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Ripple effect: reflecting complete love

January 21, 2016 1 comment

Water drop(photo credit: Ashten McClintock)

The more I dig in on Romans the more it digs in on me. For anyone who can stumble through my first few lines as I try and get this post on track, I think it will tie together at the end. But I couldn’t think of any way to get this idea up to cruising altitude but to go full throttle and pull the stick back.

When we only love people who are nice to us and who love us back, we’re only demonstrating half of the love of God. Only when we demonstrate genuine love for those who don’t love us are we able to reflect the kind of love God demonstrated to humanity. THAT kind of love is what is supposed to make Jesus followers different.

The love of God that Paul discusses in Romans 5 is the love that restored humanity to peace with God through one single act – the sacrifice of Jesus. By contrasting the essential sinful nature of us all through the story of Adam (see Genesis 3), Paul shows us the power of a single act, whether that act is bad or good. Not to diminish the salvation story Paul is specifically emphasizing, the contrast also shows the profound, unforeseeable ripple effects our actions can have.

As Paul transitions through the story of God’s love for Israel, the demolition (or more correctly stated, the fulfillment) of the law and newfound salvation through grace, and the extension of his grace to nonJews (see Romans 6-11), Paul now encourages those who want to follow Jesus to reflect God’s love in our relationships with others.

From the New Living Translation:

[9-10] Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

…[13] When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

With a quick read, this seems easy enough. After all, it’s fairly easy to show love to those who are like us. If people are nice to us, generally share our same beliefs, etc. then being hospitable isn’t too tall an order.

But before we read further, we have to consider whether hospitality equals “love.” We can be hospitable to people without really loving them; we can be polite, kind, friendly… But love clearly requires something more. We’re told that the love we should demonstrate is rooted in “genuine affection”, which requires truly caring deeply for the other person. There is also a measure of self-sacrifice required as we honor each other and put the needs of others above our own needs.

A quick side note:

I think that in too many circumstances, we get self-righteous and perhaps misread this section. Note that Paul says to hate WHAT is wrong. He does not say “Hate people who do wrong things.” Perhaps this is the origin of the classic evangelical meme: “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” But that becomes a copout we often use to dehumanize people and see them not for their humanity as a reflection of God’s image. We use that as an excuse to make people’s actions define them, when that is clearly not what Jesus taught nor what Paul writes about.

Paul’s instruction comes on the heels of his teaching that God offered salvation to the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous. (Don’t believe me? Go read Romans 11. See previous discussion, linked here.) It’s no accident that Paul first laid the groundwork to demonstrate God’s love before teaching us how we should love. Our love should be a reflection of the kind of love God showed to humanity. God demonstrated love to those who loved him – the Jews – by sending Jesus through the line of Hebrew King David to be raised and trained as a Jew, to become a Jewish rabbi, to challenge the Jewish leadership, and to be crucified as a sacrifice in complete fulfillment of God’s original covenant with Abraham. (It doesn’t get more Jewish than that!)

But God also demonstrated his love to those who did not love him – the Gentiles, who were completely shut off from relationship with God. The Gentiles (used in the Bible to mean everyone who is not a Jew) had never before been entitled to God’s mercy and love. But in demonstrating the fullness of love and mercy, God provided a path of reconciliation for those who previously had been hopeless.

And so as Paul continues in verses 14-21: (Note, I’m cherry-picking a little, but the skipped verses are also relevant.)

[14] Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them…

[16a] Live in harmony with each other…

[17-18] Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

On the heels of Paul’s good news that reconciliation with God is a gift for everyone, he teaches us that to demonstrate God’s love fully is to love people who don’t love us at least as much as those who do love us. When we only love people who are nice to us and who love us back, we’re only demonstrating half of the love of God. As Jesus (remember the rabbi?) taught on the Sermon on the Mount,

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good…

If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?…

If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?… (From Matthew 5:44)

So only when we demonstrate genuine love for those who don’t love us are we able to reflect the kind of love God demonstrated to humanity. THAT kind of love is what is supposed to make Jesus followers different.

I’ll be the first to confess that I am TERRIBLE at this. Far too often I find myself pretending to sit in judgment over others whom I perceive are different from me and who don’t live up to MY standards. (Oh, the sweet, acrid smell of hypocrisy!) I justify being a jerk to them because I perceived they were a jerk to me. Or I justify hating people from other religions as a means of self-defense. That is not the way of Paul’s teaching. That is not the way of Jesus.

That does not mean that all perspectives are created equally, or that all belief systems are equally valid. What that does mean is that every human that has ever walked the planet is an image-bearer of God, and that as a person who claims to follow Jesus, I should love them all and show mercy to all.

 

Autumn, and Sabbath

November 15, 2013 1 comment

I have found no place on earth more lovely than the Colorado Rocky Mountains in autumn. The aspen leaves have faded and fallen, and we’ve enjoyed our first snows as the Earth moves toward a winter’s rest. The days are shorter, the elk and deer are preparing for their winter gestational cycles, to mature into the young calves of spring. The green grasses of summer crisps brown underfoot, and an occasional fog darkens the days, freezes to the trees, and shimmer like a billion crystals in the pine groves.

As the calendar ebbs and the daylight gets shorter, I find myself in a more contemplative mood, reflecting on another year nearly gone. This year, like many before, has been full of great joys and more than a few frustrations, but in the main it has been a good year. In the “personal improvement” category, I have been able to chalk up a few wins.

First, and perhaps least on my list, I’m ending this year with the best level of physical fitness I’ve ever had. This has been no easy task, as I will likely have ridden 4,000 miles on my bicycle and spent 3-4 days each week in the gym. Coupled with a healthy diet – some say borderline ascetic – I’ve kept a very lean, strong frame.

Second came in the form of a mixed blessing. In April I was replaced as CEO of the company I had run since 2008. I was asked (and accepted) to remain with the company that I have loved for nearly a decade (hired on in 2006) and was able to craft a role more aligned with my talents and passions. I hadn’t realized how much stress I had been under! While I work at least as many hours as before, I came to realize that I want neither the responsibility nor the stress that the guy at the top has to shoulder. I was replaced with a friend, and it’s an honor and joy to serve with him.

Third, and most important, I’ve been able to return to deeper reading and deeper thinking. Carrying less stress and adjusting my calendar a bit, I’ve created space in my life for scripture and other deep readings, prayer, meditation, and much thought. By creating a little margin in my head I’ve been able to get back in touch with some of the disciplines that have brought me much joy in years past.

I recently read a series of short books by Laura Vanderkam that have helped me begin to build the same level of discipline around my schedule that I have had in physical fitness and diet for years. My days start much earlier (and end earlier), but have more structure. The alarm sounds at 5:05 AM and I’m up within a few minutes. Three days a week I’m in the gym for an hour; two days I’m reading by the fire. I get a good two hours of important life done before the sun comes up and the schedule of the day imposes.

I also realized that I have blocks of productive time from 8:00 until around 10:30, which I block for work-related reading, writing, and production. I try and avoid meetings or calls during this period, and I don’t check email. (This has been a huge adjustment in a virtual company where we all work from home!) Around 10:30 or 11:00 I’ll check and process email for a while, and then shut it off when the burning embers of my inbox go back to a smolder. I return any calls, make lunch, and get back to production work or any conference calls I’m essential for.

The afternoon is more of the same, with a block of time followed by the niggling issues of email or phone calls. I hit a bit of a wall around 3:00, but that gives me a chance to pick up a kid from school and handle a few personal errands if necessary. I get another flurry of productivity between 4:00 and 7:00, and by then it’s time to shut down the day and do family time.

The overarching theme here is “rhythm.” Like the turning of seasons or the steady inhale-exhale, I believe we are creatures of rhythm. I also believe that this is part of the spiritual truth embedded in the practice of Sabbath. Wayne Muller notes that the world’s great religions all esteem the notion of Sabbath – or deep rest and rhythm – as a time of contemplation, centering, and removing our minds from the incessant crush of busyness. Whether we practice Sabbath because of a deep religious heritage or for a time of personal re-centering, I’ve become a firm believer in built in intentional seasons of rest.

An easy way I’ve started this is with a no-email-on-Sabbath rule. It may seem frivolous but for a guy whose business life revolves so much around email (plus all the social emails that come into personal accounts) I found it too tempting to check my email when I had no legitimate reason to do so. Sitting in traffic, during a commercial break on family TV night, bored in church, sitting on a chair lift on a snowy afternoon – I’ve bowed to my email inbox in all these places, some of which are too sacred to be interrupted by the shrill call of email. So now, from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday email is strictly forbidden for me.

The first few weeks I tried this I was surprised and disappointed at how addicted I am to my email. Not wanting to have someone else’s expectations sitting unmet in my inbox, I fretted over what is getting stale or how far behind I might be getting as folks continued to lob stuff to me when I wasn’t looking. But after a few weeks it has become not only my new normal; it’s something I eagerly look forward to.

I understand that for many this is milquetoast. “It’s not a REAL Sabbath” folks can legitimately say. I am not keeping a Jewish Sabbath, and I’m not avoiding many other forms of technology in which I can operate and still enjoy rest. But getting the constant stressor and distraction of email out of my life for at least a solid 24 hours each week has made a profound difference in my stress levels and in my mindfulness.

Sabbath is quickly coming on this autumn Friday here in the Rockies; the sun is all but gone by 5:00 PM. As my Cabernet muse beckons, I’ll begin Sabbath with a little reflection on this week nearly gone, and some loose thinking of the new week about to be born. And I’ll do it with a greater level of peace and satisfaction than I’ve had in a long time.

Join me in Sabbath.

The doubt essential to faith

Lesley Hazelton exploring conviction, doubt, and the indelible connection between doubt and faith. Another great story by TED.

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Where Good Ideas Come From

Great exploration about the process of innovation, by Steven Johnson.

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Zen and the Art of life

July 29, 2011 4 comments

This is a bit of a departure from our more “family stuff” posts, but…well, it’s a blog. So I thought I’d share something else that’s going on big in my life.

One of my best friends signed up for the Washington National Guard back in January. For the bulk of this year he has been working toward various fitness and other preparedness goals to make sure he’s ready. Today is his last day on the job with our company for at least four months. He’s off to the enchanting summertime weather of rural Georgia, leaving behind the ungodly August swelter of Seattle. (Or maybe I have that backwards.)

Anyway, my “so long for now” message to my buddy reminded me of some important takeaways from some books and a movie that I think are pretty powerful. First, there is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Oddly, both my mom and another best buddy gave me a copy within about 20 minutes of each other. I read it last month and, while I’m sure it means different things to different readers, the big takeaway for me was the reminder that you can only be who you are; if you try and bend to a mold of someone else’s making, you’ll be constantly at odds with your true nature.

That’s kind of the takeaway for me from the movie, The Adjustment Bureau, which we watched last night. The big idea that resonated with me is that regardless of the expectations others place on you, only you can make the choice between chasing what is expected of you and what you are truly passionate about. If you have really found that, you are a rare breed. If, like me, you continue to search for that, then you are blessedly restless and will remain, to a certain degree, ill-at-ease. Unfortunately our world is full of people who have never heard the voice calling them to something bigger, more real, resigning them to a drab life on a hamster wheel, just putting one foot in front of the other.

I’m now reading “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. I’m about a third of the way through and some of the takeaways are the same. He was weird and did a lot of drugs, but his story is very Zen like – living life in the moment, savoring simplicity, and being real. (Bear in mind that I’m not saying that about Kerouac; I have no idea beyond his reputation. I’m speaking only to the message I’m getting from the book, now 1/3 of the way through.)

That’s about it. Just thought I’d put that out there as musings du jour.