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Universal Language

It takes a myriad of forms. But the common language of compassion, kindness, and thoughtfulness remain the same…

One of the most fascinating discoveries that any person can make is what all of us share in common.

Now, it is true that mathematics and music are the languages that transcend human words. However, there is one language that all humans are meant to learn from their earliest days: love.

Love is the true universal language.

Why? Because we are all made in the image of God, who is Love itself. Even if we do not realize it, we are meant to know love in our lives. Not necessarily romantic love, though it has its place. No, the love we are meant to know is the self-giving, serving the other, caring for another love.

It takes a myriad of forms. But the common language of compassion, kindness, and thoughtfulness remain the same.

Interestingly, while love is the universal language, there is another word that is the universal greeting.

Can you guess it?

Across almost all major world religions (including most of the ancients), the word we should use to greet one another is peace.

One place to look for the reason behind this comes from our Jewish brethren. In its Hebrew form, shalom, it means wholeness. Because true peace is not a lack of conflict. It is the fullness and flourishing of all around us. The wholeness that comes from truly knowing Godly love.

So what should we take away from this consideration of words?

First, the place to begin with those who are different than you is to look at how they love others and start the conversation there, because we are all meant to find common ground.

And second, no matter who you meet or where they come from, when greeting a fellow human, the best thing one can always say is peace – wish them wholeness. Wish them flourishing. Wish them love lived out.

Who matters?

Each other human is just as loved, wanted, accepted, and important to God. No one is excluded from the list…

A key question in theology for any religion is how do humans relate to God and to one another?

We know that we were fearfully and wonderfully made by God. We are creatures, not the Creator, but unlike the rest of creation, we were made in God’s own image to love and be loved.

That is who we are – beloved children, called by name, wanted, accepted, important.

Revel in that love, to be sure.

Then remember the other key part of this description of who we are as humans: it applies to every other person on this planet.

Each other human is just as loved, wanted, accepted, and important to God. No one is excluded from the list.

So how do we relate to one another?

Most importantly by remembering this key truth. If every other person is loved by God, then no one is expendable. No one is better than another. No one matters more than any another. We are all equally beautiful, wonderful, and essential.

Put this another way: life is not all about you. It’s not all about your family or your success or your schedule or your worldview.

Life is about the ways we live into our God-given identity by loving others, making connections, and creating new opportunities for full-life in all.

In light of everything that is happening around us, the two things I want you to always keep at the front of your mind are these: you are loved by God but so is everyone else. So act accordingly and as though their lives are just as valuable as yours. Because they are.

 

Frail, but hard to kill

How God has lived among us. Moved within us. Breathed life into us when all seemed lost…

For many of us, the days dragging into weeks trailing into months has been grating on us for a while now. We’re not sure what day it is. And the weather isn’t really helping us in telling the season, either.

We want to know when this will be over. More than that, we want to know that this will end.

Though love is the center of who God is and who we are called to be, hope is the thing we need most at this moment. Keep loving, to be sure, but also be mindful that hope is a vital commodity, too.

Throughout our history, God has repeatedly appeared. God walked with Abraham to a new country. God lead Esau to forgiveness for his brother who had stolen his livelihood. God protected Joseph when he was sold into slavery. God shepherded the people through the sea of reeds and the rivers. God stood with the three foreigners thrown into the fiery furnace. And those are just some of the more famous stories from scripture.

We have hope, because of how God has already acted in our lives. The lives of all humans. And our lives in particular.

How God has lived among us. Moved within us. Breathed life into us when all seemed lost.

For any who follow the God of Abraham and Sarah, we very likely have experienced God’s presence at some point. Likely many points. And oftentimes at those points when we needed help most.

But here’s the best part: if all hope seems lost to you and you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, then know that I have hope for you.

Among God’s promises is that others can have faith for us that continues to grow our relationship with God, even when we may not realize it. Others can believe and hope because we know that God is with each and every one of us. Walking with us and working all things for good.

And our hope, though sometimes frail, it is hard to kill (as the old song says). It does not disappoint us – for ours is a hope in the God who is the source of all life and is love itself.

You can have hope, because a new day will dawn. And until it does, you can trust that God is here. With us. Helping us to find our way.

What’s Your Name?

We are meant to live full lives as God’s wonderfully made creations – most importantly by the ways we give and receive love…

I remember, several years ago now, the time when I went to a Christian concert with some of our younglings. Among the speeches given that night, one was by a musician who gave a thirty minute dissertation on how God’s name is “holy.” Not that it is a holy name, but that the name was literally the word “holy.” (Insert eye-roll and facepalm here.)

Knowing God’s name is important because it tells us something about who God is. And yes, our God (for those who follow the Abrahamic traditions) has been called several names. However, there are two that are particularly important.

The first is God’s main name in Hebrew that was given to Moses on Mount Horeb. It is usually translated “I am,” but it comes from the Hebrew word “to be. God’s name means life, existence, being itself. And that is who God is – the one who gives life, who creates, who empowers, who renews.

The other name appears in the New Testament in John’s first letter. That name is Love. The highest form of love: caring as much for another and for oneself. Agape love.  The way God loves within God’s own self (the Trinity). The way God loves us. The way we are meant to love God. And most importantly, the way we are meant to love one another.

What do these two names teach us?

We are meant to live full lives as God’s wonderfully made creations – most importantly by the ways we give and receive love.

Because Life and Love are God’s own names, that does make them holy. Set apart. Of the utmost importance.

And they are what we are to seek after and to protect: for ourselves and for others.

My hope, as we continue to face this crisis, is that we will do so together, remembering the love and the life to which our God has called us – as who we are, as how we relate, and as what we protect.

Are We There Yet?

…yet, it is a question we really are asking ourselves right now: when will this be over? (Or as SpaceBalls would say, “When will then be now?”)

Anyone who has ever taken a road trip knows this question: are we there yet? Usually said in as whiny a tone as possible.

And yet, it is a question we really are asking ourselves right now: when will this be over? (Or as SpaceBalls would say, “When will then be now?”)

Though it may be soon, it is not going to be nearly as soon as many of us would like.

Major challenges still face us, our communities, our leaders. What is more, though science is working as fast as it can, there is still so much we do not know about this virus.

What we learn from scripture is that God almost always refuses to give us an expiration date for struggles. Even Christ said not to focus on the date of his return.

We also learn that children of God are loath to wait. They love grumbling. They whine and bicker and chide every chance they get. They blame everyone they can, regardless of guilt. Even when God provides what they need, it barely touches their mood.

People react when their world is turned upside down. It is stressful. It is trying. It throws us for a loop – or at times like now, for a loop-de-loop-de-loop.

But God never taught us to just sit still when life gets difficult. Even if we are intentionally keeping physical distance from others to save lives, that does not mean we should sit on our hands while we wait.

There are a myriad of things you can do – everything from hobbies to languages to enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. And beyond that, there are countless things you can do to serve God while we wait for our destination.

Help your neighbors. Ensure your friends and family can get their groceries and meds. Talk to local business owners and buy gift certificates for later. Use sidewalk chalk to spread a message of hope. Learn how to use technology and FaceTime or Zoom to make sure people know they are not alone. Send kind notes to long-lost friends. Buy gift cards to a coffee company or a spa for the healthcare workers in your life. Do the same for people serving on all the other “front-lines” of this pandemic – truck drivers, farmers, grocery workers, trade-craft workers, first responders, and everyone else who is keeping this place running right now. And this is not an exhaustive list.

If you feel ready to grumble, give yourself a minute and then get off your tuchus and do something with your time. Help someone out. Because we’re not there yet and we’ve already pulled this car over.

And always remember this: God is still here. Miracles still happen. And you will receive all the strength you need to get through this.

Three Promises

…something I know from experience is that when life gets difficult, sometimes we need the simple. The easily explained. The uncomplicated assurances that will get us through the day. 

Several years ago, I realized during Vacation Bible School that our youngest children needed the extremely simplified version of God’s promises to us. Ones they could remember. Ones they could hold on to when life got hard – because it always will.

This is where I ended up:

God loves you.

God is always with you.

You can be brave.

There is nothing in all creation or within you that will make God not love you. Nothing you can do or anything anyone else can do to you. God will always love you. Period.

God is always with us. Before us. Behind us. Above us. Below Us. Between us. Inside us. There is no where we can go that God is not already there.

Because God loves you unconditionally and because God is always with you, you can be brave. Brave enough to face fears. Courageous enough to live into showing God’s love. Strong enough to believe in hope even when all seems lost.

Though you all are likely not children reading this, something I know from experience is that when life gets difficult, sometimes we need the simple. The easily explained. The uncomplicated assurances that will get us through the day.

So here is your mantra for today: God loves you. God is with you. You can be brave.

Where is God?

So where is God in all of this? 

Right next to you. And me. And all of God’s children throughout this world. 

Whenever a major tragedy or world-altering event occurs, the question is inevitably raised: where is God? Why did God let this happen?

Some will immediately lift up the suggestion that “God has a plan” or “God is in control.” There are countless scriptures to back this viewpoint. However, to hold to it also means that God is causing the devastation, the tragedies, the genocides, the wars. God is causing pain and suffering.

Throughout the history of God’s people there has been a discomfort with this thought. We love and serve a God who is all-powerful, but also all-loving. And how can a God who literally is Love cause evil. The answer is: God can’t.

Though God is all-powerful, God chooses to allow events to play out. God gives us a choice to say no to what God is pursuing in this world. Like every good parent, God knows there are some lessons that we have to learn on our own.

And as to “acts of God,” as our insurance companies would call them, people have been blaming the gods since time immemorial for the sometimes crazy things that happen in nature. Mainly because we are more comfortable believing that God is causing harm than to sit in the mess and realize that some things just happen. Some things just are.

So where is God in all of this?

Right next to you. And me. And all of God’s children throughout this world.

The true promise of God’s providence is not that God will always fix everything to be perfect, but that God will be present through anything and everything that will happen. God will be there with us, holding on to us, and working good even in the most devastating of circumstances.

What is more, just as we can choose to not live into God’s loving purposes in this world and cause harm, because of God’s presence we can also choose to live into the Love that is loose in this world. As a wise Rabbi once suggested in the aftermath of a natural disaster, the act of God was not the devastating act of nature. The act of God occurred when the people stepped up to help each other.

My friends, God is with us. And God empowers and equips us to be tangible signs of God’s presence to one another. There are countless ways to do this. But what they all share in common is the mark they bear of our God who is Love.

So go share that love in every way you can. Even when all hope seems lost, love will always have the last word.