The Daunting Task of Loving Others

I can spend two whole days in silence with God and still want to scream at my children the next day during school when they throw a tantrum over practicing the piano.
love is hard
Loving others is hard.
This second greatest command is easy to say, yet ridiculously difficult to do.
It always seems to me that it should be easier than it is.
love should be easier
To be sure, loving a stranger might be difficult, giving of yourself to someone who habitually behaves horribly would be a challenge, but offering love to those dearest to you? It is a task that should be effortless.
It is not. It is a near impossibility to consistently love people day in and day out, no matter how much we adore them.
Why is this so difficult? Why is it so daunting a task to truly love another person?
I think it is because this kind of true other-love involves a death.
It involves a kind of death of our own self as we set aside ourselves, our desires and dreams, for the sake of the other.
No matter how hard we try, we resist this death: we fight back … We seek any convenient excuse to break off and give up the difficult task. ~ Thomas Merton in The Wisdom of the Desert
Just as our physical bodies fight to cling to life, our inner selves also repels any attempt at self-crucifixion.
Our only hope in this fight to obey this most necessary command is in surrender.
We cannot hope to succeed in the battle to die to self without the deliverance of the only One who has laid down his life of his own accord.
What is required as we learn to love is not a greater effort on our part to will our selves into obedience but a laying down of our works and a waiting on God.
love requires waiting on God
We must become like Israel with the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s chariots coming up quickly behind them.
The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.
In the end, being able to love my children, the stranger we invite into our home, even the poorly behaved acquaintance, requires not that I try harder, screwing up my will in an attempt to force myself to behave in a loving way.
Being able to love others requires that I spend more time in silence with God, allowing him to change me into a person who can die to myself.
I must be silent and let God fight this battle for me.

Art credit: The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea by Juan de la Corte

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Circling – A Poem

I am spending “wilderness time” alone with God this weekend, so enjoy this poem from the archives.
WindAviator

Life is a circle.
It loops and it circles around again.
It circles back through the beginning
and around and down through the end.
What once was before
now circles round into trend.

 

God knelt down low and breathed
dirt to become man and life.
His breath circles back
to raise man out of strife
when Holy Spirit wind divides
dead heart from new like a knife.

 

What began in a garden
with successful tempting of man,
circled back to a garden
and the culmination of God’s plan.
Temptation was repeated
but this time was banned.

 

God’s love and God’s holiness
leads to God putting on skin.
His wrath pours out on sin,
His mercy pours it out on Him.
When wrath circles back to the cross,
it turns out that love wins.

 

When Word became flesh,
He climbed down into time.
He breathed our air and
turned water into wine.
One day Word will circle back
and earthly life will join the Divine.

 

Life is a circle.
It loops and it circles around again.
It circles back through the beginning
and around and down through the end.
What once was before
now circles into trend.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.
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Hope Changes Nothing

Today I needed this post from several years ago. Maybe you need it too. Peace be upon you all.

 

Hope.
Tulips
It changes nothing.  It changes everything.
How do you endure?  When everything around you is falling apart, when all that you love on this earth fails you, how do you keep going?
It happens to all of us.  At some point in our lives, whether early in life or late, we sit in stunned silence while our world crumbles.
Pummeled
What do we do?  What do we do when we or one we love is living in the middle of unimaginable pain?  What is it that keeps us going, that lets us persevere?
Hope.
It changes nothing.  It changes everything.
Hope doesn’t heal the sick or take away the pain.  It doesn’t fill the stomach or bring your loved one back.
Focused on Death
It changes nothing.
Hope gives you a glory-full vision of the end of your story.  It gives you a glimpse of the beauty, the joy, the perfection that is promised.
Focused on Hope
It changes everything.
When you know the end of the story, when you know that Christ wins and that we will be with Him forever, it gives us the power to bear anything.  Anything.  When you can see the end of fear, the end of despair, the end of pain, when you can see the adventure, the rest, the wholeness that waits for you, you are sustained in the now because you know that this, too, shall pass.
So hope.  Hope in what is promised.  Hope in what God has promised through the power of the resurrected Christ.
For you who have just received that 3 a.m. phone call, you who walk dazed from your doctor’s office, you who saw your child drift away, you who wish desperately for a child, you who sit weeping in a corner, who think that you will always be alone and unloved, for all of you who live in darkness and doubt…
Broken
there is hope.  Beautiful, glorious, resurrection hope.  So breathe deep of this hope.  Let it fill you up with peace and joy so that you are able to endure all things.  For He who is our hope is coming.
Hope
It is promised.  It shall be so.

Art credit: last photograph by R.K. Sewell Photography (photographybysewell.webs.com)

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How to Solve All the World’s Problems

I’ve been reading a book of Wendell Berry’s essays, and I came across one that hasn’t let go of me.
IMG_5914
Family Love Color 3
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In his essay, “Think Little”, Berry compares the major movements that have occupied our nation in recent decades — civil rights, the peace movement, the environment — and makes the claim that they all stem from the same root.
War and oppression and pollution are not separate issues, but are different aspects of the same issue.
Greed.
Exploitation.
The mentality that exploits and destroys the natural environment is the same that abuses racial and economic minorities, … that makes war against peasants and women and children with the indifference of technology …
He goes on to say that we would be fools to believe we could solve only one of those problems without tackling all of the others.
Part of the problem we have historically run into when trying to solve these issues is that we tend to turn them into a Cause.
When we turn a problem into a Cause, we simplify a complex matter and attempt to power our response by impatience, guilt, and short-term enthusiasm.
When we turn a problem into a Cause, we turn it into something that is “served by organizations that will self-righteously criticize and condemn other organizations, inflated for awhile by a lot of public talk in the media, only to be replaced in its turn by another fashionable crisis.”
Public responsibility is absolutely part of the solution — we should continue to bother the government and not allow them to be comfortable with easy solutions — but we must go beyond protest and political action.
Rather than attempting to increase government, reaching for change through a program or a law, we could do a completely crazy thing.
We could first begin solving the problem ourselves.
If you are worried about the damming of wilderness rivers, join the Sierra club, write to the government, but (also) turn off the lights you’re not using, don’t install an air-conditioner, don’t be a sucker for electrical gadgets, don’t waste water.
It is easier to protest, easier to contact our representatives, than to give up our own comforts for the Cause.
Of course we need better government, but more than that we need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need people and families who don’t have to wait for an organization to lead the way, but can make necessary changes on their own.
When we turn the brokenness of this world into a Cause, we are pushed and pulled from one new focus of outrage to another.
When we root our understanding of what we see in our culture in the reality given by our Creator, however, even “amid the outcries for the liberation of this group or that, we will know that no person is free except in the freedom of other persons, and that our only real freedom is to know and faithfully occupy our place — a much humbler place than we have been taught to think — in the order of creation.”

Art Credits: Black Men Praying by Aymara Mejia; Mortar Men photo by Ustinov

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Good Work

I’ve been thinking about work lately.
good work
good work
The idea of work has changed a great deal over the centuries, but more recently (relatively speaking) it has undergone a more dramatic change. In the beginning, we were created to work.
good work
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
We were made to do significant and meaningful work and we were made to do it well.
Mankind moved from the practice of each person or family creating all that they needed themselves to the practice of families gathering together in villages and having specific people working to make what was needed for everyone (the metal smith making tools for the hunters, the potter making jars to hold water, etc.). Yet now, in our modern age, we have moved even farther down this road. Now we have work that is solely for the purpose of earning money.
work for money
No longer do we consider whether a work is good in itself, nor do we consider whether an unnecessary work is done well. It has, in fact, become necessary that work is not done in a way that is good. How else would people continue to consume, and workers therefore continue to have work, if the products being made were not designed to wear out quickly?
There is still plenty of work that is both good in itself and that is good to do well: agricultural laborers, doctors, teachers, artists, and many others do work which they would do even if there were no pay to be had in it. Yet there is another whole category of work that has no significance and no importance. It was only created to allow the maximum number of people to be employed.
work for efficiency
Employing people is not an evil, of course.  It was an act of love that led from talk of reducing the “surplus population” to talk of reducing unemployment.  The danger is that this has led us to forget that unemployment is not an end in itself.  We want people, as C.S. Lewis put it, to be employed only as a means to their being fed – believing that it is better to feed them even for making bad things badly than for doing nothing.
Perhaps this view is correct, but it should not lead us into forced appreciation for work that is not good.
I, of course, have no comprehensive plan or brilliant strategy for ending this sort of endless cycle of meaningless jobs producing poor quality products that are consumed briefly and then discarded, requiring a new replacement product.  Yet perhaps it is something just to recognize the problem and the insanity of the idea of meaningless work.
Just as the Christian has a great advantage over other men, not by being less fallen than they nor less doomed to live in a fallen world, but by knowing that he is a fallen man in a fallen world; so we shall do better if we remember at every moment what Good Work was and how impossible it has now become for the majority.  ~ C.S. Lewis
One of the areas in which I see this most clearly is in Christian art.  It is another topic for another essay to discuss whether or not there even IS such a thing as Christian art but, as Madeleine L’Engle said, if it is bad art, it is bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.  When art is done well it testifies to God, even if the artist does not know God.
good work
Provided he is an artist of integrity, he is a genuine servant of the glory which he does not recognize, and unknown to himself there is ‘something divine’ about his work. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
In the same way, work that is done well, even if the worker does not personally believe in God, testifies to the glory of God. It is not an insignificant instruction of Paul’s that whatever we do, we should work at it as if we were working for God rather than only for men.
Whatever we do, whether we are leading a meeting or scrubbing a toilet, whether we are painting the sunrise or designing a bookshelf that will be put together by a young father, we are to do good work.
We may have to earn our living by taking part in the production of objects which…would not be worth producing – the demand or ‘market’ for them having been simply engineered by advertisement. Beside the waters of Babylon – or the assembly belt – we shall still say inwardly, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning.” ~ C.S. Lewis
In this way we will testify to the glory of God and will draw others to Him so that they, too, may bask in His presence.
What do you think? Should anything be done about work that is unnecessary or of poor quality? Can anything be done? What about your own job: would you still do it if you did not need the income to survive?

Art credits: photo of factory by Henno Jacques; Ford assembly line photo from Wiki Commons; The Water Lily Pond painting by Claude Monet

edited from the archives

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Suffering Gladly for the Sake of Something Greater

suffering gladly
suffering gladly
My first inclination is to avoid suffering at any cost.
I cringe a little when I read Scripture passages about embracing suffering in order to reach a desired end:
we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance …
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory …
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ … to also suffer for his sake …
Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
One earthly shadow that has recently helped me to better understand this truth is childbirth.
I suffered labor pains willingly, even gladly, for the sake of birthing my babies. Even when it came time for the fourth baby, even when I knew what lay ahead of me, I suffered gladly for the sake of something much greater.
I have a suspicion that if I only knew what eternal glory was waiting for me I would bear my sufferings much more gladly.
 I claim I trust God’s love for me, trust that his end purpose for me is good and beautiful, beyond anything I could have asked or imagined, yet when it comes to his methods, I push back and fight, unwilling to be still and trust.
The fruit we are given is not always what we expect or want; it may even be bitter, but we are secure in knowing that it is given to us out of love. ~ Kathleen Norris in Acedia and Me
It is easy for me to be attracted to the idea of becoming like Jesus, to the idea of the grace of God bringing me into eternal glory.
It is much harder for me to recognize that grace when it appears in my life as suffering.
In the depths of our confusion and anger, we ask: ‘How can this be God’s love? Where is God in this disaster?’ For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us to places we didn’t want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ~ Kathleen Norris
My deep desire is to be able to trust in the reality of God’s providence and love enough that I will suffer willingly, even gladly, in order to gain the purpose for which God created me.
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Showing the World the Sacrificial Love of Jesus

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
love
I’ve been thinking and praying quite a bit lately about love.
About deep, sacrificial love.
About the sort of love that shows Jesus to the world all around.
We have a rare opportunity right now, as we continue to live through this global pandemic, to show love in a way that makes Jesus irresistible.
This appears to me the kind of situation Jesus might have been talking about when he told his disciples that the world would know they follow Jesus by the way they love.
A situation in which the rest of the world is closing in, protecting itself, shutting others out.
A situation in which it is physically dangerous to open up, help those around us, welcome others in.
Jesus gave this command very near the day he would give up his physical life because of love.
We, the Church, could be showing the world how different the love of Jesus is.
Most of us are, instead, behaving exactly the same way as the world.
Sometimes worse.
Quarreling rather than submitting. Fighting rather than helping. Becoming the problem rather than acting as the peacemakers.
We are losing a tremendous opportunity to show the world the sacrificial love of Christ.
My friends, I am going to take a risk and use, as an example of this, a topic that I have stayed away from before now.
What is the outward sign of caring for those around us that the non-Christian world most clings to?
love our world
Masks.
But do masks even work?
It doesn’t matter. Most people outside the church think they do.
But I should be free to choose for myself.
We are free. And our freedom should always choose love that puts the other first.
Of course there are valid reasons for not wearing masks; I don’t mean to imply that all contexts and all circumstances are the same. I only mean for us all, myself included, to ask the Holy Spirit to help us examine our hearts behind the choices that we make.
The sacrificial love of Jesus puts caring for the needs of others, even if it is only the perception of caring for others, before the physical comfort and safety of ourselves.
Dear friends, these words of mine may not do any good. They may only stir up anger. But before you lash out at me or anyone else, consider what it means to call yourself by the name of Jesus.
We, the Church, are the body of Christ. Whether or not masks or vaccines or anything else works is really beside the point.
What do people outside of Jesus perceive to be the main way to care for others throughout a pandemic?
What do they see us doing?

love like Jesus

Art credit: Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples by Albert Edelfelt

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The Danger in Killing Time

Here we are again, at the start of another school year.
School time
School time
School time
School time
Most of the schools in our area began last week.
We actually launched into school four weeks ago, but that is another story.
In our home, this is the time when the lazy days of summer come to a close and the busier school days begin to ramp up.
It is the time when we look toward the year ahead, consider which activities we want to participate in, think about how busy we want to be.
That is, when we are at our best we take in all of these considerations. Too often we merely fall into all the activities because our kids want to do them, because they sound fun, because a friend is already doing them.
Even if you do not have children at home, it is often easier to thoughtlessly agree to the busyness than to take time to reflect on what would be the wisest use of time.
Easier in the short term, that is.
odd time
killing time
valuing time
Time is an odd notion.
We even speak of time in an odd way.
One saying that comes to mind is “killing time.”
Such a sinister phrase.
The time you are killing is, of course, your own time, and we are given precious little of it as it is.
It seems that our default, the default of a great many people in this world, is to simply get through our lives, killing time, living on the surface of things.
It takes such enormous effort to break through the outer crust and into the very depth and marrow of life. We wonder whether it is worth it.
So many of us
are so bad at hearing each other and seeing each other that it is little wonder that one life seems enough to them or more than enough: seeing so little in this world, they think that there is little to see and that they have seen most of it already so that the rest probably is not worth seeing anyway and there is nothing new under the sun. ~ Frederick Buechner in The Hungering Dark
Yet with only a small amount of effort, we can break through the surface of things into the beauty and joy that lies just below the outer crust of indifference.
With only a small amount of waking up, of paying attention, we can open our eyes to the wonder and variety that lies in the people and places all around us. Especially in the people and places most dear to us.
We often look for ways to make the days go by faster, wishing the years to pass quickly in order to move on to some other phase of life, while we completely miss all the joy, beauty, and wonder in which God has placed us.
This missing out on all that God has waiting for us is the danger in our busyness, the danger in merely falling carelessly into all the activities rather than choosing deliberately and wisely.
You often hear the advice that if you keep busy, it will be over before you know it, and the tragedy of it is that it is true. ~ Frederick Buechner

Art credits: World Time by rizeli53; Clock Tower by Miriam Wickett; Ornate Clock by Kevin Tuck

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The Real Is the Thing You Would Never Have Guessed

One of the great scourges of our time and place is the idea that what is real is predictable and governable.
not real
The real is what we can wrap our minds around and wrestle into submission.
The real can be measured and understood.
The real is able to be repaired and manipulated.
not real
I would assert (along with most Christian theologians) that, in fact, the opposite is true.
The real is the thing you would never have guessed.
real
Almost everyone would agree (there are always a few truly dedicated relativist philosophers who might not concur) that birth is real. The process by which humans procreate is a thing that is real.
C. S. Lewis asks us to consider this way of creating new life, writing that it is
a very curious process, involving pleasure, pain, and danger. A process you would never have guessed.
This is never more true than when considering the first reality to exist.
The same God who is terrible to gaze upon is also good.
The same God who couldn’t allow Moses to look upon His face lest Moses die submitted Himself to a humiliating death out of love for us.
The same God who is the King of heaven and earth became poor for our benefit.
Mr. Beaver, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, says of Aslan, the Christ figure in the Chronicles of Narnia, “He’ll be coming and going. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion.”
God is not safe, but He is good.
The real is the thing you would never  have guessed.
This is important to remember when life is out of control, when circumstances are spiraling downwards.
When life seems more than we can bear, safety is not what we need.
A “wild, terrifying, powerful” goodness is what we want and what we need.
He is somehow perfectly self-consistent and yet altogether unpredictable … (able) to love in ways that nobody could have guessed. ~ Jonathan Rogers in The World According to Narnia
There is nothing predictable or safe about God. But He is good.
And in the end, omnipotence turns out to be the same thing as infinite love. Who would have guessed it? ~ Jonathan Rogers
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What Does Jesus Think Is Most Important?

We are the Church.
You and me.
Trinity Lutheran
Notre Dame rose window inside
Whatever our stage of life or economic status, whatever bits of theology on which we might differ, whatever our politics or race, we are the Church.
When the world wants to know about Jesus, to know what He thought was most important, they look to us.
What did Jesus think was important?
Well, He said that loving God with all of your being was the most important thing of all, followed by loving others. In fact, the Bible teaches that one of the main ways you love God is by loving others.
Jesus thought that this loving others business was so important, in fact, that He named it as the main way that the world would know we follow Him.
Would the world know that today’s church follows Jesus?
Church light
Arched ceiling
If you knew you were going to die in the next day, what would you pray for? Trivialities and side issues, or would you pray for whatever was paramount in your heart?
When Jesus was about to leave His disciples and head toward the cross, what did He pray for? What did He think was most essential?
He prayed for His followers to love each other. He prayed for unity. He prayed that His followers would be one in the same way that He and the Father were one.
We are the Church.
You and me.
Is that what the world sees?
Dome St Peters
Michelangelo
Jesus is no longer on this earth. His Spirit is inside of each of us, but we the Church are now His body to bring God’s kingdom to this world.
Are we acting like a body or is the hand slapping the head in the face? Is the right foot kicking the left leg?
Jesus pleaded with God to make us one. Why? So that we could be happier and have easier lives while treating each other more kindly?
So that the world would know God’s love.
This is how those in the world can know that God loves them – by the way that we love each other.
What does the world see when it looks at the Church?
That question makes me want to weep.
What does the world see when it looks at you?
Whatever has come before, I implore you now. Love each other. Be unified.
Invite someone from another faith tradition to go along with you the next time you head out to serve the hungry and the orphans.
Find someone who grew up in another culture or another part of the country or even just a different side of town, and take them out to lunch. Listen to them. Ask questions.
After a particularly nasty election and its aftermath, invite someone who voted for the other candidate over to your home for a meal.
Altar
St Peter altar
We are the Church.
You and me.
I entreat you to show the world what Jesus valued. Astound the little piece of your world with your love for other Jesus followers nearby.
Our world needs some astonishment. And it is up to us.

Art credit: Photos of various cathedrals by Kirk Sewell

edited from the archives … yet sadly not any less relevant at all.

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