Take a Second Look

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.  

~ Matthew 5:38-42 The Message

 

 

In the first few chapters of Matthew a series of teachings by Jesus are laid out for us to consider.  In each of them we find a surprise. He is asking us, it seems, to take a second look at what we think it means to be holy. He is challenging folks to give serious consideration to choosing a different version of life for themselves.  In this passage, he is offering them a new way to reclaim their previously held beliefs about power. He is suggesting them to take revenge off the table. This is a conscious choice.

 

People are uncomfortable with this message and I understand why.  It could easily be misconstrued to suggest that people in positions of power can abuse us without any repercussions.  I have had occasion of late to deal with this in my own life. No one has been thwacking me a glove and asking to duel but I have had opportunity to learn the pain and suffering of bullying behavior.  As a person who does not want to have revenge as part of my life I have had to navigate the rough waters of when to stay silent and when to speak up and out; when to hold them and when to fold them; what to do and what to reject doing as my feelings overwhelmed my core beliefs. It’s been a challenging situation.  I have not always handled it well. The only way I have handled it at all was to ask for help from others to guide me AND to spend a significant amount of time examining and re-examining my core values, choosing, from my many (sometimes competing) values, which ones were applicable in this particular situation. It required silence, stillness and solitude as well as a tribe to find my way.

 

The one truth that I return to over and over is God’s word (although even that can be confusing) that teaches us to trust that justice is God’s department not mine.  So often I want to protest what feels like the injustices that seem to run unchecked in the world today. But that is not my job. My job is to give and receive love.  Sometimes that means defending the weak and the vulnerable, other times it means returning to silence, stillness and solitude.

 

Broken relationships are terribly grievous things but they are also inevitable.  The primary comfort I have found as I navigate the ending of a relationship with someone I love is this:  maybe it is no longer appropriate for me to be the one that gives and receives love in this relationship - but I can pray that others will take up the mantle and continue their giving and receiving to that person!

Nobody can do your work but you

As a reminder, it all starts with going to the source of love - God.  This requires a commitment to maintaining conscious contact. Whole libraries are stuffed with books on how to do that, so I am not going to discuss that further except to say:  figure out how to maintain conscious contact with God or the rest of this is going to be pretty impossible.

 

 

Having established the umbrella under which we stand...

 

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  
~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

 

...we turn our attention to the next move.  The next move involves the simile “as you love yourself.”  A simile is a form of grammar that we use to compare something we do not know how to do (love your neighbor) with something that is presumed we do understand (love yourself).  No offense to Jesus, but my experience teaches me that many of us, including myself, are not very good at understanding this part of the simile, which then makes it impossible to understand the second part.

 

In fact, the very concept of self-love freaks me out.  Sitting on my desk right this very minute is a mile-high stack of books on narcissism.  Narcissism, this concept of ONLY being able to love self, is a big problem in the world today.  In the U.S. we have become accustomed to “doing your own thing” and “win at all costs”. We’ve created a culture that encourages individualism to the detriment of building and sustaining community.  Narcissism is what my brain rushes to when I think about self-love, but my brain is confused.

 

Loving/respecting yourself means taking responsibility for yourself.  It is that capacity to know that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.  We own the work of developing an appropriate and specific plan for self-care. We pay our own bills. We do not ask others to do for us what we are created to do for ourselves.  This builds strong bodies and sound minds. THEN and ONLY THEN do we develop the capacity to love others. Without decent self-respect and a commitment to live by the core values we consciously choose for ourselves, our relationships will be nothing more than negotiations and manipulative attempts to receive from others what we are intended to derive from our own personal work of becoming decent human beings; to practice the Matthew passage, we must start and continue on a daily basis the discipline of building a life that we respect.  Are you taking care of that?

 

Thinking, Feeling, Doing

A couple days ago I mentioned three concrete areas where love is lived out:  how we relate to ourselves, our closest companions and our community. These are three very different arenas of loving.  Although the overarching principles of love apply, the specifics are dependent on the circumstance. Here is the general principle as stated by Jesus:

 

 

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

 

 

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  
~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

 

During basketball season this past year Pete and I had the good fortune of attending the University of Richmond versus Virginia Commonwealth University basketball game on the University of Richmond campus.  It was a good game, seeing as how our dog wasn’t in the fight. If you were a VCU fan, you loved the first half but for those U of R Spiders, they loved the last second victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.  As mostly objective observers who have reasons to love both teams we were able to nonjudgmentally observe the crowd around us.

 

It was...interesting.  People did not always behave in a manner consistent with their ages.  This was a social setting, and as such, I would suggest that fan behavior might have been modified with this fact in mind.  Love is like this. In the privacy of one’s own home, love might look like tolerating the insane behavior of a rabid fan. To accommodate this very issue I lovingly removed the ceiling fan in our den after Pete jumped up and hit his head on it one times too many to stay healthy; I considered it a McBean family concussion prevention measure.  Love in the social setting, especially when you are the rival or you as the home team fan notice that rival fans are sitting in front of you, might mean toning it down or at least not acting like a fool. The game isn’t over until it is over. Raucous jeering of the opponent too soon is just plain unsafe. Problem numero uno: loving others well is venue dependent.  We have missed this distinction at times, resulting in poor outcomes.

 

That being said, if we practice the principle of treating all people with respect, we can avoid a lot of issues regardless of the venue.  I know that sports loyalty runs wide and deep for many. But a spiritual life requires a constant reflection on what runs THE MOST DEEP within us.  What are our core values? For people of faith, Jesus has stated the top two. We must wrestle with what this looks like in all venues, all the time, even at sporting events. What about you?  Is there a particular “venue” where you struggle? Respecting yourself? Your intimate relationships? Getting along in a group?

 

Loving as yourself

I began this series of devotionals with these questions:  If we have an ounce of love for “other” in us, or if one single human being on this planet loves us - this is the million dollar question.  What do the people we love NEED? What do we NEED? How can we help? Who can help us?

 

 

EVENTUALLY I got around to whipping out this series of verses:  

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  
~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

Today, let’s break it down.  When it comes to being a person whose presence matters AND a person who lives life with the quiet joy of satisfaction because life has meaning and purpose, there is no greater (albeit commonly repeated) passage of scripture than the one above.  Along the way, like Pete, we will have ups and downs and trials and tribulations, even some victories along the way as we both give and receive love.

Previous devotionals made a case for presence, specifically compassionate presence, as a key ingredient to this way of living.  But don’t we have PLENTY of examples of big fails in this area? I do!

So what gives?  What needs to change?  Haven’t we all attempted to improve our capacity to love and be loved?  I bet so. Tomorrow we pray for our collective loving selves, next week, we get into the nitty gritty details of loving well.

For today, think about the reality that we love in three arenas here on planet earth:  1. The way we love ourselves (if that freaks you out, substitute the word “respect”), 2. The way we love those closest to us (our most intimate connections) and 3. The way we love our communities (work/faith group/family/friends/common interest groups/neighbors).  

Obviously, the Matthew passage tells us that it all starts with loving God.  It even tells us how: we are to love God wholeheartedly - i.e., with our entire being.  Wholehearted loving makes it possible, even likely, that we will notice opportunities to love that will be overlooked by the casual lover.  Like the two friends who knew to contact Pete with condolences after UVA’s first round loss in the NCAA’s. This is our love source.

This is the source for the help we need to figure out how to love.  More on that in two days...tomorrow, as promised we pray for one another!

 

Compassionate Presence

My husband Pete and I attended the University of Virginia back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  We have followed their sports teams with great patience and allegiance for decades. Virginia’s first round loss in the 2018 NCAA Tournament was, without question, the most heartbreaking defeat for us as fans in our UVA sports loving lives.

 

 

The sports commentators were brutal; some of our friends who cheer for OTHER teams were quick to poke fun and rub the defeat into the gaping wound.  I am sure no harm was intended; I am positive no one intended for us to take it personally.

 

However, the experience paired with my current passion project as a pastor (What does it mean to be transformed?) really was a punch in the gut.  Certainly the wins and losses of a sports team are not necessarily the expected venue for sacred space. Sports have their place in the world and to give them too much importance is just silly.  

 

But I am struggling with a larger point that goes something like this…  In both small and large ways we continue to show people who we are - for better and for worse. In the smallest of moments, our compassionate presence might make a big difference.  I might feel bad about this tendency to see everything through the lens of spiritual transformation, except Jesus had a bad habit of doing the exact same thing!

 

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said this:  

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  

~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

Heard it a million times, right?  Age old wisdom, right? My question is this:  if we know these verses so well, why do we continue to be so absolutely lousy at living them?  Or is it just me?

 

By mid-morning of the UVA debacle, Pete had received one phone call and one email from two people who, shall we say, do not usually pull for UVA.  Both expressed their sympathy for the loss of the team. Their tone seemed genuine. I would suggest to you that this was a sacred act of compassionate presence.   How did these two friends know to do this lovely thing? I think they are living a Matthew 22 kind of life. What makes their acts of kindness - which I suspect both think was no big deal - so amazing?  Because so few of us have what it takes to show up with compassionate presence. I’d further suggest that it is not rocket science, this act of showing up, so I wonder, why is it so difficult?

 

More on loving well and our struggles to do so tomorrow.