All We Need

Tomorrow morning we will encounter the Gospel reading from Luke 14 wherein Jesus tells the parable of the Great Banquet.  Through this story Jesus exhorts his listeners to invite those who cannot repay them when they give a feast such as the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.  This seems to be a simple story to understand and on a base level it is, but on another level it is quite powerful.

In the ancient world people gave banquets as means of getting ahead, of climbing the social ladder.  Therefore, when someone gave a banquet they did so for some type of personal gain whether for more honor or for more status.  Jesus turns this upside down when he encourages the inviting of the poor and the lowly who would not be able to provide the host with any type of gain.  In other words, Jesus is encouraging his audience not to climb the social ladder, but to go down it.  By breaking bread with such persons as the poor, the crippled, the lame the host was taking on their lowly honor and status and thereby making himself look worse in the eyes of the prevailing social order.  Jesus was, in effect, refuting what we would call the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” game.

Go down, not up.  Quite countercultural.

It’s interesting that this comes from the Lukan Jesus whose audience consists of early Christians who are struggling to remain faithful to the Gospel as they are being called out of such a social world.  It’s a struggle because going up brings security, wealth, friends, status, honor.  Very simply, it brings value to one’s life, to one’s name, to one’s family.   Take these thing away and what are you left with?

Going down, though, is based on something else.  It begins from a place of worth.  Jesus the human being does this because he knows who He is, he knows who God is and he knows that God is the One who assigns value and he knows that He will provide him with what he needs.  In a sense, it could be said that Jesus was an incredibly secure man.  He did not need others to tell him who he was, what kind of value he had, what kind of honor he held because such things were only truly derived from God.  God is at the center.  Writing to a people whose known social worlds are falling apart the Lukan Jesus is reminding them what really matters.  Remember what Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life…consider the ravens.”

I’ll confess to you that this is something that I struggle with.  So often I seek worth in things outside of God.  How smart I am or am not, who I know or who I don’t know, the accomplishments or lack thereof, where I am from and where I am not from, who likes me and who doesn’t like me, and the list can go on and on.  All of these things, though, are fleeting and are not the things that make me valuable or loved.  God is.  Often in my emptiness I seek to be filled and validated by those things instead of God.  The reality, though, is that God is more than enough and all that we need.

Go figure, right?

 

 

 

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Parenting and Love

As I wade in the muck and the mire of this thing called parenthood, and more specifically, this thing called fatherhood, I find myself baffled.  Baffled because you really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into until the child actually arrives.  While the snuggling, the cuddling, the sleeping are incredibly endearing and cute, the sleepless nights, the screaming, the constant need for attention and for correction can be rather wearing.  Now that we have both a toddler and an infant the joys and travails of parenting are quite ironical.  When Lilly is asleep, Emma is awake. When Lilly is awake, Emma is asleep.  Getting time alone with my wife Becca or with myself seems to be some far off luxury that I can barely grasp only for it to slip away in a second’s time.  Just when we think we’ll have a quiet night we get pulled back into the fray.  I mentioned to my wife a few days ago how I yearned to watch a good movie or a good documentary quietly and without interruption.  Yes, a man can dream.  Though, to be fair, my wife has had it far worse given the fact that she’s breastfeeding and she’s with the girls 24/7.  Her body is no longer her own, or even mine in the biblical sense, it is Emma’s and it is Lilly’s.  They say a human being needs three feet of space all around them to feel truly comfortable when interacting with other human beings.  My wife hasn’t had that in two and a half years.  Ahh, the things we took for granted.

But here we Geminns are, in the midst of this craziness, already flirting with the idea of having another.  We are talking, not trying.  Now, I want to reiterate that for the sake of our family members: we are talking, not trying.  Though, to be honest, we weren’t trying when Emma was conceived nor were we trying when Lilly was conceived so the third may just come upon us like they did.  I swear there’s something to that whole stork thing. But that’s what’s amazing to me, that we are already considering another despite the blur and fog that surrounds us.  This evening I’ll go home with the desire to chill out, get a Trump update, maybe even read only for it to be interrupted by the words, “Daddy, paya me.” translation, “Daddy, play with me.”  And that’s pretty cool and adorable.  To the puzzles we go, to the basement we go, to the chasing we go.

In light of all of this a thought occurred to me recently that I am sure is not all that original but bare with me.  Here it is:

Love creates, or to be more specific, it brings forth life.

That’s really the only way that I can describe our reason for having children and considering more. Emma and Lilly are simply the product of our love for one another which is founded upon the agape love of Jesus.  The Apostle John wrote that God is love and being love He created the entire cosmos. He created human beings to be in relationship with them and for them to help Him in taking care of His very creation.

Now, what if, for a moment, we suspended our notion of God and substituted it with the concept of agape love. This love, this force, if you will, brings life, that’s simply what it does, whether through procreation or forgiveness.  We can think about this in terms of Psalm 139:13, “For you formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…”  God or Love creates.  The act of love expressed in the act of sexual intercourse results in conception, in life, in the formation of inward parts, the knitting together in the womb.

It’s interesting to note that John says that “we know love, that he laid down his life for us” and “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him.”  Through Jesus’ love for us he gives up his life so we could have life, so that we could begin anew as a new creation.  The love of Christ borne out in his very death and Resurrection brings about a new creation, a new beginning, a foretaste of the restoration and resurrection that is to come. All of this is bound up in the One who is Love.  Simply put: love creates life, it brings life, it saves life.  This makes me think of couples who are unable to conceive and end up adopting. By doing so they create newness and possibility for a child that may not have had that otherwise, their love brings salvation.  What we see in such situations is that despite the disjointedness of creation that is the result of sin entering the world, love is still able to bring life in a myriad of ways.  What we see is that God/Love is at work continually.  Even in the most sin darkened situation, love can prevail.  We learn that on Good Friday, but we can also learn that by simply looking around.

This evening Becca and I may talk about having another child or maybe we won’t.  No matter what, we will be with our two daughters who we created through love or rather Love created through us.  Or should I say, God created through us?  Creation begins with love and continues on through love.  “For in him we live and move and have our being.”

 

 

Confessions Of A Potential Voter

To say that we are in the midst of a unique presidential election race would be an understatement. Truly, “choosing the lesser of two evils” has taken on a new significance that we have not had to grapple with before. Voting for Bush instead of Gore or Obama instead of Romney seems so bland and boring when compared with what we’ve got in 2016.  Now to be fair, there are avid Hillary and Trump supporters, but I haven’t met too many of them, nor have I seen all that many on Facebook (and we all know that Facebook is the clear indicator of all that is true).  It seems that Hillary is the lesser lesser of the two evils, but notice that I wrote “seems”.  I have family members who will vote for Trump because Hillary is the worst of the two in their minds and I understand that.  Lesser evil aside, I’m stuck pondering what all this means, that it’s either Clinton or Trump, that that’s the best we’ve got.  Invariably, being a historian at heart, I’ve got my theories, but I’ve also come to realize that the answer may lie closer to me than I am willing to admit, or realize.  Since there’s been much talk about how the Clinton Trump race is truly a commentary on American culture, I think it’s high time that I turn the focus on one of its very own for insight: me.

And so it’s come clean time.  Care to step into the confessional with me?

So here’s the dealio.  I am one of those people who couldn’t get enough of the Donald starting last August (for verification just ask my wife).  Each evening I turned on CNN just to see the latest news related to Trump.  In the words or letters (?) of the ineffable Gwen Stefani, “this %$#@ is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!” and I couldn’t get enough of it.  I mean for every crazy thing the guy did, just when you thought his poll numbers would drop, they’d continue to rise.  Immigrants are rapists, Meghan Kelly and menstruation, not needing forgiveness, Carly Fiorina’s looks, John McCain not being a war hero because he got caught, making fun of the disabled, Muslims not being allowed into the US, and plenty more.  I can honestly say I have never been a Trump supporter, but there were moments as the primary campaigns continued onwards that he appealed to me.  On one level it was amazing and validating to see the pundits, the strategists, and dare I say “the establishment” get him wrong time and time again.  Here was a group of people, who in some ways are used to controlling the narrative, unable to control or predict what would happen.  They were powerless before Trump.  It felt good to witness the king makers thrown off of their heals.  It was also a great feeling to watch him tear down the narratives of the Republican establishment. For instance, during one debate he said that President George W. Bush lied about Iraq and failed to protect us from 9/11.  Such statements were mostly true and it felt good to finally see someone say such a thing in such a setting.  Those were moments when Trump tapped into the anger that I have felt and I have to confess that it felt good, it felt real good.  Now, such things never brought me to the point of becoming a Trump supporter, but they did elicit within the deep, dark, recesses of my mind and soul, if only for a split second, a sort of flirtation with the idea.  At the same time, though, it helped me better understand why so many were supporting Donald Trump in his run for president.

On the flipside, there’s Hillary, who has actually taught me a lot about myself. Yes, you read that correctly Hillary Haters. Again, remember we are in the confessional, this is a safe place, no condemnation please.  Now, please let me continue to pour myself out to you.

I have a morning ritual where I drive to get a cup of coffee at our local Dunkin’ Donuts.  Along my drive I listen to NPR and get the needed news updates for the day.  Of course, in the last year these updates have heavily consisted of all of the election talk involving Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Now, I’ll admit, like the rest of the younger electorate, I was quite excited about Bernie Sanders given his desire to repeal Citizens United and to hold Wall Street accountable for their questionable activities. Though, he really turned me off in regards to his stance on abortion. Nonetheless, as the possibility of Bernie began to wither away with the clear option being either Trump or Hillary, my own complacency in this wretched system began to become so very clear to me.  I realized that I’d rather go with the devil that I know rather than with the devil I didn’t know.  What’s more, the idea of President Hillary Clinton brought me comfort.  Think about that, a war hawk brought me comfort.  With Hillary, I can at least be guaranteed that the status quo will remain the status quo.  As much as I complained about the present state of politics throughout the years, as much as I was dismayed at what looked like another Bush Clinton presidential election at the start of 2015, I found myself wishing it were so.  Just like the child of an abuser, I found myself taking comfort in the familiar, even though it really wasn’t good or healthy.  Though, to be fair, a different sort of abuser was on the other side.

Now all I can say is, “thanks a lot Donald!” You’ve brought out my shadow sides.  Anger and complacency.  Funny how those two characteristics are quite common amongst the American electorate.  And here I am, one lowly American who represents a swath of other Americans.  So maybe there is something to the notion that elections, that leaders, are simply a commentary on the people they lead.

Thanks for listening or…umm…reading.

This is probably a good time for me to drown myself in the waters of my baptism.  Maybe I’ll stay down for a little while longer. See you when I come back up out of the water.

“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” – Dorothy Day

 

 

 

Hitting the Reset Button: Beginning With Love Not Law

When Pope Francis visited New York City last year an elementary school student asked him what God did before he created the world.  The Pope answered, “He loved”.

I first learned of this story from one of my professors and thought it to be incredibly simple and yet profound.  Simple in that it was a two word answer.  Profound in that it consisted of none of the frills or the metaphors that we tend to associate with God such as: holy, all knowing, omnipotent, omnipresent, sovereign, as well as many others.  Instead, the Pope brought it back to the basics: love.  “He loved” or as the Apostle John put it so succinctly, “God is Love”.

It’s well known that those children who grow up in incredibly loving environments, who know that they are truly loved by their parents, are more likely to succeed in life and live well adjusted lives.  When we know we are loved we are more secure in who we are which has a direct impact on how we view ourselves and others.  If we grow up in an environment where love seems uncertain at times, or at the least, seems conditional, this will undoubtedly have a negative effect on how we view ourselves and others.  Ultimately, we human beings thrive when we know that we are loved.  We were created to love and to be loved.  It’s part of being created in the “Imago Dei”.

I think we can lose sight of this when we relate to God only in terms of works – what we do or what God does for us.  Ultimately, this can lead to a view of God as one who is quite demanding and law oriented.  But what if we began from the framework of love, of God’s love, and go from there?  One of the consequences of only relating to God in terms of works, whether our’s or Jesus’, is that we end up forgetting that the Law was given after many great “gospel” moments.  Remember the Sinai covenant is but the result of God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant, which led to the liberation of Israel from slavery.  It’s after the liberation that the 10 commandments are given. This does not mean that God does not get angry at sin or punish it, but rather it reveals that love is the starting point for the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s within this framework that we can better understand Jesus and his work.

It is the Jesus of John’s Gospel who famously said, “For God so loved the cosmos, that he gave his only Son…” And it is by this Son that “we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for others.”  Maybe the real key for a better understanding of God’s love for us is bound up in the Greek work hilasterion , which is used by Paul in Romans 3:25 and has a few meanings such as mercy seat, propitiation, expiation.  We often translate this as propitiation in Romans 3:25, just look at the ESV.  The use of propitiation means that Jesus was put forth to pacify God or to appease his anger towards us, but such a notion has more to do with pagan conceptions of God.  The use of expiate and mercy seat are probably more in line with what Paul is getting at here in Romans.  As scholar James Dunn notes in regards to Romans 3:25, expiate means that God put forward Jesus in order to cleanse us of our sin through his blood.  In other words, God becomes one of us in order to cleanse us of our sin in order that we might stand before God as holy and blameless.  God, out of his great love for us, lays down his life for us so that we could be cleansed of sin.  See how such a minor tweaking and understanding of meanings can have an effect on how we view and understand God?

As we think about God and our identity in Him maybe it’s best that we first begin with his unconditional love for us as it is particularly revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.  As noted earlier, first and foremost, it’s very important for humans to know that they are loved.  From there we can go into categories of righteous and unrighteous with the understanding that God reaches out to us to cleanse us from our sin rather than to serve as a sort of buffer from his wrath.  Such an understanding will undoubtedly have an affect on our view of God, but also on how we treat ourselves and one another.