- A fuzzy feeling or emotion. (the Hallmark card)
- A romantic sentiment. (Any romantic comedy with Matthew McConaughey or Hugh Grant.)
- Sex. (Provide your own example.)
- You can use the word love to describe how you feel about bacon or how you feel about your mother. The same word.
I have two frustrations with the word "love." First of all, the word “love” is so overused in our culture that it’s empty of meaning. It has become a complete cliche. For instance, "love" can mean:
The crisis continues in Ferguson. People in St. Louis are weary and worried. Beyond the immediate need for security, there is a mountainous road ahead to attain some kind of genuine peace. Long after the streets of Ferguson quiet down (and we pray soon), there a difficult road to true and lasting social harmony. This isn't a Ferguson issue, it's a St. Louis issue. And I would argue, it's a broader issue for an increasingly polarized America.
So what do we do in social unrest? How do we begin to address racial tension, segregation, and systemic societal woes?
Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers), the children's TV icon, once wrote about the struggles of his childhood. In his book about Mr. Rogers, I'm Proud of You, Tim Madigan records Roger's own words about how he coped with being a "pudgy, bookish, and extremely shy" boy. After being bullied and taunted, Rogers writes:
I started to look behind the things that people did and said: and little by little, concluded that Antoine de Saint-Exupery was right when he wrote The Little Prince: What is essential is invisible to the eyes. So after a lot of sadness, I began a lifelong search for what is essential, what it is about my neighbor that doesn't meet the eye."
In the age of digital media and instant Twitter responses (#ferguson, #handsupdontshoot), raw images abound. But are we missing something? There are "essential" things that are "invisible to the eyes." There is an echo of Jesus' Great Commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" when Rogers says, "what it is about my neighbor that doesn't meet the eye." Loving your neighbor as yourself requires you to search beyond skin and circumstance to find out who your neighbor truly is.
What is it in my neighbor that I can't see? What's behind his words? What's in her background? What has he experienced that I haven't? Discovering what's behind a person - the things not easily visible - takes time and patience. It takes clear communication and a persistent desire to understand the other. Is it obsessively asking the question, "Who are you?"
What if the protester and the front-line police officer were experiencing the same thing. Behind the angry yelling, and "hands up," the protester is worried and desperate. And maybe behind the flack jacket and riot mask the officer is too. But words and tweets fly by, as do tear gas canisters and bricks. There is no understanding.
As I pray for peace in my city, I wonder how God might want me to be a part of it. My first move is the task of understanding my neighbors, especially those different from me. A compassionate curiosity causes me to wonder, "What is it about my neighbor that doesn't meet the eye?"
I am burdened by the unrest in Ferguson, MO, on the northern end of the St. Louis metro area. Since Saturday, tensions have been running high after a Ferguson police officer shot an unarmed African-American teenager, Mike Brown. Tensions have been running high. In addition to peaceful protests and calls for justice, there has been rioting, looting, and stand-offs with local police.
There's an old saying, "Never waste a good crisis." There is nothing good about this crisis, but we dare not let it pass without learning from it. This demands our attention and understanding. Mass outbursts of anger in the streets don't happen overnight. Behind the angry displays are deep roots of fear and desperation.
For decades, parts of our city have lived in chronic poverty and crime. These communities have been isolated and oppressed. Children grow up in cycles of desperation and frustration. Their worldview is painted by their segregation, transient living situations, broken educational systems, and lack of basic needs. While violence cannot be justified, the emotion that has come from this event reveals serious and complex societal ills. Poverty, joblessness, racism, segregation.
In all of this, we must not forget that a young man has died and a family is grieving. We dare not diminish the value of a life. Many seek to profit from tragedy, by looting or by politicking. We will not dismiss the fact that tragedy has most certainly occurred.
Please join me in prayer for peace, reconciliation, and long-term change in our communities. Also, I have some members of my church who are police officers called to work 12 hour shifts in Ferguson. We lift our prayers with weak and feeble hands, and place them in the mighty and merciful hands of God.
"It's always seemed strange to me. The things we admire in men, kindness, generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second." - John Steinbeck through the character Doc in Cannery Row
Does the Christian life look different from any other life? Is life in Christ visibly distinct? John Steinbeck comments that the great traits and values that we admire are hard to work out in real life. While we may admire them, it's easier to fall back into the system. And these admirable traits often lead to "failure" while traits of self-interest lead to "success." Greed is more advantageous than generosity. Meanness easier than kindness. And so on.
So is it possible to actually live out the radically selfless calls of the Christ life? To "love enemies?" To sacrifice for the sake a resurrected Lord? To stick with one spouse for an entire life? To give without expecting anything in return? To rejoice in suffering? To set aside individual profit for the sake of communal benefit?
Increasingly, life in America is more like Babylon than Zion. Christians have to navigate a "foreign" context where the system's values and beliefs run counter to the calling of the Christ life. How do we live the "Zion life" while in Babylon? A visibly distinct, peculiar, and counter-intuitive life that confounds our neighbors and confronts the present system?
No answers, just asking the question.
We have returned from a family vacation, a tour of the Great Lakes - Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior. One fifth of the world's fresh water is contained in the five Great Lakes. Lake Superior is the largest, deepest, and coldest of the lakes. Time away on family vacation reminded me of two things:
1.) We work from our rest. We can't work effectively or faithfully without adequate rest. Exhaustion stifles creativity, skill, and the capacity to care. We may come back to a full e-mail inbox (I had 2,400), but we return with clearer perspective and renewed energy.
2.) Vacations create lasting memories. Do you remember a family vacation as a child? The long car ride? The flat tire? The laughter on a roller coaster ride? Our oldest child is 9, and we've had the realization that she's halfway through her time at home (if she leaves at 18). These days are precious and fleeting. Vacations do come at a cost. But the memories of the experience will be imprinted on us and our children for decades. We pass on to our children an appreciation for rest, an awe of created beauty, and a delight in each other's company (even after 24 total hours of driving).
Now back to work . . .
I'm on vacation with my family for some much needed rest and quality family time. Here's a previous post on the necessity of rest.
Inspired by 1.) Trinity Sunday. 2.) Playing in clover-laden grass with a 10-month-old.
Three Leaf Clover
This is proof of mystery;
Signatures of Majesty.
Signed unto infinity.
On display in leaves of three.
Wonder of the Trinity,
Who stoops into anarchy,
To present a gift to me,
By means of biology.
Made with creativity;
Blood painted on a tree;
Tongues spoke in plurality;
Counters all calamity.
Presence spans the widest sea.
Sure to make the demons flee.
Come adore on bended knee.
Reminded by these leaves of three.
“Undertake it? No; not by yourself. You are too weak. You will fail before the day is out. But what you cannot do yourself Another can do for you. His iron will can work through your feeble will, and strengthen it with a strength which is not your own.”
- Forbes Robinson
Paul says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Cor. 4:7). You feel like a weak, cracked, chipped vessel? Paul makes it clear. It’s not about the vessel, but the contents. We are weak vessels with powerful contents. Your contents are exceedingly great - the very death and life of Jesus in you.
You say, “I have nothing to give. I'm too weak.” God’s word respectfully disagrees. God says, “Someone needs what you have. Start pouring and see what happens." Someone needs your contents. Give away and watch God give more. We act as if we're squeezing juice out of a raisin while God is pouring into us, our cup spilling over. We are weak vessels with powerful contents.
I'm supposed to plug this event because I'm speaking at it. So here it is. I'm not the New York Times best selling author. I'm not the speaker of the Lutheran Hour. Scroll to the far bottom of the page. Literally, the bottom of the page.
Seriously, I am excited to be invited. Our congregation is chewing on two words - Loved and Sent. The word mission comes from the Latin missio - "to send." The term "apostle" means "sent one." The inference is that a "sent one" is sent with the authority of the sender. So this is our task as a people of God. We can't remain static. We're sent.