Love One Another

Jesus tells us to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves, even to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  And he makes clear that our “neighbor” includes people who think and worship differently from us.  It is a lot easier to love people who are like us.  This is hard teaching.  Maybe Jesus was just crazy.

During the presidency of Barack Obama, there were many people who were very angry at him and his policies, who feared that he was bringing Socialism.  Today, at the beginning of the presidency of Donald Trump, there are other people who are very angry at him and the policies he has advocated, who fear that he may be an American version of Adolph Hitler.  Love?  You’ve got to be kidding.

On Inauguration Day I was reading The Grace in Aging (2014) by Kathleen Dowling Singh, whose perspective is primarily Buddhist.  I read:

The mind of anger often appears as judgment….Judging others, we shore up our own beliefs and assumptions.  Judging others allows us to feel superior.  That wish to feel superior is harmful.  It feeds our fictional self, keeping us in ignorance.  Judging others rips us out of interbeing and connection.  It arises from ignorance and obstructs compassion….Judging puts out a directed negativity and adds to the toxicity of the world.

Singh ends that chapter encouraging us as we age to “hold the space for peace in the world.”  Whether we are following her advice or following Jesus’ commandment to love one another, I don’t think it’s very comfortable.  It requires being open and vulnerable, being aware of our limitations, respecting everyone as a beloved child of God who may well carry a piece of truth that needs to be heard.  That’s challenging.  Slogans and put-downs are a lot easier.

Queries:

How do you discern Truth?

What does it mean to love those with whom you disagree?

Prayer:

Richard Rohr, in his Daily Meditation for Saturday, January 21, 2017, describes a prayer of the heart.  “Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, and you want to play it out or attach to it, move that thought or person literally into your heart space…,” which is a place where “it is almost impossible to comment, judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic.”  Then open your heart into the heart of God.

For further reference:

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (See Psalm 133.)

“Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” (See John 16: 1-4.)

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Living in Unknowing

I read an article in the newspaper saying that the time to dig up iris and divide them is July-August.  At the very end of August (and into September), I decided that for the first time in twenty years (instead of every three or four years) I would dig up my iris.  The little garden plot had become a jungle of long leaves, and the iris had not bloomed well this spring.  Having put off the digging up and dividing for years because I didn’t know how to do it, I turned to YouTube and watched two videos about how to do it and how easy it was.

I am amazed at how many iris came out of the garden and how few went back in where they had been.  The process was far from easy, and without an experienced person to answer my questions live on the spot, I have no certainty that what I did in the digging up phase or in the planting phase will result in healthy and blooming iris next spring.  Now what I can do is water and wait.

So much of life is like that.  At the end of a certain project what will come next?  Will there be another project and more work?  We really can’t know.  Or, we may have inner clarity that a move is in order, but what we will face in preparing to move and being in the new place is largely unknown.  We may be able to read some guides, get some information, but ultimately we don’t really know what will come.

I think I get captured by fear of failure, fear of being shamed, and that fear can keep me from going forward.  But there is another perspective—knowing God loves us.

All the little things in our lives are part of a much bigger picture.  God is very much in the midst of failures as well as successes, good beyond measure can come even from defeat,  life is full of surprises.  And staying stuck in fear can let your iris turn into a tangled jungle that is much harder to deal with, and with more to lose, than if you had taken the risk of doing the work earlier.

Queries:

Where does fear of the unknown show up in your life?

What helps you live in times and situations of unknowing?

Prayer:

O God, you call us from our settled ways, out of old habits and rutted traditions.  You call us into the land of promise, to new life and new possibilities.  . . Deliver us from false security and comfort, desire for ease and uninvolved days.  Let your Word and Spirit dwell in us that your will may be fulfilled in us for the well-being and shalom of all.  (Vienna Cobb Anderson, Prayers of our Hearts in Word and Action)

For further reflection:

“Then Mary said . . . , ‘Let it be with me according to your word’ (See Luke 1: 26-38).

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (See Genesis 12: 1-9).

An Anxious and Fearful World

With suicide bombings that seem to happen anywhere anytime, and mass murderers who attack even in places and on occasions that we always thought were safe, it is no surprise that people are afraid.  Some people are even being taught to fear physically their own government.  The response in some American environments is to buy and carry guns for security—even in churches.

I don’t want to argue about whether having a gun makes one safer, but rather to point out that for Christians security rests in God alone.  And that security doesn’t mean that we and those we love won’t be killed or taken down at a young age by a terminal illness.  And it doesn’t mean that if we are true believers we will prosper.  The security comes in living as a beloved child of God.

In the Bible a message from God very often begins, “Do not be afraid.”  To the exiled people of Israel living under Babylonian rule God says, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.” When the angel Gabriel comes to Mary with his life-changing news that she is to conceive and give birth to a child she is to name Jesus, he says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

After the tragic racist-motivated shooting of Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and eight members of his congregation, it would be easy to imagine that church succumbing to fear and a desire for vengeance.  But no—on their website, in Ninety Seconds That Changed the World one reads, “Our mission is still hope.”  The AME Church arose out of a social justice protest—against Methodist churches that gave whites priority at the prayer rails.  Racism is nothing new to the people of that denomination.  Emanuel AME’s response to the attack on them:  “We know we live in a violent and sinful world. . . Our faith must be stronger than our fear.”

Queries:

How can your faith be stronger than fear?

There is a lack of fear that is foolishness and a fear that enslaves us.  What does God’s “fear not” mean?

Prayer:

Relax and let go your racing thoughts until you can focus on something that makes you afraid.  Stay with that in your imagination until you can get a felt sense of the fear.  Where is it in your body?  What does it want you to notice or know?  Holding it in the Light of Christ, where is there fresh air?

For further reference:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (See Psalm 27).

Fear

When I was a chaplain in an oncology practice patients who took their faith seriously were sometimes upset at themselves for being afraid. “If I really had faith, I wouldn’t be afraid,” they would say. I comforted them by pointing to the gift of fear. It was fear of something being physically wrong with them that got them to the doctor and subsequently into treatment of the disease. True fear motivates action, whereas anxiety steals energy and focus.

Anxiety is the generalized state of being distressed or worried. It impacts one’s ability to deal with life. Fear is an uncomfortable emotion caused by the threat of pain, harm, or trouble. Anxiety is different from fear in that anxiety has no direct object while fear does. When I am anxious, if I can look under the anxiety to find what it is that I am afraid of, then I can do something about it. To name what one is afraid of, to face the fear and wrestle with it, can bring strength. God does meet us in our fear.

Queries:

About what are you afraid?

What helps you face what you fear?

Prayer:

“May I be strengthened in my inner being through the power of the Holy Spirit, and may Christ dwell in my heart through faith as I am being rooted and grounded in love.” (See Ephesians 3: 14-19.) You may want to develop body motions such as yoga postures to accompany these prayer words.

For further reflection:

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You . . .” (See Psalm 56, especially verses 3-4a).

“My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me . . .” (See Matthew 24: 36-46).