Loving Kindness

28 01 2014

loving kindnessIf my daughter was going to get a tattoo, there are far worse things she could have inked on her body for all eternity! Surely the world could use an extra dose of ‘Loving Kindness,’ so why shouldn’t she have the phrase emblazoned on her rib cage?  It’s certainly better than another piercing; one which this time would probably NOT have been in her ear!

Actually, it’s a perfect tattoo for my daughter – one of the kindest and most loving people I know.  And it’s also a great reminder of that to which we all should be giving our lives. For again I will say it, if the world needs anything today, it is loving kindness!

Every now and then I catch a glimpse of it, and when I do, I wonder why it is so elusive! It’s so wonderful to see, to encounter, and to receive, that you’d think everyone would be doing their best to make it more of a reality, in more of our lives. But for some reason, hatred, anger, and violence appear to rule the days in which we are living.

Never the less, it’s out there.  I saw it in the young college kid who waited on my wife, and my daughter, and me when we had lunch in Blacksburg, VA a while back. When I went to order a piece of the Almond cake for dessert, he smiled at me and said, “The Almond Cake is a few days old. I’d skip it if I were you!”

I saw it in the eyes of the woman who checked me into my hotel room last week, when she offered me a fresh, warm cookie as I left the registration desk . . . two even, if I wanted!

I saw it in the passing face of the guy who had to slam on the brakes of his car in order to keep from hitting me, when I made a wrong turn in an unfamiliar part of town, and wound up in the wrong lane. He graciously smiled in a way that said, ‘No problem. I’ve made that same mistake before too!’

I see it in my favorite baristas, who make my “English Breakfast tea latte with skim milk and three pumps of classic” in all three of my favorite Starbucks.   (And don’t judge me!)  I see it in the people I work with: who love what they do, and who do what they do with dedication, enthusiasm, and with a constant smile on their faces.  And I see it in my wife, all the time; as she graciously puts up with my many idiosyncrasies, and loves me unconditionally.

Loving kindness really is everywhere; but we doubt that, because we don’t see it.  And we don’t see it, because we’re not looking for it.  So this week, might I suggest that we all look for the loving kindness that is all around us.

You see, I believe in the words of that old hymn – “This is my Father’s world.”  I don’t really regard God as my father anymore, but I do believe that the world is God’s!  And as such, it radiates divinity.  Holiness is everywhere, and it is warming the hearts of people of every faith, transforming the minds of people of every nation, and moving in the souls of people of every generation.

Maltbie Davenport Babcock, the author of the hymn, grew up in Western New York, near where I did; and his walks along the Niagara Escarpment gave him inspiring views of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.  It is said that when he would leave the house and his wife asked him where he was going, he would respond “to see my Father’s world.”

This is indeed God’s world; but I’m convinced that often we fail to see it because we’re not looking for it.  We’re blinded by the corruption and selfishness of those in power. We’re distracted by the evil of those with hateful tongues and violent hands.  And so our days are fraught with everything but, loving kindness.

But we can change that.

And we can change that by looking for the signs of God’s commonwealth all around us. We can notice the smile of the stranger.  We can turn toward the grace of some, and away from the judgement of others.  We can choose to dwell not on our neighbor’s brokenness, but on their beauty.  And we can seek to surround ourselves with people who have a similar view of the world around us.

Today, this week, the rest of this month — let’s change what we’re looking for, and thereby change the narrative of our world.  Let’s notice the fingerprints of our Creator and Sustainer, and spot the loving kindness that lurks in every corner of creation.  For if our lives need anything, it is more loving kindness.

And it’s out there . . . and we will see it . . . if we look for it.

 

 

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Hollywood

27 01 2014

I was just a year old when my paternal grandmother moved to Southern California, and she lived in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles my entire childhood.  My siblings and I spent just about every summer visiting her.  While most of my friends were going to Fantasy Island, a small amusement park 10 miles from my home, I was going to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm.  My first trip to a beach was in Santa Monica; and day trips to San Diego, Long Beach, and Catalina Island allowed me to see and experience things that most kids raised in the 1970s only dreamed about.  On our ‘down days,’ when my grandmother was too tired to take us to play miniature golf, or to roam around Farmer’s Market, we’d simply go out for ice cream after dinner, and drive down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.  To my grandmother, it was no big deal; but to me, it was always an amazing experience.  The people, the excitement, the lights, the sights and sounds — they were not part of the life I knew in Lewiston, NY — a town of 6000, an hour north of Buffalo — and I loved it.  I was convinced that after graduation I would attend Pepperdine University, and never go back east again!    

Then, sometime in the late 70s, something happened to my impressions of Hollywood.  After a significant experience of spiritual conversion, Hollywood became something akin to a ‘sin city’!  Actors and musicians lived immoral lives, made movies and music that glamorized sin, and embraced an ‘agenda’ that sought to do nothing less that destroy the American family and rip apart the very fabric of those things that made our country great.  And, I have to say, that for many years, this was the view that I embraced.  

But last night, as I watched the Grammy Awards on CBS, I realized how much my picture of Hollywood has changed in recent years.  I don’t know much about Madonna or Queen Latifah.  I’ve heard their music and seen some of their movies; but am not sure that what I see in their lives is any more offensive than what I see in the lives of Kansas pastor Fred Phelps who protests at the funerals of service women and men, or North Carolina pastor Sean Harris who advises parents with boys who act like girls to just ‘give them a good punch.’  We’re all broken.  None of us are perfect.  And fortunately God’s grace covers all of us!  I also confess to not knowing much about Macklemore and Ryan Lewis; but I know enough to say that their song ‘Same Love’ speaks just as powerfully to me as Amy Grant’s “Better than a Hallelujah!” 

So last night, when Macklemore and Lewis took the stage with Madonna and Queen Latifah, my heart broke!  Not because of what they were doing.  But because they had the divine wisdom and the prophetic courage to do what the majority of the people in the Church of Jesus Christ are still afraid to do!   

While leaders of my own denomination remain afraid to take a stand for what the majority of us know to be consistent with the Living Word; afraid to offend the people in the pews, and unwilling to challenge the naivete and ignorance behind most — not all, but most — of the anti-gay bigotry in the church today, Hollywood has decided that the time has come to speak up and speak out.  While the Methodists defrock clergy who are willing to perform marriage ceremonies for their gay children, Hollywood has decided to license their own in order to allow ALL people the joy and blessing of a relationship that God has given to all humankind!  And while the vast majority of evangelical Christians in this country continue to challenge people to invite Jesus into their hearts, it takes someone like Madonna to challenge us all to OPEN our hearts, so that we might see that all love is from God, and that all people deserve the opportunity to enjoy the gifts of marriage and family.

So what can be said when actors and musicians take up the prophetic message of the Gospel?  What can be said when the stars of stage and screen do what the church continues to be afraid to do?  What can be said when the rich and famous take a stand for those who have been put on the margins of our society for too long, and those who have been shunned and shut out of the church of Jesus Christ? 

Well, there is only one thing that can be said.  Hooray for Hollywood!  (Sing it with me!)

You made me proud last night. Now, if you could pray that my church will catch up sometime soon, I’d be most grateful!