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Hey everyone. This is Brett, head blogger and founder of WOJ. I have decided to take my work to the next level and actively pursue a career in freelance writing. I will continue to develop weoccupyjesus.org, however my personal reflections and more self-promotional posts require a separate site. I am now officially launching…

iamprobablywrong.com.

If you have enjoyed by previous work, please follow the new blog. I have written an introductory post that I’d be honored to share with you. Please read, like, share, and comment! I would love your feedback. The site is optimized for all mobile devices, so have at it.

Thanks for all the support. #heregoesnothing

 

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The Nature of War

jordanmb08 —  March 1, 2014 — Leave a comment
flickr: Sylvia Westenbroek

flickr: Sylvia Westenbroek

“Twenty-two years of mental tears
Cries a suicidal Vietnam vet
Who fought a losing war on a foreign shore
To find his country didn’t want him back

Their bullets took his best friend in Saigon
Our lawyers took his wife and kids, no regrets
In a time I don’t remember, in a war he can’t forget
He cried, ‘Forgive me for what I’ve done there
Cause I never meant the things I did.’”

“Something to Believe In” by Poison

I was listening to this song a few days ago and the part about what the veteran said towards the end of the second verse I shared here has caught my attention and stuck with me. “Forgive me for what I’ve done there/ ‘Cause I never meant the things I did..”

The Reality of War.

My father was a Vietnam veteran in the United States Marine Corps. He fought for his country in that war and he even felt that it was a war that we should have never been in. He told me first hand experiences about fighting in that war, what he and his fellow Marines had to do. He also told me about his welcome home–about being spit on, threatened, and treated terribly just for trying to survive a war that we as a country should have never been in.

Our history lessons cover what was done over there by our troops, but never what they went through. Dad used to tell me that there were children that would come up to him or his fellow Marines and they would be crying, begging for help–with bombs strapped to them. Or the children and women that were used as human shields. It is endless the atrocities that were witnessed by many of our military members in Vietnam and in other areas that have been war torn.

Passing Judgment.

During the time of the Vietnam war, the returning military members were called baby killers and spat on for their “crimes” that they did over there. Yes, there was one army unit that did literally rape and pillage a village in Vietnam and they were all brought to justice afterwards. While there was some that did do horrible things for the pleasure of it, many did what they had to do just to survive. It is so easy to sit and pass judgment on the ones that go into these areas while those passing judgment are never in those places and most likely never will have to be.

But, here is a question for you, my readers:

Should the military be blamed–or the powers that be?

The Spiritual Aspect.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Ephesians 6:12

If you have discussed anything spiritual with me, then you know I often reference this darkness that is in the world as an entity but I refuse to give it a name for personal beliefs. For this writing, the personal beliefs are not relevant.

This darkness has to feed off of something, though, and I think one of the main things is war–especially war that is based upon hatred of someone else. I also do not believe that those who are actually in the wars are evil–but I believe the ones over them, the rulers, the authorities, use these people as pawns and human chess pieces.

I say that because, oftentimes, the people of the warring countries are fed propaganda about the evils of the other side. This is used to create an “us versus them” mentality and a feeling of solidarity among the people and within the military. Like what was done with our most current wars, for instance. The Twin Towers fell because of a terrorist attack, and we, somehow, as a country, end up going to war, first with Afghanistan and then Iraq. Propaganda has been spread against Muslims, screaming of the evil that is Islam and how Islam is the greatest threat to the peace of the world; and the ironic thing is, the same thing is being spread to these countries where the fringe Islamists (the extreme ones) are in power–only it is being said about Americans and Christians.

This is not a battle of Christian against Muslim or American against Middle Easterner–this is just another tactic to divide the world’s people and to cause strife, and to spread hate and fear so that a few may remain in power. And many of us are playing into it because of our under evolved part of our brain.

The Biological Aspect.

Within the human brain, there are two parts. One is the upper part, the mammal part of our brain and it is highly evolved. It is the one where we are able to reason out problems, critically analyze, learn, socialize, and function in day to day society. But there is another part underneath that that is pure animal instinct and it is where our instinct to survive, procreate, eat, and so forth reside. It is also the one where flight or fight comes in.

With many military members, they are trained to let this part of their brain to take over so that they are better able to survive in conditions that they can be placed in. They are also trained to use their highly evolved brain with it to reason out the best solution of how to survive, and to analyze the situation. In Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, when they were put in situations where they had no choice but to survive somehow, someway.

It is done with full knowledge by those that train military and those over them.

And it is also done to the citizenry by having us to shut down our highly evolved brains and to instead just react to something that we perceive as a threat–which is often what the media tells us are threats.

The Nature of War.

The nature of war is not holy. There is no holy crusade or anything else. It is a tool used by corrupt men so that they may stay in power and that they may try and create their own personal empires in the world. And we allow them to whenever we respond to hate with hate, anger with anger, and when we refuse to understand. That is why we need to reach out in love and in peace.

Why I marched.

adeleh72 —  February 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

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On Saturday, February 8, 2014 the Moral Monday Movement of NC joined the annual North Carolina HKonJ for a Moral March. The March was for people across NC to join together, across party lines, race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation and walk in solidarity with the people who are suffering under long term unemployment, going hungry, lack of quality of education, being denied equal rights under the law, fighting barriers to the ballot box and living without health coverage. This is only a brief description of the movement. If you want to read more please check out this link.

What I want to share here is why I went home the first weekend in February to participate in the March. It is also the same reason I followed my Savior’s call to full time ministry.

Deuteronomy 27:19

“Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Psalm 140:12

I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy

Proverbs 21:13

Whoever closes the cry of the poor
his ear to will himself call out and not be answered.

Isaiah 1:17

Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 10:1-2

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.

Micah 6:8

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Zechariah 7:9

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.

Matthew 23:23

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Matthew 25:31-46 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The Judgment

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Mark 10:13-16 (ESV) And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Luke 10:25-37

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” 29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Philippians 2:4
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Colossians 3:12
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,

Galatians 5:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.   

Galatians 6:2
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

1 Peter 4:10
10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
 

1 Timothy 5:8
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

All of these passages are the fuel to my faith, my ministry and conviction. As Isaiah called out rulers and kingdoms who forgot the poor and oppressed widows and orphans I too must call out oppressive rule in our country and around the world. In the same vein I bring attention to the atrocities of human trafficking I will shed light on the destructive and oppressive deeds of elected officials that are conducted behind closed doors.

In the same vein I am called to love my neighbor, I am called to declare in love what is not of God and proclaim the grace, love and forgiveness that God gives and that we are called to give as it is stated throughout the Bible.

While I staunchly support separation of Church and State I see no reason why our government–local, state and Federal–cannot create legislation that embodies the message in the scriptures above. We should care for the poor, feed the hungry, ensure those who are sick have access to medical care, ensure that all people are treated equally. For it is not through oppression, judgment and hate that God redeems us all but it is when we love our neighbor, that through our love God redeems.

This is why I marched and why, as a Minister of the Gospel I will proclaim God’s love for all and shine light on the evil and destructive deeds of man.

A story to close on:

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“The woman on the left is a mother from Miami who was so desperate to feed her hungry family that she was trying to steal a lot of food.
The woman on the right is Miami-Dade County Police Officer Vicki Thomas. Officer Thomas was about to arr
est Jessica Robles but changed her mind at the last minute. 

Instead of arresting her, she bought Robles $100 worth of groceries:

“I made the decision to buy her some groceries because arresting her wasn’t going to solve the problem with her children being hungry.”

And there’s no denying they were hungry. Robles’ 12 year old daughter started crying when she told local TV station WSVN about how dire their situation was:

“[It's] not fun to see my brother in the dirt hungry, asking for food, and we have to tell him, ‘There is nothing here.’”

Officer Thomas says she has no question that what she did was right:

“To see them go through the bags when we brought them in, it was like Christmas. That $100 to me was worth it.”

But Officer Thomas did have one request:

“The only thing I asked of her is, when she gets on her feet, that she help someone else out. And she said she would.”

And guess what? The story gets even better.

After word got out about what happened people donated another $700 for Jessica Robles to spend at the grocery store.

And then best of all a local business owner invited her in for an interview and ended up hiring her on the spot as a customer service rep.

She started crying when he told her:

“There’s no words how grateful I am that you took your time and helped somebody out. Especially somebody like me.”

And to think it all started with one veteran police officer trusting her “instinct” instead of going “by the book”.”

Courtesy WSVN

I believe homophobia is natural.

There, I’ve said it. Shoot me down in flames. But let me explain…

Firstly, remember: a phobia is not hatred or victimisation; it’s fear of something.

Secondly, it’s natural to be afraid of anything different. Prejudices tend to be based on ignorance about a particular culture / race / sexuality etc. We naturally flock together with people who are like-minded or similar to ourselves, and tend to keep our distance from people who are different.

Thirdly, for us straight men (I can’t speak for women), homosexuality can feel like a threat to our masculinity. Homosexuality naturally repels many of us.

Fourthly, just because a reaction’s ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s right or appropriate in a developed society.

funny-pictures-auto-fear-bump-379848

We all have to make choices about what we do with our instinctive reactions, whether we’re talking violence, lust, racism or homophobia. Jesus often called his followers to go against such natural impulses, giving us instructions, power, and the example, to forgive, to overcome hatred with loving action, to reach out, and to break down barriers between people groups.

Thank God, many countries and cultures across the world are overcoming these barriers. Sadly, as we know from recent news on Russia in particular, the war against prejudice is far from over.

Let me tell you about my own homophobia…

My prejudice, already shaped by society’s general attitude of the day, was aggravated by my experience of hitch-hiking alone as a young man in America (see My Life’s Soundtrack Parts 4 & 5). Sometimes men would stop and offer me a lift in return for certain ‘favours’ – and would drive off when I declined. Other times, after I’d been given a lift, unaware of any ‘ulterior motives’ of the driver, I was subjected to gay or bisexual men trying to touch me up.

This led me to the conclusion that this is what gay men are like – they’re only after one thing...

…because the other common reason for prejudice, apart from fear of difference as mentioned earlier, is limited experience. The bad experience of one person or a few persons means we (subconsciously or consciously) tar all people with that quality with the same brush.

In later years, I realised: this is what some men (gay or straight) are like, objectifying other people as objects for the release of their lusts. This had nothing to do with being gay, but all to do with being men. And it’s given me, I think, a little insight into the more common experience of women who are daily objectified, used, abused and/or assaulted by men.

From homophobia to solidarity

Soon after that, I came to faith in Jesus, and all my attitudes began to shift and adjust as he changed me from the inside out.

cross

I have a treasured memory from just after that time, just after I’d returned to England. I was sitting in a café in Lewes with a friend (who we’ll call Andrew), when this young man in his late teens revealed to me that he was gay. I was the first person he’d told. I felt nothing but honoured. No prejudice or homophobia from me.

Skip forward about 2 years – I’m not long into my nurse training, and one of the people sharing the hospital residence where I’m living is a man in his 40s (we’ll call him Jim), who had been a keen Christian in his teens, doing ministry tours of Europe with a prominent Christian leader. During this time as a teenager he was beginning to realise he was gay. Seeking some advice, as he tried to come to terms with this self-realisation, he confided in a church leader. He was subsequently rejected from his role and forced to leave the church.

Jim and I spent long hours talking about Christianity and sexuality. I learned that he had never lost his faith but had not felt able to return to church. Astoundingly, he wasn’t even bitter. Jim was a very gentle and kind man working as a health care assistant, who showed dedicated Christ-like love to the elderly patients he worked with.

Maybe it was these encounters with Andrew and Jim that not only reversed my homophobia but instilled in me a deep longing to understand the division between church and gay / lesbian people.

I know that the public perception of sexuality as one of the main issues that divide the church from wider society (as I wrote about in A Sense of Perspective), and my longing to see all people come to believe in the Father’s all-welcoming arms, have motivated me to wrestle with these questions.

Coming down off the fence

For years I’ve sat on the fence when it comes to the church’s traditional position on sexuality. My first ever blog post, Redefining Marriage, written about a year ago, reflects my indecisive stance.

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I’ve now come down off that fence, partly as a result of hearing some articulate biblical arguments, such as:

This one by Matt Vines

And this shorter video.

[Readers of this post who don’t identify themselves as ‘Christian’ or ‘religious’ may be saying: “What’s all the fuss about? This question is a no-brainer! Of course there’s nothing wrong with gay relationships!” If that’s the case, please bear with us Christians who see the Bible, rather than current society norms, as our starting-point and source of ultimate inspiration.]

To sum up some of the points from these videos, mashed up with some of my own:

There are only a few verses in the Bible about homosexual activity, and they all seem to be in the context of pagan, idolatrous practices. God is love and desires our love and adoration towards him, because this is how we’re made – we function best when we live in his love. His heart is saddened, spurned, when we give our hearts to other ‘lovers’, i.e. other ‘gods’.

Homosexual and bisexual activity was often carried out by straight people in those ancient cultures, against their own nature (Romans 1:27), as part of pagan rituals and orgies, and it was those idolatrous rituals, rather than a particular sexuality, that went against God’s heart.

The Bible seems to say nothing about homosexual orientation, nor about faithful, monogamous, homosexual partnerships.

It does say a lot about love and faithfulness. Jesus said the whole will of God can be summed up in the 2 commandments to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Paul takes this even further by declaring that the whole law is fulfilled by loving one another (Romans 13:8-10). Yes, he misses out God – can you believe it!

Our love and obedience to God is entirely evidenced by treating others with respect, kindness, understanding, empathy etc.

I’m left with the conclusion that the Bible has nothing against gay or lesbian monogamy.

(That’s a very brief summary)!

But I’m the sort of person that likes a balanced argument. So here are a couple of points from ‘the other side’:

Firstly, let’s be clear that holding a Biblical understanding that homosexual practice is wrong in God’s eyes does not constitute homophobia. There are plenty of Christians who hold such views who do not condemn or judge gay people for their sexuality or their actions.

A certain objective belief does not necessarily imply a certain subjective attitude.

Secondly, there’s another important, and growing, voice in this debate, represented intelligently and graciously by a group called Living Out, for example. These are Christians who, rather than define themselves as ‘gay’, describe themselves as ‘experiencing same-sex attraction’. Affirming the traditional Christian view on homosexuality and choosing celibacy, they claim to lead fulfilled lives rooted in God’s love and loving, platonic friendships.

I have great admiration for these people, and I welcome their voice and example for others who would aspire to that choice.

At the same time, I also believe that not all gay or lesbian people who have faith in Christ are able to make such a brave and committed step, just as celibacy would not be a welcome choice for many straight people.

My ideal world

In Roj-world: all churches would of course welcome gay and lesbian people with open arms.

But further than that….anyone coming to faith in Christ and trying to work out how their faith and sexuality intersect with each other would be graciously presented with each of the different Christian viewpoints instead of being told that only one view can be correct.

politics-ideologue-350x193

They would be allowed to make up their own minds and act according to their own conclusions and conscience.

Their decision, whatever that may be, would be fully accepted and welcomed by all in the church.

Now surely that would fulfil the law of love.

 

IMG_1007RRoger (or ‘Roj’) and his wife Janine have 3 lively children ranging from teenager to toddler; he goes to work for a rest. A trained nurse, he’s in his ideal job, utilising his skills and passions by running a homeless healthcare service, and learns a lot from the people he works with, including the idea that God is more inclusive than people sometimes give him credit for. To let off steam, he runs reasonably fast around the hills of Hastings (England), where he lives. Now writing for We Occupy Jesus, he’s childishly enjoying being ‘Roj of WOJ’.

I have been writing on the subject of how the concept of idolatry applies in our modern age.  This post is a continuation on this theme – if you have not done so already, you might want to read the beginning of the series:

  • Part I explores the idea that God is not like an idol which can be manipulated to fulfill our desires
  • Part II explores how our limitations prevent us from understanding infinite reality
  • Part III explores how the Bible is worshiped over the person of Christ
  • Part IV explores the hero’s journey
  • Part V explores how the resurrection applies to our present life

Love Is Like the Wind

In today’s world, it is hard to imagine what Spirit means any more.  We have pushed out the world of Spirit from most areas of thought.  At best, Spirit is “out there”.  But this is not how the writers of the Bible thought of things.  In Greek, the word used for Spirit was “pnuema” – which we get “pneumatic” (as in pneumatic tire) from.  Yup, you guessed it – the word has a double meaning.  It was not only used to speak about “Spirit”, but also “breath” and “air”.

deep_breathWhat’s interesting about this is that when you think about how an ancient culture would know about the existence of air, you realize that they couldn’t know this by observing the air itself.  The only way they could know about the existence of air would be by observing the effect it has on other objects.  It is the same way with Spirit – we cannot know what Spirit is by observing it directly, only by observing the effects it has on other entities.

In the ancient world, they thought of the world as being charged with Spirit.  One of the most greatly misunderstood passages of the New Testament is I Corinthians 15:35-49, where Paul speaks of “spiritual bodies”.  But the original Greek word – pneumatikos – didn’t carry the sense that the body was made out of spiritual matter, but rather, the suffix ikos had to do with what animated the body – what powered it.  The goal of the Christian life in a certain sense is to become animated by “Spirit”.  And Paul contrasts this pneumatikos body with a psychikos body – a body animated by psyche.  This passage carries the sense that we will be trading our ego-driven lives for a Spirit-driven life.

Mother_Earth_by_digitumdeiMany of the ancient cultures had a metaphor for describing certain holy places such as temples – the navel of the earth.  The belief of the ancient Jews and Christians was that this world was surrounded by and nourished by the world of the Spirit, much as a baby is surrounded by and nourished by her mother.  And there were these places on earth where the separation between this material reality and the spiritual reality was thin – the navel of the earth.

This image of the “navel of the earth” is reinforced by the feminine imagery of God in the Bible.  For example, Deuteronomy 32:11 says that “[God cared for them] like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.”  Deuteronomy 32:18 says “you forgot the God who gave you birth.”  In Isaiah 49:15 God says that just as a mother will not forget her child, neither will He (might “She” be appropriate here?) forget the reader.  In Isaiah 66:12-13, God says “you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”  And in Matthew 23:37, Jesus speaks prophetically of how God wishes to gather the children of Jerusalem as a mother hen who gathers her children under her wings.

The Jews believed that the “navel of the earth” was located at the temple in Jerusalem.  But with Jesus, the idea of temples as the only place to connect to Spirit was done away with.  Anyone could have access to Spirit, anywhere.  Paul says in I Corinthians 3:16 that we are God’s temple and His Spirit dwells in our midst.  This “dwelling in our midst” can be called immanence, and it presents a great paradox as Spirit is also transcendent.  Spirit is immanently transcendent.

protect_our_mother_earth_by_lhianne-d63y246Jesus had a way of talking about the immanent transcendence – the kingdom of God.  In Luke 17:21 Jesus says that the kingdom cannot be observed through normal human means, but that it is within you.  I personally love the way the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas puts it:

If those who lead you say, “See, the Kingdom is in the sky,” then the birds of the sky will precede you.  If they say to you, “It is in the sea,” then the fish will precede you.  Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.

The Kingdom is within

The Kingdom is within

But what is this mysterious Spirit?

I think the writer of I John gives us a major clue when he writes (in I John 4:8 and later in verse 16) that God is love.

The Greeks had three different words for love – one spoke of a fondness or brotherly love, and another spoke of romantic love.  But the word used for the love that Jesus taught about was agape – a perfect, unconditional love.  And I believe that when we learn how to live a life grounded in this kind of love, we can experience the presence of God.  This presence has been described as a peace that transcends all understanding in Philippians 4:7.

infinite_love_by_omniscience1-d6xg6fs

Humans have a way of becoming easily bored.  What we once found compelling fades and ceases to amaze.  But when you experience an unconditional love for someone, it has a way of changing your perspective.  I remember that when my first son was born, the world took on a new sense of wonder.  And I can remember finding wonder in mundane things because my son found wonder in them.  He loved bubbles – that was actually his first word.  We actually bought a machine that blew bubbles all over the living room, and we would sit and watch as he excitedly chased them around.  We found wonder in the mundane because of our love for our son.

Love has a way of filling the world with meaning.  Often when a person feels unloved, there seems to be nothing in the world that can excite them – the world seems empty and meaningless to them.  But a person who is in love cannot help but experience everything as deeply meaningful – smells are more poignant, colors seem to be more radiant, and music has a profound effect on them.  Love fills the world with beauty and meaning in a way that is completely irrational and impossible to explain.

And love is such a wispy concept – we cannot seem to objectify and define it.  You can’t see love, but you can see its effect on someone.  And love causes others to stand out as special.  It is the humblest of things, not calling any attention upon its own beauty but rather calling attention to the beauty of the beloved while filling the world around with beauty as well.  Love does not seek its own pleasure, but finds pleasure in the fulfillment of the beloved.  Love has no meaning of its own but gives meaning to all things.

I close with this thought: I believe that the Spirit of God – the very Spirit of perfect Love itself – is like the wind.  The ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi (also known as Chuang Tzu) wrote this poem:

When great Nature sighs, we hear the winds
Which, noiseless in themselves,
Awaken voices from other beings,
Blowing on them.
From every opening
Loud voices sound. Have you not heard
This rich of tones?

There stands the overhanging wood
On the steep mountain:
Old trees with holes and cracks
Like snouts, maw, and ears,
Like beam-sockets, like goblets,
Grooves in the wood. hollows full of water:
You hear mooing and roaring, whistling,
Shouts of command, grumblings,
Deep drones, sad flutes.
One call awakens another in dialogue.
Gentle winds sing timidly,
Strong ones blast on without restraint.
Then the wind dies down. The openings
Empty out their last sound.
Have you not observes how all then trembles and subsides?

Yu relied: I understand:
The music of earth sings through a thousand holes.
The music of man is made on flutes and instruments.
What makes the music of heaven?

Master Ki said:
Something is blowing on a thousand different holes.
Some power stands behind all this and makes the sounds die down.
What is this power?

This poem does not end with a definition of God, and I believe this is absolutely appropriate.  Because infinite cannot be contained in finite words or concepts.  Rather, the poem simply leaves the open question.  And while we can dare to speak of the infinite being of God, we should always leave the question open, as no words can do infinite justice.
windsky

Don’t Should On Me!

Brett Gallaher —  January 20, 2014 — 5 Comments

Port-O-Potty-e1381947235468

So I went to see an R-rated movie the other day. Well, first I sat through the forty-five minutes of commercials about buying the giant discount popcorn bucket, and then I watched an R-rated movie. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself again. After the popcorn propaganda came the previews (including the preview for that upcoming Coca Cola bears movie, aka the upcoming 90 minute commercial about Coca Cola). Since I had paid to see an R-rated film, the previews were for many R-rated films as well. One time I read the description of the rating itself, being told that minors must be accompanied by an adult. For some reason, it made me laugh. I mean, the content of the film doesn’t change simply because your parent is sitting next to you. Obviously the message is “We don’t care if your kid should see decapitations and raunchy sex scenes at age nine. We just want to make sure you don’t mind if your kid sees it. And don’t sue us by the way.”

Can't beat the real thing!

Can’t beat the real thing!

~

I had to catch myself, because my inner monologue had begun should’ing all over the place. You see, I think one of the un-evolved elements of humanity is our propensity to tell other human beings what they should and should not do, think, believe, or feel. We do it all day long. It saturates every conversation from religion to politics to education to… who should see an R-rated movie. I mean, I was sitting there in the theater thoroughly enjoying the adult humor and language used in the film. Honestly, a few years ago I would not have felt comfortable with such content, but I have changed. Depending on your own beliefs you may think I made a change for the worse, letting my morals slowly decay and allowing my mind to be infected with unholy influences. Maybe not. Maybe you think R-rated movies are more in-line with the real world, unfiltered and consistent with our modern society.

What really struck me was the fact I couldn’t simply enjoy the show without first dealing with these kind of thoughts; I was somehow compelled to entertain fabricated debates in my head regarding the nature of morality. That’s annoying. I mean, I paid $10 (plus the nearly $15 for the giant discount popcorn bucket) so I could yell internally at my third grade Sunday School teacher (who was a lovely woman by the way). Why was I letting people “should” on me from the past? From decades ago?

"Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!"

“Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!”

~

I observed the actions of the characters on screen. The uncensored tone of the dialogue was refreshing, but it reminded me of how any truth or lesson lying behind the film would be totally lost on certain individuals. The unmarried couple laying in bed after sex, having a real human conversation filled with laughter and joy and hope… none of that would come across to those only preoccupied with condemning the “sin” of premarital sex. The woman abused by her husband of fifteen years shares a dance and a kiss with a younger man in a bar… but she’s an adulteress whore and a drunkard to some. You see, characters in films may not be real, but they represent very real ideas, people, situations, etc. Movies are truly art imitating life.

So, who is to say how we should live? What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? It’s easier for us to get those answers from other people. For some that is as easy as picking a religion. Right and wrong are able to be defined, creating a framework for living. In such a scenario, one must simple do all they can to avoid what is wrong and pursue what is right. This creates a tendency to dismiss “gray areas” as confused or twisted logic, created by dark forces conspiring to trip you up at every turn. Reality is only black and white to many people, therefore anything gray is to be met with suspicion at the very least.

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon...

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon…

~

While I won’t fall into the verbal trap of attempting the phrase “You shouldn’t tell people what they shouldn’t do” …I’ll propose what I see as an obvious downside of should’ing on people. To define life (and particularly your life) as existing within any pre-defined framework is to reject the experience of life. If you tell someone else how they should feel, who they should love, what they should do, etc., you are telling them that their own experience, their own journey, their own path is pointless. Their unique existence? Meaningless. And worse, you are tell them that your unique existence isn’t unique either. You’re kindly (or often unkindly) breaking it to them that life isn’t about doing the work of discovering your own place in the universe; you’re saying life is already decided to be [fill in the blank]. Get use to it.

And much worse, you can rob people of some of the most beautiful moments. You have the power to take something miraculous, or freeing, or life-giving, and write it off as selfish, sinful, or even demonic. Any particular brand of happiness not grounded in your particular worldview can be met with ridicule, dismissal, or scorn. And again, the real tragedy is that you reject the truth behind the packaging. You miss out on life, trading it for a concept you’ve elevated to the place of God.

Obviously we can have our convictions. We can believe strongly in principles that guide our lives. We can fight for what matters to us. But it must be the fruit of our own labor, to work out who we should be as individuals. It will involve trial and error. You will mess up. You will get discouraged. But if you pull through, if you discover what is good and pure, what is dark and empty, what gives you meaning and what poisons your soul… if you experience pain and rebirth, if you conquer yourself and find who you really are…

…No one should ever be able to define life for you ever again.

——–

brettBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

[Note: This is part two in a series, based on a Sunday morning message I gave at a Christian retreat last February. I hope you'll read it in the spirit of your own understanding of the source of love. Please check out part one, and stay tuned for part three.]

 

flickr: bixentro

flickr: bixentro

So, I’m actually pretty excited to be talking about love with you right after Valentines day, because we kind of just got inundated with messages about love, didn’t we? Flowers were given, cards exchanged, chocolates eaten…If you’re on Facebook, and your feed looked anything like mine, your wall was just plastered with pictures everyone posted of their gifts.

It was almost competitive, this aggressive display of the proof that someone loves us. On Valentines Day it’s not enough that the people in our lives are there for us, do fun things with us, share life with us—they also have to make these beautiful, romantic, commercially-driven gestures, or else they’re sleeping on the couch tonight, am I right?

Now, I’m not jaded. I actually love Valentines day. It’s nice to get a card, and hey, I love chocolate! I think it’s nice to have one day where we are reminded to take a second out of our lives and really appreciate the people we love. But that romanticized, flowers-and-cupid kind of love is not what we’re talking about today. Today we’re talking about love as an action verb. Love that is less pretty and showy and more down and dirty. Love that does the work of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus love.

Now, if we want to know what Jesus love looks like, we have a lot of bible info to go on.  1 corinthians 13:4 says

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.”

 

That’s a pretty tall order. I mean, NEVER boasting? Not even when my kids say my pancakes are WAY better than the pancakes their dad makes? It’s going to take a whole lot of Holy Spirit intervention for me to not boast over THAT.  But let’s keep looking.

1 John 4:7-12 says,

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

 

It continues in verse 16:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus

OK so, we have this really tall order, to go out into the world and love our neighbors in a way that is patient, kind, not envious, et cetera et cetera.  But the good news is, this kind of love comes from God! And if we are “in God,” living with a God-focus, we can be a conduit for that kind of love to flow through us into the lives of other people.

Now, this love that is talked about here, it’s a very active love. We know God loved us because he sent us his son. Since God SO loved us, we also ought to love one another. This is how love is made complete: In this world we are LIKE JESUS. But what does that look like?

John Wesley, the 18th century theologian, said, ‘”Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Mother Teresa said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

Jesus said many times, as recorded in the Gospels, that to love is to obey his commands. Now, I don’t know about you, but this all is starting to sound like too much. Do all the good I can? All the time? Til it hurts? And there are a LOT of commands in the bible. How are we supposed to hold down all of it?

Well, the good news, of course, is that we don’t have to. 2 John 6 says “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”

That’s it. No list-making of right and wrong deeds, no check lists, no stressing out about whether you’re doing enough. Just walk in love.

love locks
flickr: garry knight

Loving like Jesus, Part I

kymblie —  December 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

Note: This is a Sunday morning message I delivered to a Christian retreat last winter, and I myself am a liberal, progressive Christian (if I’m going to use a label, which I really try to avoid doing) so the message has that God-slant. Please forgive any blatant Christianese I fail to edit out. However your beliefs fall, I do believe that being open to God, or our conscious, or our interconnectedness, or just the nice thing to do is a guaranteed ticket to a love that gets you outside your comfort zone and into some serious adventure.)

I have a friend who is down in South Beach, Florida right now, on vacation with her husband and their young son. She told me about an artist they met on Lincoln Rd., where he had set up his work for people to buy. Dave—that’s his name, Dave Kahmann—makes baskets and sculpts animals out of palm fronds and coconuts from the trees around South Beach. He puts them out on the side of the road along with Bibles that he gives away, and waits for someone to stop by for a palm-frond cross or basket or tiny palm-frond sea horse.

dkahmann

Well, my friend Heather and her son Ben checked out Dave’s art and listened to his stories—Dave’s got tons of stories, including the one about how he walked to South beach from Santa Cruz, California with just a backpack and a few dollars—and then Dave sold Ben a sculpture of a palm tree. He wouldn’t take Ben’s money, though. No, Dave told Ben that the price of the little palm tree with the coconut stand was three R.A.K.’s—random acts of kindness. So Ben promised he’d perform 3 RAKs, took his sculpture, and then he and his parents went on their way.

On the way back to their hotel, Ben told his parents that his first RAK would be to pack Dave a lunch and bring it over. So that’s what they did—Ben packed a turkey sandwich, a banana, a yogurt, and some water in a bag and they brought it over—and together the artist and the boy sat on the side of the road in South Beach, eating lunch.

I love this story because I love the picture I get in my head of Ben, thinking, as he did when he first saw Dave, that here was a homeless guy and he, Ben, was going to go over and help the guy out. Show him a little love. Maybe buy something. I can picture Heather and her husband looking at each other doubtfully, and then kind of shrugging and reluctantly following their son. But then as they talk, and Dave tells them stories about his life and how he feels that God has led him to where he is, I can picture the doubt start to leave their faces and then as they watch the man and their son, wonder sets in as they realize they’ve just been educated, a little, in the art of loving as action.

love recklessly

flickr: The Sean & Lauren Spectacular

That picture of Dave and Ben, sitting on the side of the road, sharing a meal together is what I want us to keep in mind today while we talk about loving like Jesus. Here you have this guy, Dave, maybe he’s homeless, maybe he’s not, but he’s certainly living closer to the ground than you or I probably are, with his art set out on the side of the road by a folding beach chair.

He’s tan from being outside all day, he looks like he hasn’t shaved in a while, his clothes are fraying and worn. And here’s Ben, who is doted on by his parents, who is freshly showered—or at least as freshly-showered as a 10-year-old boy can reasonably be expected to be—who eats regular, balanced meals and goes to school. The two of them must have made a disparate picture, sitting there on the side of the road. Have you got it there, that picture in your mind?

Ok good.

Now, to introduce our topic of loving like Jesus as something that is biblically mandated, let me share with you my two life verses. They’ll be familiar, I promise—nothing obscure or earth-shattering, maybe they’re your life verses too, but here they are. The first is Micah 6:8. In the NIV it says,

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

    And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.”

In the Message paraphrase, it says,

“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,

    what God is looking for in men and women.

It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,

    be compassionate and loyal in your love,

And don’t take yourself too seriously—

    take God seriously.”

 

I really like how these two versions draw a parallel for that last part, saying that, to walk humbly with your God is to not take yourself too seriously, but to take God seriously. I think that’s a big part of what we humans get wrong in life. We get stuck on taking ourselves to seriously. We think, “Oh, what am I going to do with MY life, what are people saying about ME, how can I improve MY life, my hair, my golf score, the size of my…” But we don’t take God very seriously. He becomes the butt of our jokes or the target of our ire when life isn’t going OUR way. But mostly we’re going to concentrate, today, on the second part of that piece. “Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love.”

That doesn’t seem to hard. I mean, when I think about my neighbors, I’ve got one guy on one side who is never home, and then one guy on the other side who kind of minds his own business, and one guy across the street who let us borrow his snowblower last weekend…they’re not gonna be too hard, I don’t think, to, you know, love and be compassionate to…

OK, and the other life verse that I try to model myself on is another big-name verse.  You’ve heard this one, even if maybe you haven’t heard that other one. It’s Matthew 22:37-40 and it’s Jesus speaking, in response to one of the Pharisees, who asked him what the greatest commandment is.

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] (In the Message it says“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence”)38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

All the law and the prophets. In other words, pretty much the entirety of the Bible, as they had it up to that point. It all hangs on loving God, and loving your neighbor. So…it’s kind of important, then, yes?

So, while we’ve all heard before that we are to love, love, love, we need to examine just what exactly is meant by “love”, what is meant by “our neighbor” and what is meant by “ourselves”. This is important stuff. I don’t know about you, but I’m basing my faith on the twin pegs of loving God and loving others, and we I want to miss anything.

love is not blind

flickr: lel4nd

Recently, the Christian Left Facebook page posted about the two commandments that Christ left Christians with: Love your neighbor and love God. As they pointed out, pretty simple, right?

But if it is so simple, why aren’t we doing that? And it’s not just Christians who fail, but it’s all of us–regardless of faith or religion or whatever you want to call it. We are simply refusing to be as loving to our fellow man as much as we should be.

 

neighbourhood watch

flickr: ell brown

 

There was a common theme among the post’s comments as to why people are having such a hard time loving one another. The theme stated, quite simply, that we don’t know how to love ourselves. And they are right.

How can we love each other “as ourselves”…if we don’t love ourselves?

We live in a world where we are constantly marketed to, regarding our monetary and physical merits. We’re told that we have to achieve certain merits to have any worth whatsoever. We have been so heavily indoctrinated, it carries over in how we treat others.

Girls are fed images of flawlessly beautiful woman and thus often end up pushing themselves to exercise and starve, not for health, but as an effort to attempt the same sort of “beauty”. They go on extreme diets to make themselves look thinner, and they end up making themselves sick and having health problems for the rest of their lives because of it.

Boys are force fed images of men who are chiseled and lean and end up trying to take poisonous drugs to make themselves bigger and buffer.

And why do we as a society allow it? Where is the love and compassion for our fellow humans and other occupants of this world no matter who they are, how they look, what merits they have or have not achieved?

We don’t love or have compassion for ourselves.

If we don’t love ourselves and have compassion for ourselves, if we allow ourselves to be poisoned by this message that we have to have this and this and be that and that to be good enough, how are we supposed to see the state of others around us? How do we see others’ needs for what they are when we cannot look beyond the fun house mirror in front of us that just provides an illusion of how we look or who we are?

We, as humans, project qualities that we seek for ourselves on those we admire and we project the qualities that we are ashamed of on those that we view as lesser than ourselves and undeserving. That is the true problem within our society. It is not a lack of one religion or another, it is a poison that has infiltrated our lives in the form of consumerism, greed, and insecurity.

So what do we do?

  • We reject this message that we are not good enough because of merits that are based on physical looks and finances.
  • We try to help others without deciding whether they are good enough or not.
  • We encourage each other, not tear each other down.
  • We practice love.

A person’s religion does not matter, a person’s heritage does not matter. What does matter is that they are living, breathing, and in need of love and compassion. And that includes you as well as your fellow occupants of this mortal plane! It has to start with you.

You literally have to be the change you wish to see.

We all want to live up to our ideals, right?

We want to walk our talk… be integrated and whole, grasping the complexity that is post-modern humanity.

But can we do it? Is it possible? Is it possible all the time, in every situation?

A few years ago there was a funny commercial on television. A Buddhist monk was first shown rescuing a tiny spider and doing some other life-affirming good deed. Then he was sneezing and reached for his trusty Kleenex brand tissues, only to be taken aback by the promise on the package, “Kills Millions of Germs.” A moral conundrum in a humorous package – does he relieve his seasonal allergies with the soft, comforting tissue and break his vow? Or suffer the snot while feeling righteous?

Now imagine what comes next for our friendly monk. The monk uses the tissue, and just as he is tossing the used tissue filled with tiny germ corpses, a fellow monk walks in. “What???” the second monk gasps. “Did you actually USE that? I’ve been boycotting the Kleenex company for their anti-microbe stance for YEARS.”

Remember the childhood taunt, ‘Shame Shame! Everybody knows your name’?

Can we hold space for one another and allow honesty? Can we give fellow humans the opportunity to say, “Here. Look here. Here is some area of my life in which I’m not following through with what I say is important to me. Help me to forgive myself and do more.”

I shop at Wal-Mart. There – I’ve said it. I’m pro-labor, pro-working family, pro-local business. I hate that this giant corporation offers low, low prices on the backs of their employees and with the help of the social safety net. Yet I’m there every week picking up shampoo and price-matched milk.

Evidence!

milk

So WWJS? Where Would Jesus Shop?

And what would he say to my fevered confession?

1. He would laugh uproariously then shake his head while muttering, “First world problems!” He did have some sharp retorts to the Pharisees about the poor.
2 .He would put his arm around my shoulder and look at me fondly, “Oh Karen. Please relax! Nobody’s perfect.” He did hang out with lots of imperfect folks… prostitutes and tax collectors.
3. He would gently remind me that I’m doing my best most of the time. He did still have a minor assignment for Peter even after Peter’s denials.
4. He would shrug aside my shame and ask me what’s for dinner. With Nicodemus, he seemed more interested in knowing a person’s heart than in shaming them .
5. He would remind me of his own humanity. After all, calling that woman a dog wasn’t his best moment.

Bottom line: What’s important to you? How do you make that real in the world? Where do you fail, often miserably? And the biggest question of all, where are you working? Where do you see progress in the project that is your life?

confess

Whew. I’m glad to get that off my chest.