As Though…

June 8th, 2018

In all this subject of death, there is an extraordinary narrowness in the views held generally, as though the fact of dying could change God’s unchanging purpose; as though his never-failing love were extinguished because we pass into a new state of existence; as though the power of Christ’s cross were exhausted in the brief span of our earthly life.

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 213-214

More Life and Freedom

June 7th, 2018

I really hate that Jesus’ Gospel is so much about death. I hate it. I wish that Jesus’ message was, Follow me and all your dreams of cash and prizes will come true; follow me and you’ll have free liposuction and winning lotto tickets for life. But obviously he’s not like that. Jesus says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” He says, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” and infuriating things like “if you seek to find your life you will lose it but those who lose their life will find it.” And every single time I die to something — my notions of my own specialness, my plans and desires for something to be a very particular way — every single time I fight it and yet every single time I discover more life and more freedom than if I had gotten what I wanted.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 186-187

[Photo: Hug Point, Oregon, November 10, 2015]

High Value Investment

June 6th, 2018

The experience of value gives a heightened sense of vitality — you feel more alive looking at a beautiful sunset, connecting to a loved one, knowing genuine compassion for another person, having a spiritual experience, appreciating something creative, committing to a cause, or identifying with a community. Valuing gives a greater sense of authenticity and often a greater sense of connection. High value investment gives meaning and purpose to life, with a stronger motivation to improve, create, build, appreciate, connect, or protect.

— Steven Stosny, Empowered Love, p. 82

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

Pleased with Us

June 5th, 2018

God would seem to be too occupied in being unable to take Her eyes off of us to spend any time raising an eyebrow in disapproval. What’s true of Jesus is true for us, and so this voice breaks through the clouds and comes straight at us. “You are my Beloved, in whom I am wonderfully pleased.” There is not much “tiny” in that.

— Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart, p. 20

[Photo: Meadowlark Gardens, Virginia, April 3, 2012]

Gratitude as Ethic

June 4th, 2018

Part of the answer lies in the nature of gratitude itself. It cannot be overstated that gratitude is an emotion, a complex set of feelings involving appreciation, humility, wonder, and interdependence. Gratitude is, however, more than just an emotion. It is also a disposition that can be chosen and cultivated, an outlook toward life that manifests itself in actions — it is an ethic. By “ethic,” I mean a framework of principles by which we live more fully in the world. This ethic involves developing habits and practices of gratefulness that change us for the better. Gratitude involves not only what we feel, but also what we do.

In this way, gratitude resembles love. Love is also a complex set of feelings — desire, passion, devotion, and affection. We feel love. But love is also a commitment, a choice, and a vow, an emotional orientation toward a person or persons that causes us to act in certain ways. Love as a noun, a feeling, surprises us; it shows up and changes everything. As most of us know, however, it is also a bit of a cheat. It can disappoint, fade, or taunt when it seems to hide or move away. Love as a noun can be tricky. When it is, we choose, often motivated by the memory of the feelings, to love and act accordingly. Love moves from being a noun — an emotion we feel — to a verb — an ethic of commitment we embrace. Gratitude is like that. Some amount of the time we feel grateful, but when the emotions seem to desert us or show up at all the wrong times and in the wrong places, we can choose to give thanks and act in accordance with grace. Gratitude is both a noun and a verb. Gratitude is both a feeling and a choice. The first often arises unannounced and the second takes a lifetime of practice.

— Diana Butler Bass, Gratitude, p. 52-53

[Photo: Oregon Coast, August 6, 2014]

Good at Stress

June 2nd, 2018

Embracing stress is an act of bravery, one that requires choosing meaning over avoiding discomfort.

This is what it means to be good at stress. It’s not about being untouched by adversity or unruffled by difficulties. It’s about allowing stress to awaken in you these core human strengths of courage, connection, and growth. Whether you are looking at resilience in overworked executives or war-torn communities, the same themes emerge. People who are good at stress allow themselves to be changed by the experience of stress. They maintain a basic sense of trust in themselves and a connection to something bigger than themselves. They also find ways to make meaning out of suffering. To be good at stress is not to avoid stress, but to play an active role in how stress transforms you.

— Kelly McGonigal, The Upside of Stress, p. 94

[Photo: Dunluce Castle, Ireland, July 2001]

Being Reconciled to God – Not the Other Way Around

June 1st, 2018

Think about Good Friday. Where do we find God during the suffering of Christ? Do we find God in the high priest Caiaphas demanding a sacrificial scapegoat? Do we find God in Pontius Pilate requiring a punitive death to satisfy imperial justice? No! On Good Friday we find God in Christ absorbing the sin of the world and responding with forgiveness. The cross is where God receives the most vicious blow of human sin, turns the other cheek, and forgives. The apostle Paul tells us that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” This should not be misunderstood as God reconciling himself to the world. It wasn’t God who was alienated toward the world; it was the world that was alienated toward God. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to change God’s mind about us; Jesus died on the cross to change our minds about God! It wasn’t God who required the death of Jesus; it was humanity that cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” When the world says, “Crucify him,” God says, “Forgive them.”

— Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p. 85

[Photo: Skerries, Ireland, July 2001]

The Freedom of Others

May 31st, 2018

People do not want to be told how to live. They want to be loved. Lecturing, cajoling, and manipulating will only bring about a cynical attitude toward humanity. Even when others do happen to change under your influence, you will not respect them for it. If you want people to be human beings rather than puppets, take your hands off their strings. Give them plenty of room to breathe, and you’ll breathe easier yourself.

I cannot set anyone else free. Only God can do that, and even He wants their cooperation. But if I make a habit of treating others as if they are already free, they’ll stand a much better chance of getting the hang of it. The reason they are not kind and loving may well be that no one has ever treated them as if they are. If you want to see kingly qualities, treat people like kings.

— Mike Mason, Practicing the Presence of People, p. 189-190

[Photo: Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, June 15, 2008]

Freedom in Forgiveness

May 30th, 2018

The journey to release all grudges, to relinquish the quest for revenge, and to let go of the fantasy of what might have been is one of the most difficult spiritual challenges we’ll ever face. But I promise you, it is also the most rewarding. Because the other side of forgiveness is freedom.

There was a time when I believed the act of forgiveness meant accepting the offender, and by doing so, condoning the act. I didn’t understand that the true purpose of forgiveness is to stop allowing whatever that person did to affect how I live my life now.

— Oprah Winfrey, The Wisdom of Sundays, p. 112

[Photo: Burg Rheinstein, Germany, July 1997]

True Meaning of Sacrifice

May 29th, 2018

Christ’s self-offering must define the true meaning of sacrifice, as opposed to letting the symbols of sacrifice define the reality of what Jesus did. Reversing these is the quickest path to paganizing the sacrifice of Christ. Christ doesn’t get his meaning from the symbols; the symbols derive their meaning from him, even when they predate his own sacrifice.

The meaning Christ attributes to sacrifice is simply this: laying one’s life down for someone else (I John 3:16). Anyone who gives their life to rescue another — whether it’s a fireman dying while pulling someone from a flaming building; a policeman who’s fatally wounded while rescuing a hostage; or a martyr stoned to death for preaching the good news — is ‘paying the ultimate price.’ Here, the metaphors are off the table. Here, sacrifice (laying down your life) is raw actuality — the events as they really happened.

Notice that this type of sacrifice has nothing to do with punishment, payment, retribution or appeasement. In every case, a life is given for the sake of the other, not to satisfy someone’s wrath or placate their anger, but as a life-giving, life-saving sacrifice.

When God sent his Son to earth to restore the planet, the sacrifice — his life, his death — was the costly offering of self-giving love. But unlike the fireman, policeman or martyr, Jesus’ sacrificial death allows him to rescue even the dead as well, because he brings them with him back from the grave!

— Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God, p. 256-257

[Photo: Sunset from Waterside Inn, Chincoteague, Virginia, October 2016]