This is my last post of the year… without declaring what next year’s theme will be. I haven’t really tapped into any insight of what the next year will entail, so for now I will be silent about that. Anyway, to state that this “year of Joy” was anything but joyful is not definitive proof that I am a sadist or one who is incapable of experiencing joy. With all things I’ve asked of God, however, the truth of ” the themes” is always multidimensional. Also, not being one who is ever satisfied with a flimsy or shallow understanding of said “theme” (like a house built on sand) the effort to understand the deeper meaning of joy has taken greater energy and focus than anything else I’ve tackled on this journey. First, because I feel at its core the concept of joy is deeply misunderstood; second, because of my own imperfections and limitations; thirdly, because the concept of joy is so intimately intertwined into my particular belief system that it has been necessary for me to strip away what has been illusory and what is real about the joy that my faith brings. Boom. Head explodes.
The greatest fallacy I’ve discovered regarding joy is that it somehow comes from a place of sublime and almost ignorant happiness, that with axioms and idioms, joy becomes real, a fact. What this year has shown me is that true joy cannot be fabricated and is often most predicated on difficulty. Whether it comes from sadness, stupidity, pierced illusion, betrayal, embarking on a strenuous challenge, obstacles of every sort or simply boredom…Joy is that very thing that colors and transforms difficult or challenging moments when I choose to embrace them as seeds of possibility, nurturing them and seeing something blossom that turns into a beautiful and succulent fruit that comes with being rooted in faith, truth and love. Yes, I can see this as heady nonsense, so let me explain.
When the year began, I had already started to dabble in some arts and crafts (what I would call it) and then at the beginning of my year of joy, I consciously chose it as a mechanism to react to, and express the struggle I was having with understanding its true meaning. By that time my faith in reason, religious structures, leadership and later the countries response to a pandemic was already at a lifetime low. So I taught myself to draw (with the help of YouTube and an amazing artist and family member), to paint, to create jewelry that took all that negative energy and made it into something else, something that I felt joy from. The result was something that I didn’t foresee…I was actually good at it, and my own surprise that I was good at it was a revelation in itself that made me pause. I tried to take inherently joyful moments and ideas that existed outside myself and put myself into them: my son climbing a mountain, a butterfly, and exquisite stones and then created art including the blue laughing woman at the top of this post. I understood my surprise in this hidden talent was rooted in the second reason this journey of discovering joy was so difficult. Because, regardless of proof otherwise, at my core I fight against the belief that I truly am one of the least among us that Jesus spoke so poignantly about. No, this is not a pity party or cry for approval, it is simply recognizing and stating a belief that I’ve struggled the hardest to get rid of my entire life. Curiously, this year I found more success by learning to see this weakness as a future gift. And by choosing to see myself as one of the least among us, I’ve also become able to distinguish who the sheep and goats are in my life. So those of you who have chosen to treat me unlike Jesus would, I say good riddance, because even though you may think it is of little effect for a lowly one as me to treat any of you who righteously believe you are superior to me, as Jesus would, it offers me clarity of who really understands what those words truly mean. Your behavior toward “the least” is a measurement of how much you truly understand the gospel message. The gift that comes from thinking I am among the least, is that there is no compunction to create any falsehoods about who I am or hold onto any sense of superiority. I don’t have to pretend I’m better than anyone else because I already know I’m not. And those of you who do, are becoming so much more obvious about your true nature. Being “better than” is never and has never been part of what true joy really is…but kindness is, and mercy, and truth, and love, love, love is. Joy is also not synonymous with happiness, because some of my truest moments of joy this year, like the woman above, were colored in blue, in grief, and the sadness that comes from seeing things in a new light.
So when I say these words, in this season of light: “Joy to the World,” it is not only my wish that all of you discover the joy that comes through when we transform any moment into a future fruit, but that it is done by preparing room in our hearts for it, and seeing it through eyes of love, faith and truth.
I know there are plenty of people, roughly more than half the country who are joyful and relieved at the outcome of the election, and roughly less than half who are not. So, I am thinking of the consequences of the kind of joy that Jesus spoke of in the gospel of John 15: 9-12:
As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
So this is a caution for all of us out there who claim to be people of faith, to keep Jesus’ words at heart. If you claim to be a Christian, and still cling to the belief that anyone who is not on your side isn’t worthy of Christ’s love, you have slipped too far into delusion and I wash my hands of you, just like Jesus instructed his disciples when they came up against those who would not listen and would treat them with ill will in Matthew 10:7:
Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words – go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.
So for the rest of us, who really want to work toward unity and reflect what this country is founded on, this is for us. We are divided, that is true. But also true? Division will always exist with diversity and a nation built on the idea that all people are created equal and deserve an equal shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t claim to know what that will look like, but I do know that the anger, the conspiracy theories and the misinformation vilifying the party who won (and it isn’t Mr Trump’s party)isn’t working toward that goal . Our American world has thrived under administrations of both parties. It will continue to thrive if we keep our eye on the prize: A more perfect union, based on the structure that has maintained us for over two hundred years.
I am a democrat, fiscally conservative and socially liberal. If you really know me, you know I’m not evil, naive, misinformed about legitimate news sources or an idiot. So there goes your theory that I am part of a Satanic movement. I would say that Q-anon stuff is silly, but it is just too dangerous given the amount of people who are buying into it…and it is them that I am kicking the dust from my feet because obviously you have not understood the teachings of Jesus regarding, well, just about everything. You can hide behind all the traditional structures and denominations you want, but if you are not loving everyone, even the least among you like Jesus…you are the one suffering a morality crisis, not me.
I also caution those who are emboldened by Biden’s win. Our job now, is to be the party that leads, and not leave people behind or stop listening to people because we hate what they say. Yes, I will disregard those who work toward violence, anarchy and impede our evolution. But as some of greatest leaders have taught us, there is a way to lead that builds up the body, and gives regard to all parts of it. We have a government that is by the people and for the people for a reason, and we need to strengthen its infrastructure so that no one has the power to over ride the will of the people and its laws ever again. We can no longer be naive and think that once someone is in high office that tradition of honesty and integrity will prevail. There must be consequences when that doesn’t happen.
So I am cautiously joyful, and praying for consequences for those who choose not to remain in love, whether it be how you treat your neighbor or interpret God. Because if you continue to read the Gospel we know what happens then too.
So what a year it has been. Training to wield love amidst, (I was going to say something more delicate but sadly the truth can’t be couched) SO MUCH SHIT is probably the most brutally effective and yet demonstrably most uncomfortable way possible. And yet now that I am at the end of this year of learning to wield love I’m not quite sure how adept that I have become. What I have learned is to strip down what love is not. It isn’t contingent on anything, it isn’t rigidly defined, it isn’t earned, it is not limited to religion, or what is culturally appropriate. It is not self contained or controlling, it is not present because of the use of the word…it is present because of the substance of the energy that it is. I know that last bit may be confusing, but the most important lesson I’ve learned this year? I have learned that most people don’t have a fucking clue what love is especially amidst the pain, struggle and challenges that most of us face in our lives everyday. The very power we should turn to to manage the struggle is circumvented by anger, hate and blame, sometimes couched in the very name of love that we are supposed to seek. That kind of love, the righteous, judgmental and fire and brimstone kind has nothing at all to do with the true nature of love. The love I’ve embraced, been overwhelmed by and grieved by the loss of, is made so much more clear by the darkness that has surrounded me…because then the love and its light is so much brighter.
And yet my greatest weakness in my training has been to curb the desire I have to rage against the unmitigated bullshit that people give to justify hate, lies, bias and racism, sexism, greed and so much more. I have had to revisit all the many things I’ve learned over that last five years to refocus all the emotions that come with movement in this world that is the antithesis of all the gospel preaches and just move forward with purpose, clarity. truth and love and find ways to embrace all that my faith teaches me, regardless of what I receive in return. Most of the time, in the moment, I think I’ve failed miserably this year. But now as I look back over the year, I do see progress. I have learned to set boundaries, demand as much from others as I am willing to give them, and love in the way that brings my heart joy, instead of someone else telling me how I should do it. I’ve learned to respond to hatred with kindness and expanded my prayers to include those that are not kind-hearted.
But the most important thing that I learned this year? I am certain that scripture’s words are my heart’s words also when it comes to defining love. It is patient, and kind, slow to anger and doesn’t celebrate fault, it is deliberate and the opposite of fear, it is omniscient and omnipresent, it is the source of everything and NEVER used in judgement or to punish. It never fails…and as long it is the source of my heart, neither will I. I also learned that I will wield love in any instant that threatens any person, place or thing that stands in opposition to it. That is powerful, and frightening and beautiful.
I haven’t written a post in awhile. It’s been an intense couple of months. It’s been a wild ride of emotions. I’ve celebrated life, death, relaxation, this beautiful planet, friends, family, illness, and felt sad at what is broken and corrupt and how that affects not only me, but everyone. I have figured out a few things this year focused on love, and what I’ve come to understand are the necessary elements to wield it well. Love isn’t an idea, a belief, or a religion. It isn’t exclusive or limited to one group of people. Love has matter and dimension that extends way beyond our human ones, an independent omniscience that cannot be defined by or limited to any one human definition. Love can not be wielded falsely by those who would frame it in a way that gives them greater control or power…love won’t tolerate illusion and can become as destructive as fire when the world tries to limit, redefine or destroy it. Love is the source of life and all evolution. But I also know that none of the above matters if somehow it isn’t translated to action. And what does that look like from a million different perspectives, is there a way to love incorrectly? That question still seems to exist beyond my level of clearance…but I am comfortable in choosing Christ as one who does know the best way to love.
And based on that relationship, this is what I learned:
This is a heady paragraph…but necessary to understand my train of thought…so please bear with me. Love in its entirety is so far beyond my individual perception that I can only get glimpses. My biggest obstacle this year was thinking that I needed to understand love in its entirety before I could wield it correctly. That’s just not possible, I am too limited. I know God is not limited, while I welcome the presence of God in my life, I also feel charged with the responsibility to work with God as a partner and not just a puppet blindly following the precepts of a church structure to tell me what to do to get to heaven…this whole relationship with God is so much more than that. While I’ve learned much in my study of theology, I also know that the flaws, (in today’s organized structures) far out weigh the benefits for me. So, for all intents and purposes I embrace the idea that without a structure I act blind a lot of the time regardless of what my intentions are, so I have learned to activate all my other senses that have gotten a little rusty for a better chance of getting it right.
Prayer, constant prayer…and not just when I or anyone else wants or need something, but prayer for continual direction, for understanding and insight before I wield love. In Christian scripture we are promised that anything we ask for in goodness, shall be given to us. So I take Jesus at his word that if I’m serious about what to do in a situation, I will receive the necessary insight. If I’m still unclear, I pray that those self imposed obstacles and prejudices are removed from my eyes, so that I can see a clear answer. And yes, more often than not we are our own worst enemies…I am the reason that an action fails and not the other way around. People are so fragile, I’ve observed, that they lash out and blame others first when love isn’t present….and blame never gets anyone anywhere. I also pray for those champions of love and light in the world to have the courage and strength to shed light into darkness and not hide it under a bushel basket.
Next, I ask for forgiveness, at the end of every day, when people and life are just too much that I’ve failed in wielding love like I could have (which is a lot). It really helps, not kidding…like unloading weights everyday. I am a better person because of it, because I feel a physical manifestation of love that I’m opening my soul to. I may be judgmental, and a bitch at times but love is not. It’s also important to forgive others too. I will say this: the more I’ve learned about love, the more I know what it is not…and the lack of it is soul crushing when it comes to the future of this world. Scripture teaches us a lot about forgiveness, but if you can’t acknowledge your own flaws and ask for, and then receive forgiveness…then any act of love will be so much more stunted.
I think its most powerful to wield love in small and ordinary ways. Looking at a person directly into their eyes and seeing them and being present is a more powerful gift that you think. So often, people just want to be heard…and seen. And in order to see others, you have to let them see and hear you too. It was in my struggle with authenticity that I realized wielding love isn’t possible if you can’t take off your own mask and let the world see your true face. Love’s authenticity and wielding it effectively is contingent on my own authenticity. And in a world where judgement and bullying is dished out quicker than anything else, it takes courage and strength…and faith to do that.
And last, but not least…wielding love demands that we are willing to extend it to the least of those in our lives. Who that is, is different for every person. I have to wield love even to those whom I despise. How else will the world be transformed? How else do we build a body that is worthy of that kind of transformation? I’m tired of preachers and teachers, and talk. (and I’m aware that I’m guilty of it too, so I do even get tired of myself). I want simple actions gestures and behavior that is appropriate for those who claim they are acting in the name of love, whether it is for God, country, family or any of the commands that Christ gave us. And I must admit, those who stand in righteousness but who are comfortable with name calling, bullying, less than transparent behavior, divisiveness, willful ignorance of the truth, and condemnation of their brothers and sisters on this earth, I will wield love for you too. It’s hard, and at times frustrating…but love trumps hate, and I can’t ever forget that.
There is a purity and sacredness as a life begins to ebb, the veil thins and the hint of what is to come becomes more palpable. While the biological mechanism that holds our soul begins to weaken and wear out, the soul in its beauty begins to shine through. While I fully realize that in this day and troubled age, many times the body that harbors someone’s soul is ripped apart too quickly, by violence and the harsh realities that come with human free will, there are those who, after a full and breathtakingly ordinary and beautiful life, sustain my belief that love is still the author of this play called life, and because of the tether we have to a gracious God, nothing will still it.
I think we sometimes forget the subtle and sustained moments of love that often go unrecognized in the day to day. It is like a favorite smell, song, or the warmth of the sun that bring a sigh, a moment of relief or happiness that Fill in the negative spaces and keep us moving forward. I am amazed to hear the stories my mother-in-law Rayola tells, each one a reflection of simple moments that wouldn’t seem to amount to much in the full span of a life, but are coming back to her with great clarity as her life begins to wane and the effect they had on her and her life’s journey. It gives me respect for the moments I often disregard as meaningless or less than impactful, when, in reality, they take root deep in our personal psyche and ripple outward inspiring other simple gestures of kindness and love toward even more people.
I see the ripple effect everywhere in this woman’s life…the circles of kindness, acceptance, and unconditional love that wave outward into the world making their impact heartily and consciously felt. I know there are many moments that may be unconsciously felt or recognized by the person receiving the benefit (as I am one such recipient), but they are powerful nonetheless. I want to remember the beauty in the waning of life, like the colors of a sunset or beauty of the first star of the night…like a hint of all the beauty and the glory to come. Love doesn’t need a trumpet or neon flash or pageantry. Love is the all, the beauty of a background and the whisper of God in our ears, just like my mother in law. Today I celebrate the indomitable spirit of those subtle but powerful moments of love.
Imagine if your wallet was unlimited and you never had to worry about having enough money. Would your relationship with money change? What would you spend your money on? Would you buy a bunch of stuff, or build a lavish lifestyle? Would your friends change? Would you bestow gifts on others, or just the people who give you something back or who you believe were worth of it? Would it change how you think about being generous? Would you give more, care more about the challenges of the world? I think that knowing your wallet was unlimited wouldn’t change your relationship with money at all. Would you care how others used your generosity, or even care? Would you worry that perhaps someday that unlimited wallet would change so you’d need to stockpile? Or if everyone had enough, how would it change your status in the world? If every hierarchy that existed based on the level of income you had was obliterated, would you feel any different? If it controls your happiness now, even in your lack of it, wouldn’t it still control you in its abundance? Just google the effect of money for people who suddenly became wealthy to start…not a pretty picture. There are plenty of people who have more money than they could spend in a lifetime, hell several lifetimes…and sit on it, and build power structures that help them continue to sit on it. Or they use it to wield power and not love.
Now image if your heart was as limitless as your wallet. Would you change how you wield love in the world? Would you love in spite of getting little or nothing in return? Would you love only those who show you love, or whom you deem worthy? Would it be conditional? Would you dole it out carefully as if it were in short supply? Would you wield it only according to certain prescriptions and rules that dictate how to get it and who deserves it? Would you participate in a hierarchy who put you above others in the world in terms of eternal life? That is the trouble with conditions and love they don’t go together at all. Placing limitations on love turn it into something else, something that may be called love, but in name only…because love does not exist in limitation…
So, if you believe in a limitless God, one that brought a savior to our world to give our hearts an unlimited source of that love, without condition…then you have to wield it as as you would if you had an unlimited wallet. No excuses…Not receiving love is not a reason to stop wielding it. Here’s the funny thing about money and love…even with an unlimited supply, would it change how you use it in the world? Again, I don’t think so. Our understanding of love is intimately related to our understanding of money. I guess that’s why Jesus intimated that they couldn’t exist in the same plane. If you’re generous with one, you have to be generous with the other. I’m sure the reverse is true as well. Anyway there are plenty of parables in the Gospels that warn us of our attachment to money and its affect on our ability to love.
So why did I title this post love and quid pro quo? I did so because quid pro quo means “something for something”. While it may seem obvious in relation to money, that we pay out and get something in return, but the value of it? We spend money on trivial things like we have an unlimited wallet, and are often miserly when it comes to extending it in generosity. Civilized society depends on a rhythm, a flow of investing, sharing and giving without a clear personal return. Too often it is also how we measure out how much love to give, but that’s not how it should work. The exact opposite is true, love should be given without regard of return, because we have an unlimited supply. It may look different in how it is applied uniquely to every individual, (remember it is patient, kind, etc.) but the expectation is to wield it according to its nature which is free, abundant, and without expectation of payment or return. Every single lesson in scripture lays that idea out for us. You never earn God’s love, its yours for free. And the thing I learned from this unbelievably challenging year? How I spend money and wield love in this world has nothing to do with never having enough…because somehow in the moment I always do. That is what faith is supposed to look like…walking your path and working on building faith that you have enough, you are enough and to face challenges that arise in your life with the belief that God will never abandon you, that God will never give you a stone when you ask for bread, that God can be seen clearly in every gesture of love, and never, ever in any other action.
This was my most difficult post to write, not only because I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to you, but because I have been challenged this year to dissect my relationship to both love and money, and while grateful for the lessons learned I am also full of sadness at the deep anger and hateful divides in this world. It is direct opposition of all that I have learned, believe and hold dear…not just in our country, but in those institutions that are supposed to represent and be the fountain of God’s unlimited supply of love to this world. They are being corrupted, and we must join together as warriors of love to turn things around. You may not agree with my method, but you have to agree that something must be done….because love dissolves corruption, it shines a light on lies and manipulation, it bears all things and never fails…
As another year cycles to my 60th year on the planet, I am consumed by love…the abundance of it, the shortage of it, the mischaracterization of it, and mostly the lack of understanding how powerful it can be. So this year, my prayers for you are all about love,
I pray you understand that your DNA, the very composition of you is rooted in the profound mystery of love. Love is the source code, and there is nothing, not even the best liars in the world, that could convince me otherwise…I pray that you understand this too.
I pray that you have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear, that each person has the composition of love too. Our job, is to help them realize it…
I pray that you become aware that at your core is the potential to bear great fruit, God has bestowed upon each of us unique talents, a unique melody meant to share with the world.
I pray that you have the strength to let your talent, your melody sing and never let the haters and those who spread dissonance drown you out. You have the power of love on your side, it is built in you and empowered by God. Change the space you are in to let it shine out of you.
I pray that you wield love in your own unique way to help heal the pain and sorrow that exist in our world. Your potential is unlimited, and like a ripple effect, it circles outward to influence others to do the same.
I pray you remember that we are on this planet to bear fruit, not to burn or tear it down, we are commanded to nurture and sustain it, and leave the judgement to God…for God alone commands the day and the night, we are gifted with its beauty and ability to help us rise to our greatest potential.
I pray that you understand helping another see and reach their potential can only serve and help our own journey, there is abundance in this world for everyone.
Most importantly I pray that you be kind, slow to anger, not judge, forgive, and have the faith of a mustard seed…for then you truly can move mountains
On a vacation with our neighborhood years ago at a campground, my eldest son made a statement which came to me during this last portion of training. He said, “Mom, there isn’t anyplace even in hell that the love of God can’t reach, right?” I said, yes that’s right, unequivocally. That phrase shocked and reorganized my whole theological philosophy in an instant. I’ve been pondering that phrase over and over as I started and restarted this post for days. I knew what I had to do to test it, make it my own so I immersed myself in my own personal hell (mind you I certainly didn’t know what I was doing at the time…but I think God did) And while it wasn’t quite 40 days in the desert…once I came out the other end, I had such clarity and calm. So here is what I came to understand.
To start, I’ve always been uncomfortable with people who use Christianity as a means to get the golden ticket of salvation, i.e. once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior you’re in the club…or if you followed the prescriptions of the church perfectly you got salvation covered, and everyone else was totally screwed. It doesn’t really work like that. I know it, because Jesus said so. When Jesus told the disciples what the end time would look like, he didn’t separate them by who accepted Jesus and who did not. He didn’t separate them by who were the best rule followers and who were not. He separated them by how well they loved:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life
Jesus also told the story of the a perfect rule follower:
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
So I guess what I’m saying is that when you accept Christ, when your heart becomes his heart, you are supposed to be different, see the world in an altogether different light than everyone else. And as a whole, we are not the Body of Christ, as a whole, we haven’t really understood what grasping Jesus as a formula for eternal life was really all about. Arrogant? perhaps, but I asked the question so here is what I got. While I still believe that Grace is offered to all for the taking, I do believe that what is required is so much more than speaking a formula out loud or following a bunch of rules, or making a claim that you are a Christian…that has never been the heart of it. It is, I’ve come to understand, all about redemption.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He also challenged the disciples at their definition of who their neighbor is. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect
And how do we love perfectly?…with mercy as Jesus describes in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (you can look this up on your own…Mt 22:34-40) The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us the expectation that mercy be extended to the least of whoever that is in your personal lexicon. You must show them mercy or you have failed embracing Christ, embracing God, on every level. Those that show mercy towards their neighbors get it right. So here is my question: with so many Christians in the world who have supposedly grasped the golden ticket to eternity, why does there seem to be so little of it?
And so my training in learning to wield love led me to hell. And it sucked and there was darkness and despair and there were moments when I didn’t think I could make it because I just couldn’t get what it was that I was supposed to understand. Bloody hell !!!!!(there was much swearing so bear with me), I know Jesus sacrificed his life for us all, for me…I tried to let go and let God. I read scripture, I prayed and then God told me to look in the mirror and then asked me if I thought the person looking back was redeemable, and it hit me like a jack hammer…fuck no. Beyond all the rational and reasonable there was a dark theme that hung in the back of my mind that said you haven’t accomplished what you were put here for, you’re lazy, you’re petulant, you’re arrogant, you’re ugly and old etc, etc. I remembered in the book of John where a woman was caught in adultery and people were going to stone her according to the law. When Jesus stopped them by challenging them on their own sinfulness, he stopped the stoning not because she was innocent, she had sinned, he simply told her not to sin anymore and that he would not condemn her. The way was open to redemption, but she had to do the work. Sadly, those that were willing to throw stones didn’t even know they needed it, and that is by far the greater tragedy. I have to say, that while I may not have seen myself as a stone thrower, I certainly threw enough stones at the woman looking back at me in mirror. I was also the woman caught, and believed that somehow I didn’t deserve redemption (not that I’ve ever been caught in adultery…anal rule follower here). I was driven to those dark places in my own personal hell where I hated myself, the places where I let the great deceiver get into my head and try to try and convince me that I was unworthy by letting the judgments and condemnations slip into my psyche (and yes, I do believe in the devil so get over it). And in the end I put my stones down and extended my hand and let the love of God reach through the darkness. And I felt peace for the first time in awhile, I’m not embarrassed in the slightest to have that part of me exposed…because everyone has it, whether they admit it or not.
So in conclusion, my takeaway on the visit to my own little hell in the last month?…we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves and God with all our hearts, souls and minds because we don’t love ourselves enough to get there. We don’t give ourselves the love and mercy we are supposed to give to God and neighbors and that is where the breakdown lies. So how do we fix that? We look in the mirror every day and believe we are redeemable. I mean really believe it, and are willing to work at the sinning no more part. It also means that you have to venture a bit into your own hell and face up to the parts of yourselves that you think aren’t redeemable. And just like those words of wisdom from a once seven year old…there is no place in hell that the love of God can’t reach. But acknowledgement is the first step. You can’t reach it if you don’t see it and acknowledge that it’s there. And then, when all is revealed, or what you are willing to see…you extend the hand of mercy and with the Grace of God believe that even with all the nasty parts that you hide from the outside world you are worthy of redemption.
I also know that it doesn’t matter if:
You wear the cloth
You are a genius
You are successful
You are beautiful
You are famous
You are powerful
You are popular
You are a leader
You appear to have everything together
YOU HAVE DARKNESS THAT NEEDS TO BE SEEN, ACKNOWLEDGED AND REDEEMED. And like the good Samaritan, offer up a hand of mercy and redemption to the broken parts of you. Jesus will simply say, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Wielding love begins here. That is what will distinguish the sheep from the goats…not the formula or the rules, but mercy and redemption.
“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay” is an important theme in the Old and New testaments…and one in my own life as well. I once wrote a paper in law school entitled, “Vengeance is mine saith the law, it will repay” My professor rolled her eyes when she saw the title, but changed her tune after she read it (I got an “A”). The point of my paper, from a theologian’s perspective was to render what is God’s to God, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The bottom line, was that if you are going to be a person of faith, then, as scripture states many times, leave vengeance to God. If you are an American citizen where freedom is recognized as an unalienable right then vengeance is in the hands of our legal system which is set up to protect those freedoms, even in the face of a criminal act. I know, I know, we don’t live in a perfect world…there are unjust laws, and as for faith…its hard to let go of the hurt, unfairness and cruelty of this world. The tenor of our hate filled world is a sorry reminder of that. As one who harnesses and wields of love, though, vengeance can never be a driving force.
For Christians, Jesus speaks about forgiveness, loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you, etc., etc. My time on this earth is too short to waste it worrying about who is going to get their just desserts. I used to be that person crying over the injustice in the world and it ate me alive (which is not the same thing as working for justice). It’s just a waste of emotion. If we trust that God has our backs, and that whatever you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold…then the exercise of letting go and letting God is instrumental in effectively harnessing love. I’m not suggesting passivity, not at all. Fighting for justice is also fundamental to my faith…but there is a powerful distinction between energizing a fight for love and justice because you believe an omnipotent God has our backs and will trust those precepts that are fundamental to that faith and the energy of a fight that obliterates the “enemy” because they think they can do a better job than God or believe that have been enlisted by God to hate another or it just feels good in the moment. Regarding Caesar’s world, we can’t revere the rule of law and then seek vengeance by disregarding it and manipulating it when it doesn’t give us the result we want. When we stand against all the negativity and hatred in the world, it has to be done with the belief that everyone, even those we see as enemies at the moment stands to benefit from wielding love.
As any person of faith, there is an expectation of certain behaviors that are in alignment with the central tenets of that faith. As a citizen of this country, there are also certain expectations of behavior as well. Melding the two together is a natural struggle to be sure, but wielding love whether it be for God, country or both can’t be done by bean counting those that break both sets of laws. That is why I struggle so deeply with the present situation in this world. People are far too eager to justify their vengeance against their “enemy” because they happen to think they are on the right team and believe the notion that anyone who doesn’t believe like they do are the enemy. Its exhausting, and stands in direct opposition to what it means to wield love in the world. Like it or not, America includes many “teams” and Christianity commands that we love one another…even our enemies. Vengeance has no place in either.
I will be the first to admit that there are days when I want to hate everybody. Part of love’s training is to be aware of and work through these weaknesses constantly. I am not always a compliant student, but I am getting better. It is often the hardest part of my training…to wield love to those who demonstrably relish in the us against them fight, or judging others as lessor than, or bullying and name calling, or those who lie or are violent or are all of the above, the list goes on and on. The truth of the matter is that we are all human and I’m sure there are those out there who wish vengeance on me by wishing me ill, judging me and calling me names…and I may not even be aware of it. I know my heart, but others may not, which may mean attributing to me qualities I don’t think I deserve, and I know I have, at times, done the same thing to others. I’ve stopped allowing the world to define or weaken me by those judgments, especially when the world is in such desperate need of love which also means bringing my heart to the forefront for everyone to see, and that is not easy…because the world can be a cruel and unfair place after all. And yet it is because I have faith in a God that has my back and augments my vulnerable heart with a greater one that vengeance plays no part in my journey. It is a burden I don’t want or need anymore. So I wield love and celebrate those that do the same in the world. The other problem with vengeance is that it take our focus away from the people who should be celebrated for all the love they share.
Every day I say the phrase “I choose” in my head, whether it is to control my vapid tongue or expose my heart…it is my choice. I make the conscious choice to wield my love in the best way I can. I choose love, not vengeance.
So yeah, the trials continue…this time it’s not cars, boils, subzero windchill, or money…its mother nature. We’ve had a whole winter’s worth of snow in four weeks, about 40 inches of snow. I’ve always thought that living up here in the great white north keeps out the riffraff, that you have to be built of sturdy stuff to with stand the winters here…in the hope that it would also help build strength, character and a sense of humor. There is something to be said about gearing up for subzero temps, shoveling out so I can actually get my car out of the garage and face the treacherous black iced roads even before I get to work and start my day. It’s easy to whine about it, commiserate and share weather related horror stories, but it’s also an opportunity to share stories of people helping each other out, whether it is shoveling, starting a car, helping someone who is stuck etc. It is in these small sacrifices that we strengthen our ability to wield love in a world in desperate need of it.
The amount of snow seems to have slowed everything down enough to give me pause to focus on the sacrifices that love demands of us every day. Some are easy for me, extending a helping hand, or listening, and giving support, and putting other’s needs above my own. Some are hard, like trusting someone to put my needs above theirs when I am so depleted I don’t have much at the time to give, being vulnerable to accept help and while its hard to admit…making sacrifices to those outside my circle who I feel don’t deserve it, but I am obligated to help because of the golden rule I chose to follow: treat others the way that you want to be treated. I feel that simple axiom hones our ability to wield love: to accept the sacrifices that others make for me with love and to sacrifice in the name of love for others. The challenging circumstances of weather, money and physical challenges only stand to purify that sacrifice because it becomes more intentional. To sacrifice in the name of love in spite of challenges only makes us stronger.
I never anticipated using the word “hate” so much in posts about love, but here it is…I hate this year’s task, because it appears that….in order to wield love effectively, I must be whittled down to a mere wisp of myself, with all pride thrown aside (and I hemmed and hawed about the level of sharing, to keep some semblance of pride and decided, no, I am all in with this commitment). From a boil on my butt (I’ve never even had a pimple anywhere else but my face, and that was 35 years ago) that left me not only humiliated, but unable to do virtually anything, to paper cuts on every finger (it was -55 below zero with windchill after all, every scintilla of moisture gone from my body) I struggled through last week, having to make a conscious choice to get out of bed and resurrect the optimism I once had about facing the day…and I did, bully for me. I was going to title the post about it “Love and the seven plagues” but instead am just using it as a prelude to another more challenging lesson.
And so I reiterate that an interesting tidbit I learned about these silly little obstacles, in my life anyway, is that it is more often than not, that it is the “small things” that undermine my ability to wield love in the world. I am a tigress when demonstrably bad things happen. I can champion a cause better than most. I have learned to gird my loins and run into battle in defense of justice and righteousness. The embarrassing things, like those mentioned above, including but not limited to intestinal distress, and other vanity challenges have felt like a sword through my armor and it was with greatest effort that I tried to move in the world with my integrity in tact.
And then came this week, and the charge forth stopped. Every vehicle in my small family of four has just cost us thousands, within two days (in addition to the water crises and house calamities of the prior weeks). While I am thankful for Triple A, and no visible injuries…it is the very ability to actually move in the world being hindered and the financial challenges that followed (not to mention the punch the cold weather had on our business) that reminded me of all those stories in scripture when Jesus lectured us about serving God and money. It is money, the lack of it, the power of it, the injustice of it, and the corruption it brings that stands as my obstacle this week. The weight of money can cripple our ability to wield love in the world if we are not careful, and let me tell you it doesn’t matter how much you have, it may be a lot or hardly any at all. It affects each of us differently, but I have humbly learned that it can, does, and will stunt our ability to wield love in the world if we aren’t careful. The parts in scripture that I’ve held onto and so far have kept me from falling into panic are these three:
No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money) Mt 6:24
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Which one of you would hand their child a stone when they asks for a loaf of bread or a snake when they asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. Mt 7:7-11
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Mt 19: 16-22
So, the test is: where do our loyalties ultimately lie? Do we embrace the love of God over the power of money? Do we trust that when we ask God for bread he will not give us a stone? And I think the most important is when given a choice do we choose God and all that that entails (loving God, ourselves AND our neighbors) or our possessions. I am learning this: to wield love effectively and well, I must continually weigh all three, many times every day. Vanity? shedding that is the easy part…the real strength and conditioning comes from choosing God over money, every day.
So, I guess the training on how to wield the power of love has begun…with the year of a thousand cuts. By all accounts, I don’t tend to over react to life’s foibles, I’m more likely to turn them into a good story, but so far this year? I swear Beelzebub is trying to trip me up with, well there is no other word but shit (which I also stepped in, by the way). From cleaning vomit out of my husband’s car when a never before attack of vertigo seized him while driving (no flu or illness inspired), my car not going out of second gear, the front door of our clinic not opening (forcing us to replace the knob) my bed breaking in the middle of the night (3 a.m.), “someone” losing my car keys, replacing a faucet that stopped giving us cold water, bank deposits mysteriously delayed for no apparent reason and some more delicate ones that I can’t add to protect the innocent…and these are only from this week! I found myself holding my breath in anticipation of the next crisis.
While these events may seem innocuous in the face of terrible tragedies that occur every day, I maintain it’s these kinds of events that literally grab focus away from the good I could be doing and just wear me down (and I’m assuming many feel the same way I do). Things that I normally brush off seem so much bigger and crueler and in a way limit my ability to wield love in the world. Questions like, “am I being punished?” “am I just that unlucky?” and the far more irrational ones like, “is Satan lurking around here somewhere?” “am I being plagued because I’m championing love this year?” It is the compounding of these events and the bad attitude that I take that send ripple effects outward to others and voila the love quotient goes down. I went back to read some the book of Job in the Old Testament, it is involves much of the same phenomenon. The Devil bets God that he can take a wonderful, happy, successful and loving servant of God (Job), and turn him by plaguing him with all sorts of irritants. Those who surround Job try and convince him that it must have been something he had done or God wouldn’t be punishing him…still Job doesn’t lose faith. When he begins to waver, God storms in and demands answers to those who seen to know the mind of God when they fail to answer, God sets them straight…some things are just beyond our comprehension. The good news is that lesson learned, Job goes on to live a blessed life.
Wielding and harnessing love requires that we get rid of the notion that when bad things happen we are being punished by a vengeful and puritanical God. Those kind of beliefs bring out the worst in us: guilt, shame, fear, blame, mistrust, hatred, etc. And those beliefs also cause ripple effects by affecting other people who then create their own ripple effects and before you know it the whole world is in crisis and crippled to handle major crises when they actually happen. I felt like my task during this shit-storm of irritating events was to: 1) try and see the humor in it (cleaning out the vomit from my husband’s car, I was laughing hysterically when I pulled his phone out from under it all…Q-tips are amazing) and 2) not extend my irritation to other people, hence the ripple effect. I tried, with limited success to consciously fight the darkness that irritants bring with love creating a positive ripple effect that perhaps would help someone else who is facing their own personal shit storm (most of the time with laughter and a good story). While I may have simplified the situation a bit, I think the lesson I learned is the most important foundation in my year of love: that wielding love takes training, discipline, faith and the willingness to put into action the promised of scripture, which demands that we love God, ourselves and others regardless of vomit, lost keys, broken beds, doors, faucets, and shit.
Love, I already hate it. I figured since faith was one of my superpowers, I studied Theology and World Religions, I worked in ministry etc., that a year of love would fall easily into my wheelhouse. Nah, per my usual eye opening jaw dropping revelation once my task actually starts…it isn’t going to be that easy. I can point to hundreds of quotes, ideas, antidotes, lessons, scripture verses but none of them hit me as a place to start. The the quote from Teihard de Chardin that I used at my wedding kept coming to mind:
Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, (humanity) will have discovered fire.
I guess this is going to have to be more of a training exercise. How do I harness love? That is the big question…and I believe given the state of the world, there have been too far and few that are/were successful at doing so. When you compare the power of love to the wind, the force of the moon and gravity…well, I for one say we’ve been looking at the whole concept of love from the wrong direction. Because harnessing fire brought human evolution to a whole new level. Just think of what harnessing love could do. I don’t think I’m the only one who has grossly underestimated love’s power and strength. So, this year I intend to find out, and master it. I also know the first step begins with me. No one can wield love from the outside it has to come from within.
So, I get why my year of truth came before love. I don’t see the world in the same way because of last year. I can’t lie to myself or anyone else about where I begin and it isn’t always pretty. I’ve used God’s heart to augment my weak and broken one too long. I want a stronger heart…and maybe some of you do too. Let the training begin.