In love, by love, for love

Grace to you

The line in love, by love, for love, is Central Methodist Mission’s (CMM) key phrase. I am not sure that I fully understand what it means, but I think attending CMM has opened for me the possibility for a different type of engagement with God, my faith and love.

Seeking God in a church or faith community often comes with a desire for certainty. We want some rules, mantras, guidance and explanations of how to live our lives. We hope for some assurance that tragedy will not strike us if we are believers and that believing will explain to us tragedies we have experienced. Many people think belonging to a church makes them different or better human beings.

None of that holds true if one engages the phrase in love, by love and for love.

God’s love is most elegantly experienced in the chaos it occasions. It has transformative power if we embrace it with the willingness to experience uncertainty. Exploring the Bible, we find many examples where God’s love unsettles the norms, the establishment, the existing ‘way of doing things’. The stories we read are hardly ever about certainty or predictability but more often about surprise and wonder. The gospels where Jesus heals sick people and performs miracles are not only transforming the physical health of the healed person, but it transforms the understanding of love and acceptance of others. It questions a system that allowed it to dehumanise people because of their gender, health issues or societal status. Love is at the centre – God is love. So scriptures are not a moral compass telling us how to live our lives but offer us the experience of transformative love.

The most practical example where I experience this transformative, embracing and chaotic love is as a parent. My experience as a mother is that this little human being creeps into every inch of my physical and mental space. Having a child evokes all sorts of feelings from pain, deep introspection, doubt and anger to absolute joy and unimaginable wonder. The love for my child makes me do things I haven’t dreamt of and has turned my world upside down. In Matthew 18:2-4, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I believe that this scripture is not only about the innocence of children as many interpret this section. I think it is about the ability to love and be loved in an absolute transformative yet uncertain way. Children have the ability to love us entirely as we are. They don’t have doubts or questions if and why they should love us and what to do to show their love. They just love.

A friend of mine elegantly summarised what I have learned at CMM: believing in God is about embracing the many possibilities occasioned by love – those might be traumatic, chaotic or joyous. Believing in God liberates one to engage with all those possibilities. It allows for the embrace of uncertainty. And only in the uncertainty can wonder emerge, possibility grow and love thrive.


Praying for parents

Bruce Clark writes a heart-wrenching book as a stay-at-home-dad. A story of how becoming a father heals and humbles him. In its sadness there is joy — in its darkness there is light, and in its irreverence there is a hint of the sacred.

According to Bruce a parenting manual should “state clearly on page one, ‘The Clock is ticking’”. It is the first thing that every parent should see. The words should be rubber-stamped on your infant’s forehead the very moment he or she is born. You’ve got ten years — maybe fifteen — and only that. On some arbitrary day — which will arrive a lot earlier than you think — it will astonish you to know that your influence has gone. While you were out doing something you thought was important, Elvis left the building. Yes, you might still be doing the school run together and, yes, your opportunities to interact will seem limitless, but the tectonic plates will have shifted. Your child’s personality will be hard-wired. The little person who was once pliant is no more. In his or her place is a unique human being who may look like your child, but has his or her own unchangeable views. The structure is built. The floors, walls, and roof are in place. All that remains is the choice of curtains. And just who will that person occupying your child’s body be? It’s up to you; it’s entirely in your hands. Bringing up children will be the most selfless thing you ever do — if you do it right. If you don’t, if you leave things to chance, if you’re too busy, if you are not respectful of the word ‘promise’, it will be the most selfish. Your efforts will both pave the way for your child and reward future society a thousand-fold, or consign your child to a life of bad options. It’s easy to fix a bellyache but how do you fix bigotry? How do you fix things that require a time capsule to fix them? What can be done about yesterday? What can you do when your child exhibits behaviour of which you’re most likely the cause? … Having children is easy; bringing them up is not.” (Warning: Book contains strong language.)

Praying for parents! Alan