Christianity is a call to a relationship that changes all our other relationships.
More than once I’ve been referred to as a modern-day Troubadour. I’ve always liked this designation because it has a romantic, archaic ring to it that sounds just a little bit more flattering than mere singer/songwriter, naturally appealing to my vanity. But it once occurred to me that I wasn’t entirely sure of its meaning and thought I should look it up.
Not surprisingly, I discovered the word to have various historical uses and nuances. But the definition that intrigued me most, and which I recognize as fairly accurate of my own sense of calling and vocation is this:
a lyric poet sent by one (usually of the King’s court)
with a message of chaste love to another.
Well … there you go. Just two weeks ago (on Valentines Day) I posted a song and message of chaste love in a blog. In it, I celebrated 30 years of marriage to my wife Nanci; a union that has resulted in three beloved (now adult) children, their own unions to beloved others, two grandchildren, and a deeply meaningful, long-term foster relationship with a young woman and her beautiful children who, in fact, are coming over for dinner tonight. I can’t wait.
Although not every chaste union strives to produce offspring, Fr. Gabrielle of St. Magdalen, in his meditative devotional Divine Intimacy, teaches that the highest glory of the chaste union is in it’s potential to become a willing “collaborator with God in the transmission of life.” That is: a relationship that is materially fecund; suggesting a dark, loamy richness capable of concealing and safeguarding a vulnerable seed, and providing a nutrient-rich soil from which it can spring to it’s own leafy uniqueness. It’s a lovely image.
Ironically, what struck me this morning is that Valentines Day is celebrated at the very onset of the season of Lent. And Lent, in contradistinction to Valentines, is essentially a season where the Christian “faithful” penitently consider the devastating disaster that is infidelity — particularly, infidelity to God, and by extension, to all that God is in faithful relationship to.
A man buys two dogs to live with him in his apartment. They drive him and his neighbors crazy. They bark at all hours, get sick all over the place and cause rifts between him and his neighbors. And yet he insists that, despite the tremendous amount of work and inconvenience they present, he loves them.
So the question is: does he do all the work and put up with the nonsense because he loves them, or does he love them because he’s invested so much of himself in them?
Researchers looked at this question, particularly with regard to the wild popularity of the DIY furniture store, Ikea. Basically, you pay them to give you some furniture in a box that you have to take home and build. Sometimes you screw it up. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than you expected. Sometimes you scrape the skin off your knuckles and call the furniture names that would make your mother blush. In the end, if most of us assessed the value of our time against the money we’re saving by buying the furniture unassembled, it’s a net loss for us.
So why do we do it?
Many will remember pastor Terry Jones as the champion of the “Burn a Quran Day” event, intended to fan anti-Islamic rhetoric on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Though many shouted him down and criticized his motives, he continues to have somewhat of a national platform for his agenda.
In this video produced by the New York Times, we get to witness what I consider a momentary intervention of God’s spirit in a beautifully, creatively nonviolent way. As Pastor Jones condemns Muslims and their religion, a man in the crowd pulls up the lyrics to the Beatles song, “All You Need is Love” on his phone. He stands next to jones and begins to sing, inviting the crowd to join in. It is beautiful because his hate is repaid with song, and the sting of his venomous words is neutralized without a hand or another voice being raised in anger (though I could do without the “idiot” sign, thanks).
NEW YORK — In the afterglow, I give thanks for Thanksgiving Day.
It might be our most spiritual holiday, dealing as it does with that most spiritual of experiences: feeling gratitude.
Despite the commercial drumbeat for the aptly named "Black Friday," Thanksgiving Day itself tends to be about family, food, and free time. On Facebook, people shared recipes for stuffing, answered questions posed by nervous first-time cooks, told stories about traveling to be with family, and flooded the web with photos of people just being together.
I realize that those are ambiguous realities. Not everyone is blessed with healthy families, not everyone has enough food. Many work hard to prepare food and cheer for others to enjoy. But the promise is there — and unlike the promise of material hyperabundance that has come to dominate Christmas, the promise of Thanksgiving Day seems worth pursuing and attainable.
As the credits rolled after Looper in a packed Chinatown movie theater in Washington, D.C., I simply sat in reverent silence. Moviegoers on all sides began to rise and quietly leave the theater, but for a brief moment all I could do was just sit there. Quite simply, the movie blew my mind.
When I snapped out of it my thoughts started racing, analyzing the ending, which I won’t ruin for you, and the movie as a whole. It wasn’t a question of whether it was “good” or captivating — those were givens. Rather, I started mining the film’s rich themes and questions, particularly what it said about love.
While sitting there, lost in my mind, I began to notice the music accompanying the names moving onscreen. The song’s chorus sang something like, “I loved you so much that it’s wrong.”
I don’t think the song choice was an accident.
That lyric, I think, illuminates the crux of the film: can something like “Love” — not just romantic love — become perverted? Or, in other words, can our love for one person lead us to do horrible things to others?
In a world that seems completely and irrevocably divorced from the teachings of Christ, where in contemporary society is there a place for the Christian voice? Politicians shamelessly use Jesus’s name to justify their authority and gain influence without bothering to unpack the full depth of theological and ethical implications of their words. Corporations are granted the rights of individuals, but some individuals are denied the resources they need in times of crisis to support their families and livelihoods. And the public debate is so full of vitriol and hyperbole that dehumanization and outright hatred of those with whom we disagree has become the norm. In light of the situation in which we find ourselves, how then should Christians behave?
While it might seem appealing to remove ourselves from secular society altogether and forsake the world in all its brokenness in favor of a uniquely Christian ethic that appeals and applies only to us, Christians have an obligation to serve as active participants in public discourse— elevating the conversation rather than abstaining from it so that we may try to live the truth and convictions of our faith.
My neighbors signed my report card.
Having had the same conversation countless times in my life, I have learned that one sentence sums up a cacophony of explanations.
It is tricky, I have found, trying to explain why friends are listed as my emergency contacts, why I wake up Christmas morning in the home of people to whom I am not related, and why my parents — both living — have been anything but.
The separation started so long ago that I struggle to remember exactly when it began. When I was starting middle school my mom’s depression hit hard and fast. My dad, who understands love as a finite commodity, could not muster any for me. Loving her meant giving all of it to try to save her. His attempts and inability to do so created a stress that amplified his MS from inconvenient to disabling.
In a moment, it seemed, they were gone.
We were wealthy and Southern and had everything that went along with both: a close-knit community, punctilious social obligations, and money to stay afloat. In the world in which I grew up, everyone surely knew everything about everyone, but damn if they weren’t polite enough to pretend it was all OK. It was a magnificent masquerade.
But the truth remained: I was an orphan.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."
I was sitting outside on the playground bench wiping the tears of a child when this proverb came to mind. It isn’t true, of course. Nancy was a second-grader going through an evaluation process to help us understand why she couldn't read. Kayla was one of her classmates. As they were climbing the ladder of the slide, Kayla yelled out, "Nancy is retarded!"
Words can break our hearts.
A couple of years ago, I remember speaking to a middle-schooler about his worries of the world. During our conversation, he told me one of his biggest fears centered around Muslims. When I asked why Muslims generated so much fear in him, he said they were scary and are out to hurt people.
"Look at 9/11," he said. "Terrorists may take over the U.S. and then the world."
Around the same time I heard similar concerns from a 10-year old in my Sunday School class who joked about the terrors of Islam and how Muslims were going to take over the world. Again, I asked him where he received these ideas, to which he responded, “from my church back in Southern California.”
Both times, I had to remind my students that sometimes churches get it wrong. All people are created in the image of God. Every person is a child of God. God’s love brings understanding, reconciliation, and peace among one another. God’s love casts out all fear.