Archive for June, 2020

Proximity

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

The kind of intimacy Jesus shares with people, the kind that was and is transformational, only comes with close proximity. It is not possible screamed from across the road or shouted from a pulpit or laid out in a carefully researched dissertation. It cannot be gleaned from a clever meme or a spirited Twitter exchange or a hermeneutic debate. It only comes through the redemptive relationship forged when we are willing to sit across from people who believe differently than we believe, willing to get close enough and stay long enough to see both their unique humanity and their inherent divinity. This is how we love people well; it is how we put flesh on our faith; and it is how we follow so close behind the rabbi Jesus that we are covered in his dust. The only way the table can really expand is when we, like Christ, are willing to take our place across from those who appear to be or even desire to be our adversaries. Jesus’ call to embrace love as theology isn’t merely a surface, sugary platitude. It’s the most difficult, radical, time-consuming work of reflecting Christ to the world around us. In the end, the thing that glorifies God isn’t our belief system, but how we treat those who don’t share that belief system. We can be people of deep conviction without needing to pick up a bullhorn.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 121

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, June 25, 2020

Beloved

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

We must see this clearly, or we will miss the point of our life in Christ. Christ’s followers today receive the same calling and commission. If we miss this, it will have consequences. Rather than be witnesses to Christ in the way we love God, others, and ourselves, we will begin to think that Jesus came to make us nicer or a little more thoughtful, the kind of people who remember birthdays and select more personal Christmas gifts. Rather than tell others about God’s grace or offer mercy, we will believe that living a Christian life is about feeling forgiven of our sins. Rather than telling others about the habit-changing, bondage-breaking, turnaround-making power Jesus can have in our lives, we will cultivate a relationship with Christ that is so personal that we never share it with anyone else. Rather than speaking out and working for justice with those who hold position and power in our community and society, we will spend our time telling the already convinced how much better the world would be if it were not exactly as it is. Rather than offering acts of solace to those who grieve, comfort to the sick, or kindness of conversation with prisoners or returning citizens, we will simply offer thanks that we are not in such predicaments ourselves.

Jesus takes us on a journey so that he can deploy us on a mission. He offers his love to us so that we will share it with the world. He does this because he loves us. The first disciples knew they were beloved, not only because of what Jesus did for them, but because Jesus believed in them when he called them to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. He knew what they could do for him. Jesus believed in them more than they believed in themselves. He saw more potential in them than they ever thought possible in their lives. He forgave them for what they were not, just as he celebrated all that they were. All of this is what is at the heart of being beloved by another. When we are beloved, we gain the confidence another has in us and make it our own. That confidence transforms how we think of ourselves. It guides the journey that, in the end, leads to who we become. Such love, once extended, is what stirs up a new sense of possibility in our lives.

This is the love God has for you, and the belief God holds in you. We must have faith that God believes in us, in our ability to love our neighbor, to treat ourselves properly in this life, and to worship the Lord with our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

— Tom Berlin, Reckless Love, p. 136-137

Photo: Rhein River from Burg Rheinstein, Germany, July 1997

The Way of Jesus

Saturday, June 20th, 2020

The ultimate truth that Jesus revealed by becoming a scapegoat and then offering forgiveness is that forgiveness is the best, most successful, and most divine way of creating peace in times of conflict. Since most conflict is generated through an ever-increasing cycle of violence and retaliation, no party in a conflict is ever truly without fault. Except Jesus. He alone, among all human scapegoats in the history of the world, could have justifiably retaliated against humanity for the crimes committed against Him. Yet instead of retaliatory vengeance, when Jesus was on the cross, He turned to God and prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Accepting forgiveness for what we have done and extending forgiveness to others is God’s only divinely-sanctioned mechanism for creating peace and restoring relationships in times of conflict. The way of Jesus, which is the way of God, is the way of peace through forgiveness.

— J. D. Myers, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, p. 220-221

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, June 19, 2020

Steeped in Joy

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Through my experiment in joy, a whole dimension of Christianity has opened up to me, like a beautiful flower blossoming from a bud long dormant. This new spirituality is of such sweetness, light, and grace that it entirely entrances me. I’ve always suspected the existence of this and have had many glimpses of it. What’s different now is the confidence that I know the way into this new country and how to live there, because I’ve discovered for myself that it’s real. I believe! Finally I believe enough in the Bible’s offer of everlasting joy to see this great promise fulfilled in my own life. I shall never be the same. The veil of the world’s lies has been torn away, and now I know for certain that the Christian life is meant to be entirely steeped in joy. With the author of Hebrews I can say that I’ve already come to “the city of the living God . . . to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly” (12:22).

My experiment has been wildly successful. Joy has indeed become an ingrained habit of my soul — so much a part of me that it hardly seems possible that I lived without it for nearly half a century. Not only am I much happier now than ever before, but I know it’s possible to keep moving in the direction of joy and to have more and more of it. In the search for joy a certain point arrives where the balance tips in our favor. We find we’re no longer striving for happiness, we’re simply happy. It’s like getting out of debt: Without a fat mortgage payment to dole out every month, life takes on an entirely different feel. Difficulties still come, perhaps grave ones, but joy keeps flowing into the hurts like a self-renewing stream.

Is it really possible to be happy all the time? Three years after my experiment, I still cannot quite join Brother Lawrence in saying, “I am always very happy.” What I can say is that every day is full of moments of happiness, as full as the sky is of stars. Yes, an immense expanse of cold black space yawns out there, but that’s not what draws my eye anymore. My gaze, and with it my understanding, have shifted. To believe in God is to believe in good and to see its preponderance everywhere. All I see now are the bright, jewel-like moments of joy that keep coming to me and that, taken together, do not seem a jumble of random sparks but comprise a great and dazzling picture — a vision so beautiful as to utterly overwhelm the darkness.

— Mike Mason, Champagne for the Soul, p. 187-188

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 22, 2020

Always Merciful

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

Scripture testifies that the cross did not begin the outpouring of divine mercy to the world. It has been present from the beginning and endures forever. No one threw a switch to turn off its flow, though one might think so, given the way preaching and teaching have labeled the cross as the event that triggered divine forgiveness. Gracious and compassionate, God has always been acting mercifully.

The cross of Christ brings this infinitely merciful love into a different kind of personal intimacy with the pain and death of creatures. In view of Jesus’ death the words of divine solidarity at the burning bush, “I know well what they are suffering,” can be announced with unexpected resonance. Together with the resurrection from which it cannot be separated, the cross anchors divine saving love historically in the flesh of the world’s evolving life. In its light we see that saving mercy accompanies all creatures in the world’s beautiful, terrible journey through time to final fulfillment. The grace of this presence empowers life to emerge anew, rebuilds broken relationships, forgives wretched human sin, and embraces all the dead into their future, promised but unknown.

— Elizabeth A. Johnson, Creation and the Cross, p. 223-224

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 22, 2020

Your Actual Self

Saturday, June 13th, 2020

The Accuser may try to convict us of the distance between our ideal self and our actual self, but the truth is, no one has ever become their ideal self. It’s a moving target. A mirage of water on a desert road. The more we struggle to reach it, the thirstier we become, and yet we are no closer to actual water.

I am not saying that God will get you to the mirage. What I am saying is that the self God loves, the self God is in relationship with, is your actual self. God isn’t waiting for you to become thinner or heterosexual or married or celibate or more ladylike or less crazy or more spiritual or less of an alcoholic in order to love you. Also, I would argue that since your ideal self doesn’t actually exist, it would follow that the “you” everyone in your life loves is your actual self, too.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless, p. 180-181

Photo: June 13, 2020, South Riding, Virginia

An Important Choice

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

Forgiveness is above all a choice. It is a choice to find peace and live life fully. We can choose either to remain stuck in the pain and frustration of the past or to move on to the potential of the future. It is a choice we can all make, and it is a choice that will lead us to a healthier and happier life.

— Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good, p. 217

Photo: Leithöfe, Germany, June 14, 1997

Waking Up

Saturday, June 6th, 2020

Religion, at its best, helps people to bring this foundational divine love into ever-increasing consciousness. In other words, it’s more about waking up than about cleaning up. Early-stage religion tends to focus on cleaning up, which is to say, determining who meets the requirements for moral behavior and religious belief. But Jesus threw a wrench into this whole machinery by refusing to enforce or even bother with what he considered secondary issues like the Sabbath, ritual laws, purity codes, membership requirements, debt codes, on and on. He saw they were only “human commandments,” which far too often took the place of love. (See especially Matthew 15:3, 6-9.) Or as he puts it in another place, “You hypocrites, you pay your tithes . . . and neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and good faith” (Matthew 23:23). Cleaning up is a result of waking up, but most of us put the cart before the horse.

It’s no wonder his fellow Jews had to kill Jesus, just as many Catholics would love to eliminate Pope Francis today. Once you wake up, as Jesus and Pope Francis have, you know that cleaning up is a constant process that comes on different timetables for different people, around many different issues, and for very different motivations. This is why love and growth demand discernment, not enforcement. When it comes to actual soul work, most attempts at policing and conforming are largely useless. It took me most of my life as a confessor, counselor, and spiritual director to be honest and truly helpful with people about this. Mere obedience is far too often a detour around actual love. Obedience is usually about cleaning up, love is about waking up.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 72-73

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, June 6, 2020

Creating Proximity

Friday, June 5th, 2020

The beauty of the bigger table is that it creates proximity in the way Jesus did. It destroys distance between people, and distance — whether real or imagined — is the enemy of relationship. This chasm allows us to otherize people with little accountability to their reality. It enables us to hold onto the belief that the crudely drawn caricatures we fashion for those we disagree with are at all accurate, allowing us to craft a clearly defined us-vs.-them narrative and place them opposite us. This simple narrative can’t accommodate people’s individual stories, as this is too labor intensive and time consuming. Instead it lumps those stories together into the closest-fitting generalization (a political party, a religious tradition, a people-group stereotype) and operates with that as truth. But these containers are simply never adequate. Our labels are never large enough for unique image bearers of God, and unless we become relentless in really straining to see individual people, we will always default to this easy, lazy shorthand, and we will always shortchange the beauty within them. We’ll also be satisfied viewing them from this safe distance of our self-righteousness and shouting through bullhorns or shaking tambourines.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 120-121

Photo: Great Falls National Park, June 14, 2016

Door Openers

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

I would like to love other people enough to go to extraordinary measures to open the door and invite them in, rather than passively allow the door to close, go on my way and keep them out. Jesus said, “I am the gate. . . . All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them” (John 10:7).

Jesus encouraged his followers to become door openers rather than gatekeepers. He hoped that once people experienced the goodness of God, the love of God, and the grace of God, they would reside in it and be free to share it with others. This is why people who were sinners, outcasts, and poor loved Jesus and felt such joy in his presence. They were unaccustomed to being loved by someone who was talking about the ways of God. They knew that Jesus valued them, that he saw their worth, not one that they had earned or instilled within themselves. He saw their intrinsic value, the image of God that was imprinted upon their lives.

How does one become a door opener who leads others to the joy of Christ rather than a gatekeeper who judges others? Observing Jesus enables us to see how to value a vulnerable person.

— Tom Berlin, Reckless Love, p. 99-100

Photo: Festung Hohenwerfen, August 1998