Carolee recently said she would like me to have a blog. A place I could share things including what I’m reading or what I’m listening to during the week when studying for sermons. One of my favorites is a podcast called On Being with Krista Tippet. Tippet also started something called the Civil Conversations Project which I’ve shared before, but I want to share it in depth this morning because conversation keeps coming up. It’s coming up in the news as we talk about identity and difference, and it keeps coming up in my sermons as we talk about what it means to love one another in Christian love…
The Civil Conversations Project seeks to renew common life in a fractured and tender world.
Tippets latest conversation was with Angel Kyodo Williams who Tippet describes this way-
She’s one of our wisest voices on social evolution and the spiritual aspect of social healing. angel Kyodo Williams is an esteemed Zen priest and the second black woman ever recognized as a teacher in the Japanese Zen lineage.
In their conversation, the word love came up, which of course made me sit up a little straighter in light of this mornings scripture, which mentions love 5x in the letter of John’s and 9x in the Gospel.
In the interview, Rev Williams says this…..
The way that I think of love most often, these days, is that love is space.
It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are — that that is love. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have hopes or wishes that things are changed or shifted, but that to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is, even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us. It’s bigness. It’s allowance. It’s flexibility.
The way I understand that is something I’ve learned from experience time and time again and it’s a paradox…that change comes from a place of acceptance.
The conversation goes on to talk about how love has been at the center for every great movement..the civil rights movement, apartheid, Gandhi…their underlying motivation for moving things…is about expanding our capacity for love as a species…
And I heard that again as I was listening to an acceptance speech for the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience award for 2018 in Amsterdam which went to Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick if you recall is a controversial figure who made news as the first NFL player to take a knee during the national anthem as a way of highlighting racial inequality in relation to police brutality. Regardless of how you feel about that, what I want you to hear is this…
I remind you that love is at the root of our resistance.
Our love is not an individualized love—it is a collective love. A collective love that is constantly combating collective forms of racialized hate. We protest because we love ourselves, and our people.
And RWilliamswilliams, a black woman who was in conversation with Tippet says this about the Black Lives matter movement….She says that love is about expanding our capacity for love as a species….
It’s saying “Oh, those police officers are trapped inside of a system, as well. They are subject to an enormous amount of suffering, as well.”
If we are to understand love as a space for acceptance that will lead towards change than we have to hold both sides of the conversation…
And Jesus knew that then; when love is at the root and heart of motivation, then their is room, there is space for listening, for empathy (which we talked abut last sunday) Making space for the other is not about who is right or wrong, it’s about listening, sitting beside one another, befriending the other in a space that is bigger then who you are. And that space is love.
Here’s another example….a very different podcast- that I found yesterday, called “Conversations with People who Hate Me.” The host posts things in writing, taking a stand on any given issue, and gets all kinds of hate mail, and he then invites them into a conversation on the phone….Because as it turns out, the hate speech a person can type on a computer, is very different than what they say on a phone, where you hear the persons voice, and know you’re being recorded….
because when you know you’re being recorded you’re accountable…you hold yourself to a higher standard…So maybe we should think of commandments as nothing more than being recorded all the time by God…
…Because we’re living in a time when even what’s ethical and what's
But not so for Jesus Christ and to follow him means we are holding ourselves to a higher standard that deals in morals and ethics and if you’re not sure where to begin…put on love…
That's our scripture, both scriptures...about expanding our capacity for love as a species…Which is a different kind of love than the love you have for your spouse or your kids or your family...It’s agape, it’s a love that transcends self…into a higher form of love…
...agape love that isn't reserved for one kind of people but for all people….
There's a reason we're commanded to love. We all need to be pushed a little, because left to our devices it's just too easy to stay comfortable and satisfied, and leave the work of love to someone else. We are a feel good culture, so to talk about commandments, to talk about obedience can get in the way of what we feel like doing….God knows that. I know that…How many times a day do I say to myself, but I don’t feel like it. But doing the right thing, the good thing, does not always live in that category of feelings, it ives in the category of righteousness and justice. It lives in the eyes of children before difference sets in.
It lives simply in God, who if we love we are to love far beyond anything we feel like doing, and into something we are to do anyway. When my kids were little ad even now, when they say but I don’t feel like it, I say too bad. I don’t feel like going to work, but I do. I don’t feel like running, but I do. I definitely don't feel like paying my taxes, but I do…we do, because we have to… I go to work to pay the bills, pay my taxes because its the law and run because it makes me a calmer person during the day…
We are commanded to love, not because it always feels good, but precisely because we are called into something bigger than ourselves, a movement of our own which recognizes Gods love for all people…and our love for God extends to all people because Gods love is for the entire world, not just the church.
So how do we do that? It’s our Mission Statement...it’s to practice love…practice is a discipline, and it requires we do it even when we don't feel like it.
The title of the sermon is ‘Our field of practice.” It comes from that conversation Tippet had with Rev Williams who said…The world is our field of practice….
…the situations that we confront moment to moment, day to day, month to month, year to year, that incite a sense of discomfort, dis-ease, awkwardness in us. Rather than seeing those moments as threats to who we are, if we could reorient, and ask….What is that? What has that inspired? What has that called forth in me, that discomfort that is speaking to something that feels solid and fixed and is now challenged in its location? — if we could do that, if we could live our lives in a way in which we understand that our deepest learning, our deepest capacity for growth comes not from walling ourselves off from the things that make us feel a sense of threat or discomfort ,but rather, figuring out what is speaking to us -what do we have to learn from that teacher that is embodied in that situation, that moment — not so that we become something different than who we are, but that we’re evolving into a greater and greater sense of what it means to be fully human, to be radically, completely in the truth of the human experience and all of its complexities.
When we understand the world and every interaction as our field of practice….
we begin to expand our capacity for love…..
Growing up in the Catholic church, I was taught that commandments were something you did or else….that if you didn't God would get me….I’m not suggesting all Catholic churches are teaching that, but that’s how it was presented to me in 1973...
That’s not what we teach in the Reformed tradition, it’s not what my children learned, although somewhat if I were to ask them that first understanding is still most peoples understanding…if you don’t follow the commandments that you will be punished….
That’s fear based motivation. But Love based motivation that Jesus was teaching, says differently. Love based motivation says...love God first….because God loved you first…..God loves you so much that from the moment you wake up, the gratitude list begins, eyes that open and can see the sun that came up again, ears that can hear the birds that praise God each morning, food that touches the tongue and sends forth sustenance and taste...there is not one piece of our lives that is not gifted and wrapped up in the love of our Creator…
BBT wrote a book I go to often and again…called An Altar in the World….and each chapter is a kind of practice…The practice of waking up to God, the practice of paying attention, the practice of living with purpose….The book is titled an altar in the world because she too understands the world as our field of practice…..
and the chapter that speaks to today’s scripture is…the practice of encountering others…
And it reminded me of a ballet my friend Monique went to this week, she described it over tea… All the dancers held a symbolic light in their hands, meant to suggest our phones….and the way we keep our heads down. This light provides an allusion of connection, but really it takes us away from experiencing the other and from experiencing the world…so if you’re looking for one way to practice encountering others, I might suggest the first and best way, is to put your phone away when you’re out in the world, in the Altar of a World...in this field of practice...so that you can be fully present to the person you are actually beside, and dance together…into conversation….into connection, and into Christian love.
The practice of encountering others, Taylor writes, is an assignment to get over your self. The assignment is to love the God ….with all your heart soul strength and mind…. and the second part of the assignment is…. like unto you…..to love the neighbor as if that person were your own strange and particular self. Do this….and the doing will teach you everything you need to know. Do this and you will live.