Love, love, love

Transformers The Ride - 3D
Transformers The Ride – 3D (Photo credit: prayitno)

In the Transformers movies, one of the main protagonists is named Bumble Bee.  Bumble Bee, it seems, has suffered some sort of damage to his ability to talk.  It’s a little strange, because we see some of his team mates get ripped apart and battered unimaginably.  Most of them are fixed, but Bumble Bee is left with out a voice.

Perhaps Bumble Bee has a really annoying voice and nobody wants to hear it.  Or maybe he does not have the right robot insurance or something.  Anyway…

Bumble Bee compensates by stealing phrases off the radio and putting them together to say what he wants to say.  And this is my point, why I have subjected you to perhaps the geekiest blog intro ever.

Some of them when I pray, I feel a little like Bumble Bee.  My prayers evoke what feels like a response from outside of me.  But it feels like this outside presence is using my own memories like Bumble Bee uses the radio, it feels like memories, words etc. that are already inside my mind are strung together in new ways.

This way of progressing does not merely repeat things back at me that I think I already new.  The context within my life, and the juxtapositions of the different phrases etc. brings out a legitimately new understanding.

That was more of  the geeky introduction, in case you like to keep track of such things.  But don’t worry.  The introduction is now officially over.

When I was praying yesterday, I had this experience, of God speaking to me through that which I already know.

His message was liberating and terrifying; at first heartening and then as I pondered it… really hard.

I realized how little truly matters.

It doesn’t matter what I wear, what I buy, what my house looks like.  And doesn’t matter if I’m ugly.  It doesn’t matter if I’m educated.

It doesn’t matter who I know.  Mostly, it doesn’t matter what I know.  It does not matter what my life experiences are.

It doesn’t matter if I am deeply loved by those around me.

In the final analysis, I am powerless to determine all these things.  Through the actions I take (and the ones I don’t take) I can stack the deck a little bit, too increase my likelihood of how all those things turn out.

But the final deal is God’s.  And the way he deals all those things out will emphasize the point: none of that matters.  Even the last one.  It just doesn’t matter how much people love me.

All that matters is how much I love others.  Deeply love them, love them in wisdom and truth.  Love them as unconditionally as I can.

In the end, we will be lead to a cross.  Will we follow His example and pour out our love once we are hanging from it?

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Love and Suffering. And Chocolate-Covered Strawberries.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry's in the Four Sea...
Image by Andrew-Hyde via Flickr

I am the kind-of guy who writes poetry and asks his wife for hugs.  Maybe you’d say I’m a modern guy in touch with his emotions.  Maybe you’d say I’m a wimp in desperate need of cajones.  Whichever is fine.  That’s not really my point right now.

My point is that I talk the talk about seeing the importance of love.  I put on quite a show.

And yet…

There has been this struggle in my life which I did not react to in a loving way.  For a really long time.  I stunted some relationships.  I hurt some people.  I lost out on a lot of possibilities, a lot of things I might have experienced with somebody really precious in my life.

I know that a part of love is firmness.  And the thing is, that I used this truth.  I used it to manipulate and justify.  In a variety of different ways, I said to myself and others, “The way I am going to love this person is to be firm and hold them accountable.”

But the truth is that what I was doing was avoiding the fullness of this person’s struggles.  I was holding them “accountable” for things that they had no control over.  I was expecting the impossible.

I was doing this because I care deeply for this person, and I didn’t want to really grapple with how great their struggle was.  I didn’t want to agnowledge that God allows suffering on this level to happen.  It is so much easier to think things are someone else’s fault.  Even when we claim to love them.

I realize that this is vague and abstract.  But the reason I’m writing this is because I had this learning experience that I’m just beginning to be able to put into words, and it’s something I wished I had learned a long time ago…

Saying “love” is easy.  Putting on a show is easy.  Even playing the heavy, being full of responsibility, accountability, and expectations… this can be easy.

Entering into suffering is the real deal though.  It’s what Jesus did.  He entered into the world’s pain.  That’s what the crucifixion is about.  It’s not about holding us responsible for the bad things we did.  It’s not about making our suffering suddenly disapear.  It’s about suffering with us.

Even toddlers can offer up hugs.  Even Drill Sergeants can hold people responsible.  Read a couple self-help books, and you probably will have some useful advice.

I know that people say that we need both love and justice.  And I think that’s right.  But love, love is like strawberries.  And justice, justice is dark chocolate.   And the question is this:

Do we want chocolate covered strawberries?  Or strawberry covered chocolate?

Is love going to be at the center, draped in justice?  Or is justice going to be at the center, prettied up with love on the surface?

But none of these are as important as a deep level of love: suffering with somebody.  And going even deeper… the deepest level of love: Suffering for somebody.

Maybe (Hopefully!) there were people a little quicker on the learning curve than me.  But as for myself, I can say that it’s taken me about 4 decades to start to really glimpse this reality.  In some strange way, we are built to love.  But to unmask this potential, to really do it right: it’s a hard lesson, that takes a lot of time to learn.  It’s one I’m just taking baby steps at.

How about you?  How are you doing on this part of the journey?

Love and Humility for the Mentally Ill

What is the nature of the soul, and how is it related to the mind and the brain? Why do bad things happen to good people, how do these trials shape them, and what can be said of God when there seems to be no relief? What does it mean to be born again and made new in Christ? How should the truths of scriptures be understood in our modern world, which is so often viewed through a scientific lense?

How we answer these questions shapes the very most basic parts of our faith. And all four of these q uestions are just the very beginnings of how we view mental illness.

Mental illness. Is it going too far to call mental illness the dirty little secret of the church?

I’m not sure that this would be an exageration at all. I think we’d all be hard pressed to name a single issue which has effected so many but which is so rarely discussed. It would almost be a good thing if we could, in fairness, say that the topic was controversial. I almost wish that we could say that the church is divided on the issue. Because this would imply that we’re at least trying to deal with it. This would imply that we’ve at least recognized that it’s an issue.

It’s not altogether surprising. The secular world doesn’t do much better in this regard.

And a person could spend his whole life on any one of the questions mentioned in the beginning of this article. Yet, too formulate a cohesive and Christian response to the fact of mental illness almost demands an answer to all of those questions at once.

Consider the question of the relationship between soul, mind, and brain: The use and sometimes-success of medications imply that there is some physical aspect to mental illness. The very use of the term, “mental illness” draws a comparisons with physical ailments.

Or begin with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Mental illnesses are not brought on by any doings of the person who suffers from them. “How do trials shape us?” Even a casual survey of the research leaves one understanding that traumatic events impact the brain itself. “What can be said when there seems to be no relief?” One of the most heart-breaking aspects of mental illness is that it is so very unpredictable. It can go on for years and decades, being mostly the same. And then? Then it gets better. Or it gets much, much worse.

What does it mean to be born again, or made new in Christ? People accept Jesus as their savoir, and their mental illnesses linger. Others, who are life long Christians develop mental illnesses. It is a real and legitimate question: where is Jesus’ healing for them?

The question of where Jesus healing is for the mentally ill leads to that last fundamental question: “How should the truths of scriptures be understood in our modern world, which is so often viewed through a scientific lense?” In the entirety of the bible, the events that seem like the nearest descriptions to mental illnesses are in fact examples of demonic possession. Yet modern science has no room for this explanation. And modern science has sometimes been succesful in explaining and even managing mental illness. How do we handle this tension?

This is not a series of abstractions. This is not an interesting quandry. If you are fortunate enough to not have grappled with this yet, you will.

If you spend long enough in ministry, you will wrestle with how best to hold someone accountable for actions they may well have no control over.

If you spend long enough trying to bring Jesus’ love to everyone, you will find people so thoroughly depressed that they can not feel His love or hear the truth of your words.

If you spend long enough in small groups, you will become authentic enough in your community that someone will share these troubles, that can be so very hard to understand or change… unless of course you suffer from mental illness yourself. And if you do, you may find that there are no lonlier places that a person might be.

I am not suggesting that there is no answer to these questions. In fact, I believe there is a desperate need for better answers to these questions.

But I am clear that we do not have these answers. Not fully, completely, or consistently.

And I have seen the damage, the terrible damage inflicted by people who believe that they did have the answers.

I think one of the lessons that God wants us to learn from mental illness is that He will not be placed in a box and He will not work on our time tables or according to our plans. I do not believe that mental illnesses occur so that God can teach us these things. But I do believe that He uses mental illnesses to teach us these things.

I believe that when we don’t see healing the way we think it should occur, when the same issues and challenges wear and tear on us year after year, I believe we are all confronted with a decision. Will we take the path of Christ? Into the pain and doubt and suffering? Or will we take the path of Judas, into the safe and comfortable?

In small ways and big ways I have shunned the suffering. The suffering are reminders that I am not God, and I can not heal whoever I choose. The suffering are reminders that God is not a genie, he is not a cosmic ATM. I repent, right here and now, of all the times I have taken the path of Judas.

The mentally ill are not the only people who are suffering. But there are a few cruelties we save for them alone. There are limits to the comparisons between mental illness and physical illness. But there are ways it is a useful comparison.

Yet most of us don’t encourage people with high blood pressure to stop taking their medications. Most of us do not think that the people who wear glasses among us lack the faith for healed eyes. Most of us don’t cast doubt on the ideas that a secular doctor might have some good insight about our flat feet.

There is a part of me that wishes so desperately that I had more. And yet, over and over, in the scriptures, we are told that love and humility is enough, they are more than enough.

So may all our actions be saturated in love and humility. Whatever specific things we do, I think they will be the right things if they begin in love and humility.

Our own human attempts at love and humility are so small but I know that there is an infinite storehouse of love and humility in Christ. And I know that we can access this storehouse in Him and through Him… That is not the end but the only worthy beginning.

More than we need

My seven year old had a day which might have been quite disappointing for him.  Near the end of it his friends were leaving to watch fireworks.  Not only was he no longer going to be playing with them.  They were headed off to do something as cool as fireworks.  And him?

He was headed to another boring night at home.  His brother and sister (my other two kids) are away at my mom’s.  His mom (my wife) was out with the family car.  It was going to be me and him.   And to him, I’m sure if felt like everybody else in the world got to do cooler stuff than him.

“What can we do?” I asked him as he wailed on the bed.  “Can we walk to the park?”

They just rebuilt this playground near us.  I thought I was being a pretty hip dad.  It was less than an hour untill bed.  This was a bit of an out-of-the-ordinary treat.  At the time, I thought, to judge by his grin, that he was just admiring my wackiness.

As we assented to this plan, I was watching the gears turning in his head.  I figured out why as he shyly, slyly shared a piece of information with me as we headed to the door.

“Uhhm, dad.  Just so you know… it’s raining.”

I fed into his scheming ways tonight.  We walked in the rain to the park.  If it was a scene in a movie, if I was a super cool dad, I’d have been splashing along with him.  I’m not quite that cool.  I found a tree which offered me shelter.  And he played around.  The slide was super-charged with water.  The new park equipment was given this whole extra dismention.  He had it all to himself.  Turns out most people are smart enough to come in out of the rain.

He played for a while.  We decided to walk past home to our favorite little dump of a Chinese food restaurant for a second dinner that was after his normal bedtime.  The fact that we were wholly unprepared for the rain made it better, somehow.  I was in sandals.  We were both in shorts.    The rain soaked our hair and coated my glasses.

We shared General Goa’s chicken, shrimp Lo Mein, rice, and an orange soda.  It’s awesome to hear him read the fortune inside his cookie and hear him pronounce even the tough words right.  It’s so cool to discuss what the silly abstractions mean, and to hear him puzzle out how fortune cookies are just pretend anyway.

On the way home he got a little spooked by barking dogs and the way the streets look different at night.  He let me hold his hand for a while.  And then he found an excuse to pull it away rather than just grabbing it away.

I tucked him in bed a few minutes ago.  And he said something to me.  He said “Dad, thanks for giving me more than I needed tonight.”

And that’s most of the reason I’m sharing this all.  I’m not bragging.  This whole night was me at my fatherly best.  More often my parenting style is closer to Homer Simpson than Mr. Cleaver.

It occured to me that we have a heavenly father.  What he has for us isn’t just enough.  He’s got more than what we need.  He’s over the top and gratitious, decadent, and so very good, all of the time.

Is Community Optional?

The last couple weeks, I’ve found myself involved with a number of conversations that were quite similiar.  Each of them was really about community, and the role of the church in cultivating community.

(Church here meaning both the global church in general and Fellowship Church in particular.)

I identified three questions that were worth looking at.  The one I’m focused on today:

Is community optional?

I think the answer to that question is “No.”

In one of the conversations I’ve had about community, the other person said, essentially, that they felt like a community-oriented church is o.k.  for people who are into community.  But they suggested that others might prefer a church that wasn’t focused on community.  Perhaps they’d be into a “Spirit-filled” church.  Maybe they’d prefer a church which was more doctrinally-driven.

First off, I think that The Holy Spirit works through community and lives in the space between them.  Secondly, I think that one of the most important doctrines a church can have is an emphasis on community.  Therefore, either a community-focused church will be spirit filled and a doctrinally based church must emphasize community.

I am not saying that every church should be like my church in most ways.  There are countless negotiable aspects of a church.  I would go so far as to suggest that there is more solid scriptural support for the importance of community than there is for having music at all in a worship service.  I would go so far as to say that there is more solid scriptural support for the importance of community than there is for the idea that a church ought to have a building, than there is for the idea that a service ought to fit the music-sermon-music/offering format.    I bet I’m going to make some people mad on this one, but I’ve even say you have to work harder to find the notion of the trinity in the bible than you do to find the importance of community.

I am not saying that scripture does not support any of the above ideas, particularly the trinity.  I am saying that the evidence seems more clear and plain for the importance of community.

I am also not saying that community is all a church needs.  But it’s almost all.  I haven’t studied this question, but tenatively, I would venture the position that worship of God, recognition that Christ rose from the grave, and community are the only true essentials for a group to be called a church.

I would submit that you can’t have love without community, and that you can’t have community with out love.  If I’m right on this, then some of the support I’d offer for the importance of community follow:

* Jesus saying that the most important thing is love of God and love of neighbor.

* Jesus saying that by our love they show know us.

* Paul saying that speaking in every language, prophesying, understanding everything, these are essentially meaningless without love.

I think it’d be easy to find verses that discuss the importance of other things.  I think it’d be quite difficult to point to verses that establish other things as more important than love.

1 Corinthians 13 (Revised)

1 Corinthians 13

The very depths of me hum

with the greatness of this realization:

 

This realization that though I might speak great truth

truths which unlock the secrets of this world

truths which unlock the secrets of the next world

I might speak ecstatic wisdom.

 

but words

without love

are only noise.

 

And I might appear to be a prophet:

holy man healer medicine man mystic.

There might be a depth to me

deeper even than the deepest wisdom

Healings, trances and supernatural abilities.

but actions,

abilities,

without love

are irrelevant.

 

If I am self-sacrificing:

if I give every piece of me

to build up every piece of you

if I give until I am a sad shell…

if I wait until I am almost nothing

if I throw the sad remnants of what I once had

of what I once was

into the very flames of sacrifice…

if I sacrifice even my love

if I give even my love

until I have none left

then I have truly given too much.

 

Where patience manifests itself

love is underneath.

 

Where true kindness emerges on the outside

love hovers beneath.

 

Where envy has been transcended

love has conquered.

 

Where boasting has been ended

love has begun.

 

Where pride falls

love rises up.

 

Where cruelties fade away

love comes into focus.

 

Where selfishness is defeated

love victors.

 

Where rule books and score books are thrown away

love springs up.

 

Love does not flourish among evil,

love abides in truth.

Love preserves the eternal

Love trusts even when it is hard

Love believes in the best of us

Love maintains the best of us.

Love is perfect.

 

It is not like our words, any words

whether those words refer to this world or the next.

 

Some day

we will run out of words

 

Some day

our tounges will no longer wag.

 

Love is perfect.

It is deeper than understanding.

understanding resides within us.

and begins as a passenger with us.

but transforms us, maybe

into the passenger for a while.

 

The best we can ever hope for this life is to speak partial truths.

The best we can ever hope for this life is to know half the truth.

But we can participate,

right here,

and right now

in something which is full and complete.

 

Someday we will be greater than we are.

Someday we will see that we are not so different now

than the child we once were.

 

We know that when we were toddlers

we could not speak complete sentences

or understand the fullness of adult thought.

 

Someday we will look at who we are now

and where we are now.

and we will see that we are still toddling around

still so uncomplete.

We put our childishness away before,

we will put away this new childishness again.

 

In that new place

in that new time

we will step into the fullness

of what we were meant to be.

The best of us

is what will be left of us.

We will be faith

hope

and love.

But the greatest of these

the greatest of what we will be

is love.

Those Details

Before Lucifer fell

Did they all used to say

The angel

the highest angel

is in the details?

It’s true and still true.

I love you epically

grandly and with a vastness.

but…

It’s built up from these little things,

a full sized moon

built from legos.

I love that you know

which happy meal toy

the kids need to complete the set

I love that you know the mate to my favorite sock is in the dryer

and that we have ziti noodles left but no angel hair

I love it not only because it makes my life easier

but because your command of the details

is a mainfestation of your love for us.

I love that when I am walking in early morning circles

ineffectually packing a lunch and talking and thinking and dressing

you grab the sack out of my hands and complete it and give it back to me

and I don’t even notice

until lunch time

and there are nicer things than I would have thrown in there.