God is love, I hear, over and over. God is love.
I wonder what the speaker's definitions are.
About God. Do they mean the traditional God, the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God who knows everything, created everything, and still controls everything? Including playoff games…?
That's a comfortable notion, I suppose, if it lets you blame God from everything that goes wrong, from avalanches that wipe out holiday resorts to tsunamis that flood a nuclear power plant and poison the entire Pacific Ocean.
To say nothing of demented people who run down holidaying crowds with a truck, or open fire in a movie theatre, or abuse small children.
"God moves in mysterious ways," they will say. "I guess we'll never understand God's will...."
Such a belief may offer comfort, but it's not a God of love.
Unless you have a different definition for love, too. Several dictionaries agreed, in general, that “love” is a warm feeling towards another. Usually for a person, sometimes an animal. Or even for a principle, a cause. Love means caring deeply, wanting to avoid hurting the other.
Which would exclude tsunamis and landslides as acts of love.
What is love, anyway?
The cliché "that two become one" is not a metaphor for sex, although it’s commonly used that way. It's a definition of love. Myuniqueness and youruniqueness blend, and become ouruniqueness.
Love is the ultimate act of cooperation, of collaboration. If modern biologists are right, if survival goes not to the most rapacious but to the most cooperative, then love is the driving force behind evolution.
I prefer to turn the "God is love" equation around, and say "Love is God."
It may seem like a minor change. It isn’t. It asserts that where there is love, God is. Where there is no love, God is not.
But that implies a conclusion many will find unacceptable. It implies that God is a product of us, rather than us being a product of God.
Actually, a product of life, not just of humans. Because animals are obviously also capable of love. Every creature that succeeds reptiles on the evolutionary escalator nurtures its young. There's an emotional attachment. Dogs clearly have a relationship with their humans. Cats... well, there's a relationship, although I'm not convinced it qualifies as love...
But my mind cannot get around non-living things feeling love. Rocks? Gases? Metals?
And while I agree that the universe makes love possible -- at least on this one small planet -- I have difficulty crediting love to the Big Bang. Or to String Theory. Or to Dark Matter, whatever it is.
Love is a product of life.
But how, you will ask, did life come to be? I consider that question irrelevant. If we understood how life came to be, would it change anything? If we didn't like some theory of how life emerged from a tepid pond, would we then reject life? Hardly.
Life is a fact. Life is real. The question is not how it happened, but what we do with it. As part of it.
Life makes love possible. Love makes cooperation possible. Love makes us one.
And in our oneness, I believe, we find God.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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The comments about last week’s column, on disposing of things/ideas that no longer have value, generally fell into two camps. One lot dealt with disposing of physical things; one dealt more with disposing of habits, ideas, and beliefs.
Ruth Buzzard focused on possessions: “Did this column ever hit home! You are lucky to have Joan to consult. Being alone, when I am undecided about a ‘treasure’ I just put off the decision and live in the resulting clutter.”
So did Tom Watson: “If you really get serious about this recycling, or purging, business and discover some handy tips, my daughters -- well, more my sons-in-law -- would appreciate it if you send those tips along. They take one look around my place and go, ‘Yikes! We're going to have our work cut out some day. Why don't you help by getting a head start?’ I tell them, ‘I wouldn't want to rob you of a 'treasured' experience, would I now?’ I've discarded many old ideas along the way. Physical stuff, though, is another matter -- never know when I might need that!”
Calvin Hefner shared his own experience: “Thanks, Jim for a great reminder of Falling Upward, a book that had a transformational effect on my life.
“In my rather large home in North Carolina, I had collections of art pieces from my travels. Having enjoyed my life and collections of ‘stuff’, a time came to share all of the beauty in my life with others. My partner and I decided a major change of life for both of us would be most beneficial, spiritually. Through an estate sale, distributing many articles to auction houses and totally clearing out our home on moving day, we made a fairly clean sweep of our lives and moved to South America.
“Here in Ecuador we find peace by a slower pace of living. The weather is superb living in the Southern Andes at an elevation of 8300 feet, each day is a reminder of spring. The culture is most friendly, and curious as to who we are. For me, at the age of 81, learning a new language is not too difficult, as I work with a gifted tutor. We have lived here for 4 years. This all came about through a faith that all will be well, as we cracked the door to our past and we have been blessed beyond measure.”
Wayne Irwin picked up on the ideas that could be disposed of: “Once, when visiting Olympus in Greece, I came upon a painting depicting a bearded Zeus seated on a throne. It was an Aha! moment, as I realized I was viewing a depiction of the heavenly Father figure to whom I had prayed as a child. That visualization is something else that has long since been discarded.”
Margaret Carr also wrote about getting rid of preconceptions: “For some reason your Soft Edges reminded me of my aunt’s funeral. She was a Jehovah’s Witness. The minister went on and on about how great it was going to be when we could all go to see her again in heaven. All I could think about was when we all got up there how could we find her when all who had died over the years were all looking for our loved ones. It is amazing how our thoughts can change when we finally stop and think for ourselves about what we were taught as a child.”
Bob Rollwagen expanded on my thoughts: “How simple life would be if everyone kept using everything until it stopped working beyond repair. If everyone lived and accepted all our neighbours and their life style. Waste comes when good is discarded and hate occurs when we want others to be like ourselves.
“Many concepts that are a reality of their era. We once thought the world was flat. There was a time before the wheel and the computer. Too many of us live trying to correct the past while the present is being ignored. We record history so we can learn, not so we can change it. We have learned that much of history has not been recorded or was recorded incorrectly. So what? Let’s get current events right.
“Discard the thought that recycling will save the plant. Reduce and reuse need to be our goal.”
Somehow I missed Isabel Gibson’s letter about the “shuffling in the dark towards an unknown destination” column two weeks ago. Isabel wrote, “Some of those who experience catastrophic deaths, and then return, report seeing a light as at the end of a tunnel. I have been with only two people as they died: in both cases, it was what you characterize as a normal, fade-away death. It seemed to me that they were shuffling in the dark, but when the time came, the open door was as obvious to them as it was invisible to the rest of us.”
When I first wrote this paraphrase of Psalm 93 -- an alternate reading for this coming Sunday –- I had two images in my mind: a blue-green planet, bright against the eternal darkness of space; and Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece, showing God not so much clothed in light as a creature composed of light itself.
1 The Lord wears light like a royal robe;
it dazzles those who gaze upon the Lord.
The whole world is God's royal throne;
like a sapphire, it shines in the darkness of space.
2 The earth has been God's home from the beginning;
Before time began, God was there.
3 What is so irresistible as a river in flood?
Its banks cannot contain it;
trees and homes are swept along.
As thundering waters dominate the valley,
4 So God pours through this planet.
But God is greater than any flood,
greater than surf that pounds a rocky shore into sand.
5 For God is not capricious, ruling by random whim;
God rules with justice and fairness.
Thus is the whole earth made holy.
Hear, O earth! The Lord, the Lord alone, is God.
Now, and forever.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge.