In-Sight: Living in a Micah Moment

The Book of Micah has become one of my go-to resources for getting perspective about the time in which we are living. Micah looked at Israel and Judah and said in effect, “We are in deep trouble.” It is easy to look at life today and draw a similar conclusion. Matthew Fox (a Micah-like prophet today) describes our situation succinctly,

“As we stand back and look critically at what is transpiring on this planet today—and in the U.S.—we can see that climate change, coronavirus, hundreds of years of racist history and genocide toward indigenous peoples, the rise of extreme nationalist movements, and the role that bad religion, reptilian-brain-driven patriarchy, and cannibal capitalism have played in so much loss and destruction and present-day angst, we can recognize that the human race is in deep trouble.” [1]

We are living in a time akin to the one Micah lived in 2700 years ago. It’s not the first time his words have spoken directly to people since he wrote his book. History goes through cycles Our time is one in which Micah’s message is needed. We are living in a period of history when the question, “How then shall we live?” is on our minds with acute relevance. Micah provides us with a broad-stroke answer. He does it by showing us what kind of moment we are in, and by offering guidance in how we should live in it.

First, what is a Micah moment?  In the first five chapters, he describes it in several ways.

In chapter one, Micah names the fundamental problem, and repeats it as the book continues.  It is a moment of national crisis in need of a moral restoration. In other words, it is a time when a nation is experiencing root rot, and in doing so bears the bitter fruit of unrighteousness. Like every crisis, Micah reveals in the first five chapters that it is a time fraught with danger, but not bereft of opportunity.

In chapters two and three, Micah exposes the root issue: leaders have defaulted on their assignment and perverted God’s will, reversing what God intended. They “hate the good and love the evil” (3:2). Leadership failure is doing great harm to the people, and Micah uses stark metaphors to describe the damage. The corruption of  leaders, and their collusion with false prophets (see chapter two) is as dire as tearing the skin off the people, eating their flesh, breaking their bones, and chopping them up like meat to be cooked in a kettle (3:2-3).  Meanwhile these leaders reign with bravado and live in luxury, and the false prophets who are in the leaders’ pockets cover over the truth so that the people are led astray (3:5)—that is, deceived.  Injustice (inequality) and falsehood (lies) dominate and shape the nation’s narrative.

But something else is happening in a Micah moment. There is an awakening among the people.  There is a stirring in the national consciousness. There is a movement mounting. Micah points to it in chapters four and five. It is small (a remnant), but genuine—a people’s campaign emerging out of the cries of their oppression and expressed in their shouts, “Enough is enough!”

Sociologists call it a tipping point. It is a pivot away from passivity. It aims to  topple the status quo (“the kingdoms of this world”) and restore righteousness (”the kingdom of God”).  A tipping point is usually something people do not see coming, something unexpected that throws a wrench into the imperialist works. A tipping point includes a period of hesitancy (i.e. “Is this something I should get involved in?“), but as it becomes increasingly evident that the status quo has become a sacred cow no longer worthy of honor or support, more and more people find the courage to join the movement.

We are living in just such a moment—a Micah moment—when a leadership failure glossed over by false prophets has brought us to an “enough is enough” moment which ignites passion and invites participation. It is a Micah moment in that people are awakening from their sleep, recognizing they have been deceived, and taking actions that overcome evil with good.

And it is when we recognize this moment for what it is that Micah helps us answer a second question: What do we do?

Micah put it this way, “What does the Lord require of you?” (6:8). The “you” is the people, not the corrupt leaders and the false prophets. They have had their chance, and they blew it. They muffed their mission. The “enough is enough” moment is one in which God bypasses the potentates and turns to the people. A Micah moment is a movement—a peoples’ movement. It is a resistance movement characterized by three verbs and three qualities.


The Verbs: do, love, and walk.  A Micah moment is a time for action. This does not mean words are unnecessary; it means the words are enacted—words on the move.  Each verb carries an implicit meaning. 

“Do” is a word of advocacy. We voice our values, we support the oppressed, we stand up for what we believe.  This is what Eugene Peterson called “lived theology” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined as “the cost of discipleship.”

“Love” is a word of devotion—to God and to others. It the devotion that strengthens our resolve to obey God rather than people—an obedience Micah described in chapter four of his book, the obedience Jesus named as the two great commandments (Matthew 22:34-40).

“Walk” is a word of endurance. The reform that is needed is not accomplished quickly or easily.  It is achieved little-by-little, step-by-step. Sometimes it loses ground, but rather than giving into despair, we heed the Spirit who simply says, “Keep walking.” As we do so, we learn the lesson of history: achievements are won by those who do not give up. One of God’s repeated exhortations in history is, “Don’t stop!”

The qualities: justice, kindness, humility.  A Micah moment is characterized by nonviolent resistance. On two occasions, Micah described the crisis as one of violence (2:2, 6:12). The cure must issue forth through nonviolence. All three qualities are carried in the container of peace-making, what Jesus later re-emphasized in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:9).

“Justice” is the movement of fairness, equality, and inclusion. We call it the common good. It issues forth through our justice system, to be sure, but justice in and of itself is not a legal term, it is a leveling endeavor, where hierarchies are removed and entitlements are ended.

“Kindness” is the movement of gentleness, generosity, and care-giving. We call it compassion. It issues forth through empathy and solidarity. It is relating to people and things in ways that honor their sacred worth and enable their ability to thrive.

“Humility” is the movement of renunciation, servanthood and teachability. We call it consecration. It issues forth through self-surrender (Matthew 5:3). It is the offering of ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) and asking God to make us instruments of God’s peace (the prayer of Saint Francis).

All this comes together for us in Frank Laubach ‘s morning prayer, “Lord, what are you doing in the world today that I can help you with?” [2] It is the prayer which engages in a Micah moment without being overwhelmed by the enormity of it. It is a recognition that we each have something we can do, and it is an indication of our willingness to do it. We cannot do everything, but we can do something. Living in a Micah moment is becoming a co-creator God, contributing our effort to the larger work God is bringing to pass.


[1] Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditations, 7/18/2020.

[2] I did not get this from a book that I can reference.  Dr. Thomas Carruth, who knew Laubach, told me this was a question he asked in his morning prayer, a question that led him into listening and then into acting.  In this way, Laubach was praying in the classical pattern of contemplation/action.  John Dear’s book, ‘Living Peace’ (2001) commends the same pattern in relation to nonviolent resistance.

Posted in In-Sight

In-Sight: Spiritual Life in a Pandemic

Honestly, this is a post I hoped I would not have to write. But we remain in the grip of a growing pandemic, one that now weaves together the threads of virus and violence—medicine and morality, disease and dis-ease. This combination intensifies the complexity of our situation and increases our anxiety in the midst of it. I find myself drawn back into the question, “How then shall we live?”

Of course, there are a variety of vantage points from which to respond to the question. At the end of this piece, I offer two additional  resources for  responding to the question. In this blog I offer you my response. I have found instruction and inspiration from remembering and reconnecting with my identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ. The two salient features of the word “disciple” are learner and follower. These two qualities of my spiritual life are helping me live in the midst of the pandemic.

First, I am a learner.

This is true in terms of both the virus and the violence. I am not a doctor, and I am not among those who are being oppressed. Whatever else being a disciple means, right now it means committing to the spiritual discipline of deep listening. And for me, having lived every day of my life in the bubble of white privilege… and… functioning for decades in the preaching/teaching mode, the necessity for deep listening is a spiritual discipline. That is, it is a going against the grain of my entitled status and my educator role—both of which dispose me to speak (and write) more than listen. Even this blog is a departure (hopefully momentary) from the practice of deep listening.  

I have discovered in my listening that I am not unique in my need to adopt the disposition of a learner. Others are feeling it too. Last week in her ‘Sunday Paper’ Maria Shriver highlighted this need by sharing an excerpt from a note one of her friends sent her. It encapsulates our need to be learners these days,

“There is an awakening, but it is partial – not just some people and not others, but some parts of ourselves and not other parts. We’re at war within and without – between the new and the old. But I have total faith that we’re moving in the right direction. And yes, the awakening needs us. But it doesn’t need the part of us that says ‘the awakening needs us.’ It needs the humble part that longs to learn, not the arrogant part that wants to teach.”

These words gripped me because I am one, among many others, who believes we are on a path of awakening. Sadly, tragically…it is a path strewn with death and harm brought about by individual and collective inhumanity. But it is a path nevertheless. The words from Maria’s friend gripped me because they are a call to people like me (and many of you reading this) to adopt a learning disposition even as we do our best to exhibit tenacious solidarity and work for the common good. If we can have eyes to see this new day (Mark 8:18), we will recognize it is a moment pregnant with potential for disciples, for those willing to be learners.

I believe this is a particular kind of learning. It is the kind of learning Jesus invited his first followers to engage in–the learning which comes when we are willing to see old things in new ways. Six times in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard….but I say.” The learning to which we are called is one that comes from looking at life in a new way. This is the root meaning of ” repent”–metanoia, having an enlarged mind, an expanded view.  

This kind of learning occurs when we refuse to make the status quo a sacred cow. It is the learning that happens when we listen to the voices of those previously ignored or silenced by prejudice and subjugation. It is the learning that takes place as we pay attention to the mystic/prophets, who in their own ways are telling us that God is doing a new thing. It is the learning which happens only when we are willing to take risks, form new relationships, and be labeled “defectors” by those who place a greater value on preserving the past than seeing how the past is evolving into the future as it passes through the refining fire of the present.

Spiritual life in the pandemic is adopting the disposition of a learner. Henri Nouwen called it “paying attention” and went on to say that attentiveness is the essence of the spiritual life.

 And second, I am a follower.

The mindset of a learner becomes the movement of a follower. Christ is on the move, and I am to follow him in both my countenance and my conduct. This too can be described in more than one way. In this blog, I use the template given to us in the trilogy of faith, hope, and love.

Faith….Spiritual life in a pandemic means trusting God in two ways simultaneously: for eternity (the long haul) and in time (the short run).

With respect to eternity it means we trust that the plan of God is moving forward despite the pandemic. That plan is described by Paul, “This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Put into the words of poetry, faith in the eternal outworking of God means believing that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” [1]. Because it is God’s plan (that is, flowing from God’s heart and accomplishing God’s will), we can sum up the eternal nature of it in two words: love wins.

With respect to time, faith means trusting that God works in history. God is with us, and nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38). Faith in time means believing that God works in history for our good, through the wisdom and guidance of those who know the most about the viral pandemic—the medical community. Spiritual life in the viral pandemic means listening to the doctors and following their advice, not following the politicians and some pastors who would have us disregard the wisdom of science. “Have faith” is not a substitute for having common sense.  Spiritual life in time of disease means being smart.

Faith in time means listening to the wisdom and guidance of those who know the most about the violence pandemic–the nonviolent community. Spiritual life in the violence pandemic means listening to peacemakers and following their advice, not following those who commend the use of “brute force” as the way to restore order.  Spiritual life in a time of dis-ease means being calm.

Hope….Spiritual life in the pandemic means remaining confident that “this too shall pass.” We will get through this. [1]  Confidence is the interior infrastructure that enables us to endure. It is what Jesus called “the good foundation”—the strength to weather the storm. Confidence says, “Nevertheless,” and says it over and over. Spiritual life as hope is the inhaling of the Spirit, the Strengthener, who makes real Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always.”

From that sacred center, hope gives rise to our willingness to do what we can to respect others (e.g. wearing masks and resisting brutality) and to be helpful. Hope is offering ourselves to God as instruments of God’s peace in the process of moving into the new normal. It is what Henri Nouwen called “active waiting.” It is the phrase from the children’s song that says, “everybody do your share.”

Love….Spiritual life in a pandemic means being rooted and grounded in love, which I take to be summarized in the two great commandments and the fruit of the Spirit. Living within these things, we apply them in two directions.

First we love ourselves. This is not selfishness, it’s survival. It means exercising self-care with respect to such things as reasonable precautions, conscientious hygiene, a good diet, and ample sleep. Frederick Buechner offers wise counsel about this, “Pay mind to your own life, your own health, and wholeness….Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death.” [2] From that strength, we love others. This is what I meant above in the second dimension of hope, but there I was referring to willingness; here I am referring to motive. Love is the motive which ignites the driving force. Spiritual life in a pandemic is the life of love, turned inward and thrust outward. It is the life created by the union of contemplation and action.

Jesus said he came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). In a time of pandemic, we must “ask, seek, and knock” for it with determination, and we must recognize that it will fluctuate as we face new challenges and experience fatigue as we do so. But at the same time, abundant life is not an elusive butterfly. We can net it through the exercise of faith, hope, and love.

Taken together, learning and following provide a means to gain the perspective and to enact the words of the prophet, “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).  Spiritual life in a pandemic means being a disciple.


Two Additional Resources

     Walter Brueggemann, ‘ Virus as a Summons to Faith’ (Cascade Books, 2020)

.    N.T. Wright, ‘God and the Pandemic’ (Zondervan, 2020)

   

[1] From the hymn, “This is My Father’s World.”

[2] Paul Chilcote and I had recognized the need for a resurgence of hope, before the viral pandemic ever came on the scene. We decided to co-author a book about the recovery of hope. We had no idea it would come out at the very time the virus was raging. We wrote an Addendum to the original text that connected hope to the viral pandemic, even though the book is about finding hope whenever we need it. It’s entitled, ‘Living Hope: An Inclusive Vision of the Future.’

[3] Frederick Buechner, ‘Telling Secrets’ (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 27-28.

Posted in In-Sight

The “New” Oboedire

I want to thank those of you who took the time to offer suggestions about what Oboedire might become.  Whatever that means, I want it to be something you look forward to reading when a new installment hits your inbox.

I see the emergence of a “new” Oboedire as a conversation with those of you who have subscribed and/or those of you who visit the site regularly.  Here’s are the suggestions that were sent…

(1) Maintain the spiritual formation purpose.

(2) Write as an elder; that’s who you are, and we need words from older adults.

(2) Continue the monthly “In-Sight” series.

(3) Highlight the new voices that are on the scene to guide us these days.

(4) Continue to provide bibliographic references and reading lists.

(5) Have a “Q&A” series, so we can ask specific questions.

(6) Maintain your prophetic writing. These are days which call for it.

Another suggestion is one I will mention separately because it would mean a new media for Oboedire: Zoom conferences and podcasts.  I must say that I am not inclined to do this, but I recognize that media is moving in this direction.  So, I keep the idea on the table.

Thanks again for sending your ideas.  If you want to send me additional ones, or comment on any of these, send me an email at oboediresite@gmail.com

Blessings!  Steve

Posted in Site Updates

Past, Present, and Future

It is difficult for me to realize it has been ten years since I began Oboedire. A tenth anniversary is an especially good time to thank you for taking the time to read my posts. Some of you have done that from the beginning, while others of you have connected with Oboedire recently. No matter, I am grateful that you are on the journey, and I pray that what I write is helpful to you.

A tenth anniversary is also a time to discern the future of Oboedire. I am a bonafide “old guy,” and there is a new generation of vibrant voices to whom we must listen and turn to for guidance. They are are leaders now, and we must learn from them and follow them.

So, I am pondering the future of Oboedire. If there is a place for it, I must write as an elder “sitting at the gate,” not playing on the field as I did for so long. I am trying to figure out what it means to write from the edge, from the bleachers, as an encourager.  Pray for me as I ponder the future of Oboedire in relation to this. And if you have thoughts you’d like to share, you can email them to me at oboediresite@gmail.com.  Whatever Oboedire becomes, I want it to be an oasis for any who read it.

As you know, “Love” has been the 2020 theme here on Oboedire. I am going to end this series today, rather than continuing it through the end of the year. I need to step away from deadline-driven writing.  I don’t have the energy for it that I once had. 

So, here is the final post in the Love series…

There’s no way to conclude a series on love, because love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:8). Whenever we speak of love, more remains unsaid. Whatever we write about love, more ink remains in the pen than came out of it. I am convinced that God’s school is The School of Love. Each day is a new course in the curriculum. Learning to love well is the aim of life. We have come from Love, and we will return to Love. Our call is to “be love” and to “do love” in our journey from birth to death. If nothing else, I hope this series has planted in your heart the certainty that you are God’s beloved child, and with that reality in place, I hope it has ignited or reignited in you the desire to be one through whom God can reveal the truth that all are God’s beloved too! 

Recent days have re-exposed us to the lack of love in our nation, showing that the absence of love provokes to say and do things that break God’s heart and thwart God’s intent for the world. We need a revival of love–one that will return us to our right mind and to the rebuilding of Beloved Community.  

____________________

Whatever form and frequency Oboedire takes in the future, it will be to serve the purpose of advancing love for all on the earth.  To that end, the journey continues.  Thanks again for being on it with me.

Posted in Love

In-Sight: John Wesley and Emancipation

In solidarity with the message of emancipation which Juneteenth communicates, I offer this link to John Wesley’s championing of freedom for black people in his day….

Interestingly, in the midst of renewed racial turmoil in our country, Michael J. Gerson has recently pointed to John Wesley as someone who can shed light into our darkness and offer guidance on the path toward justice. [1] Wesley’s “ Thoughts on Slavery” was a prophetic writing for the 18th century, and many of his convictions are, as Gerson noted, needed and applicable in our time. In this post, I focus on only one.

By writing on the subject of slavery, and further championing its ending by supporting abolitionists like William Wilberforce [2], Wesley bore witness to the Christian conviction that conscience takes precedence over government. Wesley was a Tory,  and he held a high view of the monarchy—but not one of absolute allegiance. [3] The crown was not (and never is ) supreme—Jesus is Lord. Wesley declared that when we are forced, by bent of circumstance, to choose between the two, we choose Christ. [4] 

In taking this position, Wesley stood against the notion of the divine right of kings as an absolute value, and he opposed those who had fashioned monarchs as little messiahs. He was roundly rebuked for his anti-slavery stance, and Methodists were labeled as subverters of society. [5]  But he stayed the course, following the way of Jesus and the Gospel.

Wesley stood in the line of philosophers such as Aristotle and theologians such as Aquinas, who championed the common good based upon the belief in human dignity and equality rooted in the fact that all people are made in the image of God.  We are one human family, and even though Cain denied it, we are the caregivers of one another.  Indeed, as Paul wrote, when one person suffers, all suffer.  

Wesley bore witness to this conviction, urging that unjust laws must not be obeyed,  and related practices must be rejected. Slavery, Wesley wrote, was the vilest expression of injustice in his day. The laws which legalized it had to be overturned, and the practices of the slave trade had to be overthrown. Just as Jesus overturned the tables of those who had made the Temple a den of thieves, Wesley called on fellow Methodists, other Christians, and all people of good will to overturn the tables of those who made England (and elsewhere) a harbinger of the evil of racism.

Today, we celebrate Juneteenth as the reminder that emancipation is the message–the message still needed in our day. Emancipation is the aim of fundamental human decency and the goal of Christians who say through actions and words, “Christ has set us free for freedom” (Galatians 5:1). Subsequent to Wesley we find the same sentiment running into the present day through a host of abolitionist movements and spokespersons.  The Black Lives Matter movement is on point for the cause of emancipation.  It marches with other groups and leaders in the mission to overcome evil with good.  Michael Gerson is right to bring John Wesley into the picture, for if he were alive, he would be marching too.


[1] Gerson wrote his editorial on June 16th. You can find it on his facebook page or in Washington Post archives.

[2] Wesley’s last letter, written shortly before his death, was to Wilberforce encouraging him in the quest to end slavery.

[3] Here we can see the influence of the Non-Juror tradition at work in Wesley—a tradition that his mother, Susanna, embraced along with others who were good friends of his.  Simply put, the Non-Jurors refused to pledge unquestioning and unbridled allegiance to the King, and particularly so when they believed the King was unjust.

[4] Here is the fatal flaw that renders Christian Nationalism un-Christian.  It reinterprets the Christian message to make it appear to bless and support “the country do or die.”  Portraying Jesus as a patriot, Christian nationalists create a false gospel.

[5] The PBS Masterpiece series “Poldark” showed how Methodists in 18th century England were caricatured as enthusiasts and threats to the status quo.

 



Posted in In-Sight

Love: Ilia Delio

​I have chosen to include Ilia Delio in this series in order to point to those who are seeking to lead us into fresh discoveries of God, and are doing so using a theology of love.  Sr. Ilia’s core conviction is that Love is at the center of the universe, and that understanding and experiencing God as love are essential if we are to thrive and survive. [1]

Like a growing number of people today, Sr. Ilia believes some of our concepts of God (e.g. a distant machineist) and certain containers for God (e.g. a lot of institutional religion) are “tired” instruments that have served their time, but are failing to do so today.  But she is also one who does not believe that overthrowing the past is the way to go; instead, she chooses to live and work “on the edge of the inside” transforming the past into a dynamic future.  And for her, that means the returning of Love to the core of existence–thst is, to the center of our belirfs and behaviors.  Her vision includes the following things.

First, the words “God is love” are the means for understanding everything else and the lens through which to look in order to see things aright. Far from being an isolated biblical verse, the words are the organizing revelation of Scripture.  And much more than a phrase in a sea of mantras, “God is love” is the root of all the rest.  Love is Being . [2]

That being so, her second overarching conviction is that we experience Love and express it through nondual, integrative, and unitive thinking and living.  The era of divisions (which inevitably spawn hierarchies and resulting conflicts) is over, being replaced by a return to the primal sense that all is one—what Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  This is the nonduality of Genesis 1:1 (”heavens and the earth”)  John 1:3 ( “all things were made by him”), and Acts 17:26 (”in him we live, and move, and have our being”).  Individuality and specificity exist, but they live (and contribute to life) only in a universal relationship characterized by Love. [3]

Third, Sr. Ilia has accepted a call to bring religion and science back into a symbiotic relationship, in which they are meant to be.  Her means for doing this is by using the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  This includes a substantive presentation of his views (as her writings and videos reveal), but also a presentation which ignites the fire of love, which revives the mystical way where Love is expressed for the common good. [4]. Here again she joins a host of others in the reuniting of spirituality and science. [5]

It boils down to the simple fact that we live or die (individually and collectively) in relation to Love.


[1] I hope you will become familiar with Ilia Delio if you are not already.  Her ministry called The Omega Center (https://omegacenter.info) is the best way to begin.

[2] Sr. Ilia writes about this in an essay entitled, “Being as Love” in the “Ask Ilia” series, 3/19/19.  Available in the Resources section on the Omega Center website.

[3] She has an excellent testimony chapter in the book edited by Andrew Davis and Philip Clayton, ‘How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere (Monkfish Books, 2018), chapter 3.

[4] In the Christian tradition, this is called sapiential theology.  It essentially means that beliefs are genuine only the extent they are enacted.

[5] A good primer on this  union is, ‘On the Mystery of Being: Insights on the Convergence of Science and Spirituality,’ (Reveal Press, 2019).  Chapters from multiple authors.

Posted in Love

Love: Oscar Romero

I turn to Oscar Romero as another witness to love because the more I have read him, the more I see love at the center of his life and ministry.  Indeed, one author described him as the voice of love in a time and place where love’s voice was sorely diminished by hatred and violence.[1] Romero had the strength to love we saw last week in the post about Martin Luther King Jr.  It was a strength we can see in a number of ways.

First, Romero’s love was a sign of his love for God.  Unlike the revolutionaries who stood outside the system in an attempt to overthrow it, he was a subversive who located himself “at the edge of the inside” (Richard Rohr’s term for resistance) of the political and ecclesial systems which colluded to harm people.  Romero sought to reform the society and church because he loved it, not because he was done with it.  True reform always arises from love.

Second, Romero’s love was an advocacy for those who were unloved by the state and church.  It was a love which stood in solidarity with the poor and oppressed—a reflection of the Bible’s call to do so.  In this sense, Romero was a good shepherd to the sheep and a genuine prophet to the imperialists.  He was the mystic/prophet that Matthew Fox sees as a true Christian.

Third, Romero’s love was a sign of hope to those who were tempted to give into hopelessness.  He saw his preaching as a primary means for doing this, writing that “You all know what language I use for preaching. It is a language that wants to plant seeds of hope; yes, it denounces earthly injustices, abuses of power, but not with hatred, rather with love, calling for conversion.” [2]  Love and hope were never separated.

Finally, Romero’s love was sacrificial.  He was assassinated for loving, but he did not live with a martyr’s mentality, but only that of a messenger—the Spirit that was upon Jesus to announce a radical inbreaking of the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:18-19) was upon him.  The risks he took were part of his responsibility.  He lived and worked as a servant, not a victim.

In these ways, and more, Oscar Romero bore witness to love as the evidence of courage and the inspiration for change.  

[1] James  Brockman, ‘Romero: A Life’ (Orbis Books, 2005).

[2] Irene Hodgson, translator, ’Through the Year With Oscar Romero,’ (St Anthony Messenger Press, 2005) , 20.

Posted in Love

In-Sight: Overwhelmed

One of the greatest dangers in life is to feel overwhelmed. Many of us have felt that way during the pandemic. But even before it, we found it easy to feel overwhelmed in a world of enormous challenges, and in a time that includes a never-ending spate of negativity and toxicity, much of which goes against the grain of our deepest values and too often promotes the destruction of life and an erosion of what it means to be human.

If we have an ounce of compassion in our being, we are naturally drawn into the effort to resist evil and promote good, seeking to be “instruments of peace” in situations that are bereft of it. Each of us does this through various means and in differing degrees. But none of us can do it relentlessly or indefinitely. If we try to be “all in all the time,” burnout and bitterness are inevitable. Fatigue (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) emerges, spiraling downward into frustration which eventually turns into a sense of futility. It is what St. Paul called “growing weary in welldoing” (Galatians 6:9).

This descent into darkness is so strong that we must exercise willful resistance to it. We must cultivate our spiritual life in relation to the pattern of engagement/abstinence. [1]. It is the pattern we first see in creation, where God worked but also rested. It is the pattern we see in Jesus (Luke 5:15-26), in his formation of disciples (Mark 6:31), and thereafter across the centuries through the witness of the saints. [2]

We must cultivate the pattern of stepping away, even from good things. It is possible to drown in clean water as much as it is in dirty water. It is not the quality of the water, but its being over our heads that does us in. The disciplines that enable us to survive what someone has called, “the feverish round of unceasing activity” are sabbath keeping, solitude, silence, meditation and simplicity.

The overarching word for it is ‘fasting.’ But as Richard Foster has taught, it is fasting from more than food. Today, I believe that the essential non-food fast is from our devices–from the tumultous onslaught of social media. It not only never stops, it also is designed to keep us stirred up and reactive. It upsets us. This is not healthy, and over the long haul it is deformative. At the extreme, it is an addiction as hard to break as any other. We must fast from the media.

But there are other things we need to fast from; in fact, there are many–too many to name. We find them in our lives wherever we feel “consumed” by something. Fasting in this sense is stepping back from anything that has us in its grip. Most of the time, we can identify these things and exercise our wills to be free of them. At other times, we need spiritual direction to see them and deal with them. And on some occasions, we need professional counseling to overcome the things which are overwhelming us. Any means to freedom is a means of grace.

But any practice of the discipline of abstinence must be in the context of the larger pattern of engagement/abstinence, so that our actions are rooted in and are expressions of the natural rhythm of our life. In spiritual formation there is a deeper question than, “What are you doing?” It is the question. ” How are you intending to live?”
We are helped by good actions in a given moment, but we are shaped by the intentions we establish underneath them. The engagement/abstinence pattern is a formative intention. It is the sacred rhythm of life that prevents us from becoming overwhelmed.

[1] I first saw this pattern in Dallas Willard’s book, ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines,’ in which he organized the spiritual disciplines to show how they establish the action/reflection cycle in our lives.
[2] I have observed and studied this pattern in the lives of many ancient and modern Christians, e.g. the early desert mothers and fathers, Sts. Francis and Clare, John Wesley, E. Stanley Jones, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Susan Muto, and Richard Rohr–to name a few.

Posted in In-Sight

Love: Martin Luther King, Jr.

​Since it was published in 1963, Martin’s book ‘Strength to Love’ has been one of my constant companions. [1]  I read it the first time as a teenager trying to understand the insanity of the sixties and seeking to discern where I stood in those days.  I have subsequently re-read the book as a guide for living nonviolently.  Today, I refer to it as a means for learning how to love.

King used the word ‘strength’ in the title.  But what is the strength to love?  It is love—the same sentiment we saw in Julian of Norwich.  Love is the strength to love.  In fact it the only sufficient strength.  Any substitute will not fulfil our mandate to love.  Martin and those who joined with him in the civil rights movement would never have been able to do and endure if they had not first been filled with the love of God.

This is exactly the witness of Scripture: “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:9).  Fruit comes from the seed.  The fruit of love comes from the seed of love.  The heart guides the hand.  Intake becomes outflow.  Love is the strength to love.

With that in place, King’s book, and even more his life, showed how love proliferates in all directions, influencing every dimension of life.  Love gives us a tough mind and a tender heart.  It transforms us from conformists into nonconformists. It enables us to be good neighbors. It inspires our actions, to the deepest action—our love of our enemies.  Love is the knock at midnight which awakens our conscience and fuels our compassion.  Love is the hallmark of our humanity, helping us rise above our shattered dreams and overcome our fears.  Love inspires us to live nonviolently in utter confidence that our God is able. [2]

Those of us who lived through the sixties were inspired by King’s words and his corresponding deeds.  And many of us have discovered that the inspiration was not just for those days, but for the days of our lives ever since.  In the final analysis, it is the abiding nature of love (John 15:9) that gives us the strength to love. 

 

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Strength to Love’ (Harper & Row, 1963).

[2] The sentences of this paragraph summarize the book’s chapters, giving us a big-picture view of King’s theology and practice of love.

Posted in Love

Love: Dorothy Day

​If life is love expressed, as we saw it last week in Gandhi, then we have no better example of it than in the life of Dorothy Day.  Like Gandhi, her soul force was the force of love.

Dorothy Day was a pipeline through whom the love of God flowed, to any people to be sure, but particularly toward those whom the world had ceased to love as it should.  For decades, she lived with and served the needs of people who were on the margins.  She did this as a response to God’s call, a call which arose from her deep existential sense of oneness with everyone.  

This sense came to her profoundly during her first time in jail.  She described her experience this way, “I was no longer myself….I was no longer a young girl, part of a radical movement seeking justice for those oppressed. I was the oppressed. I was that drug addict, screaming and tossing in her cell, beating her head against the wall. I was that shoplifter who for rebellion was sentenced to solitary.” [1]

Dorothy day incarnated love by living the second great commandment, to love her neighbors as herself—that is, recognizing her essential oneness with everyone.  This is what Buddhists mean by interbeing, and what Jesus embedded in Christianity through the second commandment.  It is the cosmic oneness that physicists call quantum entanglement—the essential oneness of all things.

In Dorothy Day we see a love which bears witness to the fact that there is only one Life, and we share it in our particular lives through life together.  This is soul-level solidarity, the radical oneness of love.

 

[1] Quoted without reference in Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditation for December 6, 2019.

Posted in Love

Love: Mahatma Gandhi

​This week, we look outside Christianity to see the universality of love, using the witness of Gandhi as our illustration.   He is also a good follow up to our look at Teilhard de Chardin last week, because Gandhi too saw love as the supreme law of the universe.  In his autobiography he refers to love over eighty times, describing its reality in relation to the total range of our human experiences. [1]

Using the word ‘experiments’ in the title of his book. Gandhi revealed the scientific nature of his understanding of love—that is, he was an explorer, a practitioner.  He experienced and confirmed the truth and love by living it, concluding that “nothing is impossible for pure love,”  Gandhi recognized that despite all attempts to destroy it over time, love prevails. He proved the validity of love in the laboratory of life.

Because of his belief in the supremacy and invincibility of love, nonviolent living became his chosen way of manifesting it.  He called nonviolence the “soul force which is but another name for love force.”  And with that force, he marshalled a movement where love overcame hatred through what Richard Rohr has come to call “the practice of the better.”

Through Gandhi’s witness we see the essence of love (philosophically and theologically), and we see the expression of love (practically and specifically) as the way of life.  And as with Jesus, Gandhi’s death took place in the absence of love.  But as with Jesus, his death became the starting point for a resurrection of love that encircles the world, bringing light wherever it is lived.

Gandhi’s emphasis on love as the only thing which can overcome hate, and his commitment to nonviolence as the practice of love for overcoming it have been mediated to me through John Dear.  Although I will not write a post specifically about him, I want to include him as someone to benefit from when it comes to living in love, particularly in a life of nonviolence. [2]  He is a contemporary Gandhi in our midst.


[1] Mahatma Gandhi, ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth.’  This book is available in a multitude of formats.  All quotes in this post come from it.

[2] John Dear, ‘The Nonviolent Life’ (Pace e Bene Press, 2013).  Love runs through this book, especially in relation to the two great commandments.

Posted in Love

Love: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

​Looking last week at E. Stanley Jones’ all-encompassing theology of love provides us the opportunity to see the same thing scientifically through the writing of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who saw love as the physical structure of the universe. Love is the divine milieu. [1]  For him, love is the energy attracting all things to each other.  He saw it in atoms, gravity, orbits, photosynthesis, ecosystems, electromagnetic systems, and human relations.  Moreover, he saw the existence of the cosmos in a dynamic way–as a movement toward love, the Omega point.

Amazing and awesome as this is, it is not surprising, because we would expect there to be congruence between the Creator and the creation.  It would make no sense for God to make a world at cross purposes with the Divine nature.  God is love, and what God makes is love.

At the personal level, this means none of us can ever rightly see ourselves as anyone other than God’s beloved.  We are God made, love made.  We are made in God’s likeness.  This reality both defines who we are and motivates us to develop who we are in deeper and wider ways.  When we do so, as Teilhard would tell us, we are on the trajectory God has in mind for us all.  We are on the never-ending journey into Love.

In this view, Teilhard is in concert with the ideas of growth and maturation that we have seen in Underhill and Jones (indeed, in every other person we have highlighted), but he treats it in the context of science.  For him as a paleantologist, this meant observing how the created order is undergoing evolution–a persavive development of all things from lower to a higher order.  For him as a priest, this meant a spiritual evolution into fulness of life in Christ.  It is most clearly seen in the development of increasingly mature relationships with each other. [2]. Love daws into ever deepening and widening fellowship, community, and oneness.

For Teilhard de Chardin, love is literally and figuratively our DNA.  Love is the essence of what is most passed on from one generation to another.  It is the divine dance in the cosmos.  It is the spring in our step.

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, ‘The Divine Milieu.’He wrote the book in 1926-27, but it was banned by Roman Catholic censors, only finally to be published in English in 1960.  

[2] Louis Savary & Patricia Berne, ‘Teilhard de Chardin on Love’ (Paulist Press, 2017).

Posted in Love

Love: E. Stanley Jones

​I have previously identified E. Stanley Jones as the overall most major influence in my theological and spiritual life.  His influence only increased when, years ago, I discovered that he wrote an entire book on love, ‘Christian Maturity.’ [1]  Like some other of his books, this one offers a year’s worth of  daily readings, affording readers the opportunity to concentrate on love for an extended period.

Using the letter of First John, Jones connects maturity with love, noting that “we are mature as we are mature in love.” [2]  This is a view in keeping with what we noted last week in Evelyn Underhill’s theology of love.  I think they both got the idea from St. Paul, who described his maturation as a growing into love (1 Corinthians 13).

Growth in love is growth into increasing maturity because it is growing increasingly I to God, who is love (1 John 4:8, 16).  Growth in love is also the hallmark of the Spirit-filled life (Galatians 5:22), wherein we find the motivation and the means to love our neighbors as ourselves.
One of the keynotes in Jones’ theology is that love is the means for overcoming the major problems that we face in life.  Love overcomes racism, independence, impulsiveness, fear, resentment, naivete, negativism, self-seeking, pride, self-condemnation, and emptiness. [3] Love is not only the key pronciple that runs through life, it is the ultimate power that enables us to live as God intends.

It is no exaggeration to say that, for E. Stanley Jones, every achievement is due, in some way, to the presence of love, and equally fair to say that every decline is due to the absence of love.  Life rises and falls in relation to love. Love cleanses, consecrates, and conquers.  Love calls out the best in us.  We are never more the people God means for us to be than when we love. 


[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘Christian Maturity’ (Abingdon Press 1957).

[2] Ibid., xii.

[3] Ibid., Jones writes in the book about love’s ability to overcome each of these things, leaving us to conclude (as St Paul did) that love is the means to victory in all things (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a).

Posted in Love

“You will laugh” (Luke 6:21) is the only time Jesus referred to laughter, but, but it is certainly not the only time he laughed.  He went to many parties, and you don’t do that without laughing a lot.  He told stories that made people laugh (e.g. the idea of a camel squeezing itself through a needle’s eye), and he likely laughed along with them as he told them. No doubt about it,  Jesus laughed. [1]

Unfortunately, most of the portraits of Jesus do not show him laughing.  But there is one depiction called “Jesus Laughing,” which friends gave to Jeannie and me in 1990.  Every day since, that portrait has hung on a wall in our several homes. We see it all the time, and some days I pause to look at it more intently.

The importance of Luke 6:21 is that Jesus put laughter into our vision of life in the Kingdom of God.  He did it in a way that brought immediate joy, and also in a way that gave inevitable hope. In fact, in 6:25, he warned people not to live so that only the present is humorous.  That kind of limited laughter may bring about weeping later.  Sometimes laughter is a sign that we have things in perspective.

Kingdom laughing not only gives us a lot to laugh about right now, but more…it assures us that even when we weep right now, sadness does not have the last word. Jesus laughing is not only about the funny things happening around us today, it is also his way of saying, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”  Joy is a keynote in eternity.

Years ago, I read that Thomas Merton said “the mark of a saint is the ability to laugh.” [2]  John Wesley believed “sour godliness is the devil’s religion.”  Across the ages, the link between holiness and happiness (eudaemonism) has been noted.  When we are at our best, we know at soul-level that, indeed, there is a time for laughter (Ecclesiastes 3:4).  Jesus set the pace.  Let’s follow it.


[1] Elton Trueblood wrote a book about this, ‘The Humor of Christ’ (Harper & Row, 1975).  My longtime friend and colleague, Donald Demaray, also emphasized Jesus’ humor and the importance of it in the Christian life.  He wrote, ‘Laughter, Joy, and Healing’ (Baker Books, 1986).

[2] I have not found this exact quote in Merton’s writing, but I have found the sentiment many times.  Jim Forest tells that the first time he saw Merton, he was on the floor laughing.  The laughing Merton made a first and lasting impression on him.

Link | Posted on by

Love: Evelyn Underhill

​For the sake of time, we move from the eighteenth century (last week in the post about the Wesleys) to the twentieth century, continuing our look at love through another Anglican, Evelyn Underhill.  In her writing, we easily detect the centrality of love in Christianity’s essence and expression.

In its essence, she wrote that the spiritual life is “the willed correspondence of the little human spirit with the Infinite Spirit”—correspondence between the Holy Spirit whose nature is love and the human spirit made in God’s image. [1]  Indeed, for Underhill,  the spiritual journey corresponds to the drawing of iron filings to a magnet—natural and inevitable because of Love, akin to the sentiment of St. John, “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

John’s declaration leads into Underhill’s belief that the core expression of the spiritual life is the showing of love.  Put first by Paul in his list of the fruit of the Spirit, she noted that “live is the budding point from which all the rest come.”  She summed everything up in one sentence, “To be unloving is to be out of touch with God.” [3]

As a Christian in the mystical tradition, Underhill clearly understood the life of love to be a journey into increasing maturity, which is essentially maturation in love.  Her classic book, ‘Mysticism’ has over 850 references to love.  Growth in love is occurring in every stage of our spiritual formation: purgation, illumination, dark night, and union. [4]

In a very compelling way. Evelyn Underhill invites us into a dynamic spirituality rooted and fruited in love.

[1] Evelyn Underhill, ‘The Spiritual Life’ (Harper & Row, n.d.), 30.

[2] Evelyn Underhill, ‘The Fruits of the Spirit’ (Morehouse-Barlow, 1981), 14.

[3] Ibid., 15. 

[4] Evelyn Underhill, ‘Mysticism’ (1911).  Her book has been republished many times, and it is still available in both traditional and ebook formats.

Posted in Love

Love: The Wesleys

​When I write about the Wesleys, I do so from within the tradition which has most substantially shaped my Christian faith.  Fortunately, the Wesleyan tradition is ecumenical, itself the child of other streams of Christianity, and one which invites us to be formed in relation to the depth and breadth of Christian thought.  All this to say, the theology of love found in the Wesleyan tradition is the culmination of previous theologies in the Roman, Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican traditions.

In addition to the breadth of its theology of love, we also find a depth such that many rightly describe Wesleyan theology as a theology of love. [1]  In demonstrable ways we see this.

First, with respect to theology itself.  The fact that neither John nor Charles Wesley spent their lives in the academy has caused some to discount them as theologians, but that is a both a bogus claim, and one which reveals a too narrowing of the word ‘theologian.’ Their media were different (e.g. sermons, hymns, treatises, and letters) but their message has theological substance.  And their message was rooted in the two great commandment—the love of God and neighbor. Writing sixty years ago, Colin Williams confirmed John Wesley’s alignment with and commitment to the universal Christian belief that faith is formed by love. [2]

Second, love is seen with respect to the ministries that characterized Methodism.  One of the guiding mantras for John and Charles (and other Methodists) was “faith working by love,” a conviction akin to St. James, who wrote that “ faith is dead when it does not arise from faithful activity” (James 2:17).  John Wesley called it “practical divinity,”—what he (and the larger Christian tradition) referred to as social holiness.

My study of Wesleyan spirituality has shown how much John and Charles (and the Methodist movement) connected with, benefitted from, and expressed the many theologies of love which preceded them. [3]  I have come to believe that they saw Methodism as a Third Order, akin to what we have seen in the Franciscan order–a movement rooted in and expressive of love.

Love as the cornerstone of faith and life has generated this principle throughout the Wesleyan world, “Methodists move toward people who need help.” [4]  The help given is not generated solely or primarily by a sense of obligation or duty, but rather from compassion born of love—a sense of love rooted in the person and work of God, who in the Holy Trinity loves the whole world (John 3:16).


[1] Nazarene theologian Mildred Bangs Wynkoop left no doubt as to her recognition of this, entitling her study of Wesleyan theology, ‘A Theology of Love’ (Beacon Hill Press, 1972).

[2] Colin W. Williams, ‘John Wesley’s Theology Today’ (Abingdon Press, 1960), 65.

[3] My PhD dissertation launched my study of Wesleyan spirituality: ‘The Devotional Life of John Wesley: 1703-38’ (Duke University, 1981).  I have since written about this in books and articles–for example, ‘Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition’ (Upper Room Books–first as a book in 1983, and then republished as a workbook in 1996).  The workbook is still in print.

[4] A statement made by Nazarene theologian J. Kenneth Grider in an unpublished paper he wrote in 1999.

Posted in Love

It’s 1984 Every Day Now

The dystopian world envisioned by George Orwell is coming to pass right before our eyes. The pandemic did not create this, it only exposes it. The origins are as old as Cain’s murder of Abel and his denial of responsibility for doing so. The evolution of egotism and ethnocentrism is etched in stone in human history. The seeds sown by Ayn Rand are bearing deadly fruit today and poisoning the souls of toxic leaders. It’s 1984 every day now.

There are more factors making this so than any of us know about, for many deadening dynamics have a life of their own in back rooms filled with the noxious smoke of sub-rosa scheming. But other factors can be seen. The convergence of two ideologies is especially observable in these days:  economic entitlement and the survival of the fittest. Looked at separately, each one is chilling.

Economic entitlement—-In the past couple of weeks, certain leaders have played their materialistic hands, saying that the loss of life is justifiable in the larger need to keep the economic system going. Some of these people hold federal-level offices, others are found at state and local levels. Together they form a network of deception.  On the surface, their claim seems obvious—until we ask one question: “What kind of economy do these people want to preserve?” 

The answer is, the current one—the one that enriches the rich….the one that exempts big business from paying its fair share of taxes….the one that perpetuates a weaponized mindset and a warfare mentality that makes bullets and bombs a multi-trillion dollar machine….the one which engages in the same practices it denounces other countries for doing….the one that calls citizen assistance “socialism” until it needs to be bailed out itself….the one varnished over with God-talk from false prophets who try to make us believe “the kingdoms of this world” is the Kingdom of God….the one  that funds the super PACS which keeps the “return to work” oligarchs and demagogues in power. If the economic factor was the only poison, it would be perilous. But it connects with a second one.

Survival of the fittest—-Ayn Rand’s showcase ethic is now emerging as a defining factor in the pandemic, and in a forecasted overburdened healthcare system in a new-normal world of mutating viruses. Medical schools are being asked to develop guidelines for determining who is treated when there is not enough equipment and medication to go around. Some of the pending proposals are decidedly ageist in their content. [1]  But apart from the ethical question of what constitutes “a life worth saving,” the healthcare system is itself held hostage by the economic entitlement system described above.

This becomes clear when we ask questions like these: “How many more ventilators could be made if the money spent on militarism were diverted to their manufacture?” —-”How much money would there be to develop vaccines if companies currently paying no taxes had to pay the same fair-share amounts required of the rest of us?”—–”How many more medical supplies and protective gear for healthcare workers could be available if celebrities and athletes (and their agents and owners ) did not make exorbitant salaries to entertain us?”—-”How many more people could be cared for in the current healthcare system if CEO’s (and other comparable ones in the church and society) were compensated in sync with what they pay their employees?”  Etc.  Etc.

Yes, it is 1984 every day now, but we are not here by accident.  We are here by choices which have created systems of exploitation. It is 1984 now because a sinister network of people and groups believe that the victimization of “the many” is acceptable if “the few” prosper. Donald Trump is the public face of 1984, but he is more a pawn in the system than the president of it.  He is not a king or a savior. He is merely an incarnation that enables us to see what people become when Narcissus rules their minds and hearts.

The big problem, however, is not that it’s 1984 today. The big problem is that we resign ourselves to the lies it perpetrates. The truth is now, as it always is, that power is in people, not potentates. The fuel of elitism is an anesthetized populace. The greatest threat to demagoguery is an awakened citizenry. The current pandemic is an opportunity to take back what has been ours all along—life governed by a commitment to the common good.  Oligarchs are dead men walking whenever the people they victimize rise up and say, “No more!”

[1] Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s article, “Avoiding Ageist Bias and Tragedy in Triage” (April 15, 2020) in Tikkun online provides an excellent overview of the survival of the fittest views being written into some of the proposed guidelines for healthcare in times of pandemics and shortages

Posted in In-Sight

Love: Thomas á Kempis

​The ‘Imitation of Christ,’ published  in 1441, is said by some to be the most read Christisn book other than the Bible.  But whether or not that’s true, the assertion speaks to the incalculable influence of this devotional classic.  Thomas á Kempis was more likely the editor of an already existing text than the author of the book, but whatever the case, it became the manual of devotion which the Brethren of the Common Life used to train themselves in godliness.  It soon overflowed that community, becoming a devotional classic for everyone.

It sums up the essence of discipleship in the phrase, “the imitation of Christ.’  When John Wesley published his version of the book in 1741, he entitled it ‘The Christian’s Pattern.’  Both titles bear witness to the core of the Christian life: Christlikeness.  And as the book makes clear, the substance and spirit of Christlikeness is love.  This passage illustrates the thread of Christ’s love that runs through the book, 

“The Voice of Christ: Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good.  Love alone lightens every burden, and relieves all uneasiness…. Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider , nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or earth.” [1]

Christ is the incarnation of Love. When we see him, we see the Father.  And through the Spirit we produce the fruit of love.  ‘The Imitation of Christ’ continues the Trinitarian nature of love, and as those made in the image of God, we become partakers of God’s love.

One of the many contributions of this book is its linking our experience of love to the Eucharist. In the sacrament we discover that “the love of Christ is never diminished and the greatness of his sacrifice is never exhausted.” [2]  In receiving holy communion, the fire of love is rekindled in us over and over, so that we offer ourselves to God saying, “Receive, my Lord God, my wishes and desires to give you infinite praise and abundant blessing”—a  prayer which we fulfill as we go from the table to love God and others through our words and deeds. [3]


[1] ‘The Imitation of Christ’ is available in many editions and formats.  The quotes in this post are from Paul Chilcote’s rendition, ‘The Imitation of Christ: Selections Annotated and Explained (Skylight Paths, 2012), 83.

[2] Ibid., 137.

[Ibid., 175

Posted in Love

In-Sight: Golden

​I have postponed this month’s In-Sight post until today because it is Jeannie’s and my 50th Anniversary.  Coming on a Friday, it’s the same day we were married five decades ago.

Most of all, I begin this post by saying, “Jeannie, I love you with all my heart, and I am grateful beyond words that you said “Yes” when I asked you to marry me.  I am still breathless when I see you and speechless when I realize the myriad of ways (too many to remember them all) you have loved me. I  use this day to pledge my love anew, for however many years we have left to be husband and wife here on earth.  And if it’s possible for you to have my heart for eternity, it’s all yours!”

In the months leading up to this special day, some have asked, “What have you learned about love over the course of fifty years?”  For starters, I would point you to 1 Corinthians 13. We have experienced love in all the ways Paul describes it.

But apart from that, I would sum it up in three words, “Love is golden.”  When we describe something superlatively, we say it’s “golden.”  And so say I—about love in general, and about the love Jeannie and I have shared for fifty-plus years.  When I say that love is golden, I mean some specific things.

First, it is precious.  I have been blessed in many ways, but none more wonderful than sharing love with Jeannie.  Seeing her each morning.  Coming home from work or travel and receiving her kiss and hug. Experiencing her unwavering encouragement and support. Having her as my confidant, counselor, truth teller, friend, and lover.  Precious in all these ways and more.

Second, love is purified.  I agree with whoever said that we must experience love twice to know it fully.  The first experience is to fall in love, with all the passion that “falling” includes: a “head-over-heels in love” kind of love.  “Crazy love.”  But amazing as it is, there must be more.  In the second experience, we climb into love.  We choose our beloved….and are chosen by our beloved. Climbing into love is where security is born, trust prevails, and a depth and breadth of love emerges which is larger and richer than falling in love can be.  Love is fired in the crucible of reality, moving from being clay to rock.  Purified and even more valuable.

Third, love is protected.  It is not subjected to harm or left vulnerable. Lover and beloved say to each other in a thousand ways, “I’ve got your back.”  Love is honored by fidelity and respect.  Each is the other’s favored one.  Lovers build strong towers and inhabit them against all odds and foes. Protected and never exposed to danger.

Finally, love is proclaimed.  Glen Campbell had a popular song decades ago about a couple in love who “fit together walking.”   One of the joys of our love is how often others refer to us as “Jeannie and Steve”–a unit, the deep kinship bond that the Bible calls a one-flesh relationship.  It is one thing to say, “We are in love,” it is an additional thing for others to recognize it.  It is the proclamation of oneness created and sustained by love.

Love is golden: precious, purified, protected, and proclaimed.  Fifty years on the path of life have confirmed it.  Oh, yes!  More to come!

Posted in In-Sight

Love: Julian of Norwich

​During a time of severe illness, Julian (1342-1413) had a series of sixteen “showings” that all revealed to her some aspect of God’s love.  These were great comforts to her, and when she wrote them down, ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ became a source of ongoing blessing that has continued for over 600 years.

The richness of her experiences of God’s love cannot be captured in a blog post.  We must read her book for that, and even then we are left gazing into Mystery. Her visions are beyond words, even thkugh she did her best to write about them.  But it is Mystery which created in her (and in us) the desire to dwell in, grow in, and share the love of God.

Some have seen this statement as a summary of Julian’s experience, “Would you learn the Lord’s meaning in [the revelations]?  Learn it well: Love was the meaning.  And who showed [them] to you?  Love.  What were you shown?  Love.  Why were shown Love?  For Love.” [1] For Juluan, Love is the origin, motive, and content.  It is Love from start to finish.

God is the source of Love: “I Am the might and the goodness of the Fatherhood.  I Am the wisdom of the Motherhood.  I Am the light and grace that is all-blessed Love.  I Am the Trinity. I Am the Unity.  I Am the sovereign Goodness of all things.  I Am the One who moves you to love.  I Am the One who creates your longing to love and to be loved.  I Am the endless fulfilling of all true desires.” [2]

Julian’s contributions to our theology of love are many. But at the core is her reminder that God is the “All-in-all” of love.  Whenever we receive love or give it, it is God, God, God, all the way through. 


[1 Grace Warrack, ed.,] ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ (Methuen &Co., 1914), 29.  The book is available in a variety of editions and formats.  Because the original is in old English, I have modernized the quotations for this post.

[2] Ibid., 147.

Posted in Love

Love: Sts. Francis & Clare

​When we come to Francis (1182-1226) and Clare (1193-1254), we see another mountain peak in a theology of love.  Each of them sought to be instruments of God’s peace, sowing love in a multitude of ways throughout their lifetimes.

Looking at their respective theologies of love as a singular reality (as it largely was), we are plunged anew into Trinitarian love, which they saw as the heavenly Community of Love, which is meant to be the paradigm for earthly communities.  Love, for Francis and Clare, is at the core of individual and collective life, and it is a radiating core that offers love to everyone everywhere.

With respect to Francis, his writing, “The Prayer Inspired by the Our Father” most clearly shows how love runs as the golden thread through all of Francis’ thoughts, words, and actions. [1]  Like others before him, and since, Francis wrote a prayer based on each of the phrases in the Lord’s Prayer. Love is the central idea from beginning to end, expressing the love called for in the two great commandments.

With respect to Clare, we see her commitment to love illustrated in the third letter she wrote to Agnes of Prague, reminding her that she was a “dearly beloved lady in Christ,” and exhorting her to “love Him totally Who gave Himself totally for your love.” [2]

Together they incarnated an intense love of God with an extravagant love of others, which has come to be summarized in the prayer attribute to Francis, a prayer that teaches us that compassion is the inevitable result of contemplation, and that the creation of Beloved Community is the inevitable proof of love.

 Francis and Clare’s deep commitments to love became the cornerstone of the Franciscan order which arose from their leadership.  The disposition of their communities love all creation through vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience was a natural outflowing from the cave of the heart—that soul-place where the Lover and the Beloved dwell in deep communion. [3]


[1] Regis Armstrong & Ignatius Brady, tr., ‘Francis and Clare: The Complete Works,’ in The Classics of Western Spirituality series (Paulist Press, 1982), 104-106.

[2] Ibid., 200-201.

[3] John Michael Talbot, ‘The Lover and the Beloved’ (Crossroad, 1988).



(16) 

Posted in Love

Love: Bernard of Clairvaux

​When we come to Bernard (1091-1153), we arrive at the highest point so far in church history with respect to a Christian theology of love.  He not only incorporated everything we have looked at previously, he also added new brush strokes to the canvas.

Like those before him, Bernard saw the primacy of God’s love: “It is so important for every soul among you who is seeking God to realize that God was first in the field, and was seeking you before you began to search for Him….He loves both more than you love, and before you love at all.” [1]  Here Bernard is echoing St. John’s words, “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

With the primacy of God’s love established, Bernard went on to describe our love to God in four degrees. [2]  In the first degree we love ourselves for our own sake.  And while this is the lowest degree of love, Bernard believed it was a sign of the naturalness of love and a recognition of the imago dei.  This is the level of love charscterized by appreciation.

The second degree of love is loving God because God is useful to us.  In this degree, we do not love God for who God is, but for what God does.  This too is genuine love because it shows we recognize that God is the Source of all goodness and the giver of good gifts.  This the level of love characterized by thanksgiving.

Even though the first two degrees of love are genuine, it is in the third degree when we enter the level of loving that God has in mind for us: loving God for who God is—loving God’s being apart from God’s acts.  This is love characterized by adoration.

The fourth degree of love is one Bernard believed existed, but felt it is rare compared to the first three degrees.  The fourth degree is loving God alone, with no regard for our self on the one hand or God’s gifts on the other.  It is higher than adoration because even in adoration we remain conscious of our self.  In the fourth degree, we transcend the self and dwell in the love of God alone—what Charles Wesley called being “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” [3]. This is love in which God is the sole focus of our life.

The fourth degree is difficult to describe because words cannot grasp it.  One word Bernard used to point to it is ‘harmonization.’  The fourth degree of love is an experience of deep oneness—akin to Paul’s words, “for me to live is Christ” where even the attempt to distinguish our being from God’s being diminishes the love experience. In this degree of love, the union of our spirit with God’s Spirit is so complete that it is pointless to speak of them as separate.  In God we are also most in our true self. [4]

The four degrees of love root Bernard in the mystical tradition, but the love he described did not make him so heavenly minded that he was of no earthly good.  Quite the contrary.  He also lived in and taught the importance of the second great commandment. The love of others meant that whatever love we experience on the mountaintop must be lived in the valley.  For Bernard, love is not only contemplative, it is active.

His image to describe this was the reservoir. It fills first, but only in order to give out. Bernard wrote that our desire to be “shown God’s holy Will at every moment [is so] that He may tell us what to do and how to do it.” [5]  Love is obedience and service.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Bernard’s theology of love became the reference point for subsequent Christians who sought to make love their aim, and today his views still shape a theology of love that aspires to love “God alone,” and in doing so, acts to love others as an agent of God’s love.


[1] ‘Bernard on he Song of Songs’ (Mobray & Company, 1952), 261.

[2] E.G. Gardner, tr., “The Love of God,” ‘ Book of St. Bernard’ (Dutton, 1915).  It remains available in multiple editions and formats.  

[3] Hymn, “Love Divine All Loves Excelling”

[4] This does not mean the God/human distinction disappears.  Even our deepest love recognizes that God is God, and we are not.  But in the fourth degree of love, the need to spend time figuring out “what is God” and “what is me” is set aside in a pure experience of being loved and loving.

[5] ‘Bernard on the Song of Songs,’ 184.

Posted in Love

Love: Benedict’s Rule

​Written in the sixth century a.d., the Rule of St. Benedict soon became the guide for cenobitic (communal) monasticism, and I write about it today because the Rule continues to direct the common life of many communities to this day.  Like the Didaché and the desert abbas/ammas, it is rooted and grounded in love.  Chapter 4 of the lists forty five good works the monks are to do, and the list begins, 

“First of all, love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, 2 and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27).”  And lest they miss it, about halfway through the list (#21) the monks are told again, “the love of Christ must come before all else.”  With the first great commandment at the core, the other forty three good works are variations of the second great commandment, the love of others.

Not surprisingly then, monasteries and convents became known as “schools of love.”  Through daily worship (oratio) and work (labora), these communities served to illustrate that living together in love was indeed possible.  This witness was/is the heart of monastic evangelism, a kind of “if we can do it, you can do it” testimony.

To many people, the cloistered life seems to be irrelevant, due largely to its isolation.  But it is the “stepping away” (detachment) from the world that creates the sacred space for “entering into” (attachment) the love of God and others.  In this sense, the monastic life is an invitation to pattern our lives according to the same detachment/attachment rhythm as a means for growing in love even withoout a full-time commitment to monasticism.

The Rule of Benedict remains a manual of devotion for us all.  Reading and pondering it is a discipline that will effect the increase of love in our lives. [1]


[1] The oft-used text of the Rule is ‘The Rule of St. Benedict in English’ (The Liturgical Press, 1982). In addition to it, several contemporary versions connect its timeless wisdom to life today: (1) Joan Chittister, ‘The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages (Crossroad, 1982), (2) Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, ‘The Rule of Saint Benedict: A Contemporary Paraphrase (Paraclete Press, 2012), and (3) Basil Pennington, ‘Listen With Your Heart: Spiritual Living with the Rule of Saint Benedict’ (Paraclete Press, 2007).

Posted in Love

Love: Abba/Amma Love

The early Christian spiritual guides were called abbas and ammas, people who incarnated Trinitarian (”Abbba/Amma”) love.  Their central teaching was perfection (completion) in love in keeping with Jesus’ teaching of it in Matthew 5:48. The context for their theology of love was the two great commandments.

The devotion to prayer of the abbas/ammas confirmed their love of God, but their emphasis was on the second commandment, their love of others.  John the Short’s statement summarizes how the abbas/ammas understood that to remain in the love of God meant to “suffer injury without anger, remaining peaceful, and not rendering evil for evil, not looking out for the faults of others.” [1]

The hallmark of love was humility.  Amma Syncletica taught that “a ship cannot be built without  nails and no one can be saved without humility.” [2]  Humility was nothing other than being “poor in spirit” (self-surrendered) as Jesus described it in the first Beatitude.

The sign of love for the abbas/ammas was compassion.  They practiced it through two key means: encouraging others and bearing others’ burdens. [3] These acts were shown to all, but especially to those who were weak, marginalized, and negatively judged by others.  An unnamed abba put it this way, “it is by encouragement that our God bears people,” so they went out of their way to do this through their words and deeds. [4]

As a Christian in the Wesleyan tradition, it is clear that John and Charles Wesley’s theology of love is drawn from the abbas/ammas of early Christianity.  But it is also important to note that the New Monasticism and Emergent Christianity are drawing on abba/amma wisdom as well.  [5]  Leaders in these movements are calling us to a renewal of love, and doing so with reference to the early Christians, who indeed surround us like a cloud of witnesses, urging us to run the race set before us—the race of outdoing one another in showing love to all.


[1] Benedicta Ward, ‘The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks’ (Penguin Books, 2003), 4.  This is Ward’s translation of the ‘Verba Seniorum,’ compiled around 550 a.d.

[2] Ibid., 161.

[3] Douglas Burton-Christie, ‘The Word in the Desert’ (Oxford University Press, 1993), 282-291.

[4] Ibid., 283.

[5] Brian McLaren, ‘Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices’ (Thomas Nelson, 2008).

Posted in Love

Love: The Didaché

​The Didaché is the oldest surviving catechism, likely written between 90-110 a.d. The centrality of love is seen at the beginning, where the “two ways”—life and death—are described.  Concerning life, it says,  ”Now the path of life is this — first, thou shalt love the God who made thee, and thy neighbour as thyself” (1:2).

The way of love is equated with life, and it is a path, which means it is a journey of love that we make over the course of our lifetime.  It is a life which manifests the two great commandments.  Coming at the beginning of the Didaché, love is the context for everything else.  And as a catrchetical document, the Didaché shows that baptism was a declaration by  new Christians that they would live the life of love as they walked the path of life.

The simplicity of the Didaché’s message of love must not be underestimated.  It is the early Church’s witness to the continuation of what we saw in last week’s post about the New Testament, i.e. that love is the pervasive element in the Christian life.  Love is the defining and directing quality of all our attitudes and actions.  Our baptism marks us as lovers.  What we say and do after we’re baptized shows whether we live as those who remember their baptism or as those who forget it.   

Posted in Love

In-Sight: Collision Course

​Lent is the season in the Christian year when we take a prolonged look at ourselves in relation to Christ.  It is a time for remembering the radical nature of the Gospel, and an opportunity to recommit ourselves to it.

We don’t read far into the Book of Acts before we see that the church was on a collision course with “the principalities and powers”–the religious/political collusion between Israel and Rome. It continues the story of Jesus’ own collision course which led him to crucifixion.. Acts confirms Jesus’ words that if he was persecuted, his disciples would be too. (John 15:20) [1]

The stage in Acts was set almost immediately after Pentecost, when the authorities hauled the apostles into court and told them to cease and desist from “stirring up trouble” by preaching and teaching about Jesus, and recruiting others to follow him.  In the opening round of controversy, Peter and John set the norm which played out until the end of the book (indeed, until the end of the New Testament)–“we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard….we must obey God rather than any human authority.” [2]

This conviction has wound its way through history to the present day, expressed clearly in these words of Martin Luther King Jr in his letter from the Birmingham jail, “There are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws.  Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” [3]

From Jesus, the early Christians in Acts, the ensuing Gospel tradition, and contemporary witnesses we have our marching orders. [4]  It is a pattern that emerges from two foundational principles: resistance and reconstruction.  Within the context of the Christian church both of these things, which occurred in Acts, must be lived today.

With respect to resistance, we face the same twofold task the first Christians did: calling out falsehood in the Body of Christ and calling out imperialization in the culture.  In Acts the former action was highlighted by the church’s dealings with Ananias and Saphira.  In the second task we see repeated manifestations of subversion as the early Christians incarnated values and virtues of the Kingdom of God (in contrast to “the kingdoms of this world”) and personified the courageous declaration, “Jesus is Lord!” not the emperor.

Today, we must call out the “high priests” who are propping up the fallen-world empire by erroneously alleging it has the blessing of God on it.  These leaders, like the 850 false prophets of Baal and Asherah, who ate at Jezebel’s table (1Kings 18:19) are being wined and dined by corrupt political leaders. We must call them out, and expose the pseudo-gospel they espouse. [5]  As we do this, we must also continue to declare “Jesus is Lord,” not the current President–or any other President in our past or our future.  These acts constitute the necessary core of ancient and modern Christian resistance.

The reconstructive task runs alongside the resistance.  The revelation of God moves from darkness to light, from death to life.  Criticism is not enough, construction is required.  In fact, resistance is not genuine if it is not accompanied by reconstruction. This example was set for us by the ancient prophets who began with judgment but ended with hope. [6]. Reconstruction begins inside the church itself (1Peter 4:17).  It then moves outward into the culture.  Reconstruction is defined by the phrase “new creation” where the old passes away (through life in Christ and the ministry of reconciliation) and the new comes (2 Corinthians 5:17-18 ).  

Using the Book of Acts as our focal point, we learn the basics of reconstruction from the church in Antioch.  It is the task of renewal that was/is characterized by caring, inclusion, diversity, transformation, godly leadership, and bearing with opposition–all centered in worship and prayer. [7]  When the church incarnated these qualities, the Holy Spirit moved on the believers to commission Paul and Barnabas to spread the gospel. They could go because they had lived the Message in Antioch and knew what authentic congregations anywhere should look like.

At the heart of the resistance/reconstruction combo is nonviolence, another contrast between the Gospel which commends restorative justice and the fallen-world ideologies (as illustrated in the Book of Acts) which rely on and survive by retributive justice. The calling out (resistance) and calling forth (reconstruction) must be accompanied by nonviolence. [8]  Nonviolence is the living out of Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5)

The collision course revealed in the Book of Acts has been repeated in every century since Christianity began.  The resistance/reconstruction dynamic is the pattern of Gospel renewal.  And it all comes to us, as it did for the first disciples and Christians since, as the call to “obey God rather than any human authority.”  God has created the path, we must get on it and walk.  Lent affords us a fresh opportunity to do so.


[1] Jesus’ main message–the Kingdom of God–put him and his disciples on this collision course.  Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan describe it in sobering detail in their book, ‘The Last Week’ (HarperCollins, 2006).  Walter Brueggemann expands the picture in nearly all of his his books.  I note especially, ‘God, Neighbor, Empire’ (Baylor University Press, 2016).

[2] Acts 4:20, 5:29.  Dr. Bonnie Thurston writes of these responses, “Peter and John articulate the principle of supremacy of conscience over even religious institutions.” (‘The Life With God Bible,’ HarperOne, 2005, 206nt).

[3] Unjust laws are those that do harm to others, those that promote the gain of the few at the expense of the many, and produce a retributive environment and result.  Unjust laws arise from a supremacist/arrogant mindset which then legislates policies that enhance and preserve its power.

[4] I use the phrase “Gospel tradition” to differentiate between the pre-Constantinian era of Christianity, (pre 313 a.d.) and the “institutional tradition” (i.e. imperialization of Christianity) which followed.  Just as the first apostles resisted in Acts, the desert mothers and fathers (and the 4th and 5th century rise of monasticism) shunned “churchianity” and preserved the Message which became compromised in the empire.

[5] Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book, ‘Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion’ (IVP Books, 2018) is an excellent study of this longstanding tendency to adopt a gospel that is actually no Gospel.  His more-recent book. ‘Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good’ (IVP Boojs, 2019) continues the exposure of Christian nationalism, with an eye toward overcoming it.

[6] This is what Richard Rohr has called “the practice of the better”–the phrase which was my 2018 theme each Wednesday on Oboedire.

[7] E. Stanley Jones used the church at Antioch as the case study for his book, ‘The Reconstruction of the Church–On What Pattern?’ (Abingdon Press, 1970).  This book did not receive the attention that others of his books did, but it is a “live wire” for the reconstructive task today.

[8] The theme of nonviolence is itself a needed emphasis running as a thread within resistance and reconstruction.  I wrote a series about it on Oboedire from September through December of 2016.  The posts are archived on the Oboedire home page.  For today, I remind you to read the writings of Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, John Dear, and William Barber III, to be guided well into the mind and methods of nonviolence. The Pace e Bene ministry is an excellent resource as well.


l

Posted in In-Sight

Along the Way: At the Bottom of “The Slippery Slope”

When I wrote ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ in 2014, I received immediate pushback and censure from colleagues at Asbury Theological Seminary, and from the larger conservative Wesleyan world.  One parachurch group described me as “the latest evangelical to go down the slippery slope.”  As it turned out, there was an exodus by many people from evangelicalism in 2014, orthodox Christians who saw the movement becoming increasingly fundamentalistic/legalistic in theology and judgmental in temperament—an exodus which still continues six years later. [1]


The recent dismissal of two Asbury University professors for being LGBTQ+ affirming has taken me back to “the slippery slope,” which they have now surely gone down in the eyes of some of their colleagues and others for whom being an LGBTQ+ ally is the new unpardonable sin in the “one strike and you’re out” game being played in some denominations, educational institutions, and parachurch organizations. [2]


The phrase “the slippery slope” has become the  indication of someone’s abandonment of faith (as defined by the group leveling the charge), a stigma akin to being “unclean” in the Bible, so that offenders are henceforth placed outside the camp.  “The slippery slope” is the icky exit offered to those who once were found, but now are lost—a means that relegates offenders to persona non grata status.


Having been alleged to have gone down that slope, I want to send back a report from the bottom of it.  I offer it to the two Asbury University professors, who now find themselves on the slope—and to any others who may be on it in the future.


Interestingly, critics only speak of the slope, leaving the bottom to a speculative nether-world status akin to the lake of fire in the Book of Revelation. [2]  But the fact is, going down the slope is not only survivable, there is abundant living at the bottom—something critics don’t want folks to know.  At the outset, there is pain.  No one sets out to be rejected. But as the initial wound heals, it becomes a place of  expanded wellness and wholeness.  Here are some things at the bottom of “the slippery slope.”


First, there is an expanded understanding of friendship.  Jeannie and I have some longtime friends with us at the bottom, but a plethora of new friends now added to the list–a lot of them are LGBTQ+ people.  At the bottom of the slope, we experience friendship not contingent on secondary (and often invisible, fleeting) factors. We have found community created not by institutional ethos statements that are required to be signed by those who want to be students, faculty, or employees.  We have friendships that are not subject to being lost at a moment’s notice or by a declarative act. 


Second, there is an expanded vision of humanity and the oneness of the human family.  Recognizing the nonbinary nature of creation (revealed in Scripture and confirmed by the sciences), we recognize the sacred variety of people (Psalm 139:14), and we are enriched by the love they show and the gifts they brIng.  At the bottom of the slope, Joseph’s coat of many colors is our clothing, and the imago dei is the basis of our life together.


Third, new passages of Scripture create the vantage point.  The one that has become my North Star is Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all and in all.” [4]. The first three words (a statement of Christ’s Lordship) has been at the center of my faith for nearly sixty years.  The last three are words I see better now in the last six years.  This verse has become a window for seeing other passages in a new light (especially the Covenant, the two great commandments and the fruit of the Spirit), and for understanding that Jesus (the Word made flesh) is our lens for interpreting Scripture, because in the final analysis, he is the Gospel. [5]


Fourth, there is an expansion of community.  I now understand in new ways that there is a wideness in God’s mercy, a breadth of faith not just a depth.  A host of fully-devoted Christ followers (living and dead) have become mentors, opening onto a grander vision of the Kingdom of God.  Christians across the theological spectrum (and some from other religions) have increased the size of the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrewsv12:1) beyond what it once was for me.  There is indeed light from many lamps.


Fifth, at the bottom of the slope, I find God’s new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and I recognize that I am alive at a time when God is doing a new thing, as God has done in the world and church before.  We are in a new pentecost, with a fresh wind blowing and new wineskins being made to hold God’s new wine. [6]  More than anything else, at the bottom of the slope, I find the path of an ongoing journey into the new heaven and new earth (e.g. Ephesians 1:9-10, Colossians 1:15-20).  And I say with E. Stanley Jones, “I am a Christian under construction.  God isn’t finished with me yet!”


The past six years, at the bottom of the slope, have yielded these treasures and more. The bottom of the slope enables me to understand that you have to be outside the box in order to realize it’s a box.  As long as you stay inside, it looks like a room, and fellow insiders decorate it so as to make you believe it is the only room worth living in.  By their words and deeds they say, “You need not go elsewhere; indeed, you must not—or you will head down the slippery slope.”


Don’t believe it….get out of the box….come on down!  The bottom of the slope is a place of fresh air,  where you can drink freely of the Living Water.



[1] David Gushee, ‘Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism’ (WJK, 2017).  David’s experience of pushback and rejection is very similar to mine.  We have compared notes.  He will publish a book in August that will further describe the validity and vitality of a post-evangelical Christian faith.  I tell my story in chapter one of ‘Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality.’ (Abingdon Press, 2019).


[2] The U.S. Government allows private Christian institutions to be exempt from Title IX  anti-discrimination laws.  Both Asbury institutions have been granted exemptions.  This post is not about the legality of their actions (based on ethos statements that are not LGBTQ+ affirming), but rather about the morality of their actions.  Christians always distinguish between legality and morality.


[3]  This is exactly the image Franklin Graham used in the July/August 2014 issue of Decision magazine, with the cover title, “Cowards Destined for the Lake of Fire.”


[4] E. Stanley Jones wrote, “Nothing in all literature can compare with this” in his book, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), Saturday, Week 40.  


[5] Today, this is referred to as The Jesus Hermeneutic.  Richard Rohr describes major features of it in his book, ‘What Do We Do With The Bible?’ (CAC Publishing, 2018), 41-56.  I write similarly in my book, ‘Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality’ (Abingdon Press, 2019), 23-28.


[6] I write more about this in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing’ (Cascade Books, 2013.












Posted in Along the Way

Love: New Testament Style

​Our first step into love in Christian history occurs before we leave the Bible itself.  It happens in the New Testament.  In this post I will illustrate love from three vantage points found in the New Testament.

First, the priority of love.  Jesus established it in John 15:9-17, calling love “my commandment” and enjoining it as the ultimate task of the apostles.  Paul carried the principle into the Greco-Roman world, making love “the greatest of these” in his message (1 Corinthians 13).  In doing this, Jesus’ was fulfilling the Law (Matthew 5:17) and Paul was establishing it as the cornerstone of missiology.

We have already noted the priority of love in our look at the Trinity.  Here is the opportunity to see that the first Christians “got the memo” and wove the thread of love into the tapestry of the Church as its golden thread.  For them, love was the core of their theology—the sign that they were living for God alone. The priority of love moves right into the next point. 

Secondly, the practice of love. The commitment of early Christianity to love was seen on the first day of the Church.  Immediately after Pentecost, the first Christians had the daunting task of organizing the believers whose numbers had swelled in one day from 120 in the Upper Room to at least 3,000. The administrative challenge alone was breath taking, but in Acts 2:42-47 we see that the effort was as much about substance and spirit as it was about structure, if not more.  It’s a biblical confirmation of the principle that form follows function.

And clearly, as these verses in Acts show, the church’s function was to manifest the two great commandments.  Their design gave expression to worship and service, and in so doing it was a fellowship of love.  The truth of this was not in their naming themselves a loving church, but in the surrounding society’s declaration as captured in Tertullian’s ‘Apology’ (chapter 39), It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. “See how they love one another, they say.”  As we say it today: the proof was in the pudding, or as Jesus put it, “You will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:16)

The first two points of this post lead into the third one: the preservation of love.  The Church did not exist long before it faced the temptation to make its theology of love a principle without practice.  In his old age, and likely as the last living member of the Twelve, John made it is mission to call out the counterfeiting of love by making it a dangling doctrine divorced from behavior. 

He wrote succinctly, yet powerfully, about the problem in 1 John 4: 7-21.  Cutting through all the rhetoric, John simply said, “Those who don’t love their brothers and sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen” (4:20).  [1]  Professed love without expressed love makes our witness a lie, John said, in the same way James had said earlier to the Church, “Faith is dead when it doesn’t result from faithful activity” (James 2:17)—activity clearly that of love.

The trajectory of Christian history is set before we leave the New Testament.  It continues from then until now: love abides.


[1] Some have alleged that the phrase “brothers and sisters” limits the expression of love to fellow Christians, but there is nothing in this passage to support that.  In fact, the context (e.g. 1 John 3: 18-24 and in 5:4) shows the victory of love is a world victory, not just one inside the Church.

Posted in Love

Love: Eager to Love

​Far from being an abstract concept, the Trinity is what makes us us eager to love.  We are motivated to love because we are made like God, Who is Love. We love, as John put it, because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

I wish you could have known Clyde Latimer.  I met him during my college years, and I imagine Clyde was at least forty years my senior.  He was a retired rough-neck worker in East Texas oil fields, and he lived many years with no faith in Christ.  In fact, the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” image only made Clyde less interested.  I remember Clyde saying that a lot of Christian art turned him farther away from Jesus because “it looked like one gust of wind would blow him away.”

But as with so many others, the Hound of Heaven was on Clyde’s trail, and his “come to Jesus” experience happened when, during a time of depression, Clyde read the 23rd Psalm.  His response was, “I can love a God like that!”—a response that changed his life.  Clyde lived his remaining years loving God and loving others because in the Shepherd, he had found love (or better, been found by love) as never before.

If we keep the Trinity locked in a conceptional/doctrinal prison, we will never understand why we believe in it in the first place.  But when we recognize the Godhead as a passionate Lover, we will find ourselves eager to love, saying through our words and deeds, like Clyde Latimer did, “I can love a God like that!”

This is why the image of fire has been used in Scripture and tradition to describe someone filled the Spirit—the fire of love. The next round of posts in this series will move through Christian history looking at selected people whose hearts burned with love.

Posted in Love

Along The Way: Tending the Flock

​“Tend the flock of God among you” (1Peter 5:2)

During the course of my thirty two years as a seminary professor, I taught courses in United Methodist history, theology, and polity in two theological schools and one Course of Study program.  In doing so, I came to see the differences between these three strands which weave together to create a denominational heritage.

In particular, I saw the distinction between theology and polity, and how in an operational sense, polity often consumes more time, money, and energy.  And while this is a kind of chicken/egg reality where theology and polity are never completely separated (and where one can generate reflection on the other), it is still fair to say that institutional Christianity is given over to polity more than to theology.  Our United Methodist Book of Discipline is a documentary illustration of that fact.  Sociology of religion takes precedence over theology of religion, sometimes leading to more consideration and conflict over the container than the content.

That reality is once again playing out in the dynamics directing the discussions and debates swirling around the future of Methodism as it has been institutionalized in The United Methodist Church since 1968, and before then in pre-UMC days. [1]  

All this came to focus for me in a conversation with an LGBTQ+ person who said, “What’s happening in the UMC has ceased to be about people like me, it is about power and control.  Sometimes I wonder if it has ever been about us.  But whatever the case, LGBTQ+ people have been eclipsed by what the institution is going to look like in its various expressions.”

Part of me wanted to say, “No, you are  still what it’s all about,” but I did not respond that way.  I have been trained to know that in times of oppression, it is the voice of the oppressed that needs to be heard.  And in this case, it was a voice speaking from seeing thing like the following questions increasingly taking center stage in the futuristic controversy…

               –what happens to pensions?

               –how do congregations and Conferences decide whether to stay or go?

               –how do those who leave maintain their church property?

               –how many regions will there be, and what will they look like?

               –how much money will departing entities receive?

               –if there are bishops, what tenure will they have?

               –how will boards and agencies need to be restructured?

Let me be clear: I understand that institutions must deal with the sociology of religion.  I am not trying to create an either/or dynamic in this post.  All I want to highlight is that it is possible to become so institutionally focused that we lose sight of the reason we’re doing all this in the first place.  The Church is people, and the institutional side of Christianity dares not lose that.

The person’s words, “It’s no longer about us….sometimes I wonder if it has ever been,” cleaned the lens of my mind, returning me to the center.  His remark hit home against the backdrop of the questions above, and many others like them.  And in the revelation that his words provided, I asked myself the question, “How do we prevent LGBTQ+ people from being lost in the shuffle….from becoming grist for the institutional mill…..from becoming invisible in something alleged to be about them?”

And from the soil of that question arose the sprout of an answer—a sprout emerging from Peter’s words, “Tend the flock of God among you.”

Let the institutionalists give themselves  to the sociological task.  We have a process and delegates chosen for this task. They will come up with something, and each of us will know where and how to locate ourselves in what they create.

Instead, give yourself to the pastoral task.  Peter’s words describe it.  So do words from Paul, “Watch yourselves and the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as supervisors, to shepherd God’s church” (Acts 20:28).

More recently, Eugene Peterson formulated what he called the pastor’s question, “Who are these people, and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?” [2]  His question is a gift and guide for ministry in general but it is particularly useful in preventing LGBTQ+ people from being forgotten in the institutional process.  Played out for them, it means things like this…

(1) Visiting with LGBTQ+ people in your congregation.  Ask them the Wesleyan question, “How is it with your soul? “—that is, how do they feel about what’s happening?  Where do they feel encouraged?  Where are they discouraged?  How can the congregation be more loving to and caring of them?  These are the folks who have not left the church.  Befriend them.

(2) Attend and become active in community groups made up of LGBTQ+ people and allies.  A lot of people you never see in church will be there, and if you care for them or ever intend to hear from them, you must go where they are.  Some groups will be faith-oriented; others will be civic in nature.  Become familiar with both.  Together they provide a panoramic view of your locale.  The world is your parish.

(3) Utilize existing resources to increase your understanding of LGBTQ+ people, the challenges they face, and how churches have been in ministry to them.  Reconciling Ministries Network has an excellent resource list of organizations and materials on their website.  I have also placed a resource list on my Oboedire site.

(4) As you do these things, prayerfully “ask, seek, and knock” to discern how you can deepen your personal involvement and how you can engage your congregation on behalf of LGBTQ+ people.  Turn your affirmations about inclusion into actions.

In calling these things pastoral acts, I am not limiting them to the clergy.  Anyone can do these things.  

“Tend the flock of God among you.”   It’s the means of insuring that LGBTQ+ people do not become invisible to you.  It is the way we answer the question “Lord, when did we see you?” as Jesus intends.

 

[1] Ashley Boggan-Dreff, ‘Entangled: A History of American Methodism, Politics, and Sexuality (New Room Books, 2018).  She offers the definitive work today to show how we got to be where we are today.

 

[2] Eugene Peterson, ‘The Contemplative Pastor’ (Word Publishing, 1989), 11.

 

 

Posted in Along the Way

Along the Way: Real Love

It’s not even noon, and my email box, facebook page, and related social media have presented a host of people and groups, all espousing love as being at the heart of what they are saying and doing.  And not surprisingly, some go on to solicit financial contributions, appealing for would-be donors to “support love.”

Well…yes.  What else would anyone in their right mind want to support?  And if we factor Jesus into the picture, the obvious becomes even more so.

But the moment we make Jesus the portrait and pattern of love, the momentum shifts from the espouser of love to the recipient.  Jesus reframes the narrative away from the giver to the receiver.  For him, the question is not do we allege to be lovers, the question is do people feel loved by us?

Do children feel loved by their parents?

Do wives feel loved by their husbands?

Do LGBTQ+ people feel loved by Christians–or any others, for that matter?

Do non-whites feel loved by white people?

Do non-Christians feel loved by Christians?

Do co-workers feel loved by their colleagues and employers?

Do the “dreamers,” immigrants, and refugees feel loved by this nation?

Do the poor feel loved by the rich?

Not every context uses the word love to define things.  Sometimes the word is ‘respected’….’safe’….‘cared for’….’treated fairly’…. ‘befriended’….’protected’….etc.  But love is the word we all like to claim because we know “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  So, every group claims to be loving.

But Jesus does not let us get away with that. For him, the story does not end with what we say. He predicates the reality of love not on those who claim to love, but on those who are the said to be loved.  To say, “I love you” means nothing if the other person does not feel loved.

Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 5:16).

Whenever I claim to love someone, Jesus immediately invites that person into the room and says, “Steve claims to love you? Do you feel loved by him?”  That’s the moment when allegation become authentic, or dies on the vine.  That’s the moment when words become Gospel, or just remain words.

The “Jesus Test” of love is whether the words of our testimony land in the hearts of those we claim to love, or hit the ground in front of them with a deadening thud.  The historical principle is this: don’t ask the sender about love, ask the receiver.  Until others feel loved by us, we are only using the word love as a salve to cover over reality and make ourselves feel good.

Jesus loved in word, and deed.  He told people he loved them, and they felt loved by him.  He defines the reality of love for the rest of us.

Posted in Along the Way

Love: Spirit Love

​Galatians 5:22 is an awkward sentence: “The fruit of the Spirit is…” and then we read nine words.  At first glance, it seems that the sentence should read, “The fruits of the Spirit are…” but it doesn’t.  The reason is significant.

The sentence is singular because the fruit is singular.  The fruit of the Spirit is love—what John Wesley called “the root of all the rest.” [1]  The other eight words are expressions of love…

          Joy—love’s celebration

          Peace—love’s wellness

          Patience—love’s endurance

          Kindness—love’s compassion

          Goodness—love’s being

          Faithfulness—love’s trustworthiness

          Gentleness—love’s tenderness

         Self-control—love’s humility

The phrase “fruit of the Spirit” means that the Spirit makes us what God is, which is love.  Inwardly in character and outwardly in conduct we are made to be loving.  The Holy Spirit, as the third person of the Trinity, is the mediator of love.  Growth in love is what it means to mature. [2]

We are familiar with the phrase, “You are what you do.”  It communicates the truth that our actions pattern us.  But there is a deeper truth, “You do what you are.”  Our actions emerge from our essence—at least they’re meant to.  It is the indwelling Spirit, who is love, who produces the fruit of the fruit of the Spirit, which is love.  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of love, and when we are filled with the Spirit, we are filled with live—and  thus, most like God.  Through the Spirit, the love of the Trinity comes alive in and through us.

[1] John Wesley, ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament’ (1755).  His comment about Galatians 5:22.

[2] E. Stanley Jines’ book, ‘Christian Maturity’ (Abingdon Press, 1957) is the best study I know of that connects love and maturity.  His book, ‘Growing Spiritually’ (Pierce & Washabaugh, 1953)  explores the fruit of the Spirit in depth.

Posted in Love

Shepherd’s Care: The Jesus Pattern–The One We Need

Jesus had a clear pattern for his life and ministry.  Luke described it in 5:15-16,

“Huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed of their illnesses.  But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.”

His pattern was a rhythm between pastoral ministry and personal formation–between the public and private aspects of his life–a pattern which actualized the larger pattern of working and resting, doing and being, engagement and abstinence which is at the core of the spiritual life. [1]  In short, Jesus knew he could not sustain a vital public ministry if he was running on empty in his soul.

There is a need for a recovery of this pattern in the lives of ministers today.  We clergy are not good at self-care.  We are very familiar with Luke 5:15 (public ministry), but strangers to Luke 5:16 (private prayer).  Moreover, institutional ministry, by its very nature, leans toward the public side (with a host of criteria for it practicing it and related reporting mechanisms for assessing it), with a comparative lack of attention to the private side.

The consequence of the imbalance is a low-grade malaise, described this way by a young pastor, “I know what to do, I just don’t want to do it anymore.”  When this acute sense becomes chronic, we become dropouts, even if we remain in ordained ministry.

We clergy are good at asking for some things: money, people to hold church offices, etc.  But we are not so good at asking our laity to help us establish the Jesus pattern in our lives, so that both dimensions described by Luke are alive in us.  In fact, most laity don’t even know about the pattern; most of what they’ve been shown is a corporate pattern.

Nevertheless, I believe our laity are as willing to help us live well as they are to assist us in being institutionally  successful.  But the fact is, they don’t know how do that unless we bring them into the picture.  I offer these thoughts for doing so.

First, invite into conversation several people whom you know to be spiritually mature in general, and suppotive of you in particular.

Second, share the Jesus Pattern (Luke 5:15-16) with them, telling them you want his pattern to be real in you, but being honest to say that it is not in the kind of balance (on the personal side) as you’d like it to be.

Third, have a Rule of Life ready to share with the folks–one that includes a weekly sabbath day (not your day off), a monthly retreat day, and a sustained formation experience that enhances spiritual vitality over the long haul. There may be other aspects of your Rule besides these.  [2]  Ask the group to offer their ideas about how you can make this vision a reality.

Fourth, invite these people to be your support group, not just your idea-gathering group.  Ask them to pray for you as you take action to realize the Jesus Pattern in your life.  And develop a process (e.g. periodic meetings, social media messaging) to turn their initial help into spiritual companionship.

This formative process is not secretive, but neither does it have to be voted on.  A weekly sabbath and monthly retreat day are things you can implement without any diminishment in your public ministry.  Jesus’ periodic withdrawals were integrated into his public responsibilities.  Yours can be too.  In fact, the more natural you can make it, the better.

With respect to a sustained formative experience, consider having a spiritual director. [3]  And explore formation programs that unfold over an extended period of time. [4]. If the costs for either of these things exceed a budgeted amount for your Continuing Education, ask your support group for suggestions regarding increasing that budget, or funding these things in other ways.

The point of this post is twofold: there is a Jesus Pattern for ministry, and laity are willing to help you incarnate it.  But you will have take the initiative to bring the two realities together.

The relevance of this post lies in the context of the church’s institutional decline, the increasing none/done phenomenon, etc—and your wellbeing in such a time.  The simple fact is, the church must have a vision for its clergy larger than “religious CEO” or “institutiinal shopkeeper,” and you must have an experience larger than that for the sake of your soul.

[1] Dallas Willard, ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines’ (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988). This is the best book I know of in describing the engagement/abstinence rhythm of the spiritual life.

[2] Stephen Macchia, ‘Crafting a Rule of Life’ (IVP Books, 2012).  Macchia draws on the Benedictine Rule to offer concrete guidance in making a personal rule today.

[3] A directory of certified directors is available online from Spiritual Directors International.  Also, if there are retreat centers, monasteries, or convents in your area, leaders there will likely know directors to recommend. Your denominational office may have suggestions as well.

[4] I am familiar with these programs: The Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation, the Renovaré Institute (part of the ministry begun by Richard Foster), the Apprentice Institute (begun by James Bryan Smith), the Living School (begun by Richard Rohr), and the newly-established Spiritual Leadership Certification Program (begun by Matthew Fox).  Each one nuances spiritual life and formation differently; what they have in common is that they are sustained experiences in community, not one-time events.

Posted in Shepherd's Care

Love: Son Love (Jesus)

​Two great thoughts bring the love of God the Father into the love of God that we see in Jesus: the Word was God…and…the Word became flesh (John 1:1, 14).  In Jesus we see the incarnation of love.  Reading the gospels shows us a multitude of ways that Jesus loved God and others.  We could do a whole series on Jesus’ love, expressed particularly to those who felt unloved by the political/religious system of their day.  And while that’s too much to write about in a blog post, we must not fail to see the radical nature of Jesus’ love for all.

Recently, I have come to see a good summary of Jesus’ love in these words, “ Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1 NRSV).  The phrase “to the end” is an insightful one in the original Greek, telling us two important things about Jesus’ l love.

 First, he loved people from beginning to end—all the way through from his first day until his last day.  Here we see Jesus’ unwavering love—expressed without variance despite the many fluctuations of love expressed toward him by others.  When John wrote that he loved them “to the end,” it meant Jesus loved people all the way through.

Jesus’ unwavering love was the basis for Paul’s later words, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8: 38).  We must not miss the word ‘nothing.’  If we do, we will come up with some condition (as people often do) that makes us believe that “God could not love someone like me.”  But that’s not what we see in Jesus.  He loved people from beginning to end—when they responded to his love and when they did not.  Nothing separated people from the love of God in Christ because he loved people unwaveringly.

Second, he loved people fully.  The Common English Bible translates “to the end” with this word.  Here we see Jesus’ undiminished love.  He did not dispense his love in measured amounts depending on who he was with.  Jesus loved extravagantly…and…sacrificially.  He did not play it safe.  He loved everyone to the “nth degree.”

This is one of the main things that angered the political/religious leaders, who had devised their elaborate systems of rules and regulations to determine who was “worthy” of full love or only of something less.  Jesus moved the giving of love from a merit-based system to one of grace.  It incurred the wrath of the legalists to see that Jesus loved everyone the same.  This kind of love is always a threat to meritocracy.  But it was Jesus’ kind of love—undiminished love, for all.

Given this twofold vision of Jesus’ love (and there’s more that we could say), we see the power of his words, spoken only a little while after John 13:1—the words he used to exhort his disciples to “love each other just as I have loved you” (John 15:12).  Because he had “loved them to the end” they knew what that meant, and we know what it means too:  love unwaveringly…and…love undiminishedly.  We see this love in Jesus.

Posted in Love

Along The Way: Our New Friendship

​On the night of his betrayal, Jesus gathered with his disciples.  John records it in chapters 15-17.  The evening was filled with one treasure after another, which we can read and re-read for our edification.

One gem was Jesus’ definition of the relationship he had with his followers. “I call you friends,” he said (John 15:15).  That simple sentence changes everything.

Can you imagine sustaining a friendship with someone who constantly demeaned you and repeatedly criticized you?  Of course not.  Yet, many have accepted that idea of their relationship with God.  To them, God is thought to be mad at us, looking for any opportunity to enact retribution upon us.  But that is not the picture Jesus painted and left with his disciples.  Jesus gifted us with the portrait of God as our friend, not our foe.

So, how have we hung the “God Is Foe” painting in our soul’s gallery?  Several factors have caused us to do so.  First, the courtroom metaphors in Scripture have shaped the theological paradigm which many of us accepted.  God is the Judge.  We are criminals.  And even if we factor in the presence of the Spirit as a defense attorney and Jesus as the one who bears the punishment we deserve, it still leaves us a with a legalistic sense of our relationship with God, not a friendship sense.  We hang the “God Is Foe” portrait in our souls because of a theological perspective advanced in large segments of the Church.

A second reason we hang the wrong picture is psychological.  Many have been nurtured in a family system and/or social environment where love was overshadowed by a performance-oriented relationship in which we never “measured up” to the standards set for us by others, often including the expectations of our parents who gave us our primal, but deformed definition of love–one which remains inside us even when we move beyond it.  When we are strangers to grace, we hang the “God Is Foe” portrait in our hearts.

The third factor integrates the first two and creates a false self.  We do the very thing on the inside of ourselves that we refuse to do on the outside.  We travel through life with a companion self who demeans us and lies to us about who we really are. The voice of the false sends us many bogus messages…
          –“you are stupid, ugly, no good, distorted, damaged goods, lost, etc.

          –”you exist as an object of gratification and exploitation for me/us”

          –”you are not white, male, heterosexual, patriotic, or Christian”

          –”you are only as valuable as your possessions and achievements”

          –”your acceptability is determined by whether or not our group accepts you”

          –”you are a failure in a one-strike-and-you’re-out system”

          –”you are hopeless, no longer worthy of attention and investment”

Depending on the moment in which we find ourselves, these are the impressions which come when the “God Is Foe” portrait hangs in our soul.  These are what the voice of the false self speaks and what it tries hard to convince us to accept and believe.

But there is another voice.  The True Voice, delivering the message from God that we long to hear, that we are made to hear.  He says, “I call you friends.”

From him, we receive this invitation, “Say no to your false self and follow me. Take down the “God is Foe” portrait and throw it away.  Hang the “God Is Friend” painting in your heart. Don’t listen to what an aberrant church, a sick family member,  a toxic human being, demagogic leaders, or your own wounded spirit has been telling you.  Listen to me.  Take your cues, define yourself, and order your life by what I call you.  I call you friend.”

Posted in Along the Way

Love: Son Love (Christ)

​To see the love of God in the second person of the Trinity, we must explore the love of the universal Christ and the incarnate Jesus.  We look at the universal Christ today and the incarnate Jesus next week. [1]

The Son of God is the excarnate Christ. [2]  As the second person of the Trinity, Christ is an aspect of the eternal God, bearing the nature of love with the Father and Spirit in the Godhead. In relation to  time, Christ is the 13.8 billion year “firstborn of all creation” who created all things and in whom all things are held together (Colossians 1:15-17).  Just a little later in the same letter Paul summed it up in one sentence, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  E. Stanley Jones said that nothing in all literature compares with that sentence. [3]

With respect to love, this means what Richard Rohr says: love is the meaning of everything. [4]  As I noted in the second post in this series, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin saw this reality in the physical structure of the universe, and contemporary cosmologists are saying similar things as they see an essential oneness between things seen and unseen (Hebrews 11:3).

Beyond this, the love of the excarnate Christ is woven into the essence of our being because everything that is made is made by him (John 1:3).  We bear the mark of our creator. And we do so beyond any particular religious affiliation; indeed, we bear the mark of love even if we do not practice any particular religious faith.  All this is to say that love is not some kind of subsequent feature, it is an intrinsic quality.

As such, love becomes the one-word summation of our ethics—love of the kind we have pointed to in the words hesed and agapé.  But from that kind of love, we can speak and act in congruence with the nature of Reality and the flow if the universe.

And more, at the personal level, each of us has an “I-Thou”relationship as God’s beloved child.  To live consciously in what some call “the womb of love” is to be fully alive. Because of the cosmic Christ, we are never outside if or separated from that womb (e.g. Psalm 139: 7-14).  Whatever causes us to lack this awareness is not due to God’s coming-and-going, but rather our varying consciousness relative to it.  How can it be otherwise when we remember “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).  It is Christ who makes this so.


[1] Richard Rohr’s book, ‘The Universal Christ’ (Convergent Books, 2019) is a must-read to be drawn into the magnificence of the excarnate Christ.

[2] I use the terms “excarnate Christ’ and “incarnate Christ” thanks to E. Stanley Jones.  The terms provide proper differentiantion –excarnate/ incarnate—while  preserving the essential unity—Christ Jesus. Jones’ book, ‘The Word Became Flesh’ (Abingdon Press, 1963) is one of the best books I know of to be drawn into the incarnate Christ.  It is still available.

[3] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), 296.

[4] Rohr, ‘The Universal Christ,’ chapter five.

Posted in Love

In-Sight: We Never Get There First

​Paul’s visit to Athens (Acts 17:16-34) is insightful with respect to evangelism and missiology.  Today, I want to highlight only one insight—that we never get there first.  God is always ahead of us, present in people and places before we ever arrive on the scene.  Paul walked around the city and the first words of his public address in front of the Areopagus were, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way” (17:22).

Two phrases are quite telling: “very religious” and “in every way.”  The presence of God was deep and wide.  And Paul’s first words were a respectful acknowledgement of that reality. His understanding undercuts any notion that “we take God to the pagans.”  God is already there.  We never get there first.

The reasons for this are obvious even when our attitudes and methods say otherwise.  A theology of creation in general, which includes the particular fact that the image of God is in everyone, is the basis for Paul’s words.  So too, a theology of prevenient grace further teaches us that God is present and active before we are even aware of it, much less responsive to it.  We never get there first.

My friend, Darrell Whiteman, uses this biblical truth as the basis for his teaching of missiology around the world.  Adding to it Peter’s experience in Cornelius’ house in Acts 10, his teaching emphasizes “the importance of looking for where the Holy Spirit is already at work in the lives of people and in the structures of society, and becoming more welcoming and less judgmental.” [1]

He notes that this approach often causes people to confess that their evangelism and missions has carried an underlying negativity toward others, including in some cases a despising of others.  Even referring to some as “unbelievers” is a very telling phrase, and sets a far different tone for our witness than Paul set for the Athenians.

 Darrell goes on to say that the Petrine/Pauline approach in Acts 10 and 17 enables people to see with new eyes and greater empathy, “perhaps even understanding them more like God sees these people.” It is an aporoach, he says, that moves us away from latent ethnocentrism and into a fresh experience with the Holy Spirit.  [2]  

This is the spirit we are to exhibit in our witness.  We are to begin with inward humility and outward respectfulness, both things arising from the understanding that we never get there first.  Our witness connects with our having seen God in others, and connecting with their hunger for more.  In our witness we are not “taking God to people,” we are acknowledging that God is already there and in bearing witness to Christ we seek to enrich the experience they already have.  We never get there first.


[1] Dr. Whiteman’s statements are found in his May 2019 letter to supporters and other followers of his ministry.  He serves through the auspices of Global Development.

[2] Ibid.


Posted in In-Sight

Love: Parent Love

I am comfortable with using “Father” in describing the first person of the Trinity, and that’s because I had a great dad.  But I recognize many are not comfortable with “father” language, and I respect that.  Some are uncomfortable because they did not have good fathers.

Others are uncomfortable because they rightly recognize that God’s nature cannot be masculinized; indeed that the Bible itself affirms the feminine in God (e.g. Gen 1:2, Gen 17:1, Ps 22:10, Ps 131:2, Isa 42:14, Isa 49:15, Isa 66:13, Mt 23:37, Lk 13:34, and Lk 15:8-10).  [1]

Therefore, in this post I envision love in the first person of the Trinity as inclusive of the kind of love we experience from both good fathers and mothers.  In this respect, I note a few examples.

First, parental love is mysteriously marvelous.  That is, it is love fully given to each child.  Every couple wonders, “Will we love our second child as much as our first?”  That question is soon laid to rest as we find the extravagance of love that moves toward one child as much as another.  In this respect, our human love is a reflection of God’s parental live—a  love, in God’s case, that not only exhibits itself toward a few children, but toward 7+ billion children!  

Second, the fact of God’s equal love does not mean God loves us the same way.  In fact, the marvel of God’s love is increased by the specificity of it.  We are not impersonal parts of a generic cosmic love.  We are loved “by name” (e.g. Ex 33:17, Ps 91:14, Isa 43:1, Isa 49:16, and John 10:3).  And more, this specific knowledge becomes expressed to us as compassionate care (e.g. Ps 139 and Mt 10:34).  We know this too from our human experience as parents, but we see it universalized in God.

Third, God’s parental love accompanies us on out life journey.  Here I simply point to Psalm 23 and ask you to read it again, this time as a revelation of God’s love.  It is significant that Jesus picked up the same shepherd imagery to describe his love—not surprising, however, given he said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  This third point has become especially important as I get older, but it is a precious truth to claim in every stage of life.

One final thing to say about God’s parental love comes through the image of home making.  I believe that being a home-maker is one of the vocations nearest to God’s heart.  Henri Nouwen was moved by the imagery of home as one of the supreme revelations of God’s love. [2¡  Most of us remember our parents leaving the light on for us when we were away from home.  In a similar way, God leaves the light on for us and keeps the home fire burning for  us all the days if our life, no matter how far away or how long absent we may be.

I had a friend decades ago, who was transformed by God’s parental love, and for the rest of his life he told whoever would listen, “You can love a God like that.”  Indeed!

 

[1] Hold on to your hats, but the best English word to describe God’s essence is ‘transgender,’ just as it is the word that best describes Adam prior to Eve.  It’s not surprising that Adam would have been transgender at first, since that is the nearest “likeness” of the divine being and the human being.  For those who would make a male/female binary reality necessary for creation, they fail to see that a nonbinary God was able to create the heavens and the earth.  In fact, some early Christians (e.g. Philo) believed that the original Adam would have been able to perpetuate the human race.

[2] Two of his books, ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ and ‘Homecoming’ illuminate the metaphor of home in relation to God’s love. 

 

Posted in Love

Along the Way: Mastery or Mystery?

​The longer I explore a theology of human sexuality, the more I realize that the differences we hold regarding it are produced by something larger than the topic itself.  With respect to anything, we are directed to a great extent by whether we fundamentally view our knowledge in the context of mastery or mystery.

When knowing is mastery, we view our knowledge as a closed system of completed inquiry.  Our knowledge becomes a “final word” that provides us with certainty.  The mastery system goes to seed in arrogance. When we view knowing as mastery (and ourselves or our group as having mastered something), then right and wrong are fixed categories assessed in terms of agreement or disagreement.  A leader I know who is in the mastery system summarized it this way, “ You are free to explore and ask questions so long as after having done so you end up where we are.” 

When mastery is the context for knowledge, what we know becomes a destination.  New knowings are incorporated only if they confirm and conform to what is already known.  Alternatives are seen as defections and departures from truth.  In the mastery system, “others” are menaces and suspect. People are “in” to the extent that they conform to “what is” and are willing to defend it.  The image of the mastery system is the fortress. The personification of it is the gate keeper.  The one-word summary for the mastery system is obscurantism.

When knowing is mystery, we view our knowledge as an open system of ongoing inquiry.  Our knowledge is an “intermediate word” that provides us with conviction.  The mystery system exudes humility.  When knowing is mystery, ourselves and our groups view right and wrong as fluid categories that are enhanced by further knowledge.  A leader in the mystery system was E. Stanley Jones, who captured the dynamism of faith by saying, “I am a Christian in the making.” [1]. When asked to name the best years of his life, he would say, “the next ten.”

When mystery is the context for knowledge, what we know becomes a waystation on the journey to know more. New knowings are integrated into existing knowledge—sometimes confirming it, and sometimes revising it.  Alternatives are seen as opportunities to discover new aspects of truth.  In the mystery system, “others” are messengers and welcomed.  People are “in” to the extent they genuinely want to contribute to “what is” and are willing to enhance it.  The image of the mystery system is the forum (E. Stanley Jones called it “the round table”).  The personification of it is the explorer.  The one-word summary of the mystery system is openness. 

The fork in the road with respect to what we know and how we know is whether we choose to view knowledge about something in a mastery system or mystery system.  We see this playing out on many fronts today.  Human sexuality is one.  In the rest of this post I want to mention a few characteristics of a mystery system that especially influence our theology of human sexuality, and also set those characteristics in the context of the current United Methodist situation.

First, the mystery system recognizes the complexity of the matter.  Our sexuality is made up of multiple factors and cannot be painted with one brush (e.g. heterosexuality is right, homosexuality is wrong)—it is more complex than that.  The mystery system acknowledges the complexity and welcomes a multi-faceted exploration.  Many factors come into play.  The mystery system welcomes an interdisciplinary approach, with the conviction that truth anywhere enhances truth everywhere. With respect to human sexuality this means incorporating insights from the behavorial and physical sciences that show the nonbinary nature of sexuality and the spectrum of diversity on which it exists.

Second, the mystery system believes in progressive revelation.  Theology is a deepening and widening enterprise.  The Church has experienced the evolutionary nature of belief in the past with respect to such things as cosmology, racial equality, slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, divorce, and women in ministry—to name a few.  On every occasion, mastery and mystery systems competed for outcomes.  In these cases (at least in the United Methodist context) mystery has prevailed, and the Church has altered its beliefs, moving into greater love and inclusion.  The mystery system welcomes this as a sign that God’s plan to reconcile all things in Christ is coming to pass (Ephesians 1:9-10, Colossians 1:20).  The mystery system believes human sexuality is a another arena where God is at work to bring the Church into a new day.

Third, the mystery system believes that “iron sharpens iron,” and that knowledge increases and is enriched through conversations that include a diversity of views.  In the mystery system the line is drawn when harm is done.  But prior to that, the mystery system operates on the conviction that there is no such thing as a “pure church” and that the Church advances when love (not legalism) prevails.  Mystery does not eliminate boundaries, but it does not begin with them. Universals (e.g. the human family and the common good) create the vision,  generate the conversation, and ignite the conviction that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Fourth, United Methodism has chosen mystery over mastery in its theological hermeneutic called the quadrilateral.  This hermeneutic incorporates all three of the elements above, and it integrates the past (Scripture and tradition) and the present (reason and experience) into a theological task that shapes the future.  Believing that mystery better describes what it means to be co-creators God, United Methodism adopts a hermeneutic that enables us to live in Christ and serve Christ with a “generous orthodoxy.” [2]

If as has happened before with respect to other things, we live in mystery (not mastery), we will see the Church in general and United Methodism in particular embody the truth that “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11), move toward the oneness Jesus himself prayed for (John 17:21), and bear witness to what Jesus himself said would happen, “When I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to me” (John 12:32).


[1]] E. Stanley Jones, ‘Song of Ascents’ (Abingdon, 1968), 17.

[2] Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., ‘Embracing the Wideness’ (Abingdon, 2018).




Posted in Along the Way

Along the Way: On Point

​If I were a pastor, I would make youth ministry the cutting edge of my church’s mission.  There are a number of reasons why I would do this.  I write today only about one, and it is a reason fueled by Paul’s words to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.  Instead, set an example for the believers” (1Timothy 4:12).

That’s what a growing number of young people are doing—setting an example the rest of us should be following….and….being looked down upon for doing so.  I have watched as youth do their dead-level best to protest evil, only to be demeaned and caricatured for doing so.  Two stories illustrate the point.

Not long after the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, student leaders who spoke and acted in favor of measures to prevent future shootings were said to be motivated more by a desire to skip school than to end gun violence.  I remember thinking, “What kind of demented thinking does it take to produce that kind of backlash?”  In the midst of their grief and fear, courageous young people literally took to the streets doing what they could to say, “Enough is enough” only to be ridiculed by some for doing so.

Similarly, Greta Thunberg has been targeted by obscurantists time and time again.  The day after Time magazine named her its Person of the Year, none other than Donald Trump assailed the choice and in typical trumpian fashion made disparaging remarks about her.  I could not believe my ears, but then, considering the source, I saw how small-mindedness can live even in the White House.

And again, this past week at the Davos economic summit, Steven Mnuchin demeaned Thunberg, telling her to go to college and learn what’s really going on.  That from a Secretary of the Treasury whose economic expertise (after going to college) has made him a leader in the “Feed the Greed” system that has increased our national debt by a trillion dollars during his time in office, and further widened the gap between rich and poor in this nation.

Paul’s words to Timothy have rolled down the corridors of time into our congregations (and congresses) where older white males maintain their power, even to the point of disparaging those who have eyes to see our nakedness.  The Church should be at the forefront encouraging young people to continue speaking and acting on behalf of the common good.  Youth ministry should be the place where prophets are made, and where prophetic ministry is celebrated. Youth groups should be training grounds for nonviolent living and resistance to evil.  

As an older adult, it is easier  for me to see now that God provides us with a recurring window of opportunity to see and hear things in ways that impede us from doing so once we are sucked into communities and systems whose status quos and sacred cows “buy our souls” in the name of loyalty.  That window of opportunity is youth and young adulthood.  Paul commended it in Timothy, and the Church should be commending our young people, who still attend, and have not given up on institutional Christianity.  

God provides each generation with an opportunity for humanity to make a fresh start.  God gives us young people.  We dare not squander the gift.  Our calling is clear: we must not despise them because they are young, but rather rejoice as they set examples for those of us who are older and who too often have allowed the world to squeeze us into its mold.



Posted in Along the Way

Love: Trinitarian Love

​For much of my Christian life, the Holy Trinity has been simultaneously a central doctrine and a marginal attraction.  I would never hesitate to say, “I believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” but either out loud or to my self I quickly added, “but it’s a mystery we will never understand.”  The second phrase kept me from exploring the first one.

Of course, the Trinity is mystery, and we will never understand it.  But thankfully, a few years ago I came to see that it is a mystery intended to draw us into it, like a magnet draws iron filings to it.  I am grateful to Richard Rohr’s book, ‘The Divine Dance’ for opening the door to my knew experience of the Trinity. [1]

Simply put, the Trinity is the paradigm for everything. [2]  It is Reality revealed and expressed. As such, it is the revelation of love.  We see this in some key ways

First, the Trinity is the union of love that we explored in the last post.  Every person in the Godhead is loving itself in the other two persons because they all “are” in the others.  In this dimension it makes no sense to think of the separateness of beings in the Trinity because it is one Being. [3]. With respect to love, this means that love is singular–or as Jesus put it, the second great commandment is “like unto” the first one.  The love of God, neighbor, and self are not three loves; it is one love in three manifestations.

This is very significant because it prevents a gradation of love.  There is an odd spirituality which affirms a love for God without a corresponding love of others.  St. John squelched that idea in his first letter when he wrote, “Those who don’t love their brother or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). “  The Trinity says there is only one love, and it is either present or absent, real or imagined.

Second, the Trinity is the purposefulness of love.  Love is one, but not the same in every case.  We say of the Trinity that the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sustains.  Theologically, it’s not that distinct.  But it is a revelation that love is not a generic, one-size-fits-all thing.  It manifests differently in order to achieve different purposes.  

Like the Father, some love creates, generates, and ignites.  Like the Son, some love redeems, restores, and renews.  And like the Spirit, some love sustains, preserves, and guides.  We do not have to overthink or overplan these differences.  All we have to do is love.  Love achieves its own purposes.

Third, the Trinity is the joy of love.  We must not overlook the fact that one of the early metaphors for the Trinity was a dance (perichoresis).  I have never been to a dance that lacked joy.  In fact, a dance floor is one of the most joyful places we can ever be. [4]

Some non-Christian religions use the metaphor of dance to sound the note of joy better than some Christians do.  The fourteenth-century Sufi mystic, Hafiz, wrote of 

“the God who only knows four words

And keeps repeating them, saying:

‘Come dance with Me.’ [5]

I can only ask, how does religion in general look as a dance?  How does Christianity look with a dancing Trinity?   How does love look when it only knows four words, “Come dance with me” ?

In these ways, and more, the Trinity is the lens through Whom we look to see the nature and expression of love.  And because we are made in the image of God, we can manifest this kind of love in our humanity.

 

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘The Divine Dance’ (Whitaker House, 2016)

[2] Rohr’s book develops this idea in a wide variety of subjects.

[3] This is why Christianity is a monotheistic religion.  

[4] Amazing, isn’t it, that with this understanding of the Trinity, any Christians could have been against dancing.  The prohibition comes from a “ joy stealing” spirituality rather than a joy-infusing one, and may reveal the person’s lack of restraint more than it does dancing itself.

[5] Part of a longer reflection in “Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditations,” October 6, 2019.

Posted in Love

Along the Way: Dreaming

​For the first time in our nation’s history, Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls in the midst of a presidential impeachment/trial process. [1]. The juxtaposition of these two things shapes my thinking as we observe MLK Jr Day today.

On the Day of Pentecost, Luke used the words of Joel to describe what was happening.  The passage Luke cited includes the words, “Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17 from Joel 2:28 CEB).  For some reason, I assumed that Luke meant young adults would look forward as visionaries, while older adults would look back as dreamers.  Reading Luke’s words for the first time, decades ago, I was young.  So naturally, I located myself in the first sentence, and I wanted to be a visionary.

But now I am an elder, dreaming dreams.  And I have come to realize that dreamers are not those who look back.  Looking back is about memories, not dreams—it is to become nostalgic and long for “good old days” sanitized by time to appear better than they were.  That’s not dreaming.

Martin Luther King Jr. helped me stop misunderstanding Luke’s words, and enabled me to realize what living in God’s pentecosts (decisive moments in history) means.  He was a young man when he stood before the nation and declared, “I have dream.”  His words were forward looking.  Dreaming was not about looking back.  Quite the contrary.  Dreams are prophetic imaginings of new way.

 Later he reminded us that dreams are not just for the young. They are within all of us at every age. When Luke wrote that elders would dream dreams in God’s Pentecost, he was saying that people of all ages can be filled with the Spirit and imagine a new way.  Dreams and visions are not directional (backward/forward), they are transformational.  Martin Luther King Jr. helped me see this.

Yesterday in her ‘Sunday Paper,’ Maria Shriver captured what Martin meant as she wrote, “Each of us can decide at any moment to no longer simply be an observer, and instead to rise up out of our comfort zone and march, or imagine, or go within, and come back out with an idea that will surely help others.”  [2] People young and old can be filled with the Spirit, can be given the strength to love, and accept the call to rise up and call out evil through the nonviolent and prophetic pursuit of the common good. [3]

This year, I am experiencing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an invitation to recommit myself to “no longer be an observer, and instead to rise up out of our comfort zone” to speak and act as disciples of Jesus whose eyes have seen “the coming of the glory of the Lord.”  Today is a fresh opportunity to join the growing number of people young and old who are crafting new wineskins  to carry God’s wine that we call the Kingdom of God, beloved community, etc. Today is a day to reenlist in the movement King personified and Micah 6:8  summarized  as doing justice (practicing fairness, equity, and inclusion), loving kindness (embodying God’s hesed, shalom, and compassion), and walking humbly with God (as servants).

We are living in a Micah moment in history—a time when many of our leaders have failed us (see Micah chapter three), a time when the Holy Spirit is once again turning to the people en masse, to mobilize for “the practice of the better” (Richard Rohr’s description) that turns the words of St. Francis’ prayer into actions,

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

    to be consoled as to console;

    to understood as to understand

    to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


 [1] MLK Jr Day and the impeachment/trial of Bill Clinton occurred close together in 1999, but they did not overlap.

[2] Maria Shriver’s ‘Sunday Paper,’ 1/19/2020.

[3] King’s book, ‘Strength to Love’ is a moving and instructive description of how we are called to live in perilous times.  Walter Brueggemann’s book, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ is another powerful word about the same thing. 

Posted in Along the Way

Love: Amazing Love

Every language has a word or words for love.  The biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek are no exception. The two main words are hesed and agapé.  [1]  In both words, love reaches its apex as “love for the sake of the other.”

This kind of love includes altruism, philanthropy, etc.  But it is not defined by these ideas.  They reflect a commendable desire to live unselfishly, and that would be a major step forward for some people.  But hesed and agapé do not merely describe an other-orientation , they describe a sense of oneness with others.

Our being created in the image of God (that we noted last week) is a good place to focus our look at God’s amazing love.  It is love based in actual likeness.  But it is not a love based on our merit, but rather on our essence.  If that were not so, God’s love would be spasmodic and conditional.  Instead, hesed and agapé are continuous and gracious.  We refer to this as steadfast love.

God’s love says, “You are mine’” and in addition to the idea of our being a cherished possession of God, it means we are beloved children of God.  In a very holy sense, God sees God’s nature in us, and it is a real seeing because we are made in the image of God.  This means that God’s love is amazing, not because it is transactional or obligatory, but because it is a genuine Heart-to-heart relationship—a Lover/beloved relationship.

Part of the amazing nature of this love is that Jesus said we could love others the way we are loved by God.  It’s the second great commandment: , “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  Of course it means loving others the way we like to be loved (as per the Golden Rule), and it includes the psychological truth that our capacity to love others usually reflects the extent to which we love ourselves in a healthy way.  But again, there is more goung on in Jesus’ words than that.

Loving your neighbor “as yoyrself” is recognizing the oneness between yourself and another person in the same way God recognizes the oneness between ourselves and God.  We love others “as ourselves” because in a genuine (though indescribable) way, they are us!  Buddhists have a word for it: interbeing—an essential oneness that everyone shares with everyone else.  Bringing the word alongside Jesus’ words that say the same thing, we find that love is amazing because it exists and expresses itself because of a radical oneness in the whole of creation.  How we love anyone is how we love everyone.  And how we love anyone is how we love God (1John 4:20-21).

That’s amazing love.


[1] This post is not a word study on love.  For that, I recommend William Mounce’s ‘Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’ (Zondervan, 2006), 424-429.

Posted in Love

Along the Way: What’s Going On?

We are living through an intense time of polarization, with resulting fragmentations of all sorts and sizes.  Every day adds new impetus for asking, “What’s going on?”  The depth and breadth of our conflicts makes a blanket answer impossible.  I limit my frame of reference in this post to the fractured state of contemporary Christianity in general, and how it is expressing itself in my denomination—the United Methodist Church.  Even on this smaller field multiple factors are in play, which also go beyond the scope of a blog-length post.  But this more specific context does provide a basis to ask, “What’s going on?” in a way that can face us in a helpful direction.

In Christian circles, one of the allegations is that we have differing views due to varying commitments to the authority of Scripture.  And that plays out along this general line of assertion: conservatives believe in the authority of Scripture, and progressives do not.  Right now, that assertion is being used to attempt to answer the question, “What’s going on in the United Methodist Church? ”  The marketed assumption is that conservatives are the “true Bible believers” and everyone else is less so, or in some cases, not at all.

The problem with that allegation is this: it isn’t true.  And….conservatives who are honest about it know it’s not true.  Across the theological spectrum, Christians affirm the authority of Scripture with equal devotion.  Conservatives simply do not have the corner on that market.  To make the authority of Scripture the answer to the question, “What’s going on?” is a straw-man allegation which ends up misleading people and obscuring a larger perspective with respect to the question.

A more accurate response to the question has to do with the fact that we are living in a pivotal moment, a time of fundamental change—what some have observed in history as axial ages.  We can see this from the Bible itself, where God said about a time roughly 2,700 years ago, “Look I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?” (Isaiah 43:19)   This biblical passage was written during the very time called the axial age by Karl Jaspers, a period of time running from the 8th through the 3rd centuries BCE, with “new things” happening everywhere.  Isaiah’s words are a sign that Scripture recognizes the dynamic nature of history and the unfolding nature of revelation. [1]

A full description of our new axial age is beyond the scope of my knowledge, and of this blog. [2]. As before, our new axial age is transforming things in multiple fields of knowledge and in numerous places. Suffice it to say that it is this larger reality (not the authority of Scripture) which provides the backdrop for exploring the question, “What’s going on?’  Simply put, we are living in a time of awakening, and the end of our polarization—or the perpetuation of it—hinges on whether we are those who accept this, or reject it.  It is not about the authority of Scripture, but rather about the belief that God is doing “a new thing,” and God’s question to the people of Isaiah’s day is now the question God is asking us, “Don’t you recognize it?” [3]

Our new axial age is, as they all are, simultaneously a recovery and a discovery.  In our case, it is a recovery from a nearly 600-year period of analytical rationalism that has served us well in many respects, but has failed us in others—one being the separating of things to the extent that egotism and ethnocentrism have room to create falsehoods based on superiority and expressed in conflict.  Truth is couched in right/wrong categories which eclipse its both/and dimensions.  Dualistic thinking takes charge, and we take sides where someone has to win while designated “others” must lose.  We descend into sectarianism where, in fact, everyone loses.  Nationalism and other forms of groupism define and control us. For the past 600 years (the “Enlightenment era”) we have been on this downward spiral, reaping the whirlwind in terrible ways today, and bringing us to tipping points which threaten our future.

 But our new axial age is also a time of discovery—of “treasures old and new” as Jesus put it when teaching us about the Kingdom of God, in contrast to the fallen kingdoms of this world (Matthew 13:52).  In fact, he taught that it is our call to be the kind of people who keep both old and new things together.  We are called to be nondual thinkers who live a unitive consciousness.  We are called to bring separated things together.  We are called to pour Kingdom wine into new wineskins.  We are called to rediscover Wisdom and consecrate our knowledge to its advancement.

Our new axial age is recovering/discovering the oneness of all things.  The physical sciences at the micro level (atomical and genetic) and macro level (astrophysical and cosmic) are revealing the universality of all things in ways we’ve never known before.  We are called to be co-creators with God in furthering the trajectory of God’s eternal plan, “to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). 

This unification does not ignore differences, but  it refuses to turn them into conflicted hierarchies. It does not ignore evil, but it interprets it differently than fallen-world ideologies do. It’s energy is expended in creating community and living for the common good.  It is rooted in love (hesed/agapé) where restoration, not retribution, is the spirit and aim. It refuses to create “others” based on some notion of superiority.  It seeks to live in a common human family that understands loving is more difficult and messy than labeling.  It calls for the end of in/out thinking.

“What’s going on?” is not answered by an assertion of the authority of Scripture by one group against another.  “What’s going on?” is addressed by the recognition in our day of what others before us (like Isaiah) have recognized—that there are times when God does a new thing, and when God is doing so, we are called to join in.


[1] For more about the Axial Age see, (1) Mark W. Muesse, ‘Age of the Sages: The Axial Age in Asia and the Near East (Augsburg, 2015), and (2) Karen Armstrong, ‘The Great Transformation’ (Anchor, 2006).

[2] I may write more about this.  If I do, I will use the same title (“What’s Going On?”) with a numbering system, so you can immediately spot sequels.  They will be included in this “Along the Way” category if you want to re-read them.

[3] My initial exploration of this question resulted in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing: Living in God’s New Pentecost’ (Cascade Books, 2013).

Posted in Along the Way

Love: God is Love

Three words sum up the essence of everything: God is love.  They not only tell us who God is, but also who we are, and who/what everyone and everything else is.  At the creation level of cosmos and cells, love is seen in the law of attraction. [1]  In our humanity we see love in the imago dei, which gives us an existential likeness to God.  In short, love saturates all of life, revealing Reality as it is meant to be.

But true as this is, we must not leave love in the abstract.  When we say that God is love, we are not simply declaring a grand idea, we are describing a glorious relationship.  Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann sees it in the name of God we call Yahweh.  Through this name God reveals the relational essence of the divine nature, entering into our lives with mercy, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness, and steadfast love. [2]. Yahweh is the name of God through which we see God’s love (hesed).

At the outset of this series, the realization that God is love is the centering vision.  It locates us at the Source.  To acknowledge that God is love is the transforming vision.  It means that nothing other than God has the final say in our lives (Romans 8:38).  To believe that God is love gives us hope.  It brings the present moment into our lives to be a redemptive force in whatever ways we need to be free. [3]

In the course of this series we will move around the circumference of the circle of love, noting one thing after another.  But no matter where we are standing, we will be making our exploration in relation to one Center: God is love.. As they say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.


[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin saw the union of creation and theology in the word love.  He wrote about it in nearly all his books, especially ‘The Divine Milieu.,’  Ilia Delio has made Teilhard accessible to us through her Omega Center.  Her book, ‘Compassion’ (St Anthony Messenger Press, 2011) traces the theme of love through Sts Francis and Clare.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Theology of the Old Testament’ (Fortress Press, 2009), 215 ff.

[3] This is Paul’s affirmation in Galatians 5:1.  St. Ignatius of Loyola made freedom one of the hallmarks of his understanding of the Christian life.  Father James Martin’s book, ‘The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything’ (HarperCollins, 2010)) is a good guide into the life of freedom.

Posted in Love

In-Sight: Incarnation

​Having recently celebrated Christmas, the Incarnation has been front-and-center in our faith.  In the birth of Jesus, the Word became flesh, and lived a while on the earth full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  The coming of the pre-incarnate, eternal Christ (second person of the Holy Trinity) was the perfect fusion of spirit and matter.  In Jesus, heaven and earth were united as never before, or since.

But the incarnation was more than unique and historic, it is also universal and timeless.  The Bible teaches that Jesus was the new Adam (Romans 12:5-18), now often referred to as “The Human One.” [1]  In Jesus we see how humanity was meant to be, and was, before the fall. [2]  Christlikeness is the one-word summary for the definition of life as God wills it to be for us.

We are not, and will never be, the perfect fusion of spirit and matter that Jesus was, but we are a fusion of spirit and matter—what the Bible calls “living souls” (Genesis 2:7).  In our humanity we are holy, as God is holy in deity. Far from being a wild idea, this “likeness” to God is what it means to be made in the image of God.  St. Thomas Aquinas described it in these words, “Grace renders us like God and a partaker of the divine nature. Divine virtue gives deification itself, that is, participating in the Godhead, which is through grace.” [3]

This is a grand truth, but we must not allow it to hang in the air as a dangling doctrine, and even worse, we must not let it deteriorate into wishful thinking or, still worse, into sentimentalism–which is precisely where the world leaves “baby Jesus” during Christmas.  The incarnation of Jesus is the revelation that our humanity is not only to be gentle and meek, but also strong and courageous–that is, pastoral and prophetic.

Jesus show us what the full range of human holiness looks like, and the revelation becomes an invitation.  This is complicated, but we must not let that prevent us from receiving the message which comes from Jesus’ incarnation to us: we are human, and that glorious reality is a vision which is meant to invite us into fullness of life—life in Christ.  The new year is a fresh invitation to become what we are meant to be, God’s beloved children.  The incarnation is meant to recur in us.  It is one way God says to us, “Don’t forget who you are.”  Jesus is the living reminder.


[1] Adam is the word for  humankind–before being represented in maleness and femaleness.  As the new Adam, Jesus revealed in his flesh the nature of humanity irrespective of gender.  By calling him “The Human One” we see his example to be applicable to people of all genders.  The Common English Study Bible has good articles about “The Human One,” and uses this translation in place of the traditional rendering “Son of Man” to more clearly describe Jesus’ humanity as an example for all people.

[2] This is impossible to put into words because it is Mystery.  Adam was not the Christ in the technical and full sense of the word, because humanity and deity are distinct.  But being fully human, Jesus revealed what we can call a pre-fall humanity—a humanity which is possible for any of us.  We never become God (that’s heresy), but we can be “like God” (that’s biblical—Genesis 1:26-28).  

[3] Quoted in Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditation, December 23, 2019.

Posted in In-Sight

Love: Introduction

​Decades ago, a popular song said  “Love is a many splendored thing.”  Indeed it is, and I have been blessed to know this throughout my lifetime.  This coming April, Jeannie and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, and every year of our courtship and marriage she has shown me what love is..  She has given me love in every way a human being can.  And she has been a means through whom I have experienced the love of God..  I have decided to make “Love” the 2020 theme series here on Oboedire, and I dedicate this series to Jeannie, the love of my life.   

Our desire to be loved is the deepest desire, and I believe it is so because we are made in the image of God.  When we open ourselves to this Reality, we find that the love of God not only becomes alive in us, it flows through us to others.  Each week, over the course of this coming year, we will follow the flow of love from its inward manifestations to its outward expressions.

We find ourselves in a love-starved world.  Individually and collectively we hunger for love.  So, this series is more than a sentimental examination of a beautiful idea, it is a call to be lovers of God and others as a means of shining light and giving life.  Our souls and our planet depend on love in order to survive.

The need for love is particularly acute in our country right now.  The past few years (actually, decades) have strained our will and capacity to love.  The national renewal we need is a renewal of love.  It is not an exaggeration to say that our problems, challenges, and sins are manifestations of a failure to love. We are once again in a great need for strength to love. [1]

I hope you will join me on this love journey.  If you know others who would benefit from it, invite them to do so.  It’s easy and free to subscribe to Oboedire by entering an email address into the ‘Sign Me Up,” box on the righthand sidebar. 

When the early church was just getting started, the elder apostle John is said to have had only one message whenever he spoke to the community, ‘Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).  I hope this series brings an increase of love to you and a fresh outpouring of love through you. 


[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s book, ‘Strength to Love’ (Harper & Row, 1963) made the three words part of our national vocabulary in the 1960’s.  His book remains on my desk to this day, and I read from it frequently as a way of seeking a fresh inpouring of strength to love in my life.

Posted in Love

Christmas: Descent Into Oneness

​Christmas is the time for experiencing the formative work of descent.  We sing, “Love came down at Christmas.”  It is the hymnodic way of declaring with John that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14).  Christ’s “coming down” was a descent into oneness, and his incarnation is a model for a similar descent in our lives

Descent is where we find commonality.  Thinking of it linguistically, descent is living as nouns without adjectives.  Descent is shedding all the modifiers which so easily separates us from each other.  For the cosmic, universal Christ the singular noun is ‘flesh.’  Christmas is the revelation of Christ’s descent into oneness with everyone of us. The singular noun is ‘human.’

We manifest the descent into oneness as we live into the second great commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  We typically and correctly interpret this through the word ‘love,’ and ponder the depth and breadth of our love for others.  Indeed, “Love came down at Christmas,” and love is the essence of our oneness with God and with everyone and everything else.

But the lens of affection is not the end of the interpretation.  The commandment is also about identification, and that comes through in the words ‘as yourself.’  To love others as ourselves is to recognize our oneness with them.  Buddhists call this ‘interbeing’—that is, the awareness that at the base we literally share a common existence.  Reality is oneness.  Illusion is separateness.

Jesus brought this reality into Christianity in the words ‘as yourself.’  Affection and identification come together.  Love and oneness are conjoined.  St. Paul described the same reality, “If one part suffers, all  the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  Meister Eckhart put it this way, “what happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.”  

Dorothy Day experienced this oneness during her first time in jail.  She wrote, “I was no longer myself… I was no longer a young girl, part of a radical movement seeking justice for those oppressed. I was the oppressed. I was that drug addict, screaming and tossing in her cell, beating her head against the wall. I was that shoplifter who for rebellion was sentenced to solitary.”

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke similarly, “The self cannot be self without other selves. . . . All life is interrelated. All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

These affirmations of faith are paralleled in the cosmos through quantum entanglement–that is, the interconnectedness of all things.  The revelation is that there is one Life, and we share in it in our life together.  When we think otherwise we fall prey to pride which manifests itself as superiority, partisanship, exclusion, power/control, greed, and violence.  Christmas is God’s annual invitation to become Christlike and “come down” into oneness.

This oneness was effected by Christ, who broke down the dividing wall and reconciled everyone into a new common humanity (Ephesians 2:14).  As a result, we no longer see or support separatism, choosing rather to live “as one” with others.  Just as Christ descended into oneness with us in the incarnation. We descend into oneness as we love our neighbors as ourselves.  Love not only came down that first Christmas day, it comes down whenever we descend into oneness as siblings in the human family.

Posted in Connections

Oboedire 2020

Except for a meditation on Christmas day, I’m taking a break from Oboedire until January 1st. But here’s what’s in store for 2020–a continuation of some themes and the beginning of some new ones…

(1) 2020 Theme: “Love.”–Each Wednesday we will focus on some aspect of love, as a way of living the two great commandments more faithfully.

(2) “In-Sight”–This longstanding series continues on the first Saturday of each month, exploring the spiritual life from a variety of vantage points.

(3) “Along the Way.”  A new, occasional series that addresses a current event in relation to spiritual formation.

Thanks for being part of the Oboedire community.  I hope these posts in 2020 will be helpful to you.

Blessings!  Steve

Posted in Site Updates

Holy Love: A Final Word

​I hope your reading of ‘Holy Love’ and these related posts has been helpful.  In the book, I include two additional writings: a word to LGBTQ+ people (“You  Are Loved”) and a word to those who disagree with me (”A Word to Non-Affirming Christians”).  I add the following remarks to what’s there, and use this post to bring this series to an end.

First, to LGBTQ+ people.  The past 5+ years have been a blessing to Jeannie and me, getting to know you, and seeing in you full humanity, genuine faith, and devoted discipleship.  No matter what others may say to you, or about you–never cease to know that you are God’s beloved children.  You do not need to change who you are or who you love.  All you have to do is what all the rest of us have to do: love God, love others, manifest the fruit of the Spirit, and grow in grace.  Thank you for showing us how deep and wide God’s love is.

Second, to non-affirming Christians.  The past 5+ years has confirmed that there is (and has always been) more diversity in Christianity about human sexuality than you are willing to admit.  I do not say this harshly, but only realistically.  I wish more of you would admit it too.  In the past 5+ years my belief concerning the inspiration and authority of Scripture has not diminished one bit, and I have discovered it is possible to be a “Bible believing Christian” and also an ally with LGBTQ+ people, affirming their civil rights and their full inclusion in the Church–with complete access to its sacraments, ministries, and ministries.  Thank you, non-affirming Christians, for pushing back on my becoming an ally; it is a gift even if you did not mean it to be so. Your rejections have caused me to explore beyond your borders and see a depth and breadth of God’s love I did not see for so long.

We are engaged in a great and unresolved debate in the world, the nation, and  the Church concerning LGBTQ+ people.  In the past 5+ years one verse has increasingly guided my thinking and living, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  The first three words have been my affirmation for 57 years, “Christ is all”—Jesus is Lord!  I say so now.

The second three words “and in all” have been God’s revelation into which I am now living, and doing so through friendships with LGBTQ+ people, the study of Scripture and extra-biblical material, and by participation in LGBTQ+ groups and related advocacy organizations.

The only way I know to end this series is as a witness, not a debater. I can only tell you what I have seen and heard: “Christ is all and in all.”  All means all.  All I can do is invite you to find this out for yourself, if you have not done so already.  And if you have discovered it, all I can ask you to be is a public witness to this reality, and an active ally with God’s beloved LGBTQ+ children– our siblings in the human family.

Posted in Holy Love