Monday, December 30, 2013

Love Hurts

Researchers put a group of random college students (poor college students!) through a game, which was a test:     (You can read about this study at ars technica)

The first stage of the game, the students are placed in groups (with some of the players being computer players, unknown to the humans). The goal of the game is to be one of three participants that end up with the most points, and they get an Amazon gift card. Each individual is given 100 points. These points can be kept or put into a group fund. If all the points in a group go into the fund, everyone gets double the points.

After that, everyone sees the other's points. If you don't like what someone did, you can take points away from them. But for every three points you take away from someone else, you get one point deducted from your own kitty.

After that, each participant ranks the other players from 1 (hated them) to 9 (loved them).

The researchers had one computer player which was the "stingy" player. This player gave 10 percent or less of their points. Needless to say, they were punished heavily. 70 percent of human players punished the stingy computer player at least one point and he was ranked low.

The strange thing is this: they also created an overly generous player who placed at least 90 percent or more of his points in the group fund. This player was also punished severely! Not only did more than 50 percent of the players take away points from the generous, but they also only ranked him a 3 (firm dislike)!

What does this mean? That generally, we don't like people to be too nice, even as we don't like them to be mean. If we are too generous, then we are likely to be dissuaded or even mildly punished by people around us.

However, Jesus warned us that if we acted in love, we would be hurt by those around us. Jesus wants us to surrender ourselves to love. But he also wants us to be realistic. If we pour ourselves out for those in need, then we will be punished, occasionally by those whom we help! That doesn't mean we shouldn't act selflessly, but we shouldn't expect rewards for it.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Poverty and Power (Poverty of Spirit 4)

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11

God is not opposed to the self-sufficient.  He does not hate those who rely on their own strength to make their lives what they are.  God has blessed them with a created world which he called “good” and set them in it to make their way.  They make their lives, they create their comfort, they establish all they are on their own and God blesses them.

But not all are able to establish themselves.  Some work all their lives and never escape suffering.  Some have established themselves, but through tragedy or disaster their well-made lives have crumbled.  Some are torn apart by others, seeking to establish themselves on the backs of those vulnerable to their power, leaving them nothing with which to establish themselves. There are some who have no choice but to recognize that they are poor and helpless.  They have done all they can, picked themselves up, stepped forward, only to find themselves fallen again. 

It is these whom God offers not just a casual blessing, but overwhelming support and real help. 

God is the judge who listens to the widow.  God is the healer who heals the bleeding woman whom the doctors cannot help.  God is the father who welcomes the starving prodigal home.  God is the one who feeds the hungry in the wilderness.  God is the one who grants the barren woman a child.

God is the power, the strength of the poor.  The self-sufficient do not need help, they are fine on their own.  But the sick who cannot be healed, the poor whose hunger left them weak, the sinner who can’t escape their shame, the immigrant who does not see a friendly face, the outcast who doesn't know why they can’t make it on their own, the mentally weak who cannot make decisions on their own… God is there to be their strength because they have no power.

What about those who do not do all they can to help themselves?  What if they are just dependent on God because they decided that it is better to rely on Him than on themselves?  These lazy religious fanatics, who think they can tempt God and get away without standing on their own, what does God give them?
He gives them all they need.

There are those who sell all they have and give it to the poor, at the command of God—God is there to provide for them.  There are those who surrender their well-paying jobs to help the weak for nothing—these fools are also supported by God.  The one who loves God’s ways, despite their family’s hatred and become homeless because they have no support, no help on earth—God is there for them.   Those who refuse judgment in God’s name and will not do violence even to those who do violence to them—God is there to support them.

This does not mean that they do not suffer.  They may hunger, they may be cold at times, they may be occasionally friendless, they may even die at the hand of their persecutors.  Yet, somehow, they know they can rely on God. 

The persecuted David, who faced death, was confident of God’s support.  “The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him will praise the Lord… All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive.”  Even when faced with death, even when one goes beyond death, God does not forget his promise of protection and life. 

In this is the resurrection.  The resurrection is not for those who are religious enough to prove their worth.  Rather, it is for those who suffered so much for good and for love that God determines that they must have a second chance on life.  Resurrection is for the hopeless suffering who deserve a life of comfort.  For those who have surrendered all comfort for the sake of Love.

God never forgets his promise to be the power of life for the poor.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor

For a year and a half while the someday great author was in her early 20s, Flannery O'Connor had a private prayer journal.  Well, it is called a prayer journal, but they were really just notes to God, confessing her doubt, anxieties and personal struggles.  Don't expect any of these prayers to show up in collection of great prayers, because they are decidedly not devotional.  We might expect it of the author of A Good Man is Hard to Find and Wise Blood, but she is as brutally honest toward her own soul as she is later of her society at large.

Here are some quotes which give us a sense of her spiritual life:

"My thoughts are far away from God.  He might as well have not made me... Today I have proved myself a glutton-- for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought.  There is nothing left to say of me."

"Contrition in me is largely imperfect. I don't know if I've ever been sorry for a sin because it hurt You. That kind of contrition is better than none but it is selfish. To have the other kind, it is necessary to have knowledge, faith extraordinary.  All boils down to grace, I suppose."

"One thing I have seen this week-- it has been a peculiar week-- is my constant seeing of myself as what I want to be, but the right genre, the eternal embryo-- and eternal in no false sense.  I must grow."

"My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something.  Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us.  I would like to write a beautiful prayer but I have nothing to do it from. There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful pray may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted."

"Sin is a great thing as long as it's recognized.  It leads a good many people to God who wouldn't get there otherwise."

"I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make me lonelier by reminding me of God."

"Am I keeping my faith by laziness, dear God?"

A Prayer Journal is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Peacemaking Hands

Peacemaking is anger at injustice
   And choosing to heal instead of punish

Peacemaking is the war against hatred,
   Judgment and apathy, harming none.

Peacemaking is entering into another’s life
   By listening to their story

Peacemaking is welcoming the outcast
   And creating a safe place for them

Peacemaking comes from inner peace
   Inner peace comes from silence

Peacemaking is making a plan for the needy
   In order to help them thrive

Peacemaking is choosing the one-down
   In order to support others

Peacemaking is standing with the outcast
   By yourself

Peacemaking is creating a community
   Of the hated and the lovers

Peacemaking is confronting the wrongdoer
   And forgiving them

Peacemaking is living for oneself
   By living for others

Peacemaking is rejecting rejection,
   Judging judging and turning away from apathy.

Peacemaking is healing one’s own soul
   By restoring others

Peacemaking is Jesus on the cross
   Bringing God into this world through surrendering oneself

Sunday, November 24, 2013

For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Poverty of Sprit 3)

Power of the world is self-sufficiency.  

At first, we must have our children depend on us,  for they cannot survive without us.  As time goes on, however, we rejoice in the independence of our children, we teach them to be strong in themselves.  The maturity of a child is never done until they are living in the world on their own power, standing tall in the midst of a difficult society.

Our whole society is built upon the self-sufficiency of the individual.  Each person makes their own decision, relies on their own wit and hard work to make of them who they are.   The core text is the legend of the individual who creates their lives by their own resources and abilities, despite obstacles, despite opponents. 

Self-sufficiency is so foundational to our society that if Society determines to punish someone, they take away a portion of their self-sufficiency.  A violator is fined of the funds they have earned; a criminal is taken away from the opportunity to live their own life, to make their own decisions, to earn their own way.
Yet this is not the path of the kingdom of God.  It might be debated whether complete independence is realistic in any world, but it is certainly not the truth of the kingdom.  The path of the kingdom is that of dependence.

Jesus says that if anyone must enter the kingdom of God, they must return and be like a child, learning humility, learning faith.  The way of the child is the way of dependence, the rejection of self-sufficiency.  To be born again is to become an infant again, taking up what the Mother in Heaven gives us, and relying on that alone.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!...Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”  (Luke 12:24-31)

The seeker of God’s kingdom does not fret about food, clothing or the basic needs of the world.  It is provided by the Father, giving freedom for the child to do the work of the kingdom, and that alone. 

Worrying about food, clothing and the items of survival are left to those of the world of self-sufficiency. 

The kingdom of God is the world of the child, the world of those who live by faith.  The realm of self-sufficiency mocks this way, calling it unrealistic and foolish.  Yes, it is unrealistic to the adult, but to the child it is simple truth.  The fearful call the way of dependence foolish and the path of destruction.  Surely, the self-sufficient who walk the way of dependence will fail and possibly harm themselves.  But it is the glory of a child to be vulnerable.

Some would say that once one has tasted self-sufficiency that it is not possible to become dependent.  Yet those who follow the way of Jesus recognize that the incarnation is this very path, the way we are to follow.  Jesus had all power within his hand and he surrendered it to become an infant.  He sucked only on the breast that was given him, he was cleaned at the whim of a human parent.

And do we not all, when we are aged and our flesh and mind become frail, rely completely at the hands of our children, whom we raised, whom we lifted in our arm, providing them strength only through our own strength?

The poverty the Lord asks of us is that of reliance, that of dependence.  In that way, we are strong only by the strength of God.  Is not that strength greater than our human poverty?  Yet were it not for our poverty, we might never obtain that strength.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pride and Humility (Poverty of Spirit 2)

A man's pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor. (Pro 29:23)

The opposite of lowliness is pride.  Pride, in the Bible, has little to do with hubris, the Greek definition of pride.  Hubris has to do with speaking oneself up, to puff up one’s accomplishments, abilities or who one naturally is.  Hubris is the evil of thinking one is more important or acting like one is more important than one really is.

“Pride” in the Bible, however is assuming or maneuvering oneself into a greater position than one ought.  It is the seeking of a higher station, the pushing aside of others in order to increase one’s position in society.  It is insisting upon oneself, in order to rule over others.  It is striving for a promotion, it is promoting oneself, it is seeking one’s increase over another.  This kind of pride is in direct opposition to poverty in spirit.

Some think that Jesus is saying that high social standing, or leadership in any way, is devoid of blessing.  It isn’t leadership itself that is the problem, but how one obtains it, and how one uses it that can be in opposition to God.

Jesus illustrates his different approach this way: "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this man,' and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  (Luke 14:8-11)

The path of pride is to directly strive and claim a position which is not our own in the hopes that we obtain it.  “Society is a battle,” say the “proud”, “a competition and only the strongest and wiliest can get ahead.”   Jesus disagrees.  It is those who embrace their poverty and lowliness who have places of significance… not because of their strength or self-promotion, but due to the recognition of their worth.  Recognition of worth does not happen by taking the position we feel we deserve.  Rather, it is taking a lower station and others recognizing the place we deserve.

Of course, this happens rarely in the world.  It happens in the kingdom of God.

The activity of leadership also differs, according to Jesus.  He says, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  (Mark 10:42-45)

 The proud use their station of leadership and power to secure and increase their position.  They insist upon their position and use all the power they have to retain their power, they lay the groundwork for wealth and respect for the rest of their lives.  For Jesus, the path of true authority embraces poverty, the poor and helpless among them, using all their power to assist and support others.  It is not about maintaining power and respect for oneself, but for the neediest among them. 

Of course, this is not the way of the world, but of the kingdom of God. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

This is the first post of a series reflecting on Jesus' teachings and experience on poverty.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

In the Bible, there are many states that are ‘in spirit’.  The brokenhearted are “crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).  The forgiven has a renewed spirit (Psalm 51:10).  The righteous judge has a “spirit of judgment” (Isaiah 28:6).  To have something in spirit is deep in one’s soul, a part of one’s very inner being.

It is easy to understand a phrase like “crushed in spirit”, but more difficult to understand poverty in spirit, for we are so opposed to poverty in all its physical forms.  It is interesting that the only other place in the Bible which connects poverty and the spirit, apart from the beatitudes, is in the book of Proverbs: “It is better to be lowly in spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:19)

Although the verse is short and devoid of a clear context, it is clear that poverty of spirit is connected with association with the physically poor.   The term “lowly” is qal, often associated with poverty and a low social station.  The term “poor” is anawim, which can also be translated as “outcast” or “insignificant.”  Poverty in spirit, then, is keeping company with the rejected, retaining a social station that is considered to be inadequate by “normal” society. 

This goes with the other beatitudes.  The blessed are those who are mourning because of the difficulties of their lives.  They are meek, thus vulnerable.  They are merciful, and so associated with those who have need.  They are persecuted, rejected by society at large. To be poor in spirit is to associate with the outcast.  It is to be hated by association. 

It is also hatred because of inadequacy. It is to be remembered that “poverty in spirit” isn’t just a spiritual state, but a physical state.  When Luke translates the same phrase, he interprets it as, “Blessed are you who are poor.”  (Luke 6:20).  Blessed are you who have less than you ought to live. 

Poverty is a human state, one which we all experience.  We all, at times in our lives, experience suffering we cannot push aside.  We all experience a sickness that doctors cannot easily solve.  Most of us experience economic loss to such a degree that we cannot live on our own. 

This poverty is the enemy of our lives. The majority of humanity rejects poverty and names it the enemy.  They declare wars on poverty, to destroy it. This is a fine occupation for a government and a community.  Poverty is to be seen as the true enemy of the state.  But it is also a part of the human experience and by the individual should be accepted as such.

In his exalted state, Jesus experienced only exaltation, only greatness and respect.  In his human state, he had to experience suffering, pain, disrespect and hatred, hunger and sickness.  Instead of seeing this universal human experience as being evil, he saw it as an opportunity.  Poverty and pain isn’t our enemy, but it is what drives us to dependence.  And dependence is the doorway to blessing.  If we did not have dependence, we would never receive anything.  Never could we have the riches of God unless we had the opportunity to be poor, to be rejected, to be sick.

Poverty is the doorway to grace, thus it is a state of blessing.

Poverty is seen as our enemy because in this world it is exposure to shame. For an adult to be poor is to be a failure, to fail at one’s responsibilities, to be an inadequate husband, an inadequate mother.  Poverty means that all one’s efforts to be self-sufficient have failed.  And in the world, to be self-sufficient is what is means to be an adult.

To be poor is to be forced to be dependent.  For this reason, poverty is blessed.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


“Silent sea, tell this to me: Where are the children that we used to be?”
“At picture shows where nobody goes and only the heart can see.”
-Dan Fogelburg

I have to admit that I’m still childish. 

I work hard, I’m married and have kids and somehow I’m raising these kids.  Maybe my wife is really raising them behind my back, because I don’t know that I’m ready to be a grown up yet.

It’s not that I’m impolite or careless.  But I choose to live my life in a way that is full of childish assumptions.

I believe that being nice to people is the way to go.  I think that compassion and kindness, especially to those in need, is the best thing for everyone.  For me and for the people I’m being kind to.  I think that being kind is better protection than carrying a gun.

I think that if we work hard, we can do whatever we want.  I don’t think we can all be NBA stars, but I think we could all play basketball well, even if we’re in a wheelchair.  I believe that if we want to be a writer, an artist, a politician, a professor, a video game programmer… whatever… we can do it.  Especially if we aren’t looking to be paid for our work.

I believe that studying and reading will still get me ahead in life.  Although I’m 48, if I read a book  on the bus, people ask me if I’m a student, because only a student must read the tomes I do.  No, I read these tomes because I think that I can help myself, my family and others whom I know if I read them. 

I think that people can still marry for life and love for life.  My wife and I are still novices at it, only being married 24 years, but we think we can go the distance.  And I think we can all do it, if we really put our minds to it, really listen and really care.

I believe that my Daddy will take care of me.  My human dad is great, but I’ve found that my heavenly Daddy is better at taking care of me when I’m in trouble.  Because of that, I can step out and take some chances that other people wouldn’t, knowing that my Daddy’s got my back.  Like giving everything I have to the poor and having homeless folks stay in my house with my family and I.

There are many childish beliefs I have done away with:

I don’t believe that we can always see the good in doing good.  But I believe that if I obey the good I will be rewarded.

I don’t believe that there are good guys and bad guys.  But I believe that people who act bad can become good.

I don't believe that we can live without mistakes, but I believe we can live without compromise to hate or greed.

I don’t believe that the police are here to protect me.  But I believe that I am protected.

I don’t think that me being nice means that others will be nice to me.  But I think that being nice is good in and of itself.

I don’t  believe that reasoning by itself convinces anyone of anything.  But I believe that following my convictions is essential, no matter what anyone else says.

I don’t believe that I’m right all the time.  But I do believe that love is always right.

I don’t hope in my government, in getting a job, in other people, in my family, in my political ideals, or in anything on earth.  But I do believe that there is reason to hope, despite how pointless it all seems.

Some think I’m cynical.  
Rather, I have given up on being grown up.  
I’ll stick with being childish.  It seems to work for me.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Deck or the Lifeboat?

I was in a church networking meeting today, and we were discussing a ministry for young homeless women getting temporary shelter, and their struggle to find enough finances to begin their necessary work.  I was listening to pastor after pastor talk about how there just isn’t enough time to focus on a ministry like this, and finally I spoke my heart:

“As a group, we don’t seem to have many resources.  We don’t have a megachurch in our midst that can float a ministry like this on their own.  But the budget isn’t excessive, and all that would be required is for each of the churches who have some financial stability to welcome the director and let her speak to her need for five minutes.  You don’t have to be a partner, but ownership in a ministry like this requires more than being a cheerleader.”

A pastor mentioned that many ministries are asking for help.

The network leader prayed at the end, “May we not use our passion to force other passions out.”

Other passions?  Like perhaps the passion of having prayer groups?  Or the passion of having group praise?  Or the passion of giving our pastor a upper middle class lifestyle?  Praise is essential, as is prayer.  Our pastors deserve to know that they are respected and that their needs are met.

When Jesus came to earth, his ministry was focused on two things: preaching the gospel and saving lives.  His teaching was essential, but the rest of his time was spent feeding the hungry, healing the sick, delivering the mentally ill, and allowing people to practically feel God’s welcome and forgiveness.

For the most part, our church finances are spend re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  We may hear the people screaming, drowning, but we don’t consider that our business.  We need to spend our time and money on better worship.  We need to set up an event and activities to draw in the youth.  We need bigger, nicer facilities to draw more people in.  We need to get more involved in politics to set our nation on the right course. We need more time to do denominational activities, to calm down the family who wasn’t listened to in the last board meeting.

Rearranging chairs on the Titanic.

We need to stop thinking that the place to be is on the deck, arranging worship as we all sink.  If we aren’t in the lifeboat, then we need to stop thinking that we are in ministry at all.   If we aren’t saving people from drowning, then why did God put us on the Titanic at all?

And when I am saying “saving” I am not meaning this as a symbol of convincing people of our tired doctrine.  I mean saving lives.  Delivering people from death.

  • Branice is a nineteen year old who had been on the street throughout her high school years.  Just before her eighteenth birthday, she got pregnant by a homeless man whom she had loved for years.  Branice was still using meth and marijuana well into her pregnancy, given to her by her boyfriend, well into her pregnancy.  Finally, winter came and as a church we decided that something desperate needed to be done.  I obtained some temporary housing for her, and I sat down and talked with her about her future. That she would probably lose her baby at the moment of birth unless she makes some serious changes.  A couple agreed to house her through the winter until the baby came, and she agreed to contact agencies until she had a plan for her life with her baby.  The couple also agreed to adopt the baby if the state refused to let her keep the baby, an open adoption so that she could visit her child.

Today, the baby is healthy and adorable, living with her mom, Branice who is nine months clean and sober, through treatment, going to groups, and looking for work.  Her boyfriend moved on, and she demands that if he sees his baby at all, it is only when he is sober.  She has been transformed.  It didn’t take much. Just some encouragement, and some housing, and some money. 

  • Tom was living on the street with his blood pressure so high that the doctors wondered how he was still alive.  The church offered housing and work so he could live in peace.  He praises the Lord every day for his new life.

  • Mark was a drug user and dealer until a member of the church allowed him to sleep in their backyard and he finally got himself straight and now leads the landscaping crew at the church.

The church should be a lifeboat.  It should save lives.  If all we are is a show, we should shut down.

What does this have to do with passion? 

If our passion is about the show, about keeping rules, about new songs, about camps and retreats, let’s just pack it in.  We are not a ministry.  If we are not rescuing the dying, if we are not saving lives—literally saving lives—then we aren’t fulfilling the ministry of Jesus.  Letting people die around us, as they call us begging us for help, that is not of Christ.

Our passions should be prioritized.  Saving lives comes first.

“Rescue those being led away to death;

Hold back those who stagger to slaughter;
If we say, ‘We didn’t know!’
Does not He know it who weighs the hearts?”
Proverbs 24:11-12

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Three Paths: Judgement, Mercy and Cheap Grace

• Judgment is immediate.
It demands the quick decision and the sentence is as swift and demanding as a guillotine.
• Mercy is slow.
Mercy takes its time, deliberating, mulling over options. Mercy is often second-guessing itself, repenting of former decisions as repentance is made known.
• Cheap Grace is careless.
It cares not what the issues are, and is as swift in its decision of forgiveness as judgment is of condemnation.

• Judgment is simple.
Black and white, clear cut, no recourse, no compromise. Judgment sees all situations from a demanding, no fills position.
• Mercy seeks truth—no matter how messy.
It deliberates, considers, ponders, discusses—but not without a goal. Mercy plods, the tortoise who wins the race, slow and steady. Mercy understands that truth cannot be found in a headline, but in a feature article based on many interviews.
• Cheap Grace triumphs the ignorant.
There is no need for determinations, deliberations or decisions. The decision has already been made—freedom and blessing for all, no matter what the situation.

• Judgment focuses on the law as a principle.
“The law is a standard which once broken cannot be mended. It is the Humpty Dumpty of God. It is an ancient china doll, needing to be placed behind glass—protected, served, and loved from a distance.” But the law of judgment is cold, hard and sharp as a steel blade. Judgment claims to be for the good of society, but the only one who benefits is Judgment itself.
• Mercy loves the law as a benefit to others.
The law is to “love your neighbor,” thus mercy is the heart of the law. The law is to train us in mercy, to see the Other as the beneficiary of all of our actions. Mercy considers the well-being of all—even the law-breaker. Mercy’s law is comforting, light, for it always seeks the benefit of all.
• Cheap Grace discards the law.
“The law was a plaything of youth, but is to be set aside as unworthy of consideration. Grace has set aside all law, especially the law of Jesus, as unworthy of God.” Cheap Grace claims to speak for Mercy, but denies the heart of God.

• Judgment demands recompense.
Judgment seeks equity to the cost of the action of the law-breaker. “You broke it, you pay for it.” It seeks a balanced account book for which each debit has its equal and opposite credit—the coin of which is blood and dishonor.
• Mercy pursues reconciliation.
Mercy can lead to dishonor, should repentance be the flip side of that coin. Mercy pleads for restoration, constantly seeking an ingathering together for all the saints.
• Cheap Grace rejects cost.
Cheap Grace points to Calvary and claims that all had been accomplished there. Cheap Grace ignores the man who said, “All who would follow me must take up their own cross daily.” Cheap Grace demands no personal cost, no change, no death, no discipline, and so gains no gift, no new creation, no life, no restoration.

• Judgment has no escape.
Once judged, there is no exit. The sentence is irrevocable, the differences irreconcilable, the community ununitable.
• Mercy offers an out—repentance.
The one who has harmed another—and so has defied the law—has an opportunity to be brought back under the law. To repent, to reconcile is the extent that Mercy demands, and will seek any way to achieve that goal.
• Cheap Grace is unconditional forgiveness.
It is spiritual bloodletting—seeking to heal the patient, while ignorantly killing him. Cheap Grace sees no need to gather in, to restore, for there was no separation.

• Judgment demands payment from the lawbreaker.
As the law suffered, so must the criminal. As society was harmed, so must the harmer. Judgment claims the lost deserve nothing, and so gives nothing.
• Mercy sacrifices.
Restoration also has a price, and the merciful takes that price on oneself. Mercy pays whatever the cost so the sinner can be restored. Mercy groans in prayer, endures attacks, forgives debts against it, pays debts against others, sacrifices its comfort, its family, its friendships, its resources, its very life—all for the sake of the lost.
• Cheap Grace gleefully ignores cost.
It is the thief, stealing from God’s honor. Cheap Grace receives no payment, demands nothing, gives nothing, since there is no debt incurred. Cheap Grace celebrates at the foot of grace delivered, but ignores the call of grace transferred to others. Cheap Grace requires nothing and so gains nothing.

• Judgment never forgets.
It is the elephant of virtues. It never trusts, never believes, never forgives, never restores. Judgment says “Once a sinner, always a sinner.”
• Mercy gives the benefit of the doubt.
Mercy does not forget, but allows complete restoration, a rebuilding of trust. Mercy believes in new creation, a new life, which has nothing to do with the old.
• Cheap Grace always trusts, even the hypocrite.
It always believes, even the liar. It always forgives, even the unrepentant. It accepts everyone and everything—except God’s truth.

• Judgment is Satan.
Judgment is the accuser of the brethren, the murderer of humanity for the sake of a bloodless law. It is the prosecutor seeking the death penalty.
• Mercy is Jesus.
It is the self-sacrificer, the reconciler to God, the perfect sacrifice. Mercy is the one who said, “Go and sin no more,” “The one whom the Son sets free is free indeed,” “I have come to seek and save the lost,” “Unless you repent you will likewise perish,” “I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance,” “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.”
• Cheap Grace is the Flesh.
It is self-seeking, self-upholding, self-deceptive. Ultimately, it upholds what is abhorrent to God as the will of God. They practice sin and gives approval to those who practice it.

• Judgment is a liar.
It claims that God does not forgive, sees the sin and not the sinner. It denies the power of God to change the one in Jesus. It is lost, for it has forsaken the mercy of Jesus. Those in the power of Judgment will die by God’s hand—“Judge and you will be judged.”
• Cheap Grace is a liar.
It claims that God’s standard is flexible, and so non-existent. It loves the lost to such a degree that it cannot be separated from the lost. It causes the lost to remain lost, and so dead. Those in the power of Cheap Grace will die by God’s hand—“Whoever does not obey the Son will not see life.”
• Mercy is the truth of God.
It upholds the law, which is to love all. It demands love, even as it offers love. It demands forgiveness, even as it offers forgiveness. It demands sacrifice, even as it sacrifices. It demands purity, even as it offers purity. It demands devotion to God, even as it offers devotion to God. “Be imitators of God, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

Mercy stands with God 
over against Judgment and Cheap Grace

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Loves of God

Most of us love a whole bunch of people. It’s how we’re built—we are built to love others and to have others love us. Sometimes we have a hard time knowing how to love others, but that’s what we’re meant to do. But for all those we love, we don’t love everyone the same. The love we give to our spouse isn’t the same love we give to our children, or to our parents or to our country or to our friends or our neighbor or the good-looking stranger we meet on the street. We may care for them all and have their benefit in mind when we do something for them, but the actual actions and love we have for each of them is different.

In the same way, God loves people differently. He has different kinds of loves for the different relationships he has with different people. We can look at different people and each of them has a different relationship with God.

Who Does God Care For?
God cares for everyone, all humanity. God doesn’t love just some people—he loves everyone. God displays his care on most of creation, but humanity is his crowning achievement, his greatest creation on work, and God loves every single one of us. He sees us for what we are—all of our weaknesses and our disgusting habits—and he loves us. He wants us just like we are.
From the time that humanity was created, God loves all people. He desires their well being, and wants the best for all of humanity. God provides food for all of his creation, especially human beings. God has given every human being authority over the other creatures of the earth, and so indicated that every human is significant. God also speaks to every person about their sin, in order to give everyone the opportunity to repent of their sin.

  • No person can say that there is no one to care for them— for God cares for them.
  • No one can say that there is no one to take care of them—God takes care of them.
  • No one can say that they are unimportant—God has given them importance from the beginning of creation.
  • No one can say that God rejects them— God will do everything he can to help every person achieve his blessing and a relationship with Him.
  • No one can say that God hasn’t spoken to them— God at the very least convicts each person of sin.

This means that whoever you see that you hate— God loves them and cares for them. The people who you think deserve nothing less than torture and punishment—God wants to bless them. God is not scared of unholiness or filthiness. He is not disgusted by the things we are disgusted by. It is a part of God’s holiness that he can overlook unholiness and it is a part of God’s purity that he can embrace impurity. And so nothing is separated from God’s love—no matter how many people may think that someone does not deserve love.

What is humanity that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet. Psalm 8:5-7

Who Does God Especially Assist?
Although God cares for everyone, he does not assist everyone. After all, not everyone needs his help. Some people do fine on their own, and so they never need him and never really ask for his help. Perhaps those who don’t need God will do what they can to be on God’s good side—go to church everyone once in a while or they may be somewhat religious. But they don’t really need God.

The ones whom God looks to help are the needy, especially the poor. Those who have no other resources to help themselves, those who have no human means of gaining help—those are the ones God especially looks out for. And no wonder, those are the ones who cry out to God for help time and time again. They see their need and they know that there is no one else to turn to except God, and so they seek him out.

This is why God will especially heal and protect the poor above all others. When an injustice is done against the poor, God is there to correct the injustice. And especially, God will punish every person who oppresses those who have no where else to turn. God’s wrath is especially on those who harm those who can do no harm.

The LORD executes justice for the oppressed; The LORD gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous; The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked. Psalm 146:7-9

Who does God choose?
However, not every person will receive God’s blessings. And not everyone is chosen by God to have the opportunity for God’s blessings. What are the blessings of God? Being forgiven of our sins, having a close relationship with Him, living with him forever, and having all of our needs provided for by God forever—that’s what God promises for us. And God chooses particular people to receive of this, while the others he does not.

The strange fact is that God has already chosen these people. All of them. He has made the decision not to choose everyone, but just one nation—a single country. They are the only ones who will be offered this blessing of God. It may seem like favoritism on God’s part, but it is his choice to give gifts as he chooses. And he made this choice from the beginning of the world.

Who did God choose? Originally, he chose Israel. And then, within Israel, he chose Jesus’ people. The nation that God chose is the nation of Jesus. The wonder of Jesus’ people, is that he is open to people of every race, every background, every language, no matter what one has done or even how evil they have been. Jesus is accepting of them all, and is ready to accept them into his people. All who are called are welcome into Jesus’ nation.

But to gain this love from God, we have to choose Jesus. That’s right. In order to be chosen by God, we have to choose Jesus. If we chose Jesus, then we are a part of the people who are chosen by God.

Everyone chosen by God receives his Spirit. Everyone chosen by God is adopted as a child of God, ready to receive of his blessings. And the chosen by God can know the true righteousness of God—what is really good and how to live it out. And they have their past—no matter how evil—wiped away and a new future to look forward to.

In love God predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will. Ephesians 1:5

Who does God bless?

The strange thing, though, is, not everyone who chooses Jesus receives God’s final blessing. Everyone who chooses Jesus has all the grace of God in order to be able to live in Jesus. They have Jesus’ teaching—the true righteousness of God. And they have the Holy Spirit—the power of God to do good. However, unless the believer in Jesus actually does good, they will not enter into God’s kingdom and receive his blessings. They may have all the blessings of God on earth, but in the end, they can lose it all.

Those who do not remain with Jesus can lose it all—Jesus said that his true people would abide in him. Those who act hypocritically can lose it all—Jesus said that those who obey him are his true people. Those who deny Jesus before men can lost it all—Jesus said that those who confess will gain reward. Those who oppress the poor can lose it all—for Jesus told his people to assist the poor. Those who carelessly continue in their sin can lose it all—Jesus offers reward to the repentant.

In the end, those who receive the kingdom of God are those who endure. Not just those who make a commitment to Jesus, but those who stick with it and grow in Jesus and continually become more righteous before him. On the final day of judgement, those who will be loved for all eternity are those who do what is righteous by Jesus’ standard, no matter what obstacles get put in the way. God loves all people, but only those who abide in Jesus to the end of their days will gain the kingdom of God and all of the blessings of it.

Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Matthew 7:21

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A New Economy

This is an excerpt from my book Long Live the Riff Raff: Jesus' Social Revolution available on Amazon Kindle.

It was the time of the Feast of the Exodus and Jesus knew that his time on earth was short, and he was soon to go to the Father.  Yet, he loved his disciples on the earth, and he never stopped loving them, even to the end.  At the time of the Feast, the Great Liar already convinced Judas Iscariot to hand Jesus over to the authorities.   Jesus knew that the Father had granted him authority over all things, and that his purpose was to come from God and to return to Him. 

Given all this, Jesus got up from the meal, set aside his dress coat and put on an apron.  Jesus asked all of the disciples if they wanted anything as a refreshment, filling their wine cups.  Then Jesus took a basin, filled it with water and washed all the disciple’s feet, wiping them dry with his apron. 

As he came to Simon the Rock, Simon asked, “Do you think you’re going to wash my feet?”  
Jesus responded, “You don’t get it now, but you will understand later.”  
Simon the Rock said, “No.  You will NOT wash my feet. It’s too humiliating.  I won’t let you.”  
Jesus calmly said, “If you do not allow me to wash your feet then walk out and don’t come back.  If you want to be of my nation, then you must allow this.”  
Simon said, “Well, then wash all of me—my hands are pretty filthy and I haven’t washed my hair for a while…”  
Jesus interrupted him, “You are already completely clean, because your commitment to me cleanses you.  If you’ve taken a bath, you just need your feet washed, not your whole body.  Yet your whole is not clean.”  When Jesus said this last bit, he was referring to the Betrayer, who was still there in the room with them. 

                After all their feet had been washed, Jesus took off the apron, put on his dress coat, and stood in front of them.  “Do you understand what I have done?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master’, which is good, because that’s who I am.  So if you see your Master being hospitable to you, then you must do so to each other.  I gave you this example, so that you would act in this way.  You are not greater than I—I am the one who sent you.  It is good if you know what I teach you, but it is better if you do it—if you do what I do.  Mind you, I am not talking to all of you.  I have chosen you, but one of you was chosen to fulfill the Scripture, ‘He who receives my hospitality has slapped me in the face.’ I tell you this ahead of time so you will understand when it happens.  Listen carefully—whoever welcomes into his home one of my workers actually receives me.  And whoever receives me welcomes God who sent me to earth."

Foot Washing
In many Mennonite traditions, it is common to take Jesus’ command to wash each other’s feet as a sacrament.  Thus, in many churches in the celebration of the week of Passion, they have a ceremony in which the church member’s feet are washed by each other.  What happens is really quite surprising.  We are often shocked at our reserve, at our measure of politeness. 

Many of all—perhaps all of us, at first—take on the reaction of Peter—“You won’t wash MY feet.”  We like to think that it is because our feet are dirty, filthy, undeserving to be touched.   But I think, if we explore our feelings more carefully, we find that there are one of two real reasons for our hesitance.  First of all, we find the touch of our bare feet to be intimate—too intimate.  We are allowing someone who is fundamentally a stranger touch us in a sensitive and personal place.  The second reason is because we are exposing a hidden part of ourselves to people.  We are allowing people to see that which should not be seen.  Opening ourselves up to the air what had been safely hidden.  What we are really feeling is the shame of nakedness.

Now the fact of the matter is that when Jesus got up, wrapped a cloth around himself and washed the disciples feet, he was not proclaiming a new sacrament.  We no longer do the daily practice of foot washing and so we do not understand the context in which it was placed, as the disciples did.  Foot washing was done for the guest, as they came to stay at one’s house.  Even as today, when we have a guest, we might offer them something to drink, even so the host of the ancient world offered to have the guest’s feet washed.  It was the first part of a whole ritual of hospitality that included drink and food and possibly spending the night. 

But although there was much ritual surrounding it, hospitality fulfilled a real need.  To offer a drink in the ancient world was no empty ritual like we have, for usually we offer a drink to those who are not thirsty.  Rather, the ritual of hospitality is given to one who has traveled, by foot, a long distance.  Perhaps only as short as a mile, but often it is a long journey of a day or two, during which water is scarce and food more so.  To travel was to endanger oneself, for bandits roamed the countryside and there was little security, and therefore little sleep. To offer hospitality, then, is to offer drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry and a safe place to sleep to those who are exhausted.  Foot washing is the first part of this, for it cleans the dirt off the road, and makes one more comfortable, not just personally, but also taking away the anxiety of the traveler that he might be dirtying one’s home.

Thus, when Jesus was commanding his disciples to wash each other’s feet, he was telling them to practice the whole of the hospitality ritual to each other, not just a part of it.  It was Jesus’ plan that many of his disciples would be travelers—itinerant evangelists—who would need to have many stations throughout the world, in need of hospitality.  Thus, he is commanding his disciples, not to wash feet, but to meet the needs of the disciples.  It is the introduction of the command he gives a number of times in a number of ways in the following chapters: “Love one another”, “Greater love has no man than this than to lay down his life for his friends.”   A part of this love, John insists (especially in his letter—I John 3:17) is to offer hospitality.  Food, drink, a place to stay and possibly clothing to those in need.   It is a command to be a social network for disciples of all shapes, colors and creeds. 

                This is a command that Jesus gave many other times.  “If anyone is to give even a cup of cold water to even the least of these because he is my disciple he shall not lose his reward.”  “If anyone offers hospitality to you, they offer it to me.”  “In as much as you have done so to the least of my brothers, you have done it to me.”  To be hospitable to believers isn’t a nice idea, it is a foundational moral command of the church.

Beneath Notice
Another thing to notice is that Jesus washed the feet himself.  This is a unique feature, and the one that Peter most noticed.  When a host offered to wash a guest’s feet, he did not do this act himself.  Rather, he had a servant do the washing.  Thus, there is no discomfort as to having one’s feet washed by a peer, or (God forbid) one greater than one.  Rather, it is done by a negligible one—a person beneath one’s notice. 

                However, Jesus, in this scenario, placed himself in the servant’s role.  Yet the disciples could not pretend that Jesus was beneath notice, to be ignored.  Peter finally couldn’t accept the contradiction between how Jesus was acting and who he was, and so he spoke up.  But it was imperative for Jesus to be the servant.  In this way, the disciples could also take on that role.  It is not enough to say that a Christian could take on any role, no matter how lowly, no matter how marginal it made one. 

Rather, Jesus command is for all of us to do the menial tasks, the servant place.  It is a part of our participation in the Christian community.  This is why Jesus said that leaders must act like servants—they must do the menial tasks, the tasks that made them lowly.  (Luke 22; Mark 8).  They must lower themselves to be the servants, even as Jesus did.  Not a single Christian leader, or Christian member or Christian teen or Christian pew-warmer can escape from Jesus command of service.  We must be the lowly to the lowly.  We must offer help to those in need, where they are, where we find them.  And we must make ourselves as less important than they.

Mutual Dependence
One last thing that Jesus emphasized.  When Peter complained to Jesus that he would not receive the foot washing—that he would not participate in the demeaning of Jesus—Jesus responded with a stern rebuke.  He said that if Peter wanted to be a part of Him, a part of His community, then not only did he have to serve, but he had to be served. 
Often we think of ourselves as undeserving of help.  But, more often than not, we think of ourselves as too independent to help.  We have been raised in a society in which independence is most significant.  If we are in need, we ought not to ask, we ought not to receive, for it is a wrong for us to put other’s out, to make them help us.
      Jesus thinks of service in a different way.  When we are in need, we are providing an opportunity for others in the church to be like Jesus.  We are providing an opportunity for service, for community to build, for us to be dependent on each other.  And frankly, it is this last that our society loathes, that we all secretly hate.  We cringe at the thought of being dependent on others, to rely on others for help.  But the fact is, that is exactly what Jesus is creating with this example, with this physical parable.  Jesus is creating a community of mutual dependence.  We are to lean on each other, and give to each other.  We should be dependable in our dependence on each other.  We help each other’s needs and we give to each other’s needs.  We love and are loved.  We give and receive.  And so we are the people Jesus commanded us to be.

Friday, September 27, 2013

I'm Good. No, Really.

Evil is bad.  No matter how often this trope is reversed, almost every novel, TV show, movie and Facebook video reminds us of this. That evil is bad.  Just in case we forgot. 

Evil leads to bad things.  Bad things we want to avoid.   Things like prison, STDs and getting punched in the face by Superman.  We get that idea.

That doesn’t mean that some people don’t do bad things.  There is still greed and hypocrisy and hatred and selfishness.  Partly because people who do these things think that the real world isn’t like the fictional world.  And partly because in a quirk of mental gymnastics people think the bad things they do are good.  A thief I knew thought that since he was stealing from a big corporation, they had insurance and so no one was hurt and he was feeding people (as well as his drug habit).  We like to be good.  And if we can’t be good, then we can be a Rebel Against the Evil Empire, which is Good. 

We like to be considered good to such a degree that we create structures to make us good when our actions are perhaps a bit shady.  Even Jesus did things that looked evil to outsiders, but it was really good.  So we give ourselves narratives of our goodness, so that we can assure ourselves that our actions are really good.  And if we ever doubt ourselves, or (God forbid!) someone attacks us as evil, then we can assure ourselves and them that we are really good by rehearsing our narrative of goodness.  These narratives are as old as history itself, and we repeat these stories because they resonate with our moral  beings.

Let’s take a look at a few of these stories of moral highness:

1.       Good of Justice
Evil is out there.  There are bad guys and bad governments and bad corporations and bad hamburgers.  And bad deserves to be punished.  Evil shouldn’t be left on its own to continue to exist.  Evil should be stopped.  Or at least delayed while we beat in its face for a little bit.  Evil left uncontrolled, unpunished leaves a hole in our soul.  If Scar isn’t beaten up by Simba, then he must be eaten by the Hyenas.  It’s a rule of the universe.  So if a cop shoots someone, that’s okay because he’s shooting a bad guy and bad guys must be stopped.  If Obama allows drones to be released, that’s okay because he’s taking out the terrorists.  And if I beat up my brother in law because my sister tells me that he hit her, well, he had it coming.  

In that moment I am Batman.  I can do no wrong.

Of course, the problem is we are human so we don’t know everything.  The cop might not be shooting a bad guy.  Maybe he’s shooting a mentally ill guy who is scared of cops and runs when he sees them.  Obama might be taking out a bad guy.  Or he might have missed and hit a wedding instead.  Or he might have taken out the bad guy and his kids and the kids’ friends who were having a BBQ in the terrorist’s back yard (Some terrorists belong to families.  It’s true.)  And I didn’t really check out my sister’s story, so it might be possible she might have stretched the truth.  And since I didn’t ask my brother-in-law’s side, it might be possible I was wrong. 

I'm still Batman.  Just maybe the Adam West variety.

The other thing is maybe punishment isn’t the best thing I could do.  If I kill the bad guy, even if he really is bad, then he won’t do bad any more.  And he can’t change his mind to do good, either.  How many of us have done bad things?  Maybe every single one of us.  Just maybe.  And if Karma was as quick as a John Lennon song, then how many of us would still be around to raise children to not do what we did when we were young?

2.       Good of Truth
I like it when people tell me the truth.  It makes me feel good.  When people lie to me, I don’t feel good.  I turn into a dark storm, ready to strike lightning.  Kinda like Thor.  But let’s go back to truth.  Truth is good.  Let’s stick with what I like.

And if we know big Truths, then they are even better.  If we know, for instance, that the earth revolves around the sun, it’s good for people to know.  If we learn that illnesses are caused by small animals in our bodies, it should be published.  And if we learn that Tesla was actually a racist and kind of a jerk, we should tell everyone.  And they will appreciate us all the more for letting them know.  And if they don’t, well, at least we told the Truth.  And the Truth will be affirmed by future generations even if our peers don’t understand or appreciate it. And I bet we can find someone on the internet to believe us.  Then we’ll know we were right all along.

Three members on my "Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is the Antichrist" site!

Of course, we can get carried away with our Truth-telling.  Some of us might yell at people because they are not accepting our Truth.  Or we might call them names like “imbecile” or “rampallian” (if feeling particularly Shakespearean).  We might consider that they are worthy only of damnation in the lowest circle of hell.  We might very well want them out of our sight and possibly out of our existence for not believing in an instant the Truth that took us 20 years to discover.    

You might think that I’m talking about religious fanatics.  Well, yes, that’s the case.  I’m a religious fanatic, so I know how they think.  But I’m also talking about political fanatics, conspiracy theorists, science nuts, and people who have a theory about the new Avengers movie.

Let’s face it, we can get pretty irrational about our Truth and we can treat an unbeliever somewhat similar to the person who raped our dog and carved his initials in our favorite block of cheese.  And we feel completely justified because Truth is more important than being kind or caring.
Isn't it?

3.       Good of Community
Almost all of us belong to some kind of community and we love that community.  It’s our real home, the basket in which all our eggs rest. Our community could be our nation, our religious group, our internet movie discussion group, or our chess club.  Any place that we feel most comfortable in and feel like we would be lost without.

Then the Enemies come.  These are the ones who attack our community, and destroy all we hold dear.  They could be terrorists, but they are just as likely to be insiders who climb up the ranks with the real intention of undermining all we find good in our home.  Criminals are bad, but the worst are those who take our comfort zone and destroy it with their different ideas of how reality works. 

Officer, arrest that vandal!

So we must do what we can and protect our community.  We might protect it with guns, or with words or with viral videos that show just how bad these Enemies are.  We are not scared of these Enemies.  Rather, these bad guys should be scared of us, because we aren’t here to play games.  We are Bruce Willis, Bruce Lee and Bruce Campbell all rolled up into one.  In other words, we are Chuck Norris with a light saber.  No one can stop us.  We are here to protect our own.

More often than not, however, we are not attacking bad guys at all, but just some other guys who are trying to protect their home, their comfort zone.  It just so happens that they have a different idea of what that home should look like than we do.  And maybe they have better resources to make our home (because the community is really all of us) the way they want it than we do the way we want it.  And when we attack them, perhaps instead of protecting our home, what we are really doing is destroying our home.  When we freeze the budget or insult our leaders or block up the streets with angry protesters or spread unsubstantiated rumors about a neighbor or circulate flyers announcing our hate, we are changing our home.  We have changed it from a safe place into a place of anger and violence.  And we might be able to say that “they” started it, but we participated in it.  We kept it going.  And that’s not really good.  Especially when lies are told and lives are ruined.  And our community will not be our home.  It will never be the same again.

At last we'll have some peace and quiet...

4.       Good of Grace
But what if we were just nice to each other?  All the time?  What if, instead of having a good ethic or a good concept or a good community we were just good?  Instead of acting FOR the good, what if we just acted like we WERE good?

What would that look like?  Well, we would have to look at the person in front of us, really think about them.  Not think of them as an object or a sales person or a bad guy or a medical worker or an anonymous internet person, but just a human being with thoughts and desires and hopes just like we do.  I don’t mean that they necessarily have a fetish for donuts, but that they want respect just like we do.  They want to connect to people.  They want to eat good food and sleep in a comfortable bed.  They want to be nice to children and puppies. They enjoy a great movie and great sex and that euphoric feeling of awe we get when we look at a star-filled sky.  They give love to those who love them and they get angry when someone is mean to them.  They sometimes say the wrong things and sometimes they lose control.  But they try their best and want to be a good person.  Just like us.

Even this guy.  Especially this guy.

So why don’t we treat them like we would want to be treated?  With respect.  With safety.  With grace.  When someone is hungry, why don’t we give them something to eat?  When someone is sad, why can’t we sympathize with them?  Maybe even make them laugh for a minute?  When they are happy, why can’t we be happy with them?  Without jealousy, without reminding them of the unfortunate circumstance that’s right around the corner?  Why can’t we help someone live in the moment, making the moment as rewarding as possible?

We have a number of excuses:

  • They did something bad to me, so I don’t want to reward them for it.

Perhaps if we teach them to reward bad behavior with good, they’ll learn to do good?  Or if that’s too idealistic, at least we can be the person who always brings good out of bad.  We love those people.  Can’t we be like them?

  • They are bad people.  I would only be enabling them.

You can’t enable someone by laughing with them.  You can’t enable them by giving them a hamburger.  You can’t enable them by forgiving them.  You can’t enable them by honestly benefiting and blessing their life.  All you can do is show them that there’s a different way to live.

  • They belong to a bad system, and to do good to them is to do good to the system.

The person in front of you isn’t a system.  She is a person, just like you.  And I hate to tell you, we are all caught up in bad systems.  Us human beings haven’t perfected the art of creating good ones yet.  In the meantime, doing good to the person in front of us can only benefit us all.

You evil man!  You grabbed my back!

Being good, meeting needs, loving the unlovable, forgiving a bad act, restoring the corrupt, enabling everyone to pay it forward.  Yes, there might be short term consequences.  But there’s no loss in the long term.

The real good is to always be generous, to always love, to always give respect, to always be kind.   It’s the only thing that really counts.  

And maybe Sherlock.  Now THAT's good!