Love is not easy. In fact, it is the “most difficult of all of our tasks,” writes Ranier Maria Rilke to a young poet, “the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” How do I love my political opponent, you ask, or the sibling who regularly tells me my beliefs are mistaken, the leader who betrays me, or the perpetrator of violence? Maybe you can’t at first, and your honest appraisal is the beginning of the way through?
Love can feel great, but intention matters more than emotion. It’s the practice of seeking the good of the other, intending her well-being, dying to the temptation of winning power over, and rising to the eternal truth of building power with. It is believing in your own worth and humanity and granting that value to any so-called enemy. Love looks less to change the other person’s mind and more to find unexpected common ground. Love honors truth-telling, but uses compassion to get there. Love invites, includes, respects, shares.
Love is the defining value of the way of Jesus, and in that it calls people of faith to two types of action. One kind is within our small circle of influence—courageous, consistent engagement with family members, friends, colleagues, or neighbors. The second call is on a larger scale—employing love with others as an organizing principle and methodology to transform systems for the better. Both practices foster well being: the hard slog of confession, accountability, and reconciliation is what heals us.
Moreover, love can teach us how to have difficult conversations across palpable divides, which seem increasingly common these days. Maybe you’d like some training to help you navigate the relationships you find yourself in or hope for? Reach out to me if you are interested.
Last evening I was struck to see what I wrote to you on October 1:
When a leader is wounded at his center, the system suffers, and that is our reality as Americans at this moment. Whatever one’s political party, our President is not well. Deflection, distraction, self-centeredness, and bullying are not the signs of health, and accommodating such destructiveness in one who wields such power imperils the whole. I pray for President Trump every day.
Republicans and Democrats at their best stand for humane values grounded in good will, good governance, elected representation, responsible stewardship of resources, and securing the well-being of our most vulnerable neighbors. Solving our problems through honest debate and respecting each other’s right to informed and differing opinions invites growth and brings out the best in us. Interrogating our history with open eyes, open minds, and open hearts enables us to recapture our soaring aspirations, even as we confront the fact that we have never yet achieved our Constitution’s goals for all of our citizens.
I believe if we will continually confess the sins which have thrown obstacle after obstacle in the way of so much human thriving, especially for people of color, with God’s grace, we can finally build a more perfect union.
But we won’t get there if we don’t ask ourselves what ails our principal leader, confront every measure of collaboration or colluding committed for selfish ends, condemn any act of or invitation to violence, seek his healing, and our own.
Three and a half months later, I still seek the healing of our President, by holding him in the Divine Light and expressing my concern to our representatives in Washington. But more than that is called for in this moment.
When a person crosses a line of discipline or honor, the most loving response is to hold him accountable for his actions; the healing of the individual and of the whole require it. The faith and future of our children and grandchildren depend on it. Words matter. How we speak and what we say to others is our responsibility, especially for a leader, and most especially for the President of the United States.
Years of bending the truth has warped the foundation of our institutions, and his followers’ anger over that time was less addressed than stoked, as kindling for his self-serving fire. On January 6, President Trump incited the storming of the Capitol Building and the horrible violence of that day. Further, the President could have intervened to stop the violence, and he did not. His words and actions are contemptible, and with humility we must confront him with them; evil triumphs when good people remain silent. An impeachment is a logical response to his putting personal pique ahead of good of the nation. Unity between parties and people can only grow from the solid ground of mutual accountability and respect.
Love is not easy. Love is the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. But only the hard work of love can save us, as individuals and a nation.
Yesterday on January 6th my daughter, Crystal, reminded me of one of her birth stories that I had told her throughout the years. Trigger warning: too much information? (TMI)
I had to be induced twice before she was born. The first time it was because I was already 2 weeks overdue. I was miserable naturally and cried when Dr. Linda sent me home after a full day of an oxytocin drip. Later that night, I went into semi-active labor and for the next 48 hours simply walked the floors of our home. I could not eat or sleep; needless to say, I became physically exhausted. The doctor said let’s try again; it was Wednesday night. She gave me a Seconal to sleep which was good, because the new IV started promptly at 8a on Thursday morning. By noon, I began to demand that Charles take me home. I consciously remember saying to him, “I wanna go; take me home…NOW!”
I was scared, had never done this before and just wanted OUT of the whole thing. He tried to be understanding—I gave him you-know-what. Poor guy. Crystal was born at 4 that evening.
People of God, we may want out of the whole thing the way I did many moons ago, but we must birth a new way of being at this time in our collective life. Due to this fact, we are now undergoing birth pangs. That is what we witnessed yesterday on the steps of the nation’s capitol. It may feel like freefall or like the sky is falling. While some ask how did we come to the fiasco of yesterday afternoon at the nation’s capitol, others ask, why such limited numbers of law enforcement were present for so many people when Black Lives Matter protestors were met with law enforcement in full riot regalia earlier this year.
It is a humiliation and a reckoning with the truth of who we are as a people. We are just like any other people, fallen and in need of Grace. Without vital connection to the Light of God (which some call enlightenment), we are no worse nor better than any other people or nation. We have been spiritually unhealthy as a nation for quite a long time now, even in the Church, so what we witnessed was to be expected. We experienced physically what already existed energetically. Matter follows energy (or spirit).
Birthing is a hard thing. Do you recall my sermon about the revelation that we are ALL Mary the mother of God? Well, that revelation remains true for each one of us. Some of us say “yes” like Mary did, some say “maybe”, and some say “no!” That is just the way human beings operate and have operated since time immemorial. And even though La Virgen said “yes,” she still had a messy, complicated birthing alone followed by a harried departure to Egypt to protect the new baby. Life is difficult. Period.
These times make it even more important that we learn how to get connected and stay connected to the Divine Source (GOD). What I am saying to you is that you should not be surprised by all that we are undergoing. It may have caught many by surprise, but it has not caught the Divine Source of Life off-guard. Remember WHO you are and keep the main thing, the Main Thing.
What is the Main Thing you might ask? Well only this. That GOD was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and through him has given US the spirit of reconciliation. People are not separate from GOD or each other no matter what they or we may “think.” Because of this truth we are responsible for being like Christ in the world in every aspect of our lives. It is not about our success or failure in this endeavor; it IS about our intentionality to BE Christ to each other and wherever we meet another human being (especially) in our families. If we are children of God, then we ought to look like our Parent…should we not?
Because birthing is a difficult messy business, those of us who know better must do better in terms of getting connected and staying connected to our Source—GOD who resides within us at the soul-level. There are spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, meditation, mindfulness, and others that can help us to get in touch with our souls…where God’s image resides. In this place is where peace and love and joy abound. When you live out of this place, you will find yourself acting from love, with love, for love’s sake. You will be changed. You, then, will change the world around you. We are all connected; we are all One.
This Lent, there will be plenty of opportunity to test and try out for yourself spiritual ways of getting in touch with God that have been used successfully through the centuries. Consider learning a new way. Remember, if we do what we have always done, we will get what we already have. It is time for God’s people to make the main thing, the Main Thing. It is time for something new.
‘Twas the night before Christmas
and in every room
is a person connecting
to worship by ZOOM.
The children are nestled
in bed with their screens,
with hopes that St. Nick
will come in their dreams.
They’ve ordered their presents
from websites this time
to help the old elf
use Amazon Prime.
There’s Ma in the meeting
with a question to ask.
“When I sing the old carols,
should I take off my mask?”
And Pa in his shirt,
with a coat and a tie,
wearing sweatpants below,
so no one should spy!
“You’re muted,” says the host
to Grandma. “Am I seen?”
She asks, “Is this video?
And what is “share screen”?
Still, the stockings are hung
by the chimney with care,
and the pageant recorded
on YouTube to share.
There are angels in bedsheets,
colored lights all aglow,
and shepherds with sheep
by a barn, in the snow.
They run to the manger,
with some pushing and shoving,
to see the wee Babe
who redefines loving.
In time, He will tell us,
“Give yourself to the least.
Find the lost, lift the last,
invite all to the feast.
Raise the valley, lower mountains,
make the Way smooth for all.
Share your treasure, give your coat,
free the captive, heed the call.”
What a year we are having—
2020… Are you done?
In this annus horribilis
People fighting… where’s the fun?
We are distanced from each other,
hardly daring to meet,
to protect the most likely
on the margins, the weak.
Ah this wretched COVID-19
all the suffering, neighbors lost
hundreds, thousands who are dying,
and our spirits: tempests tossed.
So we’re thankful for heroes
who make up the front line:
doctors, nurses, drivers, teachers,
EMT’s, who are a sign
That together we’re stronger,
thank you truckers, cleaners, aides.
Thank you singers, painters, dancers
for the beauty you’ve made.
And we’re thankful for faces
that shine through the screens,
the bonds we are making,
the new community we’ve seen.
Forget the Grinch who has tried
to keep Christmas away,
God’s “Yes” is much bigger
than any “No” we can say.
For Christmas can come
without boxes or bows.
It comes without packages
parties or shows.
For it comes any time
that you let yourself see
that God will be born
in the big and the wee.
For if He can be with us
in the weak and the lost
and is willing to love us
no matter the cost.
Then there is no person
no place and no sorrow,
no night that is angry,
no fearsome tomorrow,
Where God is not present,
where hope does not stir,
where love cannot conquer
the fear we aver.
Even death has been vanquished
by this Love everlasting,
which triumphs by giving,
So no wonder the angels
can’t silence their shouts:
Hallelujah! Glory be!
Fa la la! Or thereabouts.
So merry, merry Christmas!
Jingle Bells! Deck the halls!
Strike the harp, join the chorus
From the mountain, tell it all.
That God has come to join us,
pleased as man with us to dwell,
this Jesus, son of Mary,
brother, friend, Emmanuel.
This past Tuesday my sister and I drove to Timonium to greet our dad on his 80th birthday, arriving on our parents’ doorstep in our face-masks with their favorite Chinese takeout for lunch. Later that evening, our families including grandkids gathered on Zoom, with “Lolo” (“grandpa” in Tagalog) sharing stories from his childhood and the years he and his family lived in an evacuation village high in the mountains, away from the Japanese invaders during World War II. He recalled a particular guava tree where he used to play in the village, and the day the sky turned black with the smoke of American airplanes flying overhead to liberate the islands.
Yesterday in the front courtyard of Redeemer, 7 of us gathered to visit with one another, hear scripture, share where we are finding “Good News” today and celebrate the Eucharist. We were masked and gloved, standing in a circle as snow fell around us and on the Christmas trees, lights and decorations that have been so lovingly placed there, transforming our outdoor sanctuary into a veritable Christmas winter wonderland.
Tonight, 500 citizens from all around our city, including 35+ from Redeemer, will gather on Zoom in solidarity with our BUILD sister congregation Sacred Heart of Jesus, to support them in their grief over losing 40 of their members to COVID since March. We will also recognize the essential workers and drivers who have personally delivered 2.2 million meals since March, many of whom are receiving food themselves or are one paycheck away.
Birthdays in masks … church in the snow … citizen assemblies on Zoom …
What once would have raised eyebrows and questions among us — “Why wear a facemask to a birthday celebration?” “Why hold church out in the snow?” “What the heck is Zoom?” — has now become part of our human experience, a strange blend of the familiar with the unfamiliar, the comfortable with the uncomfortable, the known with the unknown or the “still-learning-and-getting-to-know”.
Our upcoming Christmas celebrations will be more of the same: Lessons and Carols, pre-recorded … seeing friends and family, in masks or on Skype … going to church on Christmas Eve, on Zoom …
And yet amidst all this ongoing strangeness is the constancy of the ties that bind us, that hold us together when all else feels uncertain and shifting. Ties that are unseen yet remain unbroken, that keep us connected even when we feel we are drifting apart. It is this constancy, this connection, this unbrokenness that the prophets among us point us ever towards, that the angels among us proclaim and announce, and that Emmanuel — God With Us — embodies.
I recently stumbled upon a poem on Facebook that speaks to this truth, here it is below. Hope you enjoy it, and remember we are together, even when we are apart.
I got out of my car today, carrying my groceries.
Carrots and potatoes
Broccoli and onions
An ordinary sack of ordinary things.
Then I heard
High in the clear December sky,
The sound of hundreds of migrating sandhill cranes,
Each one flying with purpose, heading south for the winter.
Suddenly they released themselves from formation,
They opened and gathered
Hovered and honked
Blossoming like ink spilled into blue water.
Skating randomly around like Jesus bugs on a pond.
And then, without any apparent reason
That could be seen from the ground,
The flocks realigned and regained direction,
Recreating their connections
Wing to wing to wing,
Washing forward in waves on their way out to sea.
Sometimes things come together.
And we don’t know why.
Maybe the wind shifted
Or the light changed.
Maybe it was courage
Or a moment of clarity.
Maybe the eternal called
Or the internal clock chimed.
All I know is that somewhere
Something keeps weaving.
Creating whole cloth
From what seemed hopelessly unraveled.
Something keeps nudging our hearts
In the right general direction,
Pulling through the threads
Of wing to wing to wing.
By Carrie Newcomer