Some People Do

“Love doesn’t keep a record of complaints.”
1 Corinthians 13:5 (Common English Bible)
Country music artist, Old Dominion, recently released a new song, Some People Do. Co-written with Thomas Rhett, this moody ballad explores how hard it is for most people to change, particularly abandoning unhealthy and hurtful habits. Old Dominion self-identifies this track as very emotional and personal, the story of someone accepting responsibility for behavior that has hurt someone very close to them. Considerably more raw and vulnerable than other songs in Old Dominion’s canon, Some People Do begins, “I know you’re hurt. I know it’s my fault. But I’ve kept ‘I’m sorry’ locked in a vault.” Such honesty is rare today. Perhaps that is because it is scary to admit – without reservation – that we are the one who is wrong. Many people are willing for relationships to remain broken than venture into the scary place of vulnerably; of confessing that all responsibility for the hurt falls on them.
Danya Ruttenberg shares in her spiritual autobiography, Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion, that following her parents’ divorce, she was angry with both of them. “I held on to my anger and resentment as tightly as I could, but my need for both of my parents was, it turned out, determined to emerge despite it all.”[i]That is precisely the journey taken by Old Dominion’s song, Some People Do. Love for another is so deep and determined that vulnerability is risked, “Most wouldn’t forgive what I put you through. But I’m here tonight, hoping some people do.” Hope is the dominate note that is struck by this song. Hope for forgiveness. Hope that the one who has been hurt will not keep a record of complaints. Hope for the opportunity for a new beginning.
1 Corinthians 13, often referenced as the “Love Chapter” in the Bible, is commonly read for marriage ceremonies. Certainly the author of these words, the Apostle Paul, would have no objection to his words used in this manner. What would unsettle Paul is how easily they are read and heard with apparently no grasp of the difficult terrain they cover. “Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.” The original readers of Paul’s letter will recognize his string of negatives. They are the prevalent qualities that draw from the attitudes and behavior of the Corinthian church. We recognize them as well. Little has changed in the human heart. We find it hard to ignore a slight, indifference, or a hurtful remark. As the song repeats three times, “Most wouldn’t forgive what I put you through.”
Ultimately, Paul appeals to his readers to look away from the wider culture and its negative manner of addressing the wounds caused by another. The hope espoused by this lovely song – the hope for forgiveness – is located in the values that come from Christ, not from the wider culture: “Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things” (verse 7). Some People Do begins with an uncommon honesty of the pain that has been inflicted upon another. And the song recognizes that “words by themselves can’t right all things.” Words often are not enough. Forgiveness requires more. What is required is a new orientation in Jesus Christ by the injured one. It is an orientation that makes possible what most people won’t do – forgive those who seek forgiveness. “Most wouldn’t forgive what I put you through. But I’m here tonight, hoping some people do. I’m hoping some people do.” It is a hope located in the values of Jesus Christ.

[i] Danya Ruttenberg, Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008), 18.


How To Know God Better

“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!”
Psalm 46:10

               A “thin place” is a term that is used to describe a place where the space between heaven and earth grows thin and the sacred and the secular seem to meet. That space can be as unique as one person is to another and does not necessarily need to be a physical space – there are moments in time where the space between heaven and earth seem to diminish. The term comes from Celtic spirituality and the Celtic Christians who were deeply connected to the natural world. They considered every moment of time to be infused with the rich possibility of encountering the sacred. Occasionally, some can identify a particular moment or experience that connects them to particular place in a spiritually rich and satisfying way. For others, there is simply a growing awareness that a particular place consistently envelops them with the unmistakable presence of God. That is my story. And my place is Bryant Park, New York City.

               Earlier this month I took a week of my sabbatical to study and reflect in New York City. Sitting in Bryant Park with my Bible and a collection of sermons by Harry Emerson Fosdick two young women approached me. They were college students and their approach was marked by hesitation and, it seemed, some good measure of fear. They each introduced themselves and asked if I was a resident or visiting the city. It was the requisite small talk they needed to move toward their intended purpose: they then asked, “Do you know God?” That thin veil that separated heaven from Bryant Park tore open and I felt as though I was speaking to angels. After some pleasant conversation they asked if they could pray with me – right there in a place where I have prayed for the City of New York, my church, and my family for nearly twenty years.
               Their question is a good one to ask ourselves from time to time: “Do you know God?” The question was not whether I went to church. It was wise that they didn’t ask that question. Persons who don’t know God may fill any particular church on Sunday morning. Presence in a service of worship only indicates that they know of God. The difference isn’t subtle. How can we enter more penetratingly into the unsearchable riches of a relationship with God?  Is there a pathway toward a larger knowledge of God that results in the experience of a “thin place” where God’s presence is palpable? Psalm 46 shows us the way: “That’s enough! Now know that I am God!”We use a similar variation in our common speech when we advise people to “slow down and smell the roses!” This counsel from the Psalms does not suggest the abandonment of all activity, but the relaxing of our movement from one thing to another on regular occasions to be present with God.
               Life fails to reach its highest potential if strain and stress are persistent. The same is true for increasing in the divine knowledge of God. Life demands that we settle down into a more steady rest for a fruitful relationship with another to flourish. That is true for a relationship with a spouse, our children, and meaningful friendships. It is true for God. Think of it this way. A rubber band, by design, stretches. That is what a rubber band was created to do; that is its function. But stretch a rubber band to far and it breaks. That is descriptive of too many lives among followers of Christ. We are in need of less stretch, less strain, and more rest. Psalm 46 says, “That’s enough!” The knowledge of God begins with releasing the strain of regular activity, moderating the speed of life, and easing down a little to pray, “Make me aware, this moment, of your presence, O God.”




“Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”
Mark 10:44, 45 (Common English Bible)
            Ambition – that restless impulse that continually sets our eyes on more opportunity, more status, and more position – has been common from generation to generation. The love of self and the desire that others notice us is deep-seated in human nature. It may be one of the most elemental and voracious of all human appetites. Even among Jesus’ disciples we see the tightening grip of ambition upon the human psyche, James and John asking Jesus that he grant that they be allowed to sit, one on his right hand and the other on his left. It is careful choreography, competing for prestige and honor as though someone silently request another for a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.  It would be difficult to find a man or woman who hasn’t given yield to the desire for more.
            The impulse itself is neither good nor bad. The question is one of intention; is personal ambition driven by the desire for greater contribution or self-elevation? The young woman who works hard on a law degree so she may be useful to under-resourced people in the community has channeled her heart, energy, and intellect for the sake of others. Doctors Without Boardersis staffed with medical doctors who are driven to respond quickly to medical humanitarian emergencies without any thought of personal enrichment. Jesus speaks to a wider and deeper motive of positive contribution in the parable of the talents: those who sought to increase the value of what they have for the sake of someone else pleases God. Those who are handicapped by concern for their own welfare will lose everything.
            The disciples James and John were ambitious for the wrong reason. They were caught in the primitive craving to be seen, respected, and revered regardless of their fitness for the role they requested. They sought to look around and ask, “Who is bigger?” “Who is honored?” “Who has more?” Contribution seems to be absent in their desire to sit on either side of Jesus in God’s Kingdom. There is a convulsive struggle that their personal hunger for importance be satisfied. The problem is a moral one. The pursuit of it corrupts character. The Bible grapples with it on nearly every page. And Jesus had a great deal to say about it.
            Observe Jesus’ reply to the disciples, “Whoever wants to be first among you will be slave of all.” What a reversal of how ambition is understood! Here is a philosophy of life that has personal stature built upon the foundation of humility and contribution. For Jesus, nobody can be great until his or her life is driven by service to another. The highest ambition is not in jockeying for position in the social sphere; the highest ambition is achieved through saying “no” to self for the sake of someone else. Jesus wants the disciples to understand that what ultimately redeems life and provides the deepest meaning is not located in being recognized, served, and honored but contributing to the common good. It is a way of life that redeems from pettiness and offers something more enduring than selfish power.


When Anger Is A Virtue

“He (Moses) looked around to make sure no one else was there. Then he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”
Exodus 2:12 (Common English Bible)
“Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’”
Mark 3:5 (Common English Bible)
               Moses was born during a time of great darkness. A new king was seated in Egypt and he feared the growing strength of the Jewish people. They were a minority people in Egypt and their growing number unsettled the king. So the king resolved to “deal with them.” As a result, the Egyptians organized their military to harass the Jewish people and force them into slave labor. But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread. Pharaoh’s contempt for the Jewish people grew until he looked upon them with disgust and dread. More had to be done to hold this growing, minority population in check. The first chapter of Exodus details the evil that was unleashed by the king: young children would be separated from their parents and the male children would be thrown into the Nile River and drowned.
               Born to Jewish parents, Moses was numbered among those who would suffer the cruelty of Pharaoh’s unsteady and fearful leadership. When his mother saw that Moses was “healthy and beautiful” she hid him from the Egyptian authorities for three months. When she could no longer hide him, she placed her son in a reed basket, sealed it, and placed the child among the reeds at the riverbank. Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe in the river, found the child, and, moved with compassion, resolved to raise the child as her own. Raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses lived a life of ease and privilege in the royal court. Yet, as maturity came on, Moses began to be angry. Perhaps he fought against the anger, this disturbing indignation at the intolerable injustice he saw day after day propagated against the Jewish people – his people! Nonetheless, anger took possession of Moses.
               Pay close attention to the developing narrative here in Exodus – it is when Moses found something to be angry at that he found God. Perhaps Moses’ anger was foolish. It did explode in such grand fashion that he killed the solider that was beating a Hebrew slave. Yet, Moses could no longer watch something so unbearably wrong and not take action. We might imagine the consequences to a pastor today for speaking the truth to power. Moses knew immediately that his response might not have been wise. He sought to cover it up. But intrinsic to this story is that Moses’ anger unleashed the beginning of the real Moses – the Moses portrayed on the silver screen and proclaimed from the pulpit. A quiet Moses would have made little difference, would not have been remembered. Soon, following this explosion of anger, Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandments that have shaken generations. As Henry Emerson Fosdick writes, “His indignation against evil got him somewhere.”[1]
               Each generation presents some incarnation of injustice and evil. Occasionally it is hard to see God when the suffering of the present age presses so profoundly upon our consciousness. Well, perhaps if we permit the present injustice to arouse our indignation we will see God. We will experience God’s nudge to quit our moral apathy, untether our passion for fairness and justice, and in our own response experience something of the holy ground that Moses stood on. When our Lord, Jesus Christ saw a deed of mercy being withheld by some misplaced ceremonial allegiance, he looked around with anger and took action to correct an injustice. Jesus teaches us by his response that, in the face of evil or injustice, we are not Christian if we are not angry. Martin Luther once wrote that it is when he is angry that he preaches well and prays better.

[1]Harry Emerson Fosdick, What Is Vital In Religion: Sermons on Contemporary Christian Problems, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955) 4.