Love With No Conditions

mother teresaWe are so quick to judge and keep our prejudice views without ever hearing the story behind the eyes. We see their actions, hear their words, but keep our distance. We never ask how they truly are. We never ask to share their story. We insulate ourselves from the “world.” I think Christian’s take the phrase “in the world, not of the world” too literal. It becomes something of a righteous thing to say.

Oh, that person has AIDS, I shouldn’t go near them. What would people think? But I’ll pray for them (on the rare occasion they cross my mind).

That person is a lesbian/gay…I shouldn’t interact with them. What if their tendencies rub off on me? What if people call me a lesbian/gay because I befriend them? That would tarnish my “Christian” image…but I’ll mail them a tract and find a self-help group for them.

Her husband is divorcing her…it must be her fault. She must have done something horrible. I won’t call her because someone might get mad at me and think I’m taking sides. She probably already has support. But I’ll put her on the prayer chain and then gossip about her with my “friends.”

Their child has a rotten attitude and no manners. They are so disrespectful and disruptive. They shouldn’t have them in church. They cause a ruckus. I would never let my child act that way. They must be horrible parents. And I’ll tell them so.

and on and on and on and on….

It never ends. Christians shoot the wounded, the hurting, the lost. Instead of loving and helping them, they condemn, judge, ridicule, withdraw, gossip, etc. about them. Why is that? Why has love become so conditional among God’s followers? I’m always lost as to how people can justify the kind of conditional, demanding love that they have and claim they are Christian and acting like Jesus. The Jesus I know loved everyone…regardless of race, status, past, problems, sexual orientation, married, single, widowed, separated, poor, wealthy, in-between, dirty, clean, prostitute, diseased, drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict, lost, and more. He never distinguished between the people that he loved. And no one had to do anything to earn his love. He gave it freely. It doesn’t mean that Jesus condoned or liked what the person was a part of or involved in or where they were at in life…but instead of judging, he loved.

What would happen if more of us chose to love freely instead of beating them up? Instead of wounding those who are already hurting? They don’t need someone telling them their life is screwed up. Nine chances out of ten, that person is already quite well aware of where they are in life. They don’t need to be reminded of it every time they turn around. Instead, they need to be loved, wanted, needed…believed that they are loved in spite of their messy, screwed up lives. People who will love them in the middle of everything…who will be their friend, their confidant, their helper. People who won’t tell them how to fix things, how to change, what to do, how they screwed up, preaching and teaching.

Listen to their silence. Sit with them in their quiet, in their pain, in their joys and heartaches. Hold them in their tears. Rage when they rage. Cry when they cry. Laugh when they laugh. Be quiet when they are quiet. Don’t fill the silence with meaningless words. You can’t fix it. You can’t change it. And don’t try. You aren’t their savior and you aren’t their God. And the relationships aren’t about trying to make yourself feel better, look like a better Christian, earn a ‘notch’ in your belt, be a witness. Instead, you are to love. Read 1 Corinthians 13. It’s the defining chapter of love in the Bible.

Love is meant to be freely given, without conditions. it is a gift that was given to us to give to others. How dare we pick and choose the benefactors as though they must earn it. 

Love, Authenticity, and Truth

Been a long time…I thought I would give up blogging forever as I moved on to other things, but I have a pull to always write, to dialogue, to share my thoughts and hear the thoughts of others. I’m reading a book right now, “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. It’s provoking some interesting thoughts, touching on some things that I’ve always pondered. So much so that I feel compelled to write Donald Miller about my thoughts, something I don’t normally do. Yet, sadly, I’ve not found a way to connect or contact him. His blog, Storyline, and Facebook page seem to be completely devoid of his personal touch. Instead, it appears he has become more “corporate” and “untouchable,” marketing his new Storyline brand. How sad for me. Therefore, I’m sharing my thoughts publicly instead of privately…to hear your thoughts.

I struggled picking up this book. I thought it would be another holier-than-thou, beat me over the head Christian book that would make me feel guilty for my shortcomings and failings as a “Christian.” But I’m finding that my mind is stirred, my spirituality is simmering, my desire to converse is spilling out of me into this blog post. A good thing, I suppose, when you really look at it.

I have always considered myself a Christian, but the meaning of that has changed as I’ve grown and stretched as a person. It is more about Christian spirituality now. I wince whenever I say that I’m a “Christian,” because I don’t associate myself and my beliefs with the larger, negative view of Christianity. As a matter of fact, I try to distance myself from it, embarrassed and shamed by the vitriol, ugliness, and judgment that radiates from the outspoken right-wing groups. Not to mention the cruelty of things done “in the name of Christ.” My heart aches because of it. I want to scream and shout, “That’s not Jesus! That’s not me! That’s not what it’s all about!”

I’ll be the first to admit my spirituality is messy, unruly, and uncouth. I was raised in the conservative church and chewed up and spit out by the same conservative church. I know all the “rules,” the should’s and should nots. The feeling of not belonging because I’m different, authentic, and have a tendency to question authority. Why would I want to love something that doesn’t love me and who I am now, at this very moment?

I haven’t been back to an organized church since I was vomited out of the church 10 years ago, like a putrid sickness that was contagious. I was beaten and battered, disgraced and shamed, unloved and unwanted because I was me, my authentic self. But isn’t the church supposed to love the unlovable, the different, the cynics, the skeptics, the gay, the drug addicts, the artists, the rebels, the outspoken, the homeless, and still others? That’s what I thought. Apparently, the church did not agree with me. I’m afraid to go back.

Now keep this in mind…I’m not bashing churches as a whole at all. I’m commenting on the ones that I’ve had personal experience with through the years. Yet still, I love God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in His all-consuming, graceful love for me and humanity. At times, I doubt it. How can He love someone like me? Is He even real? Is what I believe in even possible? Or is it all some odd fantasy cooked up by someone and we’ve all been fooled? I worry that I won’t live forever with Him. I’m scared that when I turn to dust, it’s just that….dust. Nothing. Finite. But Jesus says that with Him, we are everlasting, infinite.

I keep coming back to the same two questions…Does He really exist, and if so, Does He really love someone like me?

The Queen, Forgiveness, and a Book Review

It’s not every day that I read a political and techno- thriller with an overarching theme of forgiveness running through it. This was my first Steven James novel and I was quite taken with it. It started a little bumpy as it took me a bit to get used to his style of writing. It also starts out slowly, but hang in there. Trust me, it’s worth it. It was a twisting plot with a surprising end. James delivered a multi-layered storytelling tour de force that not only delivers pulse-pounding suspense, but also deftly explores the rippling effects of the choices we make.

Story: While investigating a double homicide in an isolated northern Wisconsin town, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers uncovers a high-tech conspiracy that twists through long-buried Cold War secrets and targets present-day tensions in the Middle East.

The underlying theme is two-fold: At some point in life, a person you think you know well, can do something so out of character that you wonder if you truly do know them and what is forgiveness. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a fan of Christian novels. Even though I am a Christian, I tend to find them too saccharine, clichéd, and overt. I’ve never been one who believes in bashing someone over the head with religion, of any type or in any form. Yet, Steven James is considered a Christian writer and he’s won awards from some notable Christian organizations for his novels. To be honest? I had no idea he was a Christian writer when I first picked up this book, never would have guessed it reading the book (although I wondered), and if I had known I probably wouldn’t have read it. I’m so glad I didn’t know. The brilliance of knowing a higher power and finding forgiveness was superbly woven throughout the novel. The theme was subtle, and only enriched the pulse pounding thriller.

It made me think. And that’s not a bad thing.

I was struck by the theme of forgiveness. James asks some powerful questions that left me pondering long after I put the novel down. Enough so that it compelled me to write this post. What does forgiving mean? What would be different if I forgave someone? Tessa, Patrick Bower’s stepdaughter in the novel provides an intriguing thought (pardon the lack of page references, but it’s the downside of reading on a Kindle).

I’ve always thought that when you apologize it shouldn’t be for your own benefit, but for that of the other person. I don’t think you should ask someone to forgive you just so you can get something off your chest or quiet your guilty conscience. If an apology isn’t in the other person’s best interests, it’s not serving to reconcile anything. It’s just a subtle form of selfishness.

Tessa struggles with the depth of despair and hopelessness from shooting a man in self-defense. She can’t forget and she doesn’t feel she can forgive herself for committing a crime and ultimately, for feeling good that she shot him because he was trying to kill her. She feels that’s the ultimate sin, her millstone that she must bear. Bowers brings up the point that we run from the past and it chases us; we dive into urgency, but nothing deep is ultimately healed. Tessa is doing her best to avoid facing her fear and guilt. Self-forgiveness becomes the point. Yet, what is self-forgiveness?

It’s not just marginalizing the event or simply acknowledging the pain and then doing your best to ignore it. It has to be more than that or ‘self-forgiveness,’ if there even is such a thing, would just be a caustic form of denial. Tessa defiantly tests the psychotherapist who can’t find an answer or response for her. She puts her foot up on his glass coffee table and says, “If I break this thing, you can forgive the debt I owe you if you want, or you can make me pay for it, but how can I forgive myself for the debt that I owe you?” Self-forgiveness? It seems arrogant that someone could claim to have the power to cancel the debt that they owe God or another person. When you ask someone to forgive you, you’re really asking the other person to sacrifice for the benefit of the relationship. If Tessa would’ve shattered the doctor’s end table and he forgave her, he would’ve been the one to pay for it, the one to sacrifice. But what if you wrong yourself? We’re accountable to someone else besides ourselves. To God. Is it really an act of arrogance to be haunted by guilt? Or is it an act of humility, admitting that you weren’t living up to the standards you set for yourself?

It is possible to spend your entire life blaming yourself for this and that, feeling guilty because you did something and living in fear of the consequences of it. This way of living has you immobilized because you are dwelling in the past (the guilt and blame for what has been) and you cannot enjoy your future (for fear of the consequences of what has been). When you forgive yourself you let go of a part of yourself, the part that wants to keep you trapped inside a circle of blame, shame, guilt and fear. This part of you, which essentially is part of your ego, does not want you to be free of it because ego does not want to relinquish control. This viscous pattern of behavior has the ability to murder your spirit.

In the novel, Tessa shares with Amber a story she read in a Bible she stole from a hotel. Jesus is at a party eating supper when a woman, who is a prostitute and everyone thought was a terrible sinner, is weeping on his feet, pouring expensive perfume over them, and drying them with her hair. Jesus starts talking about how those who’ve been forgiven much love much. But those who haven’t been forgiven much – or don’t realize that they have – don’t end up expressing much love. Jesus says that the woman was forgiven because she loved much. You cannot freely give to the world that which you do not give to yourself. Just as you cannot truly love someone without first loving yourself, you cannot forgive someone without forgiving yourself. When you learn to forgive yourself then and only then will you be able to forgive others. Paradoxically though, when you learn to forgive yourself you will in turn find that you have nothing to forgive others for. But given the context, it should’ve been the other way around – that she loved much because she’d been forgiven much, because that’s what he just explained. So which comes first, forgiveness or love?

Neither. Both love and forgiveness follow something else – a confession of your sins and an acceptance of blood-bought grace. Jesus told the woman washing his feet, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” If you have to do penance or make amends, then it means the forgiveness wasn’t complete, right? If it was, there would be no need for them. If you can make up for the past, why would you need to be forgiven for it? Apart from forgiveness, can you think of any way of dealing with your past that doesn’t involve some form of denial or negotiation? “Mental compartmentalization, rationalization, justification, repression…all forms of denial or just different genres of excuses.” If you don’t find forgiveness, you’ll never end up with peace, just get lost in a maze of comforting excuses.

I think Steven James is on to something.

*Luke 7:36-50, NIV (Biblical reference)

To learn more about Steven James and his books, visit his website.

The Queen (Patrick Bowers Series #5) available at Amazon

This links to an affiliate program.

Published by Revell, 2011

ISBN-13: 9780800733032

Source: Bought Copy (see my Review Policy)

Rating: B+

Copyright © kld/klc for Kat’s Book Reviews. All rights reserved. (see Review Policy)

Pride Goes Before Destruction

To share the disappointing news, I didn’t get into my school of choice for a Master’s writing program. To be fair to myself, there were only 15 slots open and several hundred people applied for the program. It was a tough crowd. Kudos to those who did make it in! Their writing must prove to be stellar! I will admit, it rocked me a bit when I heard the news. And humbled me. It is one thing to write for your peers on websites, blogs, and the like and completely another to apply oneself to a formal writing program. The parameters are different. The audience is different. The technique is different. I don’t have formal training as a writer. It is often pulled purely from the heart and knowledge gained from living life. My technique is not flawless. My motives are not always pure. This is where the phrase “A Skeptical Optimist” truly comes into focus. I was humbled by the denial of the writing program. I have many followers and friends who have built me up with accolades and astonishing vocal praises for my writing. Maybe I let it get to my head a bit. I took it upon myself to believe that I was a “sure thing” in getting into the program. Even so far as to already request time off at work next year for the residency programs. Humbling to say the least when having to delete and rescind the time off requests and am asked the reason why.

It was a take-a-few-notches-off-my -belt reminder that pride most assuredly comes before the fall.  It is not often I will so blatantly share my Christianity with others (even though that is the call of the ministry…a story for another time!), but I am reminded of Proverbs 16 which talks explicitly about pride and unpure motives. My downfall in this journey of writing is that I let my pride get the best of me and my motives weren’t pure. It was more about preening like a peacock than about the strength and motives of my writing. I foolishly believed that I was better than anyone else who applied for the program. How big-headed if me! And so arrogant!!

Proverbs 16 (NIV)

 1 To humans belong the plans of the heart,
but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue.

 2 All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the LORD.

 3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.

 4 The LORD works out everything to its proper end—
even the wicked for a day of disaster.

 5 The LORD detests all the proud of heart.
Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.

 6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for;
through the fear of the LORD evil is avoided.

 7 When the LORD takes pleasure in anyone’s way,
he causes their enemies to make peace with them.

 8 Better a little with righteousness
than much gain with injustice.

 9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the LORD establishes their steps.

 10 The lips of a king speak as an oracle,
and his mouth does not betray justice.

 11 Honest scales and balances belong to the LORD;
all the weights in the bag are of his making.

 12 Kings detest wrongdoing,
for a throne is established through righteousness.

 13 Kings take pleasure in honest lips;
they value the one who speaks what is right.

 14 A king’s wrath is a messenger of death,
but the wise will appease it.

 15 When a king’s face brightens, it means life;
his favor is like a rain cloud in spring.

 16 How much better to get wisdom than gold,
to get insight rather than silver!

 17 The highway of the upright avoids evil;
those who guard their ways preserve their lives.

 18 Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.

 19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.

 20 Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,[a]
and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.

 21 The wise in heart are called discerning,
and gracious words promote instruction.[b]

 22 Prudence is a fountain of life to the prudent,
but folly brings punishment to fools.

 23 The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent,
and their lips promote instruction.[c]

 24 Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

 25 There is a way that appears to be right,
but in the end it leads to death.

 26 The appetite of laborers works for them;
their hunger drives them on.

 27 A scoundrel plots evil,
and on their lips it is like a scorching fire.

 28 A perverse person stirs up conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends.

 29 A violent person entices their neighbor
and leads them down a path that is not good.

 30 Whoever winks with their eye is plotting perversity;
whoever purses their lips is bent on evil.

 31 Gray hair is a crown of splendor;
it is attained in the way of righteousness.

 32 Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

 33 The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.

This is not a moment to preach, but a moment to sit in silence and reflect. To tuck my tail between my legs and bow my head in shame at my audacity to believe that I was better than someone else. I’m not. And never will be. I am good, I won’t deny that. But it is one thing to know you are good at something and be confident in your ability and completely another to be prideful and boast of your ability and wear it as a “Superman S badge” pinned to your chest.

I took the badge off. I’m back to being a humble writer with the optimism and confidence in my ability to connect with others. With the hope that my words do not fall on deaf ears.

Keep me humble, my friends….

~ Kat