Sunday, February 22, 2015

Love Breaks the Cycle

At Promise Academy, a school for at-risk students in the Harlem Children’s Zone, teacher Sophie Richard tutored a child to prepare him for a crucial test. One afternoon, when the young boy was tired and frustrated, she tried to offer him words of encouragement, but he

suddenly interrupted her.  “Why should I care about this test?” he demanded.  “No one cares how I do on this test. I don’t care either.” “But I care about how you do,” Richard replied. And with those words, tears sprang to the boy’s eyes and started running down his face. “Why do you care?” he asked. “Because this is your future, and I care deeply about you.”

We’re hungrier than we know for someone to care about how we do and, even more, to care deeply for us—to love us in a way that energizes us for a better and gladder life.  Journalist Paul Tough described the love which this teacher had for her student as “the X factor, the magic ingredient . . .   If the kids didn’t get that, all the tutoring in the world might not help them” (Whatever It Takes, 186).

Without love, creative methodologies, ingenious technologies, expert knowledge, and abundant resources will not solve any of our most pressing problems. Without love, no matter how committed you are, how hard you work, and how smart you are, nothing saving, transforming, and gladdening will happen. Only love can connect us to the life we long to enjoy.

We’re trapped in all too familiar vicious cycle: hurt people hurt people. Indifference leads to more indifference. Fear generates more fear.  Because of what I have seen, heard, and felt about God through the story of Jesus, I believe that God’s love has the power to break this painful and desperate cycle, to overwhelm hurt with healing, and to transform indifference  into compassion.

Divine love makes it possible for us to open our hearts, to take down our defenses, to come out of hiding, and, at last, to live--to live, not merely to exist. God will make of our hearts a haven of hope, a shelter of peace, and a home of joy. And, living from an open heart, we embrace the world with welcoming grace and tender mercy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Places You'll Go. Follow Me.

Dr. Seuss said that “Adults are obsolete children.”  Many of us fear that obsolescence.  We don’t want to be unrelentingly grim and somber and to shoulder so much “grown up” responsibility that it breaks our backs and our spirits. 

We want to keep or, if we’ve lost them, to recover the wonder, playfulness, and delight of children. Jesus want us to keep and recover them, too, which, I’m convinced, has something to do with his telling us we have to become like children to enter the kingdom of God.

Of course, there’s a vast difference, which we all recognized, between childlike and childish.  Childishness is a problem for which childlikeness is actually part of the solution.  Childishness is, essentially, a kind of pathological self-centeredness which reduces life to little more than “I-me-mine.” Childishness is uber-narcissism: “It’s all about me.”

Childlikeness is freedom, including freedom from the burden of unhealthy self-consciousness (which differs so much from healthy self-awareness). 

The freedom of childlikeness comes trust that God knows us, welcomes us, and holds us close. It knows that when we fail and fall, we fail and fall into God’s arms, which means we may risk the adventure of living with holy abandon. 

We don’t have to hedge and trim who we are to be accepted.  God accepts us already. 

We don’t have to dampen-down our voices or hide our gifts, because we have God’s permission and encouragement to make full use of who we are in pursuit of our own, and the world’s, healing and flourishing. 

We can live freely, like a child running in the sunshine on a spring day, because God has given and is giving us everything we need to be and do all that God has called us to be and do. 

We don’t have to search for the love we crave, because God loves us already with a love so intimate, so powerful, so constant, and so good that it turns us from a fear of life to an embrace of it. 

We live with our eyes, ears, minds, hearts, and hands wide-open to the world, not because it won’t ever hurt us, but because even hurt can’t separate us from the Divine. 

We live with playfulness and prayerfulness, which are, I am learning, almost the same thing. 

Childlikeness revels and rests in mystery; it welcomes and celebrates wonder as a way of knowing.

“Oh, the places you’ll go! There’s fun to be done!” wrote Dr. Seuss. 

“Follow me.  Become like children,” Jesus said. 

It might be that those invitations aren’t all that different from each other.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Creative Tensions

In his autobiographical essay, “The Crack Up,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” 

And, physicist Niels Bohr once said: “A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a great truth.”

For me, a faithful life often demands that I live in creative tension—in the push and pull, the give and take, of truths.

For instance:

God is vaster and more mysterious than the universe itself, but God is also as near to us as our own breath. 

God is higher and holier than we can conceive, but also more loving and compassionate than we can imagine. 

We are born and die alone, one by one, but we were made for love, belonging, and community.

Jesus was fully human and fully divine, and he said, among other paradoxical things,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for things to be right, for they shall be satisfied.”

“Those who seek to save their lives will lose them but those who lose their lives for my sake will find them.”

“Those who would be great among you will be servants of all.”

We are made from the dust of the ground, but we breathe the breath of God’s own life.

We are flesh and spirit, animal and angle, sinners and saints. 

We are held to the ground by gravity and have dreams of soaring. 

We have eternity in our hearts and get bogged down by the details of everyday life. 

We carry the treasure of the good news in the clay jars of our humanity.
We are free but responsible.  We have the capacity to do great good but also severe harm. 

We can be Madonna or Mother Theresa, Bonhoeffer or Hitler, Bull Connor or Martin Luther King, Jr.

And, over and over again, I pray and live this paradoxical prayer: “I believe; help my unbelief.”