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Love is ... not self-seeking

The familiar description of love found in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth is often read at weddings. However, in 1 Corinthians 13 we find no mention of a particular "other" whom we are to love. Neither is there any reference to an exclusive relationship. Instead, Paul's description of love stands firmly in the context of community life, meant to inform a follower of Jesus concerning their posture toward others in the faith community and beyond.

Let's take a look at three of the characteristics found here (verse 5): 1) love is not self-seeking, 2) love is not easily angered or provoked, and 3) love does not keep a record of wrongs. These are all stated negatively, a technique which helps us to recognize what is missing or distorted. However, negative descriptions have their limitations, because they fail to give us a means whereby we can imagine what something actually looks like. So, let us identify the positive side of each of these statements. Love is n…
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listening

Recently, I came across these words by Eugene Peterson: "Prayer is first of all a means of listening. Prayer is an act of attention. We are not used to this. We suppose we are in charge of prayer. We aren't. God has spoken. We are required to enter a world of listening to God." [1]

My work requires me to be a good listener. All my ideas, theological insights, and teaching and writing material come from listening. To the biblical texts, to learned and experienced voices, to the whispers of the Spirit, to the extravagant presence of creation, and to my own heart and mind as they move through this world. Sometimes the work is difficult. I feel stuck. And then I realize that I have not spent enough time listening. The same thing happens in prayer. When it feels dull, flat, uninspired, or weak, it usually means that I am not listening, just babbling on and on, caught in my own thoughts and words. Real listening requires what Peterson calls the "cultivation of unhurried …

Love is... patient and kind

When I ask people what love is, they very often mention the list of characteristics found in 1 Corinthians 13. You know how it goes: love is patient, love is kind… Lately, I have been thinking about these two particular adjectives at the beginning of this description of love. One reason for this is because I find it hard to remember what comes next, so I keep repeating “love is patient, love is kind” with the hope that my memory will eventually start functioning. But I also wonder if their placement next to each other might be intentional, if they are connected in some way. Perhaps our understanding of love loses something when we dissect its characteristics into singular, separate ideas. What happens when we join patience with kindness?
The word translated “patient” is makrothymei in Greek. It has two parts to it: the idea of length or slowness and the concept of suffering or anger. The word is sometimes translated as longsuffering or slow to anger. Here are a few examples of how it…

Names of God: YHWH Nissi (banner)

Banners or flags serve various purposes in our society. We see them prominently displayed in settings such as national celebrations, at borders, atop government buildings, at sporting events, and in military settings. But Banner as a name for God is a bit unexpected.

YHWH Nissi is only mentioned once in the Hebrew Bible, at the end of a story which chronicles the first armed conflict of the nation of Israel. Though just a few months out of slavery, the people of Israel have had their share of troubles. They ran out of food, so God provided manna and quails. They also ran out of water, so Moses struck a rock and water came gushing out. Even so, morale is low and complaints are high. Now at Rephidim (most likely a valued oasis), they are attacked by the Amalekites, nomads in the region who are protecting what they view as their territory. Moses tells Joshua to take some men and go out and fight, then indicates that he will stand atop a hill with the staff of God in hand.

The battle is …

what is freedom?

In English usage, freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, and think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Most often, at least in our Western context, we use the word freedom to refer to self-determination, meaning we are free to be who we want to be, to do what we want to do, to say what we want to say.

This way of thinking about freedom has some problems. First, it assumes that we have relatively few limitations as human beings when, in fact, we all have limited choices and options in life. Not everyone has the capacity to be an astronaut or an Olympic swimmer or an opera singer or the Prime Minister. I could do none of those things well. I also cannot be a cat or a bird, much as I would like to be able to jump six times my height or fly by moving my arms. Viewing freedom as pure self-determination gives us an inflated sense of our own agency. It also sidesteps the fact that we do not function in isolation; our choices and actions have implications for other…

sacred spaces

Many of us associate sacred space with a religious site or a church, but in reality, it can be any place in which we encounter the Spirit of Jesus, any place that is set apart by and for the presence of God. A bush in the back side of the wilderness became a sacred space when it caught fire; its unusual flame attracted Moses to a missional encounter with YHWH. The muddy water of the Jordan River became a sacred place of healing when a military commander dipped his diseased body in the river. A community well in the despised region of Samaria became a sacred space when a woman with a tainted reputation responded to Jesus' request for water. Perhaps the most unexpected sacred space in the Christian tradition is the wooden instrument of torture known as the cross, for on it Christ defeated sin and death through an act of divine love.

During the Vineyard National Gathering in Montreal last month, I led a small group in exploring some of the sacred spaces in the city. Montreal is home…

give us this day our daily bread

Over the summer, our faith community has been making its way through what is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer. This week we looked at the phrase: "give us this day our daily bread." At first glance, it reads like a simple request for God to grant supplicants food for the day, but there is a lot packed into these these few words.

BREAD: The Greek work here is artos, meaning leavened, regular bread. In this particular context, it is used as a synecdoche, a word which names a small thing, a part, but actually refers to the whole, to something much greater than its literal meaning. Like saying "wheels" when referring to a car or saying "hired hand" when meaning much more than just someone's hand, bread here is not just a loaf of baked dough. It is a meal (to break bread with someone is to share a meal). It is shorthand for sustaining food (bread is considered a staple). It is provision (to take bread for the journey means to take provisions, see G…