Relationship Theology: Part Two

 

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If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.   (1 Cor. 13:1-3 NRS)

If we accept the revelation that God is love and that we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) then the foundation of our lives, our core nature, should be love. However, when we look at our world and perhaps, even our own lives, love does not seem to be the main motivator unless it is a perversion of love that comes from selfishness.

The word love has been adapted to many usages in our culture today. I believe from my study that true relationship love needs three elements to be understood. First, love must have a commitment and desire to be with (spend time) with the one you love. Distance and time do not make the heart grow fonder. If you love someone, you want to spend time with them. God did not create humanity to be distant from them. If there is a distance it is we who have created it.

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Ps. 145:18 NRS)

But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); (Rom. 10:8 NRS)

In both the Old and New Testament the Scripture continuously reveals God’s desire to be with us and for us to desire the presence of God. This is why religion that does not promote practices that emphasize seeking God and being with God is likely a false faith. Relationship require work, attention, and presence. When God is relegated to a place of ritual or social convenience this relationship suffers.

I recently walked up to the doors of death. Now whether what I experienced was simply a creation of my damaged mind or is a memory God has allowed me to keep is up for question.  In this experience there was a struggle for my soul. This struggle only took place because I had allowed my relationship with my Lord to slip into the category of convenience. I had only been giving lip service to One through whom my whole being rested. I am convinced in my taking my relationship with God for granted I opened the door to a demonic obsession that nearly killed me.

Again, true love requires the maintenance of a desire to be with the one you love.

I will discuss the next two key elements of love in my next post.

 

Relationship Theology: Post One

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The post today is the beginning of a series concerning a topic I have been working on for quite some time. The topic is Relationship Theology and seeks to utilize the disciples of classic theology, spiritual formation, spiritual direction, sociology, and psychology to understand and explain God’s providential will and purpose for humanity.

In the beginning of the book of Genesis there is recorded the story of creation. I believe the purpose of this story is not to give us a scientific explanation of how but instead to give us a reason why. Note the following statement in this story.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; (Gen. 1:26 NRS)

In the Hebrew language, the grammar for the word “make” indicates a future intent, an uncompleted action yet to be fulfilled. The Greek translation (the Septuagint) uses a word in the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood is for expressing wishes, suggestions, or desires.

The story of creation is a story of a beginning relationship that joins with an eternal relationship well established beyond the confines of time and space. It is the beginning of our relationship with God. A relationship God desires.

In the Psalms we find the psalmist stating: Psalm 8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (Ps. 8:4 NRS). I believe the psalmist also implies, “Why do people matter so much to you God?” Any relationship we have is built on a foundation of some sorts. Why did God create us? What is the foundation for this relationship?

The Scripture (especially the Scripture the Holy Spirit lead the Apostle John to write) states to us the nature of God is love. John writes, in 1 John 4:8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”(1 Jn. 4:8 NRS), and 1 John 4:16,”So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 Jn. 4:16 NRS) John (by the power of the Holy Spirit) makes it clear that if we are to be in a true relationship with God, the love is the defining factor. God created humanity out of love for the purpose of love. If this is true, then our theology must operate with the definition and boundaries of love.

But what is love and what are its boundaries? These are the questions we must address next.

 

A Different View of Covid-19

uncle sam

In understanding God’s purpose for humanity in our Christian tradition, we often refer to the dialogue in the book of Matthew:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
(Matt. 22:36-40 NRS)

If Jesus were walking the streets of the hot zones in our American cities would he see the concept of loving our neighbors as ourselves being lived out or ignored by the majority of people? Is it a loving act to deliberately not to wear a mask to protect the health of others or should we be disgusted by the perceived limitations to our personal freedoms? It is a loving act to gather in groups without regard to the dangers of the covid-19 virus or should our own convenience and comforts take priority?

I do not believe God allowed the covid-19 virus to be unleased as a punishment, but I wonder about the general revelation this virus and the pandemic presents to us. What has this virus revealed about the spiritual nature of America?

Which is more loving, to try and continue a comfortable lifestyle or to be satisfied with our daily bread in order that others might live as well? Which is more loving, being willing to pay more taxes in order to provide a better a social safety net to those who have lost jobs and are struggling to have a place to live or to focus on our own desires and possessions?

The more I think about what the covid-19 virus reveals about the condition of our country, the more I wish people would seek to make America good rather than to seek America to be great.

 

When It Hurts Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually

Jesus gives comfort

Life can be hard when you hurt. It can be exceptionally hard when you hurt physically and then also have to deal with emotional pain and (if we can understand it) spiritual pain at the same time.

I write this blog during a time of great hurt in my life. I daily struggle with chronic physical pain that cannot be treated with surgery. I do not do well with opioids so rarely is the pain alleviated.

My emotional pain comes from the losses I have experienced for the last twenty years and the loss I am about to experience. Some of these losses are my own fault but many are injustices I have suffered at the hands of other “Christians.” Some of my losses are the natural occurrence of living in a world God calls fallen and cursed. No matter the reason, the pain is still real and the memories still sting.

My spiritual pain is from the spiritual desolation the enemy is currently trying to use against me. It is a pain of guilt, of failure, lack of hope, and struggle to keep my focus upon the love of God.

This is my little self-pity party. I do not know how many other people face the temptation to feel sorry for themselves in their situation, but it is a temptation I struggle with continually. One of the tools God has given me (God never abandons us, we might think so but this is only an illusion) to use during such times is a cheap, tin bracelet with the words, “Why me God?” on the front and the words, “Why not me?” on the back. This helps me to refocus on God’s grace and goodness even in difficult times.

When facing the challenges of the enemy  I have found that my training as a spiritual director, especially Ignatius’s rules for discernment, is key to finding any hope or comfort in the challenge. Too many people, myself included, seek to depend upon their own abilities to pull themselves out of despair. So when I say, I find things helpful it is because God makes them helpful. I do not depend upon the rules, I depend upon the God who has shown others the path so that they can help others on their journey as well. This is the community of Christ.

Rules 6-8 gives us a pattern of thinking and acting in the face of desolation. These rules are:

Sixth Rule. The sixth: Although in desolation we ought not to change our first resolutions, it is very helpful intensely to change ourselves against the same desolation, as by insisting more on prayer, meditation, on much examination, and by giving ourselves more scope in some suitable way of doing penance.

    Seventh Rule. The seventh: Let him who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, in order to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can with the Divine help, which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it: because the Lord has taken from him his great fervor, great love and intense grace, leaving him, however, grace enough for eternal salvation.

    Eighth Rule. The eighth: Let him who is in desolation labor to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations which come to him: and let him think that he will soon be consoled, employing against the desolation the devices, as is said in the sixth Rule.

It is the eighth rule that gives me the most hope. God never leaves us in desolation.  There will come a day when my physical pain will end. There will come a day when my tears of emotional pain will be dried. There will come a day when the Lord himself will lift me up.

Psalm 38 is my Psalm for the day of desolation. May it give you comfort and hope!

Psalm 38:1

O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.
For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.
There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me.
My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness;
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go around mourning.
For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes– it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbors stand far off.
Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek to hurt me speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all day long.
But I am like the deaf, I do not hear; like the mute, who cannot speak.
Truly, I am like one who does not hear, and in whose mouth is no retort.
But it is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
For I pray, “Only do not let them rejoice over me, those who boast against me when my foot slips.”
For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me.
I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good.
Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me;
make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation. (Ps. 38:1-22 NRS)

Amen

Death Wish Economy

uncle sam

A man, a sometimes mystic, very intellectual scholar,  and always a man of God named Francis Schaeffer warned us of a time in which the western world criteria for human life decisions of life and death would be economics. That time is here. Politicians are telling us to chose the economy over people’s lives.

I am in one of the most vulnerable categories who face serious consequences from his virus. It would likely kill me. I accept this. So I do what I am told and self-quarantine to protect myself and others. I stay six feet away. I even wear a mask. Yet, instead of being told we are doing a good job of not becoming infected with the virus I find in government leadership individuals who think my risk of dying is an acceptable if it means the economy can recover.

As far as dying, in many ways I have and I want more than anything in the else to be in the presence of God. However, I would miss my wife and family so much I am willing to struggle to try against the obstacles to continue to seek to live and love.

I choose to live a life of belief in God. I believe life is important to God.  I do not believe that any person who does not value the life of human more than the material valuables humans chase is not fit to lead.  Many have forgotten this type of thinking is what allowed Nazi to take over Germany during Post-WWI. We are becoming the monsters the Bible warns us will arise. A people whose hearts have grown cold. A people seeking to kill love.

I seek to pursue God. I seek to strive to get others to draw closer to God even more. This has been my life for the last forty years. I hope it is a fire that continues to burn. Sometimes God does lead someone toward death. God tells us always to be ready for death. Death is going to come for us. I believe that if those with minds who embrace a death wish economy have their way, I likely will die from this virus. But honestly, do we really want to live in the kind of world with such selfish, backward, thinking like we see in the Texas leadership?  What kind of a country are we living in now that where the selling of stuff is more important than human lives?

Certainly not America!

Oh, that’s right, we did allow slavery.

The First Rule

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First Rule:

In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.

This is  a statement from a warrior. A physical warrior turned spiritual, mystical warrior. This man, Ignatius of Loyola, understood the spiritual warfare that we face daily. A war that is engaged in the will. The gift God gave to humanity that makes us uniquely human, our will.

We can read about great battles like those witnesses by Dr. Victor Frankl in the death camp. We can read about the experience of St. John of the Cross or St. Teresa and still not grasp how often the battles we fight are everyday, mundane, vicious, diabolical, and constant.

Whenever we risk of inserting out presence into the world we will either generate a positive presence that comes from God’s love or else we we insert a horrible possibility we did not see. And then, we may add nothing to the mayhem other than our own banality.

What Ignatius gives us is the perspective of a seasoned warrior, the wisdom of one who totally committed his mind, heart and soul to God and to the Church. As a warrior, he needed to know what wins in combat. What wins against Satan is discipline that is trained to resist and overcome. It is call to be aware.

If I am going to lead, I must be led. If I am going to overcome, I must trained to do so. If I am going to do so, I need to make the choice to be committed to this training and use it as oft as I can. In this war, boot camp is the battlefield.

All this for what? If there is conviction in you life, what is the source? Do you really know how influential evil may be in your life? God’s way leads to peace, assurance, and presence.

God gives us discomfort in times of sin.

Sin gives us discomfort in times of God.

 

More to come…..

Reflection: 65 and the virus

Death

Suddenly, there is an awakening in this country. This awakening is the reality of death, death caused by a virus. This awakening comes especially to a group of people, someone at sometime, categorized as the Baby Boomers. I am a baby boomer. We are a generation that had ideals, had our Bernie Sanders (George McGovern), our social prophets (of all races and genders unlimited), and the Beatles for heaven sake. How can we be the most vulnerable generation of people facing this potential fate.

However, as Ash Wednesday reminded us, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19 NRS). We cannot get out of the “dust you shall return part.” The Coronavirus is doing its part to bring many people to face this truth. Pray for all who seek to help fight this disease and for all who have been affected.

I am fortunate to have a soul mate along side me through this process. We are both doing our best to self-quarantine for our safety. We both understand why we must do this and still be a lifeline to others we care about. This is a time in which our social mandates fit hand in hand with our contemplative pathway. We have seen God present us with some interesting encounters (socially distance acceptable of course!)

There is also a spiritual challenge, Some would say a mental health challenge. It is not either/or but both/and.  I fear the spiritual more than the mental. Death now surrounds us. Death gives no respect to status or position. Death comes from an attack by a virus upon our very breath. It has proven it can kill, the youngest as well as the oldest. The challenge is for us to have our own spiritual foundation assured through faith and our responsibility to be open and willing to guide others to develop a confidence in their foundation through the guidance God has given to each of us. It has been a long time since comfortable Christians have been made uncomfortable. We really need each others prayers, support, and the giving of meager attempts at love. Relationships, from the top down must grow closer and more accepting of each other while holding on to our precious relationship with God. Only God’s 

We will also have the opportunity to examine our lives in the light (or lack of light) by using spiritual disciplines as our tools. If you have done much reflection upon the Eucharist and its relation to apostolic succession you may look at an option to revert back to the earliest of liturgical practices carried out in house churches.  The “clergy” (individuals called by God who  by as the successors to the role of apostle) presided over the Eucharist. I would recommend both deep soul searching, serious theological reflection and deep spiritual examination before you make any decision.

I have found the Daily Office to be the most uplifting, convicting, and presence confirming tool for my life. I am most comforted by the Anglican heritage I have adopted. I am also comforted by commitment of the Methodist church I am attending to reach out to it members and to find ways to connect us. In this church I find spiritual food.  Seek a church! Don’t just ask God, go and visit. While you are there you can begin the process of discernment. Being part of a church is a serious matter.

This is my last recommendation. Now is a time to seek to go deeper. Find a spiritual director who can not only help you with Ignatius’s 14 rules. Be careful however for there are a lot of people offering new age philosophy in place of the spiritual practices of the Christian mystics that where orthodox and effective. Find a director who is willing to listen to God with you and for you knowing you must ultimately discern.

In closing, in over 67 verses throughout the Bible there is the phrase, “Do not be afraid!” This is what I deeply feel all who believe need to hear now. Be smart, be alert, be protective, stay informed, but above all else, seek God’s presence, and “Do not be afraid!”

This is the time to not be afraid.

Oh, please, please wash your hands often.  While washing, say The Our Father. The Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) is long enough that you will have washed well. Also, and very important,  you will pray more often.-Got that from Juanell.

Never Forget the Fall (not the season but the reason) and the Power it Has Over Us

Fall

“God’s delays are mysterious; sorrow is sometimes prolonged for the same reason for which it is sent. God may abstain for the moment from healing, not because Love does not love, but because Love never stops loving, and a greater good is to come from the woe. Heaven’s clock is different from ours.”
— Fulton J. Sheen, p. 357   Life of Christ

It is truth worth repeating, “The only good in this world comes from God’s grace. With God’s grace there would be no good in this world that is cursed.”

What does it mean to say that the world is cursed? It means God has decided to allow negative consequences and struggle in this time line and reality. We currently do not live in the totality of the Kingdom of God but in the reign of death, the history of death, the limitations of human understanding due to death. To forget this reality is to set oneself up for apatheia at the least and idolatry at the worst.

Time and time again in my own spiritual pursuits, I have, like so many others allowed the effects of the Fall to influence my life. Even when I have been consistant in my spiritual disciples and worship I have made the mistake of not being on my guard for the deceptions and delusions that are a constant presence. If not for God’s grace and likely angelic intervention, I have no doubt I would have been overcome by the dispair and destructive nature in these lapses.

However, God does intervene and does seek to bring us back to the narrow path, the road less travelled due to God’s love for us. The question then arises, “If God loves us so much why does God allow the Fall to continue or why does God not awaken us before we give in to the Fall’s effects?”

I cannot answer the first question, but I beleive the second (and likely the first) is answered in the above quote. The only answer to the effects of the Fall are found in a faith that trusts in the mystery of faith and the revelation of the incarnation. God counters the power of the Fall in the hope of what is to come and in the grace of experiencing the reality of God’s love in Jesus in the events of our lives.

God gives us a promise, “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6 NRS) And also, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20-1:1 NRS)

We do not travel in the history of death alone. The Fall should not define us, our trust and our faith in the creator of this world should. This is what is offered in God’s love.

 

Embracing an Answered Prayer

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About three and a half years ago I began to pray the “Litany of Humility” from a handbook of prayers my then spiritual director had given me. The prayer is written below:

Oh Jesus! Meek and humble of heart hear me
From the desire of being esteemed deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being loved deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being extolled deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being honored deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being praised deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being preferred to others deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being consulted deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being approved deliver me, Jesus

From the fear of being humiliated deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being ignored deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of not being secure deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being despised deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of suffering rebuked deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being calumniated deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being forgotten deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being ridiculed deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being wronged deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being betrayed deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being suspected deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being hurt deliver me, Jesus

That other be more loved than I, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it
That in the opinion of the world, others would increase while I decrease
That others be chosen and I set aside
That others be praised and I unnoticed
That others be preferred to me in everything
That others become more holy than I provided that I become as holy as I should

Now, as I reflect upon my situation, I realize God has answered my prayer. The problem is that I was not prepared for the answer. Thus, being unprepared, it is hard for me to embrace and rejoice in receiving what I asked for. I made the mistake of not counting the cost. How foolish of me.

By not being prepared, I find myself in a deepening depression when I am criticized, ignored, and hurt. This reaction is itself a state of sinfulness from which I must repent.

It is not easy being in a state of constant physical pain and then experiencing what I perceive as being an emotional wound. God never said it would be easy. In fact, Jesus warns us that this road is a difficult road indeed. Still, I need to embrace this answered prayer by not projecting my emotional mess and physical situation on others. I need to remember that I am receiving an opportunity of grace and should not blow it with fits of self pity and sarcastic remarks to others. To embrace this answered prayer with thankfulness and trust is the challenge I now face, Jesus help me please, Amen.

Have mercy on my Thoughts

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy upon me, a sinner.

As I was driving to Abilene, Texas to have a procedure done by a back surgeon. I tried to keep my mind off the surgery by allowing myself to just float from one topic to the next. The problem with this type of thought surfing is that it can be a perfect time for the Evil One to attack.

As I drove mile after mile, I first struggle with the directive of Jesus to love our neighbor as yourself. I have always had trouble with this. I believe I need to love my neighbor a whole lot more love than I love myself because I really do not love myself that much. So my thought surfing lead from one negative thought to another about the phoniness, the sinfulness, the foolishness, and destructiveness of my life for the past five decades. As I thought, the depression I began to feel deepened.

So then my mind went scapegoating. My first focus was the dubious character and malevolent activities of my former district superintendent. I could write some really dark stories based on my thoughts about her. But of course, thankfully,  came the conviction followed by the prayer of seeking forgiveness that added to the proof of just how stupid I can be. The Lord knows all about my feelings and I need to leave my thought on her with him.

The next target drifting into my thoughts were others that were involved in destroying my ministry (if you could call it that) and who forced me into poverty, horrible physical injury, and create in me the desire to sue them.  I serioisly prepared to do this and had ample evidence to win but I back down because that is what they would do so I thought. In reality, God just said no. Well, I least I did on thing right, I think. But these thoughts and all their negativity would not stop and I was getting close to complete despair as I drove. Not a good place to be.

I felt I had only one hope. Repeating the Jesus Prayer. So I began: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, breathe out. Breathe in, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, breath out, repeat. Again and again I developed the intentional rhythm and focus to continue this prayer for 40 miles until I reached the surgery center.  The dark thoughts were gone and I felt a bit a peace while I waited for my turn to be sedated and injected.

Every day of my life is a battle against my thoughts. Every day is a battle but the awareness I gain is both painful and redemptively truthful. I am an intuitive and likely function mostly under the seer/lover archetypes so I lean to the addictive which produces much of my negative shadow.

Being in this state gives me an awareness of when I am being played by politeness and conventionality. I can sense when people really do not want to be around me and I do not want to be anyplace when I am not wanted. This means I need to be sensitive to expectations that will not be fulfilled and not become to upset by those I bore or worse. They are not the ones to be scapegoated. The only scapegoat I have for my current state is my self.

Until I work through the mental mess and psychic potholes in my life I am going to be very vulnerable to attacks. I will be fighting my thoughts. I will be easily wounded and more self depreciating. But I know, as the pilgrim discovered, there is a prayer for this and every situation that changes the direction of thought to the One who can handle all that comes.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy upon me, a sinner. Amen