Archive for May, 2021

What is there about Nicodemus that disturbs you? If it is the idea that doubt has good qualities rather than bad ones then that might just be good.

I invite you to hear that Nicodemus was a pilgrim. He was a sincere religious seeker. A student who uses his precious study time to expand his search beyond the standard texts and distractions of the day. I invite you to also to hear Nicodemus as a member of the religious institution of his day, who is a mover of theological boundaries. Willing to risk leaving behind the so-called ‘truth’ as he and his colleagues have known it, in order to explore something new.

So, if you accept that invite you will instead of questioning his motives, recognize him as both open and honourable. You will do this because Nicodemus must be allowed to respond to ‘the new’ or ‘the different’ in a variety of ways rather than prescribing a single mode. How else can he and we discover that our lives and our thinking might be different? Nicodemus, then, is Patron saint of the curious.  And for many of us, our patron saint. So may he protect the curious in each of us.

The next invitation is to see the Trinity as an invitation to explore your thinking. Here I remind ne of the St David;’s Mission Statement “Honour The Mind, Live the Questions and Explore the Adventure of Humanity.” “Honour the Mind reminds us that ‘The Trinity’ as a theological concept or the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity (as it is officially called), has only been observed since the 14th century, and only in the Western Church. It is also observed as a result of an edict issued by then pope, John xxii. Although it was the 2nd century theologian Tertullian who was the first to name God as a trinity. The second thing to remember is that the Trinity has been the subject of plenty of controversy over the ages, primarily because the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the scriptures. The third thing is that it is the only Sunday in the Lectionary which celebrates a doctrine. And if you are old enough and can remember the 1960s John Robinson Honest to God debates, you may also recall that Robinson said: “I was once asked a question after one of my talks: ’How would you teach a child the doctrine of the Trinity?’  It was one of the easiest questions I have ever received.  The answer was: ‘I wouldn’t’.” (Robinson 1967:86)

So, for a piece of theology which was supposed to bring unity in the church amid political intrigue and a host of opposing theological opinions, of ‘suspected heretics’ and dissidents’, I am not so sure such a doctrine can claim to be a success!

 Suchocki, professor emerita of Claremont School of Theology and executive director of ‘Process & Faith’ said: “despite (its) divisive history, the doctrine of the Trinity is more important today than ever, and for two very practical reasons: the first is that the doctrine can keep us from the idolatry of thinking God is just a human being, only bigger and better than the rest of us.  The second is that the doctrine tells us that the very deepest form of unity is one that includes irreducible diversity.” (Process & Faith web site 2006)

I was having a debate the other day about the importance of being a sceptic in today’s world. Not just because of the state of information and news and truth. Cyber hacking and media manipulation and the acceptance of fictional lobby as legitimate activity. The debate was about the importance of avoiding a single truth about anything and what impact that has on life? It one can’t have a truth what is there left. It can be said that this is both a scientific question as well as a theological one. I suspect that the debate about the doctrine of the Trinity is part of that scene. How to ‘Live the Questions?’ might be the context. As a helpful doctrine it gives a place from which to move and as an unhelpful doctrine it locks us in the belief or not belief debate.

I think this is what John D Caputo might call radical theology, not because one believes in it but because it invites us to debate the naming of God as God. It invites us to explore the naming of God as an event and not just a concept to believe in. The dynamic of the doctrine being about relationships invites us to be sceptics and explore the dynamic nature of theology not just as a theory of God but rather as a dynamic event in itself every time it is raised. What Caputo calls a theology of ‘perhaps’ always a dynamic event and what I call a theology of ‘Almost’ a dynamic living about to be event, ‘the kingdom is already come here and now and yet still about to come as well. The trinity invites us to be a sceptic, value doubt as Nicodemus reminds us and embrace potential, unknowing and the ‘almost’ The dynamic of the Trinity also invites us to see that living life is about valuing it as an ‘insistence’ Again a dynamic event of creating. This is what Caputo might say is the God in life as the insistence of life as opposed to the life itself. God is love fits here also in that it is in the loving that love exists it is in the insisting of loving that love transforms. Theologically this means that radical theology is always to come. Doubt as Nicodemus portrays and our scepticism becomes the event of transformation.

Finally, we might explore the adventure of humanity. Embrace scepticism, doubt and living the questions as a positive engagement and perhaps the Trinity remembrance might become an opportunity to celebrate All Heretic’s Day. Here we might want to thank our Unitarian colleagues because Unitarians (and many ‘progressives’) certainly brand themselves honourably with the title ‘heretic’.  Many of them were reformers, questioners, and seekers.  They defied the religious conventions of their times.  They blazed new paths and made greater choices for us today” (Lane. Unitarian Church of SA. web site 2008).

They questioned many things about Christian doctrine.  In particular the notions:

  • that God favours some with salvation and condemns others to perdition;
  • that individual men and women are permanently depraved and highly dependent upon the so-called doctrine of the ‘Atonement’ for their redemption, and
  • that God is a trinity of co-equal, consubstantial and co-eternal persons.

In all these cases the Unitarians proposed a different theology. They proposed:

  • that God’s love is available to all and that no one is condemned to perdition;
  • that people are mostly humane and that human effort is a welcome contribution towards the quality of human life, and
  • by indicating God’s oneness and God’s participation in the whole of creation.

For their efforts they were ruled to be ‘heretics’, because they held doctrine “contrary to the orthodox or accepted doctrine of a church or religious system… [or] any opinion or belief contrary to established theory”.

“These early heretics favoured a critical approach to religion that appreciates the place of reason, human thought and the right to think for oneself.  And, they advocated the right of private judgment and the necessity for personal integrity to be upheld in the face of imposed creeds and confessions of faith.” (Lane. Unitarian Church of SA. web site 2008)

Two prominent people in this world were Lloyd Geering (NZ), and Charles Strong, in Australia. Strong (1844-1942), described his theology as ‘broad or liberal’ which, he said, was absolutely necessary to a minister of the gospel “in order for the development of a healthy Christian life.” (Badger 1971:51)

Born out of doubt and scepticism such a theology had several characteristics:

  • it was fluid;
  • thinks of God as an indwelling, energising Spirit;
  • God was manifested in Humanity – Humanity was God’s ‘Son’; love and justice were always working together;
  • allied itself with science, and
  • is based on human experience rather than an infallible book.  (Badger 1971:285)

So today as Trinity Sunday, The day of Nicodemus and All Heretics Day; might be about the invitation to be curious about life and theology. To rethink assumptions with an altered perspective. Trinity might be more than a name for a day or a doctrine. It might be the call to participate in an even of transformation, to not just ask the questions but rather live them, and not just about conducting an autopsy on our past, but rather engaging in the exploration of what it means to be a human as we look to the future through the eyes of new possibility To be born anew! To consider how life might be different? Maybe today can be a day that places us in the company of earnest and compassionate teachers
whose openness defines a new community of hope and grace… As traditional theological boundaries (Honour the Mind) are pushed, and pushed again, ( Live the questions) with honesty and creativity. (Explore with confidence the future of humanity) Amen.

Badger, C. R. The Reverend Charles Strong and the Australian Church. Melbourne. Abacada Press, 1971.
Lowry, E. L. “Strangers in the Night” in W. B. Robinson (ed) Journeys Toward Narrative Preaching. New York. The Pilgrim Press, 1990.
Robinson, J. A. T. But That I Can’t Believe! London. Fontana Press, 1967.
Vosper, G. Amen. What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief . Toronto: HarperCollins, 2012.

John D Caputo The Insistence of God, A Theology of Perhaps. Indiana University Press2013

Doug Lendrum, with David W Williams & Emma McGeorge Almost A Memoir 2020

Acts 2:1-4

Like a movie director, Luke, the one we traditionally claim as the author of Acts,
creates a scene with wind and fire. Flamboyant speech. Great drama. A Pentecost script full of symbolism which cannot be taken literally, whatever historical event does or does not lay behind this story.

But is Pentecost just about a ‘language’ game as charismatics argue or is it something more? Rex Hunt talks of a couple of articles which take the Pentecost story beyond this, into some social issues. One article was on the ecological crisis as a ‘spiritual problem.
The other was about the power and dignity, or the ‘spirit’ of a capital city. Two rather unlikely subjects to be associated with Pentecost perhaps.

The first was by a Lynn White, in what is now considered by same to be a famous article. White suggests that Christianity’s attack on so-called pagan religion effectively stripped the natural world of any spiritual meaning. In fact, it replaced the belief that the sacred is in rivers and trees, with the doctrine that God is a disembodied spirit whose true residence is in heaven, not on earth.

White wrote that “By destroying pagan (religions), Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.” (White 1967)

This suggests that the impact of Christianity’s teachings has tended to empty the biosphere of any sense of God’s presence in natural things. And that God, in terms of traditional theism, is to be pictured as a sky-God. And in turn, human beings, as bearers of God’s image, are regarded essentially as ‘souls’ taking up temporary residence in their earthly bodies. Or to put it in the common idiom: God is against nature.

So, White says, in this sense the ecological crisis – global warming, irreversible ozone depletion, massive deforestation – is fundamentally a spiritual crisis. It is this he suggests because… certain Christian teachings have blunted our ability to experience co-belonging with other life forms. And this has rendered us unwilling to alter our self-destructive course and plot a new path toward sustainable living.

The second article was one about St John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople in the 4th and early 5th centuries, who described the Festival of Pentecost as the ‘capital city of holy days’ and ‘the metropolis of the Christian year.’ While other cities may be larger, or more populated, or more fun… warmer even, Chrysostom argued they do not have the power or might or dignity of the capital city.

When we think of this in terms of our own capital city it takes on a more immediate context in a tv report talking about the Basil Spence architect of the Beehive in Wellington reminded me of the number of foreign embassies, and the attendance at Anzac services by dignitaries from many nations. It is a reminder that in many houses and mansions and offices there are people of quite a part of the inhabited world represented.

Where at each a different flag is unfurled and a different language spoken. In this capital city, there are many people of different ethnicities and tongues, many cultures celebrated, much art and music and food and clothing to please the tastes of all the families of the planet.

But returning to Chrysostom’s image, in the city of Pentecost no embassy is under siege, none has been shuttered or its families sent away by a secret order from NZ Govt. There are of course protesters at some seeking recognition for a cause or help but no front door has been vandalized or spray painted with insults or taunts, no refugee or boat person has been declared persona non grata without good reason.

In general, the Capital City is the place all places are meant to be. But we also know that city of Pentecost is not yet fully come. So, how is Pentecost moved beyond the ‘language’ game? Pentecost as living with, rather than against, nature. Pentecost as living in all the dignity and diversity of a capital city aware of the bigger picture.

Luke as storyteller, suggests something similar when he talks about “The spirit’ as the source of unity amid diversity. The Spirit does not eliminate diversity, but rather makes it possible to rejoice in it instead of fighting over it. Neither Greek nor Roman, Jew nor Gentile, male nor female… Neither Irish nor Mediterranean, neither European nor Maori,
neither straight nor gay… This too is a vision not yet achieved in practice.  Much as we would like it to be it is still a goal towards which we strive with greater or lesser success and indeed with greater or lesser effort.

Rex Hunt throws in another comment here that says; “Pentecost might be… understood as the nudging of God in our lives which can bring about an expanding experience of what life is really designed to be about.” (Goff.P&F Web site 2003)

I think that comment is perhaps the most important one in that it speaks of Pentecost not as an historical event when the church began, nor as a static event we can tie down to a time in our lives but rather suggests that Pentecost is a state of being, a Way of living. It is a bit of each day, or the initiation of a process of empowerment which can bring satisfaction to the divine in creation and in the city, and ultimately between us all.

I have been reading a new book by Ian Harris of Wellington titled Hand in Hand and Ian talks about the need to see the secular and the sacred as the same thing. He reminds us that it was Christianity that created the secular not as an opposition but rather as an evolutionary enhancement of a living faith. A Pentecost faith or a Pentecost Way which is a way of being aware of the sacred in every moment of life. Lloyd Geering talks of Religion as having to do with the meaning and purpose of one’s life and therefor is part of the human condition. This for me highlights one of the errors that is part of our time today and that is that Religion is being rejected as organised religion is being rejected. While religion has been blamed for many ills in the world today the rejection of it, I don’t think is helpful because of its part in the human condition. Maybe the renaming of it as spirituality will replace it in our language. The challenge will be how we justify the gathering as people as the Church which is basically a place of gathering for mutual support. Covid 19 has reminded us just how valuable that is.

If Lloyd is right and I think he is the human condition will enable what we have called the church to continue but it might look different than it does now. And that brings ne to another point which is that the future of the church, the future of that which we have named religion and the future of that which we have known as Christianity will survive into the future if we look of the Pentecost opportunity that arrives every day. The challenge we have is to put down the superstitions that have become part of out faith such as the need for a man to become God, a God to have sacrificed a son, and for the son’s death to have saved humankind. Those superstitions being beliefs and practices that have outlived the context in which they were appropriate. Not they were not wrong concepts but rather concepts that have not kept up with the context of evolutionary time and culture.

 In the 1700s said the rethinking of our creeds and doctrines in the light of the current context. We no longer think of the world in the same way. Our world is not a three-tier universe, it is no longer one where nature rules alone, we have seen our world from outer space, we are aware of the life and death of civilizations. Our world is a world of serendipitous creativity that we part participants in the creation of rather than animals that live on it. Fear has moved from a survival instinct to become a debilitating psychological burden. Faith has become something to defend and fight for rather than an enhancing way of living and loving wastefully. Hope has become something to be wished for as opposed to something that enriches and enhances the opportunity to participate in life.

Harris also reminds us of what Alexander Tytler said in the 1700s when he said that the average lifespan of the worlds greatest civilizations was about 200 years, during which nations had always progressed through the same sequence. From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage from courage to liberty from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from, selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence and from dependency back into bondage. What is significant in this picture is the role of a positive spirituality and also the role of a despondent spirituality. It could be said that we are somewhere around the apathy vs dependency stage as we weather the decline of religious adherence and the rise of regulations about behaviour, morality and practice.

What then would a positive religious view look like today? What would a Pentecost driven world look like today? Well maybe your guess is as good as mine but for me it might be a world where we might explore together the biblical stories again, this time looking for the key stories and themes that tell us why our world is like it is today including much of its art, literature and music. It might be by thinking through current ethical issues such as sexuality, medical choices, racism, the environment and the just war. It might be exploring ideas of religion and values such as does god exist and if not what then and if so, then how? And how do we understand evil and suffering? It might be introducing people to the phenomenology of religion including theism, atheism and ana-theism in relation to its living of one’s life. And it might be equipping people with ways of finding stillness, and ways of claiming individual space in a complex and busy world that is not just condemning it or escaping from it but rather valuing it and managing it. At the core of this might be world where positive engagement, calming tolerance and rich compassion might motivate a new inclusive and rich spiritual age of worth.

That possibility has to be worth celebrating does it not? Especially on a day when we see ‘red’!


Harris Ian Hand in Hand Cuba Press 2021

Prayer on the Edge of Time.

One of the first things I found myself doing when preparing for parish ministry was to collect as many books and resources I could about prayer and the examples of what prayers contained. I stood in awe of ministers who could spout off huge long prayers without reading them. I knew I could never be like them for two reasons. One was that I never trusted my memory to be so rich in vocabulary and two I was never a fan of extemporary prayer because It seemed so readily available that it lost its depth of sincerity for me. I have never been a fan of repetitive rites.

Before I set out on this new and rather daunting experience of Parish Ministry, I. gathered together some resources to help me. In my day it was that each of the denominations had its own so called ‘Prayer Book of Book of Common Prayer and there were a smattering of others who had written books with examples of prayers for all occasions.

One of the challenges for me at that time was the idea that “Prayer… is the language of the heart, akin to poetry. Its concern is not with exact description, as that of prose so often is, but with reality itself and with the power to evoke our spiritual resources. Prayer goes on where other language leaves off: it has to do with what is least known and yet most deeply felt.”  (Davies 1956:6)

In all my thinking about and struggling with, prayer, those words have become the basis of prayer for me, It is less about an exhortation to converse properly with God and more about a song of the heart.

Under the strain of difficult conditions, or in severe loss or bereavement, or when emotionally moved by a scene of natural beauty, there is something within us that cries out for expression. Prayer is a natural thing.  It is essentially and expression in sound the heartfelt connection with the sacred that is to be found in the midst of ordinary life and in the natural world. That is the purpose of prayer and what makes it special is not the words but rather it is “something more than ourselves in which we ‘live and move and have our being’… It is what poetry attempts to do, to reach beyond the mind and heart and to find that place of connection with the other…and that which in various ways, calls us and the world, on the edge of time, to move beyond present states of existence” (Peters 2008: 12).

Having given prayer this task we come to today’s gospel story by the bloke we call John, as a very small part of the tradition which was circulating about Jesus’ prayers or prayer life. The tone of this rather long-winded prayer is very personal. He addresses God as someone whom he knows very intimately indeed, and as someone whom he trusts implicitly. It is classic ‘theism’.

But it is also more than that.

In Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, a father and his son journey through the ruins of a post-apocalyptic earth. The world has been reduced to a dismal landscape drained of color. Nothing can grow on earth. No crops for food. The ghastly nature of survival has reduced people to cannibalism. The father struggles to protect his young son from cold, sickness, starvation and evil men. As his health deteriorates, we sense that the father is a doomed man. He’ll eventually die and have to send his son up the road without him. It’s a grueling, but simple and powerful story- the depth of a father’s love, and the depths of hell he will go through in order to keep his son alive.  

In the gospel reading, Jesus’ life and ministry are rapidly coming to a brutal end. For John, He’s going back to the father, and he prays on behalf of his disciples. Like the father in The Road, he’s sending his disciples on up the road without him. He guarded them up to this point, and loves them greatly, but now they have to further the ministry of the kingdom and step out on their own. He asks God to protect them from the evil one. He asks that they be sanctified in truth. In a world hostile to the values of the Kingdom of God, they will need the clarity of truth and the comfort of Jesus’ words.  Here we have the idea a dualisms atonement and the personification of evil. 

Our tradition steps in here and says that it’s not just the disciples Jesus prays for, but us as well. He sends us out into the world and prays for us, asking the father to protect us from the evil one and to sanctify us in the truth of his love and grace. We journey up the road as witnesses to his gospel. Jesus goes back to the Father, but his spirit is with us. He goes through hell for us, and with us, and then sends us up the road sanctified in the purity of his truth, to reach others in sacrificial love.

And in this prayer John has Jesus weaving together the past, the present and the future into a kind of timelessness, which he suggests is available for all. This particular prayer is quite different from the ‘The Abba Prayer’. Which I guess, shows there are many different types of prayer and many different approaches to prayer. So, in spite of some advice to the contrary there is no one way which is either right or wrong.

Prayer which somebody leads in church or in a prayer group on behalf of others, is quite different from private prayer. On the other hand, prayer may be just a couple of words; or a waiting in silence. Whatever the sort of prayer you prefer,
there does need to be some time for silence…

The deeper you get into prayer the more it tends to be listening prayer or a song, or poem rather prose or a speaking prayer. That silence may be when you’re outside gardening, or enjoying a bush or beach view, or looking at a picture, or out for a brisk morning walk in winter. It may also be while you’re ironing, or painting the shed, or washing the car. Or it may be in deliberate meditation.

Helder Camara, a Roman Catholic bishop in Brazil, has become an inspirational figure for many around the world. He died or rather was killed some time ago now, but his work of solidarity on behalf of the poor and exploited will long be remembered. He once wrote some words on prayer to the people of his diocese, at a time when they were enduring horrific suffering. He talked of payer as; “putting our ear to the ground” in order to hear the Divine voice…  to recognise that God always is by our side, even when in our agony we are silenced and unable to think at all.

“Put your ear to the ground
and listen,
hurried, worried footsteps,
bitterness, rebellion.

“Hope hasn’t yet begun.
Listen again.
Put out your feelers.
The Lord is there.  (Camara 1984)

Peter Millar from the Iona Community offers this perspective on Camara’s prayer:
“Is this not the essence of prayer – to see the One who is always near, and who is constantly inviting us, in gentle compassion, to come back to our inheritance as a human being made in the divine image?” (Millar 2000:37)

Another perspective on prayer, especially how ‘it works’, comes from Christine Robinson.  She suggests that prayer ‘works’: “on our own hearts, calming us enough to hear our own wisdom, to reroute habits and habitual responses, to help us adjust to and find good in all that we cannot change, and see the light in each person, no matter how difficult they are, in our lives” (C Robinson. First Unitarian, Albuquerque web site, 2007).

Prayer ‘works’ not because of a so-called all powerful, supernatural being who just happens to be listening, waiting for our orders. It ‘works’ because our lives and our world are porous to new and creative re-imagined possibilities. Prayer ‘works’ in the re-creation of the one who prays.  (Wieman 1946)

Finally let’s acknowledge that this sermon has been words on prayer. But words on prayer should also share in a prayer. Powell Davies has just such a prayer: a short prayer on prayer, It is a short, soft-theistic prayer which addresses the ‘sacred, or the ‘divine’ in personalistic ways:  ‘Help us, O God, lest we make our prayers a substitute for what we should do with our lives; what our prayers begin, may our lives continue’.

I want to conclude today with a comment my colleague and friend Rex Hunt concluded a sermon with. Borrowing from his theology mentor, Henry Nelson Wieman: he said; “Religion, with wisdom born of centuries of experience, tells us that qualities of mind and heart, rather than physical blessings, should be a major concern in our prayer life. That we should pray not for more of the bounties of life, but for more awareness of life; not for more recognition and love from our peers, but for more capacity to give love and recognition. These are some of the things which are truly worth praying for, and they are all within the range of possibility for everyone, of us.”(Wieman 1946) Amen.

Davies, A. P. The Language of the Heart. Washington DC. A. Powell Davies Memorial Committee, All Soul’s Church, 1956.
Millar, P. Waymarks. Signposts to Discovering God’s Presence in the World. Norwich. Canterbury Press, 2000.
Peters, K. E. Spiritual Transformations: Science, Religion and Human Becoming. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2008.
Wieman, H. N. The Source of Human Good. Carbondale. Southern Illinois University Press, 1946.

John 15:9-17

Love isn’t a noun, it’s a verb!

One of the most fallible things today is to say I or we have the truth and if you listen to us you will have it too. Why? Because theology can never begin by assuming it already has the answer. And any theology that does not begin with radical doubt is basically dishonest. (Scott 2001)

Biblical scholar and Jesus Seminar Fellow, B. Brandon Scott. Made that statement which is not only challenging to all of us who engage in theological and biblical discussion or study groups, but also personally challenging, to all who would follow the Way of Jesus. One old is quotes as having said, that the first word in religion must always be ‘No’. ‘No’ to all the nonsense that often goes under the name ‘religion’, Why? so that there is space to say ‘Yes’ to the more profound insights, of the best in religions.

And as Brandon Scott also reminds us: “Our faith is not a single moment of coming to faith or conversion, but an ongoing activity or process.  This is not to say that there might be a moment when once can mark a change or an awareness but rather to acknowledge that our faith grows and develops in response to our concrete experience…  The issue is that we don’t know or can’t know what we need faith for.  Faith is in its very nature a gamble about what might be, not what certainly is” (Scott 2001:1148).

But it can be hard to say ‘No’ when the politics and interpretations from the past,
or the church bureaucracy of the present, have framed or shaped a story in a certain way. That’s because for two thousand years there has been this big contradiction between the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus.

So let me offer a few initial comments about what I mean by that.

The religion of Jesus is found in the things he talked with people about. How to live. How to treat one another. How you can be made whole, here and now. How you can help make the world more whole, here and now. A constant pressing at the margins, for justice and empowerment, as he ate with toll collectors and prostitutes, called the poor blessed, and praised the confessions of common folk.

The religion about Jesus is about believing a certain story, often aimed at frightening people into accepting agendas such as: hating gays, or independent women, or the sanctioning of torture against so-called ‘middle-eastern terrorists’. Coupled with the promise that if you do ‘believe’, you’ll be ‘saved’ after you die.

It is my opinion and of many people today that Jesus would have hated that story. He, would have said ‘No’ to that ‘about’ story.

Today we have one of those ‘in process’ stories as our gospel story. And you will have recognised it is a story about ‘love’. But not the ‘Women’s Day’ or ‘New Idea’ celebrity love story. Or the Hallmark card, sentimental, love story. Yet it is a love story which has inspired our storyteller to both tell it and to wrap it around the name of Jesus. And more importantly for my claim today, a story where where ‘love’ isn’t a noun, but rather a verb.

I want to share with you a love story and a prayer written by Davidson Loehr.
and quoted by Rex Hunt more recently. Both are about love as a verb. Not as a noun.

The story…

A monk, Friar Bernard, lamented in his cell on Mount Cenis, the crimes of mankind.

Rising one morning before daybreak from his bed of moss and dry leaves, he

gnawed his roots and berries, drank of the spring, and set forth to go to Rome to reform the corrupt people there.

On his way he encountered many travelers who greeted him courteously. And the cabins of peasants and the castles of lords supplied his few wants. When he came at last to Rome, his piety and good will easily introduced him to many families of the rich.

On the first day he saw and talked with mothers with babes at their breasts. They told him how much love they bore their children, and how they were perplexed in their daily walk lest they should fail in their duty to them.

“What!” he said, “and this on rich embroidered carpets, on marble floors, surrounded by expensive sculpture, and carved wood, rich pictures, and piles of books about you? “You’re rich Roman pagans, not even Christians! How can you be good people?”

“Look at our pictures, and books,” they said, “and we will tell you, good Brother, how we spent last evening. “These books are full of stories of godly children and holy families and sacrifices made in old or in recent times, by great and not mean persons. “And last evening, our families were all gathered together, and our husbands and brothers spoke sadly on what we could save and give to others in the hard times.”

Then the men came in, and they said, “Greetings, good Brother!  Does your monastery want gifts? Let us share with you.”

Then Friar Bernard went home swiftly with other thoughts than he had brought, saying, “Their way of life is wrong – they are not even poor, and they are not Christians! “Yet these Romans, whom I prayed God to destroy, are lovers. They are lovers.  What can I do?”

That’s the story.

Davidson Loehr offers this comment: “Friar Bernard has a couple choices.  He can try to forget what he’d just seen and felt, and return to his comfortable beliefs, or he can realize that his beliefs are too small to hold life, or even to serve it in a way that isn’t a curse to others.” (DLoehr. First UU Church, Austin, web site, 2006)

Now the prayer and it is a little edited.

We pray to the angels of our better nature and the still small voice that can speak to us when we feel safe enough to listen. Help us to love people and causes outside of ourselves, that we may be enlarged to include them… Help us remember we can, if we will, invest ourselves in relationships, institutions and causes that transcend and expand us. Help us guard our hearts against those relationships and activities that diminish us and weaken our life force. And help us give our hearts to those relationships that might, with our help, expand our souls and our worlds. We know every day, both life and death are set before us.
Let us have the faith and courage to choose those involvements that can lead us toward life, toward life more abundant… May we see more clearly in these matters. May we have the will to hold to those relationships that demand, and cherish, the very best in us. Just that.  Just those.  Amen. (DLoehr. First UU Church, Austin, web site, 2006).

The question we are left with is “what does it take to let love get lived?” I think as others do that Love, of the kind our gospel storyteller is talking about, is a verb rather than a noun.

This love creates – a dynamic, living whole, a strong harmony, a deep unity, which does not diminish or weaken, but rather expands our life force, encouraging a response in expressions of joy. And it is greeted in open and honest ways that can lead us toward life more abundant.

Theodore Parker, the great Unitarian reformer of early 19th century America, once wrote near the end of his life: “I have had great powers and have only half used them.” We all have great powers that we have only half used, suggests Davidson Loehr. “Isn’t that one reason we come here to church – to keep being exhorted to develop the other half of our great powers, and to use them to help ourselves and our world come alive?  We come seeking wholeness, and so often we don’t want to admit that we can have it.” (DLoehr. First UU Church, Austin, web site, 2008). It is as if we would rather wallow in self-pity or hide from the fear we have created.We lock in the idea that we are not good enough to love wastefully in rules about belief, and creeds and literal prisons of certainty that we can never achieve, and we maintain myth as an untruth, as opposed to a liberating ground from which to live.We make Love an unassailable noun when in fact it is a verb.

Like faith it is not in the conversion event that we grow but in the living of it. It is in the loving that love exists not the other way round. Love as a noun is that which we escape from by giving it all sorts of meanings from romance to blind acceptance but as a verb it is clearly an action that changes things. Nothing is ever the same after an experience of loving and being loved. Look at that which happens between almost every parent’s experience, be careful here not to fall back into the noun, Love as a verb is unconditional. Amen.

Scott, B. B. 2001. Re-imgine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.