Tag Archives: love

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

Christmas PictureThere is much on my mind this Christmas Day, including the great joy to have my little family together and the deep sorrow for friends experiencing great loss, and my best response is to share three short poems from Howard Thurman’s “The Mood of Christmas” — a unity in trinity:

Christmas Is Yesterday:
The memories of childhood,
The miracle of Santa Claus,
The singing of carols —
The glow of being remembered.

Christmas Is Today:
The presence of absent ones,
The reminder of the generous act,
The need to love —
The need to be loved.

Christmas Is Tomorrow:
The miracle of faith,
The fulfillment of ancient hopes,
The reign of God —
The dying of Death in the land.

Christmas is yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Advertisements

Homecoming

map_of_paragould_ar

“You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.”   – Maya Angelou

At week’s end I intend to be two thousand miles away from home to attend the homecoming basketball game of my high school alma mater. Pretty weird, huh, to leave home to come home? My life has turned out like that.

I am at home in California, and I have a driver’s license and mailing address and license plates to prove it. California is where everything I own in this world is located. It is where I live and work and go to sleep at night. California is filled with relationships and experiences and places that I treasure. I know it like the back of my hand and love it here. Home is where you hang your hat, and my hat hangs in California.

But Arkansas has always been my home. It is the land of my birth. Born, and raised. Arkansas is where I fell in love and became both a husband and a father, and it is where both of my sweet parents were laid to rest. Arkansas is filled with relationships and experiences and places that I treasure. I know it like the back of my other hand, and I love it there. You can never really leave home, so I never really left Arkansas.

Arkansas and California could not be more different if they tried. And I’m pretty sure that they do. But they are both dear to me.

It promises to be a strange week. I haven’t lived in Arkansas in twenty years and only visit on rare occasions, and I could not tell you the last time I watched the Falcons play a homecoming basketball game despite having participated in so many of them in years that are now long gone. But I will feel at home there, because that is where I will be. Home.

Pliny the Elder famously said that home is where the heart is. Well, my heart has two homes.

I will leave my love for Mississippi for another day.

Freedom is a Road to Love

21689042_1460902524017721_1722276701670473728_n(1)

“[T]he ultimate goal of human beings is not the ‘kingdom of freedom.’ Rather, the kingdom of freedom is a process toward the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of love.” – Miroslav Volf (explaining Jurgen Moltmann), Exclusion & Embrace, 105

I chose “Freedom Road: The Exodus Story” as our church’s fall semester sermon series and brought it to a close yesterday morning. We will now turn our attention to the birth of Jesus and a brand new year and a consideration of how to live once liberated from oppression.

I have enjoyed the freedom road journey despite having to listen to myself speak along the way. It is a spectacular story. We started with the birth of Moses in Egyptian slavery and followed the stunning liberation narrative until Joshua stood in a land of promise and called the Israelites to fully commit to God.

It has been particularly interesting to consider freedom in a land that loves the idea so much because the American preoccupation with independence is at odds with my particular faith. Freedom is a good word, of course, if for no other reason than because oppression is a bad word, but there is danger in making freedom the ultimate goal—and our unfortunate tendency is to value our independence above all things. I agree with Volf/Moltmann in recognizing freedom instead as a pathway to a beautiful land where love rules.

But I still don’t trust myself. While drawn through compelling hints toward the land where love rules, I have been conditioned to be in control and to avoid answering to anyone other than Me. The cultural indoctrination runs deep.

So I find myself still on Freedom Road, ironically in the process of being set free from the oppression of Freedom. But my journey is filled with hope and faith in a beautiful future that to date remains unseen.

 

Works of Art

23333990_10154824095986784_819298701828859346_oOf all the things I have been called in life, art aficionado is nowhere on the list. Now if art is defined broadly to include beautiful things like a perfectly executed squeeze play, well that’s a different story, but the traditional definitions leave me out in the artless cold. I am not a hater. I am simply an art doofus.

Our recent two-week vacation in Madrid that included a weekend jaunt to Paris provided more opportunities for art appreciation than in the combined 47+ years of my life that preceded the trip. We visited the colossal Louvre as well as the Orsay in Paris. We toured three amazing art museums in Madrid, including the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen. We witnessed the jaw-dropping art and architecture involved in the cavernous 2800-rooms of the Royal Palace in the Spanish capital city and multiple cathedrals in Toledo, Madrid, and Paris. We marveled at wonders such as Plaza Mayor and the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe and Sainte-Chapelle.

I am so full of artistic appreciation right now that I should not operate heavy machinery. But of all the things I witnessed during this unforgettable vacation, there is one moment that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

We were somewhere in the Louvre. Who knows where we were really—without the art involved in creating the exit signage I might still be wandering lost in the Louvre. But we were somewhere in the Louvre when I noticed that we were in a room with a gentleman and his daughter with Down’s Syndrome. They were wandering at about our pace through the maze of paintings.

I am so thankful that I happened to look back as I exited one room for another and noticed that the father was down on one knee to take a picture of his daughter in front of a massive and colorful painting created by someone whose name I am sure that I cannot pronounce. I did not know then nor do I now which uber-expensive painting the man’s daughter was standing in front of, but for the rest of my days I will remember precisely my view of the massive posed smile the daughter had on her face but more importantly the exuberant joy on the father’s face as he saw his beautiful girl through the camera lens in all of her glory. It was obvious that in that camera lens was the most enchanting and priceless picture that he had ever seen.

And that, my friends, was the most beautiful thing I witnessed in all of Europe.

As the father of two amazing daughters of my own, I have long appreciated that kind of art.

The Life of Pie

Pie Festival PicI like pie.  I like pie a lot.  So there is very little arm-twisting involved when the opportunity to judge the Malibu Pie Festival heads my direction.

Several years ago in my first pie-judging experience I met Linda Hamilton of The Terminator fame who served as a fellow judge.  I had chosen the “fruit” category, but she mentioned that she had decided to take one for the team and judge the pies submitted by children.  This led to an ongoing moral dilemma in my life.  Do I judge wonderful strawberry, peach, and blueberry pies?  Or, do I judge pies adorned with gummi worms and breakfast cereals?

I have gone back and forth over the years based on my current walk with Jesus.

This year, I may have found a happy compromise by judging the pies submitted by older teens.  There were three lovely pies to judge, including a cannoli pie, a pina colada pie, and a strawberry pie.  All of them were terrific, and I left with very little guilt.  Win-win, as they say.

My friends at the Malibu United Methodist Church have put on the annual Malibu Pie Festival for twenty-eight years now as a fundraising effort for the many good works they perform and support in the Malibu community, including a weekly community dinner for our homeless friends.  I preached at MUMC one Sunday morning several years ago and was shocked to learn that it is a small church in terms of numbers.  Malibu really is a small town.  But MUMC is a huge church in its heart.

So sure, it is quite a privilege to judge pies at the Malibu Pie Festival, and sure, it is wonderful to see friends from the community out for the fun alongside celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Kelly Osbourne.  More importantly, it is inspiring to know that good hearts seeking to serve the underserved make it happen.

Trash to Treasure

22344381_224265931440152_753211283737673728_n(1)My friend, Danny, unexpectedly brought Sister Rosemary by my office last week during her visit to Pepperdine.  What a gift!  I have seen a handful of people who made TIME magazine’s 2014 list of the 100 most influential people in the world in person, but it was most definitely the first time one dropped by my office to say hello.  I have my fingers crossed that either Beyoncé or Pope Francis will follow Sister Rosemary’s lead soon.

[Click HERE to read what Academy Award-winning actor, Forrest Whitaker, wrote about Sister Rosemary for TIME in 2014.]

At her evening conversation event last week Sister Rosemary featured stylish purses created at her Tailoring Center using aluminum can pop-tops. She told the audience that she uses this process to teach the women and girls who have been ravaged by war that throw-away trash can be transformed into treasure.  What a lovely metaphor.

I’m not so sure that I can take trash and turn it into an actual fashion accessory.  But I’m up for changing the way I look at human beings who have been discarded one way or another in this world to see the treasure waiting there in what Mother Teresa once called “distressing disguise.”  Sister Rosemary does this with what Whitaker called contagious energy and boundless love.  And in the copy of her book “Sewing Hope” that she gifted me she wrote that “love is the key.”  

So if it is just as well with you, we might as well get started loving.

Listen & Respond

20170830_harvey

We sang a cute little song in church when I was a child about rains coming down, floods coming up, and houses that went splat. The splat was easily the most fun part of the song, but when I experienced that reality as an adult it was far less entertaining. Victims of Hurricane Harvey are facing that same reality today.

My hurricane experience came at the same time of year as Harvey, and it was Labor Day weekend when the first large group of heroes arrived to give us hope. I suspect that has been the same experience for many in Texas. 

We only had a few negative encounters in the aftermath of the storm. Like a group bringing a personal photographer to document their own kindness. And like another insisting that we needed their massive clothing donation immediately even though we had no homes, much less closets. Oh, and every encounter with every level of government and insurance company was its own disaster.

But the biggest flood of all was the beautiful flood of kindness from individuals and churches from all over the world. It was overwhelming in the very best way, and it was our salvation. 

So I have two pieces of advice to share from personal experience:

First, although “news” is ever-changing by definition, remember that the needs will not go away quickly. Join in for the long haul. I love the first responders so much. And I have a unique respect for those who still came months later.

Second, give freely. Find an organization or individual that you trust, and then trust them. The victims know what they need. Listen first. Respond second. 

Losing everything in a hurricane is in retrospect, but only in retrospect, a strangely wonderful time in the history of our family due to the love that we witnessed and received. I pray that many in Texas will be able to look back with similar fondness someday.

Unarmed Truth & Unconditional Love

94d5a3c3a1397d1a4df25f54640503c2

Ralph Abernathy and Will Campbell grieve the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Lorraine Motel (April 1968)

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was deep in the heart of rural Texas when the chaos in Charlottesville unfolded last weekend and found myself in a conversation with a couple of local police officers about other matters. I mentioned that they should visit us in California sometime and one offered a kind smile and said, “Nah, Californians don’t like Southern Republicans.” We laughed, but there is some measure of truth to his statement. And vice-versa, of course. There is plenty of not liking to go around these days.

I am a Christian, which unfortunately means many things to many people, but for me it means that I must love everyone. No exceptions. So I stand in opposition to hate in any form, which most assuredly includes all versions of white supremacy. And because I must love everyone then I am necessarily opposed to acts of violence. It is a package deal. Violence toward a loved one is unfathomable, so when you choose to love everyone it kind of takes the wind out of Violence’s sails.

“‘Don’t the Bible say we must love everybody?’ / ‘O, the Bible! To be sure, it says a great many such things; but, then, nobody ever thinks of doing them . . .'” – In Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Will D. Campbell is a personal hero of mine who was an important leader in the Civil Rights Movement and a fierce advocate for the victims of deep racism. However, Campbell started to notice that many of his fellow activists used the same dehumanizing language  and tone toward the “segregationists” that segregationists used toward African-Americans. Since Campbell was a Christian, he took a stand against that, too.

“With the same love that is commanded to shower upon the innocent victim of his frustration and hostility, the church must love the racist. Moreover, the church is called to love those who use and exploit both the racists and their victims for personal wealth and political gain. The church must stand in love and judgment upon the victim, the victimized, and those, both black and white, who exploit both, for they are all the children of God.” – Will D. Campbell, in Race and Renewal of the Church (1962)

Some things in this country have improved in the half century since the milestone moments of the Civil Rights Movement while many others have quite obviously not. And the version of Christianity touted by “Brother Will” and Dr. King often appears unopened in the shrink-wrapped box.

But I remain hopeful. For I, too, believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will someday have the final word.

Warm (-ing up to) Embrace

9486

“Loving your enemies . . . Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this demand is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes it is love that will save our world and civilization; love even for our enemies.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I war privileged to hear Yale professor and prominent theologian, Miroslav Volf, speak in March, and although late to the party I just finished his most famous book, Exclusion & Embrace.  It was in a sense required reading since I teach a course in the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law titled, Apology, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation—topics that are at the heart of his book.

Full disclosure: I am not an idiot—unless you are simply comparing me and Mirsolav Volf that is.  I understood a good number of the words he used in the book but most of the time was intellectually flailing and gasping for air.  He is brilliant.  Which is why I was particularly intrigued to read such a brilliant mind analyze the components of a hug.

Exclusion & Embrace addresses our fractured “us vs. them” world where exclusion is coin of the realm and presents the image of embrace as a theological counter—almost literally.  Volf properly discloses that an embrace is too intimate for some cultures and not intimate enough for others but that he is interested in the metaphor more than the actual practice.  And then he breaks a hug down into four distinct parts that led me to imagine a Sesame Street song: First, you open your arms; then, you wait; then, you close your arms; then, you open your arms again.

You may not have analyzed the components of a hug before, but stick with me here…

To open the arms indicates a desire for the other and an invitation to come into personal space that I have created for you.  To wait is an act of vulnerability that refuses the path of force and respects the autonomy of the other.  To close the arms—the actual embrace—is a tender and reciprocal act of shared space.  And to open the arms again is a sign of release and respect that provides both the freedom and independence to leave—and to return again.

Okay, this is great for your spouse or kids or friends.  For them, I’m a hugger.  But what about the people you despise (unfairly assuming that the latter isn’t your spouse or kids or friends)?

To put down the weapon and open-armed invite those you despise into your intimate space is almost unthinkable.

To go one further and silently, vulnerably, allow your enemy the choice to either accept or attack—both choices are hard to stomach.

To then actually and tenderly embrace the despicable is a simply nauseating thought.

And then to release the enemy as friend?

I’m glad that Volf is super smart because he would be up a creek if he needed to raise a following or lead a team or run for office.  Nobody is going to want to do this.  Being right and feeling proud and getting even are going to be way more popular than seeking reconciliation.

But being right and feeling proud and getting even sure produce an enormous supply of ugly.  I, for one, am interested in any alternative that leads to a true and lasting peace—even if it does sound like awfully hard work and more than a little loony tunes.

One Love

Fathers DayMy sweet daughters took me to reggae night at the Hollywood Bowl last weekend for Father’s Day. It was a beautiful evening that featured Ziggy Marley, and it was extra special to hear him perform his father’s classic music on a day that honored dads.  It was also a little, ahem, “foggy” in the Bowl on reggae night, and let’s just say that I was glad it was an open air venue.

You can’t tell from looking at me, but Bob Marley remains one of my favorite artists. My daughters knew this, of course, and it was sweet of them to endure an evening of reggae with old dad even though reggae probably doesn’t crack the top ten on either of their favorite musical genres list. Those two girls are sure at the top of my list of favorites.

I went about this whole dad thing unconventionally. I fell in love with sweet Erica before meeting and marrying her mom and skipped straight to the homework and bicycles stage of Erica’s life. And I was there from the start with sweet Hillary, complete with diaper duty and sleepless nights and everything that followed. They are different people with different talents and different approaches to life, and I have had different experiences with each of them. But they are sisters and daughters together who love each other very much, and I love them both with my whole heart.

It’s a stretch to claim that our unique approach to family formation is an ideal approach, but I have to admit that it has turned out pretty crazy fantastic for me. I have two separate amazing relationships with two separate amazing young women.

But it is one love.  And one heart.

Give thanks and praise to the Lord.  This dad thing has turned out all right.