Rarely do we see Hollywood paint a true picture of the ups and downs of love (which makes it only lust). At the risk of losing my man-card, you should know that as men, we really wouldn't mind if life played out a little more like those dumb chick flicks. But, we all know that's not how it works--at least I hope we do. The nice guy doesn't always win. The damsel in distress may not find her prince charming ever (possibly because no man can live up to this ideal). It doesn't always end happily ever after. Contrary to the way love is portrayed, it isn't always rainbows and butterflies. The sad reality is that love, at times, can be pretty messy and ugly.
First and foremost love is a decision that takes commitment. It is much more than a fleeting feeling; here one minute and gone the next (but you already knew that didn't you). For love to grow, trust is required. We cannot love someone we cannot trust; it is an impossibility. And for trust, there has to be a two way street of vulnerability.
You've probably heard the old adage, "Love is blind." Well, there is a lot of truth to that one. It is much easier to overlook things when you truly love someone. Those blatant personality traits and character flaws others so easily point out disappear when love is in the mix. And all of this leads me to tell you the obvious. Love is risky. There are no guarantees...except it WILL NOT be smooth sailing and you WILL get hurt.
Anymore it seems we have grossly misunderstood love. In our culture, love is this ambiguous idea. Even without the ambiguity, trying to define love is kind like nailing jello to the wall. This is one reason I would venture to say that a majority of us aren't sure what the true nature of love is. If you ask anyone, they can probably ramble off numerous things they love. Someone might tell you they love their car (if it's a '69 Camaro, I could agree with that). In the very next breath they are discussing their love for their dog (because nobody in their right mind would ever love cats). I could even tell you a story about a teenager who loved pizza. Granted, this one isn't much of a shocker. A teenager that loves pizza isn't a rare thing. But she found it necessary to proclaim her love for pizza by getting a giant tattoo. There, permanently, on her right shoulder is a slice of pepperoni pizza. (I am sure people think some of my tattoos are weird, but come on, pepperoni pizza? I enjoy a good cheeseburger now and then, but I'm not getting it tattooed). All of this makes me wonder if it upsets God when we sing these songs proclaiming our love for him; because in all reality, we are putting him on the same level as all of these temporal things...but that's a different discussion altogether.
Sadly, there is an overwhelming majority of us that have not experienced or seen love. For many, the people who were supposed to love us didn't. Some of us had parents who were absent or abusive. Yet others have had a significant other use and abuse them. Others still had friends who took advantage of them. This list could be endless. I have been fortunate enough to have the rare privilege of experiencing this phenomenon of love. For starters, I had very loving parents. They were not perfect and I may not have always agreed with them. I didn't even always feel loved by them. To be totally honest, my father and I didn't have a good relationship until I was in college. I don't even recall hearing him tell me he loved me very often, if ever...until college. But looking back I see the boundaries, discipline, etc. were all tangible examples of their love for me. And let's be honest, a lot of that stuff was warranted considering the pain and agony I put them through during those 18 years I lived under their roof. The next place I have witnessed love has been a group I refer to as Alpha (a group of guys I went to college with). These are the kind of guys that are always there for you. They would give you their last dollar or the shirt off their back. My Alpha brothers would take a bullet for me--and I for them. I'm 99.9% certain they are the kind of friends that would hide a body for you (not that I will ever need them to do that, just to clarify). But again, most of us haven't witnessed anything like this; so, of course it makes us wonder if love really exists.
In our society, where lust is supreme, love is not very natural. For that reason, it only goes to say that love is not easy. Yet, loving others is the most important thing we must learn to do. A few words of Jesus' come to mind: "Everyone will know you are my disciples because of your love for each other." However, loving each other will remain an impossibility until we can learn to love ourselves. Herein lies the issue. We might love certain things about ourselves, but we all have our hang-ups. There are certain things we would change if we could. Each and everyone of us has a skeleton (or two or three) in the closet. We have all done things we are ashamed of. None of us is perfect. And that is why so many of us are constantly attempting to earn love and approval from others--and from God. But love isn't earned. Love isn't based on a transactional system (i.e. I give Papa John's $10 and I receive a delicious pizza.) Love is freely given. We will never be able to love until we can come to the realization that each and every one of us is an imperfect person in need of redemption--and loved by God. Once we reach this realization, it puts all of us on a level playing field.
No wonder this whole idea of love is so unsettling for many of us. No wonder it is so difficult for us to put into practice. No wonder we aren't sure it is the greatest of these--faith, hope, and love. We don't know what it means or looks like. I might be going out on a limb here, but I'd venture to say that for almost all of us, loving people will be the most difficult task for us this side of eternity. But, there is hope...and love is worth it. While the risks are great, the rewards are even greater! Even with the pain and rejection experienced in this lifetime, I am discovering that to love is far less painful.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
When I envision Jesus, I picture something different than the blonde haired, piercing blue eyed figure I see in many of the Jesus movies. I picture Jesus to be much more—how should I put this--Middle Eastern than Eastern European. And I’m pretty sure he probably didn’t have blue eyes. Why do I believe all of this? If you read the Bible, you will see that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And 2000 years ago, I would venture to guess that you didn’t find an awful lot of Caucasians living in the Middle East.
So who do I see Jesus as? Take a seat, grab a cup (or two) of coffee or tea (and none of this decaffeinated garbage), because it may take a while to show you who I see Jesus to be.
I’m going to be a typical Christian and say that one of my favorite authors has got to be C.S. Lewis. And more specifically, his novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, are my favorite.
In one of these books Lewis infers through the Christ figure of Aslan, that Jesus is not tame. In case you haven’t ever read these books, Aslan is a lion and although he talks and allows the children to pet him from time to time, he is definitely not tame. And that seems about par for the course. Granted, my experience with lions is pretty much non-existent, but I don’t see lions as being very tame, so I will just agree with him on this point. No matter how much we think Jesus is tame, the fact remains that he is not. On the contrary, He is probably quite the opposite. (Continuing with the lion analogy) He is not like your typical house cat. He doesn’t sit on your lap. He isn’t—to my knowledge—litter-box trained. He does not wear a collar with a tag identifying who his owners are. Jesus is not tame!
To fully understand what C.S. Lewis meant by that, I have to admit that I decided to look up the word tame in my handy dictionary. It means “reduced from a state of native wildness especially so as to be tractable and useful to humans.” Another definition offered is: “to be made docile or submissive (yeah, I had to look up a couple words in those definitions too).
Jesus cannot be reduced. Jesus is not docile or submissive--except to the Father. You can try all you want to make Him conform and fit in these tidy, neat boxes, but you may have some trouble. We will never fully comprehend Him. We cannot always understand what He does and why He does it. In other words Jesus is not under our control. He defies many of our notions and beliefs about who He really is. Although He may be difficult to understand, that is no excuse to not try.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Living in South Dakota, we can see snow for as much as six or seven months out of the year. And since I have such distaste for snow and the cold, I have to do something to stay warm during those months (while moving seems to be the most plausible solution, I can’t tell you why I haven’t). I have found the best option is a hot-tub. Although I do not own one, nor have I ever owned one, I have always made it a point to befriend someone that either has one, or has access to one (I know, I’m shallow).
During several of my college years, I fortunately had a friend that worked in a hotel during our breaks. This particular evening was typical for December. It was a cold (more than likely well into the negative digits with the wind-chill) and snowy. A few friends and I decided to meet up at the hotel and spend the evening relaxing in the hot-tub. One by one, as we showed up, we took over the hotel lobby and began chatting about the new Lord of the Rings movies. I’m not sure what time it was, but I do know it was well after our agreed upon meeting time (I’m a stickler for promptness). As you can probably guess, we were still waiting on one of our friends and his fiancé to show up. We waited. And waited. And we waited some more.
Finally, through the cold, foggy glass I saw the headlights of what appeared to be an unmistakably red Dodge Stealth. As it pulled into the parking lot, I thought it would be befitting of me to meet the tardy couple halfway. As two individuals got out of the car, all bundled up in their bulky winter coats, hats and gloves, and began strolling to the front door, I proceeded to cut them off and so kindly inform them that they were late. As I walked through the door and neared the two up them, I began to, in my most stern voice, inform them how much trouble they were in for said tardiness. Just as soon as I had spoken those words, the couple took their gaze off their steps and made eye contact with me, something profound occurred to me. This couple was not the couple we were all waiting for. It was then I decided it would be best to make my way back into the lobby, quite red from embarrassment, and keep my mouth shut. Afterall, that was the second time that week I had a case of mistaken identity. The other occurred earlier in during the week at Scheels. The short version is as follows: I had spent several minutes searching the aisles for something that must have been important (reiterated by the fact that I likely don’t have it anymore and can’t recall what it was). Finally, after I had just about given up I spotted a Scheels employee in the unmistakable yellow button up shirt and khaki pants. As I approached said employee and asked where to find this most important item he turned around with quite a puzzled look and informed me he had no clue. Turns out other people in town are highly capable of wearing a yellow button up shirt and khaki pants.
Why did I tell you these stories? I think it was because I was trying to make a correlation with the church and its mistaken identity of Jesus.
It seems to me, the church has confused Jesus with Mr. Rogers. According to the church today, the man on the cross and Mr. Rogers are so similar you almost can’t distinguish between the two. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus can be nice, he can be calm, cool, and collected, but that is only a part of who he is. It seems to me, nobody would have a problem with a Mr. Rogers-esque guy…at least not enough of a problem to crucify him!
Let me tell you why Jesus is not like Mr. Rogers. Let’s start with the obvious, Mr. Rogers is white and whether you believe it or not, Jesus was Middle-Eastern and Jewish. Mr. Rogers always had nice things to say and never caused a stir. And then there is the fact that Mr. Rogers lives in a perfect world made of puppets and trains; a world in which everyone always learns their lesson and takes it to heart. A world where everyday is a “beautiful day.” A world quite the opposite of the one in which you and I live. The world of Mr. Rogers is very disconnected from reality and I can’t relate to it at all. And for that, Mr. Rogers becomes a man I cannot relate to. But Jesus…Jesus is different. He didn’t stay in his perfect world. He took on flesh, became a man, and stepped into our screwed up world, in order that he might relate to us and inevitably save us.
You see, the Jesus I read about in this book we call the Bible, is nothing like Mr. Rogers. Jesus isn’t always prim and proper, like Mr. Rogers (although I have heard rumors about him being an ex-marine with tattoos covering his arms—Mr. Rogers, not Jesus). Well, let me rephrase that…Jesus isn’t exactly like Mr. Rogers. There may be some similarities, but not nearly enough to confuse the two. Mr. Rogers is a nice guy, who wears a blue cardigan (I don’t ever picture Jesus in a cardigan—especially a blue one), always makes sure his shoes are tied, speaks with a kind voice, and always smiles. Jesus may exhibit similar characteristics (with the exception of the shoes since he wore sandals) from time-to-time, but that is by no means the entire picture of who Jesus is.