Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship as action

Thursday January 24 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship as action

The story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) has profound implications for friendship. (Last week I described the significance of Jesus’ question to the Pharisee about being a neighbor.)

The challenge in friendship isn’t to figure out who is a friend. The challenge is to grow in ability to act like a friend. The actions that nurture friendships are intentional practices. These intentional acts of being a friend are rooted in the understanding that human friendship is an invitation to participate in the love that the three persons of the Trinity have for each other and the love that the triune God has for us. That love is most visible in Jesus Christ, who lived and died for us, and was raised from the dead to undo the forces of hate and evil in the world. That love is made real in our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit.

When we read the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, those characteristics don’t come out of a vacuum. They come from God, are best exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ and are made real through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Scholars often point out that, in some ways 1 Corinthians 13 is a commentary on the life of Jesus. He alone is the one who defines love as this sort of love: patient, kind, rejoicing in the truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things. In Jesus, love never fails or ends. The four Gospels are full of stories that demonstrate the kind of love that reaches beyond itself and enters into another person’s world. To give just a few examples, Jesus touched a leper, talked with a Samaritan woman at length and set a crippled woman free from bondage (see Mark 1:41; John 4; Luke 13:10-17). All these actions required the ability to empathize with and enter into the other person’s emotions and situation.

Not only does Jesus exemplify this kind of love, he also enables us to love like this as we are remade in his image. Our ability to put on this kind of love, to clothe ourselves with it, comes first from clothing ourselves in Christ (see Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Being clothed with Christ, putting on Christ, is a powerful metaphor for salvation, and clothing ourselves with Christ will enable us to grow in loving like he loves.

Jesus is our friend as the Savior of the world. Jesus is our friend as the one who lays down his life for his friends. Jesus invites us to follow him, to be the kind of friends who stick around when times are tough for others, to be the kind of friends who give and care and reach beyond ourselves. The depth of friendship we are offered in Jesus can be a foundation for friendship with the people we love.

The apostle Paul wrote, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12, 14). We’ll be able to put on that clothing most easily when we know deeply and profoundly that we’re chosen and beloved by God.

Love is the belt buckle that holds on the new clothing that Paul describes in Colossians 3. The characteristics of the new clothing—compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience—aren’t utilitarian. They aren’t primarily a means to an end, although they do result in very good things. Instead they are rooted and established in love, the love that flows from God. They are a reflection of a deep and profound reality: the love of God for the creatures he made and holds in his hands.

Note the circle this creates. Paul calls us to compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, which are all bound up in love, which we learn from 1 Corinthian 13 is itself patient, kind and so on. We are clothed in loving patience when we are patient in our loving; we are clothed in loving kindness when we are kind in our loving. We become what we clothe ourselves in, and we clothe ourselves in our habits.

Let me say my main point again: The challenge in friendship isn’t to figure out who is a friend. The challenge is to grow in the ability to act like a friend.

This series on friendship in a cellphone world was excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. The second half of the book describes the skills that help us act like a friend. Whether you read my whole book or not, I invite you to ponder the ways God is calling you to grow in actions that nurture friendship. (I am offering copies of the book at a discount price. It works well for small groups because it has discussion questions at the end. Contact me at LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’re interested.)

(Next week: some hymns that mention God or Jesus as our friend. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This is the 11th post in a series. The previous posts are:

Nuturing friendships in a cellphone world                
Strong opinions and responses                 
My conversation partners about friendship          
Two views about commmunication technologies            
Changing defintions of friendship                 
Confidence about friendship                
Friendship with God                  
Jesus as friend                      
Friendship with Christ and friendship with others
Who is my neighbor?                         

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship with Christ and friendship with others

Friday January 11 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship with Christ and friendship with others

What difference does it make for human friendships that we are invited to be friends with Christ? (I wrote last week about Jesus’ invitation to us to be his friends.)

First and foremost, if our human friendships mirror the intimacy between the three persons of the Trinity, as well as reflecting the friendship between Jesus and humans, then we aren’t inventing friendship. Instead we are entering into something that is already happening and something that was patterned into us at creation because of the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Yes, the world is broken. Yes, the image of God in human beings is blurred by sin. But even though those things are true, as we grow in maturity as human beings, we grow in our ability to love and care for others. We were made for relationships; being relational was etched into us when we were made.

Second, we can expect that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ will help us grow in our ability to nurture human friendships. God’s business is relationships. Love is the hallmark of God’s personality and priorities. As we draw near to that God, the Holy Spirit will help us to grow in love, which will spill over to all our relationships.

We don’t have to strain to have human friendships. God will help us forgive, share, reach out and show compassion and kindness. We can draw near to God and expect that, over time, our ability to live in communal love with others will grow because of God’s Spirit at work within us.

The relationality of the Trinity isn’t just something we are called upon to emulate; instead, it is actually something we are gathered into. Like the shepherd gathering the lost sheep, Jesus comes to find us, comes looking for us so that he might gather us into the embrace of the divine love. When we love others, we are resting in the embrace of that love. We don’t have to generate the love. It is already there.

When we grow in friendship with Christ, when we allow ourselves to be Jesus’ friends and allow ourselves to receive his love, we will find it easier to pass that love on to others. We love because God first loved us (see 1 John 4:19).

So many conflicts between friends grow out of insecurity and pride. The more we know deep inside that we are loved, the more we rest in the embrace of the God who loves us, the more secure we will feel and the less we will need to bolster our pride. As we receive love from God, we will feel increasingly peaceful and harmonious internally, and that peace and harmony will spill over into relationships with others.

(Next week: Who is my Neighbor? Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

I am still trying to promote my latest book, Nurturing Hope: Christians Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century. Here's a review on amazon.com that really gets what I was trying to do in the book. The author of the review, Darren Cronshaw, has written a wonderful book about the missional church, Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians, and he really understands the links between pastoral care and mission. If you know anyone involved in either mission or pastoral care (or the overlap between the two), please let them know about my book.

Praise to the Trinity in four movements

Thursday May 26 2016

Praise to the Trinity in four movements

Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday. Here are my words of praise as I reflect back on my life.

1. Late elementary school. My parents take me to church every Sunday but we never, never talk about God at home. Prayers and hymns at church leave me with the idea that God is a bit mysterious in his holiness, and that humans can rest in this mystery and enjoy God’s otherness. The notion of the Trinity enhances this sense of mystery. I love the analogies of water in three forms (steam, liquid and ice) and the three leaves of one shamrock. How can we understand this three-in-one? Why would we want to? Our job is to enjoy God. My childhood heart is lifted up because of this great mystery.

2. My thirties. I am a student at Fuller Theological Seminary, and my favorite professor is Ray Anderson. In his theology classes, he often talks about the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. Jesus, he says, is eternally submissive to his Father, obeying his Father and giving him glory. After the Incarnation, he says, the Holy Spirit is permanently stamped with the personality of Jesus. To experience the Holy Spirit is to experience Jesus. We are invited to obey the Father, like Jesus did and does. We are invited to serve and love in the world like Jesus did and does, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to join with each member of the Trinity, giving praise and glory to the other members of the Trinity. My heart is filled with wonder because I am invited to join into something so huge and beautiful.

3. My forties. I write several books about congregational issues, and my publisher, The Alban Institute, markets to Unitarian as well as Christian congregations. So, along with my interviews in Christian churches, I also interview numerous Unitarians and visit several Unitarian Universalist congregations. The Unitarians I meet are lovely people: good hearted, caring, deep thinkers. Along with my interview questions about how their congregations work, I ask questions about their spirituality. Later I reflect on the differences between what they say as Unitarians and what I believe as a Trinitarian Christian, and I come to the conclusion the difference is the location and personality of the holy/sacred. Christians believe that the holy/sacred has come to earth from heaven in a person, Jesus Christ, and that through the sending of the Holy Spirit, God remains present with humans. God is here in the Holy Spirit, stamped eternally with the personality of Jesus Christ. God is also in heaven. My heart sings with joy at the generosity of a God who would be so close to us and yet also transcendent, holy and exalted.

4. My fifties. I am hired as a lecturer in pastoral theology in a department with two systematic theologians who have a lot to say about the Trinity. I listen to them, and the graduate students they supervise, as they present seminars and public lectures. The theologians and students emphasize the communal nature of the Trinity, that we are called into relationship with a relational Trinity, who then empowers us to be in human community. I am invited to write a chapter for a book on online community, so I read Being as Communion by the great Eastern Orthodox theologian, John Zizioulas, who argues that to be human is to be in relationship because of the nature of the God in whose image we are created. I am stretched by this call to love, and my heart rejoices at the beauty of this communal God, whose three-in-oneness has illuminated my life ever since childhood.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
(Reginald Heber, 1783–1826)

(Here's an earlier post on the Celtic Christian perspective on the Trinity with some beautiful Celtic Trinity prayers. Next week I will begin a series on worshipping God as Creator of a beautiful world. If you'd like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

Celtic Christianity: The Trinity

Saturday May 9 2015

Celtic Christianity: The Trinity

Deeply ingrained in the heart and soul of Celtic Christian spirituality is the mystery of one God in three persons, a truth that is taught clearly in the Bible, even though the word Trinity is not found in Scripture. Three in one; one in three. Esther de Waal writes:

Here is a profound experience of God from a people who are deeply Trinitarian without any philosophical struggle about how that is to be expressed intellectually. Perhaps the legend of St. Patrick stooping down to pick up the shamrock in order to explain the Trinity is after all more significant than we might have thought. It is as though he were saying to those early Irish people: Your God is a God who is Three-in-One and this is most natural and immediately accessible thing in the world. [1]

The image of three in one is found frequently in Celtic art and poetry. Analogies from nature and daily life permeate the Celtic poems about the Trinity:

     Three folds of the cloth, yet only one napkin is there,
     Three joints of the finger, but still only one finger fair,
     Three leaves of the shamrock, yet no more than one shamrock to wear,
     Frost, snow-flakes and ice, all water their origin share,
     Three Persons in God; to one God alone we make prayer. [2]

Sometimes Celtic poems go on at length about the Holy Three, but some are brief and vivid, like this one:

     O Father who sought me
     O Son who bought me
     O Holy Spirit who taught me. [3]

I wonder if enthusiasm for the Trinity has fallen into disfavor because our generation has such a nigh need to be able to explain and understand everything in a rational way. I can remember as a child being very enthusiastic about the Trinity. In my simple childhood faith, I enjoyed the riddle of one being three and three being one. The Celts’ enthusiasm for this great mystery has rekindled in me a joy and wonder at the great truth that we simply cannot understand everything about God, and we don’t need to.

A personal story about the way Celtic Christianity helped one person: Integration of so many things

By Sandra, age 30

My background was Roman Catholic and Assembly of God, and I didn’t know how to marry them. I would go into Bible studies in my Assembly of God church and say, “We should take care of the environment,” and no one would respond. On every subject, I got a lot of answers, but no questions, no mystery. Among Catholics, I would talk about the importance of an active faith that relies on the Holy Spirit, and no one could relate. In both settings, I saw in church life a dichotomy between the physical world and the spiritual world. The Celtic Christians just did not see that split. I found in Celtic Christianity an integration of so many things: care for creation, reliance on the Holy Spirit, the presence of God in everyday life, God being present and real and yet also full of mystery. I get so frustrated that we have lost so much of the unique and balanced Celtic world view.

(This post is excerpted from A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife by Lynne M. Baab. Copyright © Lynne M. Baab. If you’d like to receive an email whenever I post on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under “subscribe.”)

Other posts on Celtic Christianity:

[1] Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 38, 39.
[2] Eleanor Hull, The Poem Book of the Gael, quoted in de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer, 39-40.
[3] Douglas Hyde, Religious Songs of Connacht, Volume II (London: Dublin, 1906, reprint Irish University Press, 1972), 39.