Choose One

And now faith, hope and love abide, these three…

I Cor 13:13

Which would you choose, if you had to choose one: faith, hope, or love? There are good reasons for choosing any of the three: faith as to move mountains, hope in things unseen, for God so loved the world. I’ve known people who revealed one or more of these in their actions and thoughts, words and manner. I’ve known groups who have done the same through discernment, action, and further discernment – the interplay between prayerful reflection and faithful action the Spirit’s way of revealing holiness in the imperfect here and now.

I believe I saw one such group last week on a job interview – a board of men and women, differing ages and stages, joined together by their call to mission in their own back yards, working together to find the right person to direct their ministry. Each member asked thoughtful questions, each one listened attentively to the answers I gave and the questions I asked. I left them confident that they would choose the right person, whoever he or she might be.

I think faith, hope, and love are companions in many an adventure. I saw at least two in the board members last week. Some had faith that their needs would be met; God would provide someone to take up the tasks dear to them. Absolutely right. Others looked at the qualities they identified for a successful candidate and compared them to the words on paper and the words in person they encountered. The goals are clear, the structure sound, the candidates more than adequate. They had and have every reason to hope for a worthy director and a successful future for their shared ministry. And they are right.

I got a call, letting me know that they chose someone else. I have every hope and a certain faith that they chose well. I trust their faith and their prayer as I trust my own. Faith and hope are not in vain: they beckon to us toward a holy future.

And love? I don’t need to be a part of their ministry to love who they are and how they find God in the strength and brokenness of this world. It’s never in vain and never dependent upon this or that adventure or choice. Love is the now, the once-was, and the what-will-be; it is what grants this imperfect world the privilege and joy of being our God given, precious home.

And now faith, hope, and love abide these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Enigmatic

For now we see through a mirror into an obscure image, but then we shall see face to face.

I Cor. 13:12

Most times, this verse is translated something like: For now we see in a mirror, dimly. The word in Greek is enigma, translated usually as dimly or darkly, but literally is dim or obscure image. It’s a noun rather than an adverb. It may not make much difference in translation, but it reminds me:

My lack of understanding isn’t just due to lack of light: it’s also because what I’m looking at, even seen in the full light of day, is beyond my ability to comprehend. Puzzling and obscured by darkness.

And seeing face to face? Right now, I can look into the face of another and still not see. Then, I will see and know the one I see face to face. And I will be seen and known.

Until then, I’ll try to remember my blindness, and forgive the blindness of others.

For more on “Quieting Life Noise,” see ABOUT.

Where am I?

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

I Cor 13:11

If you walk straight out the door away from your home with a three year old, go a few yards and ask her which direction home is. She’ll point behind her. If you take a left at the first intersection and repeat the question, she’ll point behind her. Turn left again, ask for a third time, and she’ll point behind again. Home is always behind because that’s where it was when she last saw it – everything in the world is understood as oriented around her. Once she adds a couple of birthdays, she’ll know that the house doesn’t move just because she changed direction. If you ask her where the house is after turning left, she’ll give you an odd look and point left. The stage where the world orients itself around her has been left behind.

What about the world beyond a particular street, town, neighborhood, hemisphere? If you asked a passing adult to draw the world, would he or she put home territory in the center? Most likely; it’s why maps of the world have different continents in the center, depending upon its user’s location. The assumption is that the center of the world is wherever he or she happens to be – or happens to be from.

I wonder, though. If a stranger on the street asked me to draw a map of the world, would I put away childish reasoning long enough to ask about the person I’d be drawing it for. After all, the world doesn’t rotate around me any more than my home follows me down the street…

Window on the World

There’s a wonderful picture book called Home (Jeanne Baker, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004). Its pages are all about one particular view: Tracy’s second floor window, looking onto her back yard and the neighborhood beyond. It begins with Tracy’s birth, showing a small section of her room and the world outside the window. Every year, the same view and a glimpse into the changes in Tracy’s life and world. A few crafts, cards, and toys on the inside, the evolving yard and neighborhood on the outside. The last picture shows Tracy and her parents sitting in their back yard – with her husband and baby. All of it seen from a single perspective: time moves forward, location stays the same. Neighborhood renewal, changing neighbors, growing children and aging parents – so much revealed through a single window.

That’s my life. It’s not the full story of humanity or the full view of creation. It’s a glimpse at it through a single perspective. Not the complete story, but a real story. Limited, but true. Part of the great, eternal, infinite, whole. And I love my glimpse, my limited part of an ongoing, eternal reality. Holy and limited until the walls dissolve into the eternal embrace of God.

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

I Cor. 13:9-10

???

As for knowledge, it will come to an end.

I Cor. 13:8

     When I was four, I believed that I could know as much as God if I just read all the books. My mother told me that no one could know as much as God – there was just too much to know, even back in 1968. Today, there’s even more.

At fifty, I see knowledge has limits, ends. It can lead to a humble appreciation for the beauty of the world and it can be employed to damage and control nature. On its own, it gives neither peace nor wisdom. Planted in a compassionate heart, knowledge bears fruit that heals. Rooted in arrogance or selfishness, knowledge yields bitter fruit that destroys.

Perhaps that’s what my mother was trying to tell me so many years ago. Human pursuit and acquisition of any kind, especially one with such potential as knowledge, has to end somewhere. Will it end before the throne of God or in ruins? The answer is beyond the scope of knowledge. Something to think about. Even more, something to pray about.

Tongues

As for tongues, they will cease

I Cor 13:8

Speaking in tongues isn’t lost to the world yet, but it’s endangered. Not many Christians have witnessed someone speaking in tongues, even fewer have seen the message interpreted. Is this because most congregations don’t have anyone who speaks in tongues, so it isn’t valued? Or the inverse: where speaking in tongues isn’t valued, it rarely happens. What’s the point of a spiritual gift if it doesn’t enrich communal and individual faith?

Paul is trying to say something vital in these six words: Gifts aren’t permanent. They are holy and valuable because they point to us to God – and through them we can be drawn into God’s love. God doesn’t seem particularly picky about the methods and means for reaching us, surrounding us and filling us with love. When tongues cease, it won’t be because God isn’t with us: tongues cease when we finally realize that God’s love dwells in us with or without them.

Prophesies and Predictions

But as for prophecies, they will come to an end…

I Cor. 13:8 NRSV

A couple months back, the residents of Wareham went to the polls, casting votes for or against and override budget. Rising expenses, short-term thinking, and a few lawsuits had created a budget disaster. The override funds would correct many of the problems: restoring an adequate number of school teachers, making much needed building improvements, keeping the town library open and certified, and more.

As in many towns, people opposed to any extra taxes vote faithfully in Wareham – about 1200 every time. The town officials figured that the override would pass if 2800 voters turned out. And they turned out. But the override was defeated two votes to one. In this instance, prediction didn’t turn into the expected reality.

There are many reasons why people voted no: additional financial burden, mistrust of town government, and a lack of vision for the future are just a few. There are many reasons why people voted yes: higher property values, good schools and public libraries for their children, and restored town services are just a few.

So what is the next step? Somehow, trust in the future must be restored. A willingness to move beyond past disagreements and errors is necessary. Taking the well being of all Wareham’s residents into account is a must. The people of Wareham have to want good things for their neighbors as well as for themselves – and be willing to sacrifice for them. In short, the people of Wareham have to love their neighbors as themselves. Costly Biblical advice, sound communal practice.

Political assumptions and poll prophesies come to an end for good or ill with every vote cast. But love never ends. Isn’t that always the best choice?

Love Without End

Love never ends. I Cor. 13:8

     A couple of years ago, Sean Carroll wrote The Particle at the End of the Universe: how the hunt for the Higgs Boson leads us to the edge of a new world (New York: Dutton, 2012). It’s all about the research and experiments that moved a theory to a proven reality. The Higgs Field is what allows matter to come into existence on the sub-atomic level. Without it, no matter comes into existence. It cannot be seen or felt, it’s sub-atomically tiny and universally pervasive, and reading about its discovery and proof is mind-bending – even with Carroll’s excellent use of language and illustrations. The Higgs Boson is also called the God Particle – a nickname that has caused much controversy and not a few accusations of hubris.

Even though it’s not an easy read, I recommend Carroll’s book – Not only to learn about one of the greatest discoveries of all time, but because it’s really about love. Metaphorically speaking, at least.

Paul didn’t say that love never ends in its current form; he wasn’t writing about the world as we usually understand it, limiting and limited. Paul was writing a sub-atomic and pervasive truth, beyond the usual perception. Love allows us to come into existence, a field that brings us into matter. From the most minuscule particle to the ever expanding cosmos, nothing matters without love. Love flows through us just as we came into being through it. Nothing can destroy it, nothing can kill it because it is what ushers in life itself. Love just is.

Sometimes, when I’m very still, I feel the truth of this love, the very fabric of reality. Resurrection makes sense then – Jesus being the man of Nazareth and the Cosmic Christ, beloved son of God. And death? Perhaps it’s another passing through the field of love that brings us into resurrected reality. Love that never ends, entwined in our DNA, bringing us before the everlasting throne of God. Alive in us now and always. Amen.

Expectations

One of my favorite truths comes from a break-up scene in Sleepless in Seattle. The gist of it: “Marriage is hard enough without going into it with such low expectations.”

Last week my niece Kristen married Jay. Parents, children, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, and more cousins than I could count toasted the bride and groom and shared a meal. Since the last wedding six years ago, death and divorce took a few names off the guest list; births and remarriages have added a few. Especially difficult, the death of Kristen’s cousin – a young mother who left behind a grieving family. Yet, here we were, celebrating the beginning of a new marriage, catching up on where life has taken us. Those of us who’ve seen a few years managed to dance enough to embarrass our children, and the children were gracious enough to join in for a song or two. Then midnight came, the reception was over, and everyone returned to their homes and lives. Until the next wedding, birth, or death…

Some say that having high expectations for a long and fruitful marriage is naive, even ignorant. The odds for and against are about the same these days. But I don’t think it’s really a matter of odds: it’s a matter of deep, abiding faith and hope. Living a shared life, a common life, is an extraordinary adventure. No one does it perfectly, and everyone falls down. The big question: will Kristen and Jay help each other get back up? If love of any kind – for family, friends, strangers, and God – bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (ICor13:7), I expect so.

Contrary

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

I Corinthians 13:6, NRSV

In February 1994, I was waiting to hear if I’d made it into a PhD program. When a letter of acceptance came, it was a relief as much as it was a pleasure. I wasn’t too upset when the rejection letter from another program arrived. Disappointed, but not particularly angry with the school that turned me down. I didn’t give it much thought until I ran into another applicant. After six rejection letters, he had just opened his first acceptance letter.

“When I publish my first book, when I get my first job, when I’m famous, I’m going to write every school that didn’t take me and make them sorry for being so stupid.” The odd thing? He had a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face, looking for all the world like revenge for his rejection was worth celebrating just as much as his acceptance.

I understand the perverse pleasure of justified anger and righteous indignation, the lure of an undeserved slight that makes vengeful thoughts not only acceptable but perhaps even commendable. Especially if the slight was intentional. Rejection letters may not be my reason for spiteful thoughts, but I’ve had them, too. An opportunity to say “I told you so” or “You’ll be sorry,” the chance to spit poison and feel virtuous doing so sets fire to the heart and blood like nothing else.

But that’s the problem: returning pain for pain, insult for insult, harm for harm. Burning down the house because someone scorched a hole in the tablecloth, all the while rejoicing in destroying self and other in a glorious conflagration. In the end, it all ends in bitter ashes and choking smoke. Because rejoicing in wrongdoing – mine or someone else’s – doesn’t sustain the spirit: it kills it. Only acting in love for self and other can do that. A true reason to rejoice!