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“Those who look to the law of love as Jesus taught it, as the law of perfect liberty, and act accordingly as doers, whose acts are motivated by that love, will be blessed by God for living by that teaching.”
– Br. David Allen
“Jesus risked reputation and dignity in order to love—risked loving even a sinner. “O Lord, who risks everything to love, show us compassion that does not count the cost, and teach us to share it without hesitation.”
Do I risk ‘everything’ to love like Jesus? Do I follow a royal law of Love at all costs?
Do I risk my pithy reputation to love like Jesus loved? I sit in churches so often and all I hear is sermons majoring on the minors (so to speak), but rarely do I hear sermons about loving like Jesus did. Some say love the sinner and hate the sin, but I am only human and do not possess the surgical precision needed to separate the “sin” from the sinner, so I end up hating the sinner even as I say I am only hating the sin.
I can sit in the rooms and listen to others share their experience, strength and hope and I slice my fellow alcoholics to bits with the surgical knife of my mind.
Plain and simply put, I am afraid to love like this.
I am aware that most followers of Jesus are afraid to love like this: we fear being called gay, radical, Muslim, liberal, drunk, addict, loser, sinner, scum, one of “them” if I am in proximity to “them” attempting feebly to love like Jesus.
Or even worse, I fear being called “Jesus freak” – which is actually a grand compliment.
The old adage says, visiting someone with cancer does not mean I condone smoking; but I fear if I love those different from me, then I will be accused of being one of “them.”
But is that so bad?
Jesus was accused of being a sinner, a glutton, a drunk, a ‘friend’ of sinners, one who dined with traitors and whores… And yet, all he did was love, love, love.
“I have had to accept the fact that my life is almost totally paradoxical. I have also had to learn gradually to get along without apologizing for the fact, even to myself. . . . It is in the paradox itself, the paradox which was and still is a source of insecurity, that I have come to find the greatest security. I have become convinced that the very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God’s mercy to me: if only because someone so complicated and so prone to confusion and self-defeat could hardly survive for long without special mercy.”
After all these years, I am still afraid of the dark. Oh, I talk a good game, stating proudly that I love the dark that I am okay with it, with not knowing, with the unknown. But that’s a load of crap.
I hate the dark; specifically, I loathe the reality of “not knowing.” I find no comfort in that sacred place.
I have found that the words of Dorothy Day ring true, reminding us that it is best to travel light through the darkness. I say it is good to do so because I need my hands in the darkness, groping for security, feeling my way through it the way a newly blind person fumbles through Braille.
The darkness of my heart – the anger, the fear, the lack of trust in God, in Love itself – makes my life ‘feel’ messy.
When my life feels messy, there is this thought that rattles around my head with jarring significance: sometimes I feel that God is this pervasive Reality I have yet to actually experience, much less “know.”
But then that noise subsides, and above the din I hear the repetitive whisper, “mercy, mercy, mercy, all is enveloped in Mercy…”
One thing is certain, the messier my life gets the more merciful God seems. I sense the reason that is due to this truth: the messier and more mistake prone I get, the more I am in dire need of the Mercy that is available always and forever. The more I am ‘human’ the more I need and therefore am open to Divine Love. When I am at my lowest, it is ‘easier’ to look up and ask for mercy.
It’s easier to surrender when I run out of bullets.
It’s a shame that it takes my increased messiness and mistakes to be the catalyst provoking my need of God’s divine mercy, but I am human. I am trying daily to put myself in a position living conscious of and present to God’s infinite mercy rather than waiting for fox holes and disasters.
Spiritual crisis prevention is far better than crisis management. In prevention mode, I am more aware of God in all my dealings rather than my usual state of forgetfulness. And as I grow in a deeper daily awareness of God, the self made messiness seems to give way to a mercy filled life; still messy, but steeped in the ever-present reality called the mercy of God.
For Sunday, August 17, 2014 – Matthew 15:10-28
We can look almost anywhere in the world and see the consequences of one of our greatest failures as human beings—our inability to disagree. Yes, that is what I meant to say. We are suffering today not so much from our inability to agree as our inability to, peacefully and respectfully, disagree. Opposing opinions threaten us. We feel judged and disrespected when others do not align with us, and instead of considering their views with an open mind, we set out to prove how wrong they are. Our local, national and international governments, our religious and civic bodies, all give evidence of this pervasive inability to disagree in good spirit. It takes humility to hear each other, let alone work with each other, while seeing things differently. What are we afraid of—that we might learn something new, and have to change?
A woman comes to Jesus seeking a crumb of mercy for her daughter. She is a nobody among nobodies. The disciples want to send her away, and Jesus himself compares her to a dog scrounging for scraps under the table. Yet she is remembered still today, not because she and Jesus hit it off so splendidly, but because she dares to disagree creatively. She is put down and spoken to dismissively, but she does not let this deter her. She has a vision bigger than the evidence at hand. She has her own sense of God’s wide, wild mercy, and she recognizes this mercy within Jesus. If he is not yet ready to stand with her, so be it. She is ready to stand with him.
This is what it means to disagree with an open mind. We hold in our hearts our sense of what is right, and we also hold those who oppose us. We refuse to accept the same old worn out stories, and we also refuse to blame. We know the old bigotries and hatreds have harmed us all, and that we of opposing opinions are not the real enemy. We also know that keeping quiet is no longer an option. When she asks Jesus to heal her daughter, her beloved, her future, he says no. Can you believe it? What happens next makes all the difference. Does she erupt against him? Does she remain quietly agreeable? Or does she find a third way, allowing her expanded vision to stretch his? From this woman we see what a living relationship with Jesus and each other can look like. We see the healing mercy that can come from disagreement.
Meister Eckhart once said “theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.” I believe that language to be Divine Love.
I find this quote tantalizing because the early followers of Jesus were known more for their radical love whereas today ‘Christians’ are known more for what we are against than for our expressions of unconditional (i.e. Divine) love. There is much talk amongst theologians and religious people in media about the nature of God and God’s love, but I confess, it all leaves me dry once we start pontificating on God’s ‘unconditional love’.
Because many speak and write of unconditional love in the abstract, but when it comes down to it, we humans interpret and express divine love through the lens of dogma and cultural bias. Do you believe what I believe? Do you subscribe to my particular finite branch on the Tree of Life? If you do, then you are a recipient of the unconditional love of God; if not, then you are danced around with trite phrases like “love the sinner but hate the sin.”
Let me state my ideas unequivocally: it is impossible for fallible humans to separate the “sin” from the sinner and thus we “throw out the baby with the bath water” – meaning when we despise the sin we are despising the very sinner that is loved unconditionally by God. And lest I forget, all have sinned and all are fallible, and all are loved unconditionally.
It would seem that we are quite uncomfortable with unconditional love. We need to codify it, commodify it, qualify it and regulate it. And in so doing, we put a fence around the limitless and all embracing love of God. We find it virtually impossible to just simply, lavishly and indiscriminately share and “throw” around God’s love with reckless abandon. God forbid…even though that is all God asks of us.
If we gave love so freely, without judgment or dogma, our faith would become dangerous like a feral lion but instead we are afraid to truly love and embrace everyone as they are without any reservations and thus our love becomes a domesticated, declawed house cat.
We blatantly disregard the words of Jesus (thereby placing nationalism, patriotism and politics above the love of God): we do not love our enemies (real and/or supposed); we cannot even show unconditional love to Christians of differing denominations; we show no love or compassion to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters; we hate Muslims; we ignore and patronize Buddhist and Hindus; we loathe atheists; we cannot even show love to our red state/blue stated neighbors and family members. ‘Christians’ rage against children coming across borders and even threaten politicians who speak of limiting access to assault weapons. And in all of this, the greatest power ever – the burning love of God – gets swept aside by religion viewed through the lens of whichever flag we hold dear.
In all truth, and this is my truth and experience, we have absolutely no earthly idea just how unconditional God’s love is. If I am honest, it scares me, it scares all of us.
I struggle and stutter, I stammer and falter in truly fleshing out God’s lavish and dangerous Love: a Love that emanates from God’s very Being; a Love that whispers perpetually throughout all of Creation, saying “All are loved. All is forgiven. All are welcome. All are brothers and sisters. All is well. And all the way to heaven is indeed heaven.”
P.S. 12 years ago today, my son Quinn, died. I grieve hard. I celebrate fully. I am grateful to his Mama and to God for the Gift that experience holds for me. I miss you every day and see you in the butterflies and hear your laughter in the breeze…
I have grown weary again from hearing and reading about the hardness and arrogance of those who follow Jesus, ‘theologians’ who like the Pharisees before them, set up barriers and limits to the grace of God. So, as I get older, my mind forgets what it has and has not said, so bear with me as I go off on a ‘grandpa rant’ about grace.
I am learning ever so slowly, through recovery, the Big Book, reading Scripture and through life’s lessons, that grace is messy.
We try and portray it as a “suit and tie, Sunday best, bonnet kind of thing.” But it is not. Grace is so much more, so much so that when we even try to define it…all we can do is close our mouths in humility, drop to our knees and ask for it.
The Truth is that grace, like most of life, is messy, disturbing, comforting and doled out to any and all who seek God and ask for it.
Grace is the ‘prostitute’ caught literally in the act and led away to be stoned, Jesus creating space, kneeling down on the ground, writing something, pausing with mercy, waiting…then speaking the loudest truth of all in calmness: let whomever is without sin be the one to cast the first stone. Nothing neat about that scenario; in fact, it’s kind of weird all the way around, especially the crazy grace given from Jesus to the woman caught.
What Jesus did, in and of itself was radical in so many ways: it was counter-cultural, blasphemous, renegade and illegal (in order: men did not talk to prostitutes unless doing business with them behind closed doors, only God could forgive sins, and stopping the stoning of a ‘criminal’ was interfering in the “legal” process). Messy, messy, messy…and nothing but divine grace. Jesus constantly embodied God’s love in ways that we cannot accept; messy ways, so messy in fact that we feel the need to add to it, water it down, or try and infer a different meaning into it.
I mean let’s face it, the disciples were sometimes a bunch of asinine dunces who spoke before they thought, acted with little regard to the consequences, and who sometimes were as thick as oaks, blind to the truth that they were handpicked, loved and in the perpetual presence of the awaited Messiah. And yet, Jesus loved them deeply and dearly. That is messy grace. And here is another thing to ponder: Jesus constantly allowed his followers to be in situations where they were bound to fail, and therefore, would be in need of God’s grace.
God is beautifully messy and so is his grace. But we are too often so concerned about what it will look like such as the lofty glances at those who are different, those who don’t look like us, don’t vote like us, don’t think like us, don’t pray like us (fill in the blank). We want grace to be neat and clean. But it isn’t! It is messy.
Grace is forgiveness to dope fiends and sloppy drunks. Grace is mercy in the face of undeserved mercy. Grace is a prisoner being forgiven and healed. Grace is finding hope in a drug den or kneeling over a toilet after a night of binge drinking.
Grace is sloppy, greasy, and gooey.
Grace is a bloodied, dirty so-called Messiah dangling from a cross, an apparent failure with every one of his followers abandoning him except for a young one named John, his Mother, and a prostitute named Mary. There is nothing clean and tidy about that!
Messy grace sums up the entire Gospel story. Grace is apparent failure with a small flame of hope in the bleakest darkness. Grace is hope in the face of utter despair. Grace is the Creator of the Universe coming to and caring intimately for you and me, messy human beings that we are with all our foibles and frailties.
Grace is messy indeed.
Grace is a group of drunks and addicts finding healing and freedom in church basements, with bad coffee and human stories. Grace is God pursuing us, like the prodigal children we are, running out after us – all muddy and filthy from the pig trough and the brokenness of our lives – falling down on his knees, holding onto us tightly, weeping for joy that we have finally come Home.
The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections and God is all eight simultaneously.
Unconditional (adjective): not limited by conditions; absolute; an unconditional promise (dictionary.com).
One of the things I struggle most with is the oxymoronic values most Christians and religious people have: like saying God’s love is unconditional while simultaneously placing conditions upon that divine unconditional love.
Unconditional means without restrictions, limits or any modifications; limited by NO conditions whatsoever.
Can I say that I believe in a God whose Love is like this?
I’d be lying if I said yes, for my life and judgmentalism prove otherwise. I judge people all the time; I take their inventory, supplanting God’s unconditional love with my own conditional love. And if truth be told, one thing I know is humanly impossible is my ability to understand the divine delineation between “loving the sinner and hating the sin.” For me it is almost impossible; I end up throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. I do not see many others who, if they are honest, do a very good job of this either.
I hear evangelicals and conservatives say they love our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters but the barriers to God’s grace and unconditional love are obvious. I hear liberals and progressives spew hatred towards conservatives. I hear Christians hating on their enemies (booth real and supposed) even though Jesus said “love your enemies…do good to those that hate you.”
Is it in any wonder that ‘conditional love’ and intolerance are listed as some of the main reasons so many millennials (35 and under) are walking away from the Church and from all religion? You can read about this survey taken from a recent article that can be found HERE.
Is God’s love really unconditional?
Is God’s love an Adjective? If you had never heard of Jesus or the two great commandments, and you walked into a church, would you experience such unconditional love? I shudder to think…
What would happen if all God lovers and followers of Jesus simply laid down as the sole and only ‘doctrine’ of Christianity to be that of unconditional love in any and all circumstances, situations and realities? What do YOU think would happen?
Would we once again discover Divine Love as if for the first time and set the world on fire?
What would happen if all I sought was to love God and the divine image of God in all creatures and creation? What would my life look like? Would I become the hunger for which I pine? Would I become the change I so long for (as Gandhi once said)?
Am I so afraid of unconditional love that I can neither accept it nor give it? I have more questions than answers…hence the musings. But if I – if we – are all honest, we are scared to death of unconditional love and what it means. We are scared to love the other, the different, the unknown and the mystery. I need neat, little categories and compartments to classify and codify all of life and all the people in it. If I am white and you are black, if you are Muslim and I am a follower of Jesus, if you are an evangelical and I am radical Catholic, then in that naming process, I can distinguish myself from you. And in distinguishing myself from you, I can identify out – or more simply put, I can make it easier for me to separate myself from you and set limits on God’s love and grace. I therefore become the arbiter of God’s so-called unconditional love and grace. And in that process, I become an idol, a veritable stumbling block to God’s limitless and truly unconditional love.
When I do this I tame God and his relentlessly Wild Love. I make God safe for me and dangerous for you, when God’s love should be paradoxically safe and ‘dangerous’ for ALL of us.
If God is love and God is in control, then what harm is there if I, if we, err on the side of ‘loving too much? Of giving God’s love to all and save the judgment for God (whose mercies never come to an end)?
If, in the end, I unleash myself in total abandonment and surrender to God’s love and to becoming an agent of his unconditional love, what might happen?
What might really happen to me, or you or our world?
Blessed are the cracked and broken, for it is we who let in the grace of God.
If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is that everyone is wounded in some way, shape or form. There simply are no people in the world walking around scar-less. . In fact, I’ve learned those who project a greater sense of accomplishment, or an “I’ve already arrived” mentality, are in fact the ones who are the farthest away from the very perfection of which they speak – and unfortunately this seems even truer among people of faith.
But who wants to be “perfect” anyway? I don’t. And as a person of deep faith, someone who loves God deeply, I am reminded by the comforting truth that Jesus did not come for the ‘perfect’ rather he came for the sick, the cracked, the poor and the screwed up.
God loves our cracks and wounds.
Our scars are reminders that God has come to us and shown us sacred love and brought us some level of healing.
And the truth of it all is that it is only through the cracks and woundedness of our lives that the profound mystery of God’s love and grace can enter into our hearts and lives, bringing tender mercies. In our myth of perfection and achievements, we lose the truth of the cracked by believing that we are already perfect and whole. In that ‘lie’ we become “sealed shut” and the elements of God’s abundant Grace have no opening with which to enter our hearts.
Grace enters our hearts by way of a wound.
We are a broken and imperfect people. And praise God for that! Yes, Jesus did say, “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.” But the word perfect there does not mean without flaw, error or blemish. In its original meaning, “perfect” means to be “mature, complete, and healthy.” And with this definition in mind, I truly hunger to be ‘perfect’ in God: growing in maturity; complete in God; and striving to health and wholeness through the Spirit.
So we, who are broken, are called to a God Who enters us through the very brokenness we often run from and deny. It is the lovely mystery of God: that the Holy One enters that which is not so holy.
God loves the broken and cracked among us!
And when I speak of the wounded and broken, I am speaking of all of us, but especially those who are wounded and vulnerable on the outside. I have said it before and will say it again; God does indeed have a preferential option for the poor, the broken and the oppressed, not because they are better or more loved, but precisely because they are more vulnerable. Truly, God loves all equally and perfectly. But those that are the most broken, those who cry out in their brokenness, are the ones who are the most open to God’s messy grace.
We who are broken know that we need Grace. Those who find themselves to be whole have no need of grace or forgiveness or healing…or even God for that matter.
In truth, without God’s grace and love, I am just an alcoholic hungry for another drink, chasing an illusion. But with the love of the Messiah poured out into my heart and soul, I am whole. And it is this truth – living between the Already and the Not Yet of wholeness – which I must embrace.
So my friends, rejoice! For we are the blessed. And Blessed are the cracked and broken, for it is we who let in the grace of God.
I think this about sums up what God was trying to tell me today…