Posts Tagged ‘love

12
Dec
22

Excluded

They were all there. 

Standing close. Knowingly nudging each other. Laughing. 

Sharing so much more than space and time.

They were sharing themselves.

It was the place I desperately wanted to be but couldn’t.

I watched them and ached. 

Left out.

At one time or another, each of us has known the pain of standing on the outside looking in. We know that pain because belonging is a core human hunger. Some contend that the central truth of the Genesis creation story is the reminder that we were divinely created for connection with others. 

When that connection is missing in our lives, we seek it as ferociously as a mother seeking her lost child. 

This time of year can be a time when those vital human connections are revived. When we seek the warmth and shelter of community. When we revel in relationships. Hearths are kindled, carols are sung, and hot toddies are poured, as much to warm our souls as our bodies.

Which makes it even more important to recognize that this season can also serve as a stinging reminder of emptiness for some of our neighbors. As they watch us clink our cups of wassail and deck our halls, they feel a deep stab of loneliness, reminded of a joy they once felt.

There we are, gathered gaily around the hearth while they stand outside in the cold, sobbing at the window.

I am not sure I have ever referenced Saturday Night Live here in this space, but there’s a first time for everything! Just this past Saturday, December 10, the cold open sketch (called, appropriately, Blocking it Out for Christmas) was all about the time-honored practice of using the Christmas season as a time to stuff down all our fears, anxieties, griefs, and sorrows and pretend to, “eat, drink, and be merry.” 

Here is that link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRjjKVRaAik

My prayer for today is that we each remember we don’t have to “block it out,” or ignore the pain that can often be the unwelcome guest at our Christmas celebrations. Instead, let this season be a reminder that just as God became “enfleshed” as a tiny baby, we are each called to similarly enflesh our love for one another in practical acts. 

Abundant Christmas blessings;

28
Nov
22

Remembering

“I’m sorry. I forgot.”

If I had a shiny new quarter for every time I’ve uttered those words in my life, I would be a moderately well-off man. 

And although I am getting up there in total birthdays, I can’t blame this forgetfulness on my age. I have suffered this affliction for a long time. 

I don’t discriminate in my forgetting. It doesn’t matter whether it is a birthday, the last location of my car keys, the first name of someone I just met, the capital of Vermont, or what I had for lunch yesterday. Anything and everything is likely to slip through the holes of my sieve-like brain. 

It is sad. It is often embarrassing. It is something I would love to do something about.

But you know what? I strongly suspect I am not the Lone Ranger in this.

In fact, the act of forgetting seems to be almost as central to the human condition as, say, walking upright or possessing opposable thumbs.

In the Old Testament section of the Bible, we regularly see God acting in miraculous, supernatural ways on behalf of the Israelites. But it only takes a minute after God turns the Nile River into blood, for the Israelites to go back to their old complaining, contentious ways. Over and over and over again, God has to tap them on the shoulder and say, “Remember? Remember back when you were slaves in Egypt and I came to your rescue? Remember that whole ‘parting the Red Sea’ thing? Yeah. That was me.”

Fast forward to the New Testament and we see Jesus breaking bread with the disciples just before his arrest and persecution, telling them, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19, NRSV). 

It is because of our unlimited capacity to forget that we need four candles to remind us that God’s incarnation in Jesus is about love, and joy, and peace, and faith. It is because of our Swiss Cheese brains that we need evergreen wreaths to remind us that God is eternal, with no beginning, middle or end. We give gifts to others at this time of year, yes, as a way of telling them how much they mean to us, but also as a way of remembering that God’s love is a pure, undiluted GIFT we’ve done nothing to earn. 

For some, this season is a time of joy. For others, it is a time of stress and overwork. For others, it is a season of sorrow, bringing painful reminders of loved ones who are no longer with them. 

I pray that whatever this time of year is for you, that it is first and foremost a time to remember the reckless extravagance of God’s love for this world and for YOU specifically.

Abundant blessings;

24
Nov
22

Left-Handed

I am left-handed.

[I’m not really, but play along with me here. OK?]

I was born this way. 

Very early in life, my parents noticed my left-handedness and were ashamed. They believed it reflected poorly on their skills as parents. “Your brothers and sisters are all right-handed. Why can’t you be more like them,” they regularly implored me.

As I went through school, I saw that, unlike me, most of my classmates were right-handed. My teachers assumed all of us were, so they gave the whole class instructions based on that assumption. 

(If they could have, I think some of those teachers would have tried to change me from a right-hander to a left-hander.)

It all made me feel like an oddball or outsider. It made me feel as if I was some kind of mistake. Like I didn’t belong. 

Sometimes I saw another left-handed kid at school. When I did, I got really excited. I would smile at them and give a timid little wave. Sometimes they waved back. Sometimes they didn’t.

As I grew older, I found that the world contained a lot more people like me. Sure, there were still a lot of people who believed there was something essentially wrong with left-handers. So, it wasn’t always safe to come right out and be the person I was made to be. You could never tell who might be accepting and who might not be.

Over time though, I became more and more comfortable with my left-handedness. I found large communities of left-handers where I could relax, enjoy myself, and not worry at all about acceptance. We all shared similar stories and understood the struggles the others faced. 

Sure, there were still the occasional bullies, bigots, and ignoramuses to deal with. But I recognized them as people who were full of insecurity about the world around them… resulting, no doubt, from childhood trauma. I did not enjoy being around them, but I resolved not to allow them to control my feelings, my movements, or my love of life.

And then it happened. The tide turned.

It started with leaders on the national stage. It began when those leaders realized they could turn more heads, open more eyes, raise more money, and gain more votes by generating fear rather than by casting visions. So, they found scapegoats. They created straw men and women. They pinned the blame for a widespread sense of unsettledness on groups of people who were DIFFERENT. Different, meaning, different from the leaders themselves. 

People like left-handers. 

Just when I started feeling that I could breathe easily and walk the street with my head up, the whole world exploded. The toxic stew of instability and blaming led a handful of unstable people to take matters into their own hands. 

They lashed out. They picked up guns and started shooting. They went after the people they had been told were to blame for the miserable state of their lives. 

They went straight for the left-handers.

And yes, in the aftermath of that horror, most of those unstable people were caught and jailed. Or else they turned the guns upon themselves. 

But the problem isn’t solved. The fear lives on. The blaming and scapegoating continue because it still “moves the needle” in the eyes of some leaders. Enemies, they tell us, must be named so the rest of us can be safe. 

We continue to live in a place where difference is feared, not valued. Where homogeneity is expected. Where diversity is considered dangerous.

Dear God, save us, because we appear unable to save ourselves. Vitalize the law of love with the force of justice. Redeem our tragedy by allowing it to lead to meaningful change. Shape our leaders into your image of sacrificial service and humility. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Abundant blessings;

11
Nov
22

Set Straight

I don’t know if you heard or not, but Tuesday of this week was kind of a big day.

Of course, I am referring to the fact that Tuesday was the day Patrick (the dog) and I made our visit to see our hospice patient.

OH! Yes! I almost forgot! It was also half-price canned goods day at our local grocery store.

Just kidding. Yes, it was also ELECTION DAY… that time when you and I and 47 percent (according to a November 10, 2022, article from the Washington Post) of our eligible neighbors went to the ballot box and exercised our hard-won freedom to decide our political futures.

Since this week’s Election Day activity did not involve voting for the U.S. President, it goes by the name, “Mid-Term.” As in, the middle of a presidential term of service. Mid-terms – as everybody knows – are always giant snorefests with most people choosing to stay home and fold fitted sheets rather than go to the polls and vote. 

Except this time around it was different. A LOT different. This time people actually CARED! This time people believed SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT was at stake…

… mainly because it WAS! 

This election came at a time of high national anxiety. It came at a time when spirited civic discourse has (mostly) given way to mean-spirited knife throwing. It came at a time when the phrase “civil war” is being used with increasing frequency. It came at a time when people on both sides of the debate demonstrated a willingness to bend or completely abandon facts. It came at a time of greater divisiveness since the actual Civil War.

And so, in that keyed-up spirit of MOMENT and CONSEQUENCE, I posted the following eight-word sentiment on Facebook: Kind of scared to look at TV tonight.

Naturally, I got a lot of “AMENs”. Turns out other people were scared, too. 

But I also got some pushback. Primarily from people of faith. Their sentiments varied a bit in word choice, but the gist of the message was, “Don’t worry! God’s got this! He is on the throne and rules an unshakable kingdom!” Some quoted one or more scripture passages carrying the message, “Be not afraid for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:13, and others).

I will admit; when I first read these responses, I did not really appreciate them. I mean, sure. God is and will always be on the throne. You’ll get no argument from me there. 

But I felt compelled to elaborate. I replied to these folks and said, “The reason the Lord’s Prayer says, ‘… thy kingdom come, thy will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven’ is because God’s will is currently NOT being done on earth. When God plopped us down here, God entrusted us to be God’s agents of justice and mercy to help bring about that kingdom.”

And then I let my emotions get a little carried away and added, “I am not sure trusting in God’s sovereignty should lead us to disengage from the instruments (and institutions) that can either aid or hinder justice-making.” 

Ouch.

And there you have it… a demonstration of the way, in a few poorly chosen words… a reasonable (though passionate) conversation can take on a terse, unintended edge. 

Were my friends suggesting that Christians should disengage from the world, gazing beatifically heavenward while ignoring the muck and mire of political sausage-making? 

Of course not.

Were they saying God doesn’t care about what happened Tuesday in the U.S. mid-terms?

Probably not.

Instead, they were reminding me that regardless of the party in power, or what color the U.S. House of Representatives might turn out to be, we never need to live in a state of fear. I think they were trying to remind me that our forebears in the faith endured times of greater injustice, moments of more profound suffering, periods of more painful persecution than you and I can possibly imagine. 

Finally, I believe they were trying to remind me that even in the heaviest moments of darkness, those ancient saints were somehow able to keep their eyes fixed on the Light.  

And for that reminder, I am eternally grateful.

Abundant blessings;

31
Oct
22

Part I: What I Actually Asked the Imam

Mine, our guide, on the right, in pink.

Earlier this month, Joan and I were on a tour. We were in Turkey with a group of 24 other travelers spending 14 days touring that amazing place with the Rick Steves organization. Our incredible guide was the Istanbul born-and-raised Mine (pronounced ME-nay) who, when her tour-guiding days are over, professed a desire to go to law school and advocate for women in her native land. 

By the way, I cannot recommend this tour strongly enough. It is a riveting historic, artistic, natural, and cultural encounter that will send you running to your thesaurus in search of new superlatives.

On Day 7 of the tour, we stopped in the village of Güzelyurt. In many ways Güzelyurt is an unremarkable town… small, rural, and hilly with sheep freely wandering around its streets. 

The point of stopping there, however, was to meet with a local Imam for Q&A time. An Imam – in case you are not aware – is the religious head of a mosque. He (and Imams are almost always male) is the Muslim equivalent of a Protestant pastor, or a Roman Catholic priest. 

At the risk of sounding like a paid Rick Steves shill, this stop was yet another example of the “value added” aspect of touring with that organization. Kind of like the vulcanologist we picked up by the side of the road in Sicily who told us everything he had learned in 25 years of studying Mount Aetna.  

Anyway, back to the story…

At this point, I feel the need to add a word here about the wonders and the dangers of the art of translation. Following our time with Imam Ramadan, I came to realize that in any translated conversation, there are at least THREE hurdles any thought must clear between Person #1 and Person #2. Hurdle One is the hurdle between MY brain and MY mouth. An idea bubbles up in my head which must then be formed into the words of my question.

Imam Ramadan of Guzelyurt, Turkey

The second hurdle is the TRANSLATION hurdle. How does the translator hear my question and then reshapeit from my language into Person #2’s language?

And then finally, is the RESPONSE hurdle.  How does Person #2 hear the question? How do they frame their response, and then how is that response then translated back to Person #1?

All that to say, there are a lot of pitfalls along the path from what I THOUGHT I wanted to ask the Imam, what was ACTUALLY asked, and then how he replied. 

So… with that exhausting prelude out of the way, here is what I asked Imam Ramadan. As an avowed practitioner of the Christian faith, I am regularly aware of a GAP or a TENSION. That tension is between what my faith ASKS of me and how I actually LIVE on a day-to-day or moment-to-moment basis. 

As one example, the words of the prophet Micah come to mind. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSVU). 

Or there are also the words of Jesus when replying to the rich young man’s question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-39, NRSVU).

Again, as a practitioner of the Christian faith, I am regularly conscious of the tension between what my faith asks of me and my daily practice.

And so, as I thought about the rigid requirements of Islam – including praying five times a day while facing Mecca, or the requirement to fast for a month – I wanted to know if this gap or tension was something Imam Ramadan ever encountered. And if so, how does he – as a faith leader – deal with that tension?

This is the point, then, where the wonders and dangers of the art of translation became manifest. The way I finally asked my question was, “Imam Ramadan… do you ever experience a tension between the SPIRIT of your faith and the PRACTICE of your faith?”

I thought to myself, “Hmmm. Not exactly the way I wanted it to come out. Translation Hurdle #1 stumbled over.”

 After asking the imam my question, Mine turned to me and said, “I asked him if he is ever conflicted about what he WANTS to do and what Islam REQUIRES him to do.”

OK. Not exactly my question, but let’s see what happens. Translation Hurdle #2 not exactly cleared.

After pondering his answer, the imam spoke to Mine. Not surprisingly, his answer – translated back to me – was, “No. Not at all. The more I practice my faith, the more I want to practice my faith.”

Well, there you go. 

And there in a brief, four-minute nutshell I began to get the teeniest inkling of the infinite minefield involved in international diplomacy.

So, I will conclude this exercise by asking YOU the same question… hopefully as clearly as I can. Do you ever experience a tension between your faith (or the values you espouse), and your daily practice? 

And if you do, how do you deal with that tension?

Abundant blessings;

25
Oct
22

Not Enough

It is always there. It never rests. 

I try to ignore it. I try to muffle it. I try to shout over it.

All to no avail. It is as persistent as a mosquito on a humid summer night.

It pops up with crushing regularity.

And with two words, that nagging little voice throws buckets of ice-cold water on everything I touch.

I write a blog post.

“Not enough,” it says.

I bring Joan coffee in bed.

“Not enough,” I hear again.

I give money to my church, my favorite politicians, the American Red Cross, the ragged man on the street corner holding a sign, the environment, and to my grandchildren.

Again, I am greeted with the same refrain; “Not enough.”

I pray. I search scripture. I fast. I engage “others” in holy conversation. I stand on my head in the lotus position.

“Nope. Still not enough,” it says.

I walk. I lift weights. I hit the elliptical for 15 hard minutes a couple of times a week.

“You’re kidding… right?” it says, now descending into pure snarkitude.

I wear myself out trying to silence the voice of RIC… the Relentless Inner Critic.

I get tired of continually falling short… of my own goals… of other people’s expectations… of God’s ideals. I wonder how many more years it will take until I finally get my act together.

And then, right when I am expecting him least, up pops Jesus. That comforter. That guiding light. That soother of troubled souls.

And what does Jesus have to say to me, in the middle of my crisis of confidence?

He holds my hand, looks me squarely in the eye and says, “RIC’s right, you know.” 

Taken seriously aback, I reply, “Excuse me, Jesus? What did you just say???”

“I said, ‘RIC’s right.’ That little aggravating, ingratiating voice telling you your best efforts are not enough just hit the proverbial nail smack dab on the head.”

Jesus continued – ignoring my gaping carp-like mouth. “There is no way here on earth that you – or anyone else, for that matter – will ever be able to live perfectly enough, give perfectly enough, care perfectly enough, or work out perfectly enough. And that song you are trying to learn on the guitar right now? Same thing applies to that,” he said.

He went on, “It is time to face the hard truth about life; you will ALWAYS fall short. You and all 7+ billion of your fellow earth-dwellers.”

Gee thanks, Jesus,” I say, trying – not well – to hide the sarcasm in my voice. “That’s a real day brightener right there.”

Jesus replied, “Well, my buddy Matthew quoted me in his book once saying, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’ Remember that? There is a great follow-up to that one, too. It was written by one of my all-time favorite hype-men, Paul. I believe his words went something like, ‘My grace is sufficient for your needs.’”

“The point is,” he… sorry… He continued, “You were not put here on earth to perform. You were put here to live and to LOVE. You probably remember that time when the rich guy – a guy with the same kinds of anxiety I see in you, by the way – asked me which of the 633 Mosaic laws was most important? Do you remember what I told him?”

“Yes!” I said, eager to win bonus points here in the lightning round. “You said there were only two that mattered. The commandments to love God and love your neighbor.”

“BINGO,” said God-in-the-flesh. 

“And you know what else?” Jesus said. “You will never do either of those perfectly either. But I will see you trying and bless you for trying.”

And for me… for today… that is enough.

Abundant blessings;

20
Sep
22

Celebrating the season

Here where I live in northern Colorado USA, the seasons are beginning to change.

Summer is graciously bowing to receive her well-earned accolades while fall stands just off-stage awaiting her cue. Warm-ups and vocalization exercises done, she is poised, ready to burst from the wings, draped in oranges, reds, yellows and deep maroons.

I’m not gonna lie; of the four contenders, fall is my fave season of all. It is the time of cooler temps, of pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, of the start of American FOOTBALL, and of kids being back in school. It is the time when fresh peaches are canned, chili is cooked, long sleeves come out of hiding, and a brand-new season of Saturday Night Live blasts off.

But most of all, I think I love fall because it is that time when the end of yard work is visible, just beyond the horizon. 

I am sure I’m not alone. Don’t most people say fall is their favorite season?

Fall on the calendar is one thing. Entering the “fall” season of our life is another matter entirely. Why is it, do you suppose that people (like me) who feel a genuine affection for all things autumnal are so very much LESS thrilled when the autumn season of life arrives?

Sure… the “springtime of my youth” was an exciting time. Everything was new and fresh and green. There was an atmosphere of expectation. Vitality coursed through every vein and energy seemed unlimited! Life and liveliness filled the air as new buds appeared on every branch. PROMISE was bursting out all over!

“Summer” was great, too. It was the season we had all been waiting for… the season when our roots took hold, our flowers unfurled, and our leaves fully deployed. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I personally don’t have any actual leaves or flowers to speak of. Do you?) Summer was the season of life when preparation met opportunity and we were out there every day DOING IT! We were on the stage, saying our lines, hitting our marks, and actualizing the self we knew we were born to be. It was a heady, intoxicating time when PURPOSE coursed through us, and we ended each day spent but satisfied.

But now comes the fall. Life slows down. Limbs creak. Daylight becomes rarer and rarer. The evenings are cooler, and the sap doesn’t flow quite as fluidly. Long sleeves and sweaters come out. Casserole recipes are located and dusted off. 

There is a temptation to lament this season and look on it as the unwelcome reminder of the frozen lifelessness that lies just ahead. But why should we? Fall is that time when our richest, most vibrant colors come out on full display. It is the time when we wave farewell to the vigorous striving of “summer” and dare to relax and refresh ourselves by the springs of wisdom. 

Fall (once again, working with an analogy here… I am talking about the fall season of LIFE) is harvest time… the time when the seeds of spring pay us back for the blood, sweat, and tears we watered them with.

While it is true that the color might have vanished from our hair (unless, of course, you have chosen to put it back in somehow), the colors of our experiences, our relationships, our families, and our indomitable spirits shines forth in a dazzling display… more glorious than a Colorado aspen grove in early October. 

Besides, I love the thing wise old King Solomon had to say about gray hair: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (Proverbs 16:31, NRSVU). 

Pretty smart guy, eh?

I don’t know… was Dylan Thomas right? Should we, “… rage, rage against the dying of the light”?

Or should we celebrate the full glory of this fall season of life? 

I know which one I choose.

Abundant blessings;

08
Sep
22

A Rich, Rich Man

Maybe it’s NOT about the Benjamins!

It was one of those perfect, early autumn evenings. The air was still hot and clammy, but the rays of the sun were starting to slant toward the horizon. I was excited because tonight was the first game of the season with my NEW softball team!

[Just so we understand ourselves clearly from the outset, I LOVE playing slow-pitch softball. I am, however, utterly unencumbered by anything resembling actual softball-playing talent.]

This was at least thirty-five years ago, when I was still working at the bank. It was a men’s team made up mostly of some guys I worked with and a few of their friends. After doing some hamstring, glute, and quad stretches, I ambled over to introduce myself to some of my new teammates. 

My eyes drifted toward a man with neatly combed graying hair who stood there tying his cleats at the end of our bench. I didn’t recognize him, so I walked over, stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there! I don’t think we’ve met!”

To which he replied, “Hi there! I’m Rich!”

And since, back then, I was a scintillating and clever young man, regularly given to cracking totally obvious, cornpone jokes, I grabbed his hand, shook it, and replied, “Well, I’m not yet, but I hope to be!” 

[Rich, that is. Get it?]

At the time I unleashed my droll little riposte, my words were absolutely accurate. I was at the very beginning of a promising career as a Series 7 registered investment representative. I worked at a respected local bank and had visions of golden sugarplums and a big, fat 401(k) fund dancing in my head. 

And here, today, half a lifetime later, I am floored to realize how lavishly that dream of fabulous wealth has been realized…

… of course, in God’s own time. In God’s own way.

You see, definition #2 of the word “rich” is, “Abundant. Plentiful. As in, “… the nation’s rich and diverse wildlife,” while definition #5 says, “interesting because of being full of diversity or complexity.” As in, “What a full, rich life you lead!”

I have not (not yet, at least!) become rich in the sense of definition #1: “Having a great deal of money or assets.” But looking back on my life now, I have become fabulously rich by definition #2 and definition #5 standards!

  • I am rich in FAMILY. The one I was born into and the one I helped build along the way. They are all such awesome, goofy, great, smart, idiotic, special, warped, and splendid humans. I don’t know what I would do without any one of them.
  • I am rich in EXPERIENCE. Some of which I sought out on purpose… some of which sneaked up and ambushed me while I was looking the other way.
  • I am rich in RELATIONSHIPS. Living in one place for 45 years will do that for you. But now, since Joan and I decided to uproot ourselves and move to a brand-new town, we have a chance to build a whole bunch MORE!
  • Thanks to my parents, many, many mentors, the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, and God’s inspired Word, I also wake up today to find I am rich in FAITH.
  • And finally, today’s list would not be complete without mentioning that I am also rich in LOVE. Both the love that has been astonishingly lavished upon me, but the love I feel toward the people and the world around me.

WOW! When you put it that way, I am a much richer guy than I could ever have imagined when I made my famous wisecrack to Rich on that softball field so very long ago.

That could very well be what Jesus was talking about when he sat his disciples down and told them, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NRSVU). 

I have lost track of Rich over the years, but wherever he is, I pray he has discovered that he is not only Rich, but also (definition #2) rich, and (definition #5) rich.

And wherever you are today, whatever your name is, I pray the richness of God’s good grace for you as well today. 

Abundant blessings;

01
Sep
22

Block Party Confessional

Joan and I went to a block party last week.

Partying on the block!

The party wasn’t technically on OUR block. But someone on that other, partying block was kind enough to invite us.

It was a nice event featuring grilled goodies, a potluck spread of salads and desserts, and even some live music. It was the perfect occasion to meet neighbors we might not have met before and re-connect with those we have.

About an hour in, I was standing and chatting with a mixture of those old and new friends, when suddenly Tom* came up beside me, grabbed my arm, and said, “Do you have a minute? I really need to talk to you.” 

I thought to myself, “Tom… can’t you see I am right in the middle of something here?” But when I turned and looked at Tom, I could tell he was really “in a state,” as folks say.

“Sure,” I said, politely excusing myself from the conversation with my neighbors about our favorite methods of crabgrass control.

Before I could even ask Tom what was up, he grabbed my arm, pulled me close and said, “He’s HERE!”

“Who is here?”

[For this next part of the conversation transcript, I will be replacing all of Tom’s very visceral, extremely profane phrases with quaint colloquialisms. I trust you’ll be able to make the necessary substitutions].

Tom – fuming and turning red in the face – hissed, “Do you see that fellow over there in the blue shirt… the one taking pictures of the band? That ornery cuss cheated me out of $25,000, my mother out of another $25,000, and my sister out of $50,000 back in 1999. I testified against him in court! He was sentenced to 60 years and got out of jail in THREE, for crying out loud! And now HERE HE IS!! He’s just walking around our block party, eating a hamburger, and smiling like he doesn’t have a care in the world!”

As my eyes grew wider, I gulped and said something profound like, “Wow, Tom! That’s incredible!”

Tom leaned in and filled in more of the story. About how the man in question had come to him, his mother, and his sister as an “investment advisor” over 20 years ago. About his slick brochures with charts and testimonials from “satisfied customers.” About the confidence he generated and the guarantees he made. About their excitement at the thought of investment profits.

And finally, Tom told me about their shock and shame – not to mention the fiscal damage – when they finally realized they had become victims of a modern day flim-flam man. A Professor Harold Hill in polyester pants.

“Russell,” Tom continued, “I sat there watching him for about 30 minutes and then walked over, stuck out my hand, and said, ‘Hi! Do you remember me?’ And do you know what? That sorry so-and-so HAD NO IDEA WHO I WAS!!”

At this point of the story, your question is probably the same as mine was. I mean yes, I was stunned and amazed to hear Tom’s story. I was equally flabbergasted to try and figure out how THAT GUY ended up here at our little block party.

But I was also thinking, “Tom… what is it you need me to do for you right now?”

Tom soon filled in that blank for me. As if reading my mind he said, “Russell, I know you are a man of faith. And I know that forgiveness is an important part of the Christian faith. And after the trial, and after the sentencing, and after about 10 years had gone by, I thought I had completely washed my hands of this scoundrel. But suddenly seeing him here like this has brought it all back.”

Tom continued, “I honestly don’t think you need to worry about me going over and inflicting any bodily injury on him. But you also need to know that, until just a few minutes ago, I was VERY seriously considering it.”

“What I need you to help me with is figuring out what to do with all this ANGER that is boiling up inside me right now. I know God doesn’t want us to be angry, but DARN IT! He hurt my family BADLY!”

I wish I could tell you I had an instant, magic bullet answer for Tom. In that moment, standing there in the middle of the street, with the band playing and people milling all around us, I felt a stabbing inadequacy to address Tom’s emotional turmoil. I DID manage to pray a prayer for illumination before daring to speak to this very wounded, very agitated, very vulnerable man. 

And when I finally spoke, I found a way to remind him that the central message of the gospel is forgiveness… as Jesus preached and demonstrated over and over. I was also able to remind him that forgiveness is NOT about acceptance or approval of the unacceptable, but rather about the purging of a deadly poison from heart and mind. 

I spared Tom the spectacle of grabbing both his shoulders and praying with him in the middle of the block party, but I will say that a quiet prayer was uttered. 

I don’t know if our conversation helped or not, but I thanked God for making me available to be a listening ear in the moment it was needed. 

Abundant blessings;

11
Aug
22

Mature Love

Love is love is love

Love – I think we can all agree – is pretty danged awesome.

You and I are probably also in agreement about the idea that there are different KINDS of love. Perhaps “…different EXPRESSIONS of love,” would be a better way to say that.

For example, there is the giddy, exploding fireworks, breathless, fixated kind of young love. You know… the kind that looks an awful lot like a dangerous addiction. 

Eros is what the Greeks call this expression of love.

Then there is the love that describes the way I love my brothers and my sister. It is fierce. It is tender… (sometimes). It is VERY close to unconditional. It brings great joy. At the same time, it is utterly asexual. The Greek word for this expression of love is filios.

If you have attended this seminar before, you know that the next category goes by the Greek name agapeAgape is traditionally described as perfect, self-sacrificing, godly love. The love Jesus demonstrated for all of us from the cross, for example.

But we are going to put a pin in AGAPE for just a second if that’s OK. I promise we will come back to it a little later.

The category I want to throw out there next is MATURE love. I’m not sure what the Greek word for this is, but I’m equally sure there is one. 

This is the kind of love that starts out with eros… moves on to hanging out for a while to see where this thing goes… morphs into deciding to exchange sacred vows and promising lifelong commitment, and finally leads to riding the crazy roller-coaster of “doing life together,” through all the ups, downs, hair-pin turns, dry, dull patches, dead-ends, and fiery crashes you typically experience along the way.

I have experienced mature love in my life. Twice, in fact. The first time for 20-some years. This time the count stands at 22 years. 

If you know about mature love, you know it takes work. You have discovered – as I did, the hard way – that there is no such thing in mature love as, “… putting this thing on cruise control and coasting the rest of the way in.”

Relationships take constant attention and effort. There is no point at which they drive themselves.

And while I have been talking entirely about the HUMAN journey of love, I want to pose a bit of an odd question here… mainly for the sake of sparking a conversation. 

That question is: ARE THERE ANY ANALOGS BETWEEN THE HUMAN-TO-HUMAN EXPERIENCE OF MATURE LOVE AND THE EXPERIENCE OF MATURE LOVE BETWEEN A PERSON AND GOD?

Yes. On the one hand, the question is totally ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because we know that God ALWAYSloves perfectly. Humans, on the other hand, ALWAYS love imperfectly. In the human-to-human relationship, both parties are (ideally) learning and growing in their capacity to love. In the human-God relationship, it is only WE who need to grow and mature. God has already arrived at mature, loving perfection.

So yes. Silly question.

Yet it nags at me. 

Based on some experience and some observation, I have learned a few things along the way about the qualities of mature human love. For example, I’ve learned that the word “trivial” gradually recedes from your vocabulary. In a mature relationship, you come to realize just how much things matter. A word… a gesture… a sigh… a neglected coffee cup. Something you might have breezed by and ignored in another time now begins to OOZE with significance. 

I’ve seen that couples who have known one another for a long time start to “tune in” more keenly to one another, anticipating each other’s thoughts and feelings.

The same thing happens – I believe – as we mature in our relationship with God. We begin making more of a practice of tuning in to the “still, small voice.” We move from seeing God’s handiwork in its broadest brush strokes (like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains) to seeing it in the smallest, like, “… the whiteness of a washed pocket handkerchief,” to quote D.H. Lawrence. 

God’s presence and activity turn up EVERYWHERE we look. We realize we can’t “… flee from your presence,”as the Psalmist once wrote…

… But we also realize we don’t want to.

So, I will close by asking: am I crazy? Is it completely off base to try and find similarities between a mature HUMAN-TO-HUMAN love and a mature HUMAN-TO-GOD love? 

And if you DON’T think this is crazy, what are some other similarities you see in these two relationships?

Abundant blessings;




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