Archive for April, 2018

Self-Giving Love

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Jesus was innocent, yet he died the death of the guilty. But notice what overall narrative frames this statement (in 2 Corinthians 5:21). It is not the quasi-pagan narrative of an angry or capricious divinity and an accidental victim. It is the story of love, covenant love, faithful love, reconciling love. Messianic love. It is the story of the victory of that love, because that self-giving love turns out to have a power of a totally different sort from any other power known in the world (which is why Paul is happy to say that he is strong when he is weak).

— N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began, p. 253

[Photo: Riverbend Park, Virginia, April 20, 2018]

Attractions of Inspiration

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

We don’t need the roller coaster of negative attractions in order to grow! We can grow through inspiration instead.

Attractions of inspiration have a warmth and an easiness. In these relationships, our challenge is to accept and return our partner’s caring, not to win that caring. Our partners might challenge us to be better, but at bottom, they love us for who we are. Attractions of inspiration are fueled by the real sense of well-being that the relationship creates in us, not by the unrelenting itch for something that’s denied us. These attractions often unfold slowly. They get richer as time goes on. They may take lots of work — but such relationships allow the work of intimacy. They make us feel love, not desperation. These are the only relationships to build a life around, the only ones that deserve the gift of our most intimate self. And I promise you, they really are out there.

— Ken Page, Deeper Dating, p. 90

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, April 18, 2018]

Unenforceable Rules

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Often when trying to enforce unenforceable rules we write mental tickets to “punish” the one who has acted wrongly. Unfortunately, if our rule is unenforceable, the only person we end up hurting with our ticket is ourselves. We clog up our minds with these tickets. We become frustrated because things do not go the way we want. We become angry because something wrong is happening. We feel helpless because we cannot make things right.

I am convinced that when you try to enforce something over which you have no control, you create a problem for yourself. That problem gets in your way as you try to figure out what is the best thing to do. It is much harder to know what to do when you are angry, frustrated, and helpless. Making a good decision is tough when you are constantly writing tickets and there is no one to give them to….

We have as much chance of enforcing our unenforceable rules as of getting blood out of a stone. Think for a minute about why trying to do so makes our lives so hard. Have you ever tried to force someone to do something they did not want to do? How successful were you? Have you ever tried to get what you needed from a person who did not want to help? How successful was that? Have you ever demanded your spouse or partner be nicer to you? Were you successful? Have you ever gotten mad at yourself for making a mistake? Did getting mad help? Ever demanded your boss treat you better? Did this change your boss’s behavior? Each of these normal desires is an example of trying to enforce an unenforceable rule. Trying to change what cannot be changed or influence those who do not want to be influenced will meet with failure and cause us emotional distress.

— Dr. Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good, p. 49

[Photo: Duart Castle, Isle of Mull, Scotland, July 12, 2003]

Changeless Love

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

“God so loved the world” — dwell on these words. The world, then, must have been in some real sense worthy of love. He cannot love — he may pity — the unlovely. Has he ceased to love it? If so, when? I challenge a reply. “Love is not love that alters, where it alteration finds”; even human love, if true, never changes. Yet this love is but a faint, far-off, reflection of our Father’s love. God is not love and justice, or love and anger. He is love, i.e., love essential [I John 4:8]. Therefore his wrath and vengeance, while very real, are the ministers of his love. To say that God cannot change is to say that his love cannot change. Hence his love, being changeless, pursues the sinner to the outer darkness, and, being almighty, draws him hence. An earthly parent, who, being able to help, should sit unmoved, month after month, year after year, watching, but never helping, the agonies of his own offspring is a picture more hideous than any the records of crime can furnish. What shall we say to those who heighten enormously, infinitely, all that is shocking in such a picture, until its blackest details become light itself; and then tell us that the parent in this ghastly scene is one who is love, love infinite, almighty, and our Father?

And this brings us face to face with a blunder of our traditional creed, which is radical. It talks of God’s love as though that stood merely on a par with his justice, [as] though it were something belonging to him which he puts on or off. It is hardly possible to open a religious book in which this fatal error is not found; fatal, because it virtually strikes out of the gospel its fundamental truth — that GOD IS LOVE. The terms are equivalent. They can be interchanged. God is not anger, though he can be angry; God is not vengeauce, though he does avenge. These are attributes; love is essence. Therefore, God is unchangeably love. Therefore, in judgment he is love, in wrath he is love, in vengeance he is love — “love first, and last, and midst, and without end.”

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 76-77

[Photo: Giant’s Causeway, Ireland, July 2001]

Out of the Sin-Accounting Business

Friday, April 13th, 2018

I was stunned that Good Friday by this familiar but foreign story of Jesus’ last hours, and I realized that in Jesus, God had come to dwell with us and share our human story. Even the parts of our human story that are the most painful. God was not sitting in heaven looking down at Jesus’ life and death and cruelly allowing his son to suffer. God was not looking down on the cross. God was hanging from the cross. God had entered our pain and loss and death so deeply and took all of it into God’s own self so that we might know who God really is. Maybe the Good Friday story is about how God would rather die than be in our sin-accounting business anymore.

The passion reading ended, and suddenly I was aware that God isn’t feeling smug about the whole thing. God is not distant at the cross and God is not distant in the grief of the newly motherless at the hospital; but instead, God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as shitty as the rest of us. There simply is no knowable answer to the question of why there is suffering. But there is meaning. And for me that meaning ended up being related to Jesus — Emmanuel — which means “God with us.” We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 86

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, April 12, 2015]

The Valued Self

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Criticism fails in love relationships because it embodies two of the things that most human beings hate the most: It feels like rejection and demands submission. In short, it threatens both autonomy and connection, throwing the Grand Human Contradiction completely out of balance.

Although people hate to submit, we actually like to cooperate, which affords balance of the Grand Human Contradiction. (We choose to cooperate, which enhances autonomy, while strengthening the connection.) We have a built-in reward of well-being for cooperation, probably because it was necessary for the survival of the species. Critical people demand submission but they really want cooperation — willing, resentment-free behaviors to further the good of the relationship. They seem oblivious to this key point about human nature: The valued self cooperates; the devalued self resists.

If you want behavior change from a partner, child, relative, or friend, first show value for that person. If you want resistance, criticize.

— Steven Stosny, Empowered Love, p. 35

[Photo: Burg Katz, Rhein River, Germany, July 23, 2006]

Other People’s Needs

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

We think we know so well what other people need. Often enough we do. But before we can tell what we know, we must first, paradoxically, forget we ever knew it. We must enter the fire of a person’s living presence and accept the risk of spontaneous, unpremeditated relationship. Only in the midst of the free fall of real personal encounter may we discover, when we least expect it, the wisdom to confront a thorny problem.

Whenever possible, it is best to let others take the lead in correcting themselves. It is surprising how willing many are to do this if only they catch a whiff of genuine love. In this atmosphere, as often as not, the forbidden issue will actually be raised by the other person first, and suddenly we’re invited to give the counsel stored up within us. Alternatively, once we come to know and appreciate others, it may no longer seem so important to give them a piece of our mind!

— Mike Mason, Practicing the Presence of People, p. 155

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, April 11, 2018]

Closing the Book on Vengeance

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

Jesus didn’t come to bring vengeance; he came to close the book on vengeance. Jesus announced the Jubilee good news of pardon, amnesty, liberation, and restoration. Jesus doesn’t bless revenge; he blesses mercy and teaches that the mercy we show to our enemies is the mercy that will be shown to us. God does not allow us to hope that the book of divine vengeance will be closed for us but left open and inflicted in full upon others. This is not how it works in God’s economy of grace revealed by Jesus.

Does this mean there’s no divine judgement? Of course not. Certainly there is divine judgment, but it is a judgment based on God’s love and commitment to restoration. The restorative judgment of God gives no warrant to a schadenfreude yearning to see harm inflicted on others. Jesus has closed the book on that kind of lust for vengeance.

— Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p. 44

[Photo: Kilchurn Castle, Scotland, July 14, 2003]

Seeing Clearly, With Compassion

Monday, April 9th, 2018

Real love allows for failure and suffering. All of us have made mistakes, and some of those mistakes were consequential, but you can find a way to relate to them with kindness. No matter what troubles have befallen you or what difficulties you have caused yourself or others, with love for yourself you can change, grow, make amends, and learn. Real love is not about letting yourself off the hook. Real love does not encourage you to ignore your problems or deny your mistakes and imperfections. You see them clearly and still opt to love.

— Sharon Salzberg, Real Love, p. 16

[Photo: Keukenhof, Holland, April 17, 2004]

Partnering Prayer

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Prayer is a primary means for partnership with God. Prayer is an act of willing participation in the mediation of God’s love. Our prayers somehow play a role in the restoration of all things. Thus, prayer truly matters since God is looking for willing partners who will welcome his healing love into this broken world.

Partnering prayer is also an act of yielding and surrender. In spite of some popular practices of prayer as militant proclamations that ‘pull down heaven,’ Christlike prayer is kenotic, cruciform and willing — not coercive, demanding or manipulative. Parnering prayer listens first to seek God’s will, rather than attempting to impose our will in the world in his name. Partnering prayer is founded and funded in the mercies of God, and is therefore best directed at invoking those ever-ready mercies. How or in what form God chooses to deliver his mercies is finally his domain. We can make requests and petitions, but delivering our demands and dictates seems to me out of order.

— Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God, p. 156-157

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, April 6, 2018]