Saturday, May 29, 2010

Thanks Ron Howard, Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe

God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Romans 5:5, reading for Trinity Sunday

Then what's the Episcopal Church's problem? Why are we decaying? (And what can a director and two actors do about it?)

One reason for decay is our uncritical acceptance of a weak, cultural view of "love." We believe that love is a kind of blanket endorsement. One cannot love without approving - the awful term we endured in seminary was "affirming" - every aspect of the other party. Any limit or objection is "control," not love. God's love is a given, with no relational response required.

Last night my wife and I caught the movie A Beautiful Mind. No, we hadn't seen it yet. The long-suffering, amazing love that Jennifer Connelly's character invests in Russell Crowe's rejects much of who he is. He is not immoral, he is schizophrenic, and she loves him faithfully and passionately while fighting against perceptions that seem necessary and real to him.

The love of God has been poured into our hearts in Holy Baptism, and the Holy Spirit groans within us, passionately and faithfully working to unite us with the heavenly Father's unbounded love, by guiding us in the loving Way set for us by God the Son, Jesus Christ.

But our transformation in love is not mechanical or automatic, because perfect love, in St. Paul's great teaching, "does not insist on its own way." God is not "controlling" in that sense, and the love we've been given is a gift we can decline.

The love of God has been poured into our hearts, where it can freeze as if on lifeless stone. It can evaporate in our overheated self-will. It can leak away through our inattention to the things of God. It can be polluted with toxins from the world, the flesh and the devil.

And so the efforts of some to say that "love" is an entitlement to anything anybody claims do a great disservice to people who seek God. To truly love, the church will have to disappoint people from time to time. Frustrate them, hurt their feelings, keep them close while rejecting their actions, let them wander off and come back - love them as God loves the human race.

I serve a number of people who were raised by permissive parents, in most cases single moms and disappearing dads. These were folks who, in one parishioner's words, "Wanted to be my buddies, not my parents." The grown children of that upbringing feel slighted at best, abandoned at worst. The find themselves struggling to form their own relationships and under equipped for life's challenges. They did not have the challenge of love - faithful and passionate love - and their lives seem precarious.

But into just such hearts, the love of God can be poured and the Holy Spirit given. Not as a magic pill, but with all that goes into a new relationship. Renouncing old ways, obligating to a new Way.

The church that equates love with "We tell you what makes you feel good so you can make us feel good" is not loving at all. It is not surprising to find the Episcopal Church and others like it decaying. They have frozen, evaporated, spilled and polluted the true love they were given.

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