Sunday Sermon – All You Need Is Love – Conclusion…For Now

I wrote ‘Conclusion’, then immediately added the rest, thinking, how on earth can you ever stop talking about love?  My feeble efforts to describe this deep conundrum we call love have only raised more questions and already broadened my own perspectives on the subject.  It has also challenged me to examine just how I express love in my own life to my wife, my children, grandchildren, friends, enemies, acquaintances and strangers.

I was challenged this week by a negative review of our Fort Worth Coffee House.  The reviewer took issue with our stance on not allowing open carrying of firearms and gave us one star for this rather than a fair assessment of our worth as a Coffee House.  I wanted to lash out and retaliate for the injustice I felt, but after penning a carefully calculated rebuke, the words of Jesus ‘Love your enemies’ just wouldn’t go away and I deleted the whole calculated put down.  I realized that love sometimes means not getting your own back.  Hurting someone with words was really just a way to gain some selfish satisfaction for myself.

So I resolved to put a semi-colon in this conversation after writing some of the things I have dwelt on in the last few weeks.  They don’t apply to every relationship, but cover many aspects of this fascinating thing we call love.  So…

Love is….

Caring more for another than for myself

Resisting the temptation to control or possess

Choosing to stay with the one we love even when it no longer suits us to do so…or

Letting another go when we want to keep them

Speaking truth without an ounce of manipulation

Being willing to die to self interest and preferring the interest of another

Being entirely honest in communication especially when it disadvantages ourselves

Being willing to fully embrace the gifts of those given through love

Approaching love making with a desire to give and not take

Knowing when to speak up and when to back off

Not gaining satisfaction through retaliation

Never giving up on the other person even if they give up on us

Choosing not to take out our anger, frustration, disappointment on another

Not dwelling on the failings of others and never seeking to remind of past mistakes

Ever seeking ways to enhance the one loved, especially in the eyes of others

Looking for the best, believing the best and hoping the best

Not limited by culture, ethnic background, race or gender

Expressed in thoughts as well as deeds, gifts and honor

Being Kind….

Thanks for sharing in this conversation, I’ll be back next Sunday with something new, but in the meantime, love someone, love anyone, love everyone.  Who knows what might come of it.  In the immortal words of Huey Lewis and the News,

The power of love is a curious thing
make one man weep, make another man sing
Change a hawk to a little white dove
more than a feeling that’s the power of love

Tougher than diamonds, rich like cream
Stronger and harder than a bad girl’s dream
make a bad one good make a wrong one right
power of love that keeps you home at night

You don’t need money, don’t take fame
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
but it might just save your life
That’s the power of love


Thought Provoking Thursday – Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes!

If you are not a David Bowie fan and you don’t get the title, that’s OK!  Well, I am writing this week’s Thursday blog in a room at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine.  We have been traveling to the UK now for nearly 24 hours and have reached this resting place just about 7 miles from our house!  What happened?  Our British Airways flight to London was cancelled due to a crack in the wing spoiler and here we are,  stranded at the outset.  But it did present an interesting study in ‘Change’ and how people react to their well oiled travel plans being disrupted.  This was a 747 jet with over 250 passengers and in a stroke, they were all seatless and desperate to find a place on any alternative flight.  Now, I don’t know if you have noticed, but airlines do not tend to leave their planes half empty, in fact it has become the norm to hear announcements about how many air bucks you can acquire should you give up your place on a scheduled flight.  Squeezing those 250 people at short notice on to near capacity flights had to be a nightmare for the airport staff.

As it became clear that we were all in a competition for these precious places, the reaction to changed circumstances began to display in all manner of ways.  This had me pondering our whole attitude to change. There were the eager beavers immediately on their cell phones calling the airline and hotels to avoid the fast forming line to customer service.  There were the resigned accepters of their fate who dutifully joined the line to wait for up to 4 hours to find a new way to complete their journey.  There were the angry victims who lashed out at anyone who wore a uniform and waxed lyrical to any in earshot concerning the inadequacies of the airline industry.  And then there was that guy who was high-fiving the operators and spreading cheer to the line in general.

Change travels with us wherever we go, but as I heard someone say recently, just because something is on our road trip it doesn’t mean it has to drive the car.  There is change that we engineer because we know things cannot stay the way they are.  There is the change that is a welcome friend that we have no control over, but heralds a positive turning point we can assimilate and move on.  Then there is the change that we find hard to welcome.  This may be change we initiate ourselves or as in my travel example above, something completely outside our control.  Whichever it is, we struggle with accepting the disturbance to our status quo, the upset of our plans or the removal of our established comfort zone.

I have often used the phrase ‘Constant Change is here to stay’, and in one sense this is clearly true.  However, when nature initiates or adapts to change, it has a suppleness to its response, a seasonal pattern to its adjustments.  Leyna, my wife, pointed out the way a tree bends in the wind.  Because it know how to keep its suppleness, it does not break under the strain.  The seasonal response depicts an adaptation over time that allows the right environment or conditions for change to take place.  The tree, though changed by weather and seasons, remains rooted in the ground.  Here it derives the sustenance to ensure it remains supple and able to change.  The larvae does not suddenly become a butterfly, but metamorphoses carefully in ideal surroundings while protected by the cocoon.

Individuals or organizations that wish to get where they are going in life need to embrace change whether it be planned or simply happen in the process of life.  My problem has always been to welcome and even provoke change without due reverence for my roots and source of life.  For others, fear of change or resistance means their roots will no longer be in a place to derive that sustenance and they slowly die or in the case of organizations, become irrelevant and ineffective.  Jesus once used wineskins as an example of our ability to change.  When the skin becomes dried up and loses its supple flexibility, the new wine will burst the skin and we will lose all the good stuff!  Too much wine, of course, will just make you drunk.  Change is inevitable, whether we initiate it, or it arrives on our doorstep.  How we respond may well determine our ability to enjoy life, move into exciting new places or how we relate to those around us.  I still have a vivid memory of the young man at the airport embracing the loss of his flight whilst giving life to those around him.  I later had the pleasure of sharing dinner with him at our hotel.  Embracing change often has unseen benefits.  Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes!

Topical Tuesday – Making the National News!

Well, seeing as it is not every day that one makes the national newspapers, I thought that this Tuesday I would let you share in my 15 minutes of fame.  The following article appeared in the Washington Post this week and as you can see, yours truly is quoted (largely correctly for once)

Texas Open Carry Law Triggers Tough Choice for Businesses

The issue of open carrying of firearms was clarified in a law that came into force at the beginning of the year.  Basically, it is now legal to openly carry in the state of Texas.  What this meant for a small business owner such as myself was very simple.  If I wanted to prevent my customers from frequenting our coffee houses whilst openly sporting their firearms I would have to display a fairly large poster in both English and Spanish to comply.  We were forced to make a choice.


The article does a good job of examining the issues provoked by the new law.  Our choice was not difficult for a number of reasons.  To begin with, I am in favor of stricter gun laws due to overwhelming evidence that links lax gun laws with higher firearm mortality.  We also had far more customers expressing concern over the possibility of guns being openly flaunted than otherwise.  In point of fact, this law does nothing to increase or decrease how many firearms are carried, merely how they are carried.  In my opinion, this is an issue of safety and common sense.

Imagine you are standing in the line for your coffee and an openly carried firearm is available within arms length of any customer in that line.  What is to stop anyone, including a child, reaching for the gun and thus sparking a potentially dangerous sequence of events.  What if that person is a petty criminal with no access to guns but uses the opportunity to carry out an armed robbery.  Imagine the possible tension created when you inadvertently spill your hot coffee on a person who openly carries and is having a bad day.  Surely common sense dictates the new law heightens tension, allows more potential accidents and could even give opportunity for misunderstanding and potential harm to innocent bystanders.  I get it.  Not so long ago in ‘these parts’, your life might depend on how fast you could draw your gun.  But in these days of high school football and atm machines, are we still living in the Wild West?

It is clear that the new law was a political move given the sheer dearth of people who actually wish to flaunt their firearms even in Texas.  We have received many more commendations for our actions and our business has continued to grow since the beginning of the year.  What is more encouraging than anything else are the many businesses here in Texas who have made the same choice.  I applaud those who are taking a stand for safety given that it is easier not to have large signs in two languages in your front window!  And with that, I am off to take a couple of shots – espresso that is!

Thought Provoking Thursday – But I Know I am Right!

“There is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.”
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.

And so just why do we focus so intently on things that divide, while seeking to reinforce our precious opinions and denigrate those with whom we disagree?  This is not only the bailiwick of the religious, though we who profess to have faith seem to be inordinately skilled at it.  It also seems to be the only mode of operation available to the modern politician.  No wonder there has always been a long-standing social motto “You can talk about anything as long as it is not religion or politics.”  The current bi-partisan stand off in the US had me more focused than usual on this, but it seems to be a reflection on a deep-seated human tendency.

So what is going on?  I am reminded of the old religious story of St Peter taking a newly arrived saint on a tour of heaven.  As they pass by a large white building, St Peter urges him not to speak, explaining that the building was occupied by Baptists who believed they were the only ones resident in heaven!  At the heart of our problem, it seems that most of us believe that what we think is right, that our way of doing things is the correct way and more importantly, we know better than those who don’t do it thus.  We reinforce this position by surrounding ourselves with those who agree and as C.S. Lewis opines, we apply our negative filters to those who do things differently.

The sad outcome of our differing opinions seems to be an entrenching of attitudes and a hardening of positions that allows little room for compromise.  And that’s just it.  In so many quarters we are talking about opinions.  This is particularly true when it comes to matters pertaining to what we believe.  I can remember, to my shame, many times when I have put my opinion above relationships.  I have valued being right more highly than promoting unity.  And what is the cost of this attitude?  It is the break down of relationship, the inability to see past the log in my own eye in order to rail against the speck in the eye of those who don’t  ‘see things my way’.

As I have gained the benefit of a few more years painfully realizing that relationships with people are more important than opinions held, I have begun to focus more intently on the issues we can probably mostly agree on.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I still wonder at some of the traditions of the Catholic Church, though I do think Pope Francis is a stand up guy.  Do I question some of our more fundamentalist tenets of faith, and do I still think the Anglicans got it wrong on infant baptism?  Yes, my opinions have changed on some things, but have stayed fairly consistent on others.  What I am realizing more these days though, is that these things are just my opinion.  I may not be right.  Does it really matter in the light of things that really matter, like loving, serving and giving life where I can?

I have a very good friend who I respect and admire but whose political views are alien to my whole way of thinking.  I find myself wondering how some of those views can be reconciled with a faith in Jesus Christ, who I secretly believe was a socialist by the way!  (Don’t go getting all riled up at that throw away line!).  Now, I am asking myself, ‘what can I learn from this different point of view?  How can this opposing opinion color and adjust my prejudices and opinions?’  I am looking for meaningful relationships that are not spoiled by a difference of opinion and I am seeking not to be surrounded by those who agree with me for that would be a place lacking in challenge and healthy provocation.   How am I ever going to change if I never hear something new or examine the stand of those with whom I am at odds?  In many ways it boils down to respect.  It has not always been so for me, but I am learning something new, and I happen to know I am right by the way!

I’ll leave you with a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and hope that we can all agree to disagree from time time whilst promoting reconciliation and understanding to bring down the walls that divide us!

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  Hamlet.

Topical Tuesday – Middle East Inspiration

A little different this Tuesday.  I want to share briefly an overview of a podcast I listened to recently that is both topical and inspirational.  If there is one source of consistent bad news it is that which emanates from Syria, Iraq and everything surrounding the emergence of ISIS.  A young American, Jeremy Courtney was recently interviewed by Rob Bell on his podcast, the Robcast and as the interview progressed I felt at once uplifted and inspired by this simple tale of transformation and Jeremy’s impactful organization Pre-emptive Love Coalition.

In his mid-twenties, Jeremy and his wife Jessica plus one year old child journeyed to Iraq with the intent to make a difference in the long time worn torn region around Kirkuk.  This was ten years ago and so still in the height of major US involvement in factional conflict.  They had set their sites on helping the poor but events soon overtook them after a chance meeting in a hotel lobby.

After many days of serving Jeremy coffee, a gentleman approached him to ask for help for his cousin’s daughter who was dying from a heart defect.  He was approached simply because he was American and the man believed this qualified him as a candidate for helping with this problem.  One of the knock on effects of war in Iraq had been to drive many skilled surgeons and medical staff out of the country and so there just were not any qualified surgeons to perform the necessary operation.  All Jeremy needed to see at their first meeting was the little girl and a piece of paper on which the only words he could understand were ‘Hole in Heart’.  He believed his attempts to help would ultimately fail which he stressed to the desperate father, but promised to try nevertheless.

Somehow, Jeremy was able to influence an appropriate surgical team to help this poor girl to get her life back.  At the same time, he discovered untold thousands of children with similar birth defects, many of which had been caused by Sadam Hussain’s chemical warfare, but also in the much less well known use of depleted uranium in US bombs (Something not often mentioned in the media!).

Despite fatwas, death threats, bombings, imprisonments and intense living conditions, Jeremy and a growing number of friends dived in to help as many of these unfortunate children as possible.  It became clear that funding these children to receive the kind of help they needed by traveling abroad was extremely prohibitive.  Somehow, they were able to arrange for an increasing number of surgeries to take place in Iraq itself as doctors came back in response to these needs being highlighted.

What truly inspired me about this story was the very different viewpoint fashioned in Jeremy’s mind by the privilege of being able to live amongst people of all different backgrounds, beliefs and religious persuasions.  I was struck by his ability to build bridges across real divides in order to do something positive to change the lives of those who did not have the power or resources to do the same for themselves.  One story on the podcast that challenged my own perspectives concerned working with a man who was on the US terrorist wanted list to establish an education for thousands of Iraqi children.

Listening to this man talk truly challenged my own attitudes, pre-conceptions and media bias.  It is clearly impossible to get a true picture of what life is like in the Middle East today, and yet not a day goes by when the media portrays one negative picture after another.  I felt it was worth writing this just to demonstrate that not everything happening in this devastated region of the world is negative.  There are people on the ground making a difference.  It also helps to gain some perspective on the rather negative reaction to refugees flooding into Europe and perhaps here in the US.  This conflict has its roots in ethnic cleansing of Kurds and the invasion of Kuwait, which is now nearly 25 years on.  It is the least we can do to suffer a relatively minor inconvenience and welcome those who have been displaced by this terrible conflict and all its consequences.

If you would like to listen to Jeremy first hand, I highly recommend the Robcast episode here – Jeremy Courtney Lives In Iraq