Jesus Christ

The Threshold

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A gate is an entry point. Or, depending on how you look at it, an exit point. Either way, a threshold is a place of potential, of encounter. It can also be a place to decide against encounter. Then Jesus said to his disciples. ‘There was a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen who feasted sumptuously every day. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man in his house. The poor man at his gate. Miles apart – even only a few feet. Doors – gates, borders – our liminal places – are INCREDIBLY important. Where we are in relation to them says a lot about our theology. Lazarus never, ever, made it into the rich man’s home. And the rich man never chose to go to the border of his own comfort. Later in the story, he PLEADS to go to a gate – from hell back to his home, to warn his brothers. But it’s too late. Father Abraham, the rich man begs, Let me go. If someone crosses the threshold from death to life they will listen. To which Abraham replies: let them listen to the scriptures. At our margins and borders (dangerous places: crucifixions take place at the borders of cities) we risk change. But only there, outside our comfort zone, can we share in the blessing of Abraham.

 

 

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The Swedish UFO Society

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On the plane yesterday, coming home from Europe, I watched a film called “Ghost Rockets”. It was about a group of – mostly elderly, now –UFO watchers in Sweden. These are not crazy people. They have regular jobs. They think, for the most part, rationally. They expect that almost everything they hear of as strange will have some completely normal explanation. They believe in weather balloons and eyes playing tricks on people, on sightings of Venus or Jupiter or the Space Station fooling people. They are NOT conspiracy theorists or folks who believe in little green men. But as one of them says to the camera: “it would be a sad life if there weren’t things out there that we might someday understand, but we don’t quite understand yet. There are more mysteries in life that we realize.”

Faith, frankly, falls into the mystery category. And within that, part of the problem with the Trinity is that it seems to be an idea of something that, like UFOs, is more than a little hard to understand, much less believe. God, Jesus, Spirit. Three in one and one in three. But what does that mean? How all those three come together is something that has mystified and confused the best minds for thousands of years. And now, most of us simply don’t care enough about it to even bother. And yet…. There were two quite old men in particular that the film followed. At one point the two, old friends, are having tea, and one says to the other: you know, I’ve been doing this for thirty years and it’s just as exciting every time. And then he turns to the other and says: I don’t know if we will ever find anything. But my life is just so much richer for the fact of being curious. Isn’t it a wonderful thing just to be curious, to want to know more?

Seek me, says the Creator, and I may be found. Emphasis on the ‘may’. Look for me, and I will be there. Use your brains – and your imaginations, and your arts and your poetry and your worship and your wonder. The point is that love comes in at least three shapes. Whatever else it is, will sustain our search, like those Swedes, to old age and beyond.

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Fear and Loathing in Fort McMurray

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I’ve never been to Fort McMurray. Some of my relatives have lived there and worked there, but I’ve never seen the place. I’ve heard lots of stories. Do you see the shovel on this machine? Well, in Fort McMurray you could drive a city bus onto the shovel of some of those giant earth-movers. EVERYTHING was bigger – and usually better – in Fort Mac. The myth – not always the reality – was of a land of golden opportunity and huge trucks and six-foot flat screen TVs and drinking and gambling and appetites. A bust and boom, fortunes-won and fortunes-lost place. Our own version of Texas. And now so much of it is gone. Burnt out vehicles, homes turned to cinders. Playgrounds that look like bomb sites. There’s no question it’s a disaster. All those families who only had time to load up the car and run, all those brave emergency workers. But what’s ALSO telling, at least for me, is the reaction of the rest of us. I’m ashamed to say it took me, for one, a little while to develop my empathy. Maybe that’s in part because I hadn’t really realized the scope of the disaster. But it’s also more. It was, quite wrongly, a holdover reaction to Fort McMurray the BOOM town. Is it right to feel that? Not for a second. What does such a reaction tell us about the Gospel and about ourselves? What it tells us is we don’t yet understand how love is supposed to work. Luther once said that we need to hear the Gospel every day. Why? Because, he said, we FORGET the gospel every day.

The problem is not Fort McMurray the boom town. Just like the problem is not the nature of the Syrian refugees or the North African boat people. Compassion is not out there somewhere, dependent on whatever biases we have about the recipients of our kindnesses and whatever fads of the day motivate us. Compassion is supposed to be HERE, in US, unmoveable and constant. For the people of Jesus it’s supposed to be the one defining characteristic. They will know you by your love, said Jesus. Which also means, I guess, that without love they will NOT know Christians, nor whom Christians serve. In this latest disaster, the followers of the crucified one are challenged, again, as always happens, to reach out in care and compassion. They need us. But the truth is that WE also need THEM, and also need, again and again, to remember ourselves: to be our best, the ones we were created to be, reaching out and helping, doing our part and more, in love.

Life After Normal

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photo: Matthew R. Anderson

‘Do you love me?’ Jesus challenged Peter. ‘Lord, you know that I love you.’ ‘Then feed my sheep’.  ‘Simon, do you love me?’ A second time. Peter, wondering why again the question: ‘Lord, you know that I do.’ ‘Then feed my sheep.’ And again: Jesus being a bit pushy. ‘Simon, do you love me more than anything?’ Big Peter, stung now, maybe turning red, and being a man of quick temper maybe a bit angry: ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.’

And finally, only then, Peter, always a bit dense, realizing too late what the importance of the number three was. Precisely how many times he’d betrayed Jesus. That’s a whole new kind of hope and life. It’s truth-telling, and repentance. It’s surprising, and life-GIVING rather than life-taking. As if all the hidden,  bad banks in Panama we’ve been hearing all about were suddenly to open their books and say: okay, now all of this money can go BACK. Take it. Take it back, back to the hospitals with their peeling paint and the falling down elementary schools that governments couldn’t keep open, and the health care workers being paid minimum wage, and the veterans who aren’t being given payments. All those austerity measures so the rich could get richer. Take it BACK! Let this wealth create life rather than destroy it.

John Mellencamp sings: “Life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.” Sometimes, there’s just no going back to normal. The Gospel of the resurrection is the sacred word that sometimes we shouldn’t even try – because normal wasn’t right to begin with.

The resurrected Jesus stands on the shoreline of our lives, calling out to us in our little boats. Don’t go back to normal, he shouts out. That’s done, now. You can grieve it, if you need to, but it’s gone. Come sit, and be quiet, and have a little something to eat. And then together, let’s talk about what you’ll do next, now that things have changed. Let’s sit and think and ponder whatever resurrection is needed in your own life.

The Curious Unrecognizability of Christ

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It’s always bothered me. In John’s version of Easter, Mary, when finally she turns around and bumps into Jesus, thinks he’s the gardener. Isn’t that a more than a little bit strange? I’m sure I’m not the only one. After all, we know who’s supposed to be Jesus. And unlike us, Mary was there. She’d known Jesus. But she sees him at the grave and – very strange – instead of being overjoyed doesn’t even recognize him. She thinks he’s the gardener. That just doesn’t make sense. It had only been, what? Thirty-six hours?

The whole thing is weird. Despite church tradition the first (human) words from the resurrection aren’t really “he is risen”. The first words from the resurrection are really “who are you?” Not an assertion, but an ongoing question, the same one we’ve been asking 2000 years.

Maybe it was the shock. Maybe it was Mary’s grief, blinding her to the man standing right in front of her. Those are all good, rational arguments. But for me, there’s another, more interesting possibility.

Maybe, I wonder, maybe new life ALWAYS changes our appearances somehow. Maybe the kind of passage from death to life that we celebrate strips away everything, like a fire, and only leaves the real person that the Creator intended. Including with Jesus.

Maybe reality is upside down, and it’s not that the resurrection isn’t real so much as what we’re living right now might not be. Maybe it’s not so much that we change, but that, given enough love and time, and perhaps some divine intervention, we become, if we’re lucky, who we really are.

Imagine being a tadpole. Your whole life has been in a pond. All you know is water. That’s the limit of your comprehension. And one day, your close friend, another tadpole, disappears. You think she’s gone, but she’s just following nature, which means that there’s a resurrection of a sort going on. She’s changing into the adult. A toad. Something all of you tadpoles don’t even suspect exists, even though it’s coming for all of you. Then, one day, from somewhere, somehow, into the water dives this magnificent creature from beyond. Not a tadpole. Something completely different. And yet you sort of recognize her. If that happened, it would alter everything you believed about reality, there in the tadpole world. Maybe Jesus became who he really was, who we will ALL someday be, only by going through the suffering he did. That’s certainly is the case for other people. I can safely say that at 56, my sufferings have changed me, and I know I’m not alone.

Easter doesn’t mean life eternal. It means life after death – or maybe better, through death. The spring of our lives is upon us, but there will never be a spring without a winter, and every winter, no matter how hard, carries spring in its bosom. Northern Europeans know that well enough. May God give us the eyes, and the hope, and the expectation, actually to believe, see and trust in THAT kind of resurrection.

Grandpa, you were right

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photo of John Golling, by Matthew R. Anderson

My grandfather – my mother’s father – was a character. As a young man he’d been a handsome fellow who worked on the railroad all across the northern United States. By the time I remember him, he was a tough and crazy old man. He lived out on my uncle’s farm. Or that’s where he sat, in a chair, in the corner of the farmhouse, and preached. As far as I could tell, he didn’t do much on the farm except some cooking. But he liked to express his opinion. All day long. And he had LOTS of opinions.

It’s the big money people, he’d always say, shaking a bony finger at me. I found this thin, bony old man with the piercing blue eyes more than a little scary. Don’t you ever forget that. When I picture Old Testament prophets, I see him, because that’s what he looked like. All emaciated, bone and ropy sinew, chin stubbly and startling, bright blue eyes wild: It’s the BIG MONEY PEOPLE, he’d rail. Damn them! We’re the little people. We’re just pawns. They’re the ones running this world. They don’t care about you and me. Only the almighty pocketbook!

Some men came to Jesus and told him to be careful about what he was saying. Get away from here, they told him, Herod wants to kill you. Kill the man, kill the message. Jesus was saying uncomfortable things. He was, as they say, speaking truth to power, which gets you crucified. Traditionally when scholars talk about this passage, they call it “Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem”. But the essence isn’t really Jerusalem. It’s my grandpa. It’s a bit of a rant about power.

Oh Jerusalem, says Jesus. You can almost see him shaking his finger, like my grandpa. Oh Jerusalem:YOU BIG MONEY PEOPLE. See, your house is left to you. In other words – the crash is coming. And I tell you, you will not see me again until the time when you say: ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord’.

In Jesus, we see something else about prophecy. Real, honest, reproof is there, not to deflate us, but to take care of us. To nurture us and heal us and make us healthier and more whole. Like a hen who keeps her errant chicks warm and safe.

I don’t know if you noticed this, but did you see who it was who tried to warn Jesus? None other than those same people who are traditionally painted as his enemies: the Pharisees. THEY were the ones who came to Jesus to say: “Get away from here – Herod wants to kill you.”

I used to think my grandfather was crazy. Maybe he was, a little. I used to think his words about how it was the big-money people manipulating everything were incredibly naïve. I grew up to scorn him, a bit. To think he was a conspiracy thinker and a bit loony.

Then came the Gulf War. All those Iraqis dying, and some mostly poor, mostly black, American kids. For the sake of what? Oil. Somebody’s profits. Then came Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans. And the levies, which government report after government report had said to fix, but never were because they were in poor neighbourhoods, were washed away, and the lives of so many poor African-Americans with them. Then came the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and people got sick but nobody paid. Then came the financial crisis, and who gets bailed out together with their huge severance packages? The poor people who lost their homes? No: the bankers.

Maybe my grandfather wasn’t so crazy after all.      

Jesus was a thorn in the side of the rich, powerful, political elite of his day, centred in Jerusalem. Don’t buy into their schemes, he told his disciples and anyone who would hear him. Love is free. The world is yours, not theirs. Is it any wonder he wound up the way he did?

To be a person of faith is to believe our Creator can and does still, somehow, speak to us. If we hear words that pick at us a bit, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Not everything my grandfather said was worth listening to. But he was right about this: there are powers in this world that ARE evil, because they side with death and don’t care about life. In that struggle, we need to be on the side of those who celebrate, share, and preserve LOVE. Jesus said so, with his life. In this one thing, at least, grandpa was right.

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photo by Matthew R. Anderson

(this last photo is not actually my grandfather but still a relative, who reminds me of him sometimes)

We Call it Winter

Today, with how cold it was, I got out the gear. Actually it was kind of fun. Snow pants, long special mitts good to -40 Celsius, thermal underwear, Russian-style hat, boots. Since this winter has been, generally, so mild, it’s okay – maybe even good – when every now and then the temperature drops. Nobody is complaining about the cold snap. So long as you’re prepared, you’re okay. Right?

Jesus, apparently didn’t have much preparation time for his excursion in extreme conditions. Luke says that Jesus returned from the Jordan river area and was led into the wilderness. Just like that. No prep time.

That word – wilderness, and the mental and physical and spiritual space it represents – is important. We Canadians have our own form of wilderness. We call it winter. We’re proud of it and scared of it, at the same time. Like the people of the middle east, or peoples anywhere, and their wild places. In the Bible the wilderness represents more or less what the hardest times of winter represent for us Canadians – a place of deprivation, but also of challenge, and survival. Also, and very importantly, the wilderness represents a place where Israel, and later Jesus, and later, the early Christians, consistently meet God. In that struggle for survival and meaning they define their true identity.

Interesting, how that works. It’s the HARD places, the difficult circumstances, where we tend to find our true characters under stress, AND where our Creator is to be found. The wilderness is a place that allows us, in fact, drives us, to meet our Maker. It’s just us and the elements, the most basic needs to survive. Lent represents our time in the cold. Our winter.

Drinking Wine for Lent

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On the morning of Ash Wednesday several years ago, a devout Christian friend of mine went to see his spiritual adviser. This person happened to be an elderly neighbour. My friend had known her for years. He trusted her completely; she’d guided him through some difficult times in his life. He’d gone to see her that morning for advice on how best to mark Lent, the traditional Christian season of preparation.

When you get home after the Ash Wednesday service, she told him, I have a very specific task for you. Yes, yes, he replied eagerly. You cannot and must not falter in it, she went on, seriously. What could the discipline she was thinking of possibly be, he wondered? Perhaps she was going to ask him to fast. My friend has given up chocolate for Lent almost every year since he was sixteen, and most years he gives up alcohol. Depending on the year, he’s set himself various other disciplines as well, such as praying before sunrise, not watching any TV, not eating Fridays, or abstaining from tea or coffee. Just about everything. Yes, he said to his mentor, almost impatiently. What is it I should do for my spiritual edification?

I want you to go home, she told him.

Yes!

Straight home, mind you. She shook her finger at him.

Yes.

Promise?

Promise.

And go to your kitchen…

Yes!

Then pour yourself a nice big glass of wine and RELAX!

What? My friend was in shock. Why would his mentor say that?

There are two parts to what Jesus relates in Matthew. The first is about how we’re supposed to do what we do. When you fast, says Jesus (notice: when, not if), don’t let anyone know it. Surprise even yourself if that’s possible. Just do it. Naturally. And when you give money or time to a good cause, do that also, yes. But be so careless about the whole thing that your right hand won’t let your left hand know what you’re doing. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. Instead, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus isn’t talking about piety. He isn’t talking about good works. And he ISN’T talking about Lenten disciplines. Jesus is talking about attachments. (By the way Jesus almost sounds Buddhist). For most of us, our problem is not giving up riches, which we don’t have tons of anyway. Sure we could use texts like this to poke fun at Donald Trump. But he’s not our problem. At least, not yet.

We’re not attached to great fortunes, most of us. But we have unhealthy, problematic attachments just the same. My friend was wrongly, dangerously, unspiritually attached to some otherwise very good disciplines. It seems odd, but it’s true. Even monks can argue over who stays on their knees praying the longest. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Even if that treasure is the respect of other pious people, or our place in the pecking order of those serious people who really give up something, or our feeling of happiness over being good, or the small glory of being seen to be smart or organized or useful or especially, in our world, BUSY.

Pour yourself a big glass of wine – and relax! It might not be for everyone. But in my friend’s case, the advice was dead on. Avoid any attachment, this neighbour was saying, except the only attachment necessary. For I have given up all things, says Paul, and I consider them all rubbish, except one: the surpassing glory of knowing my Lord Jesus, and being found in him.

There. Christians should be attached to THAT. Being found in Jesus, even if drinking wine during Lent, is a true Lenten discipline, indeed.

Really Seeing Harold

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This last summer on my pilgrimage across Saskatchewan, we walked an average of about 20 kilometres a day. The journey took place the end of July and the beginning of August. The days were boiling hot, 10 hours a day under a beating sun. The nights could actually get quite cool, in the hills down to four or five degrees. You had to be ready for anything. We faced heatstroke, cold, lightning, constant wind, limited water supplies, poorly-marked trails, and sore feet. So the last week when a senior citizen named Harold asked if he could join in, I was a bit skeptical.

It wasn’t so much that Harold didn’t look fit. He just looked OLD. I couldn’t tell how old, exactly. But old.

Are you sure this is going to be okay? I asked my friend Hugh. Hugh was walking the whole trail with me. Hugh was in top shape, had done most of the planning and had a good sense of what we were facing, better than I did. Don’t forget, I thought: any group is only as fast as its slowest walker.

It should be okay, Hugh responded. I’ve known Harold a long time. He might surprise you.

The first day Harold showed up, he came with an ancient orange back pack, the kind I had back in the 1970s. Oh no, I thought. Here we go. And he was slow – a bit. He lagged behind, a tad. But he never once complained. And when the rest of us stopped for a break, Harold kept going, so that he never actually slowed anyone down that first day.

The second day, Harold’s backpack looked different. What did you do to it, I asked him? I’m carrying more weight today, he said. And I’ll carry more tomorrow. My intent is to build up the weight until I can carry everything I need on my own back.

Now. None of us were doing that. We were ALL getting our tents and supplies ferried from one spot to another, just carrying our needs for the day. But Harold was determined to carry everything. And he did. Over the next five days he kept adding stuff to his pack until he was carrying his tent, his food, and all his gear.

And he got faster. By the end of the third day, I noticed that Harold was fairly consistently ahead of me. On the fourth day, we came to a set of hills. Where the rest of us took the lower route around, Harold looked up. “I’m a hydrologist,” he said. “As a scientist I’m really interested in rock formations. I’ll just go up these hills to have a look and meet you at camp.” And he did. We went around, he walked UP. And up. I could see him striding off into the distance.

On the fifth day, I was up early. Unlike the rest of us who had real tents, Harold slept in a sort of plastic sheet. As I watched, he came out it, and stretched, then sat on the ground and made himself tea. He didn’t seem to be half as sore, or as krinked up from sleeping, as I was, and the ground in that spot was NOT warm. He and I had become friends over the walk, so I walked over to where he was, and asked a question I’d been wondering for some time: “if you don’t mind my asking Harold, exactly how old ARE you?”

This man who had transformed, in those few days, into a master backpacker looked back at me and smiled. “How old do you think I am?”

Jesus, it says, was CHANGED in a wild and crazy X-files moment when Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared and the lights of heaven all came on. Transfiguration means changing. But instead of Jesus changing, maybe what really happened that day, what really changed, were the eyes of the disciples.

It’s like Harold. In the space of a few short days, a quiet, struggling elderly man had changed before my eyes. But my question is: did he change? Or was it really me?

In the Sustainability and Diversity class I teach at Concordia one of our readings is by a scientist by the name of Marten Scheffer. Scheffer describes a mechanism of perception that is almost universal in nature. It has a technical name, but we can call it “locking in perceptions”. It’s a way of quickly assessing sensory inputs. What happens – whether you’re a human being or a frog, apparently – is that if you see something that LOOKS like something you’re familiar with, your brain jumps to “lock in” that image or perception quickly, so you can react. We see what looks like a bear and our adrenaline kicks in, before we necessarily get all the information to fill in our initial sensory impressions.

That’s a good mechanism for survival. But not necessarily for judgment.

Often we just don’t see others for who they are. Most of the time, we don’t even see OURSELVES for who we are. When we do, it’s so shocking and so rare we call those moments “revelations”.

Does anyone see in you evidence of the little girl you once were in the old country? The little boy who used to shine his father’s shoes? Is there anyone in this world who can look at you and see the time you travelled, or the books that changed your life, or the time you won the swim meet, or that evening you skated in a magic winter landscape when the trees were frosted, or the key shaking in your hand when you bought your first house, or when you went through that terrible winter, or you shared that wonderful love, or whatever it was that has happened to you to make you the person you are? It’s not a mistake that that’s one of the lines of “Amazing Grace” is exactly that. “I once was blind, but now I see”. Enlightenment means starting to see each other and our world, in an Amazingly Graceful way. Seeing this way means seeing not necessarily the way things are but the way things REALLY are. Behind and through failure, and brokenness, and death, and suffering, and decay. Seeing the life that God is calling up, that we can’t even guess at. The parts of us still hidden in the cross.

So how old do you think Harold is?

I’m 79, he said to me, slowly. I was a rock climber, for years. I was a field scientist for decades. And now, he said, as he shouldered that heavy backpack, and started off ahead of me: I guess I’m a pilgrim, too.

Our Creator promises to see us the way we really are. NOT with the limits and prejudices and preconceptions we normally exercise. How wonderful is that. And what a great and graceful Transfiguration.

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photos by James R. Page

Love Love Love Love Love, Actually

“Funeral held yesterday for La Loche shooting victim” CBC News.

“Over 40 dead after migrant boat sinks off Turkey” Huffington Post.

“Increasing concerns over Zika virus is changing tourism patterns in Central and South America” CBC Online.

“Thousands of complaints about the behaviour of physicians lead to very few cases of discipline” CBC News.

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.

“Nova Scotia winter storm leaves thousands without power this weekend” The Gazette.

“Scientists find genetic link to Alzheimers.” The Daily Telegraph.

“Genetic law urgently needed to keep insurance and other companies from discriminating against those with previously hidden flaws, says watchdog” Yahoo Canada News.

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.

            “Republican candidate Donald Trump says he’s looking forward to Iowa debate.” PBS Public Radio.

“Man in Oshawa Ontario legally changes his name to ‘None of the Above’ so that voters can choose ‘none of the above’ in the Ontario provincial byelection soon to be held there.” CBC News.

If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my very body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient, love is kind…” We really know those words. They’re some of the most famous from the Bible. Thanks to weddings, even people who never go inside a church know these words: “Love bears all things, hopes all things…” However, they don’t much sound like words from the news. “Love is not envious, or jealous or boastful…”

Love, love, love, love, love. Saying it is all very pretty, but when you get right down to it, what does love mean? This is a bit of a problem when it comes to actually applying what Paul has so beautifully expressed.

He wrote: “Earnestly desire the higher gifts”. And we should answer: of course! The problem is, love isn’t something any of us actually disagrees with. I mean, EVERYBODY thinks love is good. If we hired a survey company to phone a thousand people and ask them about this, 990 would all say the same thing – that yes, love is a very, VERY good thing.

And Jesus too said it: Love one another as I have loved you.

But do we or can we even agree on what this ‘good thing’ actually looks like? How we live it out? Practice it?

There are least two quite different ideas about love. We’ve probably agreed with both at one time or another.

Number one assumption about love is this: we tend to love – and SHOULD love – what we’re used to. As in, only someone like me who grew up in Saskatchewan loves that desolate prairie landscape. Or more seriously: if you were a child who was abused or beaten by your dad, how could you ever come to love a god who sometimes goes by the name “our Father”?

This is what we could call the “natural” ideal of love. We love as we’re able. Love is one of our self-expressions, and as such it is limited by our experiences.

So far so good.

However, there’s ANOTHER idea about love, and it can’t be stressed enough that this second idea about love isn’t the same. In this idea, love doesn’t necessarily come OUT of who we are and what we experience. Rather love goes INTO who we are and what we experience. In other words, if we love in ways that don’t necessarily come naturally, perhaps what is natural for us will change.

Consider again Paul. The guy who wrote: Love is patient and kind.

Paul? Anybody who’s studied the man knows that patient and kind are not the first words you’d ever use about Paul. It doesn’t sound much like the sarcastic apostle who told his opponents in the book of Galatians that if they wanted circumcision so badly they should just go all the way and castrate themselves. Frankly, he could be quite nasty at times. It sounds to me a bit like Paul was hoping someday he might live up to his own words.

But would that be so bad? Maybe, instead of love being what comes naturally, sometimes love has to be what is actually a stretch.  Most of us can be, and often are, basically kind people. But it’s harder to be loving and caring about some Christian we don’t know, who speaks a different language and has a different culture, who is a refugee from Syria. Or, even more, the Muslim refugee from Syria. That’s the kind of love that takes, not just a natural rush of sympathy, but several days or weeks or months’ worth of conscious caring.

Sometimes we get the idea that the opposite of love is hate. We’re wrong. The opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s caution. It’s half-heartedness, fear, and distance.

Maybe, if we think biblically, we’re cautious of the kind of love Paul describes because we realize, down deep, that to love that way might be the end of us. Literally. Like it was the end of Jesus.

Since we ALL say we believe in love, we’d better know what it is we’re agreeing to. Paul leaves no doubt. Real love, he says, follows Jesus, who was not scared to show it. Real love results in the destruction of the old self and in the creation of a new self.

Love, in other words, is scary.

And that, as it turns out, is exactly how God loves us. Despite our faults, despite our failings, despite years and years of minor or major betrayals, there is a hidden subject behind this passage. Our Creator still bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, and endures all things about us.

You and I are called to learn to love as does our Lord. Not as we can. But beyond what we can.

And these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.