Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Blessed Redundancy

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord: you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him,”Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will faster a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”  (John 21:15 - 19)

A child can never hear “I love you” too much. Quite frankly, neither can I. I suppose I would prefer to hear it with some firmness - some sense of truthfulness - some depth of conviction that calls forth a feeling of security. And yet, I have never been a good judge in regard to the sincerity of someone who has uttered those words to me. 

I want this love to be a word that takes me as I am - not what I could be - not because of something I’ve just done. I think we all want the love someone shares with us to be a word or act of acceptance for who we are - a willingness to take hold of us - a intentional presence with us. It is the power to rescue us from moments of abandonment. It is the salve that heals the wounds of exclusion. It is a touch that cuts through the loneliness of the day when we feel utterly alone or forgotten. It is act of solidarity that overthrows moments of despair and rejection. It is like having someone so for us and with us it creates moments of chaos among those who despise us.

Therefore we tell children we love them - over and over again. Saying it once will not be enough. Demonstrating that love through infrequent or erratic action doesn’t always have the weight to carry them through life. We are invited to take part in a redundant love that is meant to shape who we are and how we see others and how we enter into the relationships of our lives. As a follower of Jesus - as people who are created in the image of the Creator of all life - we participate and share in that creative power as we love one another. It means we must be willing to live within that strange space of being accused of being redundant - saying and acting and living within a realm of love again and then once again - even when it may seem unnecessary or without just cause. 

Our character springs from actions that are able to be noted by others because we seem to be saying and doing the same thing again and again - even when some may say it is too damn predictable. Imagine having people know that we will love them because our life with them has been a ceaseless demonstration of our love. Imagine being a real fool - a grand buffoon - an ass - and yet there are these odd or maybe even strange people who continue to treat you as one beloved. Imagine meeting one of these  loving folks and though you only throw blame, ridicule, and curses at them - they persist in their acts of love for you. That consistency - that character - that love - is the creative power meant to never end. It was in the beginning and it will be - eternally available. It is a blessed redundancy into which we are invited and empowered to enter as the image of God becomes us. 

There are many ways to read the Scriptures. Fill a room with folks who have read the stories within the Bible and we will hear many varied tales from those are doing the reading. Some will grasp on to stories of a God who is a stern figure who is always on the watch to see if we are living in the right way. I always say this is the Santa Claus god who is going to find out who is naughty or nice - a god ready to crack the whip or deny us entrance into the party or refuse us goodies. Some see a God who is all loving as long as we live in a way that earns that love. Some will see a God who is love - endless love - a love that will not be limited by anything we do. In all of these examples, folks will say that ‘God is good.’ And yet, I would submit that too often we let ourselves live with a god only as good as who we are able to be. Fortunately, the God of the Scriptures is endlessly loving not merely good. That changes life.

I need and want to hear a story that engages me and transforms me simply by the love it extends both now and forevermore. It does not have anything to do with that which I have done or that which I have left undone. It is a story that unveils the same God - an endlessly loving God - even when I expect to see or hear another story or I am being told another story. I consider myself lucky to have had Pastor Herb Brokering as the Christian Education teacher while I was in seminary. He was filling in until that position could be filled permanently. First, I learned that the Good News - the abundant and ceaseless love of God  - could be found anywhere - in anything - in any one. To understand that, we were shown that we have to listen to that which is not being said - that which is not obvious - that which could so easily be overlooked. I also learned how to say: ‘And then…’  it is a storytelling technique. It keeps the story moving beyond the point in which we might find ourselves. It pops up in order to help us lean beyond that which is and begin to experience more of the story being made available to us. 

As I read Scripture there are always these kind of transitional stories - ones that make us pick up and think or act as though we are are entering an ‘and then’ moment. As Christians we often turn to the Cross or the Resurrection and the Ascension as a few of those ‘and then’ tales that are meant to carry us more deeply into the blessed redundancy of God’s love. Once we begin to see such a continuation of this one story line, we are able to see how often it cracks open the day and we learn how consistently the power of God’s love is made available as the power of our love - our lives. Now as I read the various stories throughout the Scriptures - the stories that appear to be harsh or ruled by a set morality or setting up a privileged or exclusive community - I find that all of these types of tales often hide the redundancy of God’s love. Whenever that happens it can be very easy to trust in something other than a love that is always ready to say, ‘And then’. 

When a storyline bids us to continue on the way, it is an invitation to take up the action and become the next scene. That is how the love of God works. It is present without failure - it is present without hesitation - it is present as the beloved people we have been told we are without condition. The next steps we take become the same steps as the ones who loved us. We are endlessly being fed and we endlessly feed others. To be the beloved is not all about me - it is about you - it is about me being the love that will feed your life - it is about God’s redundant love being the love that comes alive through me and you so that others will be fed for new life. It is about a love that is so redundant, some folks will want to see the end of it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Not Expecting to Be Here - And Yet

It always comes back to forgiveness. I don't know what will come next in life. Oh sure, there are things for which I have made plans - but whatever comes next may not go along with those plans - even the many assurances that things will go just as I planned.

Today is the fifth anniversary of the morning in which I thought there would be no more mornings - no  more coffee (ahhh) - no more touching - no more hugs - no more game playing - no more smiles - no more oatmeal - no more words of love and acts of love. The very kind and gentle nurse went through the ritual shaving. I never thought my groin would need to be shaved for surgery done on my chest - but there is always the 'in case we need to...'

Sitting here in a coffee shop sharing a table with a fellow-frequent-coffee-drinker is something I have come to accept as the way things have been and will be. Ha. And yet, here I am. In many ways I am more tuned into the way life slips by if we do not look up and take notice. I keep finding out that being alive takes some discipline - some intentional movement - some words spoken that may be too easy to leave unspoken - some touch that seems risky - some ordering of the day that disrupts the day as I thought it had to be - some vulnerability that really seems to go too far - some availability that moves me out of my world as I want it. The discipline of being alive.

And yet, I know that there are ways to be alive and yet know nothing of life outside of the world I create for myself. In fact, most of the world is not like the world I create for myself. It is much more strange - grand - odd - wonderful - dangerous - loving - simply beyond my control. At times I glance back in time and think of how things could have been different - but now is now - not then. So the discipline continues - breathe.

So it was five years ago that I settled into the possibility that tomorrow would not arrive as I always expect it to arrive. For the moments before the nurse let me know that I may start feel;nah ;icv a;va.n,
I found in those moments of floating away - a strange peace. I realized there may be no waking up within a fog of anesthesia - there may be nothing - a nothing beyond my control - therefore, a nothing I need not fear for I would not have to be in control of it. It would be an endless freedom - an unknown freedom - a rest-full freedom.

But then, there were tubes - painfulness - fogginess full of delusions - voices known and unknown. I had completely let go - but then - I returned.  Though the moment prior to surgery is still one of the most memorable times of my life - an act of releasing that I prayerfully long to experience every day. For in that release, there was no worry - no need to get anything right - no judgment - no expectation at all. Forgiveness is like that place - it opens me up to whatever - even a return to what was. And yet, it is the power to let go and acknowledge that neither life nor death is able to separate me from the promise of life that is able to creatively open up the day. That unknown day - that day at hand - that day up ahead, is a gift always amplified and dignified and realized more fully through forgiveness. To take leave of what is and experience the free-fall into forgiveness takes us into a life we have yet entered. It is though, we are handed an opportunity that never ceases to present it self - even when all we expect is death.

Many thanks to all those who have forgiven me and given me new life. Many thanks to those who have been able to live with my inability to forgive - therefore giving me another chance at life with them. Many thanks to all who have experienced me in that fogginess of neither life nor death and yet were willing to stay by me and hold my hand and offer me another opportunity to enter the land of forgiveness.