When Kindness Isn’t Kind

 

“PRAISE GOD! I’M FREE!” he shouted as he leapt onto the grassy bank from the back seat of my car.

poke kids fighting IMG_0047My grandson threw his arms in the air and did an enthusiastic Pentecostal two-step right there. I laughed, but I understood the feeling.

I took my young grandchildren to the splash park this week. We had a marvelous time and I was impressed with how well the children got along and looked after each other.

Then we drove home.

Securing three car seats in a space usually taken by jackets and stuff that won’t fit in the trunk of my car was a challenge, but we did it. It meant my grandson was squished in the middle seat between his sisters though. Opportunity for boundary violations abounded. All three took advantage of those opportunities.

Finally, after a useless lecture on the dangers of escalating a conflict with over-reaction, I put on my stern voice.

“No! You may not poke each other! If you continue this I am stopping the car right now!”

That was a useless threat thirty years ago and its effectiveness has not improved, but you know, tradition.

Finally I commanded, “I want you to do one kind thing for each other, right now!”

That’s when the kissing started. Big sister planted a sloppy wet one on brother’s shoulder. His eww inspired another then another. He leaned away but that put him in range of little sister who covered him with similar passive aggressive affection. The girls giggled. He protested. Loudly.

Ten blocks to go. Nine… eight…

Later, as I was telling his Dad about my amusement at his son’s actions (the joyful exclamation part, not the misbehaving part – that’s between us) I remembered times when I was equally as happy to be freed from the “kind” ministrations of people with a self-serving agenda. False kindness can be like sending truckloads of used junk to disaster areas that have no place to put it as an excuse to clean closets and feel good about ourselves at the same time. Perhaps well-meaning, but not well thought out.

Boundary violating kisses I have known often started with:
~I’m telling you this in love.. (because even I realize the action is not exactly communicating “love”).
~I have a ministry opportunity for you…
~This worked for me so it will obviously work for you…
~I know you have a weight problem, but I made these cupcakes just for you…
~I read this on paranoid tendencies.com and you need to implement the findings immediately…
~Thus saith the Lord, if you do not heed the advice of this, his servant, it will not go well for you…
~This is what you need to do because, in my opinion, this is how a good Christian dresses, or worships, or prays, or votes, or diets, or donates, or handles Hallowe’en…
~I’m just protecting you. These are the teachers/preachers who disagree with me or give me an icky feeling. Shun them.

One day I finally realized I was free to jump out of the confines of that harassment. “Praise God! I’m free!”

Kisses can be loving and kind. Sometimes these were about good things the speaker learned and wanted to pass on. He or she meant well, but, it was still a bit self-serving. It’s difficult to untangle a desire to help from a desire to be in control. I’ve done it too – and suffered the consequences. When you remove people’s power to self-govern they tend to express exasperation in unexpected ways. We with a yearning to teach also need to learn to share knowledge and still honour people’s ability to think and decide for themselves. One size does not fit all.

I have noticed in the scripture that Jesus responded to individuals differently. He didn’t heal the same way every time. He didn’t use the same tone of voice with everyone. Even now he speaks to his beloved according to their needs and temperament and meets them where they are.

Maybe a brother or sister needs a kiss. Maybe they need to be noticed and a friendly poke or a holy kiss, or a culturally appropriate side hug is the perfect response. But maybe they need respect and space to work it out with the Lord on their own. Maybe they need freedom.

You are perfectly free to ignore this if it doesn’t minister to you. Just sayin’.

The Struggle

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“…you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.”

~Flannery O’Connor

I know the Bible says in 1 John to “Love not the world, neither the things of the world.” I’m not talking about loving or cherishing the things of the world or the approval of others as idols or replacements for having our needs met by God. When I talk about cherishing here I mean extending oneself to care deeply for people who don’t, or can’t, care back. I mean seeing value and the image of God in every person with an opinion, regardless of how irritating they can be at the moment.

Miracles, signs and wonders pale in significance to the wonder of the supernatural ability to love the ones whose threats strike fear or those with followers who seem to oppose everything you think or say or do.

It’s easy to become defensive or to retaliate when you are misunderstood and misrepresented. I don’t want to be identified with “them” – or “them” either. Sometimes I want to hide from conflict and leave a note on the door of my bomb shelter: Call me when you’ve worked it out.

But we don’t have that option. Love compels us to walk into the middle of the struggle, armed only with the grace we ourselves have received and the humble authority it produces.

Thank God, his grace is more than enough. It’s abundant. It’s powerful.

Breadth, Length, Height and Depth Perception

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“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”

~ C.S. Lewis

I’ve been trying to capture the sun. It’s not easy.

Smoky haze filled the valley this week. A forest fire about 45 minutes drive away closed a major highway. Massive fires that have emptied towns in the central interior of British Columbia are hundreds of kilometers away, but winds carry the smoke here. Even people in the US Pacific Northwest are complaining about air quality because of the fires.

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Forest fires are a seasonal hazard in this part of the world and, I suppose, like people who live in areas prone to hurricane, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, and earthquakes, we have learned to keep an eye on the situation and, for the most part, get on with life.

 

From our vantage point we see the sun turn an amazing neon orange red colour as it lowers in the evenings. I tried to capture it with the cameras I had available (a cell phone and my trusty Canon point and shoot) but neither could reproduce what I saw. I even tried shooting through sunglasses lens. No luck. Neither had the capacity to handle the wide contrast.

Amazingly, the image my camera registered was the opposite of what I saw. I saw a glowing orange/red ball against a pale grey/blue sky. It saw a white sun against a glowing orange/red sky. I could not see what either the phone and camera saw, nor could the man-made devices record what I saw.

 

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Other people in the valley talked about how remarkable it was. Many posted photos on Facebook, taken from their locations between the Idaho border up to Radium Hot Springs. The pictures looked dramatic and lovely but none of them looked like what I saw.

I began to think about perspective and perception. To those in airplanes flying high above the smoke the sun appears to be the same as always. Down here in the forest by our home, it shone with a strange warm diffused glow even at midday.

smokey forest ch rs IMG_9003I tried putting a sunglasses lens in front of my camera lens to see if it would change the way the camera saw the neon colours of the sun. It did, but not the way I hoped. Now the sky took on a muddy dark colour and the sun was still blown out white.sun dull sky IMG_8936Where we are positioned in time and space affects how much we see. This is perspective. How we interpret and remember what we see is perception. The lens of experience will alter one’s perception. My little camera did not perceive what my eyes perceived. It did not have the capacity.

I remember a time when experience handed me a dark lens. A group of musicians invited me to participate in informal monthly concerts. Some of these people were professionals working on new pieces they wanted to try on small audiences before they hit the road. Others were music teachers who needed motivation to hone their skills.

I had dropped out of the classical music scene about five years earlier. My babies slept poorly and I couldn’t find time or a place to practice that wouldn’t have the neighbours banging the walls.

Okay, the real truth is, I quit because I was discouraged. It wasn’t fun anymore.

Singers will tell you that three weeks without practice makes you feel like you have to start training all over again. Getting back up on a stage after a long absence felt like a daunting challenge. I was nervous.

I sang my first set of songs, nothing difficult, three simple Schubert lieder. Before I finished the last song, a man in the audience I recognized as the concert master of the city orchestra got up and walked out.

My heart sank. I knew I wasn’t good enough to be there.

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I had another longer aria to sing later in the program. It was all I could do to force myself to go through with it, but I did, putting on a good theatrical face. I assumed the applause was because people were being politely generous. I took a bow, but all I wanted was to dash out the door for home and go throw myself on the bed for a good cry. On the way out the concert master blocked my way.

“There you are!” he said. “Listen, I was so excited when I heard you in the first half I couldn’t wait for intermission. I rushed out and called some friends and told them to get down here. I’ve got some people I want you to meet…”

I was shocked.

Later I realized that my experience up until that point had mostly been singing for teachers, examiners, critics, and judges, in tests, auditions or contest situations. As a matter of fact, my performance had once been torn to shreds before an audience by an adjudicator in a music festival (more aptly called “music court”) on that very same stage. I won the competition, but the trophy didn’t make up for a sense of humiliation that poured liked a sweaty flush of embarrassment over my head. Up until the concert that evening, I had rarely sung for an audience who were there simply to enjoy themselves at the end of the work week. My years of experience in competitive environments formed a lens of expectation of criticism.

neon sun IMG_9056The lens was like the sunglasses lens in front of my camera. It cast the shadow of darkness that felt like rejection across my perception. What I saw when the concert master walked out was a negative reaction that pointed to to my failure. I was unable to imagine that his action was actually a sign of approval.

Music is not the only area affected by negative expectations. Past experiences of feeling condemned and unable to measure up to religious standards caused me to see through a lens that didn’t provide a capacity to imagine God could possibly approve of me. It took a long time to change that lens. I know I’m not the only one. It’s a story I hear frequently.

The idea that God considers a close relationship with us to be the reward that Christ earned is one that doesn’t register for a lot of people. We all have different ideas about the nature of God depending on our perspective from whatever point in time and space we occupy on this road. That changes as new positions add new understanding. But when our ability to perceive has been darkened, it needs healing. It needs a new lens. We need increased capacity to handle the light God wants to pour into our hearts.

Analogies break down at some point and my singing performance story runs aground here. This is not about performance. This is about seeing ourselves as God sees us and seeing who he really is and how he feels toward us without negative expectations. He loves us because he loves us and there is nothing we can do that can change that fact.

Part of Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesians was that they would be strengthened to have an enlarged capacity to comprehend this brilliant love, to see it as it truly is – glorious.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-17 NASB)

Last night the sun peeked under a cloud on the horizon before it set and I snapped one last photo. The colour of the sun I saw was reflected on the deck railing.  Around 11 p.m. we stepped outside to say goodbye to our guests. In spite of a forecast that said there was a 0% chance, it was raining. Showers of blessing in fire season. Thank you, Lord!

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Save

Seeds of Light

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When the preacher said,“You may kiss the bride,” the man I was marrying took advantage of that permission as if he had been waiting his whole life for this moment. He went for an enthusiastic, but unrehearsed kiss – at least unrehearsed as a staged event for the benefit of the public. We hadn’t worked out which way our heads were supposed to tilt and our glasses clashed together and sort of tangled. When all was said and done we both had a wonky view with spectacles askew.

“Amateurs,” professionals in the audience twittered.

That we were. What did we know about love or commitment or anything, really? Vows are always a gamble when you have no idea what you’re getting into. But that’s the point, I suppose. Vows are about faith and a promise to try to stay in the process as the story plays out.

At another wedding, when the groom kissed his bride, a curious new nephew seated among the host of dearly beloved in the pews popped up with a question obviously weighing on his innocent mind, “Is he planting the seed now, Mommy?”

The rest of the witnesses twittered over that precious moment too.

I’m not sure what Mommy told him. No, not now, but then again, something important was being planted at that moment. A little bit of true love in the form of a promise that could either take root and grow beyond any definition of love that seemed grand enough at the altar or could shoot up quickly only to wither in hearts that proved too hard after trampling or too distracted by competition to water and nurture its growth.

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This morning I read about God sowing seeds of light.

Listen you lovers of God, hate evil;
For God can keep you from wrong
And protect you from the power of wickedness.
For he sows seeds of light within his lovers
And seeds of joy burst forth for the lovers of God!
So be glad, and continue to give thanks,
For God’s holiness is seen in everything he does.
(Psalm 97:10-12 The Passion Translation)

I was wondering what seeds of light and seeds of joy looked like in real life when a friend phoned. She’s a novelist of a different philosophical/religious persuasion than I am, but we learn from each other. Her character (and she is the master of creating fascinating characters) had taken the story in an unanticipated direction. (Writers will understand the demands of characters who, it seems, have developed an independent will.) Without giving too much away, he was faced with a dilemma over whether or not he (having done some very bad things) should accept a bargain of severe torment in the next life in exchange for the ability to relive one perfectly beautiful moment in this life. She wanted to know if that was consistent with Christian thought.

I explained that the picture she had of eternal punishment was the whole reason why Jesus came. He came to demonstrate his Father’s true nature in demonstrations of love and mercy and especially grace. He came to save us, not to condemn us. He didn’t come to bring judgment that requires us to pay for our sins (because who can possibly do that once the final tally of eternal repercussions has been made?) He came instead with a gift of grace that empowers us to become who we were meant to be before we comforted ourselves with the lies of the devil. He came to change the path we were on by changing our hearts to line up with his love for us and for others.

You’ll have to wait until the book is published to see where the character decides to take the story after our discussion, but she made me think (as she often does). What was this one perfect experience he had? (No, of course she didn’t tell me. I need to wait for the book too.)

Many people whose lives have been a collection of traumatic disappointments can still hold memories of perfect moments they knew illustrated the way things are supposed to be. I wonder if those moments, are the seeds of light.

Whether we experience them in nature, or relationships, or art, or music, or a perfect hand in poker, they are moments when Jesus plants a bit of himself in our hearts in the form of joy, or hope, or peace, or a sense of it’s-gonna-be-okay promises. The world can try to stomp out those tiny seeds of light, but somehow, hidden in the darkness they continue to glow. If they didn’t, we would not wish that things could be better, for we would have no concept of better.

A kind person shows us what kindness is and that kindness exists. Once we know that there is such a thing as love, the loss of it seems unbearable. Seeds of light, in the process of growing, irritate the heck out of it-is-what-is complacency, because they give us glimpses of something more. Before they pop through the soil in a dazzling display of pink blossoms (or green beans, depending on your preference) their powerful little earth-moving tendrils rearrange our foundations in a way that takes studied effort to ignore sometimes. They provoke a holy discontent. What if those seeds are watered and nurtured instead?

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When John, Jesus’ beloved friend, told the story of life on the road with the lover of his soul and the other disciples, the Holy Spirit inspired him to include this observation:

Life came into being because of him [Jesus] for his life is light for all humanity. And this living expression is the light that bursts through gloom the light that darkness could not diminish. for his life is light for all humanity. And this living expression is the light that bursts through gloom the light that darkness could not diminish. (John 1:4,5)

All life begins with a seed, a hope, a promise, an idea, an implanted word from the Living Expression that existed before time.

The Father is preparing a perfect bride for his son. Christ’s reward is the bride – the ones he came to save. In other words, you. And because of his promise, like a kiss on the day we choose to trust him, joy, inexpressible and full of glory, bursts forth in the lovers of God.

I will never leave you or forsake you.” – Jesus

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Love Never Gives Up

passion translation love is large

In the middle of the first letter sent to the new believers in Corinthians (with instructions on how to use the gifts or tools the Holy Spirit gives) Paul gives is this warning:

Without love, it’s all a gong show (my loose translation).

As Christians we talk about love. We urge people to take the job of showing love seriously. We quote the verse about turning the other cheek. But who knew the charge to love our neighbours as ourselves could turn into a burden that keeps people weighted down with disappointment in themselves and in other less-than-considerate members of the church that is supposed to lead in this area? Who knew the instruction to love could make us feel less loveable?

I used to think that love meant I should be able to conjure up feelings of affection on demand. I thought if I tried hard I could. I learned I can’t. I know I’m not the only one. With very little effort I can give you hundreds of examples of my failure to love in spite of my best efforts.

 

I even fail to love people who, like me, mean well, but leave a mess to clean up in their short-sighted efforts to demonstrate it.

I can’t even imagine what it is like for the victims of extreme persecution to hear sermons about extending love to those who hate them.

Love is all very good in theory, but, as is evident in nasty posts on various media  platforms, people who differ on political ideas, or even styles of music and fashion have a hard time showing it. Love, real love and not merely feel-good self-serving or erotic love is hard to come by. There are some days when I wonder if it is even possible.

And yet Jesus is clear about the command to love.

“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22: 37-40)

The identifying mark of the early church was expressed this way, “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples – that you have love for one another.”

Recently I hear another full-voiced charge from a pulpit that we should love like Jesus. I wanted to stand up and yell back, “Don’t keep telling us we should love without telling us how!”

People know the difference between genuine caring and marketing. They have a word for it. Hypocrisy.

Then the Lord reminded me he is not dependent on my efforts to do this without him. It’s about His love, not mine. He loved us first. I respond with that little bit that I can grasp before it falls through the holes in my heart and give it back to him. Then he pours out more love.

Paul described this kind of love – agape love, unselfish love from a perfect Father, in the passage in 1 Corinthians 13. I like to read it in different translations. The Passion Translation, which seeks to include emotional communication, calls this kind of love “large.” This is what Jesus came to show us. This is what Christ in us, the hope of glory, looks like and feels like. Large.

I need to soak in it. As I write this I am soaking my foot in a sterilized water and salt solution as part of the healing plan after minor surgery. In the same way, metaphorically speaking, I need to soak in God’s love for continuous healing of soul wounds. Abiding in his company purifies and removes distractions so I can know that I am the object of this love and that the Creator of the universe values me enough to never quit loving me. Only then can I give love the love I have received without risking burn-out or spiritual bankruptcy.

Developing a relationship with God and learning to abide, rest, dwell, and take up residency in the place of intimacy where we learn to accept a love we can’t earn is not for mystics who are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. It is the essential source for anyone who prays, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God never takes failure as defeat, for he never gives up.