Hard to Love

I recorded this one, and you can hear Roar “help” me preach.

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and all your mind 

and love humankind, 

as God has loved yourself 

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and mind and humankind, 

we’ve got Jesus Christ to give

we’ve got Jesus Christ to live

we’ve got nothing to hide

because

we live and abide in love.

John 15:9-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

[Jesus says]

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

This is the Word of God for all people. 

Thanks be to God.

Hard to Love   Rev. Kathy Randall Bryant

This command is the hardest one to follow. 

We can talk about loving someone until we are blue in the face, it is really easy to fall in love with someone, but staying in love is another problem entirely.

We don’t understand the difficulty and importance of this commandment until someone gets really hard to love. 

Perhaps they just stand on the other side of the argument, and you really don’t understand them. 

But when someone stands on the other side of an argument, if we are not using love as the frame for our reference, love as the lens through which we look, then we will see through another lens. 

Instead of rose colored glasses we see the dirty green tint of hate and jealousy. It sneaks up on us. It might start as a snide comment. Maybe a dismissing remark. 

Soon enough, there is a distinct line between Them and Us. It’s almost too easy. Labels are thrown about and stick far too easily. The dividing line between the camps becomes wider, and it becomes less and less likely that the two groups will be able to see eye-to-eye. 

It’s easy to point to the political divide in our country as an example, but this division can sink in much closer to home.

I am deeply concerned about this. I’m concerned about my own bias because when it happens to me I am sure that it has been affecting how I think about those who disagree with me. It’s become more than merely thinking that those who think differently than me are wrong. I have gone so far into this thinking that I believe that they are misguided, blinded, ill-informed, dupes in a cosmic parody.

It’s not healthy.

I am creating a prison for my mind.

I am sinning. My bias is leading me to sin more.

I am missing out on seeing the image of God in others. I am missing out on the full representation of the body of Christ.

I don’t want to be this way.

Changing my heart will not be easy. I cannot do it on my own.

I struggle with losing compassion, and wanting to take the easy route of not seeing those around me as full people. It would be much more easy to return to my blissful ignorance than to work hard to move past my own biases to see the full image of God of the person in front of me. My love isn’t big enough. My heart isn’t open enough. I need to look through the eyes of Christ in order to love and see deeply enough.

This kind of division can split families, and keep parents and children from speaking for decades. 

It happens far too often. 

And maybe it is because of a complete offense or abuse, but sometimes it happens because someone gets angry, and then chooses to cut their family member off. 

Instead of holding the power of silence over someone, imagine what could happen if we were daring enough to work through some of the most difficult conversations that we are bound to have with someone else. 

Imagine what could happen in the midst of strife if folks take to heart what Jesus says and does by example here in the scriptures: to lay down one’s life for another. And laying down your life is not only dying for someone, but also being willing to not have the last word, to not win each and every argument, to listen, and not to always have your way.

Indeed, we have been loved by Christ, and we are not called servants any longer, no, instead we are friends of Christ. We are chosen by Christ. We have been called up into the family of God and we are now being brought into perfection through the grace of God. 

It is a long road indeed. 

Have you ever heard the story of “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth”?

This little turtle finds a rock, with something written on it: “you are loved.”

He keeps it, then shows it to mother, father, siblings, and finally the chief hears about it.

The village puts it in a place of honor. 

A village from across the river sees it. 

They decide they want it.

War breaks out.

Death, disease, famine, horrible anger and madness follow.

The broken truth changes hands so often that it eventually gets lost again.

Later, Little turtle finds it, but he also finds the other piece that belonged with it. They do fit together, they are part of a whole.

Along with “you are loved” is the rest of the truth, “and so are they.”

Old Turtle And The Broken Truth – October 1, 2003

by Douglas Wood  (Author), Jon J Muth  (Illustrator)

See, after we get so caught up in how we are different, with who has wronged whom, with tallies and scores and who is winning the argument, we lose sight of the full truth. When our fighting grows so strong that we fail to see that there is more to the truth than just the love for ourselves, we break the truth into ever continuing tinier pieces, jagged and rough, dangerous shards of the original message. It becomes a truth that has broken and breaks others.

We are children of God, and like a mother that despairs to see her children fighting, God mourns the ways that we have become divided over so many things. 

The mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and all the mass shootings we keep seeing in our country are signs of this. This brokenness that we have. The way that people have set themselves above other people. 

When I was little, my sister and I used to fight some. We were siblings. My mother, wise woman that she was, and still is, made us hug to make amends after we fought. She would make us hug and just sit there, as we realized what our fighting was doing. 

Granted, it was just in our family, you wouldn’t think that there were any other repercussions. But the lesson has stuck with me, as I have grown and matured. 

I went to Kenya twice. The second time I went with some fellow students from seminary. One of them was Laura, we had been good friends our first year, studying together and hanging out, but I hadn’t really hung out with her recently when we went together. 

And we had a falling out while we were overseas. 

Let me just tell you, fighting with someone while eight thousand miles from home is not fun. 

Especially when you fight like I do, in small jabs and snide remarks. I’m not a very clean fighter. 

But, when we got back to the US, we had another week or two at our host congregation before the end of the summer. And we worked through it. I had more to apologize for than she did. She forgave me. We came together and created reconciliation. 

One of the images that she used in being thankful that we had come through our argument and ended up on the other side is that of a stone smoothing another stone by grinding each other’s rough spots. 

The Peace we had and continue to share afterwards is so much more valuable because we came through conflict in order to reach it. 

Peace came from our loving each other through the hard parts. 

We weren’t afraid to serve each other and learn from each other. 

We are called and chosen as children of God. 

God mourns the fighting of God’s Children.

And fighting is not the fruit of the love of God.

No, the fruit of the love of God is the peace that passes all understanding. 

John writes about this in 1 John 4:7-12  (NRSV)

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (NRSV)

We don’t love because we are afraid of punishment,

we choose love because God’s love is perfected IN US.

We don’t love perfectly on our own

God acts so that we can know that God views us with the same love as God views God’s son.

Love is from God.

To know love is to know God.

The only way we love as God loves us is to allow God to love THROUGH us. 

Love shows us what is broken.

Love is what we need to heal.

If God is love, then love is: past, present, and future. 

Love is. Love has been. Love will be.

Christ invites us, chooses us, desires for us to live in, remain in, dwell in, ABIDE in his love. 

Jesus says: at the beginning, I chose you, and now I choose you over and over again. 

Christ expressed the greatest love, by coming to be with us, to descend his life to ours. 

Jesus speaks more than words to us, Jesus has displayed how deep his love is for us. 

We are invited to bear the fruit of living in God’s deep and abiding love. 

It won’t be easy. Sometimes the folks we are most called to love are the hardest ones TO LOVE. 

Love is hard. If nothing else, being a parent for over four years, staying married for over eight years and in relationship for ten years will teach you that. 

Love. is. hard.

And for those of you who have been together for longer than My husband and I, you know that. 

But you really can’t teach it. 

It is only something you can learn from experience. 

And then, once you think you’ve got it down one week, the next month something will change, and then there are new people and new relationships and new things to learn.

God says you are worthy of love. God says you are worthy of friendship and welcome and grace. It is part of your intrinsic being, no matter what you do or say. God loves you and wants you to share that love with those around you, so that you can experience even more the way that God loves you. And I want to keep learning about how God loves. 

God knit you together in the womb of your mother and loved you and said you were very good. Supremely good. God loves you and we are all working on learning from God. 

God is the only one who is perfect. God is the one who gave a perfect son to show us how love can be perfected in life here on earth, and I am working each day to be made perfect in love. I don’t expect to get it right today, tomorrow, or next year, but that doesn’t give me a reason not to work at it right now. I’m trying to love the way God loves. 

We won’t always get it right. We will make mistakes. We have scars and wounds and memories of times when we didn’t feel loved. 

Jesus always leads by example, 

loving his dense, misguided disciples, 

loving those who accused him of horrible things

loving those who spit in his face

loving those who nailed him to a tree.

Because Jesus has chosen us as his friends and fellow brothers and sisters, his siblings together in love, we are able to strive to live into these commands that he has for us, to love those around us with the same kind of daring that he demonstrated over and over and over again. 

You are loved because you are made in the image of God. Each of you. You are worthy of love.

God calls you to live into this love, loving others as God loves you. 

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and all your mind 

and love humankind, 

as God has loved yourself 

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and mind and humankind, 

we’ve got Jesus Christ to give

we’ve got Jesus Christ to live

we’ve got nothing to hide

because

we live and abide in love.

And so we love, as best we can, though the power of God. 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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Three Year’s Grief

It has been three years since my cousin, Harper, died by suicide at age 14. She would be starting college this fall. 

I was in Florida with Mom and Dad and Rebel, visiting family, including Harper’s parents, and even spoke on the phone with Harper the night before she died. 

We learned later that she had mapped out the night she would die, she had unstrung her violin, she had said farewell to her Instagram personas. 

The depression lied too loudly.

And now we grieve. 

If depression is lying to you, please get help. 

I wish, I so strongly wish, that Harper had asked for help. 

I wish I had been able to tell her about some of the dark valleys I have gone through. 

I wish that I could have shared her burden, so that her load would not have been so heavy. 

We journey in grief after losing her to depression. The lies can sound so much like truth. 

If you need help, call me. Or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a resource that has people who are trained to help, available at all times. 

I wish Harper was still here. I want you to still be here. I pray that whatever valleys you are facing, that you ask for someone to walk with you, to lend a hand, to shine a light in the darkness. 

You don’t have to do this by yourself. 

In Between Mornings and Evenings

I wish I had better mornings. I miss the mornings where I could wake up and go center for twenty minutes. I miss my cup of coffee with the world growing brighter and the silence of the night giving way to the early chirping of the birds and the quizziting of the cicadas. I miss the mornings I woke up and did a section out of Common Prayer with my husband as we began our day together in ministry. 

Those days are not presently possible, but hopefully not gone for good. Although it never happened with great frequency, I wished I could do a yoga routine with all of that. And I still have to eat a protein rich breakfast in order to not feel like I am about to collapse by 11:30a (it’s touch and go sometimes anyway). 

My dream morning routine would probably last over two hours… and I simply don’t have time for that these days, especially since I have a darling twenty-five pound cuddle buddy that expects me to curl in and offer milk at all times of the night, and especially loves her last dream feed at the hour before I have to get up to face the day. 

It’s a season. But I wonder if my dream will ever become reality. When I didn’t have children, I had my other reasons that I couldn’t get up early enough to do my dream routine… usually because bedtime with my husband was late enough that to get the necessary sleep, I needed to sleep in until we both got up to get breakfast. Or shower, or both. 

When I was in div school, I had the hardest time having a conversation with my first year roommate while we rideshared to campus. I think I am a morning person… but not a conversational morning person, at least not on a student sleep-deprived schedule. Even now, if I don’t get my first cup of coffee in my system before my firstborn wakes up, my patience and ability to have a coherent conversation is tenuous and paper thin at best. 

I had far more fun in the evenings when I was a student. But these days, if I am awake at 10p it’s because we’ve had an important phone call or a little one is still restless or I got stuck in a project that I thought was going to take less time than it turned out taking. 

Life is strange, isn’t it? 

These days, give me the day. And I will do whatever I can with it. Mornings, evenings, or the time in between… how ever long it lasts, this is the season I am in, now. 

Who Can Speak

When I joined the Peace Corps, in the process of moving to Kenya one of the forms I had to sign was a statement declaring that only the Peace Corps Director could speak for the Peace Corps in the country where I was volunteering. I was a volunteer, the only personal connection many people had to the Peace Corps, and I lost track of the number of times I said, “for me, since I can’t speak for the Peace Corps.” I took it to heart. The statement was really about the news media and political officials, none of whom I had any contact with when I was serving as a volunteer, but I still feel the need to say that I was only speaking for myself. 

I also had to sign a form saying I would not proselytize while in service… since I wasn’t a missionary, and we were representatives of the United States Government, so, you know, no street corner preaching allowed. (Which is still a little funny to me, because while I was in service in Kenya—and I expect the numbers haven’t changed very much over the last 12 years—the country was 90% Christian.)

So instead of talking to my coworkers about faith… I talked to my fellow volunteers, 90% of whom were not Christian. Each of my forty fellow volunteers had a different reason for their dismissal of the church, most of them were seated in the harm that they received or the hate they heard come from a pulpit or a pew. I had a couple of close friends who said that I was the first person they had talked to that actually listened to them when we talked together about faith. It remains one of the best compliments I have ever received. 

Listening well, trying to understand, receiving words with grace, and being open to ways in which I could be contributing to harm has been my goal as I have continued into formal ministry since then. 

The Peace Corps declaration about my needing to be careful to never speak for the United States Organization I was serving with stuck out to me, and still sticks out, because it echoed the language of the church I was raised in, a phrase I learned when I was a teenager: the General Conference is the only group that speaks formally for the United Methodist Church. And they only meet every four years, so the United Methodist Church is not inclined to knee-jerk reactions and heat of the moment responses. 

I was raised in the United Methodist Church. And at least since I was twelve, I have considered myself to not be a member of a particular church, but the annual conference I resided in, and really, the global church. I deeply felt part of the global church, a church that reaches across oceans and crosses borders and opens doors and provides shelter to those in need of sanctuary. 

I love this church.

I returned to Kenya while I was in Divinity School as part of an internship with North Church Indianapolis and the Umoja project, a partnership between ten congregations in Indianapolis and ten congregations in the Chuliambo region of Kenya outside of Kisumu. I remember one meeting in particular where the directors representing the Kenya side and the Indianapolis side of the partnership were creating a Memorandum of Understanding. I remember being particularly impatient as I heard the same things said repeatedly by each of the members of the discussion group. I didn’t realize until we finished the meeting that we had accomplished far more than I realized, in part because the decisions were made by all the group, developing a consensus between the entirety of the group. 

It was a far cry from majority rules. 

~~~

This week, the United Methodist Church completed a special session of General Conference, called together to discuss one single topic: the consideration of ordination and marriage of LGBTQIA+ individuals. A narrow majority of the delegates voted to keep the language of the current Book of Discipline and increase judicial penalties for congregations and pastors who break the rules. (The Judicial Council will be meeting in April to determine the constitutionality of these decisions. Yeah, the United Methodist Church has a Constitution and makes decisions based on a democratic process.) This was the first time that General Conference had discussed the issue of the rights of our queer siblings to get married in the church since it became legal in the United States. 

~~~

Eight years ago, I became a pastor, and took my first appointment of my own in the United Methodist Church. For five years, I served under appointment, and until about three years ago, when I took extended family leave, and became a pastor without a congregation. I still preach, and have celebrated communion a handful of times, (I have sacramental authority at my husband’s church…) and we baptized both of our daughters into the United Methodist Church. 

I love this church. 

I’ve preached approximately five hundred times. Every single time I stand (or sit, when I was unable to walk) before the gathered congregation, the first and last word I want to say is that God loves the people who are before me. Those who are present have represented a vast diversity of opinions and political stances. And I still, every single time, regardless if that one person is listening simply to think of the best verbal jab to give at the handshake line, preach grace to the people who listen. 

I love this church. 

Every single person is created in the image of God. I love the image of God in them, and so I love them, even if I don’t really enjoy the verbal jabs and the antagonism and the judgement I have received from people I was sent to serve. 

My word from the pulpit is still love. It is still a declaration that each child of God is created in the image of a God whose love poured out so much that we were created so that God could love us. 

I love this church. 

My heart broke this week when my church said that the United Methodist Church would continue to create a dividing line, excluding some of the very children of God I am called to love. 

General conference doesn’t speak for me. Not in this case. 

When I celebrate communion, I always say: This is not my table, this is not this church’s table, this is not even the table of the United Methodist Church. This is God’s table, and all are welcome to come, taste, and see that the Lord is Good.

In my own words: I love you, as you are created, formed and molded in the image of God, and you are worth that love. And you will always have a place at the table I celebrate.

Wandering

When I was a child, I liked going my own way around things. I moved differently than the way my family moved, either faster or with a different cadence, and so I went ahead of them many times if I knew the general direction we were going in—if I thought I knew where we were headed. I kept track of where they were by looking back every so often to make sure they were still going my way. 

It almost never failed. 

Almost. 

I always assumed that they were keeping an eye on me. Following me. But occasionally, they turned when I had kept on going straight. And I looked back, and… They weren’t there anymore. No longer following me. I was no longer ahead of them. They were nowhere to be found. 

Well, at least for a time. Shortly after I figured out they were not behind me, I would find them, and it seemed that it had been my fault that I had gotten separated. To them, at least. I always felt that it was at least a joint effort, our disconnectedness. 

Perhaps so. Perhaps not. 

I remember feeling deeply wronged in being blamed for being separated. It was as if I had willfully separated myself from them. I remember being told not to wander. 

And what is so strange in revisiting these memories is that I still have that visceral urge to defend myself, to defend my own walking pattern, that I had not changed what I was doing, that they were at fault for leaving me, rather than me for leaving them. 

I imagine that my memories from twenty-five and thirty years ago have colored with age. 

I know that we were both mistaken. 

I thought I was leading. I was not. I was walking ahead… but still following, still under the guidance of my family. And at some point… I was no longer aware of the guidance, and our paths diverged. For a time, we went our separate ways.

For a time, I was lost. 

Or at least… not where I was expected.

My family was not where I expected them to be, either. 

And for however long it lasted, we were lost from each other. 

The two times I explicitly remember, it wasn’t for more than a few minutes, maybe a turn around a corner or two in a grocery store or on a foreign street corner. 

And then we were back together, and I had to shift my cadence and walk with them more carefully. I was the one who had diverged, and I had to change what I was doing so that I didn’t leave them again. 

That still feels harsh. Or rather, both my need to change and my judgement are harsh. As I look back, I have a recollection of my feeling of betrayal, of feeling as though I was blamed for getting myself lost when I felt that at least the fault should have been equally laid on each of us, me for being alone and them for having gone in a different direction than I thought. 

Even now, I don’t know exactly how it happened, how we got separated. I don’t know how I ended up in a different place when I thought we were all going in the same direction. I thought we were all following all the same rules, or at least the same guidelines, even if we travelled with different patterns. 

Eventually, we managed to reunite, to come together, to end up in the same place. We arrived at our destination, as one group, as a family, together. No longer lost. Perhaps a little wiser from the experience. Maybe a bit jaded, learning my own independence in the midst of discovering the limits of my agency as a child. 

I still have to balance my agency, my independence, my need to stay with my family, my cadence, and my exchanging leading with following. It’s funny when each of these revolving influences cycle in importance, some balancing their crucial necessity with the next in line. 

I still travel, but these days, I’m the one keeping up with the little ones, rather than being little, myself. Dear ones, if you wander, let me know where you are headed, so we can find the new places, together.