Living in the Ordinary

stairing blue eyes

We rise to the ordinary, the predictable, the mundane. We move through a pattern of daily repetitions: wake, shower, dress, eat, and go. Somewhere. Life is so utterly predictable.

If traumas don’t kill us, something odd happens. We keep living, breathing, existing. Peter denied Christ then woke the next day. Living in the present is so difficult because it is so ordinary. We dream of future possibilities or glorify past excitements while breathing in this ordinary present moment.

Thomas Merton once cautioned the would-be contemplative that prayer quickly becomes boring and repetitious, routine. The ordinary predictability of inhaling and exhaling becomes a weight that some cannot bear. They grow weary.

One way to respond to this utter predictability is to seek out crisis, to create crisis. Oddly, even wanderlust can grow tiresome. Crisis loses the edge of surprise over time. Reflecting on the horror of the trenches in World War 1, Eugen Rosenstock Huessy said that most of the time it was boring.

We may look at other people and dream of what could have been. In fact, some try to recreate could-have-beens. The man or woman who has an affair soon discover the malaise overtaking the newness. Binx Boling called my attention to the malaise.

In Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer,” Binx Boling is a man who has the good life. The life we all dream about. He is financially successful, comes from a secure family, enjoys the best culture has to offer, and spends his time watching movies and dating beautiful women. Binx also seems to be caught in a struggle. He feels the malaise at the back of all things, but at the same time, he is startled and surprised by existence.

Being alive is wondrous and dreadful. Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? What will it take to give our lives signification? Is it praise from others? Some recognition for all our dedication, all we’ve suffered, all we have given? Are we really yearning unlimited wealth? Some spiritual power? Lots and lots of stuff?

Why doesn’t any answer satisfy?

At times, the idea of eternal life can be horrifying. “You mean we just keep living and living and living?” This terror of never-ending life may be bound us in the terror of the ordinary, in the anguish of why?

The suffering of loneliness and sickness and broken relations may hide the suffering of being alive. We are caught between the wonder and the terror of existence. We know so little and feel even less.

For those who do not know the malaise, these words will make little sense. For those who do, you might hear a distant echo of anguish the trembles deep in the soul. My intention is not to solve our human dilemma in 500 words or less.

I am looking for clues. I am looking at the Risen Christ, and hopefully through the Risen Christ. In Him, I see life lived fully, completely. I behold love poured out with no restriction. All things were made, shaped, formed, properly ordered through the Son, the Word Made Flesh. In Him, I see the wondrous order of all creation.

Order? There is an order, a shape, a form to all creation. Without order, all form is but a momentary illusion.

The word “ordinary” derives from order. Our ordinary world, our ordinary moments are ordered.

In Christ, I see a glimpse of this order. His life is poured out fully in love: every moment from birth through death. In His resurrection, I behold the unrestricted reciprocation of the Father’s love by the Spirit.

In Him, I live and move and breathe. I breathe. I inhale and exhale. Each moment ordered by exhaling, inhaling: pouring out, filling up. In my very breath, I see but a tiny pattern of reciprocal life revealed in Christ. Within this wonderful and terrible existence, I breathe, we breathe. The wonder of reciprocation, of giving and receiving, of loving and being loved is enacted all around me in the sun and moon, man and woman, trees and bees. All creation echoes a reciprocation of life, a mutuality of giving and receiving.

Mostly I am deaf and blind to this magnificent symphony of love, this order of love. Some times, the blind will see. The light of Christ pierces my eyes. In this ordinary moment, I behold love unspeakable and full of glory.

* Image by Thomas Leuthard on flickr. (Used by Creative Commons Permission)

The Beautiful Beloved

aged

“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
― G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton articulates a Gospel-shaped wisdom: love makes lovable. The Lord loved us even when we were enemies (Romans 5:8). His love transforms us into friends (John 15:15) and then to lovers (1 John 4:11). God’s love toward us in Christ is what makes us beloved. We are beautiful because we are loved by the true lover. In the opening pages of Genesis, we hear the Creator repeatedly proclaim over His creation, “It is good!”

We live in an age when the word “good” seems a bit devalued. To help us get a sense of its richness, we might consider the implications of the Hebrew word (towb) for good used in Genesis 1. “Towb” can mean good, merry, prosperous, precious, beautiful, favored, and more. The Lord delights in His good creation. After sin has scarred the world, He loves His creation so completely that the He overcomes the corruption of sin in and through His Son Jesus Christ. This is the same love of Christ that is transforming us into His image.

Even as we speak of becoming His image, we hear His call, “Love one another as I have loved you.” In this new command, we see a fulfilling of the old commands: honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not covet. Each of these commands are rooted in proper love to parent, sibling/neighbor, and spouse. As Christ restores His image in us, we are reordered to love properly. In turn, the object of love becomes lovable.

Humans struggle to love enemy and family alike. We fail to love those close to us because we no longer see their loveliness: many adult children disrespect their aging parents, many spouses fail to see the beauty of their once beloved. In Christ, the command to love precedes the vision of beauty. We love first, then we behold the lovely. This act of loving changes us. As C.S. Lewis writes,

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
― C.S. Lewis

We act in love, trusting that the vision of love and the affection of love will follow. We follow Christ and by His Spirit we honor our parents, our spouses, our neighbors. In His love, we begin to see again, and though the people surrounding us are still imperfect, we learn to see the mystery and wonder and goodness of His creation in them.

* Image by Vinoth Chandar. Used by permission via Creative Commons.

The Posture of Love

The disciples gather around Jesus in the upper room. Before the meal begins, Jesus surprises and disturbs his followers by laying aside his garments, kneeling down, and washing their feet. Peter is shocked. In spite of his objections, Peter still submits to Jesus. All the disciples yield to the washing, blessing, cleansing act of Jesus.

Then he gets up, restores his clothes, looks at them and says, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life” (John 13: 12-17, The Message).

Let’s pause this story for a moment while I tell another story. A love story. Not a typical love story. At least, not the typical love story we’ve grown up hearing. It’s a story about a people living outside of love, outside the community of the faithful, outside the city. A people living by the dump, Gehenna. A people used to breathing the toxic fumes of society’s waste. It’s a people who have completely forgotten that they are beloved.

God comes to these tax collectors, prostitutes, demoniacs, and he eats with them. He drinks with them. He loves them. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God comes to His people to love and heal and embrace them. But they are so far in the dark that their initial response is not to turn toward Him but away from Him. He comes into the lives of the dark people, the forsaken people, the abandoned people, the lost people, and loves them fully, completely.

His love is unpredictable and everyone misunderstands. Jesus keeps loving, confronting, and immersing them in the surprising shape of His love. He is loving this mixed community into family. He pursues His people like a groom running toward His bride. Eventually, they behold the complete form of His love, and much to their surprise it looks like suffering and death.
People tell stories about the pain of lost love, forsaken love, unrequited love, but the most painful love story is the complete unveiling of true love. It is the deepest sorrow and the deepest joy. In the mystery of the Love of Jesus, death and life are intertwined and reversed. Sorrow becomes singing. And by the Spirit of Resurrection, death gives way to Life Unconquerable. This is the love story that gives birth to all true love stories.

We return to the twelve, sitting around Jesus, yielding to His service. Before His death, before His crucifixion, He gathers the twelve together. And he kneels before them. If not for the revelation of this action in John’s Gospel, the horror of this act seems almost unspeakable. Consider for a moment the implications of such an act.

An immoral woman kneels before Jesus and washes His feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them with her lips, and anoints them with her perform. Jesus acknowledges her act of adoration and blesses her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” He speaks as the true king. He speaks as the Son of God. He speaks as the Creator and Redeemer of the World. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

The posture of kneeling is the posture of submission before a ruler, and adoration before a god. Kneeling, bowing is a significant act of humility and worship. The second command warns against bowing down before false images of any kind.

Jesus kneels before the disciples.

What could this mean? How could the Creator of the World kneel before His created? How can we even begin conceive of the humiliation? We may miss the deep humiliation of the cross if we cannot see the unspeakable humiliation of Jesus kneeling to wash His disciples feet. He assumes the posture of the supplicant.

At first, the disciples are distraught and confused with Peter speaking as usual on behalf of the rest, “No Lord!” But Jesus says, “Yes and Amen.” There is no choice. Peter must submit. The Lord of Creation kneels before Peter and washes His feet.

Jesus does not violate the second commandment because these are not false images, they are true images. Created in His image, they’ve been disfigured by sin, but they are still imaging the Lord. He gathers, cleans, restores, heals the images of God. He begins in love, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.” And now He ends in love, “Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.”

He loves them completely. This kneeling is but a foretaste of the deeper humiliation to come that will also express His love, His Father’s love. Jesus reveals the love of the Father in His every word, His every action. He also reveals the pattern, the shape, the form of love in His complete person. Love is Word, Body, Act. His whole person patterns, images love.

As He restores these broken images, He tells them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”

He also says, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

Jesus enfleshes the shape of love, in Word, in Deed. In serving, in humbling Himself, in honoring His people. In life, in death, and in life eternal. Just as he gathered those twelve unto Himself, He is still gathering, still comforting, still healing, still cleansing, still loving. He invites us into His action.

From the vantage of kneeling, we see the other person in a whole new light. The light of Jesus cleansing, glorifying, beautifying love.  In Him, the world is made new. In Him, the broken is made whole. In Him the abandoned is welcomed. In Him, the mournful finds joy. In Him, the image is restored.

So we serve and wash and even kneel in Him by the power of His Spirit. We are becoming lovers His love. And His love is sending out into all the world to love, and embrace and reconcile all things to Him.

* – All Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright (c) 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Hear O Israel

Shema (image by Yaniv Ben-Arie used by Creative Commons)

Lately I’ve been thinking aloud about listening. I’ve been talking about the different forms of listening like empathic listening, active listening, ethnographic listening. Along the way, I’ve made a bunch of mental notes, and I’m having a hard time keeping up with them.

I remembered a story about listening while I took a shower this morning. It seems I always remember things while in the shower. Sometimes I wonder if I might find a lost set of keys by simply taking a shower. Anyway, back to the remembered story.

Shortly after Kelly and I were married, she noticed a peculiar habit of mine (one among many). I pointed at food during our meals. We would be talking about the day’s events when I would point at the bread. She handed me the bread, and then I’d point to the butter.

At my folks house, she noticed everyone pointed during the meal. After about a month, she asks me, “What’s with all this pointing during the meal times?” No one had ever asked me, so I never even thought about it before.

“Well, my dad likes to tell stories, and he doesn’t like to be interrupted. So in my family, we just started pointing at food instead of asking someone to pass it.”

I grew up listening to my dad’s stories. And in many ways, I’m a better storylistener than storyteller. People tell me their stories. And I like to listen.

But listening is not always easy.

I don’t like the telephone because it’s too easy for me to get distracted from listening. Without the person in front of me, my mind wanders so easily. A friend is talking on the phone. He is trying to remember a mutual acquaintance. “Old so and so. What was his name?”

As he continues talking, all I can hear is, “old so and so.” Only in my mind’s eye, I see the words, “sew and sew.” I see a big pair of scissors opening and closing. Then I see them up on an old Cas Walker building on Broadway. The neon scissors are opening and closing as they cut prices. I hear Cas say, “Shop at the sign of the shears.”

Sign of the shears. That sounds funny. What if the big scissors were atop the Sears building on Central? “Shop at the sign of the Sears.”

I’m slipping. I see a flashing neon light over a steakhouse, “At the Sign of the Steers.” I tumbling down into Alice’s Wonderland of Rhyme when suddenly me friends’ voice breaks the fall, “So what do you think?”

Think? Oh great. What was he talking about? I scramble. “Well, what do you think?” he starts up again. Whew, that was close. I must concentrate. Pay attention.

Like I said, listening can be hard.

Back in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were a bit hard of hearing as well. They kept misunderstanding what he said. When he told the story of Israel and God’s purposes for His people, He told it in a way that sounded different.

“What is he up to?,” some of them queried suspiciously. They didn’t trust him. Then again, they didn’t trust his Father either. Isaiah told Israel as much. He warned that they would become blind, deaf and lame like the idols they trusted.

One day a Pharisee asks Jesus what is the greatest of the commands. Jesus replies, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” He responds by reciting the “Shema.”

Israel recited, prayed and even posted this command in the Mezuzah they placed in their doorways. Shema comes from the Hebrew word for prayer. First and foremost, the Israelite must hear.

As Jesus speaks, he is not simply repeating Moses’ age old command. He is the Word Made Flesh. And he is the Son of Man who truly obeys the command. He hears and obeys.

As Jesus speaks, it is with the same power and authority of God as He spoke at creation, “Let there be Light.” And there was light. Jesus says, “Hear O Israel.” Even as he speaks the power of God is present to heal deaf ears and mute tongues. When man can no longer hear the Word of God, he loses his power to speak as well. His words fall like powerless chatter.

As we read the story, Jesus’ word, “Hear O Israel” steps out from the page and breaks into our heart. He is speaking directly to us. We are the deaf ones. He is restoring our hearing, and He is engrafting us into Israel. When He says, “Hear O Israel,” we are included.

His Living Word breaks into upon our deaf ears, giving us ears to hear. For only in “Hearing” the Word can we believe. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom 10:17). Now oddly enough, this makes me think of a science fiction movie I recently watched called, Moon.

In the story, one man lives on a moon station with no other humans. He has been working there for almost three years and will soon finish his commitment and get to return to earth. But there is a problem. Everything his believes about his world is wrong. He is bind and deaf to what is real, and it will take another voice outside himself to reveal this.

We are like this man working alone on the moon. We have limited knowledge of our world. At any given moment, our perceptions are limited and distorted by our own feelings and responses to the events around us. We misunderstand ourselves and the people around us. We hold grudges; we struggle against bitterness; we remember too many sorrows and not enough joys. We are incapable loving perfectly.

Jesus calls out, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:29-31).

He breaks into our self-contained world with His Word of Truth, His Word of Life. He says, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” And acknowledging our complete inability to obey the Father, He answers the command. Jesus, the Son of Man, responds to the call of God and He Loves the Father with all His heart, soul, mind and strength. He loves his neighbor as himself (see John 15:12).

So we rest in Him. We live in Him. We love in Him. By His Spirit, He heals our deaf ears, He anoints our blind eyes, He leads us step by step into a world of truth beyond our distorted perceptions. Through His healing touch, I learn to listen to people around me. I learn to hear them as He hears them. I learn to love as He loves.

He keeps speaking through His Word. He keeps transforming me in His Spirit. He keeps leading me into the love and glory and life of His life in the Father, Son and Spirit.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)

Gran Torino Redeeming the American Icon

dirty_harryClint Eastwood, like John Wayne, embodied the American icon. From the mysterious cowboys to the gun-toting Dirty Harry, many of his characters embodied traits that Americans readily identify: loners, anti-establishment, rebels, smart, pragmatic and intentional or unintentional redeemers of the downcast. In his recent, Gran Torino, Eastwood plays yet another loner, Walt Kowalski.

At the beginning of the film, his wife just died and he obviously has no relation with his children. Mr. Kowalski, as he prefers to be called, relates better to his dog than to other humans. He lives in a neighborhood that has gradually become home to a predominant minority Hmong population. His unflinching expletives and racial comments seem funny because they are so over the top, much like a Don Rickles performance.

Early in the film Kowalski gets caught up in a conflict with a gang that is harassing his neighbor. And in strange twist of events, this supposed racist becomes a savior for the Hmong family. Up to this point, Eastwood is playing the icon exactly according to the American mythic narrative.

We as a nation would just as soon keep to ourselves. We get in wars only when forced. We don’t want to be a part of some big global cooperative. We’d prefer to go it alone. And yet, we dream that we are really the world’s savior. Whether our mythic values are truly lived or not, Americans consistently reflect variations in our icons.

But then something odd happens. Kowalski is changed by the Hmong family. A Hmong shaman speaks the same words of wisdom that Kowalski’s priest has been trying to teach him. On multiple levels the family enters his life and begins to soften his heart and teach him how to life. Since he knows a lot more about dying.

Spoiler alert: As Walt softens, he can finally enter into relationship with other people including his priest. He is becoming more human. As he begins to live, he offers something Dirty Harry was incapable of offering. He loves. In his love, he is willing to die for the relationship, so that the Hmong family can really be helped instead of a temporary fix through an act of violence and vengeance.

In one act of sacrifice, Walt becomes father to the Hmong boy, judge to the gang, healer to the Hmong family and possibly even a prophet to his own family. Eastwood connects with the American icon but then challenges us to enter into relationship and to learn that sacrifice may open doors that power and violence cannot.

As I dream of what America could be, I am going to keep thinking about Walt Kowalski and the power of modeling the cross, laying down my life on behalf of those I love. And if I follow the rhythm of the gospel, this means loving my enemies as well as my friends.

Christmas Presents

Yesterday, I heard a man say “Merry Christmas” and then apologize switching to “Happy New Year” instead. But he was really right the first time. We’ve entered Christmas “time,” and today is only the sixth day of a 12-day feast. During some seasons, Kelly and I have chosen to exchange a gift for each of the 12 days, helping remind us of the extended season of feasting.

Since I love getting presents this makes for a good tradition. While I realize that it is better to give than receive, I find it delightful to get…lots of presents. Presents and Christmas just go together. Some of my fondest memories from childhood include sitting under the Christmas tree and stacking up all the gifts that were labeled, “To Doug.”

During my early childhood, we’ve lived up in New Jersey. Every year we’d receive several large boxes from Tennessee, and each box was filled with presents from all our relatives.

What a delight I had to tear into the boxes, unpack the gifts and stack them under the tree. During the days leading up to Christmas, I’d sit by the tree and gather the “Doug” gifts, shaking, weighing and wondering upon the contents of each pretty package.

Sometimes I think I enjoyed the presents more before I opened them. The fancy papers, the colored bows, the odd shapes, and the varying weights all were a feast for my young imagination. Augustine’s idea that true happiness is found in anticipation of the good was being proved even in my childlike world of wonder.

In a way, this may be why Christmas sometimes seems like a letdown for some children and adults. The anticipation of the event is far more delightful than the actual experience. We discover like Augustine that the good we longed for is still ahead of us and not found in the mere gifts we exchanged.

As he reflected upon our longing for the “good,” Augustine came to believe that this good must be outside of us or we wouldn’t long for it. Then he assumed it must be something greater than what our outer world could supply. Because all our earthly goods never live up to the longing we have.

As he wrestled with this unfulfilled longing, Augustine came to see this greater good as something or someone that would fulfill the “desire” within us that drives us to long. And eventually Augustine came to realize that this “good” must be God, and that true happiness was found on earth in the anticipation of God who is beyond us.

For him, true earthly happiness was found in the longing for the “beautiful vision” of God. We merely touch hints of this vision in present life and will only enjoy the complete vision in the life to come. So even in the delight of a Christmas present, Augustine might see hints of God’s wondrous love.

I like that because my delight with Christmas presents might be seen as an act of spiritual devotion. Then again, it might be my unbridled selfish desires. And oddly enough, I suppose it is really a mixture of both. And God in his grace is working and transforming me in spite of my selfish motives.

But for now, let me go back to the presents! I have a question for you. What is the most memorable present you have ever received? I asked myself this several days ago, and oddly enough, it’s not an easy question to answer. All the presents blur together in my mind. Sweaters and pants and shirts and toys and boxes and bows all jumble together in one confusing mix.

So I’m not sure I can answer the question. After a few days of consideration, I have begun to remember the Bozo riding in the Bozo car that still sits in my house to this day. Then I remembered a Fisher Price circus set and a golf ball yo-yo and a train. Oops now the memories are flooding my mind: multiple race tracks, G.I. Joe dolls, magic tricks, a chemistry set, and a Tootsie Roll machine. Now I can’t stop. On and on I could go for pages listing trinkets and toys that delighted me for seasons of my childhood.

I failed to mention that the first gift which came to mind was a broken toy: a little car with broken wheels. I hated this gift but remember it more than any other gift. My sister and I were attending a youth choir Christmas party. We exchanged gifts using numbers we drew from a hat.

When I opened my little package, I was shocked to find a used and broken toy. Sad to say, I burst into tears. “Why me Lord?” “Why in heaven would someone have given me a broken toy?” As usual, my sister came to the rescue. She quickly pooled some money with another girl, and they ran down to the bookstore to buy me a puzzle.

I appreciated her kindness but somehow always felt a tinge of guilt playing with that puzzle. Why was I so sensitive and selfish over such a small thing? The memory stills haunts me on occasion.

I still wonder, “What is the story on that broken car?” Who thought bringing a broken car as a gift was a good idea? Were they too poor to buy something? If so, maybe this little broken car was actually a treasured gift, and they were giving me something of great value.” I’ll never know the story before it came to me, but I can tell you the story after I received it. Discarded. Trashed. But not forgotten.

Every gift is not simply a gift. It is actually a story in motion. It had a story before I got it and in one way or another it becomes part of my story once I receive it. For every gift that someone bought for me over the years, there was a moment or many moments of wondering, “What would Doug want?” Or possibly, “What can I get the best deal on?”

A whole series of thoughts might have occupied someone’s mind: “What size does he wear?” “What color does he like?” “Maybe I’ll just get him a goofy toy and call it a day.” For every gift someone bought for me, a thought or series of thoughts passed through their mind about me.

Now I realize something rather odd about the gift. It is actually an extension or symbol of the relationship I enjoy with that person. They took a few minutes to think about me and to find a gift for me because I am in relationship with them (even if that relationship consists in simply feeling some obligation to buy something).

Now this might seem odd, but I come to realize that gifts are but symbols for persons in my life. The wonder of gifts might not only point to some deep longing for the God, they might also point to the wonder of human relationships.

Looking around me at all the people in my life, I realize that I am surrounded by all shapes and sizes of gifts. Some talkative. Some quiet. Some big. Some tiny. Some friendly. Some a bit grumpy. And yet, in the mystery of God’s grace all these people are gifts of love and relationship God has granted me in this life: hints of His divine and all-surpassing love.

I can admire the packages. Or I can open up the gifts. How? I listen, enjoy, appreciate the wonder of the people around me. I can realize that each of these people have a story that extends far beyond me. But in some mysterious way I am part of their story and they are part of my story.

Every person in my life will change me and I will change them. I can celebrate them and thank God for them, or I can act like I got a bunch of broken toys. And ask, “Why me?”

I hope I’ve learned that even broken toys have mystery and wonder and stories that may unfold surprising hints of God’s goodness and grace.

As I celebrate the 12 days of Christmas this year, I am opening up gifts. Not physical boxes, but the amazing wonder of people in my life. From family and friends to the mystery of the stranger in the story, I am surrounded by gifts of wonder and glory. May I have eyes to see this wonder and sense the stirrings of a love from deep heaven that binds us together in grace.

Doug Floyd

“From a human perspective, when you compare [God] to the other gods of the other religions in the world, you have to say our God is really sort of odd. He uses the most common of people, people that aren’t any different from any of us here; he comes in the most common of ways, when by his Spirit an anonymous young woman is found to be with child. And the strangest thing is that he comes at all—he’s not the Above-Us-God, too holy to come down. This God’s love is so immense that he wants to come down. And he has proven his love by the fact that he did come down and touch our ground.”
James R. Van Tholen, Where All Hope Lies (cited from ChristianityToday.com)

It's All Over Now Baby Blue

While I’m working on business KPIs and online marketing, I listen to the Grateful Dead belt out Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

I feel a bit foolish as tears fill my eyes and a deep ache fills my heart because something, someone “calls for me.”I don’t always understand what makes me cry so easily. One minute I in the midst of promotions and products and schedules, and the next moment, I’ve slipped over into a thin place.

This joyful pain seems out of place in the cold light of fluorescent rows, staring down on endless cubicles of people pounding out metrics on laptop machines. And yet, the voice still calls.

Beneath our engines of enterprise and above our monuments of marketing, the still small voice is wooing, drawing and stirring us to love. Maybe the match I strike does not burn up this material world around me. Maybe instead I leave the cold, relation-less sterility of business behind, and remember once again that I am a lover and called to love and embody love in the midst of every place–whether lush green valley or a cynderblock room of cubicles.

Forget About It

Here’s an oldie but a goodie:

Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Fr many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others. – Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

Reminds me of something Maximas the Confessor says in his Four Centuries on Love. He cautions us not to remember the evil words or actions of our friends for in doing so, we will make it harder to love them purely. It’s so easy to be offended. But so much more fruitful to love forgetfully.

Thank You Dumitru Staniloae

There is a sweetness in the writings of Dumitru Staniloae that draws me into the love of God. This precious Orthodox theologian opened the gift of relationships within time and space for me. I was struggling to understand the problems of the West and the modern world in the way we articulate and understand time and space when I first discovered Staniloae.

Instead giving me the answers, he caused me to raise more questions. And I am grateful for that holy stirring in my soul. Like Heschel, Staniloae suggests that the modern world tended to spacialize time and invert the proper order of time over space. When writing about time, Staniloae says that time is the interval between the offer of love and the reciprocation to that offer.

But maybe I better back up a moment. Staniloae introduced me to another aspect of Maximas the Confessor beyond the four hundreds texts on love. He develops the creational vision of Maximas in his writings. Staniloae suggests that when God chose to create humans (in his image), God created time and space as to planes where humans could move (in differing ways) towards love. Thus time and space provide a plane of motion for movement toward love in relationship with God and with other humans.

At first this may be a little difficult to wrap around, but I encourage to let it simmer in your thoughts and heart. It will unfold riches of the beauty of this creation. As a way of offering some glimpses into Staniloae’s writings, I am posting a segement from his little pamphlet “The Victory of the Cross.” This 20 page treasure opens in the riches of the cross in ways that most of us completely miss.

Here is the opening paragraph from this meditation on the cross of suffering in our lives:

The world is a gift of God, but the destiny of this gift is to unite man God who has given it. The intention of the gift is that it should be continually transcended. When we receive a gift from somebody we should look primarily towards the person who has given it and not keep our eyes fixed on the gift. But often the person who receives the gift becomes so attached to the gift that he forgets who has given it to him. But God demands an unconditional love from us for he is infinitely greater than any of the gifts which he gives us; just as at the human levels the person who gives us a gift is incomparably more important than the gift which he has given and should be loved for himself and ot only on account of his gift. In this way every gift requires a certain cross, and this cross is meant to show us that all these gifts are not the last and final reality. The cross consists in an alteration in thie gift, and sometimes even in its entire loss.

I am planning to put some notes on his themes on the cross soon, and I’ll post them. But I’ll pause now simply to say thank you for the gift of writing you gave. May I move beyond the gift to love God and others more fully.