As a child at my mother’s knee, I learned to cook. Not well, nor completely. My mom was big into canned and frozen and pre-prepped foods. I knew she knew how to make bread from scratch, but mostly we stuck frozen dough in loaf pans and baked bread that way. I knew it was possible to create spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes, but by the time I was learning to cook, my mom worked full time and our spaghetti topping came out of a jar with Prego (Italian for “you’re welcome”) on the label.
Eventually, on my own, I really got into cooking. I baked bread from scratch and whipped up cakes sans boxed mixes. I married a fellow foodie and we hand rolled pasta together. We made French Silk Pie without a little package of powder or a pre-rolled crust and I discovered how long it really does take to make tomato sauce starting with fresh tomatoes. I was pretty amazed by myself and everything I could do.
And then, I made some changes to the way I ate for health reasons. I’ve made a LOT of changes to the way I eat for health reasons. I’ve had to learn how to cook all over again, more than once, now. Starting over feels wrong. All the things I thought I knew about what you needed to bake cookies or bread or how to put a meatloaf together had to go right out the window, because those things no longer worked that way. DH was ever-patient through my trials, but he was rarely willing to eat much of my baked goods in the early years. He told me, more than once, that he’d prefer to eliminate bread entirely, rather than eat the vaguely bread-like substitutes that were coming out of my oven. But bread was really important to me. So, I persisted. I learned more, I practiced more, and, when we had the money, I tested out new ingredients and different recipes. My bread got better. Even now, I’m still working on it, but my husband has stared eating it again.
This story is not really about the bread, but about the Bread. And the Church. And what it looks like when we try to have Church without Bread.
I grew up in a family that loved Jesus. Yet, the way we loved Jesus wasn’t very loving. My family focused on loving Jesus by trying to follow the rules. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance . . . these were what “good” Christians did. If we followed all the rules, we’d never have a need for any of that messy grace business.
Okay, nobody told me that last part. I figured that out all by myself, years later. After I’d continually fallen face-first in the mud of my own messy existence, pulling on my bootstraps and telling myself that if I’d just follow all the rules, these little slip-ups would stop happening.
I’ve come to realize that in my family, I learned to love good, but not well, because I’d never learned to love God. The thing is, life and faith is not about the rules, it’s about the Love. The Law of Moses had a lot of rules. A quick internet search tells me there are 613 of them. They cover everything from what the priests wore to what animals were appropriate for food to sexual abstinence within marriage. From the sacred to the profane, so to speak. We didn’t follow all those rules. They taught in Sunday school about how Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17), so that meant we didn’t have to worry about things like animal sacrifices or wearing clothes that blended two different kinds of material. And that’s true, as far as it goes. But we missed the Love.
Jesus was asked once what was the greatest commandment. His answer was simple: Love. Love God, and love people (Matthew 22:36-40). That seems so much easier than 613 separate decrees about how to live life. So, what’s the problem?
We don’t know how to love.
God is love. I have been told that this is what separates Christianity from many other religions: we are taught that God is love rather than fear or anger or caprice. I have not studied enough of other religions to know whether that is true, but having studied my own, I’m not sure that’s really an accurate representation of most Christians I know.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2, NIV)
We don’t know how to love, so instead we substitute. We mix up the ingredients to form a loaf, yet we don’t have Bread. We follow rules, we make declarations, we draw lines that separate “us” from “them.” None of those things, in and of themselves, are bad. I’m not advocating for anarchy or moral relativism. But those are not love. They can and do exist with love, but they are not love.
I woke up this morning to the epiphany that we don’t love, because we don’t feel loved. We can’t offer to anyone else what we haven’t received ourselves. God is love, but we act like He’s a strict taskmaster, a teacher watching students sweat over an exam as he slaps his ruler against his palm. Or as my dad puts it, “a bully cop in the sky.” We don’t know how to accept His grace for ourselves and because we don’t grab hold of it, we can’t share it with anyone else.
To accept God’s grace, I must admit I need it. To need grace means I can’t do life on my own. I must hit, as they say in addiction circles, rock bottom. I don’t like that. If it’s all about following the rules, than it’s what I do (or don’t do) that seals the deal. But with grace, I can only accept. It’s not my doing, but His. I want it to be about me, because that feels reassuring to my sense of self, but instead it’s about Him. I am valuable not for why I believe, what I say or how I act, but because He loves me. Which means, you are just as valuable as I am.
You are valuable, no matter who you are (or who you’re not). You are valuable, no matter why you believe (or can’t believe). You are valuable, no matter what you say (or don’t say). You are valuable, no matter how you act (or won’t act).
I am inherently worthy of love, and so is everyone else. Not this sham of rule-following, right-believing, do-as-you’re-told so-called love. Real love.
Love values your body and mind, not just your soul. Love cares for your children just as much after they are born as before. Love chooses you. Love celebrates your joys and cries over your heartaches. Love walks with you and talks with you and sits with you and listens to you.
And if that’s not the way I am treating you, what business do I have calling it “love”?
Let me know You. Let me know Love. Let me remember it is not about me, but about You, and You are about loving the world. Let me not dress up insecurity and call it love. Let me not toss a covering over fear and call it love. Let me value every life, every individual, as You do. Let me be love. Let it be so.