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When Love Hurts

Time and again he rescued them, but they went on defying him deliberately and plunging deeper into wickedness; even so, he took pity on their distress each time he heard them calling. — Psalm 106:43-44, JB

We are surrounded by an idealized, misleading, unrealistic culture of love and it sucks. It sucks for people like me who have needed a lot of grace and do-overs to become a supportive, loyal partner. There’s no room in this culture for mistakes, forgiveness, personal growth, or compromise. If it hurts, it isn’t love.

I can’t help but feel that we are setting ourselves up for failure. Standards are good, and you should never accept hurtful behavior. If, however, your partner is flawed (they are, as are you), that doesn’t mean things can’t work… Unless you’ve already decided that’s the case.

In any relationship, romantic or not, pain comes standard. Those we dare to love will always have a higher chance of hurting us, precisely because they mean so much to us. To expect anything different is foolish, and to withhold grace in those moments is cold and hypocritical.

With emotionally or physically abusive relationships being obvious exceptions, love is going to hurt and we need to accept that if we actually want to experience it. Parents, spouses, friends, children, siblings, all of them are going to mess up at one point or another.

So will you, by the way. If you wouldn’t like being given up on, should you give up on others?

As a person who has fouled up most of his relationships in one way or another, I can tell you that love is what changed me. It wasn’t overnight, and it wasn’t romantic. Love came in the form of not being dumped or abandoned, but also not being enabled to continue my destructive behaviors. It was grace with duty, forgiveness with responsibility.

That kind of love is real, and it’s what changes you.

It’s the kind of love God exhibits in Psalm 106 (and throughout the entire Bible). God knows humans will mess things up… but He still loves, forgives, and shares Himself with them. This is the kind of love Jesus exhibits in his ministries. He knows it will get him killed, but we are considered worth it.

The truth is that love, in any form, is risky. It’s an opening of the heart, and because love occurs between humans, you should know right now that there will be times it hurts like hell… But that’s okay. The question is whether or not this person is someone worth hurting over from time to time.

The biblical answer is that everyone should be treated as “worth it.” Because God (and Jesus) love us in the full knowledge of our shortcomings, so we ought to do for one another. To do so is to “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” by loving even those we consider “enemies” (Matthew 5:48, 44). This kind of love is radical and unsafe, and it will lead to being hurt or taken advantage of.

Without such openness, however, we would have a hard time connecting at all. Now again, does this mean endlessly accepting abuse or harm? Of course not. But it does mean we should never let pain close our hearts and snuff out the light of our love.

My wife, friends, family, and I have hurt each other many times over the years, but we chose to be stronger for it, and that love has produced real change in all of us. We are living in a time when every relationship is considered potentially disposable, and I believe we are far less gracious than we should be as a society. This must change if we truly want to witness the emergence of a better world that we can leave behind for future generations.

Love hurts. It’s risky, frightening, and it will open us up to all manner of unpleasantness… It’s also the most worthwhile endeavor in which we could ever hope to partake.

Peace be with you!

A Prayer Problem

‘Pause a while and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted over the earth.’ — Psalm 46:10, JB

I grew severely frustrated last night as I tried to engage in some good ol’ fashioned prayer. Words came and were thought/said/expressed, but it just felt like total and utter nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the object of my prayer (the Light). I felt God was there, as It always is.

What bothered me was the practice itself. The words came effortlessly, and they sounded just like the fancy kind of seminary-influenced words that get you compliments at Thanksgiving. It should have been a moment of great connection with the Divine.

But it wasn’t. Those words were hollow and empty. The more I said, the more full of crap I felt.

Even the trusty, “magical” prayers of tradition were ineffectual. Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, all just ringing about in the air like annoying cymbals.

So I stopped. I just quit trying, and I unexpectedly felt more peace, release, and connection as I just stood there brooding in the shower. I reflected on this experience this morning and I think I’ve nailed down my issue.

Life is supppsed to be prayer.

In the Quaker faith, we worship in silence, waiting to experience… whatever happens. Ideally, there’s no agenda or attempt to “get anything.” Silence allows God and the heart to commune however they need to. We acknowledge that all people, things, places, and times are sacred… we just have to acknowledge it.

When one walks with the Divine in every moment of every day… there really isn’t much to be said. God is here. Our thoughts, our struggles, our triumphs, our questions, all things happen in the presence of the Source of it all. God doesn’t need directions, information, or pursuasion.

What is needed, most times, is for us to shut up, and “pause a while and know” that God is there. That’s what I was missing last night. I went for words and formulas when I should’ve just silently dropped all of the distractions and shared in God’s “being,” recognizing the sanctity of that moment and everyone in it, just like we do at our Quaker meeting.

It’s important to remember that, as promised, the Divine is with us “always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:20). We don’t have to hit our knees, say the right things, or even say anything at all. What God desires is for our hearts to draw near and bask in the sacred Presence, the holiness of everyday life.

So if you are seeking connection with the Light, if you are trying to pray, but the words don’t feel right, perhaps they’re not meant to. Our world is full of words and noise, but it lacks stillness and peace. It could be that these are what God is trying to offer you. So sit back and enjoy.

Peace be with you!

***AFTER-THOUGHT***

I am not saying prayer with words is bad or a sign of spiritual immaturity or somesuch nonsense. Pray in whatever way helps you connect! This post was simply geared toward those moments when words fall short. Do what draws you closest to the Sacred in all things!

Children of God

But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God… — John 1:12, JB

One thing that has always delighted/frustrated me about my religious tradition is the Incarnation. This is the event in which the Word (Greek: Logos) of God becomes flesh in Jesus Christ. I find it to be an absolutely beautiful statement of God’s love for this entire creation, that in it God is pleased to dwell and even suffer as we do.

What irritates me is that belief in that Incarnation is the litmus test for faithful Christianity. If we simply believe that it happened historically, this one time, we can believe what Jesus says and all else is will work out. This aggravates someone like me who prefers there to be a practical component to religious ideas.

Now don’t get me wrong, beliefs are powerful, but mostly because they influence how we behave. When the Incarnation is taught as just a historical moment that we either accept or not and that that determines our level of faithfulness, I feel like we are missing a crucial, transformative point. Luckily, Jesus is good about pulling us back on track.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, it is said that Jesus gifted us with “power to become children of God,” literally “sons of God.” Now wait a minute… Jesus is the Son of God, yes? But if there is only one like Christ and it is because of the Incarnation, are we then offered power to be lesser children of God? Maybe…

But I don’t think so.

Jesus indicates that just as the Father sent him, so he sends us (John 17:18). He prays, “may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you” (17:21). After washing the feet of the disciples (including Judas), Jesus says, “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” (13:15). Indeed we are to love one another as he loves us (13:34), and he promises we “will perform the same works as I do myself… even greater works” (14:12).

All this indicates that Jesus didn’t expect us to simply believe in his historical and theological Sonship. Rather, we are encouraged and expected to participate in it! As Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, the love of God revealed in the flesh, so we are supposed to embody that Divine Presence!

Humans were created with the image of God upon them (Genesis 1:27) and the breath/Spirit of God within them (Genesis 2:7). In my Quaker expression of faith, this Divinity is always there, waiting to be awakened and embraced. What Jesus offers his followers is a reclaiming of that Divine image and breath. It is the recognition of the power of God within us and the rest of our fellow humans; a chance to take hold of our calling as those who are to care for creation and one another.

We are all supposed to be the Word of God incarnate. All of us are invited to embody the love, justice, and righteousness of God in our flesh by how we think, speak, and act toward this world and those who reside in it. The story was never supposed to end in Christ. He gave us a pattern for exhibiting unity with God that all of us are to strive for, whether consciously or unconsciously, by recognizing and acting upon the inherent worth that each of us has.

So here is what I want you to know: Yes, the Incarnation is a powerful teaching about Jesus. BUT. It is powerful precisely because it’s not just about Jesus. It’s about us and who we are/who we can be. We are beloved, powerful, wonderful beings called to use our gifts for the benefit of each other and the rest of this world. When we pursue such a calling, we join Jesus in embodying Divine unity as children of God.

You are loved, beautiful, and full of the Spirit of God. So let’s go out and live accordingly!

Peace be with you!

Armor Up?

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.Ephesians 6:11, NRSV

The “Armor of God” is a fashionable teaching in today’s Christianity. As a nation, we like war. We romanticize it and the notion of fighting and dying (killing?) for what we believe in. It’s deep in our American DNA.

With that in mind, how could we not LOVE the idea of “armoring up” for Jesus?!

The problem is that the Christians in Paul’s time weren’t the guys in the armor. The Romans wore the armor, and it bears mentioning that the Romans did not behave favorably toward Christians. They mocked, tortured, arrested, and killed them.

One of the main reasons for such disdain was the pacifist attitudes of early Christians. They wouldn’t serve in the military, nor would they commit idolatry by sacrificing for the good of the emperor. As such, they were considered unpatriotic atheists, two qualities now berated by (irony incoming) many who profess to be hardcore Christians in the U.S.

It seems the old empire is never far.

The interesting thing is that Paul is clear that this armor metaphor is just that: an illustration to make a point, not a literal depiction to slap on a t-shirt promoting militant Christianity.

Paul says the “struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This is why the “armor” is actually composed of a list of virtues for Christians to practice in the face of their struggles. The Romans fight with earthly armor, but the faithful are to fight back only with their steadfast faith rooted in the love of God.

After all, you can’t fight problems of the heart with a sword (or gun).

This may seem like a small point, but it’s too often the case that we try to make the Divine more palatable by crafting Jesus in our own image. It’s unnerving to imagine that faithfully following in the footsteps of Christ might result in our crucifixion instead of our own heroic triumph.

We’d rather make God’s armor into something more worldly than recognize that we are being asked to actually lay down our arms and face the world in faith.

If, however, we give this some thought, it makes perfect sense. Violence is something we’ve always had. It’s how we humans have most often handled things, and the results are… rather underwhelming.

Our world isn’t more peaceful for all our “well-intentioned” wars and conflicts. All the guns in existence haven’t made the U.S. a safer place. The Church’s history of forced conversions, conquest, racism, and now shameless advertising hasn’t proved successful.

It’s time to relearn Paul’s point that followers of Christ should imitate their Lord in doing something altogether different. Instead of living into the world’s darkness, walk with light. Where there is violence, live peace. Where there is hate, live love. Where there is fear, live with courage. Where there is want, live with generosity (Prayer of St. Francis, anyone?).

Doing this will not be comfortable. It can get us taken advantage of, hurt, or even killed. Yet Jesus shows us that this is worthwhile if it means bringing hope and substantive change to the world around us.

Until we are willing to actually do something different, no matter the cost to us, things will (duh) remain the same. For those of us who still believe that things can and should be better than they are, it is essential that we stop making difficult lessons more bearable by reducing the amount of risk involved. Living in faith was never meant to be comfortable, and change has never been easy.

The trick is looking beyond ourselves, knowing that something bigger and better is potentially at hand. It is with this hope we must arm ourselves, ready to do battle for the fate of the world at home, at work, wherever we may be.

Peace be with you!

Blessed in the Bad

I need only say, ‘I am slipping,’ and your love, YHWH, immediately supports me; and in the middle of all my troubles you console me and make me happy. — Psalm 94:18-19, JB

It’s been a trend for quite some time that the Christian world, particularly in the U.S., has associated blessedness with ease of life. When we have faith, our lives should become easier, right? After all, to consider one’s self “blessed” is to acknowledge the smooth ride life has been and/or all the material blessings one has accumulated.

Or not.

Take this quote from Psalm 94. For me, it hearkens back to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. In both of those texts, a person is considered blessed right in the middle of their suffering.

Why?

“Blessedness” has to do with one’s connection to God’s love, not the abundant or enjoyable nature of one’s earthly life. Scripture regularly assumes that life is going to be hard, perhaps even more so for the faithful. This is precisely why being “blessed” can’t be related to our comfort. Rather, it refers to our state within our discomfort.

If, when sh*t hits the fan, we consider ourselves to have lost the blessing of God, the situation ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy because we are blinded to the activities of Divine love in the midst of our struggles. When we get stuck thinking God is absent or angry with us, we fail to utilize what befalls us as an occasion to lean on and share the love of God. Our tragedies and failures become means of humiliation rather than transformation.

Does that mean God makes bad things happen to teach us lessons? I don’t believe so. But bad things do happen, and we can either be destroyed by them or educated/transformed through them. This is the choice before us, and whichever one we embrace determines whether or not we are truly blessed.

To connect with God is to choose hope in the face of tragedy, kindness in the face of evil, love in the face of hate. This is the example Jesus leaves us, and to imitate it is to embody the powerful love of God in our own lives.

That, dear reader, is what it means to be blessed.

“Stand Your Ground” Law: Why I Stopped Killing Spiders

I used to kill spiders, often on command. Spiders or insects of various kinds would enter our dwelling and someone would yell, “Kill it!” I’d do it, usually with no thought at all.

After all, people I love are scared of those things. I have been scared of them. Therefore, I am justified in taking life from them, right?

Our country even defends this behavior with humans. The Zimmerman and Martin case in Florida is a good example. It turns out you can pick a fight with someone, lose that fight, and shoot that someone because you made a stupid decision.

Totally makes sense, yes?

In pre-historic times, sure. Killing things that seemed threatening kept our species alive. The problem is that civilization doesn’t function well under those parameters. That’s A LOT of death when you take into account how often we tend to fear or hate difference. Yet many states are totally fine with validating our fears to the point of violence.

I get the idea. We want people to legally be able to defend themselves, which is great until you factor in prejudice (in the form of unequal threat association based on race or appearance) and a set of lawyers out to manipulate juries for a win. Also, humans get scared of a lot of things, and that fear is subjective, which is not a sound basis for law. Juries are supposed to consider evidence precisely because empathy can interfere with justice because of shared prejudice.

After all, if we legally excuse people based on their mindset at the time, NO ONE would pay for their crimes. There is ALWAYS justification available. We humans can rationalize anything.

When we justify violence based on fear, we set ourselves up for more violence, not less. This works against what I would say is the goal of laws against murder, manslaughter, assault, etc.

But what is the alternative?

Well.

What if we cared more about life (all life) than possessions or our own illusion of safety? What if we as individuals decided ahead of time to act with love and kindness toward others, no matter how others might act toward us? What if we as a society recognized the inherent value of all living creatures as part of this interconnected natural world?

There is inherent risk to this idea. It’s a scary, idealistic approach to complex, dark, and real issues. However, things can’t change if we keep responding “in kind.” You can’t kill your way to peace. It takes an entirely different response to affect change, and I think we can all agree that change is something we need.

So I stopped killing wasps, spiders, roaches, all of it. I catch them, and I move them. I take precautions, but those precautions are selected with love and appreciation in mind, not fear. It’s a small thing, but perhaps we as a society would benefit from finding such a “third way” for how we deal with each other.

Peace be with you!

Try

It’s been hard to find writing inspiration lately! I hate it, but I think I’ve figured out the source. Frankly, I’ve just been really bummed.

I try to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world. I read the news, check social media, and generally just pay attention. The downside to being informed is the content of that information.

My country is forgetting its roots and trying to base eligibility for citizenship on whether or not the person in question is rich enough to deserve it. Our president has a cult following that will follow him to hell and back because he validates their frustrations and gives them a common enemy to blame.

My fellow citizens seem content to harrass and malign each other based on their political leanings, not caring to acknowledge the fact that the party they’re fighting for couldn’t care less about them.

We are so worried about “rights” that we refuse to temper freedom with duty, endangering one another for the sake of guns, greed, or “god.”

It all makes me sick. I know I participate in these things in my own way, but I can still say I am tired of it all. So what do we do when all of this crap gets so overwhelming?

We try.

Yep. That’s it. No convoluted arguments or attempts to sound wise. Just try, dammit.

Disagree with someone politically? Not a fan of someone’s personal choices? Want a cleaner planet or fewer hungry people in the world? Hoping for more peace and less violence?

Neat.

Get started.

I was recently reminded that we are all responsible for our little corner of the world, and if everyone got on board with the notion of putting effort into what we want to see materialize, this life would look quite different. Call it idealistic, but you have to start somewhere, and having an ideal to strive for doesn’t hurt.

Now, will giving a homeless guy a buck change the nature of poverty in America? No.

Will inviting your liberal/conservative friend to safely vent their frustrations and reasoning behind their ideals lead to a sudden conversion? Nope.

Are you going to end world hunger by collecting canned goods once a month? Or will recycling save us from impending disaster? Nah.

But.

That stuff matters. Kindness, love, and light, in any context, matter. You can positively affect your surroundings every day, as God has given you everything you could possibly need to do so. The trick is consciously making the choice to utilize your gifts as means of service. It won’t happen by accident.

So there it is. Overwhelmed by the bad? Wonder how things could possibly get better? Look in the mirror. There’s your answer. Recognize the Divine in you, that of God in others, and walk your path accordingly.

Just try.

Peace be with you!