The Finest Thing I’ve Ever Known

I am really easily bored.

I hate reading what I’ve read 1,000 times before.

Why is all Christian writing the same?  Why does everybody always think that their interpretation is the most profound? Why can’t people be real? I always feel like I’m reading from the same old script with the same old rehashed lessons. The same trite life advice and cheesy prosperity stories.

And I’m tired of listening. I want to see. Because if people were authentically living the gospel instead of telling me to live it then the world would look different.

Authentic Christianity doesn’t need more pulpits. It needs more disciples, more laborers- to borrow a phrase from Christ Himself.

And even though the word laborers conjures up a sneer in our society or maybe even overtones of a mindless slavery (or even a foolhardy waste of freedom made only by the exceedingly ignorant) I choose it. And I pray for the grace to continuously choose it every moment of my life, both temporal and eternal. Let me be the happiest of fools. Because pride is blinding. It keeps you from seeing that to be the servant of God is to serve love itself. And I don’t think that Christian love begins with service (gasp!) I know all the works gospels and modern ideas of social responsibility, but that is not where love begins.

Love begins from the source of love: God. And Christianity begins as a true response to the love God first shows for you. Yes, I’m implying that true Christian service begins by letting Christ serve you. By saying yes to His love and letting Him get close to you and heal you of your sin, all your hurts and broken pieces. That’s what consoles His heart. This is how He loves not just you, but each person you’ve ever encountered. And imagine if we joined Him in that, in loving like that. We can’t do it on our own. We’re too selfish, too flawed. Too human.

But if we let God love us, suddenly we are free of that selfishness (granted over time) and ultimately redeemed from our own humanity that keeps us in bondage to our lower, less noble nature. Yet I find that the more of this freedom I experience the more I want to love God back, to share in this love and to serve like He does.

Because this is the essence of love. Real love. A mutual, self-giving service. And it’s the finest thing I’ve ever known.

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The Bicycle

So a few days back I was talking with my cousin and somehow the topic of heaven came up. I told him that I want to see what the Saints see when they die: I want the Beatific Vision, which, just to put us all on the same page, is the direct communication of God to the individual person (ie heaven in full). My cousin responded, “ooohhhh no I could never be a saint.” I insisted “anyone can be a saint!” All it takes is the will to be open to Gods love. He countered with, “oohhhhhh no I’ve done too much.” And he said it with such certainty that it made me kind of sad. Because so have I.

It’s true.  Everyone assumes that because I’m nice and usually cracking jokes and currently practicing a child-like dependence on God as a way to live out my Catholic faith that I’m somehow immune to struggle. That I’ve never tangoed with the temptations of the world. Most of all that I was simply born this way, the happy Catholic with a nice family whose goodness doesn’t count somehow because it’s easy for me.

Ha!

These are all lies. Lies that surround a lot of Christians trying to live their faith. Because when you put a genuine faith in God into practice you will bear fruit. God’s love will transform you into the beautiful new creation you were always meant to be. But this process is far from easy.

And the idea that Christianity is something reserved exclusively for “the good” is an extremely dangerous one that echoes the Jansenist heresy (the heresy that claims you have to be perfect for God to love you).

Because the truth is God loves my cousin (let’s call him Tom for the purposes of this post) and I just know that nothing would make God happier than sharing Himself with Tom, after all He’s Tom’s Father. And think about it from a parent’s perspective- is there anything your child can do that would really cause you to stop loving them?

But back to the issue at hand, Tom has realized that he is not worthy of God because of his sins. And Tom might mistakenly think that I somehow am, because I’m religious and all that. But I know my sins better than Tom and trust me I’m not worthy of God either, and certainly not the Beatific Vision I want in heaven. So why is Tom certain he won’t see it while I’m certain that I will?

To explain, I have to tell a story that involves a bicycle (if you were wondering where this post got its title). When I was a little girl I used to like to bike at warp speed down this huge hill into the cul de sac by my house. One day I turned too sharply into the cul de sac and completely bikewiped out. The bike fell on top of my fifty-pound body (I was a super scrawny kid until the delights of puberty) and I had scrapes all over, especially my knees and elbows. Pretty sure my helmet was askew too.
And I started to cry like little children do, not just from the pain but from the shock of the crash and having no idea what to do next. Fortunately, a kindly neighbor came out, picked up the bike, put me back on my feet, and escorted both myself and the bicycle back to my house where my dad was waiting. I thought he’d be mad, but instead he was compassionate, bandaged me up, and told me I’d get ’em next time.

I think the love of God goes a lot like that. We’re riding along and everything is smooth sailing and suddenly we fall into sin and were lost. I think he’s more than happy to send the right people to come help us, and ready to heal us Himself, if we would only just trust Him enough to let Him do it, to let Him close to us, even though we’re all dirty and scraped up. He’s the last to judge. He doesn’t want anything from us, no expectations or wishing we were just better like our other brothers and sisters. He just wants to love us. Each of us. He is love itself, to the point where He is so selfless that His happiness doesn’t have any self-interest in it, His only desire is to love us and see us completed and totally healed by that love. That’s what satisfies His heart.

And I try to love God, myself, and others not from some twisted, social obligation that comes from our relativistic society right after a recommendation that we buy Nike running wear and eat a holistic diet, but because I want to see the Beatific Vision when I die. And the more I practice living in love, the more I see it now, while here on earth. And my response to that love is why I come off to my cousin the way that I do.

And even though he doubts I know I’ll see Tom in heaven, especially now that he knows my secret. That I don’t deserve the Beatific Vision or any praise at all for anything, but I will accept heaven as a gift from my Father because He is generous and He loves me so much. And by being in His presence, both in my life on earth and long after my earthly death, I hope I learn to love Him too. And I hope the same for my cousin.

And in fact, I hope the same for you, whoever you are.

The Pitt 

So today I was faced with an interesting choice. Now that I’m much better at navigating Pittsburgh via public transit I know that from the stop near my office there are two bus routes that take about the same time to get back into the city. The first goes through a fairly poor rundown area before hitting the downtown. The second goes through the prestigious University of Pittsburgh. And the campus is impressively beautiful.

Guess which place my preppy white girl outward appearance fits in better?

I know the anticipation is killing you, but it was the second one. And that makes me kind of sad. Because while I’ve taken both ways, the first time I took the first way I was taken aback. Because suddenly I was launched into a world that was primarily African American and included many people with disabilities, the elderly, and had a strong presence of single mothers. One in particular who had a broken foot and was carting around her work bags and her kid on this broken foot of hers still haunts me. Because that would be damn hard. I don’t even know if I could do it. And while I hate the notion that just because I grew up with a nice, middle-class family I don’t know what suffering is (I know well enough, believe me), it would be hard to bear that particular cross. And I’m grateful that I had a really supportive family to go through it with me, because that lady was all alone with her child.

But fortunately since this is Pittsburgh, there is something sort of genuine about the people here, what you see is what you get. There’s this like prevailing blue-collar honesty, a sweet simplicity that’s hard to describe. Just know that it is the opposite of superficiality. And the people had a little community. A lot of them knew each other. And what could have been a really depressing scene (one that my more elitist but sometimes well-meaning professors and teachers would teach me to automatically pity if not outright condescend) was turned into something almost sweet. Because there’s nothing like being cared about, knowing that people have your back through thick and thin, not because of what you do for them, but because you are friends and neighbors. That is the power of Pittsburgh. And I’m sad that, being raised up and down the east coast, that I haven’t experienced anything like it in other places.

Because other places have turned their back on it as something outdated in this dog-eat-dog world where you are number one and everyone else is number two (extend the number two metaphor as far as you want). And that’s too bad. Because now there is an absence of this type of community, an absence that the world is in mourning for, whether they admit it or not.

Because the truth is the best things in life aren’t things. What makes the experience worthwhile isn’t “finding yourself” or accumulating lots of material goods or even being the best. It’s serving your neighbor. And in a community like the ones I’ve described in Pittsburgh, you get the joy not only of serving your neighbor but in having your neighbor serve you too. I’m glad they keep that tradition alive. And I’d love to see it come back to life around the world.