Destroy the Narrative of Fear – Embrace Hope!

fear

We’re hearing a great deal about fear these days. Regardless of your political affiliation, religious beliefs, or social circles, it seems the theme of fear is permeating our national and international consciousness. I can understand why this might happen for people who place a great deal of confidence in politics, economics, and human systems. Yet it bothers me Christians are trapped in a fear based existence. We often read in the scriptures God reminding his people to “Fear not.” We’re constantly encountering a God telling us to “Be not afraid!” Yet, just like everyone else Christians have bought into the narrative of fear. What does that say about us? We were created to reflect the image of a God encouraging people to be bold and live in a way that reflects hope not fear. Yet we continue to be drawn into a narrative of fear.

Part of the problem is we’ve put our hope in the wrong place. We believe politics, military might, legal systems, powerful people, and a multitude of other sources are going to give us the security, stability, and peace we long for. We’ve forgotten all these things are useful, but in the end are not the source of our hope and peace. Only in Christ can we find hope and in that hope the peace and life that gives us a truly wonderful existence regardless of our surrounding situation. I want to focus on three readings from scripture that help us refocus our need to re-root ourselves in Christ as the source of our hope. The first is from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. I love this epistle because it reminds us what matters most. What matters most is Christ the Son of God. Christ, the one who was present at the beginning of all creation and the one to whom all creation returns. This epistle demands we ground our hope in Christ because our strength comes from the glorious power of Christ (Colossians 1:11). Further, we read Christ rescues us from the power of darkness and gives us a place in God’s Kingdom, a place of forgiveness (Colossians 1:13). The whole epistle is packed with reasons for us to take comfort in the fact our hope is in Christ and not in the temporal transitory world in which we dwell.

In addition to Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians I find comfort in praying through Psalm 46 which also reminds us of the great God who is our peace and hope. The psalm reminds us God is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1) and he is the one who makes wars cease (Psalm 46:9) The psalm reminds us God is present and we can take comfort in him. We read in the psalm, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10) These readings remind us our hope is misplaced if it’s placed in anything other than the great God of heaven and earth.

I know things often look difficult and tough, particularly when you buy into the narrative of fear. We see events around the world and recognize there is a great deal of evil rooting itself in the human experience. We see war in Syria, children being used as weapons by ISIS, parts of the world devastated by natural disasters, and we doubt we can find safety or peace anywhere. I’m reminded, however, of the crucifixion scene from the Gospel of Luke. In chapter 23:33-43 we read of the most horrific death a human being can experience. Christ is crucified on a cross while people jeer at him and cry out for him to save himself. A man on the cross next to him joins in with the crowd deriding Christ. Hope is lost and many are cheering at its disappearance and delighting in the onset of evil closing in on the one who promised hope. Yet one voice comes from the other dying man next to him echoing the small sound of hope for something better. The dying criminal says to Christ, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That one act of hope blossoms from the power of the crucified Christ and the response Christ gives is amazing. Christ, broken, bruised, despised, and given up for dead tells this soul holding on to this last chance of hope, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

You are a Christian. You are a child of the God of hope. Do not embrace fear, rather embrace what appears to be broken, bruised, and hopeless and infuse an act of hope into that situation. Embrace the dying Christ because from him the power of love and hope will give new life and peace to the fearful situations you experience. Our hope is not in the next election, political movement, or civil act, it’s in the promise from Christ that today, not tomorrow or next year or in the next four years, rather today, you will be with him in paradise. This is why I continue to have hope. This is who I have hope in. This is the Christian witness to what is good, beautiful, and true in the midst of fear, anger, and hate. Become an icon of hope so others will see in you the risen Christ, a hope and promise of peace for the world!

Re-calibrating Your Compass – Loving Properly

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Motivation is something psychologists study in great depth.  To understand what motivates people is to have a “magic” potion allowing you to direct someone’s behavior.  Because being able to control the psychological mechanisms around motivation can be so powerful people have been trying to harness its power for some time.  Even those of you with limited psychological education understand how motivation works.  We use the tools from behaviorism to motivate our young children constantly.  If they do what we ask they’re rewarded, if not they’re punished.  Reward and punishment are motivators allowing us to shape our children’s behaviors.  Every theory of psychology attempts to understand motivation.  It’s the heart of human behavior.  Freud believed we’re motivated by the “pleasure principle”; that part of our psyche continuing to drive us toward what feels good.  Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs as a way to categorize different elements motivating us in a particular order.  He claimed we first satisfy our physiological needs and only after that do we seek to fulfill needs for things like intimacy and ultimately self-actualization.  Like so many other psychologists he recognized the need to understand motivation.

When I’m counseling people or working with them in spiritual direction, I’m often struck by what motivates them.  Some are motivated by the desire for status, wealth, friendships, money, etc., but most striking is all these specific things fall under a more general category.  To state it simply, people are motivated by what they love.  Love is powerful and when we attach our love to something we’re motivated by that very thing.  If I love money, I’m motivated by it.  If I love status, I’m motivated by it and by those things allowing me to have it.  The things we ultimately love are the things motivating us.

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist has done some fantastic research helping people understand those very different from them, particularly on the “liberal/conservative” spectrum.  I find his work fascinating and believe Haidt gives us a dissection of the human heart; the mechanism acting as a compass for human love.  Haidt’s research is articulated as the “Moral Foundations Theory” and is primarily concerned with understanding the evolved psychological mechanisms allowing people to work together, pursue what they value, and develop a social life.  It’s this second element, the pursuit of what they value, that interests me because values are the things we love.  Haidt’s research documents five foundations directing the human heart.  These foundations guide the manner in which we love.  The five foundations include harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, in-group/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity.  According to Haidt those more liberal in their positions tend to favor care and fairness more than the other three foundations.  Those more conservative favor loyalty, authority, and the sacred.  Haidt argues a more balanced approach is to value care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity equally.  I think there’s merit to his proposal.  If one overvalues care and fairness they may be too willing to value individual needs over group needs.  What one individual deserves as fair might override the needs of the community.  Likewise if we overvalue authority and loyalty we might be more likely to uphold institutions maintaining institutionalized racism and prejudice.  A balanced approach is good, but I propose another taxonomy based on what I believe is more Christian in nature.

Christ indicated we must love God above all other things and then one another (Mark 12:30-31).  Additionally, we see from the Judaeo Christian perspective after love of God and love of one another, we must care for the world (Genesis 2:15).  Using Haidt’s foundations we might argue to love what is sacred should come first and the authority drawn from the sacred as well.  This is what it means to love God and what he ordains as good, beautify, and true.  Then we must equally love care, loyalty, and fairness as a means for caring for one another and the created order.  This balance of love can be the foundation to living life as God intended thus providing us with the greatest happiness.

To truly understand someone we must understand how they have configured their moral foundations.  A good spiritual director can then help the directee recognize how their foundations either do or do not reflect the proper order of love ordained by Christ and help them reconfigure their love compass.  If what St Augustine said is true, that sin is nothing more than disordered love, we can learn to overcome that sin through a simple recognition of the manner our emotional heart functions.  We can learn to love as Christ taught us by choosing to love what is sacred above all else (God and his laws), to obey God and his laws (authority), and then to love one another (care, fairness, loyalty).  When we love in the proper order all the other things motivating us become instruments to live as God created us to live.  They become instruments used to love in the proper order.  To just love is not always good, but to Love as intended motivates us to be icons of the living God.

 

What Keeps You From Loving More Deeply?

helping

In psychology we often speak about three systems involved in experiencing love. There’s a great Ted Talk given by Helen Fisher called “The brain in love” in which she describes these three systems in detail. While this article is too short to provide the full desription of all three systems, we can summarize them as following:

 
The first system is something every human being experiences when they’re sexually drawn to another person. You might call this system the “lust system”, an innate drive we have for sexual intimacy. This drive is completely undirected and impulse driven. Left to its own end it would have us jumping into bed with anyone who excites us.

 
The second system is the “romance system” which takes the afore mentioned sex drive and focuses it on a particular person. We fall in love with someone and connect with them on more than just a physical level, we connect with them emotionally as well. This emotional connection is powerful but volatile and it needs to deepen in order to meet the next level of love. That’s what the third system does.

 
The third system is the attachment system. Psychologists have known for some time for two human beings to enter into a deep lasting relationship they need to develop strong attachments to one another. These attachments are often modeled on the relationship we develop with our care takers, but ultimately the attachment system is the one that harnesses the base sexual drive focused on one person through the romantic system and transforms it into a deep lasting relationship.

 
The theory Dr. Fisher presents is fantastic. It explains a great deal about the human experience of love. It addresses the physiological and psychological aspects of the experience and really helps us understand much of what we experience when we fall in love. Yet this theory only discusses natural love; love between two human beings. How might it account for agape love, that love experience causing human beings to transcend relationships they share with people like them to embrace people unlike them? How does love transcend these systems to empower someone like Mother Teresa to care for the least of those in India? A love that’s all embracing is a love derived from the grace of God. If we truly unite ourselves to God and allow that union to take us over we’re able to share the life he pours into us with others.

 

Our God is a God of hospitality. He makes a place for us within his very being and lifts our humanity through the person of Jesus Christ so we may partake of his divinity. Then, from the sharing of his life with us we take that divine gift and share it with others. This is how Christians become agents of love, reconciliation, peace, and joy in a very inhospitable world based on indifference, division, war, and sadness. While we naturally learn to shape our sex drive into a very special human experience through romantic love and deep attachment to one another, we were created to transcend that experience through a living relationship with Christ.

 

There’s an abundance of love waiting to be offered to you but even more importantly through you to a world longing for a sense of love. We were created to give and receive love but more importantly to share the life of God with others. If God is continually inviting us to be active agents of his presene we need to explore why we seem to keep that from happening. What is it about our spiritual lives keeping us from participating in the life of God and sharing it with others? The failure to love is not a failure on the part of God but rather a failure on our part to allow God to work through us. Our challenge is to explore our spiritual selves and seek to remove those barriers keeping us from being the very thing God created us to be; a window in which people see through us and encounter the living God.

You Are an Encounter with Heaven

suffering

The life of a Christian is a life of presence.  We take this presence into the places we go, the relationships we establish, and the public life we live.  We take our presence into the places where strangers and neighbors are encountered, our children play, and our families dwell.  Our presence is our greatest gift and therefore it must be cared for, intentionally shaped, and nurtured.  This presence is shaped by our relationship to Christ and an openness to the Holy Spirit.  If the Christian is not in a proper relationship with Christ, his or her presence becomes more about selfish concerns and not about sharing with others.  Those who struggle with a relationship to Christ are anxious, discontent, or self-consumed.  One cannot enter into the Christ relationship without first losing their life so that Christ may live through them.  When Christ lives in us we become hosts to a God wanting to reach out to others through us.  Likewise, an openness to the Holy Spirit allows the Spirit’s fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness to flow through us.  Through a healthy relationship with Christ and an openness to the Holy Spirit it’s not us people encounter but rather the presence of heavenly things.

Too often we let the world and its many concerns steal the peace of God from our hearts.  We seek justice in a world that cannot give it, comfort from a world permeated with pain, love in a world that only knows indifference and hate.  We allow the world to shape our response to the needs of others instead of the heavenly guest dwelling in us.  In the end, instead of our presence being an encounter with heaven reminding others there is something greater than what the world has to offer, they meet a bitter, scorned, and angry human being.  Care for your presence, let the peace of God dwell within you, and always remember laughter, joy, the embrace of one human being toward another, and the simple belief that you were created for more than what the world tells you is transformative.  You are created a little less than the angels, empowered to move mountains through faith.  You were created to be agents of love, forgiveness, and sacred hospitality in a place that only sees doubt, indifference, revenge, and ignorance.  This is why your presence matters; this is why you must intentionally be an encounter with heaven for those living in a world shaped by the forces of hell.

Care for your presence.  Spend time with Christ and pray the Holy Spirit fills you with his love.  You may just be that encounter with God so many people long for yet try and satisfy with so many other, temporal things.