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Archive for May, 2016

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Graduation: Death and Resurrection

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Luke 24:36-37

Last week, my son moved out of his fraternity house. After four years at the University of Kansas, after completing the many celebrations, and after the honors and congratulatory hugs, it was time to move on. When I asked this ever-optimistic young man about it, he declared it a sad day. He said goodbye to the Beta house and to the 22 members of his pledge class, and while he will undoubtedly see both again, it will not be the same. Although Reid was ready to move on, there was a somber sense of nostalgia that lingered, as is often the case whenever we move from one phase of life to another.

Holy SpiritWe are not always ready for the graduations of our lives. Some just happen in the normal course of living. Some are expected, while others catch us unprepared. College, for my son, was a four-year experience. That was the way it was planned, and that was the way it happened. He did not necessarily seek a life change, nor did he seek to avoid it. The change just happened, and the end came quickly enough that perhaps it caught him off guard. Many milestones in our lives are that way: marriages, job changes, health challenges, the losses of loved ones. Ready or not, we “die” to one phase of life and are born into another – like Jesus, we are resurrected into a new version of our world.

Starting over can be exciting and it can be hard – both at the same time. I remember the transition from elementary to middle school: transitioning from the biggest, smartest, and most in-control in the school to being the smallest, dumbest, and least in-control – at least that was how it felt. When our surroundings change there will be a degree of discomfort. Moving on due to a graduation of some sort, however, should also involve moving up. We find ourselves in a new situation, but with the knowledge and experience gained from the past. We are changed, and we will never be the same.

It is interesting how Jesus, following his crucifixion and resurrection, appeared to his disciples a number of times and was usually not recognized. It was Jesus, but it was the resurrected Jesus – the graduated Jesus, if you will. I imagine it was similar to seeing a formerly close friend one has not seen for many years. We must look twice and consider carefully to remember who this is and in what context we knew them. The person has changed, although vestiges of their past remain. We are products of our many graduations. Life moves on and invites us to do the same. Death and rebirth are the cycles of life, as inescapable as the cycles of day and night, winter and spring. It is life, and though sometimes sad, life is good.

May our graduations, deaths, and resurrections carry us to ever higher levels of being!

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Book Review: Rewilding the Way 

I spent the past month with Todd Wynward’s book, Rewilding the Way (Herald Press, 2015). It has not been a comfortable read for me, even though it is well-written, thought-provoking, and value-challenging. Wynward’s musings on faith and life, individualism and community, and the life Jesus invites us to follow have led me to some prickly soul-searching. The back cover asks, “When did we become so tame?” When, indeed!

Rewilding the Way            Like a modern-day John the Baptist, Wynward encourages us if not to repent of our current life-style, then at least to reconsider it – if not to prepare the way, then to at least assess the way we are preparing. Much less rough-around-the-edges than John, Wynward is part theologian, part environmentalist, and part prophet as he gently encourages us to think more deeply about the “good life” – what it is, what it means, and what it costs individually and collectively. Too often we live as though we are an independent, rather than an interconnected part of God’s creation.

Wynward describes the wilderness as encounters and environments that we cannot control, predict, or always gain assurance of our personal survival. For generations we have worked to shelter ourselves from said wilderness. We seek protection from the elements in our houses and cars. We attempt to insure our property with insurance and our future with retirement accounts. We maintain our social status and ego-needs with a never-sufficient parade of stuff that clutters our lives and weighs us down with debt – never mind the obscene cost of maintaining our extravagant, wasteful lifestyle. Yet, this is what we have come to define as the “good life.”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus encourages us to love, share, and “not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34a). How have we managed to stray so far from that simple call to the wilderness of Jesus? Wynward clearly demonstrates that we cannot possibly experience God’s grace when we shelter ourselves so completely from God’s creation.

Through the use of personal examples and descriptions of others working toward a wilder way of life and faith, Wynward encourages the reader to imagine a simpler, less controlled life-style that makes room for God’s grace and provision, where we grow where we’re planted, and where we live in symbiotic harmony with the beings around us. It is through wilderness experiences that we recognize God as a living, interactive presence, as well as developing a sense of self-sufficiency in true partnership with God.

No, this book has not been an easy read for me. I love my comfortable life, and I cling tightly to it. But I hear Wynward’s encouragement, and buried somewhere beneath the stuff of my life, a still, small voice whispers, “Yes. Please. Now.” As he concludes the book, Wynward writes, “Whatever path you choose to rewild the way, I believe that it must be personal and political, social and spiritual, encouraging initiatives that are both individual and communal” (page 269). Perhaps the “good life” is not the secure, sheltered life we have been taught. Perhaps that very life is what keeps us from experiencing God as a living, loving presence in our midst, instead of the judgmental, aloof, non-being we pay homage to on Sunday mornings. Rewilding the Way is an invitation – an invitation to take a few baby steps away from a few of our comforts and see where it leads. Although the book convicts me of my love of comfort, it invites me to something deeper, something less predictable, something wilder. The book is a good read, and I recommend it to others who are seeking more from their lives than the “good life.”

Greg Hildenbrand, http://www.ContemplatingGrace.com

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Life Notes

The Greatest is Love

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Greatest is LoveTo abide means to continue, to remain, to stay. It elicits images of stability and permanence. Therefore, when Paul says “faith, hope, and love abide,” he separates these qualities apart as uniquely enduring. While we know that much of what we work for on earth – homes, cars, clothing, food – will not endure, these are the priorities that consume many of our waking hours. We seldom lay awake at night worrying about a lack of faith, hope, or love. Instead, we worry about a lack of money, or a meeting with an unpleasant co-worker, or an appointment with the doctor about an abnormal test result. Faith, hope, and love are not commodities we can purchase, steal, or trade, but they are characteristics we can develop. Some come more naturally to certain people than others, but all of us are capable of cultivating a more-than-sufficient degree of all three.

Because Paul says the greatest of these is love, I think it is fair to assume that faith and hope are components of love. If we are to love others in the ways described in 1 Corinthians 13, we must have faith in the innate goodness of others, or their worthiness of our attention. Such goodness is not always obvious, but when we recognize that everyone is a child of God, we accept that everyone is loved and valued by God. We connect in love with their image-of-God essence, attempting to look beyond their all-to-human exterior. A loving relationship also inspires hope. There is an optimism in loving relationships that springs from the knowledge that all things are possible and, in the end, all things work together for good. We always hope for the best for those we love.

As we look in-depth at 1 Corinthians 13, we begin to picture the expansive and inclusive nature of love. It permeates every created thing and connects us all. Love is the thread of our interdependence, connecting us together as one – whether or not we ever recognize or affirm our unity. Love expresses intensely in committed relationships, but goes well beyond romance. Love is the essence from which we spring and the destination to which we journey. Love is God, and God is love. Without love we cannot recognize God’s presence in our lives, nor can we love ourselves or others as we should. We feel separate and out-of-step with life’s rhythms. Ultimately, the most pervasive sin of our time is that of separation – failure to recognize our unity with God and others. Separation, like all sin, is its own punishment. It makes us miserable, it makes us feel unworthy, and it makes us feel alone. Love is the antidote to sin and separation. Where faith and hope abide, love grows – and so will we!

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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In a Mirror Dimly

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

It should probably not be a surprise that one of the most profound statements in the Bible, in my opinion, is found in the “love” chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. Paul writes that during our life on earth we “see in a mirror, dimly.” While this may not be obvious, it explains a lot – not just about love, but about life in general. The reality is that our vision is inadequate for making sense of much that happens in life. We often find our circumstances shrouded in mystery and beyond our ability to understand. How can a loving God allow the awful events that happen on a daily basis? We cannot see directly or clearly to the essence of what underlies the experience.

In a mirror dimlyPaul’s reference to seeing in a “mirror” is particularly interesting. Wikipedia indicates the first actual mirrors (as opposed to water reflections or polished metals) would have appeared about the time of Paul. But the image in even the best of mirrors is not an identical recreation. We call it a mirror image because everything is reversed – the right side is now left, foreground and background switch positions, we reach toward our image but our image reaches back from the opposite direction and with the opposite hand. Even so, a mirror gives us an image or likeness of what we are observing, albeit an imperfect and partial glimpse. Unless, as Paul explains, we see “dimly.” When our vision is clouded by a lack of focus, the image we see is an even less reliable likeness of reality. Of course, the creation story says we were created in the image of God. For me, this adds another intriguing element to the concept of seeing “in a mirror, dimly.”

Dimness can result from poor light, a dirty lens, or an image being out of focus – all of which may apply to our earthly lives. As we consider love, a limited or poorly focused view of love will result in a limited understanding of what love is and what love is not.

All of this helps to explain why our experiences of love on earth do not always live up to the expectations created by the Bible, not to mention movies, novels, and fairy tales. When we see and experience love “in a mirror, dimly,” we only gain an approximation of the enormity and inclusiveness of love at its core. We catch a glimpse of the reality, our brains compensate accordingly and convince us we have seen it all, when in fact we have only seen in part. When we rely only on our earthly senses to gage love, we will forever be disappointed. We must also see through the eyes of faith and with an optimistic hope.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Life Notes

When I Was a Child

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 1 Corinthians 13:11

childlike loveOn the surface, this passage from first Corinthians seems to have little to do with love. It also seems to contradict Jesus’ teachings about our needing to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Childish love, however, is 100% conditional, as any parent of a 2-year-old knows. As long as the child is receiving everything he or she wants, in the way he or she wants it, and at the time he or she wants it, love is given freely and abundantly. At the first sign of not meeting what the child thinks he or she needs at any given moment, however, that loving bundle of joy can turn into a hateful, selfish demon who loathes your very being. There is an enormous difference between childish love and adult love (although some adults barely grow beyond a childish understanding of what love is and is not). Until we understand that love is an action we must either initiate or participate in, love will remain only an emotion that will come and go like waves crashing on the shore. Here is one way to understand Paul’s line above: If we think and speak with childish reasoning, our thoughts will not be mature. As we learn and grow, our understanding of love should deepen. Thus, as we reach adulthood we should put away our childish understanding of love as being conditional.

On the other hand, we have Jesus saying things like, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Jesus is talking about certain traits of children many of us feel obligated to lose as we become adults. Specifically, he refers to a loss of humility. Many of us give ourselves credit for being far wiser than we actually are. When we believe we know as much as is worth knowing about life and love, we lose our curiosity, our ability to continue learning, and our ability to love freely and trust completely. We retain the narcissism and other self-centered traits of childhood and become immature adults. In Paul’s words, we do not put away our childish ways. Rather, we put away the very characteristics of childlike love that prepare us for entry into the kingdom of heaven.

The resolution for this paradox of becoming like a child, but also putting an end to childish things, seems to be in retaining key elements of childhood innocence and tempering them with the insight and perspective of adulthood. That combination will lead us to a deeper and more complete experience of love.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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