“The Heart of It All” (Kayla McClurg)

The Heart of It All

For Sunday, May 8, 2016 – John 17:20-26

Jesus longs to plant deeply within all who will listen the central truth of his life—that at the heart of it all is love. The love of God  has poured prodigally into Jesus, causing the love of Jesus to pour into his friends so that the love of his friends will pour lavishly into the world, until generations later here we are, learning to receive and give from that same bottomless well of love. God’s glory, Jesus says, has been given to him, and whatever comes to him flows through him, to us. What is this glory river that flows to us and then through us? It is the awareness that we are one—one with God, one with each other—and loved so bountifully that we can do no less than respond to all of God’s creation in love. What a simple way, this way of love!

Except when it is not. The easy flow of receiving and giving love becomes blocked with jealousy, anger, selfish motives. We do not see ourselves as one; we become alienated from each other, lost. Some call this the evidence of our functional atheism. We disconnect our believing from our living. We might say intentionally chosen words, trying to sound pleasing to God and others, but we do not embody these words in an intentional way of life. Jesus challenges our lofty concepts about love, our fantasies about how remarkable our love could be, and sets us on the path of action. What matters is love’s practical implementation day by day.

If we are going to have the full experience of God’s way of love, we will start by being more at ease with being one. We will seek to love others as ourselves, knowing that what happens to one happens to all and to ignore suffering is to ignore our own. When will we wake up to each other and stop excluding whomever we please? Regardless of birth nation, gender identification, political affiliation, degree of education, sexual orientation, being an aggravation, craving adulation, believing, or not believing, in transubstantiation—we are, the whole lot of us, God’s absolute favorites. We are amazingly broken and beloved beings, and like it or not, we are in the little boat of this life together. Whether resting in or resisting this truth, we are right where God intends for us to be—at the heart of it all, where we are one.

By: Kayla McClurg, Church of the Saviour

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Advent Musings on the Incarnation

Originally written and posted December 24, 2014

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”   (The Good News of Luke 1: 67-79)

“God became one of us and…pitched his tent in our midst.” – Clarence Jordan (taken from the Cotton Patch Sermons)

Since Christmas Eve is actually the last day of Advent, I thought I would muse a bit about the spectacular nature of this Sacred Season. So, this morning I received an email and in it this pastor was saying that no words can adequately convey God’s love for human life. I thought to myself that he may be right; no mere words can truly express God’s desire to be so close to us and to love us. My first thought was well the Incarnation is as good as it gets in describing that truth.

Think about it: God wanted to be so close to you and me that God put on flesh and became one of us! Pause for just a moment and really ponder that truth, the truth of what Christmas is ALL about. Ponder and personalize it:

God wanted you to know how much you are loved, wanted to be so near you, so much so that God put on flesh and became just like you.

God spared NO expense to be close to us, to love us, to show that love to us! Now even if you do not believe in the virgin birth or that the Incarnation is real, still ponder the notion that God would do such a thing to prove his love to you and me.

That truth to me makes this a time of true hopefulness – a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos, the Greek word for time, is unlike the human concept of time, chronos, meaning “chronological time.” Kairos has to do with a divine visitation, a rending of the veil of human time when God comes to dwell among his people in an extraordinary way. The Incarnation is a Kairos moment that happened at a specific chronological time…an Infinite Moment held delicately within a finite one. It’s downright scandalous.

The Incarnation is both mind-boggling and paradox. Mind boggling in that almighty God would actually limit Godself by becoming flesh; paradox in that God comes to us through the fragile vulnerability of a helpless, newborn child who is Messiah. And the paradox of the Incarnation continues: God did not choose to come as a powerful military King Messiah ready to liberate the Jewish people with force from the brutal and ongoing occupation of the Roman Empire.

God, it seems, had different plans.

Instead, God chose to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed disenfranchised teenage mother in a land under the oppressive occupation of an Empire. That fact alone defies all logic and reason. Who would be more marginalized and dispossessed than Mary? Who could be farther from the seat of power? But it within this zeitgeist that the Incarnation happens; God did not come as a warrior God with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for control.

No, God came to us, as one of us, choosing to make himself known in fragility and poverty – a far cry from how most people thought Messiah would come.

Every year at Advent we are offered the chance for reflecting on how God came to us then, and how God continues to come to us now: in helplessness; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; in the promise of hope when all seems lost.

And let us remember too that Advent is an opportunity for us to remember during darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become, like Mary, a sacred womb where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.

 

Soulpatch Musings: On Spirit & Fear

Spirit…

The holy Spirit is the wholly Other Spirit – the very Breath of God – that is sent to fill us humans in order to give us Life Abundant and all that Is God.

The holy Spirit is the Totality and Essence of God.

The Hebrew word for Spirit is “ruah,” meaning “Breath” – even saying it sounds like breath and breathing, Rue’ahhhhhhhh is how it is pronounced. So that even when we say the word for Spirit we are in truth breathing Spirit in and out of our bodies.

Breathe.

Life.

God.

God’s breath breathed into us to give us God’s very Being. The holy Spirit, the wholly other Spirit, the Breath that is like no other, is the Divine Breath that contains the whole being of God and all that exists.

So even breathing, being mindful of the Source of our breath, is an act of prayer and surrender. In breathing and being mindful that all my breaths come from God, means that I am thanking God for my life and offering my life back to God, simply by living…as a fully alive human being.

So be mindful that every breath you take is a prayer to God, in thankfulness for Life.

celtic knot divider

Fear…

​Fear speaks to my doubts. God speaks my name.

Fear only exploits my weaknesses. God loves them and uses them to heal and serve.

Fear is a ruinous drug that blurs my mind and chokes my heart, God’s love and presence are a balm that heal my body, mind and spirit.  God’s promise is divine presence.  God’s gift is unlimited and unconditional Love.

God’s faithful presence and crazy Love open up my life and my days to the ever present abundance that Jesus told us He came to give us (John 10:10).

Seize Life…Now

It is no secret that I am a verdant seeker and searcher of all that is mystical and practical, addicted to more of God and all that is Sacred. I am not easily quieted or quenched by safe answers. As a teenager, I would walk around my church youth group with a homemade t-shirt that said, “you know the Answer, but do you even know the Questions?”

As is often the case with me and God – the hand held Mystery, the Unsayable Said – Wisdom comes through fragments of papers, random Google searches, strange emails, etc., questing for deeper and richer experiences of all that is Holy and profane.

And today this Message came to me, from The Message (a modern day translation of the Bible) written by one of my favorite people, Eugene Peterson. This comes from his translation of Ecclesiastes, one of the least appreciated books of the bible precisely because it is not pretty, packaged or pedantic with gentle answers.

So, read it with me with rage, passion, love, pounding fists, and sweating palms. Read it as prayer, as mantra, as fodder for your Greater Life and the larger angels that inhabit your heart!

Green Page Divider

A right time to lament and another to cheer.

A right time to hold and another to part.

A time to search and another to count your losses.

One handful of peaceful repose is better than two fistfuls of worried work-

More spitting into the wind.

It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.

God’s in charge, not you – the less you speak, the better.

Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work.  It’s God’s gift!

God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.

But against all illusion + fantasy + empty talk

Seize life!

God takes pleasure in your pleasure!

Each day is God’s gift… Make the most of each one!  Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!

Be generous! Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns. Don’t hoard your goods; spread them around. Be a blessing to others.

Just as you’ll never understand the mystery of life in a pregnant woman, so you’ll never understand the mystery at work in all that God does.

Life as we know it, precious + beautiful, ends. The body is put back in the same ground it came from. 

The Spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.

It’s all smoke, nothing but smoke.

The words of the wise prod us to live well. They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together. They are given by God, the one Shepherd. But regarding anything beyond this, dear friend, go easy.

There’s no end to the publishing of books…

The last + final word is this: [Be in awe of] God. Do what He tells you.

Source: The Message (MSG)© Eugene Peterson

Musings on the Incarnation

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

(The Good News of Luke 1: 67-79)

“God became one of us and…pitched his tent in our midst.”

Clarence Jordan (Cotton Patch Sermons)

Since Christmas Eve is actually the last day of Advent, I thought I would muse a bit about the spectacular nature of this Sacred Season. So, this morning I received an email and in it this pastor was saying that no words can adequately convey God’s love for human life. I thought to myself that he may be right; no mere words can truly express God’s desire to be so close to us and to love us. My first thought was well the Incarnation is as good as it gets in describing that truth.

Think about it: God wanted to be so close to you and me that God put on flesh and became one of us! Pause for just a moment and really ponder that truth, the truth of what Christmas is ALL about. Ponder and personalize it:

God wanted you to know how much you are loved, wanted to be so near you, that God put on flesh and became just like you.

God spared NO expense to be close to us, to love us, to show that love to us! Now even if you do not believe in the virgin birth or that the Incarnation is real, still ponder the notion that God would do such a thing to prove his love to you and me.

That truth to me makes this a time of true hopefulness – a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos, the Greek word for time, is unlike the human concept of time, chronos, meaning “chronological time.” Kairos has to do with a divine visitation, a rending of the veil of human time when God comes to dwell among his people in an extraordinary way. The Incarnation is a Kairos moment that happened at a specific chronological time…an Infinite Moment held delicately within a finite one. It’s downright scandalous.

The Incarnation is both mind-boggling and paradox. Mind boggling in that almighty God would actually limit Godself by becoming flesh; paradox in that God comes to us through the fragile vulnerability of a helpless, newborn child who is Messiah. And the paradox of the Incarnation continues: God did not choose to come as a powerful military King Messiah ready to liberate the Jewish people with force from the brutal and ongoing occupation of the Roman Empire.

It seems God had different plans.

Instead, God chose to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed teenage mother in a land under the oppressive occupation of an Empire. That fact alone defies all logic and reason. Who would be more marginalized and dispossessed than Mary? Who could be farther from the seat of power? But it within this zeitgeist that the Incarnation happens; God did not come as a warrior God with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for control.  No, God came to us, as one of us, choosing to make himself known in fragility and poverty – a far cry from how most people thought Messiah would come.

Every year at Advent we are offered the chance for reflecting that God comes to us as he did 2,000 years ago: in helplessness; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; in the promise of hope when all seems lost.

And let us remember too that Advent is not only a coming, it is also an opportunity for us to remember during darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become, like Mary, a sacred womb where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.

Blessed are the Fearless…

Blessed are the fearless, for they shall know God. 

I cannot remember where I first heard this said or got an inkling of it (I won’t take credit for it since ALL Wisdom is plagiarism, only Stupid is original). But I’ve been ‘stuck’ on this fearless thing precisely because fear has been gripping my life, poisoning my faith and eating away at the foundation of my friendship with God these last few weeks.  Let’s face it: fear sucks. Fear is a drug, literally, that alters brain chemistry and much like anger makes humans dumber, fear makes me weaker, blinder, and less likely to trust a God Who is absolutely trustworthy. Plain and simple, fear kills my faith.

As I have learned from A.A., I cannot think my way into a new way of living, but rather I must live my way into a new way of thinking, so I am writing my way to fearlessness (because I pine to know God as deeply as possible).  I am going to be fearless in my hunger and pursuit of God since God is the Hound of Heaven pursuing us as dogs pursues the fox at a hunt.

I am compelled to remember that God is Love and perfectly so; and Perfect Love cast out all fear. No shame or judgment here, for when I slide into fear, I ‘should’ all over myself – I should be doing this, I should think like this, etc. So I remind myself that in my journey with God, all ground is sacred ground when pursuing God and the good.

So be fearless and reckless in pursuing God.  Bang on the door.  Ask the questions.  Seek the Face that is so lovely.  For Jesus said “ask…seek…knock” and I say do it recklessly, fearlessly, no matter what, no matter how, never stop, never be satisfied for God is greater than even our desires. And don’t let anyone tell you that you are outside of God’s love, grace or mercy.

In our fearless pursuit, remember the Four R’s that God is all about: resurrection; redemption; renewal; and restoration. And because these four things are in operation, God’s love is messy and lavish and, most important of all, always available to all who seek.

So, let’s be fearless, for we shall know God.

Broken Things Made Beautiful

God makes broken things beautiful; I know this to be true. And God does so with love, grace and mercy – the trifecta of God’s Being.

God is the God of Chances, not just second ones, but (as my life is evidence of) third, fourth and fifth chances. God allows us to start our days, and even our lives, over with a simple prayer because with God every day is a New Day. There was a song I used to sing in youth group back in the 1980s, and to this day I still hum and sing it when I am alone in the car or alone with God and Juno in the mountains:

The steadfast Love of the Lord never ceases. Your mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning, great is Your faithful love, O Lord, great is Your faithful Love.

If there is one thing I would want all of us to learn, know and experience this day, it would be the Truth of that hymn. God’s love never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end. Every morning, every moment we need it, God’s faithful and unconditional love is there, ready and waiting to fill us.

God makes broken things beautiful with love, grace and mercy.

As a person in recovery, I am well acquainted with having to ‘start my day/life over’ at a moment’s notice. I am told in the Rooms that I have the power to start my day over as soon as I say “I am starting over.”  I believe we say that because we alcoholics and addicts learn in sobriety that God’s love is a flowing river and all we need to do is wade in – the shallow parts for some, and the deeper parts for others. It all depends on how broken and wounded I am feeling as to what part of the River of Love I wade into.

So this day, I am reminded of how grateful I am because of God’s unconditional love, a Love not mitigated by church, media, emotions, sins or addictions. This love is unrelenting, pursuing us (the object of God’s affections) at all cost and at all times.

So, if you need it today, just repeat this mantra out loud: “God makes broken things beautiful…like YOU!”

Summed Up

…and all the other commandments are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)

It’s all summed up in one word: love.  Paul even clarifies it, in an emphatic way, as if to say no matter what else is out there, no matter what laws are written and spoken, they are ALL summed up in the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  And if we recall, Jesus also unequivocally spoke to exactly who are ‘neighbors’ are: anyone we see or know of in need, whether those who are like us or those who are not.  Remember, in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25), Jesus said the only difference between the sheep and the goats was what they did and did not do (in love) to the poor.

You could call love the Executive Summary to the Thesis on what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

The word “sum/summed” comes from the feminine Latin word meaning “highest.”  That is poignant, the sum of the Christian life is not reductionism, or love reduced to the lowest common denominator; it is the Highest.  Love is the calling and to become the Beloveds is the answer – to be so full of the love of Jesus that we start to become love itself.

God is love and to love in God’s name is to imitate God.

Love sums it up.

Love is the highest summation of how God responds to us, and how we are to respond to God, and subsequently how we are to respond to each other – in love, with love, and by love.

And make no mistake about it, love is an action verb, much like God (yes, God is a Verb as well as a Noun).  This relentlessly loving God is a God Who proactively sought us out, and continues to seek us.  God as Creator, created this world out of love, one that is dynamic not static.  And our relationship to this God is meant to be the same – dynamic love rather than static rote.

Far too often, if I am honest, my relationship with Jesus is sometimes more of an historical fact than a dynamic, loving relationship.  And so it goes for my loving my neighbor…I often point to what I have done, or how I used to live, rather than what I am today, or how I am living today. Love is a baptism, one of fire and water that washes away the brokenness, the sin, the resentments, the little angers and self-righteousness I clutch and cling to, in the quiet places in my heart, refusing to let God’s love tenderize or pulverize them into pure, divine love.

I am learning, albeit slower than I’d prefer, that if the love of God abides is abiding in my heart, then love is indeed the answer.  Love becomes the All.  Love becomes the question. Love becomes the reason.

Turn everything over to the love of God. When we are in doubt, turn it over to God’s love; when in anger, turn it over to love; when in fear, turn it over to love; when in pain, turn it over to divine love; when in darkness or joy, and turn it over to God’s love.

Let Love become the movement and the motion; let God’s love become the very fabric of our being.

So my prayer for all of us is that our lives may be summed up by one word: LOVE.

 

 

Musings on Adjectives…

The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections and God is all eight simultaneously.

Unconditional (adjective): not limited by conditions; absolute; an unconditional promise (dictionary.com).

One of the things I struggle most with is the oxymoronic values most Christians and religious people have: like saying God’s love is unconditional while simultaneously placing conditions upon that divine unconditional love.

Unconditional means without restrictions, limits or any modifications; limited by NO conditions whatsoever.

Can I say that I believe in a God whose Love is like this?

I’d be lying if I said yes, for my life and judgmentalism prove otherwise. I judge people all the time; I take their inventory, supplanting God’s unconditional love with my own conditional love. And if truth be told, one thing I know is humanly impossible is my ability to understand the divine delineation between “loving the sinner and hating the sin.” For me it is almost impossible; I end up throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. I do not see many others who, if they are honest, do a very good job of this either.

I hear evangelicals and conservatives say they love our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters but the barriers to God’s grace and unconditional love are obvious.  I hear liberals and progressives spew hatred towards conservatives.  I hear Christians hating on their enemies (booth real and supposed) even though Jesus said “love your enemies…do good to those that hate you.”

Is it in any wonder that ‘conditional love’ and intolerance are listed as some of the main reasons so many millennials (35 and under) are walking away from the Church and from all religion?  You can read about this survey taken from a recent article that can be found HERE.

Is God’s love really unconditional?

Is God’s love an Adjective?  If you had never heard of Jesus or the two great commandments, and you walked into a church, would you experience such unconditional love? I shudder to think…

What would happen if all God lovers and followers of Jesus simply laid down as the sole and only ‘doctrine’ of Christianity to be that of unconditional love in any and all circumstances, situations and realities? What do YOU think would happen?

Would we once again discover Divine Love as if for the first time and set the world on fire?

What would happen if all I sought was to love God and the divine image of God in all creatures and creation? What would my life look like? Would I become the hunger for which I pine? Would I become the change I so long for (as Gandhi once said)?

Am I so afraid of unconditional love that I can neither accept it nor give it? I have more questions than answers…hence the musings. But if I – if we – are all honest, we are scared to death of unconditional love and what it means. We are scared to love the other, the different, the unknown and the mystery. I need neat, little categories and compartments to classify and codify all of life and all the people in it. If I am white and you are black, if you are Muslim and I am a follower of Jesus, if you are an evangelical and I am radical Catholic, then in that naming process, I can distinguish myself from you. And in distinguishing myself from you, I can identify out – or more simply put, I can make it easier for me to separate myself from you and set limits on God’s love and grace. I therefore become the arbiter of God’s so-called unconditional love and grace. And in that process, I become an idol, a veritable stumbling block to God’s limitless and truly unconditional love.

When I do this I tame God and his relentlessly Wild Love.  I make God safe for me and dangerous for you, when God’s love should be paradoxically safe and ‘dangerous’ for ALL of us.

If God is love and God is in control, then what harm is there if I, if we, err on the side of ‘loving too much? Of giving God’s love to all and save the judgment for God (whose mercies never come to an end)?

If, in the end, I unleash myself in total abandonment and surrender to God’s love and to becoming an agent of his unconditional love, what might happen?

What might really happen to me, or you or our world?

 

Through the Cracks (repost/revised)

Blessed are the cracked and broken, for it is we who let in the grace of God.

If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is that everyone is wounded in some way, shape or form.  There simply are no people in the world walking around scar-less.  .  In fact, I’ve learned those who project a greater sense of accomplishment, or an “I’ve already arrived” mentality, are in fact the ones who are the farthest away from the very perfection of which they speak – and unfortunately this seems even truer among people of faith.

But who wants to be “perfect” anyway?  I don’t. And as a person of deep faith, someone who loves God deeply, I am reminded by the comforting truth that Jesus did not come for the ‘perfect’ rather he came for the sick, the cracked, the poor and the screwed up.

God loves our cracks and wounds.

Our scars are reminders that God has come to us and shown us sacred love and brought us some level of healing.

And the truth of it all is that it is only through the cracks and woundedness of our lives that the profound mystery of God’s love and grace can enter into our hearts and lives, bringing tender mercies.  In our myth of perfection and achievements, we lose the truth of the cracked by believing that we are already perfect and whole.  In that ‘lie’ we become “sealed shut” and the elements of God’s abundant Grace have no opening with which to enter our hearts.

Grace enters our hearts by way of a wound.

We are a broken and imperfect people.  And praise God for that!  Yes, Jesus did say, “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.”  But the word perfect there does not mean without flaw, error or blemish.  In its original meaning, “perfect” means to be “mature, complete, and healthy.”  And with this definition in mind, I truly hunger to be ‘perfect’ in God: growing in maturity; complete in God; and striving to health and wholeness through the Spirit.

So we, who are broken, are called to a God Who enters us through the very brokenness we often run from and deny.  It is the lovely mystery of God: that the Holy One enters that which is not so holy.

God loves the broken and cracked among us!

And when I speak of the wounded and broken, I am speaking of all of us, but especially those who are wounded and vulnerable on the outside.  I have said it before and will say it again; God does indeed have a preferential option for the poor, the broken and the oppressed, not because they are better or more loved, but precisely because they are more vulnerable.  Truly, God loves all equally and perfectly.  But those that are the most broken, those who cry out in their brokenness, are the ones who are the most open to God’s messy grace.

We who are broken know that we need Grace.  Those who find themselves to be whole have no need of grace or forgiveness or healing…or even God for that matter.

In truth, without God’s grace and love, I am just an alcoholic hungry for another drink, chasing an illusion.  But with the love of the Messiah poured out into my heart and soul, I am whole.  And it is this truth – living between the Already and the Not Yet of wholeness – which I must embrace.

So my friends, rejoice!  For we are the blessed.  And Blessed are the cracked and broken, for it is we who let in the grace of God.