Thursday, June 25, 2015

Counter-cultural love

Love is counter-cultural, which is why the Church is counter-cultural, and has been from the beginning. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Mt 5:44) He told Peter to put down his sword when the soldiers came to arrest him. (Mt 6:52) He taught that the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Mt 19:30); that we must lose our life in order to save it (Mk 8:35).

The Episcopal Church recognizes that living as our Savior calls us do takes preparation, practice, and support which is why we commit ourselves to lifelong Christian formation as a church. There is a trap called busy-ness (over scheduling) which is cleverly disguised as good parenting, productive employment, and sometimes even exhaustive leisure.

The problem is nobody wins. Parents and children alike burn out, sleep becomes disturbed, quietness disappears, and spiritual development is pushed aside as if it were a hobby or non-essential activity. Church becomes another “thing” in our schedules and we’re just too tired.

The truth is, tending to our spiritual lives is the most important thing we can do for ourselves, our children, our families - even our culture. If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider the events of the last week. The mass murders in Charleston opened up discussions on a variety of topics: racism, gun control, the meaning of the Confederate battle flag, parenting, sin, forgiveness, religion and politics, etc.

If we are to be faithful to our founder, our response to these issues will look as counter-cultural in our time as Jesus’ responses did in his time: dining with sinners, relieving the suffering of those whom society says deserve the misery they know, calling out those moral authorities who are “hypocrites” and a “brood of vipers” (Mt 3:7, 6:2, 12:34, 15:7, 23:33, Lk 3:7, 12:56, Mk 7:6….) while speaking the Good News to all.

We will not only pray for our enemies, we will actively rebuke any move toward vengeance as we promote justice – which in the kingdom of heaven is the reconciliation of all. For most of us, that means hearing the cries of those who suffer and changing ourselves and our habits to ease their suffering, despite what our friends might say about it.

We will lay down our weapons, whether they be guns or power or words, refusing to sacrifice peace and trusting in the plan of God, like Jesus did at his arrest. Arrows slung at us mustn’t distract us from the path set before us by the Prince of Peace.

Finally, we will lay down our lives - the privileged among us reaching out and raising up those who are suffering, exiled, or oppressed, until as Isaiah said, the valleys are lifted up, the mountains brought low, and the uneven ground becomes level. (40:4) We who can must level the playing field, even though the price we pay will be some loss of comfort, privilege, and personal power. Take heart, the reward is heavenly.

Love is counter-cultural, which is why we have to be continually strengthening our spiritual muscles. That’s what we do in spiritual formation. Our Adult Formation group is strong and doing well, but our formation for children and youth needs resurrection. We have some amazing young ones who deserve our best efforts in their formation, including making time in their schedules for their spiritual strengthening. It’s important for them, for us, and for the world.

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