How Stupidity Spreads

When people who don’t know what they’re talking about write something that unquestionably proves their total lack of perception, they can count on the people who do know what they’re talking about to:

  1. laugh loudly, and then
  2. tell all their friends about it so they can all laugh even more, together.

Thereby:

  • spreading the original stupidity to many unsuspecting eyes along the way, and thus
  • increasing the visibility, legitimacy, and perceived popularity of the people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Works every time.

Maundy Thursday : What is Love, Anyway?

(also in an audio version)

Love, v. 3.0

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Whether we’re Christian or not, we’ve all been taught the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have others do to you“. Jesus said it too, in a positive restatement of something in the Jewish oral tradition. It makes life’s decisions a lot clearer by putting you in your own harm’s way. Think like that, and you won’t be so eager to do in your main rival at work or to stomp on someone to get what you want. We might pull up short if we felt in our own back the knife that we just started to twist into someone else’s. This is a good place to start: there actually is a standard for us to look to. Yet there are some things missing in the Golden Rule. There is, of course, the sado-masochist twist — someone doing unto others the torture he so craves from them. A more important problem, though, is that the Golden Rule keeps you in the center of it. No matter how many lessons you learn from doing unto others, they’re still your lessons, and it all still depends on your human capacity to love. That capacity is more like a dinner plate than a deep well. It’s too shallow when compared with the task at hand of living a different, loving kind of life.

Jesus takes us beyond the Golden Rule. The first step past it is when Jesus commends Deuteronomy 6:5’s Great Commandment about loving God, and the second like unto it, originally from Leviticus (you know, the book everyone loves to avoid), to “love your neighbor as yourself“. Jesus then looks at this not through one’s own love, but through what is meant by ‘neighbor’. Jesus calls on us to be a neighbor, moving the focus from ourselves to others, especially another who is in need.

But one more step is needed. For while this approach redirects our capacity to love, it is still our human capacity to love that is being given out. In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes the final step to setting this right, by giving a “new commandment“: “that you love one another, just as I have loved you“. This isn’t a plea, but a final charge to the believing few — a command (Latin mandatum, Middle English maundy). There is a new description: to love as Jesus loved. Right after He said that, He went on His way to setting a standard of love beyond our wildest imaginings : to the cross and the tomb. And there’s also a new power to love in a manner like that: He emptied that tomb, and went back to what is beyond death, sending the Holy Spirit to us in His place. What the Spirit puts into us is Christ’s love. That’s the bottomless well of boundless love. No longer do we have to dish out our own love in saucer portions, we can now drench everybody with love from beyond ourselves, so much so that it seeps into them. No longer must we be a better kind of person first; we can start loving from where we’re at, right now, because it’s not just our love, but also Christ’s. We can now dare to live the life of holy love, trusting that in the end there is no loss where that kind of love is found.

Father, you told us to love. But we are weak. We do not love as Jesus did, or anything like it. Send us your Spirit to change us and to make us love like the Crucified and Risen One, that we may carry out your mandate. Amen.

Bob Longman

A Maundy Thursday challenge: I’m not going to dump a load of guilt on you by telling you that you haven’t loved like this. You’ve heard that over and over again, you know it’s so, it’s become one of those ‘wish-you-coulds’. So, try something much simpler as a starter – think of just one person in your life, and then write down some new ways you can be more loving to that person. Then do it; you’ll learn how in the doing. After that, you can start working on doing the same thing for other people. But at least you’ll have begun.

Lent Midweek: God Provides

Luke 12:22-33

In reading books by the masters of spiritual discipline, there’s one quality they write about that we of this era find nearly impossible to really grasp. It’s called ‘detachment’. But what does that have to do with modern living? We worry about having more stuff. We fret about getting ourselves enough power so that we can fend off any enemy, or at least cover our backside when needed. What will I eat? What will I wear (and how do I accessorize it)? Where will I live? Will I live?

Jesus asks us to stop pushing long enough to start looking around. “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothes”, Jesus says. He should know; he owned no land, grew no food, wore only the simplest of clothing, and his shelter was provided by people in the area of his ministry. His life was a daily experience of trusting that God would provide whatever material and bodily needs that might arise.

There is a reason behind this ‘detachment’, this independence from the stuff of this world, freedom from worry, and even from fear of losing your life. By detaching from that, you can put all your trust into the hands of the real provider of all that is – God. “Look around”, Jesus is saying. The birds benefit from what God gives, and so do the lilies. You will never get enough power to relieve you of all fear, nor can the mere fact of having goods spare you of the actual biological need to eat or be clothed. But if you trust that God amply provides, then worry and endless striving make no sense. Jesus calls on us to seek after the right thing — the Kingdom. The Father knows about whatever else is really needed, and will see to it that you get it.

Lord, thank you for not abandoning me like so many others have. Now, help me really notice the little ways you make good provision for me and for others. Help me to be true to you and to your kingdom. Amen.

Bob Longman

A challenge: think about the ways that you are part of God’s provision for others. (And if you come up blank, or close to it, then what will you do about it?)

Also, you can hear this, as an mp3.

A Challenge, and a Testimony

I was reading Tony Jones’ blog, where he challenged progressive Christian bloggers to write about God.

Boy, did that one come out of the blue. Not that progressive Christians don’t write about God. But they rarely write directly about God. You can see some of their thoughts about God lying behind their thoughts about church, politics, theology, spiritual practices, etc.. But one gets a sense that they really don’t like to talk about God, at least not where others can see it. Jones asks, and even though I don’t consider myself a ‘progressive’ Christian (more of a politically-centrist mainline Lutheran who’s in active and positive conversation with evangelicals and Pentecostalists – whew!), I think I should take a whack at it.

Or at least, I thought so when I first read it a week ago. Since then, I’ve thought about God, and thought about writing about God. But a bazillion things kept happening – radio, music, family, charity, household chores, and the cares of a guy who’s been far too single for far too long. In the past, every five years or so, I would immerse myself in thinking of God. I’d read something someone wrote in an article or book, and suddenly I’d spend the next month or so consumed with pursuing the thoughts that spun off from it. And I’d learn a whole lot. Eventually it would hit me that what God wanted me to do was not to obsess over thinking about God, but rather to spend my time building a life where I could get down to the business of loving people. I wish I could say I’ve done it well, but there’s a big hole in that which I could drive an 18-wheeler through.

But now that I’m writing here, what about God?

I could write of God’s attributes, but those are really there to state some basic, core truths about God. They set up the most important questions about God which come from daily life, which is often lived in the exceptions on the edge of those truths. I won’t get into the ‘omnis’, either, because ‘omni’ rhymes with ‘Romney’, and I’d get sick from thinking of ‘Romniscience’. But take the attribute saying that God doesn’t change. I’ve never in my life experienced God’s character or personality or love change, nor do I see that happening in history or the Bible. But I do see God caring enough to change tactics and actions, which are how character is shown. In Scripture, it shows when someone steps out in faith to intercede for others before God. I can testify that I’ve seen it be so in life, too. Love is a relationship, and God acts in ways that are made necessary by that love. It can be harsh, blunt, and direct. It can even be at times blissful and (yecch) even cute.

I think sometimes we try to say too much about God. What we really know about God is what we find in the Bible, and even that is colored by the understandings of the authors who wrote it and the societies they live in. While our experiences and our formulations give us much insight, ultimately they are not God, but educated guesses. And what does the Bible tell us about the First Person of God? More than anything else, it tells us to look at the Second – Jesus. Hear what Jesus says, see what Jesus does. Hear from those He taught, who witnessed this. We can, in a sense, ‘know’ God, who, like any lover, wants to be better known and understood by God’s beloved. God wants us to see Jesus, by whom we can know, understand, and love the One Jesus called ‘Father’. I’m not asking you to question the Scriptural report less, but I am begging you to trust it more, even when your instincts say otherwise.

I don’t know if this is much of a help to Tony or progressive Christians. They’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting in thought and practice right now. I’m mainly writing as testimony this time. More might come, maybe even tomorrow. But this is all for now.