What we need


(1) Love
(2) Relationships
(3) Cross theology

I conceived this post many months ago, at a time when I did not find what I was hearing on Sunday mornings was meeting my needs or the needs I see in the community. Throughout this piece, I apprehend projecting my own needs onto the community. I might can’t help that.

My conscience forbade me from praying that our proclamation change in any way. I prayed instead that I would hear things that meet my needs. That came to pass. Sunday morning worship is now the center of my week.

The needs of those attending now may not be quite the same as the needs of those who will attend if we draw more folk from the community. But to some extent, all folks’ needs are the same, whether they follow Jesus or not.

Be forewarned: I’m going to say some difficult things.

(1) Love

From that time on Jesus began to preach,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

All people need love.

The need is more dire in some places than others.

That is my first politically incorrect statement. Others will follow.

Some of these things weigh heavy on my heart.

Where —

  • the clerk at the corner store, the Lucky whatever, sits inside a booth of inch-thick plexiglas with a shotgun on the counter;
  • a woman burns up all her daughter’s clothes;
  • I was in line at some store in Barclay, I forget which one, and this pretty young girl stood at the counter. She turned, and her other cheek bore a scar from her ear to her chin. Twelve or thirteen years old. I saw several like that.

— there is a manifest lack of love in the place.

One cannot overstate how essential and basic this is. It normally stays under the radar. My six-post series, “What the rich can do for the poor,” concludes with “6) Emanate love.”  My stats indicate some person visits the blog at least once a week specifically to re-read that post.

We are substantially addressing this now. I have called #COGURBAP “the hashtag destined to transform East Baltimore.”

People choose to love or not-love.

This is my second politically incorrect statement.

The choice to love may deserve more prominence in our proclamation.

The situations I described earlier reflect folk who consistently choose not to love, but to not-love. I don’t know why people do this. Some folk are positively enamored of not-love, and create corresponding conditions.

Related: The left hand and the right

Repentence means changing what you choose.

Choice has been focal to my well-being in the face of hardship.

The governor closed all restaurant dining rooms some days before the shelter made alternative arrangements for us. I sat on the ground outside Dunkin’ Donuts, my coffee on my left, my backpack on my right, and my tablet on my lap. I had not anticipated the cold wind. My fingers got cold. My toes got cold.

Then the rain came.

I posted “Coronavirus:”

(2) Relationships

Blessed be the ties that bind.

Relationships normally consist of love. That’s what they’re made of.

We think of the ties that bind parent to child, sibling to sibling, sexual partners to each other; teacher to student, worker to co-worker, bosses to subordinates, neighbor to neighbor.

The weaving together of these bonds creates the social fabric. Where the social fabric is strong, it creates a platform for individual and community success: people cooperate in advancing each others’ dreams. Where the social fabric is weak — where there is vandalism, violence and betrayal — This need not surprise, since there is already a dearth of love.

So we need love first, and then relationships.

My next politically incorrect statement: Relationships entail responsibility.

That is politically incorrect for reason that it involves choice and power, whereas I constantly hear the dogmatists telling disadvantaged people that they have no choice, no responsibility, no power.

If we are to have a relationship, I must be accountable to you, and you to me.

In a blog post that examined accountability in some detail, and which I recommend if one wants to read that discussion, I observed:

Most of the men I was locked up with held themselves accountable to no one.
That’s how they got there.

Related: Dez Bryant, love and responsibility

(3) Cross theology

Courage to change the things I can.

Cross theology is THE ONE THING we have to offer the community as Lutherans, that they (1) need and (2) cannot get from anyone else.

I have little personal experience with this. That may explain why my material situation has been “stuck” for nine years. It is also why this piece has been on hold for so many months, and why I will write much of this as being addressed to me.

I’m amazed at the things I’ve done to avoid this writing.

For me, cross theology begins in Scripture at Matthew 5.45: “[Y]our Father in heaven … makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Yes, the wicked often prosper; yes, bad things often happen to good people. Cross theology solves the riddle of theodicy: God is present to you and for you regardless of events and circumstances.

The application pertains to what I call “forced arbitrary decisions.” In life, I am often enough called upon to choose between A and B, or among A, B, C, D and E. Facts and circumstances may make one choice clearly better than the others. Or, I may receive guidance from my feelings, or in prayer. Any decision made either of those ways is not arbitrary. An arbitrary decision is when I must choose without any clear guidance from the facts, from my feelings or from prayer.

Complicating things: The best choice is often difficult or scary to act on.

Any human initiative is as likely as not to be sin. I define “sin” here the same way “revealed God” theology does, the same way an infant does: sin is anything that doesn’t bring the desired result. From this ethic, if I get what I want, I did the right thing; if I don’t get what I want, someone sinned. Any gesture that succeeds is righteous; any gesture that fails is sin.

Cross theology tells me that either way, whether I succeed or fail, God is still with me and for me, regardless.

This can give me the courage to take initiatives, to make and act on arbitrary decisions. It deserves to mitigate my fear of failure, and my grief when failure does occur.

The path of least resistance flows downhill.

Any advancement of oneself is likely to entail work and risk. If I am choosing between A and B, either one is likely to entail work and the risk of failure, that is, losing the work I had invested. In order to avoid disappointment, I am likely — and I am surrounded by people who are most likely — to choose C, to “do nothing,” to act as if options A and B don’t exist. This is to choose to fail.

This is the path of least resistance.

And consistent choosing this way accounts for the circumstances of many folks’ lives.

It’s a lot easier to stay jobless than to look for work.

It happened over and over in my job search.  At one time, I was active on half a dozen job boards.  I had a “scout” active on each one, that would search for listings matching my profile and e-mail them to me each week.  I’d copy all those results into Word; I might start off with 500 listings.  I’d weed out those clearly unsuitable, and wind up with perhaps 100 left — far more than I could possibly apply to in the time available.

Which ones “should” I apply to?  Which were most likely to result in an interview and a hire?  Which matched God’s “plan” for me?  I would pray and receive no guidance.  It would have been easiest to just throw up my arms and not apply to any at all.

At the risk of injecting my own beliefs into this discussion, the conclusion I came to — as is consistent with all I observe in the material world — is that God has no “plan” other than this:  that sentient creatures choose as they will, and meet the results of their choices.  For example, those who choose love, meet love; those who choose not-love, meet not-love.

Important as it is for anyone at any level of prosperity, cross theology is especially crucial for disadvantaged people who may seek to move into the mainstream.

There are ways, behavior patterns, of poverty, and ways, behavior patterns, of prosperity. All over the world, regardless of ethnicity, prosperous people live one way, and poor people another. Upward mobility entails giving up the ways of poverty to embrace instead the ways of prosperity.

A person seeking to make that change will quickly find oneself in uncharted territory, where everything one was certain of before — one’s moorings — no longer apply. One faces forced arbitrary decisions, and the risk of failure, at every turn.

Only if one has strong confidence of God’s grace and favor in the face of success or failure alike, will change occur.

What William Tell intends to tell everyone:

A better life is available to you.
If you want it,
and will work for it,
you can have it.

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