I may have to love them, but I sure don't like them.

I've heard Christians say (when talking about justice, grace, or being Christian) that you have to love someone but you don't have to like them. I can't pin down why this saying bothers me so I want to talk about it a bit. Don't get me wrong... I've used it before and certainly thought it before. But is it sound theological advice?

The short answer is no.

Imagine Jesus and some disciples sitting around watching the people coming in and out of the temple. Without a doubt they would have done what I do when passing people in the Atlanta airport. "Hey, look at that guy over there. You think he loves hair gel or what?"

If a disciple watched a Pharisee walk into the temple I bet one of the disciples would lean over to Jesus and say... "Hey Jesus... Look at that pompous jerk. I bet he spends more on his phylacteries than he has given to widows."  I bet Jesus would respond with the same fiery love he is known for. His response would affirm the disciple but challenge whether that attitude was loving. Imagine Jesus saying, "well you've spent more on casting lots so I'd be careful about judging anyone. Besides, he tries. Love him like I do, okay?" To which the disciple would probably have said the Aramaic equivalent of...

I may have to love them, but I don't have to like them (there is some variance between individuals - who we sometimes know - and groups, where we are often stereotyping).

Today I think this fundamentally undercuts Christians in their mission to love the world. It is saying you are willing to go only so far.  Could you imagine if that was God's attitude with us?  Could you imagine telling someone you really do love... I love you, but I don't have to like you. What!? It calls into question what you think love really is AND practically guarantees that you don't think favorably of you refer. It is the backhanded compliment that is more of a threat than affirmation of Gods mission. Its like saying, "you better be glad God is holding me back because I don't like you." It is filled with a lot of "you aren't good enough" which is then precise opposite of the live we learn and experience in Jesus Christ.

What is love?  Just ignoring someone or giving them the stink-eye across the room?  If so, then forget I ever said anything - apparently you do love them without liking them.  But I'm right - that isn't love.  Is love tolerating someone?  No.  People you really love - you like them.  I can guarantee that you can find redeemable qualities about anyone you love.  They are often what you back up that love with!  

Instead of threatening those we struggle with let's be honest about things. We use that phrase (I may have to love them, but I don't have to like them) to accept, defiantly, that we choose not to move any closer to them.  It is self-condemning as telling God no.  Trade out that phrase for this one:

I'm still learning how to love them.

or, if referring to a person,

I don't love them like I should, yet.  

At least this way the phrase places the reality of the situation firmly on the one speaking.  You not liking them is YOUR problem, not theirs.

People who often feel justified in how they feel (not liking) have some great reasons, I'm sure. But the truth is your inability to like someone is your problem and probably why you think God is somehow forcing you to love the person in the first place. Which comes first? Liking them or loving them? Pretty sure for us the lesser precedes the greater.  I hope we can do both.

Is there any hope?

I prayed today for peace between Israel and Hamas.  The person I prayed with said that the "other side" isn't interested in a truce or in peace.  They are only interested in the complete obliteration of their enemies.  When that is the case, this person said, there can be no peace.

Is that true?  Is the only possible outcome the destruction of one or the other?

Jesus knew a thing or two about facing impossible odds.  He also knew of what it was to face those who aren't interested in peace but strictly determined to destroy him.  Interestingly, his response was less negation of the threat and more of proving just how powerless they are to compromise God's plan for mending the world.

I don't mean either side in this quasi-eternal conflict must submit to death as Jesus did (the cross is A LOT less aquiescence than willful submission).  Instead, I only offer that as a Christian I must seek a third way... not flight.  Not fight.  The only path to redemption...salvation...justice... is a third way exemplified by Christ in the love he always responded in.

This isn't easy.  It certainly is risky when the "other side" simply desires your destruction.  But what we can't yet see (and accept on faith) and what the other side isn't aware of, is that a loving and miraculous God doesn't work like we do.  Destruction is not the only path to abundant life.

Pic is from here.  Also, this one is relevant.

Pastor as Automaton

Technology is great, yeah?  I read somewhere they it best serves its function when it simply enables a more fulfilling life while remaining completely innocuous OR is so essential that you can't imagine life without it.  Think anti-lock brakes for the former and Wi-Fi for the latter.  Lately, technology (specifically social media) and I have not been getting along.  It has forced me to reflect on my role as a pastor.  Am I trying to become innocuous to the communities I'm a part of?  Or so essential that those same communities can't imagine life without me?  Believe me - this isn't about you right now.  This is about me.*

I LOVE social media.  I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, blogger (obviously), Feedly, last.fm, youtube, snapchat, reddit, Hootsuite, Buzzsprout, Twitch, and most recently: tumblr.  Not an exhaustive list but all the ones that came to mind just now.  Sound like too much?  It is.  I've become an automaton.

Not convinced?  In an attempt to reign in the craziness and still stay accessible I've started using automation app and websites like bufferapp.com and ifttt.com.  Frankly?  It is too much.  Just looking over the last paragraph fills me with a deep sense of the amount of time I spend trying to look human and not actually being one.

Pastors should, by and large, be a part of the community but also not.  What I mean is that we are often called be prophets, counselors, preachers, teachers, evangelists, apostles.  To do that well means being in communities where we can help the Kingdom of God flourish.  But we must also be separate from them.  The challenge is not being a human automaton but a God automaton.  It is the Pentecost season, after all.  If I can't keep an eye towards the eschaton then I cease being human as I was intended to be!  In the past two weeks I've preached at Capstone UMC and Bluff Park UMC.  You can hear both sermons here and here, respectively.  Both sermons served as a reminder to myself as much as others that we should cease being human automatons and begin being Godly automatons.  I hope to do that as a Pastor.  Now to post this deep insightful thought into the internet in as many ways as possible...

My wife, doing yoga as the sun goes down in the Virgin Islands.

* - This is part of an ongoing "Pastor as..." Series.  Being a pastor is always about the intersection between you, me, and God.  At least for my reality.

Prayer for Annual Conference 2014

As Presiding Elder my primary responsibility is knowing where to find Laura Sisson.  Seriously, she's the only one in our office that knows what is going on.

Otherwise, I get to open Annual Conference with prayer.  The prayer below was for our Conference, but it could be for any Annual Conference or maybe, even, whatever season you may find yourself.

My prayer to start the 145th meeting of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church is here:


The strawberries are winding down, blueberries are not quite here, and the time is perfect to plant your spirit in our souls. What better place to gather together to plant the seeds for your Kingdom in the United Methodist Church, than at Birmingham-Southern College.

Some would tell us it is too late for planting. Spring is almost past. Decisions have already been made. There are already wars and rumors of wars. Some would say we should be about cutting our losses and making the best of the situation.

I refuse to believe that whatever angst, fear, or indifference has taken root in our hearts could be stronger than the resurrecting power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sins and hurts still can’t choke out your plans to mend the garden. We are not here to uproot weeds but to plant faith, hope, and love that will grow among the thistles and ultimately become the branches upon which tomorrow’s birds will dwell.

We may do the planting but you do the growing. You are the vine, we are the branches; those who abide in you bear much fruit, for apart from you we can do nothing. Forgive us when we think we do the growing and you simply plant where we desire. Apart from you, we can do nothing - not the other way around.

So do something in our lives, in our annual conference, and in your Church. Plant within us your holy spirit, that we can bear much fruit for your kingdom. Bless us with your presence so that everything we do these coming days - whether worshiping, voting, laughing or crying - we can say we did them together in Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.