Category Archives: Love

Paradoxes: Unconditional Love and Consequences of Choices / Best Friend and Almighty God

Been reading our Sunday School lesson about some differences of opinion between the famous preacher and composer of hymns, Harry Emerson Fosdick and the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. Two of their issues still speak to our condition: Grace vs. Accountability and God as a best friend vs. a transcendent Glorious, Almighty and Powerful God.
To nobody me, the unconditional love of God does not preclude consequences to our choices. Those are more or less built into the nature of things and are how we learn from our bad choices. So we are loved at our worst, but are unfinished at our best. And the way we grow more loving is from a combination of learning from unpleasant consequences and being able to change through the grace of unconditional love. It’s not either/or. It’s a paradox. And after a while we should learn to avoid those bad choices. (Some of us are slow learners.)
When I got to know Jesus not only as my Savior, but as a friend, I was still Catholic. The liberal priest had changed the golden tabernacle to one of simple wood and moved it from the main altar to a simple table where we walked close to it. I was so full of love for Jesus then that I thought of the “Presence” in the tabernacle as the “Body of Christ” and I would gently and tenderly pat the top of it as I went by. The next priest was an old fashioned conservative and he moved the Host back into the golden tabernacle and put it on the central altar and expected people to genuflect when they were going to walk anywhere in front of it. I wasn’t into the genuflecting bit, but I recognized how much it expressed many people’s adoration of God. The next priest was another liberal and without telling me, he added a Directive to the list of parishioners that were Welcomers and Scripture Readers for each Mass that I created for each month without adding his name to it. It was a Directive to NOT genuflect. So many people got mad at me. And I was mad at the priest because I didn’t see why genuflecting, if it expressed their love of God, couldn’t be allowed, so the next time I was a Reader and had to walk across in front of the Tabernacle, out of sheer perversity, I genuflected. When I did, I was suddenly completely overwhelmed by the awesomeness and glory of God. I didn’t want to get up from my knees. Once again it is a paradox. Jesus is the physical human expression of the Love of God. God is Love. But God is so much more than our tiny brains and hearts can grasp, in the times when we get glimpses of God’s awesomeness, glory, power, brilliance, and love all we can do is kneel and bow in awe and joy.
It seems to me that Christians, and I guess all humans, spend centuries arguing, even warring over, things that are both true. Somehow we don’t know how to educate humanity to understand paradox.

TAKING ISSUE WITH A CORY BOOKER QUOTE AND WITH BOTH SIDES OF OUR DIVIDE

I am BOTH a born again, evangelical Christian and a liberal Democrat. Here’s the Booker quote and a few of my problems with it.
“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all his children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith; teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I ‘m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
If people were perfect there wouldn’t be any need for going to church or believing in Jesus. If Cory Booker were perfect, then he could throw stones or even boulders. We Christians and Agnostics and whatevers, in our conviction that people who disagree with us are worse morally than we are, have stopped trying to understand each other. The thing that has puzzled me all along the great political and religious divide is that most of the people I know personally,(who are NOT politicians,) but are either: 1. Trump supporters, and /or: 2. Evangelical Christians, are kind people, who actually do go the second, third, etc. mile for anyone they don’t consider a possible serious threat to their children, loved ones, or their own freedom. In my attempts to actually dialogue with and understand several of my family members, I found that they have reasons for some of their fears that I had not heard before and I don’t yet have enough facts to prove them wrong. Politicians and the Press have manipulated us ALL into being judgmental, self-righteous, offensive, and closed minded. If we want to claim the moral high ground, we have to start with loving each other enough to commit to trying to understand one another. This is where it needs to begin. Trump winning or losing the next election isn’t going to change the stalemate of “solution blocking” division. Listen to what Cory Booker actually says by what he wrote that at first sounded reasonable: “Don’t talk to me about Jesus or grace or a need for moral guidelines until you are perfect.” I doubt if anyone on either side can measure up to that. Please, please, please…..let’s start rethinking on what the biggest blocks to solving our problems actually are. Some major blocks are everyone needing to win, needing to feel righteous, and wanting a scapegoat instead of working together to find some sort of reasonable solutions to our shared problems. There are real and scary problems to be solved and it won’t happen until we try to hear each other and find a way to work together. We are choosing to self-destruct as a nation because of our own pride. And pride goes before the fall. Is it really worth it?

Would You Want to See Like Jesus?

I got a Christmas card from a beautifully spiritual priest friend of Julian’s. We’ve been exchanging Christmas cards and notes from a long time ago when Julian designed a very contemporary Church for his congregation . An amazing man, who even fills in for Protestant preachers and works with all sorts of other religions for the poor. I look forward to the card each year because his hand written notes usually have insights that speak to me. This year his card had the words “I want to see like Jesus” across the front over a silhouette of the Baby Jesus in the manger. I started thinking about what Jesus sees and got overwhelmed. He sees the children in war zones, the hungry ones, the abused ones, the lost to drugs ones, Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting everyone,  even good people throwing out the baby Jesus with the dirty bath water of bad Christian leaders and causing their own children to close their minds to the Good News. I don’t think I could bear seeing like Jesus. To see all those he loves on both sides of wars and economics and politics and religious fanaticism and all the other suffering in so many lives would simply destroy me. I can barely survive the suffering I see in my own family and other people I know and care about. Even when I love someone who is actually causing their own and others’ suffering, it is almost worse, because I don’t know how to help them get free of their destructive responses to the pain of life. Ultimately, we are helpless to save even those we love enough to share their pain. How heartbreaking it must be to see like Jesus.

Grace for the Moment

Our prayer for each of us is that we will be open to grace for the moment all through the New Year. Grace for the moment is within the limits of our tiny mustard seed of faith. So we pray for grace for each moment. Grace to live in hope each moment. Grace to hear God in each moment. Grace to trust God for the moment. Grace to be delivered from the control of idols/addictions for the moment. Grace to forgive ourselves and others for the moment. Grace to love ourselves and others for the moment. The grace of peace for the moment. Our blessings to you and yours for the moment throughout the New Year. ( A card from Donnie and Seth Norman)

Let’s Pretend Our Own Christmas Story

Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door Christmas day to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise? Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you? Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his worn and callused feet? Would he want to do the same for you? Would you protest because you feel unworthy? Or would you let him help you feel so very tenderly loved?
Maybe he’d accept a cup of coffee and then want to tell you the stories his mom used to tell about giving birth in a dirty drafty place and about the terror of having to flee to a foreign country in the middle of the night with only a few clothes and a little food.
Do you think Jesus might just try to fit in by eating second helpings and then nodding off now and then in front of the TV set like most of us do? Or would he possibly suggest, “Why don’t we pack up some of this turkey and dressing and yes, definitely some pie, to take to families living in small rooms at some of the local Motels?” Might he even ask, “Would you drive me up and down the interstate to check under the bridges for homeless who may need food?”
Or perhaps he’d gently make a more discomforting suggestion: that some presents could be returned and the money sent to help refugees fleeing with their children like his parents did.
Maybe he would just look into your eyes all the way to what’s hidden in your heart and quietly say, “If there is someone you have hurt or anyone who has wounded you, will you make me happy by using your phone now to reconcile with them?”
And then you’d remember what he said at that last dinner with his closest friends, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Then you’d feel not guilt, but regret, that you hadn’t thought of celebrating his birthday by doing more for others, even strangers, as he did his whole life.
So, you’d get your coat and gather food, even your favorite fudge pie, to take to others. And you’d see that he was smiling at you as he waved goodbye.
You wouldn’t feel condemnation, only his love and a stronger desire to love others as he loves you. Because now you’d really know that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn us, but to free us by his love.
And as you start out, you’d whisper, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” And you would know he heard.

Christian Idols

Focus on mainly one aspect of Christianity: Unbalanced Scriptural Interpretation, A Hierarchy that comes between God and humanity, Over emphasis on either this life or the next, ALL lead to idol worship.

Fundamentalist Christians have to struggle not to make an idol of scripture. Jesus is the Word of God. Scripture is vitally important, because scripture introduces us to Jesus. Jesus speaks to where individuals are and calls each to growth now, just as He did the people in the scriptures. He wasn’t adding more rules. The Jews had plenty of them. Our call is to an ongoing, deepening relationship with a living Savior who continues to show us the way of love that changes us. Though scriptures may be like letters from God about Jesus, they are not God, and He is not limited to them. And Jesus himself, was sent to awaken us to God’s Spirit within us and all around us.

Catholics have to struggle to not make an idol of the hierarchy of the church. Again, Jesus is the Word of God to each of us. The spirit of God grows in us through a personal relationship with Jesus. The church can be a rich place of nurture with its tradition of spirituality, but ultimately we are personally accountable for growing in our relationship to God through Jesus, the Way of love. The Church may be our mother, but it is not God, and God is not limited to it.

Liberal Protestants tend to idolize ideals for our physical world and this life. Which once again, are good things, and part of our call to stewardship and love, but are not God or our ultimate reason for being, because physical life is not all there is, either now or forever. That’s what the resurrection was about. Humbling though it may be, it is not just about our intellectual ideals for this life. It’s about recognizing our incompleteness and accepting the call to a growing relationship with God through the human expression of both His love and the spirituality that He is calling us to, Jesus.

The Scriptures and the commandments; the church and its traditions of spirituality; caring for the physical well being of others and our world, are all good and absolutely vital parts of Christianity, but none of them is God. None of them are a substitute for a personal relationship with God, which for Christians is given life and nurtured by our relationship with Jesus who is the love of God fleshed out for all.

Out of that relationship can flow a love for scripture, a love for the spirituality and community of the church, a love for all creation and all humanity and a valuing of all of these and appreciation for those whom God has given gifts in each area. It is not any one or two of these. It is the balance found when we value all equally. There is one God, expressing Love in Jesus, and empowering us to grow and minister to others by the gifts of the Spirit within each of us.

We are all children of God, but we are born with different personalities that have different gifts and ways of both seeing and being, so we need each other. When we only value one aspect of the kingdom of God, the one that is easiest for us, we have turned a good thing into an idol. Our inability to value and incorporate others’ focus and understanding, has led us to a church on every corner claiming to have a monopoly on truth, all of the truth and nothing but the truth, which pretty much is a claim to being equal to God.

Jesus, Himself, was sent to lead us to God, not just to Himself. His love, laying down his life for us, is the Way to God. He was taken away, so that we too would be filled with and led by God’s Spirit. And God’s Spirit is love, love for all His creation and all His creatures. And the world will know that we are His by our growth in love, love that will free us to lay down our life with its hubris of believing we have a monopoly on truth.

Anything else is an idol.

Religious Idols

One of my grandchildren asked me with horror, “Are you religious?!” She said the word “religious” like someone might say the word “pervert.” It broke my heart, but I understand it. Jesus was crucified by the “religious” leaders and their blind followers in his inherited religion.
Christians, we are doing it again. We have made Idols of our religions and in the process are crucifying again the one Albert Einstein described this way: “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene….Jesus is too colossal for the pen of the phrase mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot….No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates with every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance is the impression which we receive from a account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus….No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful. Even if some of them have been said before, no one has expressed them as divinely as he.” *1
In another quote Einstein says, “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.” *2
If our “religion” is focused on form, on the power of a hierarchy, on a claim that any one narrow denominational tradition is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we are idol worshipers.
Christianity is about the Love of God for humanity fleshed out in Jesus. God is Love and God fleshed out that Love for humanity in a human, who as a human grew in truth and holiness……to show us that we also can grow and change through experiencing the Love of God. Jesus, in his humanity, first thought God belonged only to his own faith tradition and that his life of ministry was just for them. As a human he was heartbroken, even weeping, when he realized that their religious idols were closing their hearts to him and the Love of God , the God that loves us at our worst and helps us still grow at our best, because we are unfinished even then. Jesus, as a man, finally recognized, that a God worth calling a God, loves all His creatures and creation. This is the “Way” of Jesus.
Christians, we are missing the point of Christianity. It’s a personal relationship first, not congregational or dogmatic. It’s not a spiritual country club or an insurance policy. And it’s not about being finished in just one moment of choice, but about an ongoing transformation empowered by the Love of God and being shown the way to a lifetime of growth in truth and holiness by the life and death of Jesus. Look closer at the actual growth process of Jesus. Recognize the huge leaps he took from tribal religion to a God of Love for all when he was challenged by the human suffering of a hated Roman conqueror, an unclean bleeding woman, and even Samaritan heretics, all of whom had no religious credentials.
Christians, we are being called to let go of our need for religious idols and to trust in a God of Love, who can both nurture and prune us into people who can grow in Love for all humanity as Jesus did.

*1 (Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 26 October 1929; see also Denis Brian, Einstein- A Life /John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996,/ pp277-278)
*2 (“Einstein and Faith,” Time Magazine, 5 April 2007)

The Whiners

An imaginary story of God’s conversations with his best bud, Adam, and then more of God hanging out with various generations of Adam’s descendants through the ages.
Adam is sitting around with God admiring God’s handiwork.
Adam: Wow, God, this is a nice job you’ve done. Particularly this sex thing. That’s great. Thanks for thinking of it!                                                                                                                                      God: Well, there’s another side to it. Sex creates new life, so you can fill the earth with people who will be my partners in creation                                                                                                          Adam: Gosh, that will take a lot of women to do that. I better find me some more wives.                                                                                                                                                                            God: And you better collect a lot more goats and sheep to feed all those wives and children.
Generations later:
Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem, we can’t keep dragging all these wives and children around with droughts everywhere.                                                                                                              God: From now on just choose one wife, find water, and till the land.
A later Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem. We’re getting a lot of cast off older wives who are starving.                                                                                                                                              God: In this day, men must take responsibility for women and children. You must no longer cast off wives for new wives. Choose carefully, because you are stuck with the first one
Another Generation whines : God, we are running out of good arable land .and it’s causing constant wars.                                                                                                                                              God: Okay, you can slow down on the procreating.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Whiner: But, God, we men must work hard all day and come home to whining wives and children. Surely, you aren’t telling us to give up our one delight?                                                                    God: I gave you a brain. Figure it out. And start taking one day in seven just for being thankful. I’m also tired of all the whining.
New Descendant: God, women are getting pushy. When we go to war, they have to take over at home. When we come home they complain about the way we run things. Some even think they could run things better. Like maybe sitting around crying would solve the world’s problems!                                                                                                                                                                        God: Well, it might cut down on wars.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        New Descendant: But, it won’t put food on the table or send the kids to college                                                                                                                                                                                      God: I’ve given women the luxury of developing the gift of relationships. Technology has freed humanity from the heavy lifting. Women are now needed in the workplace to bring their gifts of nurturing into the larger world. It’s time for nurture to be valued as much as achieving. It is time for power over to become power for others, for ALL others. I am doing a new thing.
Modern Man: God, these days it’s hard to tell women and men apart. And men are loving men and women are loving women. What’s with that?                                                                                  God: I know you are not going to like this, but life just isn’t about differences. In My world there is no male or female, no slave or master, no favored people, no favored religion, no favored nation. Life is about learning to love. The most advanced school for that is marriage, a monogamous intimate committed relationship. Haven’t you caught on why I still make sex so enjoyable, even when I don’t need you to keep procreating to fill the earth? Sex has the power to draw people into a stable relationship that can free them to risk being vulnerable in loving. It’s the appetizer, not the main course.
Modern Man: God, this Women working thing is really a bummer. Now they expect us to take care of the kids and even do chores at home.                                                                                          God: Shared responsibility for both survival and nurture can bring balance to relationships and society. Dependency and need are not love. Neither is control. I created human beings with the capacity to love one another as I love you. My love is the healing, nurturing, challenging, life changing, sacrificial love that does not have limits or borders. I fleshed it out for you in Jesus.                Modern Man: Well, Jesus wasn’t married.
God: It is time for humanity to grow up. You keep missing the point. The greed that is destroying the world will lose its power when humanity recognizes that my love is for all. No exceptions. And that you are called to be the channels of my love for the world.
God: Hear my plea! I am asking you to accept my love and let it fill you until the joy of being loved overflows to all those you encounter without being blocked by judgement or fear.

Savoring Brings Grace for the Present Moment

Unless we come as a child…….

There’s a quote from Bob Holmes I read on Face Book that recently helped me regain my sense of God’s presence in my life and the healing grace of feeling God’s unconditional Love. I used it along with something I wrote for a devotional for our First Presbyterian women’s group yesterday.

“Today’s devotional is about the Love of God for us, his children. Everyone is a child of God, but not all of us have experienced that unconditional Love of God. We know we are loved, because Jesus told us so and fleshed out that Love. It’s been a long time since we’ve been children, but compared to God, we are barely babes in arms. We are toddlers in God’s eyes. And it is healing and empowering to recapture that feeling of being loved like a child. Here are some of my thoughts on the Love of God.

The Love of God is so incredibly different from any other love we have known, that it boggles our ability to believe it enough to accept and experience it. No matter how much any of us have been loved by family and friends, or even if we are famous and wildly adored by multitudes, none of this is ever more than a barely glimpsed shadow of the Love of God. The Love of God is the only thing that is necessary. Jesus was the the Love of God fleshed out. We need nothing more than to open our heart to experience it, until our spirit is so filled with it that it will simply overflow to others.

Once experienced, our minds remember it, but our fickle feelings let the challenges of life steal the grace of it away.

So according to Bob Holmes in Savoring,
“Here’s the deal: What you do not savor, you will not remember. It’s a neurological fact. Our brain immediately bonds with everything negative. (It’s how our survival brain works and why depression can win so easily.) Anything good and positive that we want to remember needs to be savored. It brings our heart into the equation. This is the heartbeat of Contemplation, to savor the warm loving embrace of God’s Love. If you want to recapture the feeling of any good thing, love, joy, peace..it has to be savored. So, linger in those moments, allowing them to expand your heart. Intentionally take the time to savor all the good things in your life, because remembering them will bring them into the present, and you can experience them as gifts of God’s Love even in the hard times.”

Here is our closing prayer: “Lord, give us God eyes. Help us to see you and experience your love in the beauty of nature, in simple things like daffodils. Let us hear you in the laughter of children and in music. Help our mind recognize your love in the coincidences that help us. Open our hearts to accept your love in the kindness of others and to pass it on. Remind us to savor these as hugs from you. Thank you for loving us, your children and for Jesus, who is your love for us fleshed out, Amen  

These pictures help me remember that love.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Jesus with a child and Daffodils, which were                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     my sign of hope from God when Tommy,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   our youngest child, was desperately ill as a toddler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does God Heal?

Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her life. To accept God’s love expressed in Jesus and trust God and put her life totally in His hands. She went away and Bobbie never found out who she was, but Bobbie did what the woman said and experienced a love so great that she was able to put her life in God’s hands. Three days later she was home breathing perfectly on her own. She sought a church to try to learn more, since she hadn’t ever belonged to a church, She joined a small Episcopal church of mostly intellectuals. Bobbie was a loving person with great competence in practical things, but had married at 15 and never finished high school. Though she expressed frustration with the complex vocabulary of her fellow Episcopalians, Bobbie became the heart of that little church. She started a clothing give away for the poor. She planted a lovely meditation garden of flowers. She had the whole church over for cookouts. Then, she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that helped her articulate the love she had experienced and she spent many hours helping with these weekend retreats and others at a near by retreat house. After almost a decade, Bobbie had a heart attack and spent a month in a distant military hospital healing from a by-pass operation that involved removing a large blood vessel from her thigh. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s leg became infected. So, she had to spend six more weeks in a hospital in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber daily, Though far from family through all this, Bobbie’s bright eyes and loving heart made many friends and helped others find hope each day. Some months after coming home healed and regaining her strength, Bobbie and her husband drove to Florida to visit their son. Bobbi began to have pain in her leg on the trip and when she returned had to have surgery for blood clots and a clogged artery in her leg. She ended up with her leg amputated above the knee. She struggled to get a good fit with a prosthetic leg. Once after attending the theater at our Renaissance Center, she asked me to carry the leg for her while she wheeled herself out, because of the pain. So, I carried her prosthetic leg over my shoulder like a gun and followed her to the car. Bobby had an incredible ability to laugh at herself and roll with the punches life gave her. She constantly amazed us with her joy in the midst of incredible challenges. But Bobbie had wounds from childhood that had left her with hard places in her heart. Bobbie had three older sisters and two older brothers. Her father was both an alcoholic and an abuser in every sense of the word. Bobby had survived by often hiding in a sun flower patch at the back of the yard. She hated her father and was glad he died in a fire. Bobbie loved being in her kitchen cooking for others. It was a bright room decorated with sunflowers. It was her safe place. Bobbie liked polishing the brass candles and cleaning the sanctuary at her church as she prayed and meditated. One day while doing this, she felt called to pray for grace to forgive her father. And suddenly, her heart softened and she was able to forgive her emotionally crippled father and even pray for him. She experienced other insights and emotional healing. Bobbie spent two months the next Christmas in the Hospital with multiple health issues and in a great deal of pain. I and other friends took turns spending the night with her, because she had fallen once and often it took so long to get her pain meds, that even never complaining Bobbie was in tears. So, one night when I stayed, I took her a small tape player with ear buds and spiritual music on it to help her get through the times of pain. Bobby had a kind of raspy voice and was not really vocally gifted at all. But in the middle of the night, I heard a lovely soprano voice singing songs of praise. It wasn’t the tapes, it was Bobbie singing along with them.
Bobby never gave up. With a little help she was even able to take up casting pots on a wheel. Her faith and her humor got her through many challenges. But as time passed, it was difficult to drive on her own and handle the wheel chair for the places a lot of walking would be needed. So she was shopping for a handicapped accessible van when she had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Bobbie’s miraculous healing, conversion, years of helping others both concretely and spiritually, her own emotional and spiritual healing, and the ongoing physical illness and challenges she kept her faith and joy through are an incredible witness to the reality that both miracles and suffering are part of life and that with the love of God that is grace, faith and love can grow through it all.