Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘Love’

The Power of Love: a Different Joy

Zephaniah 3:16-17; 19-20a

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You know it must be Advent if on the in later December we’re reading from another minor Hebrew prophet, in this case Zephaniah. It would be a stretch to say that many people know the book of Zephaniah well [Jewish or Christian alike].

Though, come on–I mean, he was the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, born in the days of King Josiah, son of Amon of Judah—and no, I didn’t make up those names, and yes, it sounds like something from Lord of the Rings, and sure, some of us who went to Divinity school memorized that.

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But all kidding aside, as with other Hebrew prophets of ages long past, I do think good ol’ Zephy has something to say to us today.

A little context please? Okay, yes.

The cliff notes version of what scholars say about this prophetic book: when was it written? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 698 BCE-586 BCE, depending on who you talk to. Where was it written? Jerusalem. What was going on? Well, lots. First off, the Israelites were being bad, apparently; they weren’t obeying Yahweh’s commands as they were supposed to. Maybe they were just settling back in after a few generations of exile? Whatever the case, Zephaniah’s author called attention to the Israelite’s behavior as making Yahweh mad. So the book’s tone is ticked off, and it’s spelled out with these sections: the coming judgement of Judah, the great day of the Lord, judgement on enemies, wickedness of Jerusalem, and the punishment of nations. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

The perfect prophecy to read on JOY Sunday…not.

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But Zephaniah ends differently. The book closes out with God/Yahweh being much nicer, less angry, and dare I say—loving and gentle? Yahweh is present, protective of Israel, and happy to welcome people back. Apparently, Yahweh has a lovely singing voice too and will be showing off the holy pipes.

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More important than the Holy Karaoke, people will be healed, the homeless will find places to live. People who were hated will now be accepted. Everyone comes home. It’s a celebration of great joy! Now that’s more like it, Zephy…

And that’s what brings me to why I think this minor prophet still has something prophetic to say to us today so many years later.

See, we’re living in a Zephaniah world.

Some of us have been exiled and know what it feels like to be marginalized or excluded. Some of us have lived though times of great suffering, loneliness, and despair. Some of us are going through that right now. Still others find very few reasons to live any longer. And many today are just tired—tired of a depressing and heavy news cycle that continues to make us aware of the great pain, suffering, and injustice in the world. A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala dies simply because she can’t get enough water to drink while detained by U.S. immigration enforcement. Large groups of humans sprawled out on top of steam vents all across Philadelphia, just to stay warm. Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, and others specifically targeted by violent people. Individuals still left out, refused jobs, discriminated against in hospitals and other public spaces, simply because of who they love or how they identify or express gender. The Christian religion on the whole, has become known more as a perpetrator of hateful rhetoric and alliance with political leaders and lobbying monies and ignorance of child abuse and discrimination than it is known for love, peacemaking, and service to others.

Yes, we live in Zephaniah’s world.

Yahweh might as well be the same kinda angry at Western Christianity and at society in general. We’re not really fulfilling our part of the bargain—to heal the sick, give homes to the homeless, gather in the outcasts, and love each other.

Sure, we can put up pretty lights and sing carols and talk about joy, but I would argue we can’t. Not until we admit where we are, in Zephaniah’s world, in this world. Not until we recognize the deep suffering going on. Not until we are incensed by the injustice in our world. Not until we talk about our own feelings of despair, heaviness, and apathy. We have to go there, if we truly want to get to the joy part.

Rumi, the brilliant Islamic poet, wrote of sorrow being the prerequisite for joy. Sorrow makes space for joy to enter in. Old roots are pulled up within us and new growth takes place. Only then will joy flow through us like a river.

We’ve been talking the last two weeks about the promise of inclusion, about what it looks like/feels like to be excluded and then finally accepted and invited in. And that this promise of inclusion is a powerful promise to believe in, because if we do, we will seek inclusion for those we see on the margins.

See, it’s a decision to believe in the promise of inclusion. And it’s a decision to think about joy as rising out of sorrow and suffering.

And I think what bends us towards those decisions is an understanding that love itself is not an emotion, but an active choice as well.

In the world of Zephaniah, Yahweh made a love-deal with the Israelites. But the moment they started mistreating each other and oppressing people and manipulating, there was no more Mr. Nice Yahweh. Because love for Yahweh and for the Israelites has to be an active choice, not just a feeling.

And this is why love has tremendous power to create a better world—in ourselves, and on this planet. There is great power in sitting with someone in their grief, with loving patience and a loving ear with loving acceptance. There is power in standing side by side with someone who feels pushed down, choosing to love by standing with them. There is power in treating newcomers with loving hospitality, power in lovingly learning about someone’s culture or religion; power in mentoring children and youth with loving patience; power in lovingly lifting up or even carrying those who are experiencing extreme mental or physical challenges; there is power in choosing to lovingly care for the earth, the animals, trees, and ecosystems. Love as an action is powerful.

And this is what brings true joy into our lives.

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Basic Rules Don’t Apply: Love Is Wealth

Mark 10:17-22

What possesses you?

Okay, weird question?
What I mean to ask is: what consumes you, what drives you?

What possesses you?

Is it your career? Are you one of those people who is completely driven by your job and all the things related to it? Do you find yourself thinking and talking about your profession more than anything else?

Or is it your family, if you have kids? Are you mostly driven by what your kids are doing, how they feel, behave, learn?

Or is it something else? What possesses you, drives you, consumes you?

Now bear with me here, because I realize this can be a nuanced conversation. I am aware that for some of you, this question may lead you down a difficult path. Perhaps you have struggled for years with addictions and so, this can drive you. Or for any of you who suffer from depression or anxiety, this can consume you, no doubt. So please know that I am not downplaying that and I absolutely acknowledge addiction, illness, disease, and chemical imbalances as real issues that people deal with every day.

What I’d like for us to do is to focus on the things that drive us overall, apart from those things we cannot control or are part of our chemical makeup or a result of great trauma we suffered. I’d like for us to focus on the driving force for each of us, the thing or things that get us out of bed in the morning and keep us alive.

And I acknowledge the amazingly courageous people I know who fight addiction or mental illness every day and keep on living. Because this is at the core of the question. How do they keep on going?

And I’d like to address this by looking at this Mark Gospel story about a person who clearly was driven by questions about salvation, eternal life, legacy, etc. The man [called a ruler and a young person by Matthew’s and Luke’s versions] was also rich. He owned things—most likely a lot of land. He possessed property. He went to Jesus of Nazareth, because he respected Jesus as a religious teacher. Jesus would know the answer to a question he had. The rich man wanted to inherit eternal life. He was used to getting what he wanted, you see. He thought of salvation as something to buy or sell or to obtain. It was a possession. Religion, for this person, was about keeping the commandments that Moses shared with the Israelites. Don’t do this, don’t do that, etc., etc. Following these rules allowed him to maintain his upper hand in society, to fit in, to be respected, to maintain control. Follow the rules, get the reward.

Wrong.

Jesus tells him that he still lacks something. Ironically, what he lacks is because of what he owns. He has a lot of possessions. Material things. On the surface he has a lot. But he lacks the most important thing. What was that important thing? Well, it seems like Jesus didn’t say. What Jesus does do is tell him to do the most logical thing: sell your things, give money to those who need it most, and then you’re good. Follow this way of love.

Sounds good, right? Happy ending to this story?

Nope.

The rich guy doesn’t jump up and down with joy, now knowing what he has to do. I mean, it would have been fairly simple for him to give things away. And Jesus wasn’t even asking him to give it all away! But instead, the man gets sad about it. He expected Jesus to perhaps tell him about some other commandment or rule that he didn’t know about. Maybe there was just one more thing he had to check off his list and then he’d be okay. But no—he was told to do the very thing that he felt that he couldn’t do. He couldn’t give up material possessions. He could not follow such a way. For him, wealth was having things; wealth was not expressing love, not giving to others. Following the religious rules made more sense to him, even comforted him. But now that salvation fell outside the rules, his world turned upside down. He grieved, because he lost something—his ability to control things, to buy and sell life.

As Jesus often does, though, he invites this rich man to be healed. Get up, go, change, be healed. Follow this way. And I suspect that the story doesn’t really give us an ending so that we are aware that it’s not so easy to just change in the moment. The rich man was grieving because he felt that he could not give up his possessions, he could not see a way to be possessed by love. But that was in the moment. He left the scene—probably went home, probably thought more about it. And maybe, must maybe he started small. Perhaps he gave away some of his material wealth. And it probably felt great. And then maybe he gave away some more. And eventually, maybe this person was no longer possessed by what he owned. After a while, maybe he discovered what true riches were.

Friends, we can be possessed or consumed by things that are our “ultimate concern” like ambition, religion, money, power, politics or whatever. We can be owned by a number of things. And so we are offered a healing choice, I think, to instead be driven by love. To let go of the things that possess us and drag us down or hold us back. To walk forward and not backwards. To give more than we try to obtain. To make love our reason for existing—not pleasing people, not “making a name for ourselves,” not obsessing over legacy or retirement or status or religious rules or sexual norms or gender binaries or nationalities or affiliations or ethnicity.

What if we are driven by love?

What if love is in front of us, behind us, around us, and in us?

*To all of you who beautiful and courageous humans out there who wrestle with addiction and mental illness, I love you. It is your life: your courage and honesty and the way you show love to others in spite of all you go through–that inspires me.

Be driven by love, because you are loved.

A Taste Test

Psalm 34:1-8;18, John 6:51         

Okay, do me a favor. Open your mouth and say “ah…” Go look in the mirror.

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You have taste buds.

You know, those sensory organs on your tongue that allow you to experience tastes that are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.

See the bumps on your tongue? Those are called papillae, and most of them contain taste buds. Those buds have very sensitive microscopic hairs that send messages to the brain about how something tastes. Most of us have about 10,000 taste buds and they’re replaced every 2 weeks or so.

But the nose is part of our tasting too. When we chew, the food releases chemicals that immediately travel up into our noses. The chemicals trigger the olfactory receptors inside the nose and work together with our taste buds to create the true flavor of that amazing lasagna, slice of pecan pie, or a spicy, green Thai curry.

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So now that we are more aware of our taste buds, let me ask you: have you ever taken a taste test? You know what I mean?

Say you’re interested in trying a new flavor of ice cream, or a beverage you’ve never had before. If you’re lucky enough, someone my offer you a sample to try. That way, you can decide for yourself if you like it or if you don’t. You don’t commit to buying something you haven’t tried. You ever seen a baby try something for the first time? The kid approaches the food, expecting the same taste as always, and then is surprised. The baby’s palate explodes. The kid makes hilarious faces and you’re just not sure whether it’s disgust or sheer enjoyment.

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But there are other types of taste tests, right? For example, if you cook a lot, you are doing this all the time. You taste a bit of the sauce you’re cooking throughout the process…to see how it tastes. Does it need salt? More tomatoes? Every time I make a curry or a salsa I’m tasting it probably at least ten times to see if it’s spicy enough, or savory enough. I even taste test the batter for cookies or cakes before it’s cooked.

A taste test, though subjective to our palates, is a pretty scientific way to test something. We either like it or we don’t. Or sometimes, the first taste is weird, but the second and third tastes are much better.

So it is with this mind that we can more adequately approach another Jesus metaphor/I AM statement, namely: “I am the bread of life…those who eat of my flesh will live.” First, let me say that according to John’s Gospel, Jesus of Nazareth said this in front of a decent crowd of people, and most of these people were offended by it.

Why? It’s simple—they took it literally, kind of like Drax the Destroyer from Guardians of the Galaxy, they weren’t capable of understanding parables, double meanings, or metaphors.

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So when Jesus said we was bread and that people could eat his flesh and live, the hearers were upset by this statement. What, were they cannibals? Did Jesus’ flesh have some kind of magic power? But there’s even more to the crowd’s offense at what Jesus said, and this is where I’d like to actually go with this:

They were conditioned to believe that the natural world, i.e. “the flesh” was corrupt and impure.

God or the Divine was apart from this natural world and therefore holy. This was the dichotomy in the Greco-Roman world. I would argue that in the West not much has changed. Most Westerners consider God to be far away from the natural world/flesh and even removed from it. We as humans are flesh, fallible, corrupt, blemished. God is not.

So that’s why was Jesus said and did was really offensive. But Jesus wasn’t saying anything inconsistent with what God [Yahweh in this case] was or did. Yahweh, in the Hebrew Psalms, was very present in the very human lives of people and of animals and all of creation. Yahweh heard the cries of living creatures. Yahweh surrounded those who were vulnerable or who were crushed in their spirit, stayed near to them and helped them.

Jesus, in John’s Gospel, continually said I AM…to reflect the importance of “living or abiding” in God and a mutual-indwelling of God in Jesus, Jesus, in people, God in people. In a mystical sense, tasting is seeing that Yahweh is good; tasting Jesus is akin to an interior perception of self and the Divine within the self.

In other words, this Divine/Yahweh/God/I AM/Logos is not far away or separated from the flesh of humanity and creation—it all lives together. Think of it like a dance. The Divine and you are always dance partners, but the dance style can change, according to where you are in life, and you don’t always have to stay on the same part of the dance floor.

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It’s a mutual, symbiotic existence and the more that you and I taste life in this way and internally perceive that we are indeed loved and well-made to give and receive love, the more we become aware of the presence within us and the more we are able to discern between the other foods that the world or others try to feed us that are in fact very unhealthy. So friends, what do you think? What flavor does this talk have for you? What dance style are you currently engaged in?

 

Won’t You Love Your Neighbor?

John 13:33-35

Someone who loves a neighbor allows them to be as they are, as they were, and as they will be.  -Michel Quoist

You can be a follower of Muhammad or Jesus or Buddha or whomever. Always, they said that the most essential factor is to love your neighbor and to love you.  -Leo Buscaglia

Image result for won't you be my neighborAs a kid, I remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood probably more than any show. To this day, when I see old clips of him singing “There are many ways to say I love you…” it brings me back to my childhood and makes me teary eyed and happy and peaceful.

Perhaps it’s because Mr. Rogers helped me through some difficult times like when I was sad or bullied or scared. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Rogers’ show was groundbreaking and controversial in its day. The show addressed issues like racism and death. One of the main characters, Officer Clemmons, is a gay Black man with a beautiful tenor voice.

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Why would that be groundbreaking and controversial? Because, sadly, at that time, you didn’t see main characters who were black or gay, unless they were stereotypes. And you certainly didn’t see a white dude dipping his feet into a wading pool and singing songs with a black police officer. Mr. Rogers was intentional about asking us each time “Won’t you be my neighbor?” but being a neighbor also meant befriending and loving those who were different than you. Fred Rogers always encouraged us to love ourselves as we were and to love others as they were.

Loving someone—being kind to them, according to Mr. Rogers, was the most important thing we could do to show that we were alive.

I’m with all the critics and pundits who are saying that the recent documentary about Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, entitled: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? A Little Kindness Makes a World of Difference” is a much-needed movie for people to watch, and it comes to us during a time when kindness and love seem in short supply.

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Here’s why:

I also remember as a kid some of my classmates made fun of me or anyone else who watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. They said it was a show for babies. According to the bullies, such a show was weak and childish. Now that may seem like playground banter to you, but stay with me. What has changed? Look around.

The bullies are saying and doing the same thing. It’s weak to be kind to people who are on the margins and vulnerable. Instead, we’re told that they take our jobs or money or health care away from us; they worsen our schools and neighborhoods. Likewise, if people look different or come from another country or culture [particularly poor ones], we shouldn’t welcome them, we should keep them out. They are to be feared and not trusted.

They are not our neighbors.

Neither are those who love a different gender [or more than one]. Neither are those who don’t identify with a binary gender or who have transitioned or who are transitioning, or who are just not sure. Neither are people who have brown or black skintones to be trusted. In fact, we should call the police on them when they make us feel uncomfortable. We should use extra force with them because they are dangerous. They are out to hurt us. And so are people who practice other religions besides Christianity—who wear special clothes are hats or coverings and pray in different languages and read from different sacred books. They don’t look or feel red, white, and blue enough, and so they are not our neighbors.

Friends, it’s even true that U.S. elected officials [including the President] are spreading these ideas and bullying those who don’t agree. If we are kind and loving to those on the margins or to those who are different than us, then we are weak. And we’re given license and permission to refuse services and basic human rights to people simply because of their gender identification or expression, their sexual expression, their skin color, their nationality, their linguistic background, or their religious practice. The bullying hasn’t stopped, and it won’t, as long as these bullies are given money and authority…

And as long as people like you and me stay silent and stop making new neighbors. See, the message of Mr. Rogers may seem trite and simplistic in a time such as this, but it’s not. It’s profound and difficult to be kind and to love people as they are. It’s courageous to love yourself with all your flaws and then to turn around and love all people as your neighbor, with all their flaws. There is no weakness in such a thing. Living kindness and love is brave and daring and risky. Jesus taught this and lived this. It was the greatest and newest command of Jesus of Nazareth, to love one another—to know and love our neighbors. And when asked who our neighbors might be, I don’t have any doubt that Jesus and Mr. Rogers would be on the same page, and that both of them would see what is happening in the White House, in Congress, in the Senate—in far too many of our schools and workplaces and courthouses and on our streets–as the opposite of kindness and love.

So it’s time, if you haven’t already started, friend. It’s time to ask: won’t you love your neighbor? Won’t you love yourself? Won’t you be loud with your love and kindness, right now, in this moment?

 

 

 

Love: the Wildcard

I Corinthians 13

Love is patient, love is kind…

Image result for same sex weddingYou’ve probably heard this text before. Weddings? Yeah.
Not gonna lie—it’s a bit overused. And misused. So let’s discuss, no?

I Corinthians is Paul of Tarsus’ first letter to a faith community in Corinth. Is it relevant? That depends on how deep you’re willing to go. Context is everything. The writer of this letter, Paul, wasn’t happy at all with this church in Corinth. People were too proud. They thought they had theology and God all figured out. They put down others who didn’t believe or think or act like them. They were full of themselves and therefore had no room left for love. Paul’s focus was indeed on community—not just in this letter, but throughout his life and writings. This is the same guy who described the faith community [or church] as being like the human body. Each part, big or small, was of equal importance. And each body part needed the other in order to function and thrive. Everyone in the community, taught Paul, was equal.[1]

But being “one” had nothing to do with sameness.

The people in the various house churches of the 1st and 2nd century Mediterranean world were incredibly diverse. They were Jews and non-Jews; Greeks and Romans and Israelites and Egyptians and Assyrians and Samaritans; they were people who believed in many gods and others who believed in one; they were women and men who ate different foods, wore different clothes, spoke different languages, said different prayers, and had different ideas. So being community for these people was not about being homogeneous or comfortable.

It was a radical community, like the one Jesus of Nazareth created and lifted up. Jesus met people face to face and accepted them for who they were. He then encouraged his disciples to do the same, to bring this message of God’s kin-dom community to their neighbors near and far. It became the recognizable mark of the Jesus Way. People noticed, because it was weird to accept people who were poor, widowed, childless, unclean, or of low status. It was odd to reach across boundaries of social level and religion. Such an idea and a community would upset the order and status that religious and political leaders wanted to protect.

Paul was into this new way in spite of the odds. He himself used to be one of those oppressors, remember. He was changed by a forgiveness he had never experienced before. Paul was convinced that such a community had the power to make a difference–not just in the lives of individuals–but in the world.

Therefore, this “wedding” text is not about romantic love at all, but a radical, communal love that enables individuals to imagine life in a community where unity and difference can co-exist.[2]

But is this still relevant?

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I think so. Because I sat through a long city council meeting in Hatboro, PA recently on a  Monday night, anticipating a vote on a Human Rights Ordinance that included protections for LGBTQIA people. I spoke, as well as many others, in favor of this ordinance—how it was a no-brainer, common sense, an illustration of what the U.S is supposed to be about. Friends, the only opposition, and I mean the ONLY ONES WHO OPENLY AND VEHEMENTLY OPPOSED THIS ORDINANCE were so-called Christians. They got up and quoted Bible passages without stopping. They went on and on about how their children will be afraid if this passes, how their rights will be infringed, how this was a step in a terrible direction for the town and for the country. They even had the gall to quote scripture passages that talk about loving God and neighbor. Then they turned, in the same breath, to face all of us allies and LGBTQIA folks to say that we were dead wrong, that this ordinance was dangerous, that my friends and colleagues who identify as LGBTQIA are contrary to God’s wishes and contrary to Jesus.

They were the only ones who openly opposed this ordinance. And they used God and Jesus and even Love to justify it.

It passed, by the way. Barely. READ HERE

So I’m gonna keep it simple. I don’t care if you’re religious or not, I really don’t. If you are on the side of love, of human rights, of human dignity, of helping the marginalized whoever they may be—I love you, I’m with you, and I’ll stand with you. Period.

If you’re not—if you choose to hate, regardless of what things you quote or how much you pray or say the name Jesus—you do not know God, you do not know love. Why?

Because love is the wildcard in this messed up world.

We as human beings hurt each other all the time and do so for asinine reasons and out of fear. But love is the wildcard. Love is the unshakable, rust-proof, honest, litmus test. Love unifies those who choose to love. That is relevant in any age or context.

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[1] He reiterated this in his letter to the Galatians, when he said: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

[2] Karoline Lewis, Ass. Professor of Preaching, Alvin N. Rogness Chair of Homiletics, Luther Seminary.

Hey, I’ve been thinking…

If you consider yourself a Christian and you’re reading this, welcome. I hope you continue reading.

If you are not a Christian, welcome. I really hope you keep reading too.

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The thing is, Christianity looks pretty bad right now, in many ways.

Racism, prejudice against immigrants, LGBTQIA exclusion and marginalization, belittling of women, support of [or at the very least, silence about] the killing of Palestinians, the money from the United States that funds wars, the horrific treatment of Black people on the streets, in schools, and in places of business, and the exploitation of girls and women.

Christians in churches now have earned the reputation for caring more about their “core values” that they list on their pretty webpages. Said core values quote Bible passages and mention Jesus a lot. They align well with politically conservative ideals like gun rights and capitalism and segregation. And then the core values also exclude, and persecute, and separate, and marginalize. And then those same core values don’t inspire people to care about others different than them, nor to stand up against social injustices. All of this terrible “Christianity” at large in the world is as radicalized and as well-funded as it ever has been. You do realize, right, that there are hundreds of “Islamic Watchdog” sites out there [some funded by so-called Christians] that supposedly monitor radical Muslims? So how many sites exist that are well-funded and closely monitor the radical, terrorist Christian churches and groups?

Still reading?

I say this as someone who was raised a Western Christian. I say this as someone who is imperfect and well-aware of the flaws in every religious tradition, including Christianity. I say this, because it saddens and sickens me and begs me to walk away from all of this and to disassociate myself completely from anything Jesus-related.

Until I’m reminded of something that isn’t fake news—something that’s meant for everyone.

Whether or not you or I see it in the radicalized, prejudice, and selfish Christianity of today, the crux or core value of Jesus of Nazareth and those who followed him was the very thing that bonded them together:

LOVE.

Now I don’t mean some flowery, abstract, intangible image of love. I am not referring to Jesus somehow saving you from all your sickness or helping you get that new car or making it possible to find your future spouse…

I’m talking about LOVE.

The LOVE of Jesus’ time, John’s Gospel, with a twist of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy.

You see, it’s simply put in the later communities [like those John’s Gospel was written for]:

God’s name=LOVE. We belong to God, so: we are Love’s.

We have kept Love close to us. The words of Love have been given; we know them.

We are protected in the name of Love.

And in Love, we are One.

Hey, dear readers, if you’ve made it this far, please know that I only do this because I care—about you, and the world, and all the living beings in existence. Yes, right now may seem to be a sad, heavy, and unsafe time for many of you. I don’t have all the answers. What I do know, however, I try to pass on, pay it forward, share.

So here goes:

Anyone who doesn’t know what it means to show love and compassion to another just isn’t someone to be trusted. No matter how many Bible verses they can quote, or how religious they are, or what name they claim. If they don’t love people as they are and for who they are, the god they worship has nothing to do with Jesus, or Gospel, or Yahweh or Allah or Krishna or Buddha or….

Don’t listen to them. Don’t follow them on Twitter. Don’t friend them on Facebook. It’s okay. It’s ridding yourself of toxicity that you don’t need.

Instead, let’s band together, all of us. Doesn’t matter if we are of the same tradition or don’t have a tradition. Let’s band together in love. We don’t have to agree about politics, or sports, or finances, or social issues. We just need to decide to intentionally love people as they are, where they are. That’s it. Don’t bring morals or ethics or religion into it. Just love people.

Calling all artists, nerds, musicians, queers, engineers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, activists, politicians, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is, Wiccans, Secular Humanists, Hare Krishnas, Taoists, Agnostics, Atheists, Jedi Knights and anyone else I missed–calling all ya’ll!

We are better together.

 

 

Love in Safe Spaces

John 15:9-15

Question of the day: Who do you feel safe with?

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Do you have people in your life who make you feel safe? What I mean by that, in this moment is—do you have people who make you feel at ease, that you can be silly, raw, honest, ridiculous, crazy you?

These would be the people who would look at you weird when you say that you’ve always considered yourself a unicorn at heart, but then seconds later break out laughing at your stunned face thinking that your friend didn’t already know that and love that about you.

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This would be the people in your life who are well aware of your faults and the mistakes you’ve made, and they don’t judge you for them. These are the people who don’t like certain aspects about you or get annoyed by personality quirks you have but don’t try to change that about you, and still love and accept you. Yeah, those people are needed. And they are rare. And they encourage us to be our best.

It’s difficult to feel safe in our relationships, isn’t it? I mean, I’m guessing that most [if not all] of you have made yourself vulnerable and some point, and then you’ve been burned by someone, taken advantage of, or hurt. That sucks. So the more that happens, the less we feel comfortable being vulnerable/real/raw with others. We don’t trust that process. We wonder when the other shoe will drop. Admittedly, most of the relationships we have in this life will not feel safe a lot of the time. Especially for those of us who have experienced great trauma, or were the victims of some type of abuse, it is hard to feel safe with others.

We cannot ignore the issues that exist in our human existence: disconnection, loneliness, isolation, marginalization. We all experience some level of these feelings in our lifetime. We don’t have to look far to understand why. Unfortunately, we have created societies in which connecting to other people can be difficult; we are conditioned to believe that spending time alone is unhealthy and that we need a partner to survive; systems of society segregate people and whole communities are based on prejudicial categories like race, religion, sexuality, gender identification, and financial means; the same systems [including religious ones] push certain people to the margins, shutting them off from resources and rights that others enjoy.

This reality was true in the 1st and 2nd Century in Israel, Palestine, and the Mediterranean—places where Jesus of Nazareth taught and lived and the time period when the NT Gospels were written. John’s Gospel, I refer to as the metaphorical Gospel, is addressing a mixed community of people of different religious and cultural traditions. No doubt they were trying to make sense of the nonsensical world [like us] and also, they were wondering who this Jesus of Nazareth really was.

Because John is metaphorical, the author or authors present Jesus to the reader in a series of seven “I am” statements. Previously, “I am the good shepherd” and “I am the true vine.”

Now, still in John 15, Jesus introduces [or re-introduces, really] a command:

Love one another as I have loved you.

And then an emphatic statement: no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Now the command wasn’t new to anyone listening and really shouldn’t be new to us. To the Jewish listener, this command is standard. It is the crux of Deuteronomy and the covenant Yahweh made with the Israelites. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself. But John’s Gospel had just introduced the vine and branches metaphor, and that gives this ancient command a new context. Love one another as I have loved you. In other words, as branches of the Jesus-vine which was planted by Yahweh, be the expression of Yahweh. With great care, compassion, and detail—love one another.

And then be connected by this love.

The second part of this, that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends needs some further unpacking.

First, it is not about dying a physical death or martyrdom. I have heard this phrase misquoted and misinterpreted to explain why Christian missionaries die in other countries or why Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, or elsewhere are attacked for their faith or even why women and men of the military die at war.

I think this shows great disrespect—both to those who have died, but also to those who are living. In John, the last thing Jesus does is to ask people to die for a religion. Jesus wasn’t about creating a religion in the first place. No, let’s go to the language of John, Koine Greek, and look at the phrase lay down one’s life.

It is actually: lay down one’s psuche. Psuche is roughly translated into English as breath, life-being, or soul. Apply that to the phrase and here are some possibilities:

  • lay down (or set aside) your heart
  • lay down your mind
  • lay down your soul
  • lay down your being

There is influence from Eastern philosophy here. Psuche is a holistic word to represent our humanity—including our ego. Ego means “I” in Eastern philosophy. It is the named self, the self-consciousness of self-recognition, when you say: “I am.” So now these seven I am statement start to resonate more, don’t they?

From the story of the burning bush when Yahweh declared to Moses, I AM who I AM, to the seven I AM statements of Jesus, the Jewish and Christian scriptures present a God who is interested in revealing Godself in a way that humans understand and recognize.

The Israelites loved and knew a God who was love and they committed to loving God and each other right back. This was their life commandment. This bound them together. Likewise, those who followed Jesus were invited to encounter their own burning bushes that revealed an I AM of love and kindness, and they were connected to that I AM in such a way as to live out this kind of love for others.

The command to love and to lay down one’s being for one’s friends is about loving in a better way, knowing ourselves [our personal I AM], and knowing those around us. It means setting aside any prejudices that would prevent us from truly loving others as they are.

So friends, here is what love in safe space looks like: it’s healing.

It is love in community. It is loving people as they are with their wounds and flaws and gifts and beauty–not judging them or trying to mold them into our image, but loving and accepting their I AM as it is, embracing it…

 

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