LOVE

Aside

Remember this famous lyric by the Beatles?  “All you need is love.”  Love.  We yearn for love.  We have love to give.  We want to say and hear those three words, “I love you.”  Tight.  Except, what is love?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then consider this picture: One day I returned home from work.  April was holding one of our four-month old infant triplets in one arm, she was feeding another baby a bottle, and she was rocking the third to sleep who was nestling in on her legs.  Oh and she was also teaching our six-year old twins a homeschooling lesson!

The most remarkable part of that scene wasn’t even that she repeated care giving and teaching the day before and the day after; it wasn’t even that she met all those needs without complaint, and it wasn’t even the joy in her heart as she ministered to our five young children.  The most incredible thing was that our five children all received love from her simultaneously.  From taking care of basic needs to learning first grade lessons, each child was cultivating a relationship with her in which each was valued and affirmed.  In the minutiae of life, April was loving her children in a powerful way.

What were our children experiencing?  What should you be experiencing if you’re in a love relationship?  Significance and security are the two indispensable elements of love.  If you’re in a loving relationship, you should experience and give both.

April and I watched one old black and white movie that I wish I could remember the name of.  A young daughter described feeling like she was “ten feet tall,” whenever she was with her dad.  He made her beam from the inside out.  She felt so deeply valued that she knew how special, how important, and significant she was.  Similarly, she felt safe.  She did not have to question herself or develop a sense of insecurity.  She knew that she was physically and emotionally secure when she was with her dad.

Imagine if you could give and receive security and significance.  But how?

In our own strength, we could be pretty good at giving security and significance for a week or two.  Ultimately, the only way to love someone well is by being so rooted in Christ that you are free to be a giver instead of a taker.  Because all of your needs for identity are met in Christ, you are freed up to live with open palms instead of with clenched fists.  You can love passionately, courageously, and well.

What kind of givers can we become?  Those who love with reckless abandonment.  Those who love others by pouring themselves out for the person we love.  As Elroy Cruz, a New York City pastor put it, “I only have two loves in my life.  God and the person standing in front of me.”  By putting the others needs ahead of our own, we can begin to love with open palms, with nail scarred hands.

A word of caution: Jesus counsels us to be wise as serpents and innocent as lambs.  If you choose to “give until it hurts and then give some more” as Mother Teresa counseled, then you must also ask Jesus for wisdom to pick someone who will love you similarly back.  If you cultivate a relationship in which you do all the giving and the other person does all the taking, you’ve developed an abusive relationship.

Jesus teaches us to love the Lord our God and our neighbor as ourselves.  In a healthy loving relationship, you can build an upward spiral of health, where you continue to grow closer and deeper with the love of your life.  You can begin to develop that relationship well by rooting yourself in Christ so that you’re free to give to another person in such a way that you’re cultivating security and significance in the love of your life.

Imagine you in a loving relationship.  Now imagine that person in a loving relationship with you.  Now imagine Jesus embracing both of you in love and beaming. . .

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I want to matter

Breaking Benjamin’s lead singer’s girlfriend died suddenly.  To find closure, he read through her diary.   Shocked, he found that he was never mentioned once.  They dated for seven years.  He wrote the song Diary of Jane in response.

His pain connects deeply with each of us because it touches the cry of our hearts: we want to matter.  I want to matter and you want to matter.  We want to live the type of lives in which many people will notice when we die.  We can feel the lead singer’s pain as he questioned, did I really matter to Jane?

One helpful way to contextualize the question- do I matter- is to look at it from this perspective: calling.  How can I live at the center of God’s will for my life?  If I can do that, then can I matter?

It can be pretty hard to find our calling amidst the cacophony of the postmodern world.  We’re bombarded with youtube videos, facebook messages, movies, and tv shows all at our fingertips.  Society’s expectations of gender roles are switching, the economy is challenging, and we’re only in our early twenties!  With some pretty big consequences riding on the decisions we’re making, career and calling choices can seem pretty overwhelming!

Lisa sat in my office early this semester talking about her involvement with prison ministry.  She goes to a local prison once a week to talk to and build relationships with the female inmates.  She also takes part in a Bible study.

As the conversation progressed, she said something remarkable, “I so badly want to defend the women I see weekly.”  That’s incredible because in that one statement, Lisa shared the cry of her heart.  Her passion is to defend the alien, the widow, the oppressed, and the poor.  She wants to seek justice for those who have no one to plead for them.  She wants to identify with, liberate, and restore the oppressed.

What’s so remarkable about Lisa’s one sentence is this: she voiced her calling and unlocked the key to finding a way to matter in this world.  She discovered her calling by obediently following Jesus into the prisons, caring deeply for those who are hurting, and then linking that to becoming faithful to use her God-given gifts on behalf of those in great need.  By going where Jesus goes and doing what He does, Lisa discovered her calling.

God is speaking to you just as He is speaking to Lisa.  He speaks to His children in a variety of ways: a few of us hear him audibly, many of us listen to Him through prayer, the Bible, our family and friends, nature, media, books, on and on.

It’s amazing to grasp that our calling is not an exclusively private thing!  In the tapestry of this world, God is making all things new.  He is reversing the tidal wave of injustice and is turning an upside world right up.  You are a key part of his right making work in the world.

Salvadoran ArchBishop Oscar Romero once wrote that God is Master of the vineyard and we’re the workers: we can’t always see the big picture but we can trust that our efforts in the field contribute to the larger cause of Spirit inscribed pathways in this world.  God connects our individual callings to His corporate work of the restoration of lives, cultures, and civilizations in this world.  Our lives deeply matter.

To find a deep sense of meaning- that is to discover the key to living a life that matters- ask Jesus for wisdom in discovering your calling.  It might not be quick, you might have to wrestle with angels, but it is the pathway to living a life of meaning- a life that matters to others, to Christ, and to His kingdom.  It could start by something as simple as saying yes the next time you’re asked to visit the local prison.

What will you do after graduation?

What will you do after graduation?

 

You probably feel some degree of concern about the economy that you’re entering into.  What are some of the deeper economic issues in today’s economy?

 

The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, argues Mark Trumbellin writing in the Christian Science Monitor, “Not since the Roaring ‘20s has the income gap between rich and poor been as wide as it is today in America.”  Over the past thirty years, average real incomes have increased in the following ways:

Income Bracket            1979 Average Income             2007 Average Income

  • Top 1%                   $350,000                                  $1,300,000
  • Middle 60%            $44,000                                    $57,000
  • Bottom 20%            $15,500                                    $17,500

 

Concern over income inequality has propelled Occupy to stage protests in nearly 1,000 cities worldwide.  President Obama has argued that the very rich should pay at least 30 percent of their income in federal taxes.  The Tea Party proposes reducing the size of the government, cutting federal spending, and increasing revenue through growth as means of addressing economic anxiety.

 

Concerns over the expanding income gap have increased in the past half-decade.  As economic and financial conditions have worsened, the percentage of those living in poverty has increased to 15 percent and the unemployment percentage hovers in the 8-9 percent territory.  Additionally, more and more Americans are concerned about the current and future trends of the widening economic gap.

 

How did the Post World War II America- full of promise and responsible for nearly half of the world’s GDP- get into this current condition?

 

During the dark days of the Great Depression, the renowned economist John Maynard Keynes wrote, “Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.”

 

When thinking about larger economic issues, as Bob Goudzwaard, Mark Vander Vennen, and I argue in Hope in Troubled Times, it’s helpful to compare the metaphors of a tunnel and a fruit tree.  The tunnel describes our current problematic economy and a fruit tree describes what our economy could become.  As Keynes described it nearly a century ago, the economy is the tunnel and avarice and usury are the means to speed up traffic to get to the light at the end of the tunnel: a rising standard of living for everyone.

 

Remarkably we’re still in that tunnel today.  The dynamics of present day globalization promises to increase materialism through unbridled economic growth.  The gods of economic progress demand that the economy continues growing at all cost, that is, the traffic inside the tunnel must increase.  Regrettably, certain countries may fall back further (the tunnel logical explains) such as the following: layoffs of the unskilled, environmental damage may be inevitable, etc.  Tragic as these may be, these sacrifices are necessary to reach the daylight of material prosperity.

 

The tunnel represents a postcare economy.  Today we live in a postcare economy that engages in the highest possible consumption and production and then deals with the consequences of that consumption- namely in developing program to engages to reduce the mounting care needs of the poor (which it has just contributed to)!

 

What if economic growth were re-imagined as a fruit tree orchard instead of as a tunnel?  A fruit tree thrives and bears fruit!  It doesn’t obsess about growth in a tunnel, creating a high-speed lane and then discarding the slow cars to the side.  It utilizes all cells, meets basic needs, and maintains the environment.

 

How can a fruit tree thrive and avoid the negative consequences of the obsessive tunnel?  At a certain point, a fruit tree re-directs its energies away from expansion in height and towards production of fruit.  The various fruit trees in the garden bear fruit abundantly.

 

What if we began to reduce consumption, create room for developing economies, and encourage growth towards healthy economies?  In this way, we’d move out of the hypnotizing tunnel and into the global orchard of fruit-bearing economies?  Our economies of enough would be liberated from stress and turned towards meeting the needs of the poor.  We could begin to move towards a precare economy.

 

Jesus said that the poor will always be with us.  For disciples of Christ in 2012 his statement means that his children will always be in solidarity with the poor.  Because we’re his followers, we’ll always be identifying with, liberating, and restoring the poor.  In a precare economy, the poor are a central concern!

 

You are entering into an exciting time of life: your first full-time job!  You are diving into a dynamic economy.  With your full time employment, will you take your place in the fast lane of the tunnel or would you consider becoming a part of new way- taking up your place in an orchard of fruit bearing trees?

 

A Dad’s Prayer for His Daughter

Would you consider saying this prayer for your daughter?

May she have a mind that’s nimble and active, filled with knowledge about this world, and offered to God

May she have a mind that loves God, a heart that experiences the love of Jesus, and hands and feet that follow the Holy Spirit out into this world

May she love rich and poor, sinner and saint, criminal and victim the same way God does, with a scandalous, unconditional love, just as the Sower threw equal amounts of seed on the different types of soil

May she have eyes that see the harm caused by evil, hands that advocate for those harmed by it, and a heart that loves both the victim and the aggressor

May she never forget that her two great loves are God and the person standing in front of her

May she have a male and female role model at home who cultivate in her a way of living that embraces the other and excludes no one

May she know a dad who while never perfect had not only pure motives but did his best to act on those motives well

May she be blessed richly with friends

May she deal honestly and with integrity to those she lives and interacts with

May she long for purity, believe she can achieve it, and then embrace it

May she find a love that is so deep and real that in the throes of marital bliss, she can say, that here too, she experienced the presence of Jesus

May you grant these same blessings to her future spouse and children

May she yearn to be a phenomenal mom

May life so overflow from her that others become inspired to live greatly just by being in her presence

May she live life in such a way that people say thank you instead of in such a way that she cares more for her 401K

May she live in the prayer of my grandfather for me as I left to study in a foreign country, “We commit David into Thy hands”

May she find happiness as a result of being joy-filled instead of living to find happiness

May she experience both sadness and happiness but always in an amidst them both, joy

May she be big enough to admit her mistakes and to say the awfully important words, “I’m sorry,” and mean them

May she not be free from the unrealistic expectation of no harm or sadness ever but may she be shaped into woman who sees deeply into the darkness, knowing that the darkness really isn’t all there is but rather that the darkness really is the shadow of the cross

May she slow down and enjoy the little moments of life with friends and family

May she live caring exclusively for the way God sees her and not as a people pleaser

May she be granted a rich measure of patience so that as she waits upon the Lord, she will experience peace to soar with wings as eagles even when she can’t see how the longings of her heart will ever be met

May she have eyes that no matter how accomplished she becomes, she looks at the least of these the same way she looks at me

May she be blessed with long years

May she be an old woman who looks back on a rich life, not a perfect life, but a good life in which she has lived without regrets

May she live in such a way that at the moment of death she will take consolation in knowing not only that in life and in death she was not her own but was owned by her faithful savior Jesus Christ and that she lived in such a way that the questions of sovereignty were settled far before her death, and that in losing her life to Jesus, she gained life both now and forevermore

Friends

In his Fabric of Faithfulness, Steve Garber suggests that you can have a successful undergraduate career if you focus on the following three things: 1) cultivate a relationship with a mentor, 2) develop a Christian perspective, and 3) live in community- that is, you develop life-long friendships.  Let me highlight the significance of the third one.

If you graduate from college with five life-long friends then your time will have been worth it.

At its deepest core, life is relationships.  We live in relationship with God, nature/society, and ourselves.  In these relationships we serve God, we’re stewards of nature/society, and we are guardians of others.  The Bible’s answer to the question of justice- am I my brother’s keeper- is yes.

College offers lots of opportunities to develop relationships: living in the dorms, going out with friends, dating, study groups, etc.

But there’s an inherent danger in all of these relationships: we can become great acquaintances but poor friends.  We can become the life of the party, making a huge splash, and then jet without deeply connecting with others.

What’s wrong with many acquaintances but few friends?  We miss out going deep.  We miss out on becoming authentic, vulnerable, and honest with others.  On graduation day do you want to end up with lots of acquaintances but few friends?

In friendship, we have the opportunity to become honest, real, and authentic with others.  There are inherent risks: we could get burned by our friends, we could have to open up and share our pain, and we might well make ourselves vulnerable to being held accountable by others.

The risks are worth it.  In genuine friendship, you get to do life with a few life-long friends.  Through the inevitable highs and lows you get to live in community with others.  The highs are much better because you get to celebrate those moments with friends and the lows are endurable because you have others rallying to be in solidarity with you.  You will never be alone.

To develop deep, meaningful friendships, you’ll need to be a friend: being there to give, encourage and be with others.  Solidarity can develop from a buzzword to a huge part of your life.  You’ll get to do life with your friends.

On graduation day, you’ll say good-bye to your acquaintances but not your friends.  You can be connected to them for the rest of your life and on into eternity.  Who are your friends?

Hope in Troubled Times

Is America over?

This question was the topic of the November/December 2011 edition of the influential Foreign Affairs journal.  After half a century of global dominance, leading foreign policy experts are now grappling with this question.

That question is also the underlying issue of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Many of us can touch this question on a very practical level: we feel anxiety over the economy.  President Obama’s recent State of the Union address highlighted the Buffet Rule designed so that the rich end up paying their fair share.

Our economic anxiety has spurred, at least in part, both the Occupy and the Tea Party movements.   The first seeks to address the economic inequalities and the later addresses the debt incurred as a result of excessive governmental spending.

Despite historic highs in the housing affordability index because of the bear market in housing price and record low interest rates, many Americans have difficulty qualifying for a new mortgage, re-financing, or making their monthly payments.  Those with jobs can feel uncertainty about maintaining their jobs.  Many journalists are writing about the difficulty of maintaining the American Dream.

How might we begin to work through our economic insecurity?  Should we be gripped by anxiety and fear to the point of paralysis?

Perhaps the way to approach these questions is to ask the following question: If America’s best days are behind us, then what?

First, we need to grapple with whether our global dominance is really over.  The US is still the largest economy in the world, responsible for over 20% of the world’s GDP.  The US maintains the world’s finest military establishment, spending as much on the military as the rest of the world combined.  The US has major financial centers, a burgeoning population, and influences the world culturally.

On the other hand, if our dominance is over, then perhaps the key question is this: can we assess where we are between a healthy patriotism and the idol of civil religion?  It’s good to be proud of our country and to it’s healthy to drive deep roots into the USA.  But if we cross the line into civil religion- that is, turning a country into a church in such a way that we bend and even alter the definitions of justice and ethics from their transcendent definitions into whatever is just or good for our country, then we have crossed the line into the idol of civil religion.

As disciples of Christ our deepest allegiance is to the Kingdom of God.  Our deepest commitments and convictions are to the coming Kingdom of God in this world in the 21st century.  Stanley Hauerwas refers to God’s Kingdom as “breaking into” this world.  God’s movement of reconciliation, restoration, and redemption into the systems, cultures, and lives of the world’s seven billion people calls out our deepest convictions.  God’s in-breaking kingdom relatives our particular commitments to our individual countries.  The Kingdom of God transcends nationalities.

You and I get to be a part of something incredible: God’s right-making work in this world.  As He is turning an upside-world right-side up, He has chosen to use us to bring about His kingdom in this sorry world.  God has chosen not to abandon the systems and the people of this world but to bring his shalom.

That shalom inspires hope.  While we may grieve about the loss of dominance we may be hopeful that the One in whom all things cohere is bringing about his kingdom in this world.  Amidst loss and despair we get to be agents of shalom bringing some hope and fulfillment.  As a matter of principle, God’s blessing is deeper than the curse.  For you, me, and the people of the nearly two hundred countries of the world, there is hope in these troubled times.

Dare we consider living not with anxiety but with hope- turning towards and living into the reconciliation of the coming kingdom?

Stopping the Violence

Witnessing the horror of Nazi concentration camps in World War II, theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr commented that he was utterly devastated by “man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.”

Responding to the situation in Syria last month, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations said, “You must stop killing your people.”  The clarity of his statement is chilling.

Similarly, the US Ambassador to the UN recently said, “Syria is killing innocent people.  This has to stop.”

The Arab Spring swept through the Middle East over the past year.  Many cheered as authoritarian dictatorships gave way to the will of the people in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.  Morocco and Jordan have stabilized their governments through reforms.  While the future prospects for new governments remain unclear, different types of democracies inspired hope for Arabs throughout the Middle East.

Not so in Syria.  In less than a year since the uprising began, the UN estimates that the Assad regime has killed over 5,500 of its own people.  News reports describe shocking terror of the military going into towns and executing civilians, including children.  What Rob Bell has written about is right before us: the fall of man not only happened but it continues to happen.

Syria has presented a challenge to the Obama administration.  Should we act unilaterally or multilaterally?  How much should we invest in the Syria situation?

The Obama Doctrine has been summed up in the following way by two scholars: Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress stated, “If you had to sum up in a few words Obama’s vision of international intervention, it would be ‘multilateral if we can, unilateral only if we must, and the military should not be the first option.’”

Prof Robert Lieber, Georgetown University, said, “Where the Bush Doctrine was ‘as much multilateralism as possible; as much unilateralism as necessary,’ the Obama administration is establishing something very different: ‘Unless there is multilateralism, we cannot and will not act.’”

If the Obama administration is committed to multilateralism, then Syria presents the next opportunity for orchestrating a coherent international response.  Such a response holds the possibility for a cessation of the violence.

The issues in regard to the international response to the Syrian crises are complex ranging from regional issues to sectarian violence to splits within the opposition.  Certainly, from a vision of justice, the first step towards a multi-faceted response must be a cessation of the violence.  In the face of a cease-fire, the deeper issues in regards to the possibilities of a transfer of power, free and fair elections, and the possibilities for restoring civil society can all be engaged in.

But the first step must be to heed the words of the Secretary General, “You must stop killing your people.”