Authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything. Jesus commands us to “Love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” and he connects the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor, saying they are “like” one another (Matthew 22:39). So often, we think this means to love our neighbor with the same amount of love—as much as we love ourselves—when it really means that it is the same Source and the same Love that allows each of us to love ourself, others, and God at the same time! That is unfortunately not the way most people understand love, compassion, and forgiveness—yet it is the only way they ever work. How you love is how you have accessed Love.
We cannot sincerely love another or forgive offenses inside of dualistic consciousness. Try it, and you’ll see it can’t be done. Many pastors and priests have done the people of God a great disservice by preaching the Gospel to them but not giving them the tools whereby they can obey that Gospel. As Jesus put it, “cut off from the vine, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The “vine and the branches” offer one of the greatest Christian mystical images of the non-duality between God and the soul. In and with God, I can love everything and everyone—even my enemies. Alone and by myself, my willpower and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time. Many folks try to love by willpower, with themselves as the only source. They try to obey the second commandment without the first. It usually does not work long-term, and there is no one more cynical about love than a disillusioned idealist. (This was my own youthful generation of the 1960s.)
Finally, of course, there is a straight line between love and suffering. If we love anyone or anything deeply and greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer because we have given up control to another, and the price of self-extension will soon show itself. Undoubtedly, this is why we are told to be faithful in our loves, because such long-term loyalty and truly conscious love will always lead us to the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.
Until we love and until we suffer, we all try to figure out life and death with our minds; but afterward a Larger Source opens up within us and we “think” and feel quite differently: “until knowing the Love, which is beyond all knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). Thus, Jesus would naturally say something like, “This is my commandment: you must love one another!” (John 13:34). Authentic love (which is always more than a heart feeling) initially opens the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps that door open for mind, body, and will to enter. I suspect for most of us that is the work of a lifetime.
For centuries, Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism to environmental destruction, subordination of women to stigmatization of LGBT people, anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, clergy pedophilia to white privilege. What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes and is dedicated to beloved community for all? Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life? . . .
.. For centuries, Christians have presented God as a Supreme Being who showers blessings upon insiders who share certain beliefs and proper institutional affiliation, but who punishes outsiders with eternal conscious torment. Yet Jesus revealed God as one who “eats with sinners,” welcomes outsiders in, and forgives even while being rejected, tortured, and killed. Jesus associated God more with gracious parental tenderness than strict authoritarian toughness. He preached that God was to be found in self-giving service rather than self-asserting domination.
.. For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as an “organized religion”—a change-averse institution or set of institutions that protects and promotes a timeless system of beliefs that were handed down fully formed in the past. Yet Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation. We Christians have repeatedly adapted our message, methods, and mission to the contours of our time [for example, the Second Vatican Council within Catholicism]. What might happen if we understood the core Christian ethos as creative, constructive, and forward-leaning—as an “organizing religion” that challenges all institutions (including its own) [as Jesus did] to learn, grow, and mature toward a deepening, enduring vision of reconciliation with God, self, neighbor, enemy, and creation? . . .
.. If we are to be truly Christian, it makes sense to turn to Jesus for the answer.
Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was the most radical of all. Love was the greatest commandment . . . his prime directive—love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled. The new commandment of love [John 13:34] meant that neither beliefs nor words, neither taboos, systems, structures nor the labels that enshrined them mattered most. Love decentered everything else; love relativized everything else; love took priority over everything else—everything.
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. —Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), theologian and civil rights leader
.. The deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life?” It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I? What is my nature?” . . . [I believe we’ve got to get our own who right before we can begin to address the question of what am I to do.]
Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks—we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
.. Quaker teacher Douglas Steere was fond of saying that the ancient human question “Who am I?” leads inevitably to the equally important question “Whose am I”—for there is no selfhood outside of relationship. . . .
.. As I learn more about the seed of true self that was planted when I was born, I also learn more about the ecosystem in which I was planted—the network of communal relations in which I am called to live responsively, accountably, and joyfully with beings of every sort. Only when I know both seed and system, self and community, can I embody the great commandment to love both my neighbor and myself. . . .
The goal must be kept simple and clear—love of God and neighbor, union with God and neighbor. Our common word for this state of union is heaven.
.. Prayer is not a transaction that somehow pleases God but a transformation of the consciousness of the one doing the praying. Prayer is the awakening of an inner dialogue that, from God’s side, has never ceased.
.. Prayer is not changing God’s mind about us or about anything else, but allowing God to change our mind about the reality right in front of us (which we usually avoid or distort).
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39), not “as much as you love yourself.” We are to love our neighbor in the same way we love ourselves. “We love because God has first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When we accept the unconditional love and undeserved mercy that God offers us—knowing that we are not worthy of it—then we can allow God to love others through us in the same way. It’s God in you loving you, warts and all, and God in you loving others as they are. This is why the love you have available to give away is limitless.
He’s crass, vicious, and petty.
.. It’s a sad symbol of our times that one feels compelled to actually make an argument why the president is wrong here. The pitiful reality is that there are people who feel like the man who sits in the seat once occupied by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan should use his bully pulpit for schoolyard insults and vicious personal attacks. But this is what we’re reduced to. So, here goes. –
.. First, it is simply and clearly morally wrong to attack another person like this. I’m tired of hearing people say things like, “This is not normal.” Normality isn’t the concern here. Morality is. It doesn’t matter if Mika has been “mean” to Trump. Nor does it matter that we can point to any number of angry personal attacks on Trump from others. We have to get past the idea that another person’s bad acts somehow justify “our” side’s misconduct. Morality is not so situational. Trump is under a moral obligation to treat others the way he’d like to be treated, to love his neighbor as he would love himself. Yes, he can engage in ideological and political battles, but to attack another person in such vicious terms is to cross a bright line.
.. Second, it’s not classist or elitist to make this moral argument. It’s no justification to argue that Trump simply speaks the way “real Americans” do, or that he’s brought into public the language that “everyone knows” people use behind closed doors. People of every social class and economic standing have the same moral responsibilities, and our society suffers when we relax those responsibilities, whether for a steelworker in a mill outside Pittsburgh or the real-estate developer in the Oval Office.
.. Third, even if your ethics are entirely situational and tribal, Trump’s tweets are still destructive. Attacking Mika like this doesn’t silence her or anyone at MSNBC. It doesn’t move the ball downfield on repealing Obamacare. It does, however, make more people dislike Donald Trump. It’s a misuse and abuse of the bully pulpit, all the more galling because it comes at a time when the positive parts of his agenda truly do need public champions.
.. Fourth, please stop with the ridiculous lie that this is the only way to beat the Left. Stop with any argument that this kind of pettiness is somehow preferable to the alleged weakness of other Republicans. There are thousands of GOP office-holders who’ve won their races (including by margins that dwarf Trump’s, even in the toughest districts and states) without resorting to Trump-like behavior. In fact, at the state level many of these same honorable and moral people are currently busy enacting reforms that the national GOP can only dream about.
.. The election is over. Trump isn’t running against Hillary Clinton anymore. Americans are no longer faced with the awful choice of either pulling the lever for an unfit candidate or voting for someone who has no chance of winning. If there were ever a time for Republicans to show some backbone, to tell their president that some conduct is out of bounds, it’s now, early in his first term, when he has time to turn the page and put his past misconduct in the rear-view mirror.
.. while also condemning Trump’s vile tweets and criticizing his impulsiveness and lack of discipline. A good conservative can even step back and take a longer view, resolving to fight for the cultural values that tribalism degrades. Presidents matter not just because of their policies but also because of their impact on the character of the people they govern. Conservatives knew that once. Do they still?
A Benedictine retreat from political life cannot be the answer for today’s Christians.
in that respect Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option is not exactly wrong. Yet it’s not exactly right, either. But as I hope to demonstrate, some level of wrongness does not preclude value or insight, which is, incidentally, where I disagree most with Dreher, whose response to the wrongness threaded into liberalism is essentially to abandon modernity altogether.
.. For Dreher, a writer at The American Conservative, the Christian West began to lose its way in the fourteenth century, when the English Franciscan friar William of Ockham pioneered the theory of nominalism, which held there is no inherent order or purpose encoded into the material world. This was a radical departure from the philosophy of theologians like Augustine and Aquinas, who believed God’s intention for the material world is inscribed into nature itself, and can be discerned with human powers of reason.
.. They simply knew that all of creation pointed to God.
.. The Renaissance centered man over God; the Protestant Reformation shattered religious unity in Europe; the Wars of Religion ravaged the continent just as the Scientific Revolution was displacing moribund Medieval views of the cosmos.
.. only goal is to attain some kind of self-realization through a lot of vaguely therapeutic-sounding practices and activities.
.. One can chase what one believes to be the good life, but one cannot place moral claims on others. This is the “catch,” as it were, of liberalism: “Liberalism,” political theorist Judith Shklar wrote, “has only one overriding aim: to secure the political conditions that are necessary for the exercise of personal freedom.” Or, as Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain had it: “Obey none but yourself.”
.. It’s no accident that the earliest liberals had a special contempt for Catholics, who are especially inclined to protest the reduction of the faith to a private sentiment.
.. The absence of robust religious instruction in public life, Dreher contends, has led us to a world wherein sin and vice run rampant among abundance and pleasure.
.. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), a foggy set of feel-good notions about the divine and the good life coined by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in 2005, has, in Dreher’s estimation, mostly supplanted Christianity in America. MTD’s rough tenets are:
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
.. Deism became fashionable during the Enlightenment precisely because it is deeply hospitable to liberalism; because it is only a private belief about the divine, it imposes no pesky ethical requirements on its adherents.
.. the Benedict Option is also a set of best practices, and Dreher’s Option is his own rule.
.. the Rule of Rod are rather more prosaic: form communities oriented to the worship of God; eschew sloth and take up manual labor; homeschool or school privately in the classics and Bible; support unmarried Christians in their chastity and oppose, on all fronts, pornography, fornication, and other forms of excess and vice. No Evangelical living in my hometown of Arlington, Texas would find any of these directives remotely surprising or particularly new.
.. The part that would shock them, however, is Dreher’s decree that they should become essentially apolitical. Dreher is convinced that Christians in America are “a powerless, despised minority,” and that traditional politics cannot serve them.
.. “When we are truly ordered toward God,” he reminds us, “we won’t have to worry about immediate results.”
.. His daily posts exhorting political change on The American Conservative, one assumes, must be after something other than immediate results, though it’s hard to imagine what.
.. withdrawing from conventional politics is difficult to parse with Christ’s command that we love our neighbors.
.. Withdrawal may have been a permissible option when citizens had little to no say in the laws of their governments, but we do, and a pretense of powerlessness registers as a flimsy excuse not to exercise it.
.. Is society uniquely anti-Christian now, in this moment more than others? Are we uniquely liberal, or is liberalism, actually, in some sense imperiled? As we watch the elevation to the Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch, a longtime fighter for religious liberty and the rights of the faithful, is it really possible to argue that Christians are politically powerless?
.. the establishment of small, local communities of virtuous Christians still leaves open pressing questions of justice and right. “If two fishing crews are in conflict, they should both submit to the authority of the judge. Otherwise, justice would belong to the more ruthless and stronger fishing crew,”
.. And it is the duty of Christians qua Christians to oppose the erosion of liberalism into wanton, inhumane technocracy, even when it means setting out into risky waters.