What Really Matters

No one needs another opinion right now, right?

It seems as if social media has inadvertently made everyone an expert in politics, social issues, and now infectious diseases.

God bless us for our good intentions.

I am not interested so much in offering another opinion on our current global pandemic. I know my skill sets. I will instead leave that for those who actually spend their lives researching, doing clinical work, and treating patients. They are the ones to whom we should be listening right now. And we are grateful for the important work they do.

Many of us have studied the words of Father Richard Rohr over the years and have always come back to one of his most profound insights- that great love and great suffering have the ability to create the potential for spiritual listening and larger seeing. And it is along these pathways by which a person, a family, a community, or even a world may be transformed.

There is no question that we find it so much easier, and so much more desirable, to move along this pathway when it is by the means of great love.  Conversely, we have a much more difficult time discovering anything redeemable, or of value, when it is found down the road of great suffering. Suffering can very easily break us down and move us into a place with varying degrees of worry, anxiety, helplessness, or despair.

This isn’t a judgment on how any of us individually process suffering, or even a judgment on those who suffer emotionally or psychologically. Six weeks ago, I went to my family doctor because I was experiencing anxiety for the first time in my life. Changing variables in my work life had produced a tightness in my chest and a feeling of being strangled. Fortunately it wasn’t a heart attack, but the reality of how anxiety can consume a person and it was a real experience for me. So I truly understand how deeply situations and our mental health can deeply affect us.

But despite where we may be internally, learning to listen and see in our suffering, or choosing to be fully present in our suffering, there is always a continuous invitation of the Spirit open to everyone, all the time, even and especially to those who have been deeply affected at the physical, emotional, physiological, or even spiritual level.

So no matter who you are, where you have been, what trauma you have experienced, or what you are currently experiencing in your life, this invitation welcomes you into a safe and quiet space where you are allowed to breath and then patiently listen and see amidst your suffering.

But while many of you may already be suffering, the potential for greater suffering always exists, which will necessitate more safe spaces and more patient guides to walk with people through the chaos and along the path of suffering.

There is no question that closings and cancellations, limitations on social functions, the loss of business or savings plans, the loss of employment and mounting bills, and the potential hospitalization or death of loved ones who have been infected will all certainly create varying degrees of suffering among us.

You may know exactly what I am talking about right now.

But I wonder if in this suffering, we will begin to walk together, truly walk together, to discover opportunities to learn, serve, and be transformed, rather than be consumed by our collective despair and antipathy.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not the canceling of events, large social gatherings, and other disruptions as personal assaults or attacks on our personal liberties and livelihoods, but as selfless moves we can all make together to protect our most vulnerable.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not all of the services that have been disrupted or how we no longer have everything at our fingertips or how inconvenienced we have become in some things, but all of the great opportunities we have to come together and use our resources to help our brothers and sisters who have reduced hours, who have lost jobs, who are losing business, or who are having a hard time making ends meet.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not all of the ugliness and divisiveness of politics and everything that works to divide us in our most difficult times, but all the ways we can unite without labels or affiliations to serve the greater good.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not all of the ways we have been, or will soon be, isolated and quarantined from each other, but all of the ways we can still be with one another and creatively reach out to talk, encourage, pray for, or maybe even sing with one another, like our brothers and sisters in Italy.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not lives with significantly limited options, isolated at home and on social media all day, but the opportunity to spend real face time with family around the table or to breathe fresh air in nature, while rediscovering our hearts and natural rhythm once again.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see that this time is teaching us, through abstinence, to appreciate all the things we had previously taken for granted.

It’s true that not every experience of trauma or suffering can easily be diverted by perspective or prayer. We will have to endure the anguish and pain of some traumas and sufferings head on. But in even that, we will have hopefully learned that we are not alone in this thing and that we truly have each other. We will have come to the realization that there is so much goodness in our lives and we will see it differently moving forward. And maybe, just maybe, through this suffering, we may learn to see each other differently, to learn to respect each other despite our differences, and to uncover a humanity below the surface that we may have forgotten was there.

Walking with you in this,

Brandon

More Than An Ocean

There is something I learned when navigating through the vast wasteland of car-sized boulders at 12,750 feet while making my way up the final ascent to Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

People are less than microscopic.

As we climbed upward toward The Keyhole and then turned back to survey the boulder field, now just 1000-feet below us, our tents had become colored dots in a broken sea of browns.

And the people below, were lost in that sea.

Only moments later, after hitting the summit, we looked down again to take in the magnitude of the boulder field. Our tents were now submerged. And the people had drown in its vastness. The car-sized boulders had become bits of sand washed by the enormity of the figurative waves.

From less than a few miles away, boulders had become granules of sand, tents were visibly imperceptible, and people were nonexistent. One could never tell that there were a couple hundred people walking through the boulder field as we stood there taking it in from above.

That’s about as descriptive as I can get in conveying how relatively miniscule and microscopic a person is on a scale that we can even somewhat understand. Because if you can somewhat begin to understand how insignificantly tiny we are from such a short distance on Earth, then you can really begin to appreciate our relative nothingness on a cosmic scale.

Think about this for a second.

If a human being is basically imperceptible from a few miles away, what about our size from the moon, which is about 250,000 miles away? I know that is a huge leap, but seriously contemplate that for a second. If you are microscopic from a few miles, what are you from moon?

Virtually nonexistent. And that is just from the moon.

But let’s take another step.

What about our size from Mars, which is 34 million miles away? Or, our size from Saturn, which is 750 million miles away? Or, our size from the edge of our solar system, which is nine billion miles away?

To put this distance in perspective, the Earth is theoretically no longer visible to the naked eye from the edge of the solar system. The Earth, itself, has become virtually nonexistent.

So what about the size of a human being from the closest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, which is 25 trillion miles away? To put that distance in perspective, it would take 81,000 years traveling at 35,000 miles per hour from Earth to get there. And lastly, what about the size of a human being from the edge of our expanding universe, which is estimated to be 46 billion times 5.8 trillion miles away?

Can you even put your humanity into that kind of perspective? If you are microscopic from less than a few of miles away and next to nothing from the moon, what are you in the universe that is 46 billion times 5.8 trillion miles to its outer edge?

I hate to say it this way, but from a size perspective, we are nothing.

But think about this.

If God created this universe, then is God not larger and even more pervasive than the entire universe? And if God’s very essence, God’s very composition, God’s very DNA is love, then is this love not even more immense and more unbounded than the utter vastness and expansiveness of this universe? Even more, if God’s love is that immeasurable, that unfathomable, that exhaustively immersive, then how do you, as a nearly nonexistent human being, measure up within that love?

If we are nearly nothing in relation to a love that is more expansive, more immeasurable, more unfathomable, more exhaustingly immersive than the universe that it created, then how can we really be that big of an offense to God? How can we really be such vile offenders? Such horrible wretches? Such loathsome reprobates? Such horrible sinners? How can we really be that despised and worthy of scorn? How can we really be that wayward and shameful? How can we really be that deserving of an eternity burning in hell?

To this love, we are none of those things.

We are beloved.
We are worthy.
We are valuable.

And this love continues to pursue every one of us.

The truth is that there is no distance we can travel, no depth to which we can sink, no barrier behind which we can hide where that love is not still with us, is not still holding us, is still not inviting us into its full embrace.

If you think I have gone too far in describing where we stand in relation to this unbounded, immersive, and universal love of God, all you have to do is look at that this love embodied. Because once you see the full weight and measure of this cosmically-sized love poured into a human body, you will finally begin to understand what true love looks like, and how radically different it is from our limited, conditional love.

This is the love of God in Jesus.

And the love we see in Jesus was never repulsed, shocked, or offended by another human being. It is a love that was never fearful of eating a meal with the so-called wicked. It is a love that was never afraid of hanging with prostitutes and whores. It is a love that was never fearful of elevating people who were deemed by the religious as “unclean” or “dogs.” It is a love that was always willing to see great faith in people of different religious persuasions or no religious persuasion at all. It is a love that never took a stand, or needed a platform, or needed to be acknowledged or recognized. It is a defiant love that always did the complete opposite of the religiously-minded when they said, “Don’t embrace them! Don’t befriend them! Don’t serve them! Don’t eat with them! Don’t invite them!”

God’s love is always with those whom the religious believe are undeserving of being embraced, befriended, served, eaten with, or invited in. It is not limited by human barriers or rules of engagement. It is with every person of every race, every ethnicity, every culture, every religion, every lifestyle, every gender, and every “sin group.”

And if this kind of love makes you angry or indignant, then you are more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day than Jesus himself.

If this kind of love terrifies you for what others will think of you when hanging out with “terrible sinners,” then you have become more religious than a follower of Jesus.

If this kind of love worries you that you are condoning “sinful lives” when you hang out with and serve others, then you do not know the love of God in Christ.

The love of God is radically offensive to those who do not understand it.

The unbounded, immersive, universal love of God is for all people, for all-time and will never be constrained or limited by small-minded, hard-hearted, Spirit-less, microscopic religion that tries to divide it and apportion it by whom they believe deserve it.

God’s love is so much more than a tiny, little ocean washing over us and submerging our limited, finite, and feeble attempts at understanding it. It is beyond universal and we are nothing but lost in it. And when you experience a love like that, you can do nothing but let it consume you. You can do nothing but become that love and share it with everyone without discrimination.

Forever in that love…

Brandon

The Not So Small Things

It was one of those super frigid Indiana nights in mid-February. I hopped out of my toasty car and walked briskly into the homeless shelter for my nightly volunteer shift. Still warming up in the lobby, a young lady, who was staying at the shelter for the night, looked me up and down and whispered, “You’re fly.”

If you are not familiar with urban vernacular, it basically means, “You’re hot.”

Of course I was taken aback and somewhat embarrassed that she was so forward with me, especially since I was wearing a wedding ring and I had never met her before. But I smiled, stared at the ground to find my equilibrium, and then looked up to sheepishly whisper back, “Thank you, I guess.”

Despite my apparent awkwardness in that moment, she came back at me again, still whispering, but this time a bit more audibly, “You’re fly.”

My face, veiled behind a graying beard, turned red. Whatever chill followed me from the outside was immediately eviscerated by a growing, sweat inducing, warmth. Did someone raise the temperature in this place, I thought. Even more uncomfortably this time, I replied, “Um. Okay. Hey. Thanks.”

My eyes locked in on the floor once again. I became a child hiding behind my blanket hoping no one could see me. The floor was my blanket. If I just kept looking at it, no one would see me, right? Maybe she wouldn’t still be looking at me.

But she was. And she had one more thing to say.

It’s at this point I should tell you that it is impossible, when someone is speaking to you, to discern the difference between the words “you’re” and “your.”

I looked up one last time, and in slow motion, I saw her arm extending and her finger zeroing in on my midsection.

“Your fly.”

And this time it wasn’t a whisper.

An Arctic chill blew passed the gaping hole.

Oh no.

My fly.

I thought I was going to die.

To be honest, it was an appropriate way to end the day. Mid-afternoon I had called my work partner and asked how the day was going. She said that she had slept in and was just running some errands. She had not previously told me she was taking the day off, so I was confused by her response.

After a few silent moments, I hesitantly muttered, “What?”

To which she, a bit too eagerly responded, “I’m just enjoying our company holiday today.”

Yup. I was the only person in the entire company working on President’s Day.

Classic.

It’s amazing to me how the most insignificant, throwaway moments have the potential to become our greatest teachers and catalysts for profound life transformation.

I have been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now. And rather than discarding that day as a series of unfortunate, embarrassing events, what if these moments are gifts that can teach us and help us grow?

For me, it was the momentary realization that I had been too proud in my abilities and my self-sufficiency. I was in need of humility. And there it was, in the most unlikely places, greeting me, ready to teach me, ready to guide me into greater depths.

You may have never thought of it this way, but these small moments are gifts, if we will receive them and let them teach us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, writes that, “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”

He is exactly right.

We pray that the world will become more peaceful. We pray that our country will become more just, equitable, and virtuous. We pray that our culture will become one that honors all life, that looks to the interest of another, and that treats all people with dignity and respect as image-bearers of God. We may even pray that God will use us to change the world.

Yet, while we pray for the big things, we forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not small) gifts. We neglect the hidden treasures throughout our day that greet us, moment by moment, and that are always there to teach us, and guide us at the soul level.

You are likely familiar with this quote from Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  Or, this quote from Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Or, this quote from Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things – only small things with great love.”

The truth is that the small things are the key to the big things.

In fact, that is the wisdom of Jesus, as well. He says that the Kingdom of God, or God’s in-breaking presence within our lives, is that which has the power to change the big things. It is the small seed that grows into an invasive shrub that takes over everything in its path. It is again the small seed that has the potential to move the biggest mountain. It is the small measure of yeast that causes the large batch of dough to grow and expand. When God’s loving presence is sown, it begins to take root. It grows and expands invasively through our lives and then into our relationships, our neighborhoods, our communities, our country, and our world.

For Bonhoeffer, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Jesus- to change the big things, one must first be changed.

And that has been my prayer each morning when I first open my eyes while still lying in bed and then my prayer each night as I turn off the light, “Let me be your love. Let me be your peace. Let me be your joy.”

(Even if it takes me learning how to become those things through unzipped pants)

For if my relationships are ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my family is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my country is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If the world is ever going to change, it begins in me.

And it begins in you, too.

Peace…

Brandon