The Trouble With Gringos…

When you go on a trip to a poor community and your purpose is not to “do mission” but to listen to the people, you end up hearing lots of stories about mission groups behaving badly.

Stories like:

-the groups who come and build things so poorly that they must be fixed almost immediately

-the groups who don’t bother to ask what actually needs to be built, and instead create more problems by building what they assume is needed

-the groups who don’t think about local logistics and build things (or bring things) that the people can’t use (or can’t afford to use)

-the groups that don’t allow the people to help in their projects — they are only allowed to receive, not share in the accomplishment and improvement of their own communities.

The list goes on and on… And ultimately, the problem isn’t that people come to do the work. The problem is that many folks who “do mission” don’t bother working with local leaders because they think they know better than those leaders, and because they are more concerned with accomplishments than with building relationships.

Today, we were allowed to sit in on a meeting of the local pastoral comité here in Chacraseca. In that meeting we listened to representatives of each sector discuss challenges and reach consensus on a number of issues that affect the people here. It was a little messy, a little chaotic, and deeply faithful to the community. These leaders sacrifice a great deal in order to attend the weekly meeting, with some representatives walking up to 18 kilometers one way in order to get here. Yet they come and serve because they love their people.

After the comité meeting, we met with their smaller board (similar to a cabinet or executive committee). During our conversation, Leslie (a leader of Just Hope) asked them to share the troubles they have had with some “gringo groups” who come to Chacraseca and refuse to work with the board. After pointing out some of the situations listed above, one leader summarized the situation by saying, “sometimes they come here and work by themselves…we’re just on the side somewhere…. We are the face of the community and I believe we deserve respect.”

I believe he is right. These leaders remind those of us who do mission work that it isn’t our job to swoop in and “save” people from situations we don’t even understand. Instead, it is our job to show up and listen first. If our work is grounded in relationship and respect, then we build more than only houses or latrines — we slowly begin to build the kind of just community that hints at the kingdom of God.

The leaders of Chacraseca’s pastoral comité want us to visit for relationship building and work projects. They believe it is better for us to come and see than it is for us to just send the money. But when we come, we need to acknowledge their lives, their commitment, their knowledge…their dignity. For, as Dr. Elmer Zelaya says: Just because you’re doing a good thing, doesn’t mean you’re doing good.”

Mission work can be a good thing. The people of Chacraseca are teaching us how to do good while we’re at it, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be one of their students.









Giving and Receiving

The bulk of today was spent in a sector of Chacraseca called La Bolsa. We gathered at a family’s home with women from the community, went through a round of introductions (using our excellent translators), and then spent a couple of hours cooking together. Nicaraguan women taught us how to cook their special dishes, supervising us as we made their family favorites — and we taught them how to make a few of our favorites, supervising them in the same way.

When the feast was ready, we ate. And ate. And ate some more. Fried plantains, rice, beef, tomato & cucumber salad, and tortillas came together with green bean casserole, biscuits & gravy, and crunchy cole slaw with ramen noodles. It was the meeting of cultures, spread across one long table, and it was beautiful.

As we ate together, Elba (director of women’s projects at Just Hope) facilitated a conversation in which we all shared stories of the women who have inspired us. Those stories were funny, heartbreaking, relatable, foreign…and sacred. In the telling and hearing of those stories, we became a part of one another’s lives. All were able to give, all were able to receive, all had dignity and respect.

Tonight, as I lay in bed I replay those conversations and faces in my mind’s eye and I’m struck by the difference between charity and social justice. By allowing these women to give of themselves rather than passively receive things from us, we honored their full humanity. Each woman is my sister, and she is worthy of that respect. I will remember their faces and their stories for a long time to come.











“I am still here.”

Chacraseca is a poor farming area outside of Léon, approximately 50 miles wide and self-organized into 12 sectors. A part of the history here is that a Catholic sister named Joan came here to serve, and helped the people to organize themselves and discover their own capacities for leadership so that they could care for one another and improve life in their community.

Joan left eight years ago, and Alzheimer’s has stolen her memory of this place, but she is still here in spirit. Presenté. The work, the struggle, continues — and that is seen so clearly in the women of Chacraseca.

We witnessed many of these women today, after Mass. They gathered for the annual meeting of Mujeres Unidades (Women United), the microcredit organization that has created a women’s bank in most of the sectors of Chacraseca. In this meeting, women from each sector came together to decide an important question: could women who have already received and repaid loans of $250 reapply and receive loans of up to $800 for larger projects or business improvements?

$800 might not seem like much, but in Chacraseca it means that a woman who usually plants 1/2 an acre of crops could install an irrigation system and plant 4 acres of crops — AND grow things during both the rainy season and the summer. That means more food to feed her family, more food to sell at the market, and more money to pay for things like the bus rides her children need in order to get to school.

While children played around the room, the women discussed the question from multiple angles: interest rates, repayment deadlines, collateral required, etc. Ultimately, they decided to approve the increased loans with 1% interest and individualized repayment deadlines. With the question answered and the annual report completed, we moved on to a potluck lunch. (Note: this program had existed since 2009 and has maintained a 100% repayment rate throughout their 5 year history.)

In the afternoon, we gathered with a smaller group of those same women so that we could listen to their stories of what it means to them to be leaders in Chacraseca. Many expressed that “to be a leader is a beautiful thing.” One woman noted that while at first she had no idea what it would mean to be a leader (when she was chosen by her community), “I am still here.”

I am still here. That statement points to the resiliency, resourcefulness, determination and hope of these women. They struggle, they strive, and they are still here, improving the lives of their children…and improving life for themselves as well.

Tonight, as the much-needed and prayed-for rain comes down outside, I give thanks for the women of Chacraseca. Thanks be to God for the spirit of resiliency and hope, and thanks be to God for those words said with quiet pride: “I’m still here.”








From Managua to Chacraseca…

At the end of this first day in Nicaragua, words escape me. We’ve experienced so much that my brain and heart are packed tightly with images and stories that aren’t my own — stories shared because of trust borrowed via the credibility of our hostess and guides.

So tonight I share a few image/word pairings in hopes that they will inspire your imagination, awaken your hope, and challenge your assumptions (the way they have inspired, awakened and challenged mine):




“La Lucha” (the struggle):







Momotombo y momotombito (volcanoes):






Sacred Story:


Amen, and buenos noches.

Keeping Faith

IMG_0284She’s a gentle giant. Liquid gold eyes watch us as we move about the house, each of our steps marked in time by the “thwap” of tail on hardwood flooring. Spread across the couch, she seems still — lazy even — but the moment we near the front door she springs to life with the energy of a puppy and the gait of a small horse.

“I don’t want to keep this dog.”

These words have crossed my mind and lips multiple times this week: when she dragged me down the street at 6:30 am, when we tucked away every bit of food normally stored on countertops, when she licked a couch cushion to the point of saturation… And yet, she’s a gem. A peaceful spirit. A lapdog inside a 70+ lb body.

And I do want to keep her. But to keep her, and love her well, some things are going to have to change.

During the day, when I’m at work in the church and community, I’m all about change. It’s my bread and butter, something I love and embrace more often than not. Heck, it’s even the field of study for my Doctor of Ministry program: Transformational Leadership for Women in Ministry.

Yet, when I head home at the end of a long day, change is the last thing I want to think about. Instead, it is comfort and routine that call my name. I want something I can count on, something dependable, something that is the same. For all that talk of transformation, at the end of the day I’m no different from the folks who want everything to remain unchanged in our life together as church.  I crave the comfort of continuity, just in different parts of my life.

But we have to change.  I have to change.

Some of those things I’ve come to count on when I head home simply aren’t healthy.  They may have been at one time, but it turns out that my needs changed when I wasn’t looking…and my mode of being morphed into something unhelpful.  Comfort turned into clutter, rest became inactivity, and something’s got to give.  It’s time.  This enormous pup, with her zeal for long walks and open space, may be the very one who can break me out of the rut I’ve mistaken for stability.

Our life together as church is no different.  Over time, our patterns become unhealthy.  Instead of being informed and moved by the Holy Spirit, we become predictable.  Instead of striving for the Kin-dom of God, we rest on fading laurels.  Instead of being alive and energetic, our comfy ways of being turn into lethargy, and something’s got to give.  It’s time.

Sometimes, in order to keep faith (or to keep a dog named Faith), things can no longer remain the same…and that’s a very good thing.



What Not to Wear: Church Edition?

I had started to believe that we church folk had moved beyond judging one another’s clothing choices.  Clearly, I was wrong. 

In the past two months, I’ve heard enough snippy remarks about “those young people” and the clothes they wear to church that I could have scripted an entire season of What Not to Wear: Church Edition.  And I’m not just talking about remarks made in my own congregation – I’m talking about things I’ve overheard in other churches and in restaurants during the Sunday lunch hour.  I’m also talking about myself.

Sometimes while on vacation I visit other places to get my worship on and see what other folks are doing.  Just yesterday, as I walked up the steps to visit another place of worship, I saw a young woman in a skirt that was slit way up in the back.  I mean, waaaaaaay up.  Her rear end wasn’t exposed, but one wrong move could easily have changed that.  And boy howdy did I start judging.

You may have heard these things before (or thought them yourself):

  • “What is she thinking leaving the house in that, let alone wearing that to CHURCH!?”
  • “What are her parents thinking?  ARE they thinking?”
  • “You’d think that people would KNOW what is APPROPRIATE to wear to worship!”
  • “If only girls today had more respect for themselves and their bodies…”

Now, here’s the funny thing: when people have said these sorts of things about kids in any one of the youth groups I’ve served, my immediate reaction is to shut them down. I tell folks we should be glad those young ones are here, no matter what they wear.  I tell them that I won’t be a part of shaming young women and men for their bodies or their clothing choices. I explain that the judgments we make about women’s clothing are directly linked to the victim blaming that often accompanies sexual assault and rape.  I advise them to get to know the young people in question, because if they do, they will discover that health problems have caused the weight gain that makes clothing snug, that tight finances mean wearing clothes that no longer fit “properly”, that those jean shorts and t-shirt really are the nicest outfit a young one owns.

And yet, in a situation where I don’t know the teen, I catch myself making the same unhelpful judgments.  Oh, what a hypocrite I can be!

But enough is enough.

If you don’t have a real relationship with a teenager in your faith community, you don’t have a right to make statements about his choice in clothing…and neither do I.  In relationship, I can begin to discover who this teen really is: what she cares about, who and how she loves, what motivates her and what makes her feel defeated, how she dreams and works for a future, how she hurts when no one is looking.  I can begin to appreciate her full humanity, instead of seeing her as an object – a mannequin – dressed in a particular style of clothing.  In relationship, I also build the credibility and trust to begin having conversations about clothing, embodiment, self-image and self-esteem in ways that are compassionate instead of judgmental, loving instead of shaming, and mutual instead of unilateral.

Outside of real relationship I lack any necessary context for understanding the person or outfit in question.  For example, with the young woman I observed on the church steps, I know NOTHING about her.  Though she walked in with her family, I don’t know them or what they value.  I don’t know the circles they run in, the professions they choose, the schools they attend.  I don’t know where she plans to attend college, what event she was attending after worship, when or if she was baptized, or which family member helped her choose and purchase her outfit.  I don’t know that she attends 2 Bible studies or none at all.  I don’t know that she’s a Girl Scout or a cheerleader or a member of the math club.  Hell, I don’t even know her name.  And even if I did know her name, even if over the years I’d observed her from five pews back as she grew from a curly-haired cherub of a child into this young woman, if I’m not in real relationship with her then I don’t have the right to comment. 

Outside of real relationship, the judgments I make about this beloved child of God are more about me than about her. They are about my assumptions, my prejudice, my tastes, my beliefs and my own sense of shame. Outside of real relationship, if I judge and grouse and complain about what she’s wearing, I’m acting like a jerk.  And so are you.

We all become jerks when God’s house is closed to those who don’t have the right wardrobes.  That’s not church, that’s a country club.
If we strive to be about right-relationship more than we’re about the “right” hem lengths and start loving each other better…we’ll start acting like the Church again.

Let’s be Church, y’all.

*NOTE*  Though I write primarily about the judgments we make about young people, I’ve heard remarks about people of all ages and the choices they make in church clothing.  Too sexy, too frumpy, too loud, too shabby…these labels get thrown at adults too.  And they’re just as wrong.  We’ve got to cut it out, people.  Myself included.

*SECOND NOTE*  In response to the question of a dear friend, I am not advocating judgment WITHIN relationship.  My hope is that when we enter into real relationship (and start doing the hard work that is a part of that), the temptation to judge will turn into a desire to talk, know, understand and, if necessary, hold accountable in a way that is loving instead of all those other alternatives (a way that allows the other person to say “I disagree, and here’s why…”).  Also, while I’m at it, I recognize that this may rub folks of certain generations the wrong way.  After all, if you were raised in a time/manner in which church dress was all about respect for the sacred, it is obviously difficult to let particular styles of dress slide. We’re all welcome to think what we think and feel what we feel, and some of our most deeply held views may never change.  But let’s give others the benefit of the doubt and not assume that their choice of clothing is made out of malice or disrespect, acknowledging that we don’t know their heart, mind or difficulties.

A Longing Fulfilled (or, why I took the leap into a D.Min program)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
-Proverbs 13:12

When I was a little girl, my career path practically changed with the weather.  For a time, I wanted nothing so badly as to be a paleontologist, to spend my days under the sun patiently unearthing the bones of prehistoric monsters.  Eventually, books about dinosaurs gave way to tomes of Greek and Roman mythology.  Then I yearned to be an archaeologist (Indiana Jones style, of course), pouring over the written remains of ancient civilizations by day and snatching artifacts from mischievous thieves by night.  Somewhere in there I also wanted to be an astronaut and a medical doctor, though those dreams didn’t last as long or come with the same reading lists. By middle school, I’d returned to my love for the animal kingdom and announced my intent to become a marine biologist (oddly enough, a choice most influenced by my family’s love for Star Trek 4…the one with the humpback whales).  And when I graduated from high school I’d again returned to that obsession with our human story, entering TCU as a history major and religion minor with the hope of becoming a history professor in the academy.

These dreams pointed toward such varied paths.  My lifestyle, location, and the contents of my bookshelves would have been so different, depending upon the adventure I chose.  And yet, those   largely incompatible dreams all shared one moment for which I yearned: the day I would walk across a stage and hear the words “Congratulations, Doctor Blackwood.”  As silly as it might seem, those words were the hardest thing to give up when God called me into ministry.  Changing majors was a delight.  I loved the study of religion even more than I loved studying history (it was the same thing only somehow better), so the switch was more joy than sacrifice.  The bargaining took place over the PhD:

“God, I’ll do this thing that you want of me…  I’ll get a PhD in church history and teach in a seminary.”  

*long pause from God* (translation: “That’s not who I’ve called you to be.”)

“Ok, God.  I’ll do this thing you want of me…but I’ll do it like this:  I’ll get a PhD in religious ethics and teach future ministers how to parse out the ethical quandaries that come with ministry.”

*similarly long pause from God*  (translation: “That’s ALSO not who I’ve called you to be.”)

“God, listen.  I’ll do this thing you want of me.  Really.  How about this?  I’ll get a PhD in whatever You choose, and I’ll teach…”

*sound of God banging head on table*  (No translation necessary)

Ultimately, I accepted that my call was to congregational ministry, finished a Master of Divinity and was ordained (we’ll just skip over the years where I kicked and screamed and dragged my feet and lived out an embarrassingly long hissy fit, m’kay?).  And the truth is, I love this calling.  I love that I get to share in the holiest, scariest, most joy-full and sacred moments of life with our congregants.  I love teaching and being taught by our teenagers, preaching the Gospel with words and action, immersing baptismal candidates in the freezing waters of God’s grace (the heater’s broken…sorry kids!), introducing new babies to their church family…  Though sometimes we don’t see eye to eye, I am in love with this life and these people.

And still, at every college graduation when those PhD candidates receive the words “Congratulations, Doctor  ______,” I weep.  This is why being a student in the Doctor of Ministry program at Phillips Theological Seminary means so much to me.  When I read the program description for the Transformational Leadership for Women in Ministry track, my heart leapt with hopeful possibility…and for the first time since I’d begun bargaining with God about my future, GOD SAID YES!

This is the right program and the right moment for me; it is a way to re-engage my inner academic for the sake of God’s call into ministry, not in spite of it, and a way I can develop and use my particular set of God-given gifts to help our church be transformed for faithful new possibilities in ministry and service.  The program of study is for me, but not only for me.  It’s for the church, but not only for the church.  It’s a hell of a lot of work in addition to everything else, and to some folks around me it seems downright crazy.  But it’s right.  It is a longing fulfilled, a tree of life that promises to bear good fruit in God’s good time.

This time God said yes.

A Prayer

In the stillness of this moment we turn our hearts to you, Eternal One.  Yet, our questions, our fears, our pain, even our joys make us restless.

Some of us long for your shalom, that peace which passes all understanding – and wonder if our patience will hold out.

Some of us yearn for healing, a body or life made right and new – and wonder if hope is a vain thing.

Some of us marvel and bask in the love shared with us by others, yet wonder if such a sublime thing can last – our fears nibbling, slowly getting the best of us.

This life, with its mixtures of good and bad, hope and despair, wonder and fear – this life confuses us.  And yet it is here, in this muddled place, that you meet us, day after day.  We fall before you in awe, that you would enter our lives exactly as they are – that through Christ you would come to know precisely what it feels like to live with such mixed emotion.

Remind us today, and always, that in You we are never alone.  If we ascend to the highest heavens, you are there.  If we make our bed in Sheol – yes, even in the grave – you are there.  In all the messy joy and muddied sorrow of this life, you are with us – loving us, strengthening us, calling us…

Help us to answer your callings for our lives.  A call to teach, to parent, to do business with integrity, to preach, to seek justice, to heal, to learn – in all the varied ways you call us into lives of meaning and service, give us the courage to say “YES”.  Infuse our life together with creativity and hope, so that we can step into your future for our church with “yes” on our lips.

We ask these things, along with the unnamed prayers of our hearts, in the powerful name of Jesus.


A Sermon Never Preached

I was due to preach a couple of Sundays ago (on the fourth Sunday of Advent), but wound up coming down with the crud.  That left a sermon written but unpreached.  This is the “sermon notes” version – not exactly what I would have said that Sunday, but close.  Thought I’d post it here as the last post of 2013:

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Text: 1 John 4:7-21

What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

Text (Message Version):

7 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. 8 The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love – so you can’t know him if you don’t love. 9 This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. 10 This is the kind of love we are talking about – not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. 11 My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. 12 No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us – perfect love! 13 This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit. 14 Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. 15 Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. 16 We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God. 17 This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. 18 There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. 19 We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. 20 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? 21 The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.



This Sunday, the fourth and final Sunday in the season of Advent, we light the candle of Love. In a “normal” season of preparation this is a candle that makes sense, and yet it is also the candle that seems to be most easily forgotten.

Peace, hope and joy (represented by the first three candles on our wreath) are literally the language of Christmas. They populate the hymns and carols of the season, adorn the cards we send to friends and family, encrust the ornaments on our trees… And somewhere in there, in the background, love is the heartbeat. It is simply assumed to be present: “Of course we love our family and friends, and of course God loves us! Now let’s get back to the peace, hope and joy.”

But this Advent has hardly been normal. Between talk of fiscal cliff diving, escalating violence around the world, and the horrendous massacre of children in Newton, Connecticut, the last few weeks have been a time marked more by fear, uncertainty and despair than peace, hope and joy. And love? Many among us wonder how can we talk of something as soft, as passive, as idealistic as love in a time such as this. A time when children are gunned down in their schools? What’s love got to do with it?

Our scripture this morning reminds us that love has everything to do with, well…everything. But in order to really grasp the richness and depth of what this means, we have to do a little unpacking of our own context as well as the context of the first-century world. Context matters, and sometimes our own context gets the best of us.

For starters, in our twenty-first century culture we’ve reduced love to a sentiment. It has become shallow. The word “love” gets bandied about and intertwined so deeply with our culture’s materialism, so that love would often be better translated as “want” or “desire”. Instead of simply saying we want them, we “fall in love” with celebrities we’ve never met, food we’d like to eat, golf clubs we’d like to show off on the course, shoes we’d like to wear… And even when love takes a deeper root within us, more often than not it remains a feeling that takes place entirely in the head and heart. This “love” is inconstant – it flares up brightly in an instant but burns out quickly, causing us to fall in and out of love with speed and ease.

With this understanding of love, it is little wonder that folks roll their eyes when we say “God is love”. It’s also little wonder that folks are unimpressed or even angered when people of faith express a desire to respond to violence with love. If love is such a skin-deep, fickle thing, then we might as well say we intend to respond to violence with a pillow fight inspired by the God of the moment, rather than the God of Eternity.

But for the biblical authors, love is more than just a feeling. It is active! Love is something you DO. It means showing up, being present and willing to serve. Our scriptures tell us that caring for each other through sickness or difficulty IS loving each other. Speaking the truth is loving each other. Hearing each other out even when we disagree, protecting each other from harm, having compassion in the midst of suffering, taking the time to hear someone’s story, or working for justice in the face of oppression IS loving the other.

And it’s also much more than that: caring for each other, speaking the truth, protecting the vulnerable, practicing compassion, genuinely listening, and working for justice are not only ways to love our neighbor – they are ways to love God. Our text from 1 John reminds us:

If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.

THIS is the love our candle represents: an active love, a love that DOES as well as feels, a love that can vigorously respond to the wrongs of the world without repaying evil with evil, a love that flows into and out of God – because God is love.

Another way our context gets in the way of our understanding has to do with our perception of the world. Compared to the evil we experience today – mass murders, genocide, widespread poverty, systemic prejudice, starvation, war – we sometimes view the biblical world as so very small and comparably carefree. How could anything be so bad as these things that we fear? What could love possibly have to say to the depths of such present despair? The “wisdom” of the world says that while love may have worked in the past, it is impotent in the face of today’s troubles.

But we have forgotten. Just as nostalgia dresses up our recent past, our distance in time and space simplify the realities of the world into which Jesus was born, dulling both its complexity and its danger. This was a world thick with oppression, where entire peoples were dominated or enslaved by warring empires. It was a world of deep divides between rich and poor – with a few spectacularly wealthy families supported by everyone else: a mass of impoverished workers. It was a world of violence and war, where sometimes even children were massacred in order to protect the power of ruling authorities. The despair of that time was no less than what we experience today.

The people of God cried out for a messiah, for God’s answer to all of the pain and injustice in the world – and it is in the midst of that despair and uncertainty that God chose to find expression in a baby.

A baby? Was it some sort of divine prank? In the face of so much darkness, why in the world would God find expression in a human child born into poverty rather than a glorious king or mighty warrior?

This is no prank, and neither is it an accident. I think it is as simple as this: we receive Jesus first as a baby because you can’t bribe a baby. You can’t reason with a baby. You can’t manipulate or convince a baby to be on your side. You can’t gain riches or favor with a baby – all the gold, frankincense and myrrh in the world won’t change a baby’s mind. You can’t lead an army or rule with a baby. All you can do is love a baby, and be loved in return.

God’s answer to our most desperate problems is love. Our text puts it this way:

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about – not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

There have always been big problems to solve, and deep wells of suffering to fill. To do so requires serious thought, reflection, courage and hard choices. In the midst of this, love comes first, and all other answers flow out of that love – this is how God would have us engage the world around us.

It is natural to experience fear as we face violence and insecurity. There is no shame in feeling that flash of terror. But as we work to address the real challenges and tragedies of the world, we must not give in to the temptation to respond out of fear. Our challenge is to resist every urge to lash out or hunker down because of what might be done to us in the future, and instead plant our feet firmly in the active love of God. 1 John 4 reminds us:

There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love.

A stance rooted in the active love of God is not wishy washy or weak, but powerful beyond measure – it contains the potential for justice, truth, harmony, peace, joy…the completeness of the Kin-dom of God. When he was grown, Jesus would remind us of that with his words about the most important of all the commandments (love God and love your neighbor as yourself) and with his instruction that if we love him, we will feed his sheep.

But first he reminded us simply by being born.

This morning, our Advent candle reminds us: Love comes first.


A Marvelous Dad

Tonight, sitting in my office after hours to finish up some administrative work, I am surprised by joy.  More specifically, I’m caught off guard by the joy of a father and his little daughters picking through what is left of our pumpkins.  After a week of trying to get rid of our pumpkins at a discount, we put an ad out on Craigslist advertising them for free.  Because of that ad, this dad is here loading up the freebies so that he can feed his livestock, but mostly so that his girls can have an adventure with him.  As they search through the pallets, moving past the rotten ones, they shriek with joy each time a good one is found.  And every time that victory yell is raised, he celebrates the find.  “Good job, little one!  Well done.  That one is perfect!”

The love in his voice, it’s enough to make my heart break wide open with joy.

Rich or poor or in between, tonight I thank God for all the marvelous dads in the world.  The ones who allow themselves to see whimsy through the eyes of their children.  The ones who take the time to play, to get down on their knees and wonder from the same vantage point that their kids occupy.  The ones who aren’t afraid to love their children openly, loudly and with abandon.  The ones who hug, and tease, and tousle hair.  The ones who think their children hung the moon.

Thanks be to God for fathers such as these.  They make all the difference in the world.