love

"We Christians are a Bunch of Scheming Swindlers".

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The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
--Søren Kierkegaard (Taken from Dr. Richard Beck)

To read Kierkegaard’s words might lead one to conclude that we ought to read the Bible literally. Even Kierkegaard would disagree. Rather, the call of Kierkegaard is the critique to read the Bible then use various rationalizations to avoid the ways we are convinced by the Truth and Love of the Good News. Time and time again we read about how God recklessly forgives. We find justifications to measure forgiveness. We hear Jesus place a priority on accepting the “others” the authorities rejected, we prioritize our own acceptance.

We are all able to cite the Bible to justify our current positions and feelings. We are less able to cite the Bible to challenge or critique our current positions. And when we do find scripture that challenges us, we are clever enough to cast it aside.

Sell all your possessions? Pick up the cross? Welcome the widow, orphan and sojourner? Keep the Sabbath? Prioritize love at the expense of truth?

Instead, I find myself saying, “The Bible is so cryptic and difficult to understand.”

Giving What You Don't Have To Someone Who Doesn't Want It

Philosopher Jacques Lacan said that love is giving what you don’t have to someone who doesn’t want it. If I were to create a non-nonsensical statement that I think a stereotypical philosopher would say, this is just about perfect.

What the heck does this mean? How can I give what I don’t have? And how is it loving to give this non-possession to someone who does not want it? I have been handed many flyers only to resent the one giving me what I now consider a scrap of trash to throw away. I did not want it and yet I am holding it. I don’t think that is love.

I have not read Lacan. I am not that smart. However, this definition of love is right in line with the Gospel.

First of all, that which we do not have goes by another name. It is what we lack. Thus, giving what you lack to someone is a practice of vulnerability and trust. When I am vulnerable to someone and give my lack (lack of confidence or lack of “having it all together” for instance) the other person is offered what I don’t have.

Now, when this other person is offered what I don’t have the other person probably was not looking for it. I cannot imagine that people on dating sites are putting in their profile, “I am looking for someone who is broken and lacking in the following ways…” Of course not. When we set out to find a partner, we are typically looking for someone who “completes us” or “fills us” or adds to our life in any number of ways. We look for someone who is the “total package”. We are not looking for lack.

And yet, when we meet someone who offers what were not looking for we have a choice. We can reject it - we were not looking for this to begin with - or we can receive it. In receiving the other person’s lack or brokenness we receive the very thing we did not think we wanted.

This is love.

We see this in the Christian communion. Jesus offers his broken body, his lack, to the world. In turn we are given a choice. Do we receive this broken body of the Christ or do we reject it? Christ offers us not his strength or wholeness, but his weakness and brokenness.

Some find it difficult to imagine that Christ was weak or broken or lacking in anything. I get it, who wants to worship a weak God?

However, this the the point. We are looking for a strong God, we are not looking for a weak God.

By offering the very thing we did not think we want (a weak, broken and crucified God) we encounter what love looks and feels like. When we reject the weakness and brokenness of God, then we reject the very gift of God to us.

Just as God, who needs nothing, receives our lack and brokenness as the way to love us. God responds in kind by offering God’s brokenness.

The question is not is God broken or lacking, but what will you and I choose to do with the brokenness of God offered to us?

How is "Love one another" a New Commandment?

In John 13:34-35 Jesus says “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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Upon reflection I have to ask, “How is this a NEW commandment? Didn’t Jesus talk about and share love all the time? Then what makes this so NEW?”

Yes, Jesus taught about and lived out love in so many different ways so the way this commandment is NEW is the direction of the love.

Notice that Jesus says we are to love one another and that through loving one another we are disciples of Jesus. The direction of the love is toward the other person. More specifically, the direction of the love is NOT toward Jesus.

Perhaps what makes this a NEW commandment is that Jesus is removing himself from the equation of the direction of love and commanding disciples to love the other person. What is new is that Jesus is removing the requirement of direct affection and love of him (the leader) as proof that the disciple follows the leader.

It is much more common for the leader to say, “direct your love toward me and in this way people will know you are my disciples.” Rather Jesus says the opposite.

The more I come to discover about Jesus the more I am amazed at the constant kenosis (self-emptying) of God in Christ. Jesus came down, was obedient to even the point of death, and then when giving his farewell address to his disciples he says - put one another as the direction of your love.

What does it mean for us in the Church to say, “we love you Jesus” and for Jesus to say, “please direct your love to one another”?

Love from Truth or Truth from Love?

Since the United Methodist Church's General Conference in Portland, Oregon I have been reading and listening more than I have been writing as a way to better understand my sisters and brothers around the connection who hold different positions than I do. It has been a mentally and spiritually exhausting discipline and through this work, I believe I am drawing closer to a foundational difference in Christ's church. I will phrase it in a question: 

Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
— John 18:38 and Matthew 9:13

Does Love come from Truth or does Truth come from Love? 

If love comes from truth then truth effects the expression of love. For instance, the person on the street corner with a megaphone or those who make videos trying to convince others of a truth are (in my experience) doing these actions not out of judgement but out of love. The megaphone preacher has a love for people and fears that people are going to hell. As an act of love driven by this understanding of truth, the person stands and yells in order to get people's attention. One preacher told me that if you saw someone walking into the street and they did not see a bus coming down on them, wouldn't you yell about the bus to the person? There are a number of videos put out by groups in the UMC that are operating out of this understanding of what is fundamental. Their love for others, Christ and his church are such is rooted in a Truth that drives their actions. 

However I have noticed there are others who see truth comes from love. That is that love is the primary or foundation of action and that truth is in service of love. Which means that there would be times when truth might be withheld or not shared or even hidden in order to more fully express love. When someone comes into my office and asks why did their beloved get run over by a bus I don't tell them the truth that their beloved was drunk as a skunk and wandered into the street and due to the full impact of a two ton bus their body could not handle their heart stopped. While this may be true, this is not the response that is needed. Rather a shared weeping and mourning is the response. 

Some might say that Truth and Love are one in the same, that they are both needed and required. That in fact, Truth and Love are inseparable. Scripture is cited and stories of Jesus are shared in order to make the case. I get it, perhaps they are correct. But for as many scriptures they cite, I can cite that many more on how love stands alone and that all things flow from it and it has no equal. I can make the Biblical case that Truth comes from Love, but in me doing that I become a person who acts like love comes from truth. I have a truth that I want to convince others and try to do it as loving as I can, but in the end my loving actions are filtered through a desire to communicate truth. 

Therein lies the problem that I struggle with my more zealous sisters and brothers on the left and right. When Truth is the primary value we are not able to hear one another. We are too busy trying to convince each other, as loving as we can, what is correct or true. 

My friend and colleague Rev. Ryan Kiblinger is a wonderful witness for me. He and I disagree on theological and social issues and yet I could not find a better example of a person who can practice disagreement with great love as his foundation. Be it on social media or in person Rev. Kiblinger is a person who I give thanks to God for because at his core he lives out a Truth from Love. I hope to also be a person who lives with the foundation of Love - even if that comes at the expense of Truth.