Friday, July 20, 2018

"Let Love Be Genuine"

"Let love be genuine," and with that as the introduction (Romans 12.9-21), Paul adds a list of things that make love genuine; the first of which is "hate what is evil," which is a bit startling, when I think about it, that here is where "genuine love" begins - the absolute and complete rejection of what is evil.

Because if there's any collusion with evil, intentional or innocent, even a wee bit, the whole project, as Paul sees it, falls apart. If evil, and we'll get to that in a moment, is tolerated, genuine love dies and is likely to be replaced by "tribal love," the kind of love Jesus notes in suggesting that anyone can love those who are just like we are. But that's not love, not even close.

So, Paul cuts to the chase, no holds barred, no hesitation: Hate what is evil ... and, then, hold fast to what is good. In other words, we can get all fussy about what we don't like, but that's not enough; we have to have something positive to hold on to, something right and good to pursue, something to fill the heart, occupy the center, and keep us moving along the road of faith, hope and love ... something to offer to the world.

And, so Paul begins his list:

"Love one another with mutual affection" ... books could be written on this, and should be, yet the word that catches my attention is "mutual" ... a word filled with the power of equality ... we are all equal in the sight of God, and thus to love one another, to be mindful of one another, eliminates all distinctions, such as noted by Paul elsewhere: neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor master, neither male nor female - these powerful distinctions that drive and order our world (religion, economic status and gender) no longer count in Christ, and can no longer determine how love.


"Outdo one another in showing honor" ... more books, for sure, about how we honor one another, and while "competition" with one another on the usual suspects of religion, economic status and gender are deadly to the soul, the competitive effort to show honor to one another is heaven's game; here is where some of the rubber hits the road - because some parts of our world have no trouble getting honored, and some parts less so. Paul's imagery of the body in Corinthians coincides here - the more obvious parts that easily gain our honor is one thing, but paying attention to those parts that are easily overlooked is another. Immediately, I see how this dovetails with Paul's reminder of mutuality, with the big question: Who do we overlook? Who might we ignore? And who might we deem less than honorable, less deserving of our attention, our concern, our regard? Here is where faith and life collide, where faith and politics bump into another ... at the border, if you will ... or in places like Wall Street where economic status determines everything and in some churches where gender is lord rather Christ.

More later ...

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Growing Up and Leaving Home

Growing up is all about leaving home. And if my life-experience means anything, "leaving home" is a recurring event, sometimes by choice, and sometimes by circumstance beyond our control. However it happens, growth in thought and emotion requires that we leave our home, and what we do upon leaving home is to seek another one, and in between the one and the other, a lot of traveling, uncertainty, dead-ends and side trips, until we arrive somewhere that offers settlement, security, a place to call home.

But "this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through" says it well. And sooner or later, the new "home" becomes staid and boring, unproductive and damaging to the human spirit, the God-created human spirit that longs for adventure, for new learning, for fresh hope and new friends. So, we pack our bags again and take off. Some look at us and wonder why. What's wrong with home, because it's their home, too, and they've settled down in it, they've sunk deep roots, and others around them sink their own roots, too, and with tendrils and vines, ensnare one another, making it virtually impossible to leave, or at least to leave without great effort, to uproot ourselves, and likely uproot others, too, in the process, tearing away the tendrils of "love" that hold us in place, vines that encircle and clutch and cling and tell us, "stay put."

But the human spirit, energized by the creator of our spirit, yearns and leans, and pulls and tugs ... to seek freedom on the road, to find a new home, a home that will last for awhile, until the urge to leave again emerges.

To "stay home" eventually kills the spirit, and nothing more deadly than a dead spirit, because dead spirits still "live" like zombies, sucking the life juices out of the still-living. Sucking the life out of others, until they too die, and become part of the living dead, or something like that.

To "stay home" beyond the early years when home provides nurture, comfort and formation, is deadly. To "leave home" is essential to the soul's health, and ultimately to the home in which we were reared, because when someone leaves home, the home is changed, too, maybe even transformed into something ever-more dynamic and growing.

The road ahead always beckons, and the spirit yearns to get going.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Bridge Building in Harsh Times

I doubt.
I love.
I see.
I think.

Maybe I'm wrong.
Maybe I'm too quick.
Maybe I should step back.
Maybe I should try for more bridges.

And then I see the children.
I hear their parents weep.
I hear the patent lies.
And watch the vulgar piety.

How to build bridges when people are dying.
How to seek peace when cruelty is de rigueur.
When I'm branded a murderer for my abortion views.
When I'm a globalist and not a nationalist.

When every bridge is deemed heresy.
When political views will not honor women.
When theology loves hell more than heaven.
When government serves the rich and not the poor.

Maybe I'm wrong.
I have my doubts.
But so much is at stake.
And history shows:

In all its terror.
In all its honesty.
Those who built bridges with the Brown Shirts.
Ended up dead!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Spiritual Bubble Living

For reasons known but to God, my Christian Faith will not allow me to live in a spiritual bubble.

Early on, of course, it was all bubble ... "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder."

Bubbles are needed for nurturing, I suppose, as a crib and swaddling is needed for an infant.

But at some point, I outgrew the bubble, or maybe, better yet, the bubble saw its job as done, turned away and bid me farewell.

Was it easy to watch the bubble walk away?

It still isn't easy.

There are moments when I look at the bubble and long for its comfort and innocence ... all sweet jesus ... no border kids, no killing of Palestinians, no poverty, no rightwing vulgarity ... just sweetness and light ... sounds like an extended vacation on a small Greek island ...

Where or where has my bubble gone?

My bubble did it's job, and when the job was done, it moved on ...

It's not easy, sometimes.

But here I am ... for reasons known but to God, my christian Faith will not allow me to live in a spiritual bubble.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day Prayer

Eternal God,
Father of all mercies,
Mother of all love.

Grant to all fathers this day your abiding mercies.
Flow through them, I pray, that they might love this world.
To love their biological children, for sure.
Their spiritual children, as well, and that's all the children of the world.

Because love cannot be selective.
Love cannot say: "My own, and not yours."
Love cannot turn a blind eye to the child at our border.
Love, if it's love, is expansive and welcoming and dangerous.
Dangerous for those who dare to love.
Dangerous for those who tell lies about our world.

The children at the border cry out.
Let no father, this day, go unmoved by their sadness and tears.
Let no father find joy isolated from reality.
Joy without the tempering of a child's cry for help.
Is no joy at all.
But only pretense and avoidance.
A game played by the privileged, a game no one can ever win.

Eternal God, the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ.
Eternal Mother of the Nations.
Father/Mother of all that is right and good and just.
Bless the fathers of the world.

That fathers everywhere would say.
"All are mine."
"Every tear a child sheds I will dry."
"Every little one belongs to my dear family."

"I am the father of all the children."

My prayer, O God.
For this Father's Day.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

33 Languages

33 languages ... that's what the sign said for the California written driver's test. And when I began my test, there was a long list of options from which to choose.

I thought: How comforting to tens of thousands of first-generation immigrants who are working hard, making a living, supporting a family, and building a life for themselves. They need to drive, and there's no sense making life more difficult for people who are offering a solid contribution to the wellbeing of California.

I thought of those who are all fussy and fidgety about "speaking English." How silly of them.

If the history of immigrants shows us anything, it's this: first generation immigrants cling to their native tongue. That was true with Germans, Swedes and Norwegians, and if they were Lutheran, they worshipped in their native tongue for several generations, until English won the day.

By the second, and for the sure, the third generation, English is spoken, and the native tongue retained only by Gramma and Grampa, or the few cuss words that get handed down for a few more generations.

That's true for the Italians, the Poles, the Russians, the Chinese and the Japanese, and every other tongue that's come to America.

Some advice to those who abuse folks who have a tongue other than English, or at least can speak English only haltingly, take a breath. Your ancestors, if from anywhere other than the English Isles, went through the same process.

With all our immigrants, we're a bigger and better nation, and those of us who speak English owe some kindness and understanding to our neighbors. Is this too much to ask? I don't think so. 

Yup. 33 languages. For me, a wonderful thing.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Presbyterians, Prophetic Tradition, Slavery ... and Nazi Germany

As difficult as it is, the history of Nazi Germany reminds us of how easily German Christians were suborned by Hitler, either to openly support him, or retreat into pious quietism. Many a German Christian believed that Hitler was god-sent to cleanse the nation of immoral and unclean elements, and that the church might once again regain a status of influence and glory lost after the defeat of WW1.

Within my own Presbyterian History, these elements are present - as we have seen in the South, when slavers made sure that the "spirituality of the church" kept pulpits silent on the evils of slavery, and rather spent their time lamenting booze, card playing, theater attendance and cussing.

Thankfully, as with Barth and Bonhoeffer in Germany, the tradition of prophetic critique and protest also exists. They clearly saw the difference between loyalty to Christ and an idolatrous nationalism of Germany First.

While much of the Southern Church remained quiet in the antebellum period, and after the war, with the emergence of Jim Crow, Northern pulpits attacked the evils of slavery, and many a Christian leader decried the evils of voter suppression and school segregation.

During the Civil Rights era, when some preachers in the South touched the topic of segregation, they immediately lost their pulpits. While others were encouraged to "bide their time, give it more study and prayer."

So, what shall we choose?

Support for the powers-that-be, to "make American great again"?

Quiet piety?

An ill-begotten patience?

Or clear-headed critique of the rising tide of evil besieging our land? 

While many a German leader saw Hitler as a clear and present threat, others believed that the rising economy, the laws against Jews, and dreams of lebensraum, were all for the best.