Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Love the Sinner - Hate the Sin ... Some Thoughts

 Some rights reserved by qthomasbower
I've heard the phrase from a variety of sources in a variety of venues recently: "Love the sinner; hate the sin." It is the thing that people of faith seem to say when they want to justify their own actions/feelings/thoughts when it comes to other people.

I have never liked the phrase very much. For starters, Jesus never said it ... despite the fact that Christians fling it around as though he did. Not only did he never say it, but he never even came close. When I mention this to folks, it is not unusual for them to bring up the example of the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus told to "go and sin no more." It is true ... he did tell her that, but he told her that at the END of their exchange... after he had sent those who wanted to stone her away ... and after he told her that he didn't condemn her. NOTE: the affirmation of his love for her and the fact that he did not condemn her was not a result of anything she did. He did not say, go and sin no more and then you will be worthy of my love and forgiveness. He simply said, "Neither do I condemn you." Yes, some folks will argue, but then he said to go and sin no more. But, it seems to me that if the transformative love that Jesus extended to the woman was conditional upon whether or not she did or didn't sin any more, we would probably have a second part of the story, but we don't. We don't know what happened next. All we know is that he told her that she wasn't condemned ... despite the fact that she was an adulterer. Much like the prodigal son who was welcomed and embraced by the father even before he could offer up his well-rehearsed apology, the woman has an encounter with a Love that does not seek to condemn.

The second reason that I don't like the phrase about loving the sinner and hating the sin all that much is that I've experienced that kind of love and somehow it has never felt like the love I've experienced when I know that someone really loves me. Instead it feels like a patronizing kind of love that says, "I'm loving you because I'm supposed to, but really there is something about you that is totally unacceptable." And, the bottom line is that it certainly doesn't feel like the all-embracing, totally unconditional love that I experience in my relationship with the Almighty. Why would we even need to say, "I'm loving you, but hating your sin" in order to love someone else. Can't we just love people ... without regard to their (or our own) sin? It seems like we could sure be a lot more loving that way. And, it was what Jesus commanded us to do: "Love one another."

I have a friend who is fond of saying that the one who loves the most wins. The concept isn't original with him, he got it from another friend, but ever since he shared the idea with me, I've been trying to see how true it is. I've actually tried to take this command to "love others" to heart. Now, of course, the reason should be simply that Jesus commanded it, and that is why I think it is important. But, I have to confess that I'm also curious to see what it would look like. What would my life look like if I simply loved ... without regard to who the other person was ... without regard to behavior or status or disposition ... without regard to political, theological, or philosophical underpinnings ... but, just loved because that's what I'm created to do?

I fail at this goal about nine hundred and seventy nine times a day, but my attempts have revealed something that I think is very telling. In those moments when I am successful ... when I simply love ... I don't have either the time or the inclination to worry about hating anything. It is a win-win equation because the other person feels loved and in the act of loving, I too know myself as one who is loved by the Beloved.

It's weird, because it's all a little bit more hippie-esque than I normally tend to be ... but, it is a good kind of weird. So, I've decided to just mentally edit the phrase when it's quoted to me and now every time someone tells me that I should love the sinner, but hate the sin, I simply hear: "Love."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Gotta Be Me ...

A friend of mine and I were recently discussing the tendency that many of us have to listen to that part of ourselves that tells us all of the ways in which we've messed up, fallen short, or failed, long before we listen to that part of us that comments on all the ways we've gotten it right, done well, or really shined. In the course of the conversation, my friend commented that the reality is that no one else could be him as well as he does it ... and that is an important thing to remember.

His comment struck a chord in me. Though I'm not sure that anyone else would want the job, it is true that I cannot think of a single person who could be me as well as I have done it all these years. And, while maybe there are a few things that I might do differently if I had it all to do over again, all in all, there is a whole lot that I've done pretty well. And, the exciting part is that I get to keep trying to do it even better, hopefully for a long time yet.

It is not a secret among my close friends (maybe even for acquaintances, I don't know), that I can sometimes be overly self-reflective. I am forever going over my choices, actions, and decisions to see where I messed up, how I could have done it better, what I should do differently the next time around. The conversation with my friend has convinced me to give at least equal due to the questions of where I succeeded, what I did well, and how my own brand of being me brought something positive to the equation. 

I am often fond of telling the people whom I love that I wish that they could see themselves through my eyes ... that they could see how delightfully wonderful they are. Usually they begin to argue and start to point out all of the things that my eyes miss. I respond by telling them that they need to cut themselves some slack. My new mission is to see what it might look like if I cut myself that same sort of slack and looked inward with those same eyes. Who knows? I just might end up liking what I see.

Monday, June 17, 2013

For These ... I Give Thanks

Yesterday was Father's Day and all of my social media feeds were filled to overflowing with loving tributes to fathers both living and gone, coupled with photos of preciously held memories. I posted a pic of my husband and me with our kids and son-in-law, I called my dad, and I even texted my brother to wish him a happy day. But the whole day had me thinking about something that I used to say during every children's sermon I gave when I was still in ordained ministry and Mother's or Father's Day would roll around -- we shouldn't need to set aside a special day to tell the people that we love that they are important to us. We should be honoring, remembering, and loving our parents every day. Our spouses should know how wonderful we think they are based on our daily actions and not just because we said so in a Facebook post. Sure, I can Tweet to the world that my kids are awesome, but do I tell them to their faces ... on a regular basis?

Much has been written about the fact that the more seemingly connected we become virtually, the less connected we are able to be in real life. I'm not sure of how true that is, but I do know that loving each other ... day in and day out ... requires effort. And, I also know that it is important.

When I was a kid and Mother's Day or Father's Day would roll around, I would inevitably ask: "What about Kid's Day?" After a few years, I knew the parental response by heart: "Every day is Kid's Day." I would usually argue that it wasn't true, that I didn't get presents every day nor did I get to pick out a special meal every day. But, I also knew that there wasn't a day that went by when I didn't understand myself to be loved, treasured, and valued by my parents. In that sense, my parents were right ... every day really was "my" day.

Some rights reserved by Valerie ReneĆ©
Who in your life may be wondering if they will ever have a "them" day? Is it your kids? An aging aunt or uncle that you haven't seen in a while? Maybe it's your spouse. Or, it could be that friend you've been meaning to call.

What would our world look like if we were intentional about making every day, someone's day? If it's been a while since you told someone that you love how important they are to you ... take the time to make today their day.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Works and Plays Well with Others

When I was in grade school, there was always a space on our report cards for the category, "Works and Plays Well with Others." It was supposed to help parents and educators recognize, I suppose, when there was a kid who didn't know how to share, couldn't play on the playground without hitting, kicking, or biting others, or who exhibited socially unacceptable behavior.

Some rights reserved by marsmet491
The recent story about Sebastien de la Cruz and his singing of the National Anthem to open game three ... and then game four of the NBA Finals was one of those things that made me realize that there should still be marks handed out in the grown-up world for "working and playing well with others."

I do not consider myself a naive person. I know that there are hate-filled people in the world. I get it. But reading the blather that flowed out of the Twitterverse while Sebastien de la Cruz was singing the National Anthem during game three made me wonder what the people who would say such things are like in real life when they do not have the perceived cloak of anonymity that social networking pretends to provide.

Mostly, it just made me sad. It made me ask questions like, "Wait, isn't this 2013 and isn't this the United States of America?" And, "Who says stuff like that about an 11-year-old kid." Again, it's not that I don't know that there are people who are like that ... it's just that I really would like to live in a world were everyone works and plays well with others. And, however, simple or silly or naive it may sound, I just don't understand why anyone would take delight in being mean or hateful or spiteful towards other people ... no matter who they are. I simply do not get it.

Was there a kind of sweet justice when it was revealed that not only was Sebastien born and raised in America but that he is the son of a Navy veteran? Sure. Was it great that he sang again to open game four and received a standing ovation? Of course. But it would have been just as great and a whole lot less painful for him and his family, I am sure, if when he sang the first time it could have been without incident and without bigoted/racist comments.

We got those marks in grade school, people, because there is this idea that it is an important skill set to have, this working and playing well with others. If it was important in first grade, that means it's still important. 1 + 1 still equals 2, the letter "m" still makes the mmmmm sound, and keeping our hands and feet to ourselves and using our nice words still matters.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Losing the Labels

Some rights reserved by HowardLake
Labels can be very helpful. If you are looking for a particular canned good in your pantry, for example, you want a label that will tell you what is inside the can and when it was put there or when it will expire.

When shopping for clothes, labels can help us to make sure that we purchase the right size that is made from the kind of materials that we desire.

Labels can even be helpful when we go out to eat. If we are in the mood for Italian cuisine, we don't want to end up at a place that serves Thai food, or vice versa.

However, when it comes to people, labels are not nearly so helpful because they cannot possibly tells us about what is really inside. All of us are so much more than the labels with which we self-identify or with which others have tagged us. Even the labels that I happily and proudly embrace such as wife, mother, Catholic, or Texan fail to fully define who and what I am ... and depending upon another's interpretation of those labels could fail altogether.

It is even worse when someone else attempts to affix an unwanted or an untrue label based upon their impression of who and what I am. I don't like it and resist it at every turn. But, I also realize that I have been guilty of doing that to others. We all use labels in order to keep others in neat, tidy, identifiable little boxes. The problem is that most of our lives aren't always so neat and tidy, and they often have to be squashed unrecognizably to fit into any sort of box whatsoever.

In addition, all of us are living, growing, vibrant beings. I am certainly not the person that I was 20 years ago ... or 10 ... or 5 ... or, even one, for that matter. Labels that were true 6 months ago, may not be entirely accurate now, or might have to be adapted at the very least. But if someone has affixed a predetermined label on me either based on past behavior, or what they think they know about my religious beliefs, or political ideologies, or child-rearing notions, there is no room for them to learn what I really think and certainly no room for me to reveal who I really am or how my ideas might have developed over the years.

It's a hard thing to do ... to stop relying on labels to define others ... but it is essential if we really want to come to know who and what they are at the very core of their beings ... beyond where the labels will reach.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sometimes It Really Is the Little Things

I make my coffee the same way every morning. I put the same amount of whole beans into the grinder. I put a squeeze of honey into the bottom of my French press before adding the grounds. I wait the same amount of time after pouring the near-boiling water over the grounds and letting the coffee steep. But every so often, without warning, and without explanation, my morning cup of coffee tastes more delicious than normal. It becomes what I can only describe as a near sacramental experience that makes me incredibly grateful for every created thing and for my place in the midst of it all. I've learned not to try to replicate the incredible taste sensation the next day ... because it simply can't be done. However, weeks or sometimes months later ... again, the perfect cup of coffee makes an appearance in my mug.

Some rights reserved by amanda28192
The same sort of thing happens for me with showers. Sometimes a shower is just glorious. Same water supply ... same shampoo and soap as always ... knobs turned to the same temps that I normally use, but there are some showers that just make me feel renewed and reinvigorated all over. The connection to baptism is not lost on me ... but it is has a much more homey feel to it than something so ritualized and solemn. It's like a walk in the rain without the mud or a swim in a crystal clear lake where there is no danger of leeches. It's hard to explain, but when it happens, I always find myself commenting: "That was the perfect shower."

And then, of course, there is what I refer to a "delicious sleep." As I age, sleep in any form is always to be valued. However, perfect sleep happens when every part of your body is comfortable, you can find the cool side of the pillow and it nestles under your head just perfectly, the room is the right amount of dark and quiet, and the covers are snuggled around you in a comfortable hug. Delicious sleep is usually in that place between absolutely dead-tired sleep and waking up, where you can remember your dreams and sometimes even control them. When you wake up from delicious sleep you feel satisfied, rested, and strangely comfortable with the world.

Some rights reserved by stevendepolo
I can't be sure, of course, but I think that G-d allows these experiences ... these deep moments with coffee, showers, and sleep ... to remind me that all of creation is sacred and all of it bears the fingerprints of the Divine. G-d has a way of working with the simple and ordinary, a manger in the least of the cities of Judah being, perhaps, the most striking instance. Sure I can recognize the Divine in majestic snow-capped mountains or in a glorious sunrise ... but, there it is almost too easy. Those sorts of experiences are full of grandeur and are writ large across the fabric of our lives. We're supposed to, it seems, recognize G-d there.

When it happen at my kitchen table because of a cup of coffee or when I recognize G-d's presence as I am just awaking from sleep, it takes on a much more intimate quality ... as though it were meant especially for me. And when it happens, it does make me much more aware of the multitude of ways in which all of my life is sacramental and the fact that there is an Incarnational quality to the whole of creation.

Sometimes, it really is the little things ... and, for me, anyway, sometimes those things are as seemingly mundane as a cup of coffee, a shower, or a good night's sleep.

Friday, June 7, 2013

This Is My Story

The company that I work for declared this past week to be Communications Awareness Week. Because the majority of our employees work in a virtual environment, it is very important that we all utilize the communication tools that we have available to us in the best and most effective ways possible. To help in achieving that goal, we took a communications quiz that was supposed to help us to understand our own communication styles. The results were supposed to tell you whether you are an assertor, a demonstrator, a contemplator, or a narrator. Following the quiz, we then watched a video that described the various styles, the benefits and possible negatives of each, and which communication tools each style tended to utilize best (i.e., email, Skype, Google+ Hangouts, recorded presentations, one-on-one phone calls, etc.).

My own results were actually not much of a surprise to me. I scored incredibly high in the narrator style. According to the breakdown we were given, narrators tend towards relationship building over other goals and are often emotionally intuitive. Process is usually valued over end results. The part of the analysis that made me chuckle a bit was the types of professions to which narrators tend to be drawn, including teacher, counselor, minister, and human resources. Hmmmm. That would be consistent with someone I know.

The eerie accuracy of the simple 12-question quiz notwithstanding, the activity got me reflecting on the process of narration, of story-telling, and why I find it so incredibly vital. The upshot for me, as a believer, is the fact that G-d is the quintessential story-teller. If we are truly created in G-d's image, then we too, are meant to tell stories. But, like G-d, we are more than just story-tellers, because similar to the Word that G-d speaks, the stories that we tell have power -- the power to create, to make true, to bring reconciliation, to be life-giving.

Some rights reserved by Stephen Rees
As both the characters in and the co-authors of our own stories, we are in the incredible position of simultaneously discovering the plot line as it unfolds, and helping to fashion the next chapter. Will it entail adventure, mystery, comedy, high-stakes drama? Will we be the protagonist or the antagonist of the tale? What truths will we discover and what truths will we reveal to others, if any?

The fact is, regardless of our own individual communication styles, all of us are caught up in this incredible narrative called life. Though the setting, other characters, and maybe even part of the plot might seem to have been set for us ahead of time, we still have a huge role in determining twists in the storyline, subplots, and even surprise endings. We can be the hero or the villain. Our story can be a cliff-hanger, a romance, or even a comic book.

What story will you tell?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Knowing Again ... For the Very First Time

View from the Farrar House at Little Gidding. Some rights reserved by Philocrites
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time. 

So ends the last of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, entitled "Little Gidding." It also happens to be my favorite line in the whole series of poems and may very well be my favorite line in all of T. S. Eliot's poetry. I was captivated by the line when I did an intensive study of T. S. Eliot during my junior year of college. Now, nearly 30 years later, I think I am beginning to have an inkling of what Eliot was getting at.

In so many different area of my life I feel as though I am returning to the ideas, opinions, and passions of my youth, but with an understanding that I never could have had when I was in my teens and twenties. More than once over the last couple of years, people who have only known me recently have said things like, "well, after you changed your thoughts about ..." or "when your opinion changed regarding ..." However, the funny thing is that I have found myself explaining that it was not so much a change as a return. But it is not just a returning to things that I thought and cared about back in the day. It is a rediscovery that is new and exhilarating because it is as though I now understand why it was that I cared about such notions in the first place.

The return might be unsettling, I suppose, for those who have only known me through one chapter of my life, but since I've lived with me all these years it feels much more like finally coming home to my real self. In C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia there is Narnia, but then there is the really-real Narnia -- the one for which the original Narnia was but a shadow and a proleptic glimpse of the real deal. When our explorations bring us at last to the place we started, with eyes that have matured along the way, it is both a place we have always known and, at the same time, a place we have never really known at all.

After the lines above, the poem concludes with the following:

Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

I think that I am beginning to hear, or maybe only half-hear, the voice of the hidden waterfall. It doesn't mean that everything is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it does mean that there is the slightest hint that once all the exploring is complete, all truly shall be well.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fixing Things

Some rights reserved by pecooper98362
Most of my best friends tend to be fixers. I myself am a fixer. We want to fix things because we care and because we often have an over-inflated sense of our own abilities to "make things better." I am fairly convinced that I lasted far-longer in ordained ministry than I otherwise should have because of my determination to fix ... situations, relationships, people.

There is a lot to be said for fixers. It usually means that we want to be kind, caring, and compassionate. Unfortunately, it also means that sometimes we get involved in things we shouldn't, get frustrated when we can't fix things, and take on more than what is ours to take one.

It's a hard lesson for fixers to learn: not only can we not fix everything, we can't fix most things.

One of my best friends - a fixer if ever there was one - recently went to stay with his aging parents for a while to help them get things, as he put it, in order. There were definitely things that needed fixing: finding suitable care for his dad, tending to finances that had gone too long ignored, and various odd-jobs around the house. But there was also the reality that some of it ... maybe even a good portion of it ... just simply wasn't going to get done ... at least, not immediately and probably not just by one person ... no matter how caring, kind, and loving that one person might be. It was frustrating for my fixer friend that he couldn't just make it "right" and it was frustrating for me, his fixer friend, that I could't just make it all better for him.

But, in the grand scheme of things, he did something more important than fixing: he was present. And, that, in and of itself, was more important than any fixing that did or did not occur. He was present to his aging father who is facing an uncertain journey towards a most certain inevitability. He was present to his mother whose own inability to be able to fix and control things so that they turn out okay has caused her no small amount of frustration and short-temperedness as well. He gave them what all of us need and crave: love -- not in doing any one or two or a million specific things for them, but simply by being with them.

It is an important lesson for us fixers to learn, that sometimes, probably even most often, we help the most not by doing but simply by being who we are and sharing that with those who are most important in our lives.

Monday, June 3, 2013


Newsflash ... the passing of time changes one's perspective.

Photo by Alan Cleaver. Used with permission. Click here for source.

However much I may give intellectual assent to such a proposition, it is still always something of a surprise when it actually happens in real life.

The current case in point? My youngest son is leaving this morning to drive to Wisconsin where he will intern on an organic farm for a month. He is driving. Alone.

Did I do the same sort of thing when I was his age? Of course. Did I give more than a second thought to the possibility of storms, car trouble, getting lost, or whatever? No, not really. Did I scoff at the fact that my parents and my, at the time, future mother-in-law seemed overly worried and somewhat obsessed with all of the things that could possibly go wrong? You betcha.

Ah, but now, the shoe is on the other foot. I am the parent who has been checking the weather every two seconds. I am the one who has looked at the route over and over again. I am the one who has cautioned the boy about safe places to stop and eat. I am the one who is more than a little worried about this two-day journey.

And ... I can at least contact him by cell phone. I don't really know how my parents stood it. And the only consolation I can take is that time will continue to march on and there will come that moment when my kids will "get it." When they will wake up one day and suddenly find that they are beginning to see things from their parents' perspective.

And, hopefully, I will be around to commiserate with them, because, as much as one looks forward to "growing up," when it actually happens, it's not always all that it has cracked up to be.