love

Blind Piety

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equals human first runPresident Trump’s America is looking less and less American, and totally un-Christian. With the flurry of controversial executive orders our new President has shown the effects of something with which many Christians in the West seem to suffer: blind piety. All in the name of morals and American values, with a strong dash of dishonesty and fear-mongering, our new President shreds the image of America around the world and moves us farther from the Christian values of justice, mercy and love for our neighbors. President Trump road a wave of this blind self-centered piety and unreasoning fear all the way to the White House. Now some of the most vulnerable people on the planet are beginning to pay the price.

What is blind piety? Piety is defined as a quality of being religious or reverent. Blind piety is a religiosity that ignores its negative and hurtful impact on the people around it. Jesus actually condemned it in his own day, and an apt name would also be shallow piety or even mean piety. Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day who acted piously in vowing their income to the support of the Temple, but in doing so actually neglected their own aging parents who were in need. (Matthew 15) Now, I always wondered at that passage thinking, “How will something like that ever find a dynamic equivalent, today?” Well, ask and receive. It’s been played out on our national stage just this week. With an executive order that piously calls on abortion as a reason to cut our nation’s international help to some of the most needful and most defenseless women and families around the world our President has endangered lives, and many religious people are applauding and smiling. Blind piety. Mean religion. Just as in the day of Jesus, religion used to deny people our assistance is an affront to God.

sighing jesusAt another time (Luke 14) Jesus chastises the hypocrisy of the religious thinkers who would refuse to help a fellow human being because of the religious obligations of not working on the Sabbath, but of course they would rescue a child or an animal in sudden distress. The hypocrisy is staggering, and it’s playing out before our eyes in this day and age. Our leaders are turning away from the most needful and endangered children on the planet, and mantling themselves in faith and patriotism while doing it! The President continues to narrate his actions with the familiar and completely dishonest alternative facts about a lack of vetting and the danger represented by refugees. He targets Muslim nations and vilifies and criminalizes the most vulnerable people on the planet. He speaks of walling us off from others, as though we are not all connected human beings with a shared and mutual life on this planet. These actions are not Christian, American or moral.

Why did Jesus condemn those religious leaders of his day? It was for what they had neglected: people. People are at the core of religious law, as he named that core: justice and mercy and faith. (Matthew 23) Jesus will later sum up the Law in two expressions of love: love for God and love for neighbor. (Matthew 25) The problem is not that religion is against people, but these people were misunderstanding their religion. We are guilty in the same way today when we turn from justice, mercy and faith to hide behind fear, exclusion and dishonesty. Some have chosen a blind piety that neglects people.

imageThe sad truth is that these Christians in the West are turning from one of our oldest and deepest religious values: the heart of a stranger. Far back in our oldest Jewish religious roots as Christians is this amazing idea of identifying with the endangered. God gave Israel strict rules for protecting the alien and stranger among them, for blessing them and for serving them. The people of Israel were reminded of their own time as strangers in a strange land, and therefore they should hold to the heart of a stranger. (Exodus 22 & 23, Deuteronomy 24) That is an amazing statement and command of empathy and service. Until the incarnation of Christ into human flesh I cannot think of a more identificational statement in scripture.

These current events call for our silence to be broken and our voices raised. This political landscape suddenly shifts to assault our deepest religious values and we cannot withhold our condemnation of these executive actions. Let us be courageous and true. Let us be vocal and honest. Let us speak against these executive actions and their false religiouslity, blind piety and alternative facts. Let us be as courageous as Jesus to speak for justice, mercy and faith. That courage got him ridiculed, cast out and killed, but most of us face far less danger in our privileged status here in our own country. Privilege is never a license to ignore injustice, forget mercy or live faithlessly in our own time.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Todd
(to the greater glory of God)

Praying for Syria

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love everyoneI was driving to work this morning, to the sounds of my radio and the BBC World News, no bombs, no gunshots, no screams. The program was about Syria and the experience of everyday folks still trying to make a life in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

My soul is heavy and burdened for the thousands killed in that conflict, a death toll estimated to have almost reached half a million people as of February. The number of refugees has been placed at 4.5 million. Let this quote sink in for a moment: “More than 85 percent of the country is living in poverty, with close to 7 in 10 Syrians stuck in extreme poverty — unable to afford essentials like food or water. At the start of the war in 2011, joblessness stood at 14.9 percent. By the end of last year, it surged to 52.9 percent.” from the Syrian Center for Policy Research.

These victims of a brutal war are women, men and children, our neighbors. Love them. Each and every one of them is a human being made in God’s image, carrying the value and worth that God has placed within each of us. They are God’s beloved. They have died and they are hurting, and so I pray with them, today.

Pray with me for peace to break lose in Syria. Pray for the fighters and the rebels, the soldiers and the leaders. Pray for the mothers and fathers, the children and the entire nation to know peace. Pray for the souls of the dead and the tomorrows of the living. Stop and desire in your heart the best for them and the richest of choice blessings. Sit with me and we will bend our wills to love them deeply.

I learned an East African proverb from our mentors at seminary years ago, “When the elephants fight it’s the grass which suffers.” Pray that the love of war, the pride of hate and the tendency to violence may be overcome. Pray that the winds and ravages of war may end and that the Syrian people can again stand straight and tall in the warmth of God’s sun.

Believe that our prayers are heard, and given any chance speak for peace! Speak for the blessing of the Syrian people. Speak for the refugees. Believe that our prayers are heard, and given any chance act for peace! Find an agency that is helping the people of Aleppo, and give. Find a group that is serving the refugees, and donate. In this way we show our faith that God hears us and we offer ourselves to be part of the answer.

All things to God’s glory and the blessing of God’s world.

AMDG, Todd

Hard to Wake Up But Worth It

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Oh my, it’s Thursday. Thursday can be a special torture… so close to the end of another week and a herald of the weekend, and yet so far away from that coveted rest. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me today, on this glorious sunny Thursday, but I can’t wake up. It’s several cups of coffee, a hot shower, two pop tarts and my drive into work later, and I could still close my eyes and drop right back to sleep where I sit at a nearby Starbucks.

But it’s worth waking up! This day is mine, given by God’s grace and pregnant with meaning and opportunity. It’s nothing special in and of itself, just another Thursday. But when I stop and imagine the prayerful love, the intention learning, and the healing service to which I can give this day… it makes me sit a bit straighter, take another sip of coffee and pray sincerely, “Wake me to love, wake me to learn, wake me to serve.” I repeat it. I chant it. I write it. I even take a moment to put it in a nice graphic for my blog.

Daily Prayer Break Down

I’m not always so sure what my human mind and human body are doing. I’m not totally sure why it can be so difficult to wake up on a Thursday like today… maybe I didn’t sleep as well as I thought I did, or I have some stresses I need to face and relieve, or the barometric pressure is different and my body is sluggish while it adapts? But I do know that on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and even tomorrow on Friday and then on Saturday, my prayer remains and moves me: love, learn, serve.

From the joy of a sincere and happy greeting to the healing of honored dignity and worth, this is a day of love, learning and service. This is not a prayer to win anything, outdo anyone at something, or prove a single thing. This is a prayer that strips away the false and selfish hopes which wear me out day after day, the wanting and the buying and the hoarding. It’s an embrace the joyful servant of Christ, the Jesus of washing dirty feet, touching outcasts, eating with the unpopular and refusing to condemn even the blatantly guilty.

When I most need that boost into a day, a reason to stretch and make myself get up and get moving, there’s a daily prayer for just that thing: Let me love. Let me learn. Let me serve. It’s worth waking up to give a day to the increase of love. It worth waking up to embrace a day with eyes and ears wide open to the truths and insights all around me. It’s worth waking up to offer a hand or heart of service to my friends, my family and the most needful of my neighbors.

I’m waking up, because it’s worth it.

AMDG, Todd

Love Defeating Hate

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empty tomb
The empty tomb means
light in darkness
hope in despair
love defeating hate
strength in trial
meaning in loss
truth in promise
life greater than death
your value secure, my sister
your worth divine, my brother
our peace established
our family globalized
the story has been changed
no walls can remain between us
except those we build ourselves
for God has loved us and come near
and reminded us of justice, mercy, faith
sending us into life with life
so we share the light among ourselves
we share the love among ourselves
gifts for all, not withheld or hidden
but framing our story for all time
 
we must never forget
AMDG, Todd

Loving the Unseen to Love the Seen

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IMG_2145I must confess something to you: I’ve always doubted, at least a little, John’s statement that we cannot love a God we do not see if we do not love a sister or brother we can see. It always seemed to me that an opposite principle would be truer, that loving what can be seen is far easier than loving what is not seen, and not loving the seen is also easier. I mean, I see the failings and suffer the injury of these seen brothers and sisters, don’t I? I also see their beauty and goodness at times. So then, how can my love of God be doubted by my lack of love for other people, especially when they can sometimes be seen as not very deserving of that love?

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;
for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears
has not reached perfection in love.
19 We love because he first loved us.
20 Those who say, “I love God,”
and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars;
for those who do not love a brother or sister
whom they have seen, cannot love God
whom they have not seen.
21 The commandment we have from him is this:
those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
1 John 4:18-21

Have you ever read some of the old prayers of saints gone by, the prayers that are rich hymns of love for our unseen God? Those prayers have drawn me like a moth to the flame for years, and also left me a bit confounded. How do these prayers come into being? How do I love an unseen God that way, and not just be celebrating the ideas of that God which I’ve been taught?

Let us pray…

“I entreat thee, dearest Saviour,
come and reign over my heart.
Far from me for ever be all other loves but thine,
my Supreme Good.
Burn me with the fire of thy beauty,
O sovereign of my heart;
to thee I sacrifice all, even my inmost being.
Jesus, lord of my heart, mighty and strong, all hail!
O Saviour, reign absolutely over this heart of mine.
Oh! How happy I am to think
that thy reign can have no end.
Thousands of hearts have loved thee tenderly,
thousands of hearts will cherish thee in time to come.
Would that they were all united with mine
to love and cherish thee as thou deservest.
Would that I could make thee sought for and loved
by all the sons of Adam, Lord who art all lovable!
Triumph, my love, my beginning, and my all!
I want thee only, desire thee alone!
My joy, my great joy is that thou art God,
a God that is good, perfect, immeasurable,
infinte, just, wise, powerful.
I love thee for thy own sake, and I rejoice
in thy favours for the sole reason that they are thine!
I throw myself into thy arms, Jesus,
with all the fervour of my soul.
I sing for joy that all of the angels
and saints adore and praise thee.
Oh! That I could love thee in proportion as thou art lovable!
But since this is impossible for any creature,
let me at least love thee as much as I can and ought.
Fill my soul with thy love, my God,
so that I may die in its embrace,
wholly devoured and burnt up in its flame.
How much I repent having loved anything else but thee!
Oh! Would that I might have my life over again,
and drown it in thy love!
Sweet life of my soul, let my heart faint away in thee!
What else can I desire in heaven,
what else can I seek on earth,
but thou?
I have asked of thee one favour alone,
and it is all that I shall seek, Lord, at thy hand:
to dwell in thy house all the days of my life.
May my last breath be a sigh of love.
May I die of thy love, my God.
May my life, if it did not begin with love,
at least end in it;
and let my last act be an act of love.”
from the Aspirations of Cardinal Bona

I have prayed these aspirations with the good Cardinal many times over the years, always caught and entranced by the deep poetry and power of the words. This morning as I was praying my own small daily aspiration “let me love, let me learn, let me serve” I was reminded of this prayer of love and I turned to love God with my whole self. I turned all my inner strength to focus on loving my God, my unseen God, my hope and center of faith. From that exercise of loving God, straining to love and embrace the unseen, I felt another door open, a door to a treasure room of strength to love the people around me.

I think now that John was actually saying something along these lines… that we can’t have truly given ourselves to the act of loving God, a God we do not see, if a greater love for those who are seen around us has not been manifested in our lives. He’s not essentially contrasting the ability to love what is seen versus what is unseen, but he’s teaching a principle: Turning our hearts to God in a deep stream of affection and love will automatically cause us to have a deeper affection and love for the people around us made in the image of God and so beloved by God. If I’m not loving people, and I find it so difficult to do so, then I need to turn back to applying myself to loving God, for that love is being lost.

In truth, in living the religious life, walking in faith for years, there are many pitfalls that can sneak in and replace my love of God: love of self, feelings of correctness, personal piety, personal giftedness, pride, anger, impatience, fatigue. Love takes effort. Remember how our scriptures tie the love of God and the love of other people together in several ways, from this passage in John’s letter to the famous summary of Law and prophets that Jesus gives in Matthew 22:34-40 that is repeated by Paul in his letters: 1) love the Lord your God and, 2) love your neighbor as your very self.

But somewhere past simply agreeing that those two commands constitute a summary of the Law, past agreeing that these are two important streams of love, there is a reality that John’s seems to hint at for us, that there is an intrinsic connection between those loves. Instead of getting caught up in arguing with John about ways to love those seen and unseen, I need to immerse myself in loving the unseen so that the tidal surge and burning sweep of that love may overflow to the people around me. May I love my God in such a giving of myself, such a visceral application of my strength and being, that when my eyes move to those around me my eyes still see only God. And then I not only am loving the people I see, but my cherished unseen God suddenly has a face as well.

AMDG, Todd

Mutual Love, February’s Intention

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Weekly Grace Feb 7 2016As we enter into February and the Lenten Season, let’s pray for a mutual love to deepen and expand among us, against all odds. Each week we’ll dig into a single biblical author’s thoughts or account of mutual love and we’ll re-affirm our own commitment to the love that should be growing between us.

It’s going to be my personal prayer this month that I will be able to grow in deeper love for the people who are least like me and think least like me. I believe I have more often been taught to try to change those people, or at least to avoid them. If I wasn’t taught to do so, then I have certainly learned through experience that this is usually the easiest course.

Perhaps with some prayerful creativity and reflection I can discover ways to listen to them better; I may even find some ways to more fully offer them the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, I will imagine some new ways for us to maintain our unique experiences and perspectives, but still coexist in harmony and shared love. It seems that when Paul was speaking to the church in Rome he fully expected them to be a diverse people, but never released from that debt of shared love.

Let’s just go ahead and accept it: we won’t awake tomorrow to find that everyone thinks and believes like we do, even in our own families or congregations. So, what’s next? Without a universal agreement on all doctrine and faith issues, may we still maintain a sense of mutual love and shared harmony? Without our complete similarity of conviction, may we nonetheless value and support one another’s spiritual journeys and affirm the mutual love and things we do share in common? It may go “against the grain” by some human sense, but that may just be the signal that we’re moving into a truly transformative practice. Lord, teach us to pray.

AMDG, Todd

Finishing a Month on Civility

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Weekly Grace Jan 31 2016I realized today that with the drama of Snowzilla last Sunday, I forgot to make a Weekly Grace! I mean, wow. I haven’t missed one in a few years. So, I wanted to make sure we finished and finished well this month of intention based around civility.

It’s an election cycle year, and it’s a pretty heated race for all concerned. That’s one reason I wanted to start the year on civility. Another reason is that sometimes it’s so hard to keep my words flowing from love. It’s so easy to let something else step in and drive my speech.

In our focal passage written to the church in Corinth, Paul says that nothing is as important as love. Nothing should be allowed to take it’s place. There’s no miraculous spiritual gift, no self-denial, not even any great knowledge or correctness that surpasses love. This is not a message that religious people like to hear. We are very enamored of our personal gifts and, oh my… our correctness? We often like to stake our very salvation on it or deny another person theirs.

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 
5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 
6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 
10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Paul says that his ability to understand every question and mystery is nothing if he does not have love for others. The capacity to love matters more than the capacity to be right. I won’t belabor this point too long, but come on! I think it’s one of the clearest passages that teach us that we should let our love help us understand more often than letting our understanding teach us to love.

Our civility will grow as we move more fully toward letting love take it’s place of preeminence in our lives. Our words will grow to reflect that we have matured past the idea that our own perceived correctness gives us license to fight, humiliate, defame or condemn. We will listen better, with more desire to understand one another. We’ll ask good questions, meant to free and not to trap. We’ll grow together as we share and understand one another better. This could be a good year, even with a presidential election.

AMDG, Todd