Saturday, May 19, 2007

Just Love...

I say this unequivocally. Love is hard.

You wouldn’t think so, given the way loving is denigrated by so many conservative Christians. I am frequently taken to task by conservatives, who accuse me of ignoring the God of Judgment in favor of the God of Love. Their beef with me seems to stem from their view that loving is easy, but the sacrifice required to give God what He wants (and it’s almost always HE) is difficult.

What I take from their arguments is this: Any idiot can love. Only a holy person can sacrifice.

Which makes me wonder if they’ve ever loved anyone in their lives.

***************

The threads of love run throughout the Old Testament, but they can be hard to find---buried as they are in God’s whining about the faithlessness of His people and His commands to utterly destroy the enemies of The One True Faith. Love often seems to take a backseat to the smitings and bashing of infants’ heads on stones.

But there are tender moments. God, the Divine Tailor, sewing clothes for Adam and Eve, even as He prepares to kick them out of Eden for their transgressions. God, the sheepish, regretting the burst of temper that drove Him to destroy the world by flood, and promising never to do it again. God, the merciful giver of life, hearing the desperate pleas of Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah and sending them the longed-for sons.

And then comes Jesus. Little baby Jesus. Tiny and defenseless. Surely dear, and funny, and beloved, as most children are.

This is no God of Judgment. This is a God who comes to earth as a baby! Babies don’t know from judgment, but they know everything about pure desire---and the soothing power of love.

If God had wanted to emphasize His role as Holy Judge, why would He have come as an infant? Why not come as the Lord of Hosts, Holy and Mighty? Why come as a mewling, needy creature who spends its first couple of years crapping in a diaper and unable to communicate except by crying? Because I have to tell you, that doesn’t do much for your image as a Scary Guy with Thunderbolts...

No…this is a God who dares to be vulnerable---wrapping the awesome power of the Most Holy in a fragile human skin. Coming to earth to experience pain, loss, suffering---and love.

Which do you think was harder for God? To smite the Canaanites, or to come and dwell among us, in all our vulnerability?

And which thing will save us in the end? The fear of smiting, or the call of relationship?

*************************************

Conservatives in the church think that if you talk about love, you open the door to license. They seem desperately afraid that people will run wild in the streets if they are not terrified by the thought of the God of Judgment, waiting to zap them for their sins.

I think Jesus saw the problem with this view of God. It is hard to love---really love---someone of whom you are afraid. And I suspect this is one of the reasons that God came to earth in human form---He was getting a bad rap as the basher of infants’ heads against the rocks.

Everything in the Bible points us to this truth---God wants to be loved. Not just worshiped in fear and awe, but loved---as the focus of our deepest desires, affections, and longing.

That is not to say that there is no aspect of judgment in God’s relationship with us. How could a God of perfection overlook our transgressions? I believe that God is deeply grieved when we do things to hurt one another or ourselves. If God is a God of love---and I believe this with all my heart---it is inconceivable that God would be able to ignore all the terrible things we do to ourselves and to one another.

I suspect that God weeps quite frequently. Jesus taught Him how to do it, you see (remember Lazarus?)---and if you, like I, know the power of tears...the clear, cathartic power of weeping...how can you doubt that God weeps for our sins? Do you not weep for your children when they make decisions that hurt them?

But a God who weeps for our sins is very different than a God who smites us for them.

If we believe that God came in the human form of Jesus, we must at least consider the fact that God now understands why we do the awful things we sometimes do. If Jesus was tempted in all the ways in which we are tempted, then we must believe that God “gets” why we stray from the path of righteousness. We must believe that God has empathy---the only characteristic that truly differentiates us from all other living beings---and is prepared to employ that empathy for those He has created.

But that empathy comes with a price for us. “Just love,” He told us, through his son Jesus. “Love me and love each other---forget everything else and just love.”

It sounds so easy---and conservatives apparently think “Surely there must be more to it than that?!”

But God apparently could not have given us a harder commandment. It is easy to express some treacly sentiment about “love” (especially that horrid old chestnut about “love the sinner, hate the sin"), but loving itself is hard work---and it is sometimes (maybe even often) a hard and thankless job.

Loving is not easy because true love makes us vulnerable. And if there is anything that is anathema in our culture, it is being vulnerable. We have a faux culture of vulnerability (see any daytime talk show for verification), but we despise the people who display their weaknesses in public. We watch them to feel superior, not to empathize. There is nothing so pathetic in America as a loser.

And if you love, you will lose. On her blog Dancing Through Doorways, Nina quotes Herbert McCabe, OP: "If you do not love, you will not be alive: if you love effectively, you will be killed."

Jesus was a loser. And he loved so much that he was willing to lay down his life and die for that love.

He was nailed to a fucking cross for love.

So don’t tell me that loving is easy. Love will turn you inside out and upside down. It will delight you, move you, inspire you, transport you---and it will ultimately destroy you.

Love will kill you, if you do it right.

Jesus showed us how to do it. He didn’t call down the armies of Heaven as he hung dying on the cross. Didn’t call for any more smiting or bashing. Didn’t call for the judgment we so richly deserved.

He called for Love. And it was granted.

So, my dear friends, do not make his sacrifice a vain one. “Just love”---no matter what the cost. Believe that God’s judgment comes in the form of tears, rather than thunderbolts. Believe that when Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” that he meant it---and that God gave His only Son what was requested.

“Just love.” Love God, love others, love yourself. It’s a difficult job---but someone has to do it. Who better than those who claim to follow the Jew from Galilee?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Called to Account by the Bizarre Rabbit

Lapinbizarre has told me to get my butt in gear and post something new. I don't want to whine about life, the universe, and everything---and I am working on something.

This one is hard. It's about love.

I'll do my best to get it up in the next day or two.

(And thanks, you crazy rabbit---someone needs to hold my feet to the fire!)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pounding the Pulpit to Prevent HIV

As many of you know, I write about HIV for a living. Right now, I have been asked to pull together some sermons on HIV/AIDS for an upcoming conference of African American clergy. The sermons will be included in resources provided to participants, and they will carry all the proper attributions.

These folks are some of the biggest movers and shakers in the African American faith community. Most of them have not been terribly vocal about HIV to their congregations, but their participation in this conference is a marker of their willingness to engage.

Most Americans still think of HIV as a "gay disease." In truth, in the United States HIV is now, largely, an African American disease. African Americans make up only about 12% of the U.S. population, but they make up over 50% of new HIV infections and about 50% of those living with AIDS.

AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women between the ages of 25-44.

It still takes my breath away every time I have to type that sentence.

If you have written/preached a sermon on HIV, and would be willing to share it with me, I would be grateful. This is an important event for those of us who are fighting HIV/AIDS, and your words may well make a difference in the lives of people who are at risk for HIV and still don't realize it. They may also make a difference in the lives of those who need to develop both understanding and compassion about this deadly virus.

Send your contributions to the e-mail address in my profile here. I can't promise that all of them will be included, but I'll try to get in as many as I can. Thanks!