Love

Faith is a Verb - A Theology of Love

oneinchpunch/Shutterstock.com

Love and faith need to be verbs. oneinchpunch/Shutterstock.com

There is a line in the famous movie Ben Hur in which one of his relatives goes to hear Jesus speak. She comes back enthralled. The way she describes Jesus is by saying that he is like no one she has ever met before, that he speaks words of life. And so he did. The Gospel writers add that he spoke as one who had authority. The Message version interprets this as meaning he lived out what he spoke.

Our lives have the most impact when we live what we speak. Jesus of course is the perfect example of this. For 2,000 years he has captivated people of all races and colors. There is something about this man that is like no other. He speaks words of life and he lived those same words. He loved his enemies, he walked the extra mile, he denied himself, took up his cross and lived a life of obedience to the Father.

Our lives speak, whether we like it or not, and whether we think so or not. We are either speaking life or we are speaking death. We all have a worldview.

An Aching Heart

Young boy running into the arms of his loving mother for a hug. Courtesy Christin Gasner / Shutterstock

We all know heartache. It’s one of our shared experiences. We love someone, and our hearts ache with them and for them at times. Other times, we feel heartache because of them. It’s all part of it.

To have a heart that loves is to have a heart that aches.

One of the great stories about aching hearts involves a prodigal son. It’s a story about love and heartache — which means it’s a story about all of our lives.

When the son returns home from spending his father’s money so recklessly and completely, he gets a totally unexpected response. Instead of being shunned or judged, he’s welcomed back with a tearful hug and a rowdy party.

A hug and a party? How could this be?

It’s what happens when someone loves you so much that their heart aches.

To the Dying Church: Get Offline and Get Outside

City streets illustration, Mykhaylo Palinchak / Shutterstock.com

City streets illustration, Mykhaylo Palinchak / Shutterstock.com

To a Dying Church,

Guess what? It’s not that bad.

You just have to get it together a bit.

Seriously, like yesterday. I mean, we have time. But, seriously, we’re all waiting for you to get it together.

You have the means. You have the ability. You have the know-how.

Actually, you don’t have to do that much. You just have to realize that Jesus has done it all and there is a current of immense possibility right under your feet.

Tap into it. Remember it. Root down.

This happens every so often. We are cyclical people. Every once in a while we forget.

But this time you’ve really done a doozy on your own health by chasing after insane supplements and growth hormones. And you’ve also picked some really lame fights. In the race to grow you’ve forgotten your way a bit and now you’re bloated and punch-drunk in the streets swinging at anyone that’ll ask a sensible question.

Stop it. You’re better than this.

My Dad's Worst Day

OURS IS A CHRISTIAN FAMILY STORY. It is also a loving, loyal, confused church story. There’s nothing all that unusual about it, really. But precisely because similar stories are unfolding in countless families and churches today, I want to share it.

I want you to see how sexual orientation and deeply held beliefs are at odds in ways that injure those we love. This debate is not simply about beliefs and rights; it’s about people who are created in God’s image. Those people may be like you or entirely unlike you. They may be your roommate or neighbor, your best friend or a colleague. They may be your son or daughter.

My dad would later tell me the day I came out to him was the worst day of his life. His sister had passed away the year before; his father years earlier. But the day I said “Dad, I’m gay” was the worst day of his life. To his credit, though, he didn’t tell me that at the time. He hugged me and listened as I nervously stumbled over my words for an hour and a half. Then he told me he loved me.

My mom, too, responded with open arms, but the news was hard for her to hear. She could barely eat for several days afterward, and she spent much of the next year deeply dispirited. Still, I was grateful for my parents’ unfailing compassion and love.

What that love would ultimately look like, though, was unclear.

Six passages in the Bible—Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10—have stood in the way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches. I was blessed by my parents’ continued love, but absent a significant change for my dad in particular, we were likely to end up stuck in the same place: compassion, but no support for a future romantic relationship.

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The Many Ways to Love Like a Mother

Child with mother, arek_malang / Shutterstock.com

Child with mother, arek_malang / Shutterstock.com

As a mental health professional and a mom, I have come to appreciate the incredible importance of family relationships on the development and maturation of children. I’ve also realized that the archetypal family relationships worshipped in our (Christian and secular) culture often have little to do with the real sweat and blood of family life.

My husband and I have a running joke that one day we will start an “ambiguous family relationships” greeting card company. Our imaginary company is designed for those experiencing family situations that aren’t exactly addressed on the cheerful card aisle. Mother’s Day is prime among those occasions that seems to call for our imaginary company’s services. While the consumerist culture portrays images of wonderful family relationships rewarding the hardworking mom with leisure and jewelry, Mother’s Day is not joy and leisure for all. It can be a time of irony and pain for those who have experienced relationship loss, infertility, miscarriage, separation, or death. Mother’s Day in many ways has become a cultural enforcement of the middle class ideal rather than recognition of the real pain and sacrifice of mothers worldwide.

How to Love Like a Mother

Patrick Foto/Shutterstock.com

We need something like a mother's love in our churches. Patrick Foto/Shutterstock.com

In my Santa BarbaraCalifornia neighborhood, which we sometimes call “Leave it to Beaver Land” for its seeming serenity and peace, a new practice has become evident: Children no longer walk alone to our neighborhood elementary school. Every morning, a parade of mothers and fathers accompany their children the short distance to school, dogs in tow and cellphones in hand. It looks like the practice of safety, but it’s also the practice of fear. You just never know. It could happen anywhere. It could happen here.

These parents know about something we call “school incidents.” They know the statistics about the number of American children that are shot, stabbed, and killed in our schools each year. Like the rest of us, they know about the big ones, from Columbine to Newtown to Chicago to Pittsburgh, and they know there are so many more stories that never make it to CNN.

The soundtrack for the story of childhood in America reverberates with gunfire and the sobs of stunned classmates and grieving parents. It’s the soundtrack of fear.

Fear is our newest neighbor, even in sunny “Leave it to Beaver Land.”

Rethinking What It Means to be a Christian

ArtFamily/Shutterstock.com

I’m seeing that the issue is not doctrine; it’s attitude. It’s not theology; it’s posture. ArtFamily/Shutterstock.com

“You are not only a coward but a non-believer as well.”

It may not quite be at the level of Captain America’s vibranium shield, but my skin is a lot thicker than it used to be. When you start a blog that promotes something as insanely unorthodox as the idea that the author of Genesis 1-3 might have (like most other biblical authors) made use of a metaphor here and there, you come to expect that some fundamentalists are going to call Father Merrin and start reaching for the holy water.

It’s unfortunate — and, often, perplexing — but you learn to get used to it.

Even so, there are times I receive emailed messages like the one quoted above, and it hits like a punch in the gut. I know I should just ignore such trollishness. Usually I can. But not always.

Don’t worry, though. This is not a whiny column about how mean the conservatives are to us open-minded, forward-thinking progressives. Instead, it’s about how messages like this are helping me rethink almost everything I thought I knew about the Christian faith.

The Politics of Palm Sunday

Palms fashioned into a cross, Ricardo Reitmeyer / Shutterstock.com

Palms fashioned into a cross, Ricardo Reitmeyer / Shutterstock.com

Make no mistake: the Gospel is political.

Politics refers to “the affairs of the city” and “influencing other people on a civic or individual level.”

Throughout his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is political. He influences people to live into the Kingdom of Heaven. For Jesus, Heaven is not essentially some place off in the distance where you go after you die. No, Heaven is a way of life to be lived right here, right now. We see this clearly in the prayer he taught his disciples:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey on Palm Sunday, he was performing a political act. But it was a political act unlike any other.

Making a Difference through Love — and Red Plastic Diamonds

Joshua Jank, creator of the "Red Diamond Days" movement, with his mother, Brenda. Photo courtesy Reddiamonddays.com

At 5 a.m. on a Friday last August, 20-year-old Joshua Jank’s condition was worsening. Nurses at his hospice home in Fort Wayne, Ind. told his mother to gather anyone who wanted to say a last goodbye.

“Josh spiraled downward very quickly,” Brenda Jank told Sojourners. “In less than two weeks he went from being at home without oxygen to being in the hospice house. He just hit it – a perfect storm.”

It was in the midst of that perfect storm that a movement was born.

Not This Time -- A Reflection on the Resurrection of Lazarus

Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.com

Resurrection of Lazarus by A. Badile. Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This post is adapted from a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Nixon.

Some of us have stood at a tomb, faced an open grave, scattered the ashes of one beloved. We know what it’s like to be confronted with the stark reality of death and the flood of conflicting emotions that comes with it. I’ve stood at different sites at Dry Creek Cemetery in Boise, Idaho, and the Veteran’s Cemetery next to it, to bury my father, my brother, my nephew, my step-father and-step sister, my brother-in-law, not to mention my beloved piano teacher, and a dear high school friend. Not so long ago I stood by the open grave of Patrice Heath as her casket was lowered into the ground. We prayed and wept and celebrated her life, but it is not an easy thing, under any circumstances, to lay a loved one to rest.  

The ancient story of Lazarus being raised from the dead in John 11:1-45 is just such a situation. It’s also another occasion to encounter Jesus in his divinity and his humanity. It’s a long, complicated story. You have heard it read. I will not attempt to unpack it all.

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