Archives for posts with tag: Love

I came to write again, to relieve pressure on the dam wall of thoughts and anxieties in my head.  I planned a piece about Jesus, a cry of hope and love, a way through this madness.  I often resist Him or rail against Him, but I can’t escape the beauty of His life and teaching, and it’s relevance for now.  His moral clarity combined with grace and forgiveness.  And above all the fact that when they cut Him open He only bled love.

If only the terrorists knew His way.  They seek to drag the world deeper into fear and hate – the only currency of their religious understanding.  We can either withdraw in despair, or pour ourselves out in love, like the French opening their veins for the wounded.  Only radical love can drive out fear.  We are all responsible now.

Grief in FranceWith life already full of my own small concerns, I glimpse hope only occasionally.  Stressed and tired from work, I fail even to love my wife and daughter the way I aspire to, let alone cope with the great darkness in the world.

Just now I read a piece by a friend that could have been describing me – a time in her life when she was consumed by the pressures of a career while the really important things were slipping out of her grasp, and the demands were piling on.  She made some big changes, but the struggle continues.

And this reminds me truth and hope is found in personal testimony, not just theory or theology.  I have been struggling lately, big time.  Just knowing that someone else struggles is great comfort.  Even moreso to see they have found the strength to carry on.

We long for an easy solution and an end to troubles, but still the mess drags on.  So what we really need is a path, a way through, and the strength to keep walking however long it takes.   We need to walk it together.  We are made for relationship.  Connection.  We need people around us to share our burdens.

Yes, Jesus is the Way.  The Truth and the Life.  I believe this.  But too often in comfortable Christian circles that has been a learned response, a theological concept.  An exclusive ticket to our club.  When all along, if only we would see it, His every action and word said:

‘Love’ – at all costs love.  Not simply in order to convert to a set of beliefs, but because love is both the path and the goal in itself, and it is the very nature of God.

‘Love one another – this is how they will know you are my disciples.’  ‘Don’t let your love grow cold.’

Love your enemies.’

Why?  Because He first loved us, undeserving as we are.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Just as it is written:
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer
through Him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,
will be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:34-39)

Advertisements

I aspire to love others the way Jesus did – fearlessly, tenderly, and at great personal cost.  But I rarely do.  Probably never.

Just occasionally, I have a thought so out of the ordinary that I sense a touch of heaven in it.  A different logic, beautifully right.  Even more occasionally, I might act on one of these thoughts.

Like, what if I buy this drunken, tobacco-stained homeless person a KFC, instead of walking past?

That’s a small one really.

So, what if I help him get his coat back on?

Slightly better.  Now here’s the thing: what if I don’t force a conversation about how God loves him, don’t patronise him in any way, but just sit with him in the gutter?  Give him some attention and respect, because he deserves it as much as anyone else.

He deserves it more: ‘The price must be paid by those who are blessed and fortunate, for those who are lost and in despair.’ (Dr. James Chinkyung Kim.) This is living the gospel, rather than talking about it.

Religious hypocrites want the poor and needy to be sanitised objects of our selfish piety.  In reality they are difficult or dirty – because that’s what despair and poverty does to you.  And we are all as vulnerable as they are, though we easily forget.  Jesus loves us all just as we are.  (Except, perhaps, the hypocrites.)

Related but slightly different to the above thoughts, the thing I really want to say is below.  Bear with me if it seems like a change of theme.

After feeling powerless against the prejudice, violence and death being inflicted on Christians in so many corners of the earth, I decided to train for a sponsored run this September, to support them.  I need to set up a sponsorship page soon.

‘We’ are now the most persecuted people group on earth.  Apparently, eighty percent of all acts of religious discrimination across the globe are against Christians.  And apart from the North Korean regime and other country-specific issues, there appears to be a strongly Islamic nature to the problem.   For some groups, like ISIS, the hatred of Christians (and others) is theological.  I wrestle with all this, trying to see the common humanity in all people without giving in to hatred or fear.   (In one of my darker periods I wrote this poem).

One day, on a Muslim friend’s Facebook page, I saw an article about Buddhist extremists oppressing, killing, and burning Muslims.  And immediately I felt the injustice and pain that I knew he felt.  I thought of the injustices held close to heart by many Muslims about so many things – Gaza, Bosnia, drone attacks.

And another thing gave me pause for thought.  I recently rang up a different Muslim friend (a gentle man of peace who I respect), to suggest getting together for a coffee to get to know each others’ beliefs better.  To build bridges where so many are retreating from each other.  Somehow I got talking about the violence in the world and I think I drove him away.   I became too intense (oops, I sometimes do that!).  He didn’t want to meet.  He couldn’t be sure of my motives.  He said he doesn’t listen to the news anymore, but focuses on thinking about good things and creating a good home for his precious children.

How many of us, as we look around, are wondering will there be a place of safety for me anywhere in this world?  Perhaps this is the issue for some who distort their humanity into acts of terror – a longing for a place of safety, to get rid of those who threaten them; to create a state where everyone is like them.

Shamefully, I feel a resistance to empathising with oppressed people groups or religious groups who are wholly foreign to me, or especially who threaten me.  A part of me wants the clarity of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  A part of me needs my ‘own’ injustices to be the most important.  I want to forget our common humanity in case I seem (or actually become) naive, in case I start to justify the evil acts of a minority of people who come out of those groups.

The web of injustices is too tangled to really give anyone the moral high ground (though some clearly occupy the low ground).  Over and again the oppressed become the oppressor, and all are victims.

Am I wishing for the oppressed to be devoid of vengeance or hatred before they are worthy of my compassion?  Am I wishing for them to come only from people I can identify with, before I am willing to help them?  Am I wishing for them to be sanitised, before they are worthy of my selfish acts of piety?

Would it honour Jesus Christ more to dedicate my sponsored run only to the people who bear his name, or to share my sponsorship with those who are oppressed under a different name?  Even to support those who it’s tempting to call our enemies?  This was the thought I had today that might just have the touch of heaven in it.

In one of Jesus key phrases, where he reveals what he’s really all about, he says:

‘Love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you.’ Matthew 5:44

A friend of my wife’s, a lovely lady, told us how she went door to door fundraising, in her hijab, for Gaza, when kids were being killed in the latest Israeli incursion.  Instead of just feeling powerless she picked up a bucket and did what she could, she’s that kind of person.  But she faced consistent disinterest from the older white members of the community.

Perhaps they were afraid of the unknown.  Surely they cared about dying kids and suffering people, but maybe they feared giving money to someone they didn’t know, someone they were ever so slightly fearful of.  What if they were accidentally supporting a cause they might not fully agree with; the promotion of an ideology they weren’t comfortable with?

I have imagined myself going door to door in this community to raise money for the persecuted church.  I have imagined myself being rebuffed by some Muslims, but striving to ‘open their eyes’ to the huge injustices against Christians in their country of origin.  I have imagined myself compelling them towards compassion.

But have my own eyes been fully opened to the injustices they too feel so keenly?  Am I seeking only to be understood rather than to understand?

Am I willing to stop the ‘us and them’ mentality, and to raise money for the oppressed on ‘both sides’ because really it should never have been about taking sides in the first place?  What else will stop the madness?

To love our enemies is risky.  it is a different logic, and beautifully right.

Please give me feedback.  Please share examples of the different logic.  And while I already have a charity in mind to support the persecuted church, please suggest charities who might be a trustworthy channel of funds to persecuted people of other faiths.

Student: I know they’re our enemy, but don’t you consider there’s something noble about being a martyr?

Bartlett: A martyr would rather suffer death at the hands of an oppressor than renounce his beliefs.  Killing yourself and innocent people to make a point is sick, twisted, brutal dumb-ass murder.  …We don’t need martyrs right now.  We need heroes.  A hero would die for his country but he’d much rather live for it.

2 Horses

Sometimes I want to write about something, then I find it expressed much better elsewhere.  The above dialogue is from the West Wing, start of season 3 (I love the West Wing!)

And on a slightly related note, a quote shared with me recently by my Dad, from a book I now want to read:

The young, idealistic men were all too ready to commit themselves to some grand purpose in which they could excel and gain renown.  They found it much more difficult to keep going with the daily grind and routine which didn’t seem to use/acknowledge their (wonderful) talents as much as they had hoped nor lead to an over-arching rewarding venture.

From The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodoy Dostoyevsky.

Sometimes the quiet, faithful service of unrewarded love is the true heroism.

Light in the darkness

I saw a darkness in the world.
I found it mirrored in my soul.
The world, my nation, and my street,
Seemed daily paced by evil’s feet.

With violence there, suspicion here,
I soon succumbed to constant fear.
(For loss of hope seems logical,
When darkened eyes see dark in all.)

We build a fake security,
I told myself with gravity,
While others far away from us
Are bombed, beheaded, ground to dust.

And so I judged the lives we’d kept,
And scorned our houses, neatly swept:
Our comfort feeds our apathy,
While evil grows and hate roams free.

And as the dark completely gripped me,
I presumed to see more clearly:

It’s like the lawns we tend with care:
In vain they mask what’s really there,
Now let us face the truthful part:
That this whole world is black at heart!

And all the good we do in life
Is not enough, no more than skin,
To hide the darkness, dirt and strife,
That lies there – just the same – within.

So I resolved to dig a hole,
To lay things bare through sweat and toil,
No longer holding to illusion,
Seeking truth as my conclusion.

Wrestling deep inside my soul,
In thoughts and words I dug my hole.
Deeper into dark it took me;
Lonely fearful visions shook me.

And though in muck I found some gems,
I couldn’t find a place for them,
And though I chanced upon deep roots,
I lost the way to find their fruit.

And all this striving to be free,
Was just another vanity.
Exhausted now and far from home,
I gave up in my pit, alone.

 

—————–

 

Until a gentle voice broke through:

 

Look up, I’ve not forgotten you

 

Still hardened to the voice of hope,
I said, yes Lord, but what’s the use?

It’s not enough to comfort me,
While still out there the hate roams free,
While still out there the babies die,
While people’s lives are torn apart
And all the while you stand apart.

This faith that did once set me free,
Now strikes me as hypocrisy:
The hopes that led my youthful years,
Now grate upon my care-worn ears.
The love that once allayed my fears,
Seems insufficient for these tears,

 

Look up He said, Look up at Me

 

So now at last, in honesty,
I faced my Lord and let him see.
And looking up to hear Him speak,
I felt great tears fall on my cheek

 

The tears you cry, I cry them too.

 

But why Lord, why, should this be true?
I mean, Lord, why this need to cry,
Why must you let good people die?

Though death may come it has not won,
My child, you know this to be true,
Your childish faith will yet grow strong,
But you must let me comfort you.

Your eyes have opened to the fight,
Between the darkness and the light.
You mourn the losses, I do too,
This battle is real so the losses are true.

You say that I have stood apart,
You feel this anger in your heart,
Do you forget I came to earth,
Faced death myself to bring new birth?

Now will you face this truthful part:
It’s you who tries to stand apart,
While wrestling with these painful things,
You still refuse to enter in,

To help support the orphaned youth,
To push back darkness with the truth,
To love the hurting on your street.
That’s why you feel so incomplete:
You’re called to be my hands and feet.

Fighting darkness all alone,
You lost the light to guide you home,
You feared the darkness would be stronger,
You were wrong: my light shines longer. 

Turn your eyes now to the light,
Give up your striving in the night,
The light I bring you from above,
Is the greatest power, the power to love.

In this divided world, I find our common humanity in these 2 words: hopes and fears.

Deep down we are all moved by these forces.  Fears that threaten to consume us.  Hopes that inspire us, or crush us in their un-fulfilment.

Hope and fear

And in this outlook I discover empathy for those who seemed beyond hope or understanding.

The Russians love their children too‘.

Excepting the odd psychopath, even the most irrational or heinous acts probably once had a rationale in hope or fear.   So the seeds of heinous deeds may be familiar to us all, though we don’t all allow them to grow so far out of control.

Fear and suspicion threaten to poison our communities, both local and global.  The solution is outlandish hope and love, but such radical emotions can’t be faked. And they can’t grow in us as long as our own hearts are constrained by fear.

We can plant hope’s seed when we realise those we fear are themselves driven by fear.  Then we see hurting people, not enemies.  People just like us beneath the foreign shell of culture, colour or religion.

We begin to break the cycle of fear and its fruits by loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, and giving our lives for the cause of love.  Not in unexpressed intentions or doormat-like weakness, but through powerful acts of risk-taking, peacemaking, intervention.

We must not sit on the sidelines with fear in our hearts.

For me this means starting where I am, in the majority Pakistani Muslim community where I live, with small steps.  I have been the focus of suspicion but I choose to keep chipping away at that with honesty, openness and willingness to help.

So it was a great joy to me when 2 weeks ago, the lad at the youth club who kept threatening me, saw that I refused to either fear him or disengage from him, and then, after I invited him to join me on the PS3 playing Street Fighter, after a few rounds in which I neither crowed nor condemned when he lost a round, said to me quietly, ‘can you give me an apprenticeship?’

Just a lad, like I was, afraid of what the future might hold, needing an opportunity and someone to give him guidance.  And I knew that in the midst of all the suspicion, my efforts for good have also been observed, and it has all been worth it.

I said he’d be welcome anytime at the workshop, and we’ll see what happens.

 

As I explore again the world of architecture and design that once left me disillusioned, it is the practitioners who are motivated by love that resonate with me the most.

Love and creativity are both great ways of being fully present (see my previous post).  Creative people often practice a playful and un-task-focussed exploration of the everyday world in front of them.   They find beauty in things that other miss.  Thomas Heatherwick, a genius of our time, grew up like this.  He talks a lot about ‘giving love’ when he talks about design.

At the Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, I was heartened to see again and again an emphasis on the experience of the users of architecture.  An embracing of the potential for every individual in every present moment to shape the architecture rather than have it imposed on them – to both respond to and act upon it.

This is love in design.  The unloving architect imposes his will; the loving one makes space for the freedom and creativity of others to be expressed.

My favourite example was Diébédo Francis Kéré’s installation.  I already liked the sound of him when I read about his background and his social conscience.  I warmed to his installation when I saw it was built from honeycombed plastic slabs designed to be decorated by visitors poking long coloured straws wherever they liked.

Diebedo Francis Kere's Installation

It was a mess.  But it had a beauty that can’t be shown in a photo.  I decided to sit and take it in.  To do so I had to damage some of the straws that previous visitors had covered the honeycombed seat with.  I went ahead and did this, to make the seat a seat again.  Then others started to do the same on the remaining seats.  The space was reclaimed once more for the present moment – no longer hostage to the interventions of past visitors.

I was amazed at how the experience of the place settled deeper into me when I sat there with no agenda.  I saw patches of light and shade.  Patterns in the straws.  The joy of children.  Shafts of light above me.   I felt the building.   And what I felt was mine.

Shaft of lightI wondered, in all my ambition to learn and achieve at architecture school, did I ever, once, allow myself to feel a building?  (Not to touch it – to feel it.)  I don’t think I did.  I was too busy trying to design stuff and learn stuff.  I missed out, and what I designed and learned was less as a result.

This installation also provided separate honeycombed platforms for the visitors to create their own artworks in straws.  I made a kind of splayed rainbow, then something as opposite to that as I could.Rainbow

Woven towerI said in the previous post that a sunlit cup of tea was the most beautiful thing I’d looked at that day.  I didn’t mean to put down the exhibition.  It just so happened that the cup of tea, at that particular moment, in that particular light, was the most beautiful thing.

If I ever returned to architecture, I would like to be the kind of architect who is happy for all his buildings to be surpassed in beauty by the chance, unplanned, imperfect moments of real life.

I sat by a Georgian window on the first floor, drinking manuka tea.  Through the glass a pile of dirty scaffolding clips lay in the sun.  I imagined they would feel hot and heavy in the hand, if I could have touched them.

The tea had a honey colour and a sweet flavour.  At the tables around me were wealthy-looking people of various nationalities.  Setting the cup down again, the sun cast a bright triangle inside it.   Swirling patterns of dissolving sugar appeared, and above them a tiny black flake drifted slowly then spun sharply.  As it drifted, twirled, then drifted again, so did it’s tiny but sharply-focussed shadow on the curve of the cup whenever it crossed the light.

A little bubble appeared.  It seemed to stop when the beam caught it and cast, instead of a shadow, a tiny pearl of light even brighter than the warm glow around it.

I had entered Fortnum and Mason’s on a whim to buy gifts for my family in America.  I fly out tomorrow.  I was on Piccadilly to visit the Sensing Spaces Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.  I intended to let my imagination run free; to experience, rather than consciously learn or analyse (which I often do, sometimes obsessively).  I walked away from the world of Architecture a few years back in order to get hands-on with wood.   But now I fancied dipping my toe back in.

The battery on my camera phone ran out at the exhibition.  By the time I got the voucher for a free tea at Fortnum and Mason’s tea room I was practicing the art of being fully present to my surroundings, without taking photos.

The cup of tea was the most beautiful thing I’d seen all day.  And I’m glad I couldn’t photograph it.  Seeing everything through the lens of a camera puts another barrier between myself and real life.

There are too many unnecessary barriers already.  The vast majority of my thought-life is spent in the past, future, or other imaginary realms.  This is unfortunate.  The quality of my thought-life dictates the quality of my whole experience of life.  I think there are many others like me – often disconnected from reality.  Here’s what we need to remember:

Real abundant life can always, only, ever, exist in the present moment.

Everything else is an illusion, not necessarily unreal but, as regards the past, it is not real anymore, and regarding the future, it is almost without fail different to what we fear or imagine it will be – unless our fears or imaginings have become so real to us that we cannot help but bring them about.

And yet our minds so often drift to anywhere but where we are.

There is fertile and rewarding ground for our attention and imagination right in front of us.  It is NOW and it is HERE.  Too often, for me, taking a photo puts my thinking back in the abstract world, recording something for the future, or to share with someone else, instead of making the most of it now.  When I obsess about recording it for later I steal it from now.

What if I was fully present every moment, every place where I find myself?  Not refusing to dream or plan (those are good things) but always willing to uncover the joy and beauty latent in the present moment, or to enter fully into the sadness of the present suffering.  To be willing both to respond and to act upon the present flow of real life with creativity and love.  Neither to control nor be controlled by circumstance, simply to embrace it and be part of it.  Now. Not when I’ve learned enough.  Not when I’m feeling at my best.  Now.  Because here is life, and it keeps moving, and when it’s gone it’s gone.