Active Love - Vince Brackett
Sixth in series: Leave Bad Faith. Find Good Faith.
A month back, on Easter Sunday, Kyle showed us a list of ways to describe good faith vs bad faith -- because there is definitely both in our world!
We asked after that talk: which of these descriptors do you all want to hear more about? And we’ve been taking that feedback into account as we’ve planned our talks.
Today I get to talk about what was the number one vote getter: Good Faith is Active.
The author who came up with those descriptors, Brian McLaren, writes this: “The active life of faith is often substituted for a surplus of talk about the fascinating lore of faith"
People just have a knee-jerk negative reaction to "all talk, no action", right? I heard the comedian Jerrod Carmichael (from NBC’s the Carmichael show) interviewed recently, and he had the best comment when he was talking about the era of Twitter and Facebook and how they give people a false sense of “doing something” because they "like” a cause or share a link... “These are the laziest Martin Luther King, Jrs ever"
Here’s about as perfect a capturing of the sentiment as any. From the New Testament of the Bible — written by one of Jesus' closest friends, the Apostle John:
Children, our love must not be just words or mere talk, but something active and genuine. This will be the proof that we belong to the truth, and it will convince. 1 John 3:18-20 (New Jerusalem Bible)
Hits the nail on the head right? John has got it — that is the way of Jesus, that is what makes Jesus so magnetic.
It makes me think of this reflection I read on, of all things, the movie Thor: Ragnorak (This is top of mind for me because I recently re-watched a bunch of Marvel movies to prepare for Avengers: Infinity War). The reflection was from a guy named Qasim Rashid -- he’s a Muslim Human Rights activist he talked about seeing the movie with his 8-year-old son. Rashid asked his son who was your favorite character? And his son said “the character that looked like Jesus” — And he was like, huh? Well I guess Thor with long hair for part of it maybe looks like Jesus. But his son was like, no, the black guy who protects everyone — referring to Idris Elba’s character Heimdall - the on the ground, active guy saving people from Cate Blanchett’s character the “goddess of death” -- that’s the character who looked like Jesus I love that! People just gravitate toward Jesus — toward active love.
So… yeah... let’s all be inspired by Jesus: let’s be about genuine and active in love, not just words or mere talk. (Not just link-sharing or mere facebook-liking!) We won’t be those rotten people who just do that. We’ll be different!
Here’s the problem though…
We are all actually those same people we judge.
When you live in the society we do, and you’ve got a home to clean, kids to raise, family from out of town to host this weekend, and jobs that on a good week are 9 to 5, but are actually for most of us more like 7 to 6, with an hour commute both ways, not to mention you gotta get groceries, etc., etc…
The rub is: How exactly is this supposed to work? How is it possible to live in America somewhat responsibly (like making ends meet, saving a little for retirement, not drowning in debt, maintaining a family or a marriage or meaningful relationships) AND ALSO be active in love?
That’s what I want to talk about today. I have some thoughts and suggestions to throw out that I hope might help us.
Don’t limit active love to a "charity/volunteering" segment of life
Most of us sort of unthinkingly compartmentalize life this way… and we put a ceiling on our ability to be active in love in doing so We feel stressed out like we have to commit to some new thing, or squeeze more out of days But what if we don’t have to add hours and commitments to our lives to be active in love? How can you be active in compassion and justice in the life you’re already living? How can you be active in compassion and justice at work or at home or in your neighborhood? Here’s some helpful questions you might ask yourself: Whose voice is passed over in work meetings that you can try to help elevate? Do you notice any power dynamics in your marriage or roommate relationships or extended-family relationships? Are you ever in a situation of more power? What can you do to even the playing field? Men, I’m looking at us more often than not here White people, I’m looking at us more than not here Trying to do our part to level the playing field when we notice uneven power dynamics in everyday relationships is a HUGELY practical and significant thing every person can be active in love Ask yourself: Is there a reason this person I’m interacting with might feel unsafe to be totally honest? A brother or sister might feel taken back to an old sibling rivalry where they felt small and picked on A partner or spouse might feel taken back to a previous argument where they didn’t feel listened to A co-worker might feel taken back to an experience when another co-worker took advantage of them A person of a different skin color might be interpreting the situation you’re in completely differently from you If you think there might be something, check your impression: “Hey, I’m getting the impression that I might be making you feel like you can’t be totally honest. Is that true?... I’m so sorry! How can I help?” Or how about inyour neighborhood? — if you live here in Lincoln Square or Albany Park, there are probably many people from different-than-you cultures or ethnic backgrounds, who you might see even daily How can you communicate to them you’re glad to live near them? What can you ask when you walk past each other on the sidewalk to try to learn more about them and their story? What would you tell them if they asked you about you and your story?
Press through awkwardness…
One of the biggest desires for Modern Americans is comfort. Which in many ways is totally great - how awesome that because of technology, among other things, the baseline level of comfort in this society can be so high not just for the super rich (as has been the case in every society ever), but also for working and middle class people? That’s great! But one regrettable thing that our love of and desire for comfort means is: "Awkwardness" is just the worst thing ever. In my experience though, so much of the good of life requires some awkwardness on the front end. When I first tried to get on my now wife Keziah's radar. Man that was awkward! Over and over again. Awkward. Actually, funny enough, when I proposed to Keziah, she knew it was coming, but I still wanted to make it special, so I planned this big ridiculous thing with some friends' help. And you know how some couples will “relive their best or most connecting moments together” for a proposal — like I’ll propose where we had our first date, or something? I decided to do the opposite — we would relive our most awkward moments together, but then I wrote stupid, tongue-in-cheek scripts, in which we “corrected” the awkward moments so they were “hallmark moments" Like: “Oh wow, it’s like -10 degrees out here. So of course, Keziah, I won’t make us walk around the block eleven times before I get to the point and ask you out” That’s not what really happened. Anyway, I mean it. You can not experience real intimacy without an embrace of a little awkwardness And, likewise, you can not engage in active, genuine love or service toward another without an embrace of a little awkwardness When I've volunteered at the Warming Center that BLV partners with or the Before School program that BLV partners with... guess what... it was awkward... Just so awkward. I didn’t know these people experiencing homelessness and I couldn’t even begin to empathize with their struggles, so I'm just there with a sort of dumb smile on my face and trying to start conversation. And it felt awkward. Or volunteering as a tutor with a 1st grader, I try to be funny and clever and get no response whatsoever… because he’s a 1st grader, and I’m kind of a dork… Awkward! BUT were those experiences really so bad? No! They weren’t. And the upside of my experiencing awkwardness was that I was present to people and helpful in a small way I personally will likely never be remembered for some unique deposit in the lives of one of my neighbors who is homeless or that first grader I tutored… But I was actively present and helpful in a small way. I was a part of a larger work. I was one person, on one week, that joined in with all of the other people all of the other weeks who offer care and support every Friday to our Homeless neighbors through this warming center, And I was one person on one day that joined in with all of the other people all of the other school days to offer homework help and emotional support to the kids who are a part of this before school program. Yes, I may not single handedly change a life, but joining with others in pushing through their own awkwardness, we all get to be a part of something bigger that does make a real difference in the world.. One more thing: the post-awkwardness experience is so much better than the post-avoidance-of-awkwardness experience Feeling like a dork but a dork that pressed through awkwardness is way better than kicking yourself for not risking your sense of comfort Ok, awkwardness is one of the side coin here, but let me flip the coin over and get a little bit more serious for a second here.
Pray, and ask God to break your heart for what breaks his
The God of the Bible, the God Jesus reveals, is not a cold, unfeeling deity secretly behind the horrible things of our world so that he can "work in mysterious ways". This God is Love (as the Apostle John also writes in the letter we read from). This God is emotionally invested. This God has feelings. His heart breaks at inequity, at injustice, at complacency, at cruelty, and he is actively working to fight those things and redeem those things. Being active in love means joining this God in his work. And so that means having your heart broken, having your eyes opened, which is not comfortable. It means seeing and grappling with the horrible things of life Racism, bigotry, implicit bias, systemic injustice This is especially important for people like me (a white male) who experience so much privilege and comfort in American life. Because we need to have tastes of the way marginalized people (people of color, women) experience life every day, every moment We need to understand that “going home to privilege and comfort at the end of the day after I’ve put my work in” is not an option for many. These are not nice feelings. They’re destabilizing, but they connect us with the God of compassion and justice, Jesus I asked Anna Cruz, who leads or prayer team if she would share her experience of this with us… let’s give Anna a hand! [Anna shares] If you do this, the discomfort of it will compel you to shake up your priorities to make more space for being active in love as best you can. It may cause some mental/emotional chaos in the short term. But you will not be alone in that chaos. And it won't last forever. We humans are incredibly adaptable, more so than we think. People can and do re-order their lives and find "new normals" to include more "being active in love", And people can and do continually do that over many years to the point that gradual increases in active love amount to radically-changed lives.
If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail
One of the main reasons we often feel we don’t have enough capacity to be active in love is that we don’t have good personal systems or plans in place to enable us to do so… It’s sometimes NOT that there isn’t enough resources -- time, energy, or money… It’s that time, energy, and money get away from us when we don’t have a plan. When we try to be generous with whatever time, energy, or money we have left over at the end of a month or a week, we very likely will not be as generous as we can be If being generous with our time, energy, and money is a priority for us, then we have to plan to set aside some of those resources ahead of time to enable us to be active in love Otherwise it’s just not actually a priority for us, no matter how much we like the idea I don’t say this to be scolding. It’s just the reality of it. Our true priorities are the things we actually do. So we have to put in our calendar ahead of time generosity with our time and energy, and we have to work into our monthly budget ahead of time generosity with our money This is hard work, and many of us have never received good teaching on how to keep a calendar well or make and stick to a budget. This church is a place that can help. It is one of the joys of my job as a pastor when I’ve gotten to help people put systems in place in their personal lives so they can be more active in love Honestly, if you know me you won’t find this shocking, I LOVE doing this I love (probably a little too much) Productivity Apps for my phone that have made personal systems easier for me, and I love sharing about them I think I am a bigger evangelist for the App You Need A Budget than I am for this church So here’s one practical thing I’ll suggest: if you want some help planning to be more active in love with your time, energy, or money: set up a time with me over coffee It’s my job to help! And you would be asking me to do one of my favorite things about being a pastor Ask me personally, or ask using one of our connect cards later in the service Also, next fall we will be running another round of our 6-session life-finances workshop, which you can reserve a spot for anytime if you let us know (tell me, or use one of our connect cards)
Take care of yourself.
Self-care and self-sacrificial others-care are not mutually exclusive - you don’t choose one or the other. Quite the opposite they are deeply linked: "love others as you love yourself" is Jesus’ golden rule. BUT I do think you have to start with the love yourself piece. I know no person who is genuinely excellent at self-care that doesn’t also self-sacrificially serve others. BUT I know lots of people who serve others self-sacrificially a lot but don’t prioritize good self-care. A year or two from now, only one of those groups will still be serving others self-sacrificially. It’s the ones who are caring for themselves first. Self care is a buzzword today -- people use it to mean anything -- which is a problem... It can mean anything from praying to watching Netflix, from a day at the spa to a night at the bar… Self-care is not just anything, nor is it doing nothing, and it’s not one size fits all - one person’s self care is another person’s escapism. Self care isn’t a thing unless there is thoughtful and serious understanding of yourself behind it. So let me end with some book reccs that can help you develop wise self care for you: The Enneagram: A Christian perspective by Richard Rohr Hands down the best gift I’ve ever given to myself. We run workshops on the Enneagram here too. So ask me about that! The 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey This is a favorite of many. And I was super-helped by it! Quiet by Susan Cain This one is for you if you identify as an introvert. I’ve not read this one, it’s a recc from a friend I reached out to. Emotional intelligence - by Daniel Goleman The content from this was part of my spiritual formation term during my pastoral studies, and I still use what I learned from that today years later. Daring Greatly or Braving the Wilderness by Dr. Brené Brown She is a frequent reference of ours here, because she is wonderful and hilarious and so helpful. You can’t go wrong with Dr. Brown.
Alright, stand with me, and I’d love to pray for us...