(Here is the text of Scott’s prepared message from yesterday (June 28). Our Podcast Master is on vacation so we have provided the hard copy on the blog)
Deep River Friends
June 28, 2015
“Imagining A Different World…A World of Love”
We live in a hyper-connected world so it’s hard not to know, to some extent, what has been going on and what is dominating the headlines. In the last two weeks there was a tragic shooting in Charleston, SC….nine people shot while participating in a Bible Study…an ongoing debate about the confederate flag and the power of symbols and landmarks…and a significant Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage…so what do I have to say about all that?
Simply this…love one another.
Now, you might be thinking, “That’s an easy way to dodge the issue…just invite us to love one another.” It’s not as easy as we might think. I’m not talking about the Hallmark kind of love…something sentimental that we might not even read before either signing the card or turning it upside down to check for money. I’m talking about the kind of love that we see showing up in the Gospels and New Testament…the kind of love that calls us to love our enemies…that invites us to be kind and to not brag or be arrogant, irritable, rude, or keep a record of wrongs…the kind of love that can say, “Forgive them for they know now that they do”…the kind of love that removes the fear and hate from our heart…the kind of love that truly marks us as followers of Jesus and his disciples.
f I were to truly seek and practice this kind of love, that’s a whole life’s work…and one I’m sure I’ll still be working on until the day I take in my last breath. To be sure, there are issues that will need to be discerned and discussed. But so often we drift away from love because it’s so easy to define one another by the issues or our positions. The love I’m seeking to practice is a love that loves others because of whose image they are created in and not because of the issues they are invested in. We are much more than our theological and political positions. We are all beloved children of God seeking to find our way in an often confusing and harsh world.
As I said, there are certainly times and places to engage in further conversation and discernment about the issues…but maybe the time is not right now. There’s too much pain…too much hype…too much anxiety and reactionary voices…too much posturing and polarizing.
You may be thinking, “Well…the answer is clear to me!” And that may be the case. But it may not be as clear to someone else…and that may be for a variety of reasons. The Apostle Paul writes that “Love is patient, love is kind…” When love practices patient kindness, we are saying to the other person, “I am not going to force you into a position or an answer just to satisfy my need for certainty or clarity. I love you enough to journey with you through discernment and understanding. I will hold the space for you and we will wrestle with this together.”
Sometimes love has to admit that others are simply not that interested in the issues at this point in their life…it’s not on their radar. They have other things going on in their life that top the priority list. To be honest, some days my priorities have to do with simply talking to my kids on the phone because I miss them and, at that point, that’s all that matters. Other times, my mind and heart are wrapped up in dear friends that are in a deep season of struggle…whether it be emotionally or physically…and all I can think about is them and praying them through to the next day. It’s not that I don’t care about the issues and how you feel about them…it’s just that, in that moment, my heart has a different focus.
So…for the moment…let us focus on how we can love and love well because if we don’t, we may only get to know people based on our assumptions of what they believe and where they stand. And that point, we may not really “know” them, we have just conveniently labeled them and decided what we will and will not love. Let us take in a deep breath and inhale the life-giving presence of God, our Creator…and let us exhale the life-giving presence of love and mercy.
For me, one of the most practical and powerful forms of love in the “every day” is that of empathy…when we practice “empathy” we “feel with” the other person…and seek to understand and validate what they feel. It may not be our world…but it’s their world and they feel it and experience it. To practice love is to seek to understand what they are feeling without casting any judgement. When we empathize, we validate the other person’s experience and are saying, “What you are feeling matters…and it matters to me.”
Why else is this important? This “taking a deep breath” and focusing simply on love at this point? It’s important because it helps to calm our hearts and souls down…as well as our brain…so we can be more creative…more imaginative. Let me explain.
Therapist and Rabbi, Edwin Friedman, writes about a condition called “imaginative gridlock”. “Gridlock” is another term for being “deadlocked” or “stuck”. We often hear it in the context of traffic. When traffic is “gridlocked”, there is a traffic jam affecting a whole network of streets and intersections…and no one is going anywhere.
When there is a heightened sense of anxiety or reactionary behavior (caused by anxiety), the mind and brain often get “gridlocked”…stuck and deadlocked in only one solution or one way…and the ability to create or be imaginative is lessened. When we are in “flight or fight” mode, our ability to be “imaginative” is lessened. When the anxiety level in organizations is high…or it’s in “flight or fight” mode, the ability to be creative and imagine a way forward is lessened. There is “imaginative gridlock”. Often, then, are only options are to keep trying harder to make work what isn’t working or to engage in either/or thinking and label one another.
This is why we need to take a deep breath and breathe in deeply the Spirit of God. It’s interesting, the name “Yahweh” comes from inhaling and exhaling. Since the Hebrew would not allow themselves to utter the name “God”, they came up with “Yahweh”..which sounds like breathing in and breathing out. When you breathe in it sounds like “Yah”…and when you breathe out it sounds like “Weh” (pronounced “Way”) God is the one who gives us breath and life. To breathe in and out is to be mindful of this gift as well as relax in this awareness that God is present and with us.
We need to breathe in deeply the Spirit of God because if the world needs anything at this point, it needs to creative imagination of the people of God. In the Apostle Paul’s words to the Ephesians that we heard this morning, we were reminded that Christ lives in each one of us and that we can find strength inwardly through the presence of the Spirit…His Spirit dwells within us and energizes us and awakens us in order to bring us life. As we awaken and come alive, we realize that we are living in an ocean of God’s love and that God’s love covers our entire existence…and all of creation! This immense love fills us with the fullness of God. Filled with the fullness of God, we are able to see and know God’s good intentions for the world…we are able to imagine “what can be” and able to live creatively, redemptively, and imaginatively. And then, as if adding an exclamation point, Paul adds: “Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us…” Whatever we can imagine, God adds to it…and does even more!
In his book, “Spiritual Defiance”, Pastor and author, Robin Meyer, writes:
“The spiritual life requires a moral imagination, and there is very little left to imagine. The ‘imaging’ is all done for us now in a world saturated with screens large and small. The mind’s eye and it’s partner, the tender heart, are now blurred by neglect. The moral imagination, the most deeply human of all muscles, must work well if we are to love well.”
In one sense, we have abdicated our responsibility to imagine to the “imaging” that is done for us on the screens in our homes. The scripture tells us that that the God who lives within us in all of God’s fullness and power is able to do more than we could ask or imagine…and yet our ability to imagine stops at basically what the network news tells us can and can’t be done.
Friends, our world desperately needs the presence of loving, creative, imaginative followers of Jesus! Our world is caught in “imaginative gridlock” and is stuck in it’s hate, violence, prejudices, and indifference. Our world needs folks just like you who are willing to think differently, dream differently, and imagine a different world than what presently exists. To be sure, not all of it is bad, there is a lot of good. But there is also a lot of the “stuckness” that I just mentioned. The challenge we will face is to not allow ourselves to get caught in the “gridlock” and the “old way of doing things”…but to, instead, imagine a different world…a better world…and world that flourishes and seeks to make real the “shalom” of God…the wholeness and harmony of God.
Again, Robin Meyers writes:
“…the sickness of our time is that the imagination has nothing to do. We are assaulted by what others have produced and want us to buy. We have little time for what we produce out of silence, out of quiet contemplation.”
Maybe the first thing we can do is find a way to quiet all the shrill, loud voices around us (and within us) and find that place of silence and quiet contemplation where we can simply listen to God speak to us in the depths of our heart. In that quiet space, we can begin to allow our souls to imagine and dream…to enter into God’s dream for the world and imagine what that would look like where we live.
When we read the prophets like Isaiah, we get a glimpse of this dream God has for creation. Isaiah 65, for example: “Look! I’m creating a new heaven and a new earth; past events won’t be remembered; they won’t come to mind…No more will babies live only a few days, or the old fail to live out their days…They will build houses and live in them; they will plant their vineyards and eat their fruit…They won’t hurt or destroy at any place on my holy mountain, says the Lord.” The glimpse we get of God’s dream for the world is that of harmony, a people that are flourishing and living in peace. How can imagine ourselves partnering and collaborating with God and what God wants to do in the world?
Let’s ask ourselves these two questions:
- What kind of world can you and I imagine?
- How can you and I be part of making that happen…right where we are?
In closing, I offer these words from the Quaker, Willliam Penn:
“We are to ready to retaliate, rather than forgive, or gain by love and information. And yet we could hurt no one that we believe loves us. Let us then try what love will do…”
Yes…let us then try what love will do. Let’s at least give love a try because our only other alternatives are fear and hate.