How We Define Love Matters

There are a few books I will pick up again and again. I will read a passage that moved me, that I highlighted, or that I need for a paper or an article I am writing. Sometimes I read the whole book again. Like an old friend that you keep coming back to for advice, books can be like that.

This weekend, I found my copy of This is How by Augusten Burroughs. It’s an easy read and quite powerful. What drew me to this particular book was a section where he speaks about love. Here, he is a modern day St. Paul and we are the Corinthians, needing a reminder.

We “identify love by knowing what it’s not: love doesn’t use a fist. Love never calls you fat or lazy or ugly. Love doesn’t laugh at you in front of friends. It is not in Love’s interest for your self-esteem to be low. Love is a helium-based emotion; Love always takes the high road. Love does not make you beg. Love does not make you deposit your paycheck into its bank account. Love certainly never, never, never brings the children into it. Love does not ask or even want you to change. But if you change, Love is as excited about this change as you are, if not more so. And if you go back to the way you were before you changed, Love will go back with you. Love does not maintain a list of your flaws and weaknesses. Love believes you.” ― Augusten Burroughs, This Is How

I was drawn back to this passage as I read about explosives in the mail, the shooting in the synagogue and, how, instead of coming together, everyone just blamed everyone else. The president blames the media and takes no responsibility for inciting the violence. The media blames the president and takes no responsibility for the way they cover these events. It’s not a sensational story. It’s a tragedy. And, Mr. President, everything bad that happens isn’t the Democrats’ fault. If only people would think before they speak, virtually and vocally.

All of us would be wise to remember the words of St. Paul. His passage in Corinthians is often used for weddings but Paul was obviously addressing a different conceptualization of love, that of Christian caritas which should be the defining force in our lives. “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians, 13:4-7)

Pretty sound advice.

Tired of St. Paul? This one is easy – “Love your neighbor.” We read that eight times in the Bible. Loving your neighbor is the opposite of selfishness. Acting in divine love demonstrates that unselfishness is possible for a human — showing a reality that cannot be ignored or denied. Whether your neighbor loves you back is irrelevant. Whether they appreciate you doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is that Jesus’ command to love one another is still valid.

It is possible to love one another, to be charitable, kind, compassionate, and patient.

Perhaps it starts with a little self-control.

-pjd

Hope

I have St. Paul on the brain these days. Especially the fifth line of the fifth chapter of Romans.

“Hope does not disappoint.”

I do not know why I started thinking of Paul or the Romans, but it came to me in prayer, frustration, hurt, anger, and finally, surrender over these past few days. As another crisis hit the church, my own crisis of confidence hit home.

People disappoint. Life disappoints. Circumstances disappoint. Children disappoint parents. Parents disappoint children. We disappoint each other. Sometimes even those we trust the most are disappointing – those we depend on for clarity lack it for a moment we discover the clay feet beneath our heroes.

But hope does not disappoint.

When I was in graduate school at Notre Dame a professor told my class that “hope” in the Christian sense is an action word. It has to be. It is a clarion call to do something. “Hope,” he said, “is an unsatisfactory view of the present, a satisfactory view of the future, and a commitment to change.”

Absent the commitment, it’s not hope. It’s whining.

Last year, while preparing a paper for my studies at LaSalle, I read the line, “If faith is a verb, it is an action verb, and hope is its future tense.”

Think about that for a minute.

in our present situation, what are we called to do today? Where will hope take us? What will hope challenge us to become?

Write a note. Make a call. Ask God to bless our leaders – political and spiritual – with the gift of right judgment. But above all, stop complaining about things we cannot fix or do not understand. Do something. Stop whining and hope.

Because hope does not disappoint.

-pjd

Looking Up

This time of year always makes me think of the early followers of Jesus. Perhaps it is the combination of Easter, new life, springtime, and allergies. Trust me, it’s all connected in my head.

The readings for this season are all about those early days, how an experience of God-through-Jesus led people to faith. There are stories about how those experiences led to inclusion, exclusion, joy, and suffering. How persecution gives way to stronger faith and how conversion leads to a paradigm shift that gives the early church new leadership.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently about the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ(which is well worth seeing). The article cited a remarkable fact: when Paul died in A.D. 67, there were 2,500 Christians. By the year 350, there were 34 million. Think about that for a second. In a time when you would be killed for professing faith in the Risen Jesus, the Good News spread, more people came to faith than left it, and the church flourished.

Then Constantine came along and institutionalized the faith into religion and things have never quite been the same. It seems we might have been better off when we had to tell the story than when we were allowed to tell the story. More on that another time.

This week, we will read about those early followers standing alone, looking at the sky, waiting for Jesus to return. They did not know when he would return, only that he had promised to return. So they stood there, staring at the sky, missing life around them.

The family continued our trek through the Marvel movies this weekend with Dr. Strange. In some ways, it was a typical superhero story: an overachieving protagonist is really a jerk at his core, arrogant and narcissistic. Then his world comes crashing down and he comes face to face with the one incontrovertible fact we all face at some point: life is not all about you. That new perspective requires a basic change in position. We no longer live for ourselves. We live for others.

The early followers figured this out. For them, it was never about gathering for Mass, making sure it only lasted an hour and then screaming at each other when one donkey cut another donkey off in the first-century parking lot. No, it was about serving others in the name of Jesus. It was telling the Jesus story. It was about the family meal where we remembered the sacrifice and sacred instruction. It was about taking care of the widows and orphans, the least among us, and caring for the basic needs in society. There was no right or left, only the Christ I see in you – and that required an action. It required selflessness. It required love.

Spoiler alert: the Jesus story still requires all those things. If only we could stop staring at the sky and get to work.

~pjd

Converted

On Friday this week, we hear about the conversion of St. Paul.

I love that at the root of his faith is his experience.

His conversion experience is so powerful it becomes his whole life, his whole world. It defines his reality. The institutional church makes him a hero. In reality, he is a rebel. Paul doesn’t go along with the parameters; he sets the parameters.

He trusts his experience. It is not an “outer” authority with which he speaks, but an “inner” authority. So convinced is Paul of his conversion experience, he gives himself the title, apostle to the gentiles. Apostle: a title reserved in those early days for those who had experienced the risen Jesus.

Both Jesus and Paul trust their experience of God against the tradition. Over time, the institutional church takes the experience of both and domesticates it. There has to be a balance, I think, between trusting our “inner” authority and falling over into relativism.

There’s room for the “outer” authority, to be sure. But I don’t think we should be on bended knee before it either. I think we should behave as those who know something deep within – an experience of a God who won’t let go, no matter what.

In Galatians 2, Paul says quite clearly, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…”

Powerful words. Such was Paul’s experience that he understood – before Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John ever told him – the death of Jesus was Paul’s own death to sin. One death for all.

So strong was the bond for Paul that it was not his words changing lives, but Christ’s. Not his actions, saving souls, but the resurrected Jesus’, now confessed as Christ.

For Paul, life became all about participation in the Body of Christ. We no longer live in the world and go to Church, rather we live as Church and go out to the world. It’s a basic change in position and it can only happen after we’ve been thrown to the ground and converted.

And what’s the opposite of participation?

Control.

Think about it. Do we participate or do we control?

I really do love St. Paul.

~pjd

Liftoff

This Wednesday the Diocese of Bridgeport will give birth to The Leadership Institute. I get to be the midwife.

So much has changed in a year: new job, new house, new diocese, new parish, new friends, new challenges. It is a great blessing to be working in a diocese that values vision, direction, and creativity. Our leaders encourage people to look beyond the proverbial box and into what is possible for ministry, for the faithful, and for everything in between. We are coworkers in the Vineyard in every sense of the word.

My role as the founding director of the Institute means that I am the one who has been fortunate to bring the work that we have been able to do thus far to fruition. We are not as far as I would like, delayed by finding the right technology and making sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit. Still, it has been an amazing year (almost a year since I began) and the plans for what is next have me getting to work early and staying late. It is an exciting time to be a part of ministry here in Fairfield County.

On Wednesday night we will gather in prayer to launch the Institute. Shortly thereafter, learning modules will go online, workshops will be announced, and formation will commence. But first, we will reflect on Sirach 6, which encourages those who encounter the last half of the chapter to search for wisdom through patience, persistence, docility, and perseverance, knowing that we can search for wisdom all we want, but must remember that only God grants it.

We will also reflect on 1 Corinthians 15, one of my favorite Pauline passages. “…by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective…” Indeed, as I look back over all that has changed, all that endured before the changes happened, all those I left – eagerly and begrudgingly – all that I am and all that I have been – has made me who I am today.

Join me, please, in praying our official Institute prayer in thanksgiving for who we are as children of God, and for the great success of all the Institute hopes to accomplish.

God of Wisdom and Love,
You have called us to be missionary disciples of your Son,
and to use our gifts to build up His Body, the Church.
Empower us to follow the example of the twelve apostles
and to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.

May we Encounter You in all our studies,
May our Formation be guided by Your Holy Spirit,
And may the Discipleship in which we share transform us
So that our ministry may renew the world
One person at a time.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.


To learn more about the Institute, please visit www.formationreimagined.org

St. Paul and the Election Season

A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians

Brothers and sisters:

That means everyone. All of us. No one is excluded.

Be kind to one another, compassionate,

No name calling.

forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

Help us, Lord, to understand and forgive – or simply to forgive – to comfort the sorrowful and heal the scars of division.

 Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,

That doesn’t say, “act like children,” it says imitate God like children do, free of animosity and hatred.

as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

We may have to suffer for a bit, but offer the suffering up for the needs of others who have less than you, suffer more than you, are more forgotten than you.

Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones,

This may require us to turn off the television.

no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place,

In public or in private. In verbal or electronic form.

but instead, thanksgiving.

You are an ambassador of others. Your needs are secondary. You are running for an office that serves, not saves.

Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person,

Oh, Lord give us strength.

that is, an idolater,

Help me form my conscious sincerely.

has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.

Give me courage discern the essential from the merely desirable, the good from the less good, the less good from the bad.

Let no one deceive you with empty arguments,

But doesn’t that cover most of the arguments I hear.

for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient.

God will sort it out in the end.

So do not be associated with them.

Help me reflect the Light, oh Lord.

For you were once darkness,

Sometimes it feels that I still am.

but now you are light in the Lord.

Thank you, Jesus.

Live as children of light.

And invite others to do the same.