A View From The Hilltop: Automatic Love

HD wallpaper: man with backpack standing on gray rocky mountain at daytime, man walking on rocky pathway overlooking rocky mountains during daytime | Wallpaper Flare

Loving is something to never take for granted.

There are two distinct memories from my early childhood when my father would make his every other weekend visits. One was being taken to the park to ride on the miniature train. That’s a child’s fun remembrance. The other memory is laying back with him on the hood of the car parked by the side of the road at the airport and watching the planes land (back in the ’60’s, when you could park that close to an airport). How long did a preschooler lay still on a car hood between jets? That’s a memory an adult hangs on to. My very young and probably broke father was trying to find a cheap way to spend time with his son who he knew he had already lost.

“Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.” ― Roald Dahl

Most of what comes out of us as adults has been automatically “wired” into us through our early experiences in life. I think it’s impossible to be deliberate in each decision we make about every response, choice and attitude toward others. Patterns get laid down with all our early interactions with parents, teachers and peers. These ways of thinking and feeling help us to unconsciously organize our sense of self. This process works out well for most. Some people can get trapped in patterns that are dysfunctional.

How we go about loving (or not) is mostly automatic. Expressions and experiences are typically not conscious but internalized routines. For me, my early environment was not always one in which learning how to love was automatically normalized for everyone involved. As I look back, maybe it was a foreign concept?  As an adult, I haven’t been very successful at doing what comes natural (“nurtural”) for most people concerning loving relationships. Instead, I have had to try and be much more conscious and work on it – a lot of trial and error (mostly error). Usually learning about it academically and watching others.

I’m sitting here right this moment actually looking at a real Rocky Mountain. Surrounded by a breathtaking landscape, it makes me wonder about the things I’ve missed because I just wasn’t looking. Or just didn’t know how to feel? The other side of automatic love could be automatic indifference. When people don’t really know how to love other people, and don’t know that they don’t know, life is lived in a gray sort of twilight. Thanksgiving dinner with no side dishes!

Where to get Thanksgiving dinner takeout on the South Shore

All of us have know people who aren’t very good at relationships. Probably because they didn’t get the chance, early on, to have love wired into their thinking and feeling. They just need more time, forgiveness, space and extra syrup on their pancakes. Some people may not understand this about themselves and end up living unloved lives because they don’t know how to do anything else. I hope you can find within yourself the abundance to keep loving, in demonstrative ways, someone like this in your life. They mostly don’t know how bad they need it.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” ― Amy Carmichael

From up here on the hilltop at this point in my life, I see the reason love was so hard to find and then give. Because it wasn’t automatic. These days, due to circumstances, I’ve made a promise to love my children and grandchildren twice as hard. That’s a task and treat. But I know it’s even twice as hard for someone like me, who needs to be rewired. This project will go on and on in me, like searching for the Holy Grail, but I deeply know it’s worth every step in the right direction.

“I no longer believe love works like a fairy tale but like farming. Most of it is just getting up early and tilling the soil and then praying for rain. But if we do the work, we just might wake up one day to find an endless field of crops rolling into the horizon. In my opinion, that’s even better than a miracle. I’d rather earn the money than win the lottery because there’s no joy in a reward unless it comes at the end of a story.”  ― Donald Miller

Real Magic

“Real magic can never be made by offering someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back.” ― Peter S. Beagle

You never really know who you are, what you’re really made of, deep down at the root, until you are forced to make sacrifices. Not sacrifices that you get to choose out of free will. I mean when you are backed into a corner and your choices are taken away and you’ve got to set up all night, go without, give it away and keep your big fat opinion to yourself. You’ve got to clean it up again and again just because that’s the way it is right now. No one is asking you to fix it, just help us endure this for now.

Real magic comes when my own suffering fades away into the background as I draw my attention and efforts toward someone else. Not when it’s convenient, but when it really costs something. Even my own blood and guts. Wonder what tearing out your liver feels like?

Transformation always seems like magic in the end.

Is Going to Church Out of Style?

Church membership and attendance is on the decline.

It has been for several decades. Is attending church out of fashion for the online generations? Have we overbooked and overworked everyone, with no clear 9-5 boundary anymore? Weekends (including Sundays) have turned into safety zones for family and retreat?

Our world will never cease to change as technology evolves, social life fractures and capitalism dominates more of our choices. So, is the future of the church in jeopardy?

The church, the Body of Christ, is not going to become a fashion victim. The ways that we carry out its functions probably will. As people and the way we live change, so too will our methods of ministry. But church isn’t going out of business because it has an eternal purpose.

Here’s what Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright believes about the church:

“The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world … The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.” ― N.T. Wright

There aren’t any other social organizations fulfilling these essential tasks. Here’s my list I’d like to add to answer the question, Why Do We Need The Church?

  1. It is a place to become yourself
    We become more and more real as we experience transformation. The church is the one place where we can see who we really are and be changed. It’s a gathering of those who are living out a brand new life because of following Christ – as disciples. Our true self is emerging when we are a part of God’s church. Your local church is a place that challenges you and allows you to experience transformation in all areas of your new life.
  2. It is a place to suffer
    When we do suffer, and all of us surely will, we need others with us as we navigate those treacherous waters. Christians find eternal meaning in the suffering they experience. A large part of this meaning is experienced together as the Church when others help to share our burdens of fear, worry and pain. God cares for our every need through the actions of the church.  We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:7
  3. It is a place to make sacrifices
    Once you’re a part of a church you quickly learn that it’s not really about you anymore. A church is a place where people come together and make sacrifices of their resources, time, efforts and even their will. It’s not what I want or what I think is best, but what others need. The sacrifice of your will is going to be the most difficult you will make. It takes much practice.“Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
  4. It is a place to grow up
    Literally and figuratively we mature in this body of faith. The church has a schedule filled with activities for every age group. It is an essential “agent of socialization” into the Christian faith. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)
  5. It is a place to become more and more like Christ
    This is the direction we head as we die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to his own followers he said, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). The church is the gathering of people who will love us in our successes and failures as we journey toward Christlikeness. This is where we come to learn, to grow and to see firsthand the great mission we are called to follow.
  6. It is a place to worship, pray, serve and give, together
    When we come to church we do something different. We are challenged to act, think and to imagine a different way of living. The world outside we’ve made for ourselves is increasingly oriented toward the individual, helping to make us successful and less obligated to others. Our life within the church contradicts this alien culture with practices and beliefs that bind us together and challenges our selfish inclinations.
  7. It is a place that’s not really a place
    Usually the word “church” makes us think about a building, a location or even the distant memory of place. On my way home each day I drive past churches in traditional looking buildings with steeples, with big signs in strip shopping centers and even one located in an industrial workshop. In America, churches are located in all sorts of places.But we all know that the church isn’t really a location, it’s really a group of Christ followers. The church is bigger than a building, it’s all those people who love you no matter what. The church takes care of family, friends and strangers. It embodies love as it shares an eternal message of hope. It’s a group of people who try as hard as they can to pull away from this world and live as if there’s something bigger and better that’s eternal and means more than this life can give.

“The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes- a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message too low.” ― Dallas Willard