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Meditations on love

love

For the last couple of months, I’ve been really thinking about the concept of love. A couple of months ago, a close family friend of ours passed away. She was a woman who loved God and loved others. It was so touching to hear so many stories of how her love touched the lives of so many. During the service, there was something that was said that in many ways made me contemplate more about love. She loved others even though at times, that love was not reciprocated. Yet, despite of this, she still continued to love. It was a reminder, yet again, to me of the unconditional aspect of love that Christ has called us to show to the world. When you see this kind of love, it really is an awesome thing to behold.

We live in a world where love is often over-sentimentalized or treated as this abstract concept that we should all try to attain. However, I think we often forget how true love is tangible and experiential. True love – the love that the Bible speaks of, the love that God exemplifies – is marked by words and deeds and not merely thoughts and good intentions. The Scriptures best captures this thought in this way: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9) The love of God was made manifest through a tangible act. It was not enough to have feelings of love towards humanity… it was made manifest by sending his only Son “to be the propitiation for our sins”. (1 John 4:10) And if it stopped there, that would have been amazing. But, it continues on to say that, “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) And that’s when things become difficult for me. 

Thinking that God loves me and that this type of love is tangible and experiential is great. Who doesn’t want to be loved like that? Over the years, I have felt and experienced the love of God in my life for which I can say that I am so blessed and thankful for. But it doesn’t stop there. This love that God has shown me is the same type of love that I am called to show to others too. In fact, the Scriptures are quite insistent that we cannot say “I love God” without “I love others” in the same breath. If I don’t love my brothers and sisters in Christ whom I can see and experience in the flesh, how can I say that I love a God whom I cannot see?

It’s easy to love when the person you are dealing with is likable, charming, and non-confrontational all the time. But, let’s be real, those people never exist in real life. If you’re a human being and we have any form of interaction with one another, there is a high chance that prolonged exposures will lead to one party being offended by the other because of something the other person did or did not do. The people closest to me are the ones who actually hurt me the most. People say things and do things that can offend us. If they don’t, I truly wonder how much of that is because of a very strong people-pleasing attitude. Can we love someone who has hurt us deeply? Can we love someone who has not shown any sign of love towards us that we can perceive? Maybe. For a short time anyways. But an enduring love for others, that self-sacrificial love that God shows us and continues to show us on a daily basis even after we have offended him… probably not.

God is love. The love that I speak of can only come from God and because God is the source of true love, it cannot be truly experienced outside of God. We cannot will this kind of love from ourselves. We can try to replicate it, and for a time, it may even work… but it is not sustainable. That’s how you can discern whether it is real or it is fake. It is a humbling thing to recognize and realize. I think we all want to be known as loving people. But let’s be real, loving others in that unconditional, self-sacrificial way is frankly exhausting. The faster we realize that we can’t do it on our own and how badly we need help, the easier it is to show this type of love that will cost us everything. When you know that you’re in the right and the other person is in the wrong, and that other person hasn’t even recognized that they are wrong, let alone ask forgiveness from their wrong, true love says it doesn’t matter. You still have to love. Before someone completely misunderstands what I mean, I will say that there is a time and place for correction in love. Loving someone does not mean that you can’t tell them about how their actions are not the right options. However, the manner in which one approaches a sensitive issue matters.

Our current political and social climate has not been the best environment for love to be fostered and nourished. Instead, fear seems to be the primary motivator. Changes and transitions in our culture can often lead to feelings of tumult and mayhem. I have seen this us-vs-them mentality becoming stronger everyday. Even among evangelical Christians, I hear their fear in their voices when speaking of where we are as a society. No one is exempt. Yet, the Bible is clear that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)

And so I am reminded yet again of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” I think about the true love that Jesus shows to the poor and marginalized and I am convicted that I do not do the same. I think about the true love that he showed even to those who would seek to do him harm and I am convicted that I do not do the same. It has often boggled my mind how easy it is for some of us to think the other as a heretic or misguided when that same inclination is also true of us. (Question: how many read that line and thought “uh oh, sounds like someone drank the poison of relativism lately”? Do not worry, dear reader. I will let you know that this has been addressed by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords Himself in Matthew 7:3-5 “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”) 

I think that’s why true love is so difficult to achieve apart from God. For true love to exist, we need to have an attitude of humility. However, we cannot have an attitude of humility without the acknowledgement of our position as a creature and God’s position as creator. Once that is firmly established in our hearts and minds, it will provide the proper soil for true love to live. The thought that I must “in humility count others more significant than myself” can be difficult. Pride reigns in this sinful heart of mine. More and more, I am compelled to remind myself of John the Baptist’s words: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Without God, this whole showing true love experiment is not going to work out. With God, the possibilities of how this true love can be shown through our lives is limitless.

 

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Hello 2018… it’s me.

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Last year, I wrote a blog post about how my 2017 goal was to learn how to love myself. A year later, as I reflect on 2017 and what has happened, I am forced to face the fact that I failed miserably in achieving this goal. There’s a part of me that wished I didn’t make the goal to begin with. The rationale is that if I didn’t make a goal, then there’s no possible way that I can fail. Thinking back, I’m actually happy I made that goal, even if I did fail. It was in thinking and meditating upon that failure that has brought me to my 2018 goal. For 2018, my goal is to accept my humanity. Maybe it was too much of a big jump for me to love myself when I can’t even begin to be ok with myself. There is too much self-loathing in my daily life. I really don’t like myself. I don’t like the way I look. I don’t like the way I talk. I don’t like the way I move. I don’t like the way I think. I don’t like the way I feel. There’s virtually nothing in my life that I’m even remotely close to saying I like. And that’s a problem. The problem is that I’m so busy trying to be like other people, I can’t/don’t even know what it’s like to be me. I hate my flaws. I think it’s normal to hate one’s flaws but when every single part of you is deemed to be flawed, then what is there to love? However, it always amazes me that the very things that I hate about myself are the very things that people love about me. I hate the fact that I’m extraverted. It makes me think and feel that no one takes me seriously because I have a cheerful demeanour. And yet, my friends love the fact that I enjoy people and my outgoing personality. I hate that I feel too much and too deeply. And yet, my friends love the fact that they can always come to me with their problems and feel loved. The very things that I despise most about myself are the very things that define and make me who I am. I’m obsessed with perfection but I think I have gotten perfection completely wrong. In the Scriptures, the term meant complete. I need to be a whole person. Part of being a whole person is realizing my own strengths and weaknesses and quite honestly, being the best me I could be. Perfect doesn’t mean to have Zac Efron’s six pack abs, or the Rock’s bulging biceps, or the spirituality of a theologian like St. Gregory of Nyssa or the mysticism of someone like Teresa of Avila. Perfect is being the best version of who I can possibly be.

I know that it will be a challenge to be okay with my imperfections. I need to learn how to be okay with my humanity. I need to be okay with not being “perfect”. I need to be okay with being me. Perhaps, this is the stepping stone I need to learn how to love myself.

Dear 2018, let’s do this.

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The Return of the Prodigal Blogger

It has been awhile since I have last blogged. I guess that’s what happens when one has to deal with conference presentations, dissertation proposals, and the looming deadline of writing the actual dissertation. But, those are all excuses. At the end of the day, I’m just bad at time management. Sigh.

Well, I’m about to embark on a vacation of sorts so I have decided to write a quick blog post to let yall know I’m still alive. But what does alive even mean? I sometimes feel that I’m barely existing. The stress of a PhD program coupled with insecurities, feelings of failure, and constant bouts of wondering if I’m good enough, can take its toll on a person. I’m feeling rather raw… and vulnerable… so this post will be about my ruminations on the topic of vulnerability.

I would say that within the last decade, the concept of being authentic and vulnerable has shaped a whole new generation. We have grown up with this constant admonition to be “authentic”, to be a person who does not change for anything or anyone. But what does that even mean? Does that mean that if you are someone with jerk ish attitudes, you should just admit that being a jerk is what makes you you and that you should not change because to change your jerk ish attitude is to be false to who you truly are? I’m sure that’s not what people mean when they talk about being authentic… and yet this can sometimes be the unintended message. Same goes with vulnerability. We are supposed to share our thoughts with no fear of any repercussions. But we all know that in the digital world we live in, every Facebook post, every tweet, every snap we send out in the virtual world can come back to haunt our analogue lives. Yet, we are supposed to not have any masks and show the world who we truly are, whatever that means.

Yet, in reality, even being authentic and vulnerable with others can be another mask we put on. It becomes another performance we enact to gain some social capital in the circles we frequent. Maybe, there is no such thing as true authenticity or true vulnerability. Without the performative aspect inherent in these two concepts, we can come across as critical and judgmental human beings whose unfiltered thoughts and views tell the world that we are selfish and unruly tyrants.

If authenticity and vulnerability are not understood within the context of a relationship, it is of no use to the unlucky recipient of these two traits. When I share something that means something profound to another person, I choose my words carefully to elicit the feelings and emotions I want my words to convey. If I share a very difficult moment in my life to my friend, I will not only give the “objective facts” of what happened but also include the “subjective feelings” I felt during said event. Failure to add the emotional context is to present a false picture of what happened. Also, because I know my friend, I will use words and concepts that s/he can relate with. If I use academic jargon that obfuscates the issue, then I have failed to be truly authentic or vulnerable. I need to let the other person know what it was like to be me, to invite them in to my personal journey, and as the story unfolds, allow them to put themselves in my shoes. Authenticity and vulnerability is not about merely stating facts, but also giving permission to the other to become you.

This is what makes authenticity and vulnerability an unbelievably scary and terrifying act. Moments of true authenticity and vulnerability is like creating a horcrux… a piece of your soul is torn from you and given to another recipient. In that authentic and vulnerable moment, this other person now has a part of yourself that exists outside of you… and this part is something that is now forever a part of both of you. Your souls have now met and are intertwined and to separate it from each other is to destroy a certain part of yourselves in the process.

Yet, to be fully human, is to be relational. We are social creatures. We cannot live in isolation, as appealing as that that thought can be. I don’t think that it is surprising that cultures all over the world always manage to form a belief system that acknowledges this universal truth. Time and time again, people come together to form societies. Time and time again, we find objects of worship. If one does not believe in an external deity, worthy to be worshipped, they create one internally and make themselves their own object of affection and worth. There is no escape from this desire to participate with another, even if the other is found in one’s own very self.

As communal creatures, we seek the other. We want the other to like us, to affirm us, to be one with us. The hard part is discerning who those people should be in our lives. We cannot be 100% authentic and vulnerable with everyone. I don’t even know if I can do that with my own self, let alone with others! But, I encourage everyone to find someone you can trust and can confide in… who will help you bear the burdens of life because we are not meant to be alone.

As a Christian, I am thankful that the Christian God is one who constantly pursues me and woos me to himself. He is like a loving father who sings over me and is like a mother hen who protects me from harm. The psalmist speaks of how “though my mother and father forsake me” the Lord our God will not leave me. There is a beauty in that kind of love. I’m thankful that this type of love is something we are all called to embody.

We live in a world where strife and hostility is our everyday reality. Amidst the hate, let us all to seek to reach out in love, even when that’s the last thing we would like to do. In these moments of loving relationships, authenticity and vulnerability can bind us together, reminding us that love can overcome hate. Love will prevail… but it will come at a cost. The cost is our decision to rid ourselves of hate and submit ourselves to the continual process of loving and loving again.

If we are being honest with ourselves, that cost is too much to handle. It is a sobering reality that we are not as compassionate as we wish we could be. But, it is only when we come to that realization that we can appreciate how courageous it is to be authentic and vulnerable. It is a helpful reminder that authenticity and vulnerability is a precious gift and it must be cherished and adored.

So go ahead… be authentic… be vulnerable. Open your heart to pain and in doing so, you open your heart to unspeakable joy.

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Sid and the City – The Beginning

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I’ve been thinking about adding a new series for my blog that is slightly different from what I normally post. I’ve done a number of series on important topics like prostitution, suicide, shame, and self-esteem. I have also put in my two cents concerning theology and politics along the way. This series is more on the personal side. This series is when I get real. This is me shooting the breeze, so to speak, with you guys. So I’m trying out this new format and based on how people react, this might be an ongoing thing.

Considering that this is my first time to do this on this platform, I kept thinking on what topic I should talk about. I guess I will just go talk about the topic that comes up naturally whenever I seem to have any conversations this day: the topic of dating. Brace yourself because things are about to get real up in here real quick.

So yesterday, I had dinner with a friend I haven’t seen for a very long time. After our initial chit chat of “hi” and “I haven’t seen you in forever!”, he just goes to the heart of the matter in a very fast and efficient way. “So, should I have a +1 for you?”, he asks. Quick background: he’s getting married in a couple of months and I was invited to their wedding. We have known each other for awhile now. I met him while I was doing my Master’s at McMaster University. So back to the story… I told him that he should have a +1 for me because it is easier to remove people than add people at a later time. Meanwhile, I’m frantically thinking of who I should invite. If this wedding was in Ottawa, it would have been an easier time. Wedding dates can be awkward so I like inviting girls where we know where we both stand relationally speaking to avoid potential misunderstandings of what being my +1 could mean. I think I have done a great job but as time progresses, I have begun to doubt how great of a job I did.

Our conversation break down looks like this.

Friend: I haven’t seen you in awhile. Are you dating someone right now?

Me: No, right now I’m not dating anyone.

Friend: Well, you are rather picky. What you’re looking for doesn’t exist.

Me: I know. But at least I’m trying to be more open now.

Friend: You have too many deal breakers.

Me: I know, I know. I’m trying, ok.

Laughter ensues.

As a Christian male who is situated within the evangelical world, the dating game is even more fraught with dangers and snares. I remember talking to my friend’s girlfriend about the girls at a church we both attended. I was telling her how most of the girls there were so aloof and stand-offish, it almost felt sinful to say hi to them. They just gave off this hostile aura to any man who approached them. She told me that the girls were complaining about how the men were not “manning up” and asking them out. I remember saying, “Really?!? I never would have thought they wanted to be in a relationship based on the way they were acting!”

The Christian dating game can be arduous and frustrating at times. I have met a number of quality girls so I don’t want to give off the impression that all evangelical girls are men-haters or anything. I think the hyper-polarization of the sexes can often lead to that type of thinking. You often hear that there’s no way that guys and girls can ever just be friends. Well, sometimes it can happen. More often than you think. But, all is not lost. Or at least, that’s what I would like to think.

What kind of experiences have you had in the evangelical dating scene? Was it positive or negative? For those who are not Christians, how would you describe the dating scene within your own social settings?

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Pensées on Love, Homosexuality, and the SCOTUS ruling

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The recent SCOTUS ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in the United States of America was met with a flurry of rainbow-themed avatars and #LoveWins hashtags. There was also a proliferation of warnings of apocalyptic destruction and the empire’s downfall from others. These two messages filled the air waves and polarized people in two camps. Social media was quick to highlight the tension between these two camps. Messages of love, hate, compassion, and confusion intermingled with one another forming an amorphous blob of simplistic explanations and pithy aphorisms.

There were many Christians who went out of their way to define and describe what love is. Some even reminded their audience of Jesus’ unconditional love for them. However, this was also coupled with a fairly lengthy caveat of sorts that turns into more like a disclaimer notice one would find in most contracts. I think it’s very important to make sure that we communicate what we truly mean. I would say that’s a basic given in trying to communicate with others. Yet, I feel like if you have to explain what unconditional love is by adding so many conditions to it, then it fails to be unconditional love anymore. If you have a son who is a drug addict, would telling him “I love you” mean that you are condoning or endorsing drug behaviour? No. If you have a daughter who got pregnant out of wedlock, would telling her “I love you” mean that you are condoning or endorsing sex outside of marriage? No. It means that even though they may have committed actions that you do not condone or endorse, you are not going to withhold or refuse to offer them your love. Displaying unconditional love means that our expression of love for another person is not based on what they have done but based on who they are.

In the Scriptures, we constantly see Jesus interacting with the marginalized and the oppressed. They were the bad people that society says we should never associate with: prostitutes, tax collectors, and cheaters. There is something startling in the way that Jesus dealt with those on the fringes of society. What startles me is not what Jesus said, but what he didn’t say. He never utters a single word of condemnation or what could even be interpreted as a “loving sermon.” He treats them with kindness, dignity, and dare I say it… love… that is so shockingly simple. This was not a love that needed lengthy explanations. This was a love that was simple and clear. It needed no further ramblings on what it meant. It was given purely. It was received purely. And it had the ability to transform their lives in ways that verges on the unfathomable.

When unconditional love is given, no words can properly define it. Why? Because unconditional love is intensely experiential. It arouses feelings within that we didn’t even know existed before. It is an incredible experience that defies logic. It may be difficult to put into words but it also unbelievably clear. There is no confusion in it. There are no doubts. Only clarity.

If we, as Christians, truly have this type of unconditional love for homosexuals as we often say we do, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have to go to great lengths to give them a detailed explanation because they would know what it means. The fact that we do makes me stop and pause for a minute and wonder if this is actually true.

Maybe it is best if we just said this: I love you. Period.

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Tunes for Tuesday – July 9, 2013

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Today’s Tunes for Tuesday, I get to highlight two artists whom I absolutely love! I fell in love with Emili Sandé when I heard her sing during the 2012 Olympics. And my friend Reneé Robinson has been astounding me with her gorgeous voice for more years than I would like to disclose lolz So what happens when my love for these two singers collide? This version of “Daddy” by Emeli Sandé sung by Reneé Robinson =) You can follow Reneé on Twitter and FB

Any covers of your favourite artists you think I should listen to? Let me know in the comments below. 

Friendly Friday: On Marriage, Identity, and the One Who Called You By Name

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Welcome to Friendly Friday! If this is your first time here at my website, thanks for checking it out! Basically, this is my way of highlighting my friends who I think are pretty awesome and are doing great things in the world!

Today’s post is actually an experiment of sorts. This is the first time that I’m cross posting! What that means is that my friend, Ricki W., is a guest blogger at my site at the same time that I’m a guest blogger at her site. We even write about the same thing! =)

I’ve known Ricki for a couple of years now and one of the things that I really appreciate is her desire to be an encouragement to me and to others. It’s a great quality to have in a friend. She is also smart and very down-to-earth. And she’s real… very real. I think that it is that very thing that really shows up in her writing. It is real. It is authentic. And it is vulnerable. As a writer, our life experiences are the fodder for the things we write and she is not an exception to that truth.

Marriage is something that is often on the minds of many people, especially the single variety. In both secular and Christian circles, there seems to be this unspoken, but very tangible, message that singleness is a bad thing. Especially in Christian circles, there is this weird message that if you’re single, something must be wrong with you. It’s almost as if you’re a second-class Christian if you’re not married. While I think that marriage is a great thing to have and to experience, we need to be careful not to idolize it. Jesus, after all, was single. Paul, a key figure in Christianity, was also single. So think on that!

And now, for your reading pleasure….

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My brother is getting married on Saturday and I am SO excited for him. I have never looked forward to an event so much as seeing my brother wed his lovely bride. His enthusiasm has somehow rubbed off on me… at least enough to write this.

Marriage is a wonderful thing. It is God-ordained… it was written into the very fabric of this earth. God himself said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So He set about to create a helper for him. I love marriage. I love love. I am pro anything that God created good. Yet, sometimes I ask myself– what is going on in my life? All my friends are getting married… everyone seems to be pairing off. What’s wrong with me? Am I not beautiful enough? Am I not kind enough? Am I not good enough?

I think we all struggle with these questions. Whether or not you admit it, you likely struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps as a child you were made fun of. Or maybe you’re overweight. Maybe you weren’t good at things in school. Or maybe like me, you have accomplished a lot and just haven’t seem to “land” the right one. Maybe, like me, you have relatives that ask you why you aren’t looking harder or tell you that you just need to “get out there more.” Maybe you’ve stuffed down that perfectly horrible retort to their answer one too many times– and like a volatile feral cat, you’re feeling like you could rip their heads off.

Here’s the thing.

Marriage will not fulfill you the way you hope. It will not fill that God-sized hole you have in your chest. Yes, it may stave off loneliness. It may bring you great joy. Marriage is a wonderful thing. But let me say this. It will not fix your problems. Your problem is an identity issue, not a mate issue. You must find your identity in Christ before “finding yourself” elsewhere.

So note this:

You are beautiful. You are wonderful. You are specially made. Tonight, I was taking a walk as the sun was setting and I just said to God, “Wow. You must be really proud of your work here.” And you know what He said? “I’m really proud of you.” I almost burst into tears because there I was standing in the midst of his glorious creation, and the thing he remarked upon was me.

“You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” God knit you together in your mother’s womb. He knows you by name and he LOVES you. Can you believe it? Do you believe it?

Yes, people will always talk. That’s what we seem to do as humans. But whose voice should you be listening to?

 

Ricki is a self-described hillbilly with a literary flair. Passionate about Jesus, books, botany, hiking, and teaching, she desires to inspire the world with love, laughter, and timely doses of her own ramblings.

Twitter: @rickiblueeyes7

Blog: rickiblue.wordpress.com

I would love to hear your thoughts on marriage and singleness. Feel free to post a comment! Just remember to be nice. =)