Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I have always considered myself a relatively caring person. I mean really! I have been a minister, an EMT, a disaster relief worker, a counselor. Almost everything I have ever done has been service oriented.
I come by this honestly. Service to others, often costly service, has been a hallmark of my family of origin. My grandfather and grandmother were Mennonite missionaries to the Cheyenne tribe in Montana and served them with humility and compassion. Aunts and Uncles served as doctors and minister, caring for others, serving their communities in many ways. Cousins have worked tirelessly for non-profits, seeking to better the lives of those whom God has placed in their path. It is the Kliewer way.
But recently while reading Brennan Manning's book The Wisdom of Tenderness I was challenged to look at myself again. Manning points out how, in many places, the Bible sends us a message that is somewhat different from what we might expect. In John 13 (love on another as I have loved you), I John 4:11 (Since God loved us so much, we should love one another), and Matthew 22 (love God and love your neighbor), we are challenged, as our response to God's love, to love those around us.
We might expect to be told to respond to God's love by loving God in return. Not to mention worship God and obey God. But no, we are told to love those around us. No, not just to love those around us, but to love everyone around us. In the parable of the great judgement in Matthew 25 we have that incredible story where people are judged based upon whether they responded in love to the hungry, thirsty, naked Jesus. When the people questioned when they had ever seen Jesus in need, and responded to him, Jesus answer, "when you did this for the least of these, you did it to me."
This reminds us of a powerful fact. God, is all those we meet. All. Sometimes, Manning reminds us, "he's buried there, sometimes he's bound hand and foot there, but he's there." That means that when we love "the least of these" we love God. Perhaps the words of the Bible aren't as strange as we think.
The point is clear. We are surrounded by people who are hungry, thirsty and naked, literally. Those who are homeless, in poverty, afflicted by mental illness and more. We are also surrounded by people who are hungry, thirsty and naked in other ways as well. Hungry for love and understanding, thirsty for affirmation and respect, naked in their loneliness, in the harsh light of bad decisions.
We are to love all these. Not just the one's who are easy to love. Not just the one's who are rewarding to love. But also those who are hard to love. Those who don't respond. Those who hurt and wound us. Those who ignore us. Those whom society judges and reject. We are too love them all.
I have come to realize that all too often my love is selective. I love those who are lovable. I love those I am "paid" to love. I love people when others notice, and give me credit. But there are too many I don't love.
May God give me grace. May I so let God love me that I am permeated with God's love, filled to such a degree that all I say and do will be an expression of who I am in Christ. I am a long way from being in that place. May the journey begin.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
It has been an interesting week. After a couple of days of being sick, I am now in full "meeting mode" at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA. Meetings are odd things. Generally I don't like them, and the longer the meeting is, the less I like it. This meeting goes for over a week. And so far I have spent hours in a downstairs room (no windows) participating in a committee. We have been discussing social justice issues, an important point of focus for any church (if you don't believe me wander through the Minor Prophets). But it is a meeting, and a meeting about church governance at that. What I jokingly call "my version of hell."
But there have been wonderful moments. A chance to meet with a man who had a lot of influence on my life in college days (Steve Hayner), with a cousin, and chance encounters with other people from the narrative of my life. Finding new friends who have open hearts and minds. I have also had moments, during the breaks to read. I have been chewing on a book by Wayne Muller, an author recommended by a counselor friend.
The book, How, Then, Shall We Live?" focuses on four critical questions we must ask ourselves if we want to find the meaning of our lives. The questions are "Who Am I?", "What do I love?", "How shall I live, knowing I will die?", and What is my gift to the family of earth?"
It got me thinking about the questions we as the Presbyterian Church are asking. We seem to be asking the wrong questions. Or perhaps not asking the wrong questions, but trying to answer questions about things like social justice without having asked the right questions first. Such as "Who are we?" "How do we as the church love God in Christ?" It seems we have to answer those questions first, before we can talk about how we live, about how we take our place in the family of earth.
Muller suggests that if we want to move on the questions about how we live in the world, we must first work on our inner life, and in that way create a life of beauty and meaning. This seems to be a message I am seeing a lot lately. Maybe it is being said more, or perhaps I am merely more prepared to hear it. Mullen calls this becoming intimate with self and sacred. Eckhart talks about the dialog between the kingdom within us and the spirit that flourishes in the world around us. The Bible talks about the mystery of "Christ in us." Muller calls it "finding our story."
However we name it, it is that part of us that is true, it is us created in God's image, and recreated when God, in the Holy Spirit, becomes active at the center of who we are, in our hearts. When we find this self Muller insists, we find acceptance. We know we are loved, and even loveable, in spite of our flaws. We learn to take what is good in us, and work with it, celebrate it, nurture it, restore it, and thus grow and expand. When we find acceptance and thus can be "who we really are", then we can act.
Yes, this may sound a little, 'out there', and no, I have not wrapped my head or my heart around it completely. But somewhere in this movement inward, is the seed of a movement outward that will be meaningful. It is when this inward movement has taken place, when we find what is good and true, and what is bad and false about ourselves, and embrace that self in the context of God's love, that meaningful action takes place. It matters not whether the heart be mine, or the heart of the church.