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Raising a Banner of Love. Right Now.

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As the vitriol and hate in America continue to escalate, I’ve joined with a growing group of people who are committed to responding with love, rather than escalating the negativity. Our campaign, which covers the ten weeks leading up to the election, is called We Stand with Love. You can read about it and join up here: http://westandwithlove.org/

The campaign kicks off this coming week with a message entitled “Love Beyond” by my friend and former pastor Brian McLaren. I’ll be contributing a short piece to the campaign about loving beyond humanity to all animals, which I’ll post later in the week. In the meantime, I want to share this beautiful piece from Brian:

 

I’m a committed follower of Christ, and Christ taught that the greatest commandment was to love … to love God, self, and neighbor, yes, but to go farther: to love beyond those normal limits … to love the stranger, the alien, the outsider, the outcast, the misunderstand, the misjudged, and the disinherited, even the opponent and the enemy.

The apostle Paul built on what Jesus taught. Without love, we’re nothing, just a bunch of annoying noise, he said. You can have mountain-moving faith – and we might add, creed affirming doctrines – but without love, he said, it has no meaning or value. Love fulfills the law, he said, and the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.

If Jesus and Paul were right, then love is always in season.

But here in America, every four years we have national elections. And in order to win elections, politicians and political parties often scapegoat and vilify their neighbors instead of loving them. They pour gasoline on dying embers of racism, prejudice, and bigotry. In order to win for “us,” they are willing to throw “them” under the bus. And then, when the election is over, the leave the nation a mess … wounded, divided, scarred, suspicious, the winners proud and the losers humiliated. The beautiful mess is a little messier and a little less beautiful.

That’s why we need to raise a banner of love right now. That’s why the real campaign isn’t Republicans versus Democrats, or conservatives versus liberals. The real campaign is the campaign of love versus hate, prejudice, indifference, and fear.

This campaign has been uglier than most. Vicious, hurtful, and dangerous things have been said … lies have been treated as true … many boundaries of political civility and human decency have been crossed. In the face of all this noise, it’s tempting to just withdraw in disgust and walk away. But the great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil… Not to speak is to speak.” And Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

If we refuse to remain silent, we face another temptation: to mirror the ugliness and division with ugliness and division. My friend Shane Claiborne says that if you fight fire with fire, you just get a bigger fire. Or as a wise Jewish sage put it, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.”

So we need to respond to evil not with silence, and not with more evil, but with greater good. We need to respond to fear and despair not with more fear and despair, but with confidence and hope. And we need to respond to hate not with more hate, but with love.

Only love can heal what’s broken. Whether it’s in our families and friendships or our neighborhoods and nations, only love never fails.

So I hope you’ll join me in the coming months – through the election to the inauguration and beyond – to stand with love.

Love for those for those who are like us, and love for those who are different.

Love for the people we agree with, and for the people we disagree with.

Love for the winners and for the losers, for the insiders and the outsiders, for the majority and the minority, the privileged and the excluded, the powerless and powerful.

God loves everyone. No exceptions. That’s my highest ambition too, and I hope it will be yours.

That’s the real campaign this season. The campaign for love.

When you hear or see someone saying something that is unloving, don’t be silent. But don’t insult them or lecture them or get into an argument with them. Just tenderly make your stand with love. Say “Wow. I see that differently. I don’t want to ague with you, but I want to stand with love.”

When the most negative and unloving statements get quoted endlessly in the mass media, we’re going to flood social media with quotes of about love by leaders who stand and lead with love.

When words fail, many of us are going to use sign language for love … like this.

 

#westandwithlove

#westandwithlove

When evil abounds, many of us are going to redouble our efforts to overcome evil with good. We’re going to engage in random acts of kindness and we’re going to consistently support organizations and projects that are showing love to the most vulnerable among us … the very ones who frequently are excluded, misunderstood, misjudged, stereotyped, scapegoated, or simply ignored during political campaigns.

When we feel anger, fear, or resentment rising up in our own hearts, we’re not going to project it out on others. We’re going to process it and determine to become not bitter but better.

We stand with love will be our hashtag, but more important, it will be our heart’s desire and our deep moral commitment. Churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, and temples can take their stand and put up a banner. Individuals and families can put up a lawn sign or wear a t-shirt.

Loving protesters can take their stand, not against anyone as an enemy, but with and for love for one another, not raising threatening fists or pointing accusing fingers, but simply standing with open arms and hearts full of love.

Why love? Why now? That’s my answer. We stand with love.


Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and networker among innovative Christian leaders. His newest book is The Great Spiritual Migration. You can learn more at brianmclaren.net.

 

The Way That You See

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Today is all about seeing, apparently. I didn’t choose this theme for the day, the universe did. Or God. Depending on how you look at it.

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First, I read today’s entry from Frederick Buechner’s Listening to Your Life, my hands-down favorite of the dozen-plus “daily readers” that I own. He says you can learn a lot from “religious observances” like weddings, bar mitzvahs, and christenings if you are in a receptive state of mind:

“The word ‘observance’ itself suggests what is perhaps the most important thing about them . . . It is life going on. It is always going on, and it is always precious. It is God that is going on. It is you who are there that is going on. As Henry James advised writers, ‘be one on whom nothing is lost.’ OBSERVE!! There are few things as important, as religious, as that.”

Then I turn on my computer and in my inbox is a daily meditation from Father Richard Rohr called “Nondual Consciousness.” This is his favorite subject, but it’s not as wonky as it sounds. It’s really about how we see ourselves and each other. Which is to say, it’s about love. Here’s an excerpt:

“You give a piece of yourself to the other. You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously). This allows the other to do the same in return. You do not need or demand anything back from them, because you know that you are both participating in a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving  . . . You accept being accepted — for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever! . . .

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can see and accept in myself. And even more, it becomes that whereby I see everything else. This is why it is crucial to allow God, and at least one other person, to see us in our imperfection and nakedness, as we are — rather than as we ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon in their imperfection; otherwise, they will never know the essential and utterly transformative mystery of grace. This is the glue that binds the universe of persons together.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once you allow and accept God’s love for yourself, you will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others.”

Richard Rohr is best in small doses, like rich chocolate cake. If you liked that bit, I highly recommend reading his book, Everything Belongs. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it changed my life. It certainly changed how I see.

The Eyes of the Heart

Then I pick up my bible, which has been ever by my side lately as I work on two sermons simultaneously — remind me never to do that again! My head is a complete muddle and I have two messes on my hands, one of which is to be delivered in a week. Anyway, I come across a wonderful prayer from the apostle Paul to his friends in Ephesus, present-day Turkey. He prays that “the eyes of their hearts” would be enlightened so that they can see the hope and abundance in which they’re living. What a timely prayer for today!

Also a good reminder not spend too much time watching or reading about Donald Trump, lest my heart be filled with negativity and darkness — lest his anger and contempt seep into my heart and fill me with hate and fear. Elsewhere in the Bible, you’ll read: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.”

Watch what you see!

Back in my email, I find the daily word prompt from WordPress is “Eyes.” Of course it is.

eye

I leave you with the words of one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite songsters, Bruce Cockburn.

It’s a verse from Child of the Wind:

Little round planet

In a big universe

Sometimes it looks blessed

Sometimes it looks cursed

Depends on what you look at obviously

But even more it depends on the way that you see

Finding the Beauty in Grief and Loss

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In light of yesterday’s mass shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando, I am republishing this 2014 post on finding the beauty in grief and loss. Perhaps it can lighten your load today.

RAINBOW US FLAG

It’s amazing what happens when you invite people to talk about grief and loss. It’s as if everybody walks around with a lid on their pain until somebody gives them permission to take it off.

I led a spiritual support group discussion last week and suggested the topic, which won’t surprise you, dear reader, since I’ve offered you virtually nothing else since my brother passed away ten weeks ago.

biff among the cards

But I’m not just talking about death. I’m talking about losing a job and not being able to find another one. I know several people who have been in that ego-crushing situation, and it can lead to serious depression and anxiety issues if the loss is not given its due.

I’m talking about having an intimate relationship slowly fizzle out until you find yourself attached to someone you barely recognize. There’s no “crisis,” yet all your dreams of how life could be with this person are lost. You’re left with a gaping hole that you may try to fill with alcohol, drugs, busyness, shopping, porn – anything to numb the loss that you don’t want to confront.

I’m talking about lost friendships that fade out when one of you moves or leaves a job, or a broken friendship that can’t be mended even if you both try because essential pieces have been lost, most often trust.

Grieving over lost health was a common theme in our support group. One minute you’re an employee, a parent, a sibling and you’re cleaning, fixing, planning, and generally living life, and the next you are a patient being cut open or pumped full of poisons that are supposed to cure you.  You lose who you thought you were.

And of course there’s death. One person in our group lost her father to suicide at sixteen. By the time she was twenty-one, she had also lost her brother in a helicopter crash and her sister and mother to cancer. Although we all knew her at least superficially, none of us in the group had ever heard this before. She had a lid on it.

What resonated most with me at that meeting was a woman who said, “I know it’s weird, but I love grief. I live grief.” She said she couldn’t really explain what she meant, but I think I have a clue.

Grief Makes Us One

For one thing, grief is universal. It is something we all share, and it can bring us together. Not always, of course – I’ve heard countless stories of siblings whose relationships imploded on the death of their parents. But in general, we nod, we empathize, we hug each other. We know.

The Bible says that the “God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” That’s why it’s important to take time alone to process your grief, to take the lid off and let God in, because there’s cosmic comfort there if you ask for it. And it’s a universal spirit of comfort that we can all share with each other. Depending on the day, God’s comfort can knock you off your feet or set you back on your feet.

Grief Makes Us Real

Similarly, grief elicits authenticity. After September 11th, I had a strange feeling of not wanting to leave that cocoon of grief, that sacred time of national mourning: it was a rare time of authentic community for our nation.

We often feel we don’t know what to say to a bereaved person, but that’s because we’re called upon to be totally real. Everyday words don’t seem adequate. Most of the sympathy cards atop my piano start off with, “I don’t know what to say” and then go on to say something lovely. And real.

Real Words

Real Words

Grief Leads Us Towards Our Truth

Grief is deep – it leads us into our true humanity. It drowns out the TV, the advertisements, the ringing phone, and the beeping computer. If we are courageous enough to take the lid off our pain and share it, we can reach our true self – and go there with others.

We all “live grief,” as my friend said. It’s very much a part of being human, and it teaches us to search for meaning and a larger perspective on our little human lives. It teaches us to open up to God and to love one another.

What have you learned from grief and loss?

I Have a Dream

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I Have a Dream.

Only words, a collection of letters, random markings made divine when early humans first scratched symbols in the dirt, trying to communicate with each other. Trying to connect. The animals are here. The water is here. This is the way. This is what I know.

Only words, but words are all we have, and so we keep scratching.

I picture Martin Luther King, Junior, scratching away, crossing out, circling words, drawing arrows from one paragraph to another, shaking his head, crumpling up his paper, and starting again. Forgetting to pray, getting frustrated, praying, and starting again. And again.

He had a dream, and he needed words. And eventually, God answered his prayers and gave him the words that have been such an unspeakable gift to the world. I have a dream . . .

Today some folks from my church are getting together to watch Dr. King’s historic speech. Afterwards, we’ll talk about racial justice, white privilege, and reconciliation. It will probably be hard to find the right words. We’ll be afraid of using the wrong words. It might be hard to hear some of the words that are spoken; I mean really hear them.

We’ll forget to pray, get frustrated, pray, and start again.

“This is my experience. This is what I know.”

Words of Love

Words are a gift from God. Of course, they can be misused, even turned into weapons. Just tune in to a presidential debate, FOX News, or a so-called “Christian” broadcasting channel and you’ll see how words can be used to drive wedges and stoke the fires of hate and fear.

But love is stronger than hate or fear. Dr. King knew this. Words of love and hope have more power than words of hate and fear could ever dream of having. His words reach across the decades, bridging the great differences that divide us and diving deep into the common spirit that unites every one of us, throughout all time and beyond time.

This week’s photo challenge from WordPress is to share a photo that reflects the word: alphabet. This MLK Day post was inspired by these two photos taken outside a community center in rural New Mexico:

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Advent Happens, Love Happens

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I’m happy lately, feeling as if I’m in the zone, using my gifts, and helping people. And you can’t beat that.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve rededicated myself to a regular practice of prayer and meditation over the past few months. Last week, I gave a sermon about “becoming prayer” — prayer not so much as something you do, but as a state of being.

In the interest of practicing what I preach, and having learned that pastoral work is more about being a centered, compassionate human being than it is about book learnin’ and fancy words, I am dedicating myself this Advent to truly reaching for God’s heart, opening myself to that spirit of love that comes only through prayer.

The love that keeps going through the darkness, the love that never folds in on itself even when it hurts to stay open, the love that loves even the unlovely. Especially the unlovely.

The love that breaks down our defenses and cleans out our ego-crap and prepares a place for God in our hearts. Advent love.

In our responsive prayer at church yesterday — the first Sunday in Advent — we used the phrase, “slipping from regular time into Advent.” I love this image of a gentle but certain transition. Advent happens. God happens.

The church of Jesus slips into this ancient-but-new season together, a communal season of the spirit, a season of reflection and celebration. These days everybody talks about their spirituality as if it’s an individual personal growth thing, which it is, but Jesus said that he came to empower us to be One in the spirit of Love, so Christian spirituality is also a community thing. Slipping out of “regular time” and into Advent time is something we do as a spiritual family.

To celebrate the start of Advent, I want to share this lovely but challenging prayer by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.

“May the sounds of Advent stir a longing in your people, O God. Come again to set us free from the dullness of routine and the poverty of our imaginations. Break the patterns which bind us to small commitments and to the stale answers we have given to questions of no importance. Let the Advent trumpet blow, let the walls of our defenses crumble, and make a place in our lives for the freshness of your love, well-lived in the Spirit, and still given to all who know their need and dare receive it. Amen.”

May love happen for you this Advent!

Preparing for Advent

Preparing for Advent

Learning To Be Love, That’s All

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LEARNING TO BE LOVE, THAT’S ALL. WordPress offers a writing prompt today, “Write a six-word story about what you think the future holds for you, and then expand on it in a post.” So that’s my story, that’s what my future is, or what I would like it to be. If I don’t get off-track or distracted, that’s the direction I’ll be headed in.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” I buy that, although I think that movement is overrated. The important thing is which direction we are facing, what are we looking at, pondering, absorbing?

What are you pondering?

What are you pondering?

I also think that pondering the present moment is way more important than pondering the future, which is why it’s such a crying shame that many people who think they are following Jesus are obsessed with figuring out who gets to be in Heaven when this whole show on earth is over, instead of focusing on what God might be doing to bring hope and health and wholeness right here, right now.

But I digress.

My life is not what I thought it would be at this point. When I was growing up, most people – myself included – imagined they would get married and have kids and be happy, unless of course you were gay, in which case you might get married and have kids and be utterly miserable and make your poor heterosexual spouse miserable, too. But I’m not gay, so I was going to get married and have a girl named Annaliese (and Dorothy if I had a second girl) and a boy would be named Griffin, to keep the family name going.

Then I decided I wanted to be an environmental lobbyist and talk sense into policy makers and save the planet, so I did that for twenty-seven years instead of having kids, and then I got tired of smashing my head against that wall, and through no decision of my own ended up being a family caregiver for about ten years, through dementia and mental illness and death. Twice.

Meanwhile, I got my Masters Degree in creative writing, and I’m so, so glad that I did, although I’ve quickly tired of smashing my head against the publication wall, sending out my writing only to be rejected again and again, so I don’t send it out much anymore and of course it doesn’t get published.

Then all of a sudden my church asked me to be a pastor, and here I am. As pastor of Prayer & Healing, I spend a lot of time with people who are in pain. I am learning – slowly – that I can’t save them. I am also learning that most people are in some amount of pain, they just don’t talk about it the way folks do during a crisis. Often, people aren’t even aware of their pain, they are only aware that they work too much, or drink too much, or eat too much, or surf the internet too much, or fill-in-the-blank too much.

To “succeed” in my new role, I began frantically reading about pastoral counseling and spiritual companionship and “grief work” and emergent theology, but am coming to realize that really, I already have what I need. I’ve been through a lot of pain and loss and addiction in my life, and I get it. I know how to be with people in those spaces (whether or not those people know they are occupying those spaces), and as long as I focus on putting my roots deep into God, who is entirely and purely love, I am who I am supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Being

Me, Being

I need to be healthy enough and grounded in the God of Love (not the judgmental, vengeful God of Christian broadcasting) so that I come from a place of abundance, not neediness, and then I am good to go.

I might write a book. I might become a teacher. I might work for another non-profit. Heck, I might get married. Who knows? But I do know the bottom line, and that’s what matters. Learning to be love, that’s all.

The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

An Easter Message from the Great Beyond

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God-believer or not, you have to admit this story is cool. If you’ve been following our hero (me), you will know that I have been going through difficult life transitions in recent years, having lost my mother and my brother and now preparing to separate for good from my growing-up house.

The Search

So I’m over at the empty house the other day, looking behind doors, toeing the dust piles in the corners and opening closets for the twentieth time, looking for . . . what? At some level, I think I’m looking for my brother or my childhood or some cosmic connection to all I’ve lost.

Being a God-person, I pray: “God, I know this is silly, but can you just give me something — anything? Some comfort. Something to show me I’m not alone here.”

Then I chuckle at my “oh ye of little faith” moment. I know God’s with me; “fear not” and all that stuff. Isn’t that enough?

The Attic

I decide to go up to the attic for the last time in my life. I didn’t go up there before I paid the professionals to clear out the house — too many childhood toys and games and rock collections and moldy stuffed animals that I do not need in my rapidly dwindling fifties. Better I not even see them.

I stoop but bang my head on the eaves anyway, as I always have. The little crescent window where my mother showed me my first baby birds when I was five is now so crammed with old nesting material that almost no light gets in.

Marauding squirrels have apparently broken through the barrier of concrete blocks and old license plates I erected several years ago, and there’s Pepto-Bismol-pink insulation scattered everywhere. Otherwise, the attic is empty.

“Anything?” I say to God again. “A scrap of paper?” (For real. I said that.)

And then I see a scrap of paper. It’s peeking out from under a tuft of insulation. I don’t want to pick it up because I don’t want to be disappointed, but I do anyway.

It’s folded about two inches square, a delicate tatter with a faded floral print. I open it carefully, and here’s what I read:

“To a very dear little daughter — hoping that this Eastertide marks the beginning of the happiness her sweet unselfishness should bring her — Mom”

Might I remind you that this is Easter week.

The writing is my grandmother’s. My mother saved this precious piece of paper her whole life.

And now it is made even more precious, as the Easter message of sacrificial love, joy, and freedom passes on to another generation.

Easter Tidings From Beyond

Easter Tidings From Beyond

Easter blessings, my friends!

Leaving Home and Legacy

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I’ve been thinking a lot about dying lately. Maybe not so much dying as just not being here anymore.

This week I will be signing the papers that will detach me from the house I grew up in, the homey, red brick colonial that my family has owned since 1958. It is more than the end of an era; it is the end of *all* my eras so far. Although I’ve lived in my current home for twenty-seven years — way longer than I lived in my family home — somehow that house has always been “home.” Where’s home now?

Home

Home

At the same time, I am preparing to turn sixty years old in a few short weeks. This preparation mostly entails drinking more than is good for me more often than is good for me (perhaps trying to feel like I’m in my twenties again?) and frequently shaking my head and saying “I can’t believe this,” or “How did this happen?”

I’m crying a lot, missing my brother and my mom and even my father, who died forty years ago this May. It’s letting go of the house that’s stirring up the memories.

At any rate, these happenstances have brought to my attention the likelihood that I will die at some point. I knew this, of course, I think I just know it more now. What will be left when I am no more?

What Lasts?

A few weeks ago, we had a Lenten Quiet Day at my church where we spent time in prayer and reflection and meditation. One of the Hebrew scriptures that we used for meditation was Psalm 139, which reads in part, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

I got to thinking about that word “everlasting.” What is everlasting? For someone like me with no kids, no DNA spread about, what of me is everlasting?

I used to think that my legacy was wrapped up in the National Parks and forests and rivers that I helped protect for posterity when I was Public Lands Director at Sierra Club. But those aren’t everlasting. Even if they survive America’s insatiable need to drill, mine, and chop down every last cotton-pickin’ acre of wildlands, they will still be dust eventually.

So no everlasting legacy there. Nope.

I also used to see a trace of legacy in my role as chair of the pastor search process that released my friend Brian McLaren from pastoring the church he founded, so that he could be a full-time author and international speaker spreading a gospel of love and justice — at least a small flickering candle against the darkness of the judgmental, hate-preaching juggernaut that many people think of as “Christianity” and from which they understandably flee.

But Jesus didn’t come to establish a “religion,” and he doesn’t need Brian McLaren to save him, and Brian didn’t need me to save him either. Ten years has put this in perspective. I’m glad to have helped Brian and our church out, but God is God, and is likely by turns divinely amused and annoyed by the way humans represent Her/Him/Is/I AM.

True Home

So what truly is everlasting? Only love. Only the Spirit of Love that passes from one to another to another for all time and into eternity. And I believe what Jesus’s friend John wrote two thousand years ago: God is love. That’s where “home” is, always was, and always will be.

So let me not waste time, God. Let me not waste time clinging to brick and mortar or searching for meaning or significance in things that don’t last. Let me dwell only on the love in my past, and let me love well in the time I have left. 

Related post: https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/hope-or-hostility-in-a-multi-faith-world/

Looking for Clues

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“The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips. The good dream. The odd coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Maybe even the smallest events hold the greatest clues. If it is God we are looking for, as I suspect we all of us are, even if we don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet, maybe the reason we haven’t ‘found God’ is that we are not looking in the right places.”

I read this little excerpt from Frederick Buechner this morning on one of the spiritual email lists I subscribe to but don’t usually read. The little blurbs have nice inspirational titles like A Pause for Beauty and Inward/Outward and Contemplative Living, but they mostly just look like clutter in my inbox. When I bother to click, though, they often contain gems like Buechner’s.

I suspect Buechner’s quote resonated with me because I’ve been having a lot of these moments lately, these “clues” that make me feel as if I’m in the flow of life, rather than fighting against the current as I often seem to be. Sometimes I recognize them as clues, sometimes I don’t.

If you’re one of those people who “don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet,” perhaps you wouldn’t see these as clues. I get that. The world is an effed up place in many ways, and I can see why some people don’t believe in a loving God.

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Here’s why I think Buechner’s “clues” point to God:

  • “The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips.” I experienced this the other night at a gathering of old environmental lobbyist friends, many of whom I worked with for twenty-plus years. Since I retired six years ago, I rarely connect with any of them except for an occasional Facebook comment. I find this odd, since I had felt so integrally connected with them all. I know how it is, though — I remember the busyness and how Capitol Hill eats your life so that nothing else seems to matter. And part of the separation is my own choice — I haven’t had much time to connect, being so busy with school and taking care of my sick brother. At any rate, as I passed through the crowd the other night, I heard my name over and over. “Melanie’s here . . . did you see Melanie? Remember how Mel used to say . . . ?” Every time I heard my name, I could feel my spirit-self relaxing into a warm, comforting bubblebath, a bubblebath of belonging. They know me, they remember me, I belong here. I think the magic word belonging is one clue to God: we were created as one spiritual whole; we just get disconnected. God puts the longing in our hearts for the unity, the oneness, the belonging. Sadly, it is often organized and compartmentalized religion that causes the disconnect.
  • “The good dream . . .” Oh yes, please. We often remember scary dreams and dreams of loss and fear, and although these can be great teachers if we take the time to work with them, it’s such a gift and a blessing when a “good dream” comes along. These dreams, I think, are a sign that there’s a spirit of goodness floating around in the ether and it communicates with our subconscious. I remember when my older sister, who is vehemently anti-God, told me that she had discovered that the Universe is Good. This filled me with joy because she’s a serious introvert with few connections, so the fact that she ran across this lovely truth through her private meditations meant to me that the good spirit in the ether had taken the initiative to connect with her.
  • “The odd coincidence.” These are the strangest, because the exact same thing could happen to a God-believer and a non-God-believer and their conclusions would be completely different. I love coincidences because they remind me that there’s a plan. That when I’m in the flow, weird little things happen that I could never have dreamed up on my own, like lovely sun-warmed boulders in the river of life on which I can rest for a short time and get a better view of the journey.
  • “The moment that brings tears to your eyes,” reminding us that we are all human and we all share emotional bonds that buoy us up and carry us through the hard times. I tear up a lot, whether it’s sharing someone else’s pain, watching a little girl bang a tambourine and dance at church, or laughing with my friends till we cry and then our eyes connect and we know that we are blessed to be in each other’s lives. Through our tears, God reminds us that we are not alone, that joy and grief are universal. Plus, I think it’s awesome that our creator made tears to lower stress, elevate mood, and carry away toxins from our bodies. How cool is that?
  • “The person who brings life to your life.” Hmmm. I suppose this line could make me sad, since I don’t have one particular person that “brings life to my life” at the moment. No lover, no kids. And it makes me miss my brother, who was also my best buddy. But somehow it doesn’t make me feel sad — I feel like I have a huge community of people who bring life into my life. Different ages, different races, different backgrounds, different interests. I love my life. I’m crazy-blessed. I suppose Buechner’s point here is larger — it’s about love. Unconditional, absurdly generous love. And that, my friends, is the biggest clue to God. We’re swimming in it, if we “look in the right places.”

 

The Issue is God — And Six Reasons it Doesn’t Matter

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The big question — that’s what we disagree on. Is there a God or not? Several of my very close friends whom I love and respect believe that there is no God: no conscious, purposeful Spirit at work in the universe. I could no sooner believe what they believe — or don’t believe — than I could decide to live in a different era.

God is a reality to me. In God I live and move and have my being, as the Bible says. This isn’t a faith passed down from my parents, it is the fruit of my own hard-fought battles with life. It is what I have learned from life and death: we are accompanied.

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But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I’m responding to the WordPress Daily Prompt:

“Do you have a good friend or close relative with whom you disagree on a major issue (political, personal, cultural)?

What’s the issue, and how do you make the relationship work?”

How to Make it Work

The issue is God, as I say. So, how do my atheist friends and I make our relationships work? Without having asked them, here’s what I think:

  1. Respect. Recognizing that none of us has all the answers, which requires at least a modicum of humility.
  2. Being non-judgmental. Not placing ourselves above each other, even if we can’t help thinking that our belief system is somehow better or superior or wiser or more logical or whatever. Does that make any sense? It’s separating the belief system from the person and honoring our common state of “doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”
  3. Refusing to play the victim. This entails trusting that “the other” is not judging. Christians can feel judged by a secular, modernistic world where the metaphysical realm is undervalued if not outright mocked. Atheists (obviously) feel judged by certain Christians who tell them they are going to burn in eternal fire if they dare to entertain non-Christian beliefs. My atheist friends avoid mocking me, and I avoid relegating them to hellfire.
  4. Dare I say unconditional love, or will that sound religious? They love me despite my belief in fairy tales, and I love them despite their inability to recognize a power higher and more loving than the human mind.
  5. I’d like to say open-mindedness, but that doesn’t fly because atheists are not open-minded about God, and I can’t very well be open to atheism. I understand atheism given our societal paradigms, but I can’t begin to open my mind to it. Some things are opinions, some things are beliefs, and some things are just unequivocally true for an individual. If life’s beating the crap out of me hasn’t made me lose my faith yet, nothing will.
  6. We laugh a lot. I have a sign over my desk that reads: “Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves, for we shall never cease to be amused.”

So there ya go, WordPress, that’s how we make our relationships work.

As it happens, I’ve spent this week wrestling with a blog post that’s got me all tangled up in metaphors related to God, atheism, and climate change. I took a break from that blog post, and I ended up writing about the same dang thing!

I can’t help it. Sorry, atheist pals. Thanks for reading anyway.

And on earth, peace . . .

And on earth, peace . . .

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