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the furious longing of god

the furious longing of god

I was recently invited to join the members of the TheOOZE Viral Blogger Network. You can learn more about the Ooze online community by following the link listed in my blog’s Links list. Each month, Ooze viral bloggers select from a list of books of interest to Christian thinkers and pilgrims and agree to submit reviews on their own blogs and on the Ooze website. For my first review, I chose, and read in a hour, a new book by Brennan Manning, entitled, the furious longing of God.

Exactly at the midpoint of Brennan Manning’s book come these words:

Until the love of God that knows no boundary, limit, or breaking point is internalized through personal decision; until the furious longing of God seizes the imagination; until the heart is conjoined to the mind through sheer grace, nothing happens.

Nothing happens. Nothing that matters happens in you. Nothing that matters happens through you. Nothing happens to transform you, to heal you, to wake you up to the dawn of the life God has in store for you.

Brennan Manning wants something to happen. Brennan Manning wants something to happen for you. And so he pulls out all the stops — emotional, rhetorical, poetic — to push you and prod you and upset you and compel you to open your eyes and heart and soul to see the love, the real and powerful and vibrant and furiously intense love, God has for you.

But that’s not quite right. It is God that wants something to happen in you! Brennan is merely trying to serve as the messenger, to point, to reveal, to pull back the curtain, to try to express what cannot be rightly expressed, but to hint at it poignantly enough to bring us to look for ourselves.

If the book has a fault, it is that sometimes Manning’s “cuteness,” his toying with language to try to stretch it to say what cannot be said, his use of stories about himself which are mostly rather unflattering, sometimes get in the way and may be distracting, making us think about him instead of the One to whom he points.

And, yet, I cannot really fault him for the way he has done the book. You can’t get at personal relationship impersonally. You cannot hint at, point at, the transforming love of God by being scholarly. You have to get personal. You have to be, not just the teacher, but the messenger, the one who can say, “Can you see what I see?”

The book is not scholarly, not an essay or a treatise, but more a collection of reflections and meditations and prayers and poems. I did appreciate, however, Manning’s frequent use of quotations from other authors, from other Christians, from other pilgrims. One of my favorites was this ironic observation from Gerald May:

The entire process (of self-development) can be very exciting and entertaining. But the problem is there’s no end to it. The fantasy is that if one heads in the right direction and just works hard enough to learn new things and grows enough and gets actualized, one will be there. None of us is quite certain exactly where there is, but it obviously has something to do with resting.

And then there are the lines from Rich Mullins’ song, The Love of God, one of the sources for the title of Manning’s book:

In the reckless, raging fury
that they call the love of God.

That is the relentless refrain of this book: open yourself to the love of God for you! The essence of our faith is not about what we can do for God, but about what God has done, what God is doing for us. It is a book about God, a book that hopes to lead you, the reader, into God’s embrace, a book that urges you and entices you, not to know about God, but to know God.

It is there, in the embrace of God’s love, that our wounds are healed, and it is there that we may become healers, instruments of God’s peace … which is our intended vocation!

thirty-three prayer flags

thirty-three prayer flags

Yesterday, as classes resumed at Virginia Tech, students gathered around a display of thirty-three white prayer flags.

Thirty-three flags … one each for the thirty-three people who died the previous Monday at the hand of a lone gunman. One each for his thirty-two shooting victims … and one for him.

Thirty-three lives were lost. Thirty-three precious human lives were laid waste. All thirty-three people were remembered and grieved. It is a powerful witness that love can rise up over hate, that grace can rise up over bitterness.

Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.

hateful?

hateful?

From a Christian blog I read:

General Peter Pace’s comments calling homosexuals acts as immoral, and Senator Sam Brownback’s comments backing the General up are nothing less than hateful …

Grace is not about an indifferent acceptance of everything, but about an unconditional love for everyone. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came under fire this week for his characterization of homosexual behavior as “immoral.” The remarks may indeed have been ill-advised and unnecessary, and probably unwise and unloving to pin the “immoral” label on a group of people with a public statement like that. But I would not call the remarks “hateful.”

I would not hesitate to label acts of pride or envy or greed or bias or abuse as immoral, when in facts our churches are full of people who are prideful and envious and greedy and biased and abusive. To say so is not to be hateful, but to witness to the kind of life God desires for all people. The purpose of grace is not to condone but to transform.

All this is to say that well-meaning and humble and faithful Christians disagree about the “immorality” of homosexual acts. Some in good conscience and with love for their neighbors and with a genuine desire to follow Jesus affirm the expression of same-sex love as acceptable in the sight of God. Others in good conscience and with love for their neighbors and with a genuine desire to follow Jesus believe that obedience to God means that the only acceptable expression of sexual intimacy is between a woman and a man in marriage.

The issue is complex and, to state the obvious, is tearing our churches apart. I believe we need a healthy dose of charity and a whole lot of love and patience in dealing with each other as we work this through and try to do our best to follow where Jesus leads. We need to listen to each other, try to understand each other, acknowledge each other’s conclusions, even where we disagree, so that the church and its witness will not be destroyed by disagreement over this issue. To brand someone who disagrees as hateful doesn’t help …

not crusaders for jesus, but followers of jesus

not crusaders for jesus, but followers of jesus

From an editorial by John Buchanan in the February 6, 2007 edition of The Christian Century …

I was representing my denomination on a visit to Croatia, not long after the shooting between Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians had stopped. The Croats are mostly Roman Catholic; the Serbs, Orthodox; and the Bosnians, Muslim. The conflict was about more than religion, but religion added fuel to the fire …

We … met Peter Kuzmic, an American who calls himself a Calvinist Pentecostal and who presides over the Evangelical Theological Seminary is Osijek and also holds a chair in world missions at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Kuzmic has pleaded with American evangelicals to stop using terms like “evangelical crusade” and “Balkan harvest” when they come to the region …

Kuzmic told me about a Serbian businessman named Antol who quit his job to go to work for the Agape Project, a refugee resettlement initiative. Antol’s new job was to bring together money, materials and labor to rebuild Muslim villages that had been destroyed in the war. While reviewing rebuilding plans submitted by a Muslim village chief, Antol noticed that the plans did not include rebuilding the mosques that had been leveled. ‘”Why no mosques?” Antol asked. The chief explained that he knew Antol was a Christian, so he assumed that there would be no help in rebuilding mosques. Antol answered: “We will help you rebuild your mosque because we follow Jesus, who told us to love our neighbors. And he told a story once about a man who stopped beside the road to help a victim whose religion was different from his own.”

Because we follow Jesus!

the healing power of forgiveness

the healing power of forgiveness

Marie Roberts is the widow of the man who entered the Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, thirteen days ago, taking ten young girls hostage and eventually killing five before taking his own life. On Friday, she released an open letter to the Amish community through her pastor. The text of her letter follows …

To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:

Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.

Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives.

much ado about nothing

much ado about nothing

Much has been made of the missteps of the prosecution team in the trail of Zacarias Moussaoui, a confessed al-Qaeda operative. Because one of the prosecution lawyers illegally coached several witnesses, Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that the witnesses could not be called, severely undermining the government’s case against Moussaoui. On Friday, however, Judge Brinkema agreed to let the government substitute other “untainted” witnesses.

The great outcry over the government’s mistakes, raised by media commentators and relatives of some of the victims of the 9/11/01 attack on the World Trade Center, disturbs me. I do understand the need to “get this right,” since Moussaoui is the only person to be tried in connection with the 9/11 attacks. And I do understand the extraordinary pain of those whose loved ones were taken from them through this hateful and horrible act directed against innocent people.

But Moussaoui has confessed, granted, not to involvement with the 9/11 attacks per se, but to conspiring to fly airplanes into buildings. He has been convicted and will face life in prison. The only function of the trial at this point is to determine sentence, and the only goal of the prosecution is to win the death penalty.

The cry is not for justice, it is for blood. What will be lost if the government fails to win its case? Moussaoui will have been apprehended and will pay for his crime with the rest of his life. He will not have “gotten away with it.” Justice will be done.

It is sad — and disturbing — that some will be satisfied with nothing less than blood for blood. Why do we require a life? What need will be satisfied in us if he is executed? Will the taking of his life compensate in any way for the 3000 lives that were taken from us? At best, we will have satisfied our own questionable need for retribution. And at worst, we will have shown ourselves no better than any of those who defend their cause, whatever it may be, by taking human life.

There are other ways of dealing with grief, other ways of responding to injury.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven.

Connie Taylor’s son died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Last Sunday, at a church gathering in White Plains, New York, she met Aicha el-Wafi, the mother of Zacharias Moussaoui, and embraced her. “She is blaming her son, in part,” Taylor said. “That must be so horrible. I didn’t experience that.” Read the report of their meeting: 9/11 Mom Hugs Moussaoui’s Mother.

Choose a different path. Choose Jesus’ way …

no matter who you are …

no matter who you are …

No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey,
you are welcome here.

The folks at my church have heard me repeat this tag line from the United Church of Christ national media campaign countless times. For me, it expresses something fundamental about the gospel to which I am called to witness, something not so much about our readiness to welcome anybody, as about Jesus’ readiness to welcome everybody, something not so much about our hospitality, as about Jesus’ gracious invitation. Jesus invited me and Jesus welcomed me! So I know Jesus will invite and welcome you … no matter who you are!

This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that God loved us and sent Jesus to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.

That gracious invitation is especially vivid to me when I stand behind the communion table in our church sanctuary, inviting people to receive the food and drink that Jesus offers them. Because it is Jesus who makes the invitation! The bread and the wine are not mine to give, not the church’s to give, and most certainly not ours to decide who may or may not be invited to the table. This is one of the most meaningful things I do as a minister, extending Jesus’ invitation to eat and to drink, offering to each and to all these emblems of grace.

Communion is a sacrament, a means of grace, a means of experiencing/accessing/being touched by grace. We are called to the table to remember Jesus, and, perhaps even more importantly, to remember that we are remembered by Jesus. We are called to the table to meet Jesus, to be met by Jesus, to celebrate the possibility and to experience the reality of intimacy with Jesus. This is what the gospel is about! This is the good news!

So how could I possibly turn anyone away? How could I ever refuse you access to the Lord’s table … no matter who you are?

These thoughts were stirred as I read Katherine Willis’ blog post entitled, Never too broken. She reminds us: We are never too broken to receive the grace of God in all its tangible and intangible forms. Her post about access to the communion table, and how some have tragically been denied access, is well worth reading.

point of no return?

point of no return?

I remember pulling hard and fast on the paddle, propelling my whitewater canoe forward with the accelerating current toward the brink of Wonder Falls, an eighteen-foot falls on the Big Sandy River. I remember the point of no return, when I knew there was no turning back, no turning around, when I knew that I was committed, that one way or another I was going over the falls!

I made the choice to be there. I made the choice to run the falls. But once I passed that point of no return, I had no more choice … We make countless choices every day that commit us, countless choices we cannot undo. We cannot stop and say “Ooops. I want a ‘do-over.'” or “Wait a minute. I changed my mind.”

Maturity is about taking responsibility for our commitments, about understanding the consequences — and the gravity — of our choices … about thinking carefully, choosing decisively, acting boldly, and accepting whatever befalls us. We can learn from our mistakes; we just cannot undo them. The choices I make in this one moment inexorably alter the options I have available in the next.

And yet … And yet …

It seems to me that the gospel of Jesus Christ changes the rules about points of no return. Not absolving us of our responsibilities, not denying the very real consequences of our choices, but somehow reaching us, holding us, saving us when we have passed what we thought was the point of no return. There is no point beyond which the love of God cannot reach us! There is no point beyond which the grace of God cannot bring us back! I am never — never! — committed to a failed life, never — never! — doomed to hell. There is always for us — for any of us — the possibility of forgiveness, of justice, of mercy, of grace.

Now that is something for which to be thankful!

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