30 May 2014

Magnificently Maleficent!

For those familiar with my ramblings, I’m sure you could probably say that the major theme of my entries is LOVE.  Whether or not I am able to articulate the accurate thought, love is at the core of what I write, and preach, and attempt to live.  This being said, I just watched the movie Maleficent, and it was not what I had expected.  (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD)  Without giving too much away, the movie got me thinking on what love means for me in my life, and how Love calls me to live.  The way in which love is portrayed in the movie made me think about a Facebook discussion in which I clumsily stuck my nose.  The article was just a brief note which made mention of a Dallas TV cohost that got upset and stormed off of the set of her show.  The reason for her leaving had to do with the fact that somebody mentioned how there had been several professional and non-professional players who had been reprimanded for having had negative comments about Michael Sam.  As the host walked off the set, she made mention of going to Midland.  Quite honestly, I don’t really know what this meant, and it isn’t really important for the sake of this blog.  What did become difficult for me, is that of all the comments for and against the host, one person (and there’s always at least one) began to ramble off Bible passages which are so easily used to condemn homosexuality.  Whatever.  As Jesus says, even the devil knows his scripture.  What is important (and this is where the movie comes in, I think) is what is at the root of everything the Bible says, and ultimately, what Jesus LIVED!  You see, it is all too easy to hide behind scripture as we hurl insults or condemnation at others, especially those we don’t “agree” with.  The greater challenge comes when we have to reach out to our brother or sister and love them.  I say this because Jesus Himself didn’t check credentials or labels.  He didn’t ask the leper whether or not he was a child of Abraham, instead, he approached the leper and made him clean.  The leper, the one who had become worse than death, was reintegrated and brought before God and man in a moment of mercy and love.  In a similar way, I don’t recall reading where Jesus asks the woman caught in adultery whether or not she was Jewish or Him stopping to tell her that He loved her but hated her sin.  Instead, he goes to her, and saves her, and not just spiritually.  There are many, many instances in which love transcends titles and status, and that is where Maleficent comes to mind.  Because just when I thought I knew how the movie would turn out, it happened that I was surprised and moved by the image of love doing exactly what I didn’t expect.  This love (in Disney’s own way) reaches beyond the norms of what we say it should do, and does that which is seemingly impossible.  And isn’t that what we as Christians believe, that LOVE does the impossible.  I mean come on, we profess that Love takes on flesh, Love walks among us, Love teaches us, Love reaches out to us, Loves dies for us, and just when we think that the end credits are about to appear, Love makes us realize that He cannot be contained, Jesus even reached beyond death and LOVES!  And so, in a similar way, I am challenged by Maleficent because of the witness she shows me.  Love will surprise us!  So there it is, Love is calling each and every one of us to look beyond the label, and to see through Love’s eyes, not into the eyes of the leper, the woman caught in adultery, the gay or the outcast, but into the eyes of one redeemed by Love, one whose life is just as beautiful as my own.  One upon whom God smiles and cries out “My beloved!”  It isn’t always easy, but it’s a call that we must heed, for as we come together in communion, we come before Him who is Love, and who touches us, just as the woman with the hemorrhage and so many others.  Loving is sometimes difficult, but it will make all the difference.  So I pray that I may be an image of Love (as clumsy as I may be).  As always, know that I love you.  RL

22 May 2014

How can we know the way?

As I read the Gospel passage for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051814.cfm)  (John 14:1-12), there were many things that went through my mind.  First of all, this is the Gospel that was read at my dad’s funeral.  It spoke greatly to me and reminded me of the peace that Christ brings to all of us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” is both a challenge and a consolation, especially at a moment of great pain such as it was at my dad’s funeral.  This same passage was also one that I often recommended for other funerals, and one that strikes me differently every time.  Secondly, this passage is one in which poor Thomas seems to have caught Peter’s disease (open mouth, insert foot).  This seems to be the case, but Thomas is challenging Jesus to something more, Thomas is asking for a proof unlike any other, maybe the question could be like that of a child asking a parent “do you love me?”  Jesus immediately responds by saying “YES!”  And this is where all would seem to be well, but then Phillip has the same illness.  “Lord” he says “just show us the Father.”  But this is where we get tripped up as human beings, or maybe, this is where I get tripped up.  It seems almost too simplistic to believe that Jesus is showing us a glimpse of the Father, or that in His love we find the way, the truth and the life.  For some reason, maybe because of our sin, we can’t believe this deal.  It’s too good to be true, and we treat it as such.  But stop for a minute, and listen to the words of Christ, or stop and think back to the radical actions of Christ, or for that matter, think to a favorite Saint or holy person, and think about what makes them stand out.  Very often, it was the simple matter in which they personified love.  Whether it was through the self-offering of a martyr, or the giving of self of a mystic, each and every one of them gave out of a profound awareness of love,  they knew the Way, the Truth, and the Life, not because they had read it in the Scriptures, but because they had known Him in their daily lives.  This is the challenge we face today, also, to live out love in a way that is reflective of the Love He has given us.  But this is also where we get tripped up.  Often, we look at another (perhaps someone we disagree with) and think “I love that person, but don’t like them.”  Or we look at a person and think that by our loving them, we will change them.  NO!  This is not to be, because even in His own love, Christ never loved as a method of change, instead, love was the factor that brought about such radical newness that change happened through the exchange of love that was had.  Now, I’ve confused myself here, and I’ll try to unravel what I mean.  Quite simply (or not), I mean that to love is what we are called.  No matter who we are, or what faith (or lack thereof) we profess, we are called to love.  This seems simple, but in truth, when we love (even as clumsily as we may) we bring about a change in the world that then radiates to others, and they in turn are affected by this love and nothing is ever the same.  This love, however, the love of Christ, is one that we must not pretend to guard.  This is often the case, we fool ourselves into believing that we love this or that person, but in actuality, if we scratch away the surface, we find that instead of loving, we were merely “tolerating,” and toleration can lead us toward a complacency that then moves into mediocrity.  Yes, I am being harsh, but that is what Jesus is trying to do in this passage, He is trying (as He does over and over) to shake the Apostles and disciples out of their stupor of toleration and into an authentic and radical love, a love that provides the answers, a love that shows the way, a love from which life flows, and a love that is true and courageous.  Now I understand that this is a lot for just one person to achieve, but that is precisely where prayer comes in, we don’t just sit and pray, we must be attuned to the voice of God and to Love as He makes his move in our lives.  As we do that, we will come to know God in a different way, and instead of measuring out our love, we too will become Saints.  We will be those holy men and women who loved.  This is a challenge, but this is where we are called to dwell, a place where we each have a space that has been lovingly prepared, a place where our hearts are not troubled, because our hearts are not tied down to the limitation we so easily impose.  It isn’t easy, but it is possible, and as long as I live, I will strive to love, and in love, I will know the Way.  As always, know that I love you.  RL

12 May 2014

Are you a thief?

A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

I recently attended a church service that started out like any other.  During the collection, however, there was something different.  A young lady, wearing a hoodie, and a backpack, simply dressed and somewhat too casual, came up to the ambo and asked to share a "witness."  The presider allowed her the microphone and as everyone looked up to listen to this mysterious person, she began to speak.  Quietly and slowly at first, she slowly gained her courage and began to share about God's love.  The sermon had just been about the Shepherd who calls His sheep in love, and how in that love, the sheep find their place of refuge.  The preacher reminded the congregation that Christ calls each and everyone of us in love, and that Love sends us forth to a radical hospitality that breaks beyond the labels and boundaries that we tend to put up so easily.  Perhaps it was in that same spirit of radical hospitality that the microphone was so easily handed to this young woman.  Her voice picked up and she continued sharing her experience of God's love, and something in her words reminded us all of the words of the Shepherd.  She knew Him, just as we knew Him, and this was reflected in the way she spoke of the One who had called out to her.  But this is where the connection between she and I ended, because after her beautiful elocution on the Shepherd and His Love, she turned and spoke of His condemnation.  Within a matter of seconds, the beauty that this sheep had expressed in speaking of the Shepherd, was turned into an ugliness that no black sheep contains.  In just a few thoughts, the Shepherd's love was turned and mis-formed to become a hammer of hate and ignorance.  Just like that, the young woman who had spoken of the Shepherd, jumped the fence and followed the thief,  in no time at all, the love which had been expressed became a fleeting memory to which many attempted to cling, finding it difficult to believe the hate with which this person spoke, some of us stood in silence, others reacted negatively to the thief among us, and yet others, accustomed to these attacks, took their seat and prepared for the next part of the celebration.  Myself, I felt nothing but love for this young woman, but sadness too, and I was reminded of the times when I so easily had taken the name of the Shepherd to withhold His Love to others.  I was immediately reminded of the aggression which I had felt at times toward those different from me, the disgust I had experienced at seeing something different from what I was used to, or told that "we" believe.  At that moment, it became clear to me that as a follower of the Shepherd, I am not immune to the very human tendencies to use those things greater than I to justify myself.  The feeling of using Christ as a mask to make myself feel better for the things I do, for my self-righteousness.  As I approached Communion that day, I was humbled at the fact that the Shepherd comes to me each and every day, and that He calls out to me,  in Love, even when I am being difficult.  This event also started the wheels spinning in my head.   How many times have I become that thief to others?  Although I would like to answer this question immediately, I don't believe it needs an instant answer, instead, the question becomes an extension of Communion because at receiving the Bread of Life, I am then called to be a witness of the Love that has come to me!  As a person who participates in the intimate reception of Christ, I can no longer be satisfied with being who I was before, I can no longer be that thief, I must be love in the world, because Love has come to me.  And so, the moment of tension and confusion that was brought about by a hooded person, became a moment of reflection and grace, because the Shepherd has called me in love, and I know His voice.  Can you hear Him?  

As always, know that I love you.  RL