Tag Archives: life

No Alternative to Right

As a Pastor, I know that Jesus can seem confusing.  When we read the words, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it,” we can scratch our heads.  I know that there are different ways to understand these words.

But one way of receiving these words is that God’s kingdom has been under attack and that violent people lay claim to it (and the Greek there is almost always a descriptive of maliciousness).  We can recognize truth in that idea.  Even if we broaden it out to say, “What is right and good has always been used violently and those who do that abuse the worth of it,” we can recognize that removing the religious element doesn’t change the inherent truth of the words.  People who have no place within the truth, will try to use it for their own gains.  They will claim that it is speaking about themselves and their cause.

The claim doesn’t make it true.

There is no right or good within the alt-right movement.  There is no life.  It doesn’t speak to the worth of America or the history of America.  It is only about themselves gaining power.  It takes a bit of truth – there is value in honoring heritage – and violently twists that to gain power.  That is the skillful work of liars, taking a bit of truth and creating a world of one’s own design by manipulating it to one’s desire.

The point of the power they seek is to overthrow the value of human beings, particular human beings… our black, Jewish, Asian, or differently-oriented human beings.  The point of the power is control and dominance and prestige.  It is to make others serve a vision of the future where their whim or edict will manage life, all lives.

If we do not step into this moment, if we waffle over whether we too believe in the honoring of heritage and not recognize the lie it is being used to support, we lose what is right and good.  We lose truth.  We cannot allow that.  We cannot expose our children to this subtlety because it will confuse them and they will become susceptible to the damage this lie brings to hearts and minds.  We must be forthright and plain.

The alt-right is not honoring heritage and not claiming a historical value.  It is maligning the value of other human beings for their own gain.  They are saying they have more value than any other.  They use blame and intolerance as tools to break down truth, to guide those who have been worn-out by tough times into serving them.  They take the lonely, the frustrated, the impoverished, the aimless and give them a direction built on a half-truth, a subtle dismissing of the value of anyone but themselves.

The tools against this lie seem impossibly weak in comparison to the violence it fosters.  The tools are friendship, conversation and love.  These don’t seem to move fast enough to counter the seeming wave of hatred.  But they are the tools to use and they must be used ferociously.  We must invite our neighbors over for dinner and talk with them.  We must build friendships with the other-oriented, the differently skin-colored, the races we do not know.  And we must seek the best for these other lives, in any way we can do that.

It may mean that we receive damage to our property by those who hate, it may be that we find ourselves maligned, we may be mistreated, we may even receive death threats for loving our neighbors.  That does happen to people who take truth seriously and who stand within the value of those who are different from themselves.  It does happen.  I recognize that and am willing to live in that because, really, Jesus isn’t confusing at all.



Most Important

Sometimes I just need to remind myself of this…
In no particular order, at some point in time it was decided that the most important thing to God was…

  • sacrifice
  • rules
  • baptism
  • communion
  • going to church
  • Bible study
  • proving the Bible is true
  • being pure
  • love
  • ritual
  • order

None of these things… really truly not one of these things is the most important thing to God.  The most important thing to God is us.  Just us.

And the most difficult thing about that is that as soon as we learn it, God wants us to participate in telling, showing, living that into the lives of others.

The last distressing and revealing thing we discover is that the most important thing to God is not ME… it’s us.  And it is us being with him.  It’s when God is included in us being us.  That’s the most important thing to God.  All of us being us with him.

God’s love is perfected in us… 1 John 4:12


Abnormal Love

Been thinking about Love this week.  I’ve been thinking about all the shouting and screaming going on about hatred, discrimination and retaliation and that’s made me consider Love.

In the midst of all the cannon fodder, the people who are used as target practice by those shouting the battle commands from both sides, we may recognize Love as a casualty, lying there in the field and bleeding seriously. Right now the battle has moved beyond acceptance and rights and into the determination of normal.  And it is not about seeking normal even, really.  It is about accepting one point of view as normal.  It is about making one opinion mean normal.

Deciding what’s normal is different from loving.  When I come to the command of Jesus, “Do not judge,” then I stop and think, Christians were never commanded to decide what is normal.  They were never told to stop people from doing what wasn’t beneficial or from what might master them.  They might warn them or try to talk with them, but they were commanded to love.

There is a united force explaining what normal looks like. It all makes me worry that loving the one who is different doesn’t matter.  I think I was commanded to love the one in front of me, no matter what they brought, who they were or how they acted. suffering2 If they didn’t want love, or walked away from it, or beat me to a pulp and hung me on a cross for it… that was supposed to be okay, if love was expressed.  What was done to me was not going to change the strength, course or truth of love.  In fact the harm done to me might express that love even more.

It seems appropriate this week to look at Love as a new casualty once again, this beaten and brutalized person who never met a homosexual, never spoke with a prostitute, never touched a leper… who only knew human beings.  This one who knew that deciding what was “normal” wasn’t the point.



Seeing is Kneeling

“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart…”  If we’re not talking about having a vision, then what a fascinating thought to think that God, the one who rules my heart would become my eyesight.  We sang this in church the other day and this is how the song was introduced, that we come praying for God to become our eyesight, that we would share that kind of intimacy.
What becomes true for people who follow Jesus is that seeing is kneeling.  What we see moves us to bow before God whether in seeing beauty and awed into wonder, or seeing destruction that makes us seek understanding of it or the power to oppose it.  We are moved to kneel by what we see because we do not deny what we see nor make excuses for it.seeing
I am a big movie fan.  I love good stories told well and I love exploring the world through stories.  I admit I’m a fan of science fiction and horror (not gore, but horror) for the same reason I enjoy roller coasters.  But there are movies that fit into genres I enjoy that I choose not to see.  This is because I know the indelible connection made by the imagery.  By indelible I mean that I know this imagery will never go away and that it will affect my soul.  It will cause a change within me.  So, even though I believe I’d have a good time I don’t go because I don’t want that change within me.
There is a story being told to our generation that calls us to be blind.  It suggests that brutality can be mixed into sexuality and achieve pleasure.  “50 Shades of Grey” suggests that if acts of pain are consensual or seemingly consensual that they are harmless.  Yet, the story of Christian Grey… (what a fabulous choice for a name… suggesting “Love… almost”) is one that includes a history of abuse and a deep need for control.  Abusive control reveals a lack of worth within the one who applies it and it creates a lack of worth within the one who receives it.  The idea that this is a joint decision doesn’t change the impact on the souls of those involved.
So, the story calls us to close our eyes, the eyes of our soul and to pretend that the imagery will not affect us this time.  It will not cause change.  It will not call us to delight in the thought of control over another, to getting what we want as we want it.  It will not cause us to consider deeply that the things we have heard from the voices of life that shelved our worth were true.  But the truth is that they will.  The imagery will change our souls.
So, seeing must be placed under the truth of God’s love for us, the one who taught us that we had worth we almost cannot believe.  There are women, men and children in the world for whom domination is not something that gets mixed with popcorn and soda.  They are severely taught that their worth lies in the hands and voice of the one who controls.seeing1
Seeing, recognizing the difference even in the dark, is something that comes from within us.  It is an aspect of our souls.  So, the things, the stories, the people who call us to close the eyes of our souls are asking us to bow to them and to allow them to change us.  Seeing remains kneeling.  With God, it also means eyes wide open.


Touching Difference

“Whatever draws us together, draws us together, and whatever separates us, separates us.”
This little truism is one I share with those I counsel people prior to their weddings.  We talk about the BIG issues of life during those sessions, and this is just a little thought that’s important in relationship.  So the statement doesn’t just have to do with marriage.  It is simply true of human beings.  This is how we are.separating
When I did my little experiment of “blindness” I discovered that what I was told was true.  I could sense my closeness or distance from other things.  I could feel the difference between coins by touching their edge.  Someone decided to make the edges of coins different and so I can reach into my pocket and tell the difference by touch.
Difference is so important to relationship, but it can also divide us.  Loneliness develops from an increasing sense of difference.  We sense and focus on our own difference or we are driven into it by the bullying, belittling or neglect from others. We get lost in that emptiness and our souls begin to whither.  We become those who develop security from stuff gathered around us or from continuing to talk, almost unable to stop, or simply standing close.  Proximity to large amounts or to attention or to presence take the place of living within and enjoying the difference we bring to community.
Unfortunately, personal difference can drive those who are most scared by life to define worth by sameness rather than finding rest in similarity.  When these folks gain some power for any reason they produce laws in which they claim the community must abide.  But community isn’t developed, just these people’s sense of comfort.  We find it in people who hoard anything in order to find safety.  The kid who roams the school hallways defining who’s in and who isn’t or the adult who demands that they and others establish worth by the walls they build of wealth or the latest tech or around neighborhoods are doing the same thing as the lady whose home is filled with stacks of newspaper.  They find security in the control they find in sameness in their existence.
It’s when we walk in fear, in the valley of the shadow, and allow similarity and the lack of control built into that to prevail as a comfort rather than a threat that life grows.  It is because God, the one who created all, is with me that I can rest in my discomfort at being similar but not the same.  I can touch difference and discover how great life can be and then walk with it.  I lose my indifference, that apathy, that antithesis to love and enjoy the similarity.   Once I begin to enjoy similarity I start to appreciate and discern difference and it creates rather than detracts from life.  When I begin to appreciate similarity I look for what is life-giving and to discern what is not.intertwined
So I get why some people fall into the need for sameness and build their lives with that security.  It’s a risk to be different.  It’s scary.  But it is the basis of what we call organic, because it is participation in the lack of control and the enjoyment of the order that grows naturally.  On the other hand, I get why people have to proclaim that all personal expressions are fine or have the same value.  It’s hard to allow difference and discernment.  It’s hard to live in the tension that “all things are permissible but not all things are helpful.”  We build security so we can feel it.
It’s hard to just be a sheep when we want to tell the shepherd what to do.  We bleat our anxiety over needing to be the same and treated the same as much as we bleat our anxiety over being so different we feel like wandering off alone.  But we are given the chance to live within our indentifying fragility while rejoicing in our flocking similarity.  This is why what draws us together is the One who knows us and whom we know, whose voice we recognize, who leaves the flock to find the one who is lost and who lays down his life for us.  He knows our similarity and he knows our distinctions and he enjoys us in it all.



Once I was Blind

In the season of Epiphany we are reminded that God gives us light.

Once I did not see.  I was blind and in darkness.  When I was a boy of 11 I discovered a book called, “Follow My Leader” by James B. Garfield.  It’s the story of a boy who goes blind because of a firecracker accident and who receives the assistance of a guide dog who he names Leader.  It spoke right into my time of life and caused me to think deeply about how life worked, especially tragedy.

And I went on to explore it by deciding I’d see if experiences I read in the book were real.  I blindfolded myself one night as I was getting ready for bed and went blindfolded-boyto sleep that way so that I’d wake in the morning and not be able to see the light.  It worked.  I could feel warmth and I could sense a change in the room, but I could not see it.  I got up and got dressed and felt my way through the difference in my clothes and things like the tag in my shirt that helped me put it on the right way.  I made my way down the hall and down the stairs and through the house and into the kitchen.  I figured out cereal and bowls and sticking one finger in the bowl or in the cup so I could make sure how much milk got in and not let either overflow.  I ran my fingers over everything and discovered that the world was different than I usually experienced it.

I went through the rest of my day and tried everything I could.  I tried to sense the greater pressure of air by things, like a wall or even a chair.  I remember volunteering to dry the dishes, among other things, just to experience putting them away by feel.  I went to bed that night, I pulled off the blindfold and went to sleep without opening my eyes.  When I woke I was living in a different world.light

What this all gave me, more than anything, was a sense of difference.  It made me pay attention to difference.  It’s still with me.  When I was in Ireland just a few months ago I was feeling the coins in my pocket to see the difference between their shape, size, weight and their edges.  Like American coins the edge tells me what coin I’m touching and whether I’m handling a dime or a penny, twenty pence or two Euro.

As we are in the season of Epiphany we remember that God gives us light and that light doesn’t just come through our eyes.  It is the truth in our hearts.  God’s light, so tangible and rich, streams through our atmosphere, and also shines through the experience of our soul.  It passes through clouds’ gloom as well as our gathered prejudice to remind us that this is not all there is and we need to not get caught there.

We move in and carry the light of Christ now.  There was a time when I did not have it.  At that time I knew all I needed to know about how the world worked and what to expect from the next day.  But, then I was found and the cover was removed and I woke.  From then on I was living in a different world.



An Arena of Safety

“Naked and unashamed…” the description of Adam and Eve that starts their existence is one that gives design to marriage.

When a couple marries they make vast promises to each other. For many people these vows mean, essentially, “I’m going to stick.” I think that’s cool. But the way I look at it, the vow of marriage means even more, that I am deciding and declaring in public that I will provide you with an arena of safety. In this place you will be able to be as vulnerable as you can possibly get and you will be safe. Things won’t hurt you here. For me this is the essence of sexual and sensual expression that is blended throughout marriage and is God honored. I will create a space where you don’t have to prove anything and that space is simply my presence. You can be who you truly and actually are and you will be safe as that.handholding

God’s pleasure in sexuality is not fully appreciated it seems to me. If we take the Bible at face value he reveled in it at creation. Then, just about the center of the book is an erotic poem entitled “Song of Songs.” Some people have tried to explain away the eroticism by attaching figurative spiritual meaning to it. That’s interesting, but I can’t completely buy it. There is Midrash, old Jewish commentary on Scripture, where an ancient Rabbi said that when the lover is describing his love’s breasts as “twin doves,” he was actually speaking about the two tablets of God’s law handed down to Moses. I’ve read the passage a number of times now and, in context, I’m pretty confident in saying the lover had something else in mind.

Other folks have taken the illusions and Christianized them, suggesting that Paul’s description of a husband loving his wife (Ephesians 5:25-32) being like Christ loving the church opens up the meaning of Song of Songs. Yeah, ah, no… I’m not seeing it. But I do find the arena of safety in Paul’s words as I do in the Song. Paul describes a husband as taking on the role of a body servant for his wife, one who intimately prepares and assists her from bathing to dressed in order to meet the one who loves her best as her truest self. Now, there’s a spiritual image I can move with. This is like Christ loving the church and the description of how a man treats a woman.

Or at least how a husband ought to treat his wife… he’s to be about two directions of work. He is to provide an arena of safety where he assists her spiritually in getting ready to come into the presence of God, some day, fully, prepared. He’s also to assist her to come into his own presence here and now, clearing away anything that doesn’t make her feel as completely safe and fully herself as she is when she is alone with him.

Wives teach their husbands that they also live within an arena of safety with them, but in what may be construed as a simpler fashion. She teaches him that the core of who he is deserves respect and she does. She teaches him that weaknesses he knows he has can be overcome with humility to God and partnership with the Spirit, and that he has the wherewithal to come into anyone’s presence and never lose his worth because of the work of Jesus in his heart. All of these are expressed in the respect she teaches her husband can be relied on.

Now, I’m pretty sure that I can be accused of utopian ideals in marriage, but I can make this even more idealistic. Suppose we kick it out even wider in scope and decide to treat the other gender as if inviting them into a wider arena of safety, one not as intimate as that in marriage, but moving in the same direction, maybe seen as care and value. Yeah, there’s an idea for the Body of Christ. Beyond our reach? What’s beyond the reach of Christ?