lamp of the Word

Photo by Steve Fraser

Photo by Steve Fraser

Throughout history, the Word has had the power to “light the way:” scripture, inspired by God in both the Old Testament and the New. Words handed down to us through story, heroes and villains, miracles and inheritance. The Word, then, a written and verbal account of the presence of God among humankind, given to enlighten our own actions and choices, to give examples and a path toward righteousness; a template for living and a warning in the face of evil. We acknowledge: Your word [God] is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey. I have sworn, and I fully mean it: I will keep your righteous rules. [Psalm 119:105, CEB]

God gives and we must respond, or at the very least, I am compelled to answer. This psalm, the longest single chapter in the Bible, whose author is officially unknown but most assume that either David, Ezra, or Daniel wrote it. The overall message? The Word of God is all-sufficient.

Can I swear to that and mean  it? Can I keep the laws of God? Not all, for sure; and maybe not even the ten. But if I could just fasten my heart on to the two most compelling “Words” from God, two key laws, two commandments that hold within them, the entire Law of God:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  [Matthew 22:37-39]

These two would light my journey indeed, each and every day, if I allowed them to do so, if I surrendered to their Truth and embraced them wholeheartedly, they would shine the brightest.

But I cannot. I don’t. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man [woman] of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips . . . ” [Isaiah 6:5a, NIV]

And for this reason, I cry out to my Jesus, that One who always knew and knows that I cannot follow that path on my own, no matter how much I want to do so today, tomorrow I will go astray. This I know, this I have seen in myself. Only One can cover me, can make the path wide enough for my weaving heart. Oh Jesu, my Savior, the propitiation for my weak resolve.

Facing My Fear

fear not

Photo by Tom Ryaboi

According to the verse counters, there are more than 500 verses in scripture that address the matter of fear. Some of them say, “be not afraid,” some say, “fear not,” and others compare the power of fear against the power of God (no contest). And yet, we continue to fear.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid? [Psalm 27:1, NIV]

Fear can be defined as an emotion induced by the perception of threat to oneself. As a result, we have responses such as flight or fight. If the threat is completely out of our control, fear may be partnered with anxiety, and then our set of responses is diminished because anxiety often causes a shut-down or meltdown (note, anxiety can exist without fear but the combination is lethal).

Life prepares us for fear . . . or not. So much depends on our experiences. If we have successfully navigated a difficult situation or person at one time, the next occurrence will be less fear producing (but of course, the converse is also true). If we are thrown into circumstances for the first time, despite their newness, there is usually something we have done before that will drive our response (even if it’s the last time we tackled a new environment, activity or person). In other words, how we respond can become habitual.

The question then is critical: If God is God and I believe God is “for me” and not against me, why do I continue to fear?

Because I continue to leave God out of the equation.

It’s time to build a new set of responses, consciously, if necessary. Like breaking any habit, it will take some time and some practice, but it’s time to really stand in the promise of Presence.

Altar of God

altarWhat is God’s altar today? Is it merely in a church, festooned in appropriate colors for the season of the year, adorned with extras like flowers and candles? What if there is no altar in the church; where then? Rarely do we find the traditional church table in contemporary churches. If anything, it’s the drum set that holds center stage, or perhaps the podium where God’s messenger/priest/pastor/hip guy in a Hawaiian shirt or Toms shoes speaks.

Let me come to God’s altar—let me come to God, my joy, my delight—then I will give you thanks with the lyre, God, my God!  [Psalm 43:4, CEB]

Back in the day of King David when this Psalm (song) was written, there were several altars in the Temple, one holier than the next, until the most sacred altar of all was reached, the one in the “Holy of Holies,” but it was totally inaccessible to the common person, and was only visited on high holy days by a single priest. Is this altar of God we should be imagining?

And by the by, when was the last time you heard a lyre? Here’s a lovely example of a re-created lyre of that time period:

It’s assumed that many of the psalms were songs accompanied by the lyre and that King David, as a young man was quite proficient at playing one. It has a very gentle and soothing sound, but not perhaps, what we might imagine as we stand before this “altar of God.”

Perhaps the real issue is not where or what the altar is or how we come or what instrument we’re playing; instead, perhaps it’s intent. If God is present at the altar, like a meeting place, a touch point, so that each and every time, we came to such an altar, we would meet God, wouldn’t we want to go there often? How much do you want to experience God, to give thanks, to admire and express wonder, to receive love and grace and acceptance.

Oh, God, let me come.

No, God does not need to give permission to attend to this altar. I must simply will it; desire it. Or are my days too full? Even this one. For my morning was whisked away from me and it is already past Vespers as they say, evening for sure. I did not attend the altar.

Are you still unsure where this altar lies? It is within, inside the silence, inside the joy, inside the ever-playing music of God.

Rise and Shine

Photo by Irm Brown

Photo by Irm Brown

It’s more than likely that our use of “rise and shine” for waking someone up in the morning derived from this biblical reference. The history of the phrase found even more traction in the military and apparently, it’s use is around the world, although the British tend to add, “wakey-wakey” to it.

Arise [from the depression and prostration in which circumstances have kept you—rise to a new life]! Shine (be radiant with the glory of the Lord), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! [Isaiah 60:1, AMP]

Let us return to the biblical reference however for it is quite rich in meaning. I am particularly struck by the elaborated Amplified version which gives us more information about the original Hebrew; specifically, arise from depression and difficult circumstances to a new day, a new life, a new opportunity.

We choose to arise, whether it’s from our beds or from a dreary despondency (I’m not speaking of clinical depression here). Even those who are deep in the mire of chemical dependency are often told they will hit rock bottom before looking up. It’s a small moment, this turning with “I will.”

Along with that first instant comes the next: a promise to shine; not with our own power or light but with God’s power and light. When a person surrenders to the Presence, then light rises within and fills the “temple” (body/soul) [I Corinthians 6:9]. And with this light, we can truly “see.” Another word for this encounter is revelation (understanding).

Wakey-wakey!

Whom Shall I Send?

who will goThe scripture designated for this seventh day of Advent is the entire chapter of Isaiah 6. It is not for the faint-hearted. For my purposes, I have selected the most well known:

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”
I said, “I’m here; send me.” [Isaiah 6:8, CEB]

It all sounds so romantic. God calling out to the people and asking for a volunteer. In our minds’ eye, we imagine our hands shooting up in wonderful abandon. “Me, me, send me!” Or not.

I remember the first time I heard a missionary from Africa (I forget which country now, it was so long ago) telling his tales of serving in some remote villages. He told stories of wonder and miracles, even the raising of a dead man. I listened in awe. And then he asked the audience, who would like to return with me? Who will go? Some part of me wanted to go. Nothing was really in my way except for funds. I was single at the time and only just left New York and I was living back in Indianapolis. And yet, I sat and wept. He came to me after the service. We both knew I was to go, but he would not encourage me or discourage me. He simply asked why I cried. And I confessed, I could not face the fear of the unknown and the death of all the rest of my dreams, sketchy though they were. I still mourn that decision in many ways for I know that was a fork in my road.

All of this is not to say that I am sorry for the life I have lived. And I know, as we all know, that there have been many more turning points and many more forks in the path.

But let us not fool ourselves. Sending and going are serious business.

In Isaiah’s case, even moreso, because he knew from the outset that none would hear the words nor believe him. The language, in English, is confusing as it sounds like God is commanding the people not to hear. But that is not quite the sense of the meaning. It’s the outcome that is described: the people will not listen, they will not understand, they will not see the signs. And yet, Isaiah, knowing this from the beginning, went anyway.

For us, success in the things of God is not the outcome but the intent. Our faithfulness is to the mission, not the achievements. Another mystery in a culture of ambition and striving, accumulating the most toys, having the biggest house, or filling our closets with shoes and our garages with cars.

If Jesus had that ethos and taught his disciples differently, who would ever go?

Jehovah Tsidkenu

Painting by Will RainierApparently, this is a verse the academics love to tear apart and put back together again. A quick Google search threw me into all kinds of didactic sermons and instruction. Even Wikipedia took me beyond my desire to pursue all the ins and outs of the genealogies and implications of Jesus as the branch and fulfillment of the promises of God. What is left then?

The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness. [Jeremiah 33:14-16, CEB]

Simplicity is my choice. If I had to melt it all down into one tidbit, then it would be this: Jehovah Tsidkenu, The Lord our Righteousness. And yes, the discussion could amble about the meanings of righteousness but in the end I am at peace with my understanding that God knows best and all is within the working out of what is best. I have a belief in ultimate good whose source is God. And so, if God loves humanity as I believe God does (for the Creator loves creation), then all will be well.

It’s hard to look at the details to see the big picture because we interpret those details using our own limited framework. If my mind’s architecture believes that the peace of Jerusalem or Judah or Israel should have been played out by now, then I will be disappointed in God’s apparent unfulfilled promise. If I am looking for proof positive that Jesus is really in David’s line, scholarship may break my conviction. And so I say again, Jehovah Tsidkenu.

When bad things happen to good people, there are no explanations that can do justice to the sorrow except for our faith in Jehovah Tsidkenu. People die, children are hurt, families struggle, evil manifests, the earth groans.

Jehovah Tsidkenu.

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