Love in the “damned” world

Here’s an interesting question. What motivates your love? I’ll bet you, like me, wouldn’t admit to how shallow we are. No, really! We are attracted to beauty, babies, benevolence, brawn and booty. As we admire, desire and then require we crassly call this response “love”. We love what will feed our craving for recognition, for identity, for stuff, for our need to be needed and our lusts.

No, I’m not stuck on cynical. I remember when lightning struck and I married my “true love”. Maybe your experience was different but I was really clueless about true love at first. I was attracted to her in part as I described above. It was only after we built a history together that we learned to trust each other and love flourished; true love. I can’t imagine my life without her in it.

As Jesus followers, what if our love for others was really true and motivated from a higher ideal? What if our love was inclusive instead of exclusive? What if we returned from the quest for intellectual doctrinal perfection to contemplate and incarnate the love of Jesus to the imperfect and hurting community around us? We have arrogantly assigned ourselves the role of gatekeepers to Jesus’ love by qualifying and un-qualifying folks based on our own checklist. So, what about them? The unlovable, the marginal, the unchurched, the de-churched, those who don’t have their ducks in a row or have any ducks at all?

Then there are those “losers in life’s lottery” we see on the exit ramps; the other end of society. You’ve seen them. The story of their life scrawled on cardboard in two lines with the “God Bless” benediction at the end.

Brian McLaren writes in his book, The Girl with the Dove Tattoo; “God doesn’t just love the ideal world or the perfect world. God loves the damned world, the world full of evil and injustice and prejudice and violence. God’s love doesn’t start with the best and work down. God’s love starts with the worst and works up. God’s love begins with the damned.”

Our culture is so consumed and mind-numbingly satisfied with living vicariously through and with the beautiful people. Celebrity magazines, juicy titillating tidbits of gossip, entertainment shows and all things bizzar-o make up the daily world of too many. Then, when we hear of breakups, breakdowns and behavior that would embarrass animals we “tut-tut” judgmentally from a safe distance with our own finger-wagging, high road morality. In so doing we have abdicated our responsibility to our neighbor.

Brian goes on; “Jesus accepts everyone, just as they are, and then he asks everyone to accept one another, just as they are. That is love, and love is the highest standard of all.” Of course, we know this. But it is human nature for us to try to justify our own actions by pigeonholing others in order to draw attention away from and minimize our own failures.

The unintended consequences of our exclusive religious cultures may have contributed greatly to our maligning, and worse, ignoring others, in their pain. We justify our actions by comparing our fewer, well camouflaged failures, to the very public immoral manifestations by the “elite, effete snobbish” icons of entertainment, religion and politics.

But we keep up our religious activity and agenda. After all, doesn’t being an American Christian promise success in our personal life and love? Isn’t surrendering all to Jesus, forsaking worldly pleasures and enduring until we can move in to our Mansion the sum of life here?

I ask again, myself included. What motivates our love? Does it come from a consumptive drive, or a desire to possess or control someone? Or does it spring from a super-natural source outside of our natural abilities or desires? And really, how could it be true love if the source is rooted in self-centered, ego driven, identity feeding motives?

Happily, more and more followers of Jesus are discovering a better way; a Kingdom way. It has been there all the time. This is people of the book living the book, incarnating Jesus’ love in a culture of injustice, greed, eco-trashing, ethnic and religious polarization. They are preparing the way so His Kingdom can come: and it will come.

What if our love for others sprang from a growing, knowing relationship spring of His love for us? Then the love that flows from us is not ours but God’s pure, refreshing true love.

Does this resonate with you? How do we, as people of The Way, move away from building our own self-serving kingdom to building His? I should love to hear how you are touching those in your space of influence. I can learn from your story. Thank you.

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Pigs and Prayer

“What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great endless need–the need of Himself? . . . Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need: prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer . . . Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner.” George MacDonald

The activity of praying with an under-developed understanding of its purpose usually results in rehearsing a laundry list of our latest or greatest wants. My own prayers have often shown my short-sighted, slippery grasp of the topic. Begging, whining, whimpering and whooping could characterize my various attempts at communicating with the Almighty. God must have a generous sense of humor when He observes our flailing efforts at calling home.

This weekend I visited with a young man who shared some of his story with me. An epiphanal moment for him happened at a retreat in Europe. He had been praying for insight as to how he could love God more. Then it came to him that what God really wanted was to stimulate and grow his understanding of how much God loved him.

The ancient story of a wasteful (the definition of prodigal) son is instructive at this point. He had a problem. After exhausting all visible means of support he woke up to the fact that his menu was reduced to tasteless fiber. His self-sufficient, one-sided efforts at living the good life were his attempts to exercise control and feed his ego. But the business end of pig farming jolted him awake and he suddenly realized his hog wild binge was coming to a squealing stop.

The eye opening that followed was not simply that he felt he deserved at least what the servants at home were allowed. He had gnawing, physical hunger that unless satisfied would result in starvation. It was a hunger so powerful that it drove him to the only sustainable source of life; his father. However, this son needed more than food. He had abdicated his identity as son opting to forge a new identity and history apart from his mentor father. The narrative tells us how that worked out for him. Not well.

A shallow reading might result in the conclusion that this boy was simply hungry and knew he could get a steady meal ticket back home, even if he had to work for it. After all, that’s what he had been doing. But there is more meat in this narraphor.

At home, in the presence of his father, daily provision would be assured. At home he had unlimited access to the wisdom and mentorship of his father. At home security and safety would never have to be his worry. At home the freedom to dance and rejoice in a supportive and loving community was cultivated. But all of these would be secondary to an ultimately vital need: restoring relationship with his Abba.

Prayer for our daily needs is not wrong-headed. Prayer for protection from our enemies is not inappropriate. Jesus modeled a prayer including these requests. But far more emphasis is placed on the relational aspect, “Our Father . . . etc.”

I need Father more than I need food, or a job, or stuff. In my prayers, which are motivated, I must admit, by pressing and immediate needs, I am forced to return to Him. I have “great and precious” promises that assure me I am well cared for. Forgetting that fact providentially drives me to drink. To drink deeply at the source of all that sustains me, Abba.

He can, and does supply all my needs from His rich treasury without my asking for them. He does so just because I am His son. Asking is exercising my faith because the reality is that those needs are already supplied and in transit. So the only purpose I can see in the activity of prayer for our perceived needs, other than soothe our anxiety is that it forces us into communication with Father. Could that be His plan?

Home-work

Was your church history was like mine? The primary message from all preaching and teaching was a self-improvement homework assignment to be started at the end of class, and continued after hours until you came back the next time the doors were open so you could find out what you missed. The examination job on your own life was never over. My church rationalized this approach implicitly referring to the founding mission as “evangelical,” i.e. “We are to simply preach the (salvation) Gospel.” It may have affected you differently but I could never get my homework finished.

For those who did finish their assignment and graduated, it was easy for some to assume an entitled mindset. “NOT ALL” (I want to shout that) but too many of us can start thinking this level of achievement was hard fought and won and “by God” we deserve some respect for that. By the way, if you think someone owes you veneration for your spiritual accomplishments, it probably wasn’t “by God.”

John the baptizer wasn’t one to make nice to the religious elite.

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.

The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” (‭Luke‬ ‭3‬:‭7-8, 10-14‬ NLT)‬‬‬

John came preaching repentance. That means change your mind. Change your mind about how you think and how you live your life. Baptism is a ritual, or activity, that shows others you have decided to change your life in some way from before; a life transition.

It is interesting how John asks the locals to prove their commitment of repentance. While thinking this new ritual was the expected activity for the well-thought-of religious adherent, John is looking for a more concrete, community improving activity. The Kingdom of God is not to be found solely in religious ritual but in gracious living.

Ok, so what about the “corrupt tax collectors” that came wanting to be baptized? For them, repentance (change the way you think) wasn’t about having a religious experience but about changing the way they thought about their job. Being an entitled class allowed them to collect whatever they could get away with and keep whatever was above the amount due Caesar.

John tells them that to be baptized (symbolize this new life transition), there needs to be a mind and activity change preceding it.

This, folks, is the key. Salvation, as we call it, is not simplistically a negative action. Like, sin gets blasted, my name is erased off God’s bad list and is dually pasted onto His good list. All the enslaving, addictive behavioral chains smashed. All good, but . . . not . . . quite enough.

If, then; before and after; wash and wear and many other 2 part wholes you may be able to think of illustrate my point. In all of the social groups John engaged here he lays out how they can write their own new life story; a story that clears a road for the Kingdom of God in their own neighborhood.

His Kingdom is coming and we are invited to help cater the party. Or we can watch it happen from the side of the road in the role of religious rocks.

Bringing in the “trash”ed

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  -Frederich Buechner

I want you to recall with me that moment or hour where the world stopped. You know when I mean. There was a divine appointment waiting and the faithful Spirit nudged you. At first there was hesitation. What? Really? Serious? But that’s the job of “The Ministry.” Your ego blushed with the thought of embarrassment. Was that kick in the seat really necessary, or even legitimate? Yeah, you needed it. After all, this idea taking shape in your consciousness is way outside the proverbial box. You needed to call someone and meet with them because they needed you.

The phone call was less than satisfying–at least it seemed so. Yes, you could come by but you sensed apprehension at the other end; or maybe a low grade fear. Then panic surfaced in you. “Oh why did I do that?”

In a tentative move forward you approached them. As you gently probed to assess the reception potential your spirit seemed to affirm your boldness. As you talked, you gained a holy confidence and you sensed inner agreement coupled with joy that you just might have heard right.

I have experienced this a few times. On one occasion I called my friend who had just been trashed by the church. I didn’t know details about what had happened but for some reason, I felt he was vulnerable and might even be tempted to abandon his faith. His faithfulness to the system was total, unquestioned loyalty but the system had yielded a final rejection that left him metaphorically swimming in dark, smelly . . . uh, mud. As I drove to his place of business, I second and third guessed this crazy impulse.

He was understandably wary at first. You need to understand that the system we both knew well didn’t condone questions about the system or its decisions. All authority rested with and was wielded by the leaders.

We talked. I encouraged him. Then he and his wife visited my church with me. In time, God lifted him up out of that dark place through a community of love and corporate worship. I still remember looking over at him, his face wet with tears as God washed away pain and rejection. The last time I saw him he reminded me of that day when despair and disappointment lost the battle against Spirit driven love and compassion.

So, you’ve had a moment like that, haven’t you? What did it do to you and for you?

There is a deep, deep hunger in our communities. Oh, it is masked by overt consumerism, leisure, constant business, and entertainment and negative activities like addictions. Anything to keep the mind occupied and avoid facing the empty-ness. Can you hear the deafening quiet of disillusioned, unfulfilled existences?

There is a place where time seems to stop. Where your true calling meets a need pointed out to you by the ever faithful Spirit. I am convinced I pass by these needs every day but I am oblivious or otherwise (read self-focused) occupied.

The Main Street on which the Kingdom of God travels is love. I think love is inert and incomplete when alone or has no object of affection. Love is ordained to be (big, misunderstood word coming) sanctified (perfectly complete or whole) when unconditionally lavished on another. I know from my own flawed existence that it is difficult, if not impossible, to love self-less-ly without Holy Spirit because my nature screams for primary care and feeding.

You might have guessed, I believe we are ALL “The Ministry.” By definition a minister is a servant. Love is the motivation for Spirit-led service. If love is “out of character” for you then get it into your character, then you won’t be a character but carry-er of Shalom, the evidence and presence of the Kingdom of God.

Unexplored

Welcome! Yep, this is new territory for me. It seems a bit unsettling as I am a greenhorn in this venue. I’ve also asked myself, “How will I ride into this mediascape and avoid coming off looking bewildered, foolish, and inept or saddle-sore?” Why should I go off my pre-printed map into this uncharted wilderness risking encounters with snakes, diseases, and potential starvation? After all, I know I will invite dangerous bite back with some of what I say.
Perhaps taking this step will open up new panoramas I haven’t imagined. Pushing the envelope (accepted and approved paradigm) until it gives way into fresh, sweet, open air sounds like more.
How would you like to sally forth with me on a journey into unfamiliar frontiers? OK, then, how about the crazy notion of exploring life in the vast lane? Is loving and living large with Jesus a platitude or possibility? What about this? “. . . (Forget) the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” Instead of attacking/blaming/whining about the past, live into your future, the one designed for you by your Abba. So when will you start? I’m heading out now. Life is richer in community!
I want to investigate and experience the terra-(sometimes-not-so) firma with you. We can poke around the bushes of a culturally cultivated but groaning creation landscape and be part of creatively changing it into a space that makes welcome the Kingdom of God. While I am aware this is not the only elephant to ride it is a free ride and if you wish you may return to your familiar world with a simple finger stroke. (Yeah, I just mixed metaphors all up! If LDS can put elephants in South America I can put them on the frontier.)
That brings me to what I anticipate for this parcel of blue cyber sky. I expect content here to reflect conversation streams I have had with my fellow explorers, maybe even you. It will also be a place where my thoughts and current reading can be mingled, merged and hung out to air.
I imagine that there are many followers of Jesus who have abandoned the tired structures of an institution that stifles their creativity, their honest inquiry and/or legitimate pain and have not found a place of healing or a supportive community. Perhaps their (or your) faith has taken a back seat or is bumping along in the trunk.
Deep inside of me I am earnest about my role and how I might share in advancing the health, formation and future of the body of Christ. We who are members of His body participate in those three aspects with our gifts, leadership and influence. So that I am not misunderstood at the outset, I believe in the Church! She has a glorious, shining future! Having said that, I’m not sure Constantine did the Church any favors when he summoned it out of the shadows and into State accepted legitimacy seventeen hundred years ago.
Oh, an explanation on the risks taken in the wilderness ahead. Snakes might be regarded as indigenous protectors of the institutional territory we explore. Typically, they want to guard against the exposure of their private agendas that keep them in power. Diseases are unhealthy cultures that exist to keep the host/s in power. Starvation is what happens when the diet of the Body of Christ is restricted/forced to accept pre-packaged traditional comfort menus.
While there are thousands of blogs available to read, mine is unique. How so? Well, this is the only one in the world written by me. Scary? Indeed! I am SO still intimidated by widgets, RSS and tags. As time ticks on, I hope to improve the look and usability of these pages so you will be able to navigate and comment more easily. Also, I’m sure this post has left you with unconnected dots. Good! I want to hear how you would add to, or finish, the story. A wise man once told me, “There are two important things to remember about business. The first is, don’t tell all you know.”
So, strap on the seatbelt! OK, saddles don’t have seatbelts yet. Don’t tell the politicians. Let’s survey the terrain ahead for Holy Spirit activity and join with it. First stop, a coffee shop. My canteen is empty.