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Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Beatitudes (re-written)

I have been thinking a little about The Beatitudes, the sayings which Jesus uses to start his most inspirational, and controversial, sermon. They are more bonkers and more beautiful than I ever imagined. I don't think I really understand them at all. This is my attempt at an interpretation (not a translation!)

The Beatitudes

if you have nothing to give
if your soul is worn out, worn thin, worn down
by a life that just keeps throwing stuff at you and won’t let up.
If you are depressed and anxious, tired and fed up,
sustained by pills and bottles, envy, regret and trashy daytime TV.
If you have had enough of the way things are
and cannot summon up the strength to get out of bed
let alone go on

because this kingdom is custom made for you.

if you are sad today without knowing why.
If you are mourning, bereaved, or grieving 
the loss of friend, or lover or another unborn child.
If you carry the pain of miscarriage, of abortion, of betrayal, of loneliness
of friends who promised they would be there but are nowhere to be found.
If you stand and weep alongside those who weep
offering ears to listen not lips to talk
a cup of hot tea and biscuits not glib attempts at the answers  

because the king will wipe away your tears.

if you are at the bottom of the pile.
If you are oppressed and downtrodden, unliked and unnoticed,
if no one notices when you cry out in pain  
if the system is against you and your cause is crushed.
If you are powerless and helpless, held down by those too strong for you,
if politicians and the media conspire against you, forcing you further down
into poverty and disillusion

because, one day, the whole world will be yours.

if you are hungry for justice, starving for the answers,
longing for the trial that will put things right,
if no one believed you when you told them what he – she – they did.
If you ache for, thirst for, long for equality
and a world in which good beats evil, and right beats wrong
in which justice is not determined by the fatness of your wallet.
If you believe that it must be possible for it to be better than this
fairer than this,
if you hate the bitter taste of corruption that taints the news
and the pompous, prig smiles of those who think they’ve got away with it

because one day you will be satisfied.

if you forgive others
if you choose to exercise compassion again and again and again
if people think you’re stupid and a doormat, a pushover and a mug
because you keep showing grace, keep showing love, keep saying it’s alright
even when it hurts like hell and this isn’t the last time.
If you don’t hold people’s mistakes against them
if you hold lightly to each insult, each offence, each slight
thrown unwillingly, or on purpose
if you show mercy to all – those who deserve it and those who don’t

because the King will show mercy to you.

if your heart is pure, and your motives are right
if you avoid Facebook gossip and Instagram envy
if you don’t give in to peer pressure and dare to be different
defining yourself by who you truly are, not what others say
if you steer clear of what could degrade yourself
or others
if you set your mind on things above and not on earthly things
longing for what is noble, what is true, what is right, what is lovely
instead of what culture tells you is the lastest fad designed to satisfy your soul

for you will meet the King face to face.

if you hope for, long for, yearn for peace 
and vote for policies not personalities.
If you don’t stir up trouble in pursuit of a bit of drama
that might make your life more entertaining.
If you stand against war and bloodshed, bombs and weapons
loving your enemy rather than seeking to wipe them out
choosing the way of non-violence whatever the cost.
If you say sorry first and make amends
sacrificing the need to win for sake of peace.
If you reconcile, negotiate, communicate between foes
(even if it makes no difference)

for you are a child of the King.

when you are shouted at and talked down to
the object of scorn and sneers because of what you stand for
when you are belittled and made to feel stupid for daring to have faith
for daring to trust that there is a king, and he has a kingdom
that the kingdom is coming and is already here

because you belong in this kingdom
you belong to this king.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Bee

A few weeks ago, Sarah, my toddler, discovered a dying bee in our garden. The bee's wings had been damaged by the stormy rain of the previous night and so it had resigned itself to crawling across our patio. Sarah was fascinated. We sat together and watched the bee a while. I explained to her what it was and she - delighted with her recent ability to speak and thus to put names to things - happily repeated bee bee bee bee beeeeeee to herself over and over again.

I got bored before she did. 

Close-up of Bee on Purple FlowerThere were things to be done in the house so I headed back inside and insisted that she do the same. As our garden is almost entirely made of concrete, and steps, I don't tend to let Sarah play outside by herself, but I had forgotten to shut the back door and so - unbeknownst to me - she tottered back onto the patio. I returned to the dishes. A few minutes later, I heard bee bee bee bee beeeeeeee being joyfully squealed at the top of her little voice. I hurtled out towards the garden thinking only that Sarah's new bee obsession with going to end in anaphylactic shock. But she was sat perfectly still with the bee cupped in her hand. In fact, she was stroking its tiny, furry little back with her finger. I panicked, launched myself at her, and forced the poor, geriatric bee back onto the patio. Sarah looked up at in mild surprise and confusion and continued to say only bee bee bee bee beeeeeee.  

We sat together a little while longer then, and I tried to see what Sarah saw: not the network of anxious possibilities that adults tend to associate with almost everything, but a thing of wonder, a thing of beauty. This bee was quite the most wonderful thing she had ever encountered. With his battered wings as thin and fragile as perforated clingfilm, zigzagged with black stitches like the veins of a leaf; his strange, shiny, bulbous black eyes, knobbly knee caps and fluffy stripes - this bee was beautiful. This bee had made her day, and in doing so, he was making mine, simply by being himself. 

In The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr writes, "All things give glory to God just by being what they are." His words remind me of Irenaeus's much quoted phrase, "The glory of God is man fully alive." I am not quite sure what either of these men mean, but I think it is something to do with Sarah's bee. The bee - by being a bee - is a testament to the goodness and creative ingenuity of the Creator God. The bee is glorifying God by being itself, by doing the things a bee does. But, there is more. In the wide-eyed glee of being 18 months old, Sarah participates in that glory in a way that I have forgotten how to do. She is more fully alive than I. And not simply because she is younger, but because she has not learned yet how to shut her eyes to wonder. She has not learned yet how to ignore the astounding beauty of the world we live in - and all that lives within it - because other things seem more pressing and important.

In writing about how we reclaim the gift of wonder, Brennan Manning writes, "The spirituality of wonder knows the world is charged with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God's loving presence and power in our midst are even more real." I do know this. I know it in a theoretical way, but I am forgetful. I forget to see the charge of grace as is electrifies the flat white coffee to my left, and the intricate artistry of the man's tattoos who stands to my right; as it pulses through the smiles of the young couple opposite me, and laces its way through each creative detail of this place that makes it my favourite coffee shop in Liverpool.

Annie Dillard, again speaking from outside the Christian bubble, articulates this more clearly than I can: "We are here to witness creation and to abet it. We are here to notice each thing so that each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other...otherwise creation would be playing to an empty house." 

The house is not empty, but the residents are asleep. We walk through our days in dreary slumber with eyes half shut. We forget to stop and take notice. 

Wake up, sleeper, (Ephesians 5:14, Isaiah 60:1) and remember:

Earth's crammed with heaven, 
And every common bush afire with God, 
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries
And daub their natural faces unaware.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Aurora Leigh"

Monday, 17 July 2017

Wild God

I recently discovered Annie Dillard. She is an astonishing writer: beautiful, raw, powerful; sentences and images that lurk in your head for days. As far as I'm aware, she doesn't believe in Jesus, but she does write some pretty astute commentary on the Christian faith. In one of her non-fiction pieces she concludes that the church doesn't seem to have the "foggiest idea" about the One that they claim to worship. I think this is -sadly - probably true. And I say that as much to critique myself as anyone else. She writes: "It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake some day and take offense or the waking God may draw us out to whence we can never return." (The Abundance, p.257)

I don't think Dillard means that we need protection from an angry, lightning-bolt wielding God who might zap us unsuspectingly at any given moment; I think she has simply observed the gap between the the way that God is revealed in the bible - and for her in the wildness of nature - and the way that we tend to bind Him into little churchy boxes that we'd rather not scrutinise too closely, thank you very much. We have sanitised God. We have tamed his wildness to make him more comfortable.* 

But, in doing so, I fear we have made him rather boring.

A few years ago, one of the young people I was mentoring had a lot of questions about faith. As I tried to give her some answers I realised she thought Jesus was boring. And I realised that part of that was probably my fault. We, the church, are notoriously good at misrepresenting Jesus, at taking away his wild beauty, his abounding love and faithfulness, his humour, his bluntness, his fierce concern for social justice. And stripped of all that, we end up with, at best, a rather limp Messiah. At worst, a Messiah who is judgmental, hypocritical and unloving.

This morning, I listened to a sermon where the preacher spoke about the call on the lives of those following Jesus to carry his name, to represent his identity to the world around them. The sermon was based on the part of the Old Testament where God reveals his goodness to Moses by declaring his name, by telling him who he is and what he's like: 

"Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5-7) 

The responsibility of those following God then becomes to correctly represent his character to the communities of which they are part; to show the world what God is like. Thus, the sermon suggested, the importance of the fourth commandment: "Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God," or "Do not take the LORD's name in vain." Not simply avoid cussing or using God's name as a swear word, but don't take God's name upon yourself, don't be known as his follower, if you're going to do a rubbish job of representing who He is. This was Israel's major failing in the Old Testament, and the reason God gives for their exile from the land: instead of showing the surrounding nations how good the name of God was, the people profaned the name of God; they misrepresented him. (Ezekiel 36:20-21) Perhaps this is what Dillard means when she suggests that God will take "offense." God is offended that the behaviour of those who believe in him causes others to believe things about him that aren't true. 

Correctly representing God remains the call of Jesus' followers today, and I worry that we're not doing a very good job. I certainly don't always do a very good job. If to follow God, and represent him, is to display the hallmarks of his name and identity, then I need to ask myself if I am like him, if others around me would see in me what He is like: one who is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, boundlessly forgiving yet passionately concerned for justice. One who takes risks, who is brave, and honest, who thirsts for adventure, who longs to change the world and is dissatisfied by the status quo. Sometimes. Yes. Perhaps. I certainly pray that this is what people see in me. But sometimes, definitely not. I am not slow to anger. My love is limited - often after just an hour spent with a toddler in the morning. I hold grudges rather than freely forgiving. I resist taking a risk for the sake of someone else if it's too costly for me.

But Jesus trusts in his followers to represent him. He left us the task of showing the world what He is like. And he left his own Spirit within us to transform us into a clearer image of himself (2 Corinthians 3:18) 

And He is wild. Not boring.

* I find it almost impossible to think of the wildness of God without picturing C.S. Lewis' Aslan and remembering that he not a tame lion: "Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.” (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe)

Monday, 6 February 2017


The bible is full of the command to celebrate, to praise, to recount and remember all that God has done. I am not very good at this. And more often than not God’s instructions to give joyful thanks feel pretty burdensome, and obligatory. Thanksgiving becomes at best a habit, and at worse a chore. But, God does not desire thanksgiving from His people to booster his ego; thanksgiving is not just another rule to be followed: the art of thanksgiving is His remedy to us. Gratitude is his gift to remedy our natural instinct to complain, to begrudge circumstances, to stare longingly at the grass that we think is greener.

In recent days (and probably weeks) I have felt myself become a bit of a moaner. There is certainly quite a lot to moan about in the world of global politics, and whilst God calls us to lament what is unjust and painful in our broken world and stand alongside those who are wounded by decisions made by the powers that be, moaning is not the same thing. There is a beautiful kind of discontent with the world as is that inspires us to change it; there is an ugly discontent that traps us in own our selfishness. The discontent that resents others’ success and achievements, that criticises but refuses to acknowledge any good, that delights in complaining for the sake of it. It is this discontent that God would save us from.

In the story of Israel, God knows what His people are like. He knows that they will be quick to forget what is good, and what they have got, and even quicker to start complaining. In the account of the Exodus he introduces the Israelites to the ritual of Passover, and calls it a “lasting ordinance.” (Exodus 12:14)  This special meal is not to be just a one off affair but a yearly practice, a way of remembering their incredible rescue from Egypt and God’s goodness towards them. Each year, they are to tell the story. They are to practice remembering; it is remembrance that leads them to thanksgiving: to realising once more the goodness of the God who has redeemed them from slavery.

After their miraculous escape from tyranny and oppression, the Israelites last only three days before the grumbling starts. (Exodus 15:22-27) In the same chapter that recounts the joyful celebrations of God’s rescued people, we get the first incidence of complaint. Israel have a serious short term memory problem. They have just witnessed first-hand the saving power of the God who loves them, but they are already starting to forget what this God is like. They are already starting to forget that he is a provider and a rescuer. They are already starting to doubt his character.

This is the story of the Old Testament. It is the story of the people who God loves and their failure to remember what He is like. Time and time again, God intervenes into the lives of His people. He rescues them and delivers them, he cares for them and provides for them, but time and time again, they forget. In Jeremiah God concludes simply that His people have “forgotten him.” (Jeremiah 2:32) They have made their contentment dependant on circumstances, not on their relationship with the One who loves them.

We live in a culture that specialises in discontentment. Advertising is a successful business because it taps deep down into the desire that we have for more than what we have: a different job, hairstyle, holiday destination, Facebook profile picture, circle of friends, set of achievements, piece of technology. We are masters of dissatisfaction. And thanksgiving is our God-given antidote. When John the Baptist breaks onto the pages of history announcing the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom, he reminds people what life lived with God looks like. He is, in a way, jogging their memories, dusting off the long-lost dreams of a society that is satisfied with life as is because that life is lived with God. “Be content,” he says. Be content with your pay, and your possessions, with what you have. (Luke 3:10-14)

In today’s world, this is radical, counter-cultural advice. And it is the advice that my soul needs this morning. It is the advice that would rescue me from moaning. Today, we are called to recount and remember the goodness of God, to tell one another stories of what God has done, to be actively thankful for all that we have. As my daughter grows up into a world that loves to complain, I long to teach her to be a child who is content. A child who knows how to be thankful, how to rejoice, how to share stories full of gladness and goodness and wonder. And if she is to learn that, then I had better start doing it as well. So, come on Soul, forget not his benefits.  (Psalm 103:2)

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Becoming Bread

I love this expression. It is a turn of phrase used by Jean Vanier to help explain our role in nourishing of others: “We become bread for each other because God became bread for us.”

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the dangers of too much time and space is pre-occupation. I do not think I am alone in being susceptible to this. It is the disease of the wealthy, western world where we can - all too often - use our time and space to indulge ourselves, and our anxieties. In his novel, The Year of the Runaways, one of Sahota's protagonists, Avtar, reflects on the tendancy of the rich to over-think. He is an illegal immigrant from India living day to day in fear of police raids, hunger and the loan sharks who threaten his family back home, and he is exasperated with a wealthy British Indian professor who offers to help him, but seems to spend most of his time bemoaning his existence: "[Avtar] gave in to his anger. What decadence this belonging rubbish was, what time the rich must have if they could sit around and weave great worries out of such threadbare things."

He is right. We worry about everything. And nothing. Tiny, little issues gnaw away at us. We over-reflect. Over-analyse. Replay conversations. Reconstruct past events and wonder - painfully - what we should have, could have done or said differently. I realise that I am particularly prone to such behaviour. I am a chronic over-thinker. But I am not the only one (I hope)

What I love about Vanier's writing is that he does not deny the need for us to deal with our own issues: we need to face our anxieties and our fears. We need to examine our hearts and minds. We need to think. And the need to 'belong' is certainly not rubbish. It is at the core of our being in a way that cannot be ignored. But we can obsess, and wallow, over such things to the detriment of our ourselves and others. We can spent too long lamenting what we do not have instead of appreciating what we do. And sometimes it is only by being with one another that we can start to make sense of ourselves. We make more sense in community. More than that: we make more sense when we are giving of ourselves to others. This, I think, is the essence of what Jesus means when he says, it is better to give than to receive. He is not just talking about material possessions - although he does have a point there - he is talking about what we do with our time and energy, our encouragements and thought processes. It is in the giving away of ourselves that we flourish; it is in the giving away of ourselves that we draw closer to God as we see the face of Christ one another. (Matthew 25:45)

An unnamed co-worker of Mother Teresa in a book of her meditations puts this rather more bluntly: "Lord, I have found you in the terrible magnitude of the suffering of others. I have seen you in the sublime acceptance and unaccountable joy of those whose lives are racked with pain and I have heard your voice in the words of those whose personal agony mysteriously increases their selfless concern for other people. But in my own niggling aches and petty sorrows I have failed to find you. I have lost the drama of your great redemptive passion, in my own mundane weariness and the joyful life of Easter is submerged in the drabness of self-preoccupation."

Ouch. This is a little damning. But it is also a little too close to home. Niggling aches. Petty sorrows. Selfishness. Pre-occupation. I am not disputing that there are times when it is necessary for us to pay close attention to how we feel and think. I am also not disputing that anxiety and depression are very real things that need to be understood more than they are, and responded to with more compassion than they are. But - and this is perhaps a but for me more than anyone else - we can miss out of some of the glorious goodness of God and his purposes for us, if we do not turn away from ourselves and towards one another. We see God, and ourselves, more clearly when we are in the business of nourishing others. As we nourish, we too are nourished, and we enable others to become nourishment.

We do not do this, and cannot do this, without God. At least not in a sustainable way. When Jesus feeds the five thousand - when he provides nourishment for those in need of it - he does four things. He takes the bread, he blesses the bread, he breaks the bread and he gives the bread away. (Matthew 14:19) So too with us. God takes us. In all our brokenness and beauty, our mistakes and excuses, our shortcomings and successes. We give ourselves to Him and he blesses us. He fills us with Himself (Colossians 2:9-10). We are equipped and enabled by His Spirit. And then we are broken. Not as we once were by our own doing, but broken by him, broken out of our selfishness and pride, our selfcentredness and isolation, broken that we might be given away. Our lives become sacrament. We become bread.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Growth without fear

It is dangerous for me to spend too much time on my own. One of the side-effects of time to think has been an unhealthy preoccupation with all the things I don’t like about myself, all the areas in which I long to change and be different. I don’t think it is wrong to desire transformation. Following Jesus kind of requires it. And God does want us to be different: to move towards the best version of ourselves, the self that we were created to be, a self that is un-marred by sin and shame. And He will do what is necessary to get us there. He is in the business of making new: of renewing and reviving, reshaping and perfecting. Thus the old adage is true: God loves us just as we are but he also loves us so much that he doesn’t want us to stay that way.

I feel like the past few weeks have been a rediscovery for me of the first half of this statement. I have a tendency to be too hard on myself. A desire for self-improvement, for purpose, to achieve something meaningful with the life that I have been given. I am frustrated when I do, say, think things that are unnecessary, that feel like they should be incompatible with following Jesus, and the transforming work of His Spirit at work within me to re-make me into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3:10) This frustration often leads to a place of something quite close to self-loathing. Quickly followed by the resolution to try harder. Get up earlier. Pray longer. Be better.

God wants me to grow. This is true. He longs for me to be freed up from the residual sins that cling (Hebrews 12:1) and the remnants of the old self that refuse to shift; and it is true that I have a role to play in actively resisting temptation (1 Peter 5:9), in putting off the old self (Colossians 3:5, 8, 9) and choosing to replace old habits and practices with a new way of life that is in keeping with following Christ (Colossians 3:12-14) but – and it is this but that has been troubling me – it is also true that God loves me now in my all my unfinished, unperfected-ness. He loves me now, this moment. Understanding that fact is prerequisite to my growth. I cannot grow if I do not know that I am loved.

I know this in relation to others. I know, for example, that my daughter, Sarah, needs certain things if she is to grow. Just as a seed needs the right environment if it is to grow, so Sarah needs her environment to be a certain way if she is to flourish into the beautiful human being she was made to be. She needs to know that she is loved. She needs to know that she is secure. She needs to be free to make mistakes, to be allowed to fail and encouraged to get up again. As I prayed yesterday, God showed me a picture of a child struggling to do a new skill. Time and time again the child tried and failed to do what it wanted to do but the child was able to repeatedly make the same mistake because it was safe within a culture of love. When Sarah is at her happiest (a rare moment when she has had just the right amount of sleep, food, stimulation) she is secure enough to risk failure. When she isn’t, she has a strop. She, like me, has a little mini meltdown when she is frustrated by her inability to do something. But when I watch her make a mistake, my reaction is never to condemn. I do not join her in the 9 month old equivalent of self-flagellation (rolling on the floor, tiny fists clenched up in frustration, hot angry tears); I help her up, wrap my arms around her and tell her, gently, to try again. 

God is more like this than I think. The analogy isn’t a perfect one: longing to stop sinning isn’t the same as longing to crawl; frustration with myself for thinking something utterly horrid about Hamish when he really annoys me isn’t the same as Sarah’s frustration when her limbs won’t do what she wants them to. But there is some gleam of truth here about the way in which God would have us grow, the way in which he responds to us when we mess up in our feeble attempts to change. He wants us to grow in a context of love and acceptance, safe in the knowledge that we are known and loved and forgiven, rather than striving to be any of those things.

In speaking about the culture of growth necessary if a community is to flourish, Jean Vanier speaks first about the way in which we treat ourselves, the necessity of being kind to ourselves, of being realistic about our weaknesses but not so hung up on them that we become stagnant:

“It is a long haul to transform our emotional make-up…we have to be patient with our feelings and fears; we have to be merciful to ourselves…we must start simply by recognising our own blocks, jealousies, ways of comparing ourselves to others, prejudices and hatreds. We have to recognise that we are poor creatures, that we are what we are…we shouldn’t get worried about our bad feelings. Still less should we feel guilty. We should ask God for forgiveness, like little children and keep on walking. We shouldn’t get discouraged if the road is long. One of the roles of community life is precisely to keep us walking in hope, to help us accept ourselves as we are and others as they are…the hope of community is founded on the acceptance and love of ourselves and others as we really are, and on the patience and trust which are essential to growth.”
(Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, pp.38-40)

God is more patient with me than I am. He is more merciful towards me than I am towards myself. Understanding this is the starting point for growth. God’s longing for me to flourish is deeper and stronger than my own longing. He is determined. But He will do it in his way, in his timing, and under his conditions; and his condition is that, first and foremost, I know that I am loved. Then, and only then, is true growth possible.

Image result for seedling

Monday, 17 October 2016

1 John 3:10

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not God's child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

We make our parentage known by our behaviour. In Greek, righteousness and justice are synonymous, and God defines them both. God is the one who determines what is right and what is just. This is a little tricky to live with. Adam and Eve certainly didn't like it; they wanted to be like God is his ability to determine what is good and what is evil, but God only ever intended them to be like him in his ability to love.

I evaluate everything. I am on an endless quest to determine what is and isn't meaningful, what is and isn't good. I can't help myself. Green is better than blue. Cherries and berries squash is better than summer fruits. Lazy Sunday is the superior coffee. This profession is more meaningful than that one. His attitude towards money is more or less greedy than mine. Her thighs are skinnier than mine so maybe I won't talk to her. Talking to him makes me feel insecure because I haven't achieved as much with my thirty years so I will avoid him. And unending contruction of hierarchies; an unceasing game of judgement.

But I am not the judge.

What is right is determined by God, not me. And what God determines to be right is love. Doing what is right is equated with loving one another. What God most approves of, and thus what most identifies us as belonging to him, is our capacity to love. Not just any love either: agape love. Unconditional. Unjudging. Unevaluating. The ability to love one another not based on whether or not someone can give something back. Love without expectation or exchange. Love that encompasses even our enemies. Love that looks like calvary. Love that makes no sense whatsoever without first encountering that kind of love for ourselves.

"Jesus calls his followers to love, to love one another as he loves them; not just to love others as one loves oneself. He proposes something new: to love others with the very love of God; to see them with the eyes of the Lord. And we can only see and love them like that if we ourselves have experienced Jesus loving us with a liberating love." 

(Jean Vanier, Community and Growth)