Sunday, September 2, 2007

Uncommon love 2.

Hello, Portland!

Love. Love as I lay there on the cot bleeding. I bled a whole pint before we stopped it. It was intentional and done at the Red Cross Donor Center in N. Portland. Kinda like God's uncommon love, but we'll get back to that.

A few years ago Andy Rooney was a hot item on CBS' "60 Minutes". His weekly sarcastic commentary was sometimes ironic, sometimes humorous. Often it was caustic and designed to provoke a reaction something like, "It's their fault. I knew it, I just knew it!" One week he was having a fit about tolerance. Rooney read off a whole litany of behaviors he found objectionable but felt he was being expected to tolerate by an army of tolerance do-gooders. Some sympathetic soul obtained the transcript of the broadcast. In the form of forwarded e-mails, Rooney's tirade circumnavigated cyberworld three times a second for the next couple of years. Dennis, an aviation industry colleague and outspoken Christian, forwarded it to me one day at work.

The bad taste in my mouth developed instantly. I wrote back that I understood that Jesus had instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to not stand in judgment so as not to suffer the same. Conversely, Jesus had not instructed us to "tolerate" a bloody thing. I asked Dennis not to send me any more e-mails that weren't directly work-related. Never understood how he had the time for that at work anyway.

I guess that was the day that I finally began to seriously consider the meaning and application of Jesus' words. What does it mean to love? What does it mean to not stand in judgment? Not quite as simple as the oft-quoted bromide "hate the sin, love the sinner". Too easily words like Rooney's run away with us. Far too easy to enumerate other people's sins so emotionally that we end up hating after all, feeling justified and Divinely sanctioned as we do so. It is possible to hate an entire class or race of people without ever actually knowing a single one of them. And always it seems, the sins we hate (while claiming to love their owners) are, in the words of that insightful Episcopal priest and professor, Barbara Brown Taylor, "behaviors that are conveniently not our own." Yeah, how convenient! This is precisely the death trap Jesus warned against and offered a way out of. The way out is uncommon love.

Pondering Ronney's words and how they were being used like spears blindly thrown, I reflected on some painful and very diffcult family history. Parenting has never been an easy job, but I think it has gotten much harder. So many more forces at work today shaping and clawing at our children's minds and values and lives. As Mary Pipher observes, parents used to work to prepare their children to enter the culture. Now the job seems to be protecting children from it. That task can be positively overwhelming.

When those challenges broke into our family, my wife and I chose to stand and fight as best we could. Not for the sake of fighting, mind you, but for the sake of doing what was right. It wasn't pretty. Matter of fact, it was often pretty ugly. Love didn't have any of the warm fuzzies of a romantic comedy. At times it felt more like cutting off a hand. But love compelled us to do the
loving thing. That meant not accepting the unacceptable. It meant not tolerating the intolerable. It meant, as best we could, not continually re-defining right and wrong until the words became meaningless. Love did not allow us to simply say, "Oh, well!" Love didn't allow us to quit. Love required us to keep going even when we could not see the end, which was most of the time. It was love we could only learn through OJT.

Tolerance can be quite passive. Love requires action. Tolerance can be a noun. Love, as a noun, is meaningless unless it has first become a verb. Love has to be done, or it can never be felt. And love has to be given away in order to be had. That's the only way it has life. It's not always about warm fuzzies, romantic infatuatation. In fact, it rarely is, if ever. As often as 1 Corinthians 13 is used at wedding ceremonies, I wonder how often it is read and understood appropriately.

Uncommon love. That's what Jesus had in mind because he was talking about the love of the Father as well as the only effective kind of love in this world. Perhaps that's what Jesus had in mind when he told his followers they were the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). Salt is useful and necessary but only if it tastes like something (Luke 14:34): salt. Not sugar, not artifical flavoring. Likewise, not vinegar or battery acid. Salt. Salt can only do its job when used properly, when put into or onto something, not when it is accumulated and stored.

At the Red Cross I was giving away the very stuff of life flowing in my veins. It only hurt a little and only for a little while. Who would receive it? I had no idea, but my blood could only give and sustain life if I gave it away. My body could then make more. I thanked God for the privilege and prayed for the recipient. I asked that they be given a measure of uncommon love.

Next time: Replaceable dollars.


Pastor Roger

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