Archive for the ‘presence’ Tag

Love = Forgiveness and Acceptance

-heart-as-a-gift-declaration-of-loveWith Valentine’s Day a recent memory, I’ve been thinking about love and what it really means.  Too many times, I think we only think of love as romance or simply a warm affection.  I’ve concluded that sometimes love means forgiveness and acceptance, and from my experience, it’s this kind of love that has the greatest power to transform.

Some time ago, I agreed to be a tutor at the small community college where I teach.  I was paired up with a student whom I’ll call Joanie, and we began to work on her Composition I class work.  She was not the first student I had tutored, so I had certain expectations about her progress during our time together.  Our second meeting crushed those expectations, though, as the very concepts we went over at the first meeting were forgotten by then.  In fact, some of the writing work we did together had been erased or accidentally reworded, to the point that we had to start over again. It was like the movie 50 First Dates every time we met.  She would completely forget, and oftentimes completely undo, everything we had accomplished during the earlier meeting.

Needless to say, I was ready to pull my hair out after the first few meetings.  But she was so sweet, so excited to learn (even if she didn’t retain it), that pretty soon I realized that I needed to stop emphasizing the idea of progress and simply address her questions and concerns during that meeting.  As long as I held to the idea of moving her along to greater understanding, I experienced frustration.  Once I simply focused on helping her with her concerns, I was able to put in my hour of work, knowing that I had helped her, loved her, and treated her with the respect she deserved as a human being.1human-hands-hold-heart-shaped-burning-candle-against-dark-background

Although there is nothing wrong with the idea of progress, I think that when we allow it to affect our relationships, it can be a hindrance because we start expecting others to learn, to see, and to do as we do, not allowing for the individuality that was created by the Triune God.  This reminds me of the saying, “We all get different things at different times.”  By understanding the practice of presence and place sharing, forgiveness and acceptance, we are transformed.

Not too long ago, I read a comment someone made to a Face book friend about a posting he made that was very encouraging and uplifting about God’s love for all humanity.  This comment made by this person was very legalistic, discouraging, and simply untrue.  My first response was to comment back in an argumentative fashion, forgetting the lesson learned through my 50 First Dates tutoring experience.  Then I realized, or remembered, that it’s not my job to create progress or understanding (in anything, really), but God’s.  I don’t have to change anyone’s thinking about anything.  My only job is to love God and allow that love to flow through me to others.  Any transformation that takes place comes from the Father, Son, and Spirit, not me.  I am not responsible – God is – and I can forgive myself for momentary lapses like this one where I forget that.  Accepting others’ fallibility as well as my own and forgiving others and myself is where I find transformation and peace.

~by Nan Kuhlman

Some questions for a Trinitarian eschatology

I was raised in an apocalypse-centered religion.  Since my years of teenage rebellion, I have mostly ignored eschatology, and it’s been a good re-centering experience.  But nowadays I find myself less and less able to keep saying “Eschatology doesn’t matter.”  Because it does.  The ancients were right to put “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” at the end of the creed rather than the beginning.  But they did include it, and I have begun to agree with their choice.  The future of the Triune God deserves a greater-than-zero level of attention.

Now as I seek to taste eschatology again for the first time, I approach it from the perspective of the One who has given me a future—the Triune God of Grace—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; this perspective changes everything.  What I am finding has little in common with the vision I was raised with.  For one thing, I am asking different questions than I used to, and today I want to share some of those questions with my Trinity-and-Humanity family, so we can all start to think this through together:

Question #1: Where is God?

I think this is the most important question that requires our voice, because I think the standard Christian message distorts the gospel.  People flock to the churches of the world, asking “Where is God?” and the fundamental answer they get is: “Not here yet.”  I don’t usually hear it said in exactly those words, but that is what it boils down to.  Why is there so much evil in the world? Because Christ hasn’t returned yet.  Right?  People are being taught that the world is unpleasant because God is absent.  But the “good news” is that someday his absence will cease, he will smite the wicked (more on that later), and then everything will be fine for us good people.  In the meantime, we say that oh yes, Jesus is already present through the Holy Spirit.  What does that mean?  When we say “I’ll be with you in spirit,” what we really mean is “I won’t be there.”

Our answer to this question needs work.  Yes, we want to affirm that the future of creation is New Creation, a world where the Triune God will be present in a way more intense and obvious than now. But we must find ways of communicating this without giving the impression that God’s current location is anything other than Right Here, Right Now, Always and Forever.  I believe one good path is to start using fewer spatial metaphors (“Christ went to heaven and will someday return to earth”) and start using more epistemic metaphors (“Christ’s presence is now hidden, visible only to the eyes of faith”).  We can make more use of Paul’s metaphor of Christ’s “Appearing” (Greek: “Epiphany”) (Colossians 3.4; 1 Timothy 6.14; 2 Timothy 4.8; Titus 2.13).  Spatial metaphors are fully biblical, but I find that in our deistic cultural context, they are easily misunderstood.  We cannot allow the gospel of God-With-Us be misinterpreted as the bad news of Us-Without-God.

Question #2: Is human history a predetermined downward slope (Or, “Is Greek eschatology right”)?

The Greek philosophical vision of time is simple—the eternal timeless ideal world is the real world. What we live in now is an illusory world of evil disgusting things like matter and time, and that’s why the world is getting worse and worse and worse all the time.  When the Greek mind looks to its future, it sees enlightened people being liberated from their bodies, re-joining the eternal timelessness, while barbarians are banished to Hades. Hmmm. How much has this philosophy polluted the Christian vision?  The eternal Triune Life is being earthed in the world, and the gates of Hell are not prevailing against it.  The darkness cannot put out the Light.  In what ways is this compatible with the idea that the world will inevitably get worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse, until God decides to dispense with this “Grace nonsense” and start kicking bad-guy butt, because we all know that violence is the only real solution to evil. Right?

God has already given his answer to the badness of the world; he sent his one and only Son to be one of us, to make us one with Him.  But we Christians talk about the future as if the solution has not yet arrived, that the real solution is that someday God will stop loving his enemies.  I have more questions than answers here.  We need our best minds working on this.  Messages that don’t make sense get ignored.

Question #3: When Christ appears, how will he treat non-believers?

The Koran says that Allah will one day come to earth and slaughter all the infidels like me, and that my Muslim friends will help.  This is…ahem…distasteful to me.  But do I believe the same basic idea, just with a different deity?  Christian culture is awash in a schizophrenic vision of God—with the kind merciful Jesus on one hand, but behind his back a vengeful Father who wants/needs to destroy us.  I believe this schizophrenia finds one of its greatest expressions in our eschatology—where we preach the grace and kindness of God, but then preach a coming apocalypse where God’s face will have changed somehow, where he will behave toward “the wicked” with something other than kindness.

I believe most of us Trinity-and-Humanity folks agree here that the Triune God has one and only one orientation toward us—Love—and that whatever “judgment” and “wrath” are, they belong to this love and must be defined in terms of love.  Can the Father, Son and Spirit’s presence be abhorrent and painful to those who hate them?  Absolutely.  I can testify to that from personal experience.  The Bible often gives us a very limited human perspective of what God’s presence can be like to those who wish he were absent.  It’s like my baby telling the story about the time I took him to the doctor to get his shots.  I don’t come off as a very kind person in that story, but that doesn’t change who I am as his dad.  Our stories about the pain of unbelief need to be less about torture chambers and more about hospitals.

One related bonus question:  Does grace expire after “The Judgment”?  I was raised with a vision of a sort of timeline of the future where there will come a day when God says “I’m not gotta take it anymore!” and he separates the good people from the bad people, and that’s that.  Period.  Forever.  But with my new understanding of what judgment is—Medicine, not Punishment for law-breaking—this requires re-thinking.  The whole point of the tortures of chemotherapy is the hope that it will eventually cease being necessary.  As Trinitarian worship musician Caleb Miller reminded me this week, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19).  We must rehabilitate “eternal punishment”—by #1). Paying closer attention to the meaning of Jesus’ idea of “aionian kolasin” (“age of discipline”) as distinct from the Pharisaical notion of “aidios timoria” (“endless torture”), and #2). Listening to the early church’s take on this issue.  The patristics were not of one voice here, and that’s okay.  Just like it’s okay to pursue diverse notions now.

In case you can’t tell, I haven’t figured all this out yet.  But I hope I’ve started having some almost-coherent questions.  What do you think?  What are the theological and biblical arguments for or against what I’ve said here?  Perhaps even more importantly, what are some other, better questions?

Non-judgment, Presence, and Place Sharing

I spend a lot of time judging.  Although I may not consciously realize it, I am constantly deciding (judging)  whether I like the weather, the food I’m eating, or the shoes worn by the woman who just walked by.  The fact that I’m not alone in this predicament makes me think that it is worthy of our discussion, especially as the implications of our constant judging affect our ability to relate with one another.

The point that I am constantly evaluating everything was driven home to me when I read a suggestion by author Deepak Chopra to practice non-judgment.  Chopra advised, in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, to start the day with this statement:   “Today, I shall judge nothing that occurs” (17).  It’s his assertion that by cultivating a mind that doesn’t constantly evaluate everything as good or bad, it creates a certain silence or peace in the mind which promotes love and creativity.  But how does the idea of non-judgment translate in normal, everyday life, where we are sometimes required to evaluate others in a particular area?

I concluded that the idea of non-judgment was similar to the idea of place sharing, in that we put ourselves in the position of another and respond to them as we would like to be treated.  To me, this sounds very much like the Golden Rule:  “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” (Matt 7:12, NLT).  A verse found earlier in this same chapter of Matthew speaks about how “the standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged” (7:2. NLT). 

My mother-in-law recently passed away from Alzheimer’s disease after suffering with it for several years.  In the last few years of her life, we could not converse with her normally, so our visits to the nursing home became a strain.  How do you communicate your presence and support to someone who is plainly off in another world?

Our first inclination was to get caught up in judgment, reasoning that since she could not communicate normally, she was also incapable of recognizing our presence and concern.  Her condition made it unpleasant for us to visit (more judgment).  We could not fix or cure her situation by our visits, so why bother?

As I sat by her bedside one day, I happened to remember when I was awaiting surgery nearly sixteen years ago, feeling very dopey due to the preliminary anesthetic, and my mother was sitting with me.  “Do you want me to go?” she asked, seeing how I could barely keep my eyes open.

“Just talk to me,” I said, wanting to feel the comfort of her presence. So she told me about what she had been doing, whom she had talked to in the grocery store, whom she planned to visit.  Although nothing she told me was of any consequence, her presence with me took my mind off the surgery and comforted me.

As I sat by my mother-in-law’s bed remembering this, I decided that I would begin handling my weekly visits to see her in the same way, as if she were drugged but still in need of a familiar voice and comforting presence.  So I began to recount to her everything I had been doing that day, from the loads of laundry to cleaning the bathroom.  That was the extent of our visits, yet by not judging her situation and my response to it, I was able to share the burden of her situation, at least a little, and perhaps give her some comfort.

While my mother-in-law’s situation was one where non-judgment, presence, and place sharing were the best (maybe the only) options, I think these concepts have important roles to play in all our interactions, even those that call for us to thoughtfully evaluate another’s actions.  We spend a lot of time making judgments, many of which are unhelpful and unnecessary.  The times when we are required to make a judgment can be tempered or made more effective by remembering the Golden Rule, and treating those we must evaluate with kindness and compassion, understanding their situation and sharing that place, even if it’s only by our presence.

            ~by Nan Kuhlman

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