Sunday, February 27, 2022

One gentle breeze at a time

Today is the first day that has felt like spring -- at least the afternoon has. I spotted a cat and a lizard sunning themselves ... while I was out sunning myself and catching a few deep breaths of air that didn't smell indoor-stale from a long winter. 

I cleaned out some unwanted plants, planted some seeds, and generally enjoyed the hope for new beginnings that comes with spring. 

I think there are more layers than I have appreciated when Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a seed that is planted, and compares faith to a mustard seed. Every year there is another chance. Every year there is more growth. Every year the harvest continues. "A harvest of righteousness," and first-fruits measured in terms of people. 

In the upcoming weeks I plan to post a Lenten series, as I do in many years. But for today, before the penitential season of Lent, my spiritual "Mardi Gras" is to love the milder world of spring, one gentle breeze at a time.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Is self-hatred a sin?

If you are one of those fortunate people who has never struggled with self-hatred, you may find this topic outside of your experience and might consider skipping it. But if you know the struggle, maybe take a walk with me through some thoughts on the topic. 

I think "Is it a sin?" can be the wrong question. First, if "too much self-condemnation" is the problem, then "even more self-condemnation" cannot be the answer. The question is more about how to exit the turmoil inside when thoughts of self-hatred come along -- and cling like burs in the spring-time. 

Because of the place of love and forgiveness in God's judgment, I see self-hatred as against God's will; and yet not everything that is against God's will falls under the category of "sin." If we look at the world to come as a guide to things that are fully God's will, then the world to come has no death or illness -- but these things are not sinful themselves; it is not a sin to be sick or die. Mourning has no place in the world to come, but for today, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

And there is a kind of intentional self-hatred that I expect is a sin. If I see a train of thought starting and turn my thoughts against myself by design, if I set about self-hatred willingly, I have no doubt this is wrong, and in a way for which I'm responsible. 

But self-hatred can also be a form of spiritual malnutrition: if we lack experience of acceptance and love, if we have not seen a mistake met with compassion and understanding, then we may need more spiritual tools and spiritual growth before we have the ability to respond with compassion and understanding. 

Condemnation and accusation are among the tools of evil. One of Satan's titles is "the accuser." So there are times when self-accusation and self-hatred are the front lines of a spiritual battle. (I'm not usually one to talk of "spiritual battles." That phrase has unfortunately picked up common usage in settings where every thought is dramatized in a way that loses my patience. Still, there are certain times where certain things feel like battles, and for me this is one of them.) So it may be more useful to think of self-hatred as something of a spiritual battle, one where nobody has handed me the spiritual tools or training to fend off that attack, and yet it can be done. It can be more helpful to think of arming up with the Lord's tools for the fight: truth, faith, righteousness and the like. 

Coming back to the point about spiritual malnutrition, it can be helpful for the spiritually starving to be guided to faith, hope, and love. These are found in Christ, found in the confidence that we have value in the eyes of God, which brought Christ to fight for us. The Scriptures are full of reminders of our value in the eyes of God, of the shepherd looking for the sheep, of the woman who would not stop looking til she found what she had lost, the father who would not give up hope that one day his lost son would return, ready to welcome and celebrate. 

Those who preach God's love for us, they feed the sheep.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Spiritual Wishlist: A generous and joyful humility

Sometimes I carelessly think of humility as something near to self-hatred, or (more mildly) at least something like self-forgetfulness. I suppose "self-forgetfulness" is closer to the mark, but whenever I define humility in terms of its relation to myself, I am sure that I have missed the point: humility is about a frame of reference that does not define everything by referring back to ourselves. 

Humility affirms our own lovability in the same breath that it affirms others' lovability. Humility makes room for others by a generous spirit:

  • generosity in our thoughts about them, consideration and attention and thoughtfulness
  • generosity in listening to them, rather than biding our time to talk
  • generosity in recognizing their best actions 
  • generosity in recognizing their contributions
  • generosity in focus on others, and including them in my thoughts
  • generosity in making sure they are heard and understood
  • a willingness to delight in someone else's accomplishments

Humility is also lived out in compassion for their failures, as I've had my own too. 

For me, that's often a struggle. It takes deliberate effort: Loving the world, one kind thought at a time. 

Monday, February 07, 2022

"Love the Lord your God" -- making it accessible

When Jesus was asked what was the single greatest commandment, he said it was first to love the Lord our God, and that the second was like it: to love our neighbors as ourselves. And I am grateful that he followed up, because by myself I have no idea how to love God. The idea of loving God is not accessible to me, unless there is some help given. I have never seen God.

Jesus was only asked for one greatest commandment; he responded as though two are inseparable. His disciple John also spoke similarly: "If a man says, 'I love God' and hates his brother, he is a liar. For someone who does not love his brother that he has seen, how can he love God, who is unseen?" (1 John 4:20)

He was asked about commandments: ethics, morality, religion, law. These are things that we tend to imagine in the abstract. In Luke's account of such a conversation, the follow-up question was, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus' answer is what we now call the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus' answer shows that we don't get to evade loving our neighbor based on any of the usual excuses that we want to use to justify our divisions. But it shows it by re-contextualizing the whole conversation. The conversation is not about what looks good in a law book, or sounds good in a sermon or a philosophy text. The conversation is about what happens when we are going about our daily business and see someone in need. That's where we find a meaningful answer to loving our neighbor.

According to John, that's the first step in finding a meaningful answer to loving God, too.