Love. That is Life. Love.

Crown Heart World — Introduction

Why Is She Crying?

Driving out of the Chinese village in a crowded taxi, an uninvited news reporter turned sideways to ask me why my daughter was crying. I told her that my daughter cried when we came to China because it was so far away from the people and places she loved. Now she cried as we drove past noodle stands, water buffalo and people. She cried because she knew that love is meant to last. She cried because love suffers when it is interrupted.

For all that the little girl disliked about the cinder block house that failed to keep out spiders and rats and uninvited neighbors, she grieved the losses. The creek that was so magical that buoyant plastics, and an occasional bloated goat corpse floating by, were not enough to tarnish times with Dan-Dan, Shao Fei and Xiao Xiong along its bank. But now it was lost.

French Fries and Jia Chang Rou Pian in the courtyard across from the rooster fights were also lost. So many invasions of love and life and meaning, though tangled with the creeping things and sometimes creepy visitors, were all tragically lost that day. Love is what matters in life. The loss of love makes us grieve. That is why she cried.

“Here is the world.

Beautiful and terrible things will happen.

Don’t be afraid.”

Frederick Buechner

Why? How? What?

That is how I tell the story to myself now. I am sure I was just abrupt with the lady asking the question at the time. Love is what matters but it is really hard to keep that in mind. It is a challenge we all face.

I know I struggle to fully celebrate the beauty of life and love in a world where loss is common. In my first half century I learned that I am not alone in this. Everyone struggles with the good we find as well as the bad of loss and ruin. Most of us have times of concentrated pursuits toward finding a way of untangling all the feelings, ideas and experiences related life’s finding and losing. What we are trying to do is to understand why life is so beautiful and terrible.

We want to know the “why” behind life so that maybe we could figure out the how of living life. There are so many questions.

· How should I live my days in such a world?

· What mindset should I develop?

· Should it be hopeful or cynical?

· Should I double down on the ways of coping I grew up with?

· Should I venture off to find better ways?

· Will some exotic new understanding of life be worth it even if my family and community don’t understand or accept it, or me?

· Should I maybe take ownership of my personal investigation of things I once took more or less for granted?

As we explore the why regarding the challenges of life we not only form intentional habits of how we choose to engage, we also develop an appreciation for the what. What is the end, the goal, the purpose, the win… the hope. Our expectation is that a vision of genuine hope just might give us endurance to live how we believe we ought to live. We want the what and the how to be illuminated by trustworthy wisdom. We seek for light for a path leading beyond where there is loss and where finding is not futile.

Life’s {why/how/what} is almost all I think about; except for soccer. I think about soccer because it is framed with touch lines and limited by a clock and a referee who has the power to enforce decisions. The game gets played and is completed and ready for banter. I love my escapes into sport because there the {why/how/what} are manageable enough to be intriguing but not terrifying. Losing the good and the beautiful of life; that is terrifying to face. If I were a little girl leaving in a Chinese taxi I would cry too.

Working backward: What is the Hope?

Life filled with unlimited love is my hope. Love is what matters in life. If love is not what matters, then ultimately nothing matters to me. I know that love is what has always mattered, love is what always will matter, and love is what matters right now. I just know it. But how do I make sense out of it all?

I like to tell my story of journeying toward faith. My most common way of telling it tends to highlight intellectual pursuits. That way it sounds like my current convictions are the only intelligent options.

“I believe what I believe because I did the work. I thoroughly researched all of the serious options such that Jesus became the only necessary and certain conclusion.”

That is almost true.

What I am telling you now is closer to what is actually true. I tell my stories with less of an urge to help them along than I used to. I do know some things about things that matter. I worked at understanding deep questions and diverse answers. I thought and asked and read and thought and wrote and asked and read and thought. I pursued wisdom and truth. One clue led me to another and eventually I came to understand Jesus as essential to every meaningful thought I have.

But even when I first declared faith in Christ I understood Jesus poorly compared to what I understand now. I am quite certain I still need to improve my understanding of Jesus. My hope is not in what I know fully, but in where what I now know is now pointing. There is wisdom and beauty and hope ahead. I have seen the signs and I trust them. I like where the signs are pointing.

Signs and Certitude

Reading signs can be tricky. When Karla and I were in Spain we explored the historical city of Toledo together, including a romantic ride in a carriage drawn by a horse named Rosa. Our guide was such a charming old gentleman, that even as he told me of his young heroics resisting Franco’s fascists, I pictured him back in the day with wrinkled eyes and a snaggled grin, just with a sepia hue to it all.

The evening’s power to transcend time was limited. We needed to get back to the naval base in Rota for a 0600 shift. Tardiness was not an option. We purchased tickets for the last train back. I read the signs and we boarded the train. I confirmed with fellow passengers that I had read the signs correctly.

I lead Karla toward empty seats further back on the train. There was a jolt. We were moving. We were moving backward. We were moving away from Rota. The signs that I read, I read correctly. But there were many signs; more signs than I heeded. The train split, our half going north and the half I planned to be on going south toward our destination, without us.

Once I realized that I had not read all of the signs properly I got busy. First I made excuses and projected blame. That part was natural and effortless. That did not help. Asking for the next train did not help either. The separated cars were our last chance to make it back in time by train. Yes, this is another sad taxi story. We made it back just in time, but my inability to navigate all of the signs was costly in terms of Pesetas and pride.

Train Signs & Life Signs

Life is littered with signs. Long before my struggle with signs in Spain, as a kid I worked to read signs while on drives. I also read special events and experiences in life as signs. An unexpected silver-dollar pancake breakfast pointed to goodness, blessing and delight. My lie about why I would not be at my friend’s 8th birthday pointed to dark and confusing urges for selfishness. A funeral for my grandfather, who turned out wasn’t really my grandfather, pointed to limited time and opportunity to figure out all of the signs. The challenge is to begin to observe patterns even while the signs keep coming. The number of signs is beyond counting. Where all of those signs might point is a much smaller set. Where all of those signs are pointing is what matters.

Meaning

When I look at life and the inescapably intrusive signs I see a cardinal set of directions. The signs point me to believe that there is good, and there is bad, there is meaning and there is hope. I stop to ponder those signs, and what they point to, so that I can use them as a compass to give me direction. Even if I do know the direction I should go, I realize that I do not know everything about good, bad, meaning or hope. What I do know is that there is a way to navigate purposefully.

Jesus Points in the Direction I Sensed: Love is the Point

Jesus said love is what life is for. Specifically he said that comprehensive love of the covenant making God is the main responsibility of humanity. The second responsibility is related. Humanity ought to love humanity. Jesus expresses both of these concepts in reference to commands delivered through the ancient patriarch, Moses.

The command to love God with all of one’s being is in Deuteronomy chapter 6. It includes a very specific view of who God is in relation to what he has done in history. It also involves every part of our being. Further, it is something that defines us in private, in our own homes, as well as in public, along the road. We are able to transition in and out of private and public but never out of devotion to God. What is more, this love is not just individual. We are to pass this on. From the start of the day to the end of the day those of us who are loving God are to be guiding our own children in understanding and loving God as well.

Leviticus 19 is the second command Jesus mentions as categorically ultimate. This one is more than just loving other people in a general sense. This one is loving people proportionate to how you love yourself. This one calls us to see humanity as “us” and not as “them”.

Around this quoted command are diverse assortments of peculiar commands that are very specific to Israel as a people in the ancient near east. The point in those, for us today, is not that we are to live as they did, or even for us to find a modern equivalent for each one of the instructions for them as a people. What is imperative is that we realize that our love for humanity, since we are humanity, is not to be general or lofty. We are to love people in very specific, practical, personal and distinctly God-infused ways.

Love is Uniquely Essential

What Jesus says about these two commands passed through me for years like radio, or Wi-Fi, passively bouncing around unused. Jesus actually says that the command to love God and humanity created in the image of God was everything God commanded us. This love command was the essential point. Every other command from God derived its meaning from the set of love commands. How could I miss that?

“The entire Torah and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” — Jesus, Mt. 22:40

I exaggerate again. I did not miss the “love God, love people” concept. What I missed was the profound implications of the comprehensiveness of this concept. Love is life. That is the point of Jesus. That is the point of life. That is not an exaggeration. I try it out this way:

A: “What is the meaning of life?”

B: “The meaning of life is love.”

A: “What do you mean by love?”

B: “God is love. God loved. God loves. Know God and you will know love.”

That works for me. It works because we are told quite plainly in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love.” That is who God is. To be made in God’s image, as humanity, is to be made in the image of love. If that is what humanity essentially is, then it only makes sense that love is what humanity is essentially meant to do. Love is who we are. Love is what we do. That is life.

A Compass for Life

The quest to read the signs of life, both the finding and the losing, quickly overwhelms me. I store notebooks filled with partial decoding of signs. The Internet maintains long neglected blogs started with other efforts. But there is a better way than trying to catalogue all of the signs in an open taxonomy of crisscrossed lines. By reducing specific signs to a handful of basic concepts life becomes much more easily navigated.

I arrange major types of signs: {good / bad / meaning / hope} as a compass. I do this because I kept losing my way when I would focus on one sign and forget about the other signs. By keeping them together I am able to keep my direction in life relatively on course. I need help keeping my direction in life on course because I often drift or react to urgent and compelling signs. When I then change course, intentionally or circumstantially, I need help to reorient.

More Than A Compass

The “compass” I developed is a tool in the form of a few symbols arranged in five columns on one page. These symbols are reminders of how all of the little signs fit into a few major signs, and that those major signs actually form a story. That story explains the good, bad, meaningful and hopeful in a way that informs my purposeful direction in life as a part of that story.

That story is what I want to share. I will include the symbols because they help to remember the story. But the symbols are just signs of signs. What all the signs point to, that is life. And life is about love.

That’s right. This is a love story.

Next: Chapter 1.1 ReThink-ReAlign-ReNew

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