Teachers and Tongues

Love can mean many things. In Christianity, it’s meaning is oriented by the revelation of God that is expressed in the person and mission of Jesus, a mission that continues to be empowered by the Spirit. And yet…

It’s clear that this message of love hasn’t always been the primary expression of the church, becoming a rhetorical decoration for other goals. Some of these have been noble, such as teaching important concepts, some less noble, such as establishing power for its own sake and to personally enrich the leaders.

This isn’t new. We find such trends even in the era of the New Testament, leading the charismatic leaders of the earliest era to write letters.  James wrote one such letter to the churches and in it he emphasizes that Love involves integrity and responsibility, not also for teaching, especially for teachers. And I argue that as we’re all empowered by the Spirit in some way, we’re all teachers in some way, living out lives and sharing our hopes with those around us, many who will never listen to a church sermon let alone take a class on Christian theology and practice.

This responsible love involves living true to the story of God in our lives.  It also involves helping others be true to God’s story in their lives.

I preached more on this at the River Church, but it wasn’t recorded.

Don’t fret!

Here’s my complete teaching notes.

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A Faith that Practices: Advice for the Good Life

The message in Scripture isn’t just about some isolated religious issues as expressed by an ancient people. It was expressed by an ancient people, but more than a limited cultic set of temple acts, it’s really an expression of how the world is, how life is supposed to be, who we are supposed to be in light of that. It’s a narrative that took place in the past, and takes place even now. Indeed, this story of God is an orientation. We are invited into a way of life that can be expressed in any setting, at any time, as it is about living in light of the way this particular world is supposed to function. It involves our faith, and our faith involves our whole self, our emotions, and our five senses. In the book of James, he highlights the spiritual through emphasizing the sensory, using these together to point to how we can find hope and peace in the midst of a complicated world.

I preached more on this in my sermon on James 1:19-27.

Here’s the complete teaching notes on James 1:19-27.

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Faith

There’s a tendency to assume faith and facts are somehow opposites.  That facts are based on proof and faith rejects such mundane realities.  A quick google search turns up this definition: “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”

Based on spiritual apprehension?  I’m not even sure what that means.

Proof is a loaded word, of course.  It’s not a binary, all there or all not there.  Maybe in a strictly mathematical sense, but very few of us live our lives in a strictly mathematical sense.  We assess and predict, using our experiences and reason to gauge the world around us. When I come to a stoplight and the light is green, I keep going fast because I know the laws and I have experience in how these laws are followed.  I don’t have proof everyone will follow the laws, but it’s a good bet.  Though, not absolute.

We go by incomplete proof all the time, it’s how we make our way through life.  In Hebrews we have this definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

There’s nothing about a lack of proof here, as if our confidence just erupts wholesale from our hearts.

Faith isn’t the absence of proof, not at all, that’s defining it in a way that doesn’t match either Biblical testimony or religious experience. People base their faith on something after all. Whether that proof is enough to convince everyone is a different matter, but that doesn’t negate the fact there’s a driving proof for a particular person to live in a particular way.

Faith isn’t believe in absence of facts or proof. Faith is a trajectory, an orientation in life based on a variety of proofs, towards a not-yet-experienced future. Understanding faith as a trajectory rather than a kind of wish is central to Scripture, where God, we say, works in a variety of ways and then expects the people to continue to believe that he will work in ways not yet seen.What's on the other side?

Maybe this is why I wrestle with the idea of doubt. It’s become trendy to emphasize doubt, to celebrate doubt.  But doubt isn’t really conducive with faith.  But just writing that sounds so… religious and old-fashioned.  But when I think of faith as trajectory, it’s an important statement to make.  Because if I’m always doubting, I’m not moving forward towards the goal, I’m not pressing onward, stopping and pausing and checking the map every moment, getting sidetracked.

But, here’s the problem. People assume faith means absolute understanding or at least wholehearted confidence. It doesn’t mean that either. Faith may be the opposite of doubt but it welcomes questions and concerns. It invites query.  We want to understand, even if we don’t. Doubt suggests there’s maybe no point to asking.  Faith assumes there’s an answer ahead, even if we can’t know what it is or even if we’re asking the right questions.

That’s probably why I liked this quote from Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy:

“There is no power nor virtue in this travesty of faith, which makes it mean the taking of all things on trust, the folding of the hands and the bowing of the head, the spiritless submission to the lie that whatever is is right. Faith does not mean that we cease from asking questions; it means that we ask and keep on asking until the answer comes; that we seek and keep on seeking until the truth is found; that we knock and keep on knocking until the door is opened and we enter into the place of God’s truth.”

God calls us to this trajectory of faith, where we persevere in an uncertain and sometimes discouraging present based on what we know of God’s work in the past. We hold onto this work, in faith, because this is the only way to fullness.  It’s a risk, to be sure.  How do we truly know?  We don’t.  That’s the very challenge. What do we do with what we have experienced? What we’ve heard from others? What we’ve read in Scripture?  Faith is build on such proofs and calls us into a trajectory where our lives reflect taking a risk on these truths.

It’s the uncertainty in the midst of conflicting possibilities where faith comes alive, grounded in proofs that we risk are true so that we can see the truth blossom in full in the future.  It is being willing to move forward past the seemingly crushing denials because of the proofs that sustain our hopes in God’s future. Christ may die.  But he does not stay dead.  Christ may leave, but we are not left alone.

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The most durable power

Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Good words for all of us in our various struggles. A few paragraphs after this he writes:

“I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.”

From a sermon preached in 1956. One more:

“He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.”

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Peace be with you

Peace is a difficult topic. Not because it’s hard to describe, but because it’s hard to realize, and in light of the news, it’s hard to believe.

Yet, peace, shalom as it is called in Hebrew, is a Promise from God, and this promise continues in the New Testament.

We begin to see as God sees, love as God loves, hope with God’s hope, and that transforms how we live in this world in all sorts of ways.
Peace is part of the Spirit’s freedom for us.

Rather than conflict, we have peace. Rather than chaos, we have peace. Rather than frustration or anxiety or domination we have peace. This is not the peace of the world, but a deeper peace, a lasting peace, a thorough peace. It is not just the ceasing of violence and war, it is more, it is an entering into a rhythm with the Creator of all that is, and living in light of this rhythm.

This is truly, thoroughly, good news. This is the Gospel, in which we see not just a message about heaven but a message about all of reality, a re-integration into life with God that transforms our experience of this world.

It is this peace Jesus promises to us. Do we want to live in this peace?

Hear more on the hope of Shalom in my sermon preached at The River Church

And here’s my complete teaching notes.

Posted in salvation, Scripture, sermon, speaking, teaching, theology | Leave a comment

Official Patrick

My website has had some problems lately, causing a lot of problems on the server. An errant wordpress plugin even caused my host to shut it down for a while at the end of March, until I got some time to figure out the problem (the aforementioned plugin). The other day, I had another temporary shutdown because of another problem.  Needless to say, I’ve not been paying attention to my website health for far, far too long.  I have thoughts of making a big update at some point, but not at this point, because I just have too much other stuff to do. But in fixing stuff, I came across an old folder that had pages from long ago, like 2004. I’ve been going through the writings and pictures and such, a scrapbook of my post-seminary self.

Anyhow, I found this page noting my “official choices” on various topics. I thought it funny, so I’m sharing it here. Even though this is now over 13 years old, it’s pretty much still fitting. There are some changes, but not many. For instance, I have now seen Office Space and I’m thinking my official Channel Island is now Santa Rosa, though Anacapa is making a strong run again as I’ve become obsessed with its live came.

Now onto the list:

Oden’s Official things:

-Official Choices-

States have all sorts of official items.  They have songs, and flowers, and birds, and desserts, and sports (the official state sport of Maryland, by the way, is jousting), and just about anything else one can think of.  So, why shouldn’t I?  Am I not a state unto myself?  No, I am not in fact, not in any way.  But I still can have an ever expanding official list of random things.

Official Movie Litmus Test:  Joe Versus the Volcano

Official ‘White’ Noise:  a Fan

Official Church Father:  Tertullian

Official First Aid Product:  Neosporin

Official Play I Was Part of in High School:  Harvey

Official Sport I’ve Tried to Like for Ten Years and Now Have Given Up:  Hockey

Official Bottled Water:  Arrowhead

Official Constellation:  Orion

Official Natural Fiber:  Wool (the only material which insulates better when wet)

Official Men at Work Song:  Overkill

Official Deadly Sin:  Acedia (yeah, you were hoping for something a bit more spicy, weren’t ya’?)

Official scented candle scent:  sea breeze; sandalwood (tied)

Official movie I been told over and over is great but still have yet to see:
Office Space

Official rock:  schist

Official word I catch myself saying more than I want to
and want to quit saying at all:
  
actually

Official Bad Word:  ****  (this site has been edited for all audiences)

Official Precipitation:  a light, fluffy snow around sundown.

Official Sailing Role Preference:  The jib; the foredeck

Official Weight Loss Strategy:   Poverty

 Official Moon Phase:    Three-Quarters, past Full

Official Vitamin Supplement:    B vitamins (all of ’em in one giant pill)

Official Movie I really Liked when I was A High School Junior But Don’t as Much now:  

Nothing But Trouble (Starring Chevy Chase and Demi Moore)

Official Sport I’ve Never Played but think is really Cool:    Lacrosse

OFficial Sport I Watched to make Fun of and ended up really getting into:  Sumo Wrestling

Official Obscure Important Year:  390

Official Sleeping Posture:  On my side

Official Guy I’d Like To sock in the Nose for Some unknown Reason:  John Hagee

Official Biblical Character People Don’t Know:   Bezalel; Oholiab (tied)

Official Phobia I do not Have:  Fear of Heights

Official Music People May Be Surprised I Love:  70s Funk

Official Regularity for Mowing Grass should I ever Have to Again:
Every 2 weeks, or so.

Official Grammatical Mistake I Still Do Not Understand:
When to use ‘that’ or ‘which’

Official Painter of previous centuries:  Caspar David Friedrich 

Official Christian Cross style:  Celtic

Official bird:  the Raven (of course)

Official Comedy team of the Early years of Hollywood: 
The Marx Brothers

Official Tree:  Coast Live Oak

Official Least favorite State:  Nevada (sorry, Nevadans)

Official Most Favorite State besides California:  South Dakota

Official Favorite InterState Highway: 
the 90 (or I90 for the rest of the country)

Official Least favorite Interstate Highway: 
the 10 (or I10 for the misinformed)

Official Ocean:  The Pacific

Official Heresy:  Semi-Pelagianism

Official Terrain:  Mountainous 

Official activity I would like to do more of:  Sailing

Official Monty Python Sketch: 
The Spanish Inquisition (didn’t expect that, I bet?)

Official Dialing Sound:  Tone

Official Bible Character:  Joseph (the one in Genesis)

Official Weather:  62 degrees, sunny with scattered clouds, wind from the west at 12 knots, cooling off to the mid-to-low 30s at night.

Official Channel Island:  Santa Barbara Island

Official color:  Crimson

Official Pirate Movie:  The Sea Hawk

Official lighting preference:  Natural

Official Invertebrate:  The Octopus; the Cuttlefish (tied)

Official means of communicating before electricity: 
Yelling Really Loud

Posted in personal, silliness | 1 Comment

Of course I am still an Evangelical

Over the last few months, there’s been a flurry of folks stating they are no longer Evangelicals, leaving behind that label for supposedly better appellative pastures.

Almost all that I’ve heard doing this are responding to the recent election in which a very high percentage of Evangelicals aligned with Trump.

That sentence is fraught with commentary potential, so much so that the very point of my post has already been sidetracked three and a half times. Erased sentences, one passionate rant now entirely subdued, and a google search history notwithstanding, I’m going to press on to my purpose.

Hi, I’m Patrick and I’m an Evangelical.

No, I’m not going to add any “yes, buts” or “howevers” and there will be nary a “post-” prefix to be found.  I’m owning the label, come what may.

Why so bold?  That’s who I am. I’m an Evangelical, and there’s just no getting around the fact without having to deny some significant aspects of my reality that I have no inclination to deny.

And if the label fits…

Before I get to why it fits so perfectly, I will add that I refuse to let others define the label for me, especially those whose motives are not in keeping with either the definition or the history of Evangelicals.

There are those who claim the label Evangelical that are nothing of the sort, and there are those who want to recast the label so as to undermine its history and contributions. I refuse to be cowed by either species and so enter the lists in defense of the title and myself.

I’m an Evangelical.

Three reasons:

  1. I’m an Evangelical because of Confession.
  2. I’m an Evangelical because of Tradition.
  3. I’m an Evangelical because of Obligation.

All of these are important and together they lead me to an inescapable conclusion.

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Posted in church, everyday theology, personal, politics, religion, theology | 3 Comments

A Remembering

Theology has fallen into a trap of competition, when it should be about awakening.

I suspect this happened fairly early on, when theology turned more towards heresy hunting. It emphasize more and more why others were wrong. Yes, along the way it continued to expand and illuminate our understanding, but as it sought to defend it also became restrictive and restricting, allowing less creativity and reverie in the mix. It became separated from the living faith of so many who wanted to see and experience the bounty of God.

It’s not easy to sustain momentum in the face of beauty. We’re not good at analyzing the good. As so much art reveals, we’re not very good at imagining the creativity of beauty. We dance in difficulty and are aroused by conflict. It’s human nature. Why war has a historically appealing quality, even as the nature of war is so obviously appalling. We are drawn to the fight, especially if the fight is justified. Fixing what is wrong, pushing back against bullies, setting things straight.

We gain a sense of our self in the struggle against others. Not always a violent struggle, it’s often a collegial one, though still a struggle and a competition. Better phrasing, better reviews, better sales. And if we’re not able to compete we find our meaning in those who do, treating theology as if it were a sports league. My theologian is better than yours. Look how many pennants my team has won.

We gauge worth by citations rather than transformation, the best theologian is the most adept at navigating the academic jungle, without regard to their life behind the curtain. Not only without regard for their ‘personal’ side, often even offended about such an inquiry and by those who expose more of themselves than seems fitting.

Yet, I am drawn to theology in the midst of a path of awakening. I remember this was why I entered into it. Not for the competition but for the reverie. I want to listen better, see more thoroughly, feel more deeply. These can easily become overwhelming if not careful, driving us into despair or distraction. Mere acquisition of input isn’t sufficient, it’s not a living stream, because we don’t know what to do with it all. If we’re not able to process in light of the Spirit’s work then we catalogue it according to the world’s patterns. It may keep coherence but then lack integrity with God or with real people.

I don’t want to be lost in incoherence. I don’t want to drift away from integrity. I seek stillness in the expanse, welcoming and inviting others in discovering the bounty of the goodness of creation, the goodness of God, not only proclaiming a love but letting this love be the refrain that shapes all my interests and pursuits.

I am weary of the trap to compare my god with yours, my system with yours. If this is the measure of theology, of Christian theology, it’s a never-ending war, a battle of wits and suppositions. It’s a fight within the systems, letting the ways of this world determine the rules and the worth.

Meanwhile, the very cross we speak about negated such constriction. It did not resist systematization, not at all, but it confronted the patterns of this world which said this is how things are done and how things should be.

The world says, with all its force, that Jesus lost. Crushed on the wheel of history in the quest for meaning.

Who can argue with that? He died a most painful death. He did not win in the way the world wins. The counter in theology is to say he did win. How? He did not stay dead. His argument wasn’t in clever repartee or through the sheer weight of compiled footnotes. He lived. That’s his argument. The best argument.

And it is also our best argument. Or at least it should be.

It doesn’t negate the clever or the learning or the systematizing. Indeed it invites it. The world is a very different place, not just in facts but in the very nature of reality.

What the cross does is relatives the rest, puts it into a context. Invites a radical letting go of competition and performance for the sake of identity.

It makes space, a sabbath rest, preparing for rapturous beauty and wondrous engagement with the world that now is.

Theology, above all, should speak of this wonder, this way, this hope, this life, embracing the beauty and possibilities. Caught in competition it is always distracted, pulled away from itself. A musician trying to perform a symphony but constantly interrupted by a guy selling magazines at the door.

In a world that does not know how to imagine beauty, without devolving into kitsch or chaos, theology offers a vision, a language, of life expansive.

I want to “commune with the spirit of the universe, to be intoxicated even with the fumes, call it, of that divine nectar, to bear my head through atmospheres and over heights unknown to my feet.” I want to find this renewed vision, orientating purpose, in my vocation. To dream, to hope, to delight, to sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.

For this, do I climb the unending stair, a weary walk if I lose sight of my calling to truly live. A joyful journey as I remember myself and what God is doing, has done, in my life.

This isn’t a competition, this task of theology, it’s a celebration, a great feast full of bounty and diverse delights.

So why squabble about the place settings?

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Lent

Let me admit something that isn’t very popular in my theological circles. I struggle with Lent. I get Lent. I respect it. But I struggle with it. A big reason why is for most of my life I’ve had to give things up for the rest of the year. Giving things up isn’t new. It’s just October or any given Tuesday or the third week of any month, or any other random season of my life.

That’s not me being unthankful, as I am truly and entirely thankful for the many blessings God has given me. Rather, it’s being honest about the regular experiences of loss and letting go embedded in much of my experience of life so far. Lent is a great discipline, but I wonder if it is appropriate for those who live in such uncertainty and loss. As Ignatius of Antioch put it, “Every wound is not healed with the same remedy.” Yet so often we generalize an experience and a remedy as appropriate for everyone.

Loss and letting go define my experience of Christianity. I’ve learned to trust and hope along the way, so I don’t see these as absolute negatives, just a sense that my liturgical journey with Christ never quite matches the Christian calendar.

I’m not alone in this, of course. Maybe that’s why low-church traditions don’t emphasize Lent, because they are often arising from communities of struggle and loss. I’m not saying anything conclusive here, just wondering out loud.

This isn’t a new struggle for me. Every year I find myself wrestling with the same thoughts. In 2007, I made a curious choice to give up giving up things for Lent. The previous five years had involved me giving up almost everything that made for a normal life in our day and age, so I decided to give up giving up things. And that, oddly enough, was the year that the light switch came on and the bounty of God began a radical rebuilding process in my life, a wave I am in many ways still riding. Not without struggles and certainly not without a radical call to live in faith all the while. Life is still quite tenuous. But there was a fundamental change that happened that went counter to the previous 25 years. I didn’t give up on God in 2007, I gave up assuming that God demanded a life of loss for me. That I had to give up at every turn. He sparked new life into my journey, giving me a testimony that I share in a lot of my classes.

I’m indeed honestly wondering about the role of Lent, even as I read very heartfelt essays on the importance and value of Lent. I believe those who write them. Maybe I’m wrong about it all. Maybe it’s just my low-church tradition revealing itself behind my attempts at sophisticated theological posturing.

This year, I got to wondering about Lent as is my wont, and wondered if the idea of “Lend” might be more liturgically appropriate. Not giving up things to give up things, but instead to give of my time, my energy, my efforts to help those around me. It’s a proactive orientation rather than a self-reflective task. That’s more a discipline I need in my life, as I easily become jealous and hoarding of my now sparse time. It seems that an exocentric reflection fits the pattern of Christ’s gift for us on the cross, not taking or demanding of us but offering himself for us and our salvation. We have been given life itself. And even in times of uncertainly and feeling overwhelmed I can trust in this more than I can ever trust in what I have or don’t have or can’t have.

I yearn for fullness of life, not yet more frustration and discouragement and loss. That’s my liturgical place these days and for as long as I can remember. But life is there and life given so that I can participate in and with the life of others around me. That’s a calling.

Anyhow, as I was thinking about my struggle on this topic I remembered I wrote something on this about six years ago. It’s nice when I find someone putting my vague angst into helpful words. Even if it’s me. Here’s what I had to say then and still affirm today:
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Posted in holidays, holiness, liberation, personal, theology | Leave a comment

Loving Neighbors in an Era of Internment

On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed  an order which authorized the internment of Americans who had Japanese ancestry.  Families were rounded up, taken away from their homes, put in camps for the duration of the war with Japan.

Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor the previous December.  Outrage was high and so was fear.  Submarines had been spotted off the coast of California. People were afraid and suspicious.  Sure, they thought, many have been here for generations, but some were newer immigrants. How can we know who to trust?

Panic set in and those in charge responded to the panic by making a sweeping gesture.

Panic does that, after all.  We lose the ability to rationally respond to particulars. We make sweeping gestures.  We make excuses for our sweeping gestures based on the possibility of something bad happening.  Other people are made to bear the weight for our sense of peace.

In the midst of hearing about injustice and trauma in so many directions it is easy to become overwhelmed.  We aren’t made to absorb a world’s worth of news, after all, and it is human nature to break complexities down into general categories.

It’s not personal, we say.  Only of course it is.  It’s always personal. Because our responses affect real people.

So the US put people into camps, pulling them away from their homes and livelihoods, for the sake of an assumption of security.

A lot more can and should be said about this, which is why it’s worth spending time listening to the experiences of those who were forced to live in these camps.

I’m thankful for the voices we can listen to now about what happened, that they weren’t silenced.  I wonder who fought for their voice in 1942.

I wonder because I think about the responsibility of the church in such times of crises, to help people avoid navigating by panic and help orient them in light of their responsibilities to loving God and loving neighbor.

The problem is that in a time when everyone had problems, it’s hard to think about helping others with problems, to fight for their benefit, to give them voice, to bear the weight for them.  I think that’s the way of Christ. We don’t make other bear the weight for our peace but instead are willing to bear the weight so they can experience peace.

I don’t know what most of America did in response, or what the general response was when everyone heard news of this Presidential order.  It seemed most either supported this or ignored it.  Not everyone did, though.

I do know the response of a couple men, and, on this day, I want to make mention of their part.

Merle McBride
Merle McBride

My dad’s grandfather came to California when he was a young man, riding the rails from Texas, starting a new life out on the West coast, working as a laborer and then a farmer in southern California. My mom’s dad came to southern California when he was young, a family of farmers from Oklahoma (but not Okies, as the later depression era immigrants from that state were called) . He became a farmer himself.

They were friendly with their neighbors, most of whom were also farmers.  As was common, many were of Japanese descent, families who had come east rather than west, sometimes generations earlier, finding a shared celebration of the bounty of California soil.

These families were arrested and put in camps.  Some people took advantage of the situation, foreclosing on loans, buying out property for significantly less than what it was worth.  Some people see other people’s problems as an opportunity for gain. Some people see other people’s problems as their own problems, and work to alleviate some of the pain.

My great-grandfather Willis Oden and my grandpa Merle McBride were of this latter sort, I’m proud to say.  They took on the burden of their neighbors farms, working them as if they were their own.  They didn’t take them over, they took care of their neighbors property. They kept the farms going, paying debts and maintaining profit.

Their neighbors lost years and lost freedom in interment camps, but they did not lose their farms or livelihood.  When they came back home, everything was as they had left it, and they were able to settle back into to their lives on their land.

Willis T. Oden and Etta Oden

I’m not proud of that Presidential order but I’m proud of my great-grandpa and grandpa, how they responded. I come from families that were willing to shoulder the burden of their neighbors in a time of crisis, even when they had family members who were fighting, and sometimes dying, in the fight against Japan.

They weren’t alone, and I imagine there are many stories like this. Americans sharing each other’s burdens no matter what their national origin.

It’s far too easy to generalize the idea of loving one’s neighbors, but sometimes the best way to show love to neighbor is really to help one’s actual neighbors.

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at. Imagine if everyone did that, each reaching out within their own circle to bear the real burdens of others. That would resonate deeply and broadly indeed, maybe even transform our neighborhoods and our society in ways that reflect the Kingdom of God.

We have a choice each day. Do we depersonalize and take advantage of our supposed enemies, who are categorized based on general categories? Or do we put in the work to help those around us, recognizing each other as persons and responding in helpful love?

On a day in which there’s sadness and shame, it’s worth noting that there can be a better way.  It gives me hope and it gives me an example of the kind of person I want to be.

Posted in church, family, good works, history | 1 Comment