Thursday, August 29, 2013

An Army of Peace

Situations like the one the world encounters today are frustratingly tragic. A nation, Syria, is killing it's own people, many of them without animosity towards anyone, and killing them with torturous, dangerous, insidious chemicals. Clearly we can't stand by and let this happen, but we're also wary, especially as Christians who are marked by radical non-violence, of interfering in the traditional way.

It is easy to justify violence in defense of the defenseless. There's not even any shame in it. At the same time, it falls short of the Christlike (Christ-ian) model. I won't belabor the point; I've said it frequently and lengthy enough.

It is absolutely awe inspiring to see the sacrifice of relationship, time, often mental and physical health to which many commit as part of a military, where they have the protection of a firearm and, more largely, the largest arsenal in the history of the world. That is true and established.

What would it take to send an army into such places of frustrating turmoil armed only with the world-changing power of love? It would likely mean a lot more death, a lot more sacrifice. Perhaps more than we could ever expect of anyone. I'm hesitant even to mention it, especially as one with a spouse and a child. I have a hard time believing I could do it. There are those who do. The army of peace is quite small, yet it is likely the most powerful force on the face of the Earth.

There are never just two options. There is always another way. It may not be easier, it may not even be (or seem) possible. But it exists. Whatever we do. Whatever our choices, our perspectives, we must remember there is another way. To deny it is to deny hope.

Lord, have mercy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Moral Outrage

I'm 350 miles from home and taking a class this week. So this will be short - and inspired by this status update from earlier today.

I'm continually boggled by the outrage from my Christian friends when someone in the larger culture acts in outrageous ways. Now if an upright, predictable, moral church leader went out one night and became a stripper or a prostitute; or if the head of your congregation's governing board became a bank robber - that would be surprising and outrageous.

Those actions are incongruous with both their stated and lived beliefs as well as the shared moral code of Christianity. They are shocking.

For those steeped and raised in our culture and society, outrageous acts are just not all that outrageous. They're downright predictable and completely understandable. They shouldn't be surprising.

On of my favorite TV shows is TMZ. It's a paparazzi-based tabloid, following and largely mocking the outrageous celerity culture, whilst also completely participating in it.

My wife hates that I ever watch it. I've received strange stares from colleagues as I try to relate how important being well versed in popular culture is for ministry. The show is full of useless trash. It just is. I won't deny that there's some voyeuristic pleasure in seeing parts of people's lives that they work very hard to pretend doesn't exist.

At the same time, it is the world we're living in. The videos, topics, themes, persons, and opinions expressed there show up in teenagers the next week and in the culture at large some time later. In a culture of celebrity, celebrities control the culture. It's just a reality of contemporary US society.

The value, as I see it, in watching such shows and keeping up with the tabloid trash is that I'm generally well versed in the underlying morals and ethics of the larger culture. Those things which shock so many, make perfect sense to me, given the context.

It also seems easier to address such cultural realities from a Christian perspective given a better understanding of their roots, causes, and foundations. I could talk along time about the complicated persona that is Miley Cyrus precisely because she's been in the public eye (and semi-private eye exemplified by TMZ) for so long. Yeah, it's a sad state of affairs - that clip is like watching a functional alcoholic finally go off the rails - but it's not shocking. Or at least it shouldn't be if you're paying attention.

What it seems like so many Christians know, but haven't yet internalized is simply the fact that Christendom is dead. This notion of a shared, moral frame of reference no longer exists (at least it is no longer based on the Christian religion). Christendom was essentially a common culture built around the traditions of Christianity. Christendom is not Christianity; it may be religion, but it's not ultimately reality.

Religion is shared practice based on a set of beliefs. For a long time, our religion and our culture have been essentially the same - both informed by Christ. I suspect it's time we realize that this is no longer true. Our culture (as a society) is no longer the same as our religion. I'm not sure we need to cling to either anymore.

Both our culture and our religion have fed off each other, neither one fully reflecting the person of Christ, but balancing Christ with the needs and wants of society. We can't escape religion, but we can certainly re-imagine it. We can step out of those religious practices that have been informed and sculpted by religion's marriage to culture.

From this we are freed to focus on what it means to live in Christ - not as society, but as a new, unique culture within the larger culture. We can craft a religion which tells an ultimate story without having to be necessarily inclusive. That is, it doesn't have to keep and describe all people. It is and always will be invitationally inclusive - which means it is applicable to all people, but not forced upon them.

It challenges us to create something different, alternative - rather than treating the rest of the world as the oddity, we, who follow Christ, can become the oddity, living into a story (with religion and culture all our own) that reflects the outrageousness and absurdity of society around us, not from a place of judgment and disdain, but from a position of grace and hope.

Most of our moral outrage is directed at actions which reflect the profound lack of hope and identity present in our society. I suspect it's been present for much, if not most (or all) of Christendom, we just got good at masking it. Regardless, we cannot stand in reaction to such statements of hopelessness and rootlessness with condemnation. It merely sends the message that these statements ring true.

What it also requires, though, is something more than what was, what has been. Every act of outrageousness is a declaration that what has been is not good enough. As much as I agree with and appreciate the timelessness of God's story in the world, we have to admit that the whole of human history is us getting that story wrong. What has been is not what is or what will be.

Ok, so it didn't end up being too short. I just think that condemnation, outrage is a ridiculous response to something so entirely predictable and historically, sociologically, rationally appropriate.

There has to be - there is - something better. It is before us and not behind us. If we are not moving forward with the culture, as outrageous or outraged as it may be, we have nothing to offer. There is no divide between us and them - no matter how terrible "them" happens to be. There is only "us." If the outrage and outrageousness is us, we have an obligation to do more than tsk, tsk.

But that's just me, I guess.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Do Hoarders Make Better Christians?

I heard an NPR interview with Kimberly Rae Miller, author of a new book, Coming Clean, about growing up with a hoarder for a father. I haven't read the book (although my wife is on the list at the library) nor do I necessarily plan to. I was intrigued by something she said, though.

Miller, several times, described her father as someone who "saw value in everything" even as he admitted there would never be a monetary value assigned. He sees value in everything simply because it exists. This is an intense understanding of inherent value.

As a born pack-rat myself, I can relate in some ways. I'm not sure if this is part of the hoarding psychosis, but I always feel much better having something than not having it - even if there's very little chance I'll ever need said thing. If I can think of a potential use for it (even if that use is just pure amusement), there's justification to keep it.

I've been able to move beyond this compunction (the real turning point was leaving college and having to fit everything I own in a 1997 Honda Civic), and I recognize the paralyzing pain such attachment can and does cause for people who've been unable to overcome it.

However, I also see some real value in approaching life from the perspective of inherent value. Something is worth having because it exists. Obviously this can create problems in a world where the market makes and sells virtually anything anyone can ever dream up. You just get too much stuff.

If we apply the idea to people, however, then hoarders might have an advantage when it comes to Christian life. At the very essence of Christ's teaching is the idea that everything has value by virtue of its existence. God doesn't make junk. Every person is worthwhile and valuable simply because they exist.

It's quite an oddity in a world where everything and every person is valued by their monetary production - dead, alive, or disabled. My wife has dismemberment insurance through her work - they have literally put a price on her limbs and her value without them.

We're so inundated with this concept of value as what we can get from another person that it's difficult to readjust to life in God's economy. Hoarders has become a cautionary tale through it's emphasis on TV. These are real people, with real problems - partly due to their isolation from society. As we work to include and encourage healthier interaction, perhaps there's also something we can learn and latch onto whereby we find mutual benefit.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reproductive Rights

I read three books last week. I spent too much time doing it, but it was the end of the Summer Reading Program at our local library and I wanted to get the most possible chances to win the prize drawing.

One of the books, which will remain unnamed so as not to give anything away, touched on a subject I've been struggling with for a while - thus the title "Reproductive Rights." It's not about abortion. It's equally, if not more, sensitive. I will try my best to respect that sensitivity, but that is not necessarily my strong suit. I apologize in advance if I offend you; my intention is anything but that - the exact opposite, in fact. I hope there's some hope here.

When I cleverly say "reproductive rights" I'm referring to those "rights" people claim surrounding the topic of sex. There is this assumption underlying our discussions of sex that the "right" to exercise our freedom or express our humanity through sexual intercourse is some cosmic right and any claim that it's less fundamental is a violation of human rights. That makes it sound dramatic, but it's real. Don't believe me? Tell someone, anyone that they shouldn't be having sex with the person they're having sex with - that it's not good for them - and you'll likely get a spirited defense.

This book I read touched on (and only tangentially) the same sort of right in connection with reproduction. Without getting into detail, the assumption was that having children is essential to human identity. Like having sex, reproduction is treated as some fundamental, inviolable right.

Two things: Forcing someone into celibacy or sterility is terrible. I'm not talking about oppression. I'm talking about when people find themselves in those situations and become defined by them. Single women who long for a relationship, but never find the right person and maintain a Christian belief that sex is best expressed in marriage. Parents who just can't conceive or are somehow foiled by the adoption system.

The second thing is that biologically, these things do feel like part of our identity as human beings. We're hardwired to reproduce. It's in our very nature and we're physically constructed in such a way that we feel incomplete without them.

One of the best lessons I learned from my father is that our feelings are real, but that doesn't make them reality. You can't let your feelings run your life.

Those feelings, those deep longings, often become dreams in our lives. These deep down desires that we believe make us incomplete without their fruition. I suspect we all have such dreams.

I would love to be a good singer. I can't carry a tune very well or very far. I still harbor some belief that, given a lot of patience, hard work, and vocal lessons, I could be a passable singer. I will never be a good singer. Thus passable doesn't seem worth the effort. It seems cosmically wrong that this reality exists in my life.

I believe I've got unrecognized talent in both trivia-answering and witty-writing. I know I'm good at both, I just feel like there're millions of people out there who don't know that who should. Basically, I want Ken Jennings' life. I'm fairly confident I shall never have it. It seems cosmically wrong that this reality exists in my life.

I feel like there's some mythical monetary windfall out there waiting for me. Why? Because I have all these awesome things I'd love to do for other people. Yeah, I'd finally pay off my school loans, but for the most part, I'd give it away. That seems noble right? Noble things just seem like they should happen.

These dreams pale in comparison to those biological imperatives of reproduction (both the attempt and the realization). I'm not going to claim to know the pain, anguish, and devastation of such deferred dreams because of other dreams. They are not the same - but they are analogous. There is a lot more emotion and pain to overcome, but the response is the same. We have to come to grips with reality that some things are just not going to happen.

I'm not saying we should stop chasing our dreams, just that we should make sure we're not defining ourselves by them. That's a real temptation.

The second book I read last week was The Fault in Our Stars, which I rush reviewed last week. The book has a subplot with a character dealing, not with reproductive rights, but with an unrealized existential dream - to such an extent that it's defined his life in problematic and troubling ways.

He gets this advice:

This can never be enough for you. But this is all you get. You get me, and your family, and this world. This is your life. I'm sorry if it sucks. But you're not going to be the first man on Mars, and you're not going to be an NBA star, and you're not going to hunt Nazis.

When it comes to rights, you have a right to be loved. But that means loved as you are, not as you imagine yourself to be. That can be a difficult distinction to make. We often have a hard time loving ourselves without the possibility of those dreams, so it becomes doubly hard to imagine others could love us the same way, that we could really be complete with this huge incompleteness as part of our psyche.

What this means is that we have to come around people and love them. We have to avoid those stereotypes and assumptions that create these unrealistic worlds for each other. Thirty percent of people will never get married and twenty percent of people will never have children. It's not an inevitability; treating it as such can be really harmful - as much as assuming your kid will be a pro athlete or an award winning singer.

We have to create communities where people are loved and valued for who they are, without expectations or preconceptions. I don't want my daughter thinking she needs to get good grades and go to a great college. I don't even want her thinking she has to save the world. I want her to love and be loved - whatever else comes, comes.

John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars, sums up the tension that exists between the world as it could be (but won't be) and the way we experience the world. It's a profound example of approaching life from a hopeful, yet present and persistent perspective. I'm not at all sure how to do what I say we should do, but I think this is a pretty good start:

There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities... There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get... But... I cannot tell you how thankful I am for [my] little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reality, Fiction, and Fictional Reality

We interrupt your scheduled blog post to bring you an emergency book review rant. Let's face it, impassioned rage is really what the internet is all about people.

No, this is not one of "those" book reviews where they send me a free book and I try to be gracious. My wife got the best-selling, world famous The Fault in Our Stars by John Green this week. She plowed through it, gushed about it, laughed out loud, read me portions out of context, and finished it in a day. Then her sister called to ask what the name if it was again because she was going to purchase it at Barnes & Noble. In my world, buying a book new and for more than $2 is cause for alarm.

I decided to read it. Sure, I have an essay for class I need to finish, along with a book I have to read so I can write a paper next week that will be distributed and discussed by all of my professional ministry peers and colleagues. Not to mention preaching Sunday our local, giant (40,000 attendee) take over the entire town, set your clock by this every year event, Peach Festival happening Saturday. Plus, I plowed through that borderline terrible Dan Brown book already this week because it's due back to the library and not eligible for renewal. Let's bang this baby out!

First off, it's about teenagers with cancer. It's funny. Not ha-ha funny, but smart funny - the kind of smart funny that's so funny you do actually laugh out loud from time to time. It's also impeccably well written, like really well written, like even in my most writer-snobby, Josh from the West-Wing, high horse attitude, I still have to say it's really, really good writing. I stopped for a few moments to consider whether it was "A Prayer for Owen Meany" good, I really did.*

I'll be quoting from the book in a number of places in the future and you should most certainly read it, whoever you are. It's that good. Despite what I'm going to rant about in a few short sentences, it's one of the best novels I've ever read. It talks about death in proper perspective, it also dabbles in love well and it's just so darn fun to read. This might be the ultimate audiobook - the words are art in themselves even apart from their meaning.

It's good.

However, when I reached the end of chapter thirteen, I was floored. A beautiful, poignant, honest story about what's right and wrong in the world. I could see it as the perfect ending of a fantastic moving. I assumed, with every fiber in my being that the book was finished. There were 100 pages left - nearly a third of the book remained. Those hundred pages were good - most of my favorite quotes and topics come in those hundred pages. You won't regret reading them... probably.

The whole time I was finishing the book, as much as I loved it, I had this dark foreboding hanging over me. I kept seeing that perfect ending on page 218 and realizing, as good a writer as Green is, as great as these last hundred pages were turning out to be, there was just no way the actual ending would end as well as the presumed ending. It was just not going to happen.

To his credit, he didn't try. Some would call it a cop out - and I am one of those people. Better to go down in a blaze of glory than to be happy with third place. My wife will tell you the ending is real, which is what the book is about all along: reality and not fantasy or fiction.

I don't think that's true. It's fiction about reality, but it's told in such a fictionally real fashion you're tricked into thinking the book is actually about reality, when it's just another book that's sucked you in in ways so perfectly beautiful it can't quite be real.

The teenagers in the book have Dawson's Creek level vocabulary and wit. It's amazing that the one tenth of one percent of actual teenagers who possess such astute minds always find themselves wrapped up in our best works of art. Green does this so well, though (read: not like Dawson's Creek) that you overlook the impossibility of these characters and appreciate them for what they represent (this is where it gets too meta even for me); they are talking about and representing reality, but they're not real. They're still stand ins for real people because real people can't encapsulate reality in ways entertaining to millions of readers. It's about reality, but it's also fictional reality.

Because of this, and this is, by far, my favorite kind of writing, something I consider myself an expert on, readers want, they crave, a well crafted, best part of the book, perfectly unassailable ending to wrap things up in a nice neat little package. This is what John Irving does in his best novels - one sentence at the end - that makes the other 150,000+ words perfectly connect to one another. Even if the message is real, even if it embodies the pain, incongruity, and messiness of reality, that message of messiness is wrapped up in powerful, meaningful, satisfying ways. Again, this is why John Irving is out greatest living writer - even if his subject matter usually keeps his work out of public schools.

John Green has the power to give us such an ending. He'd already done it once in the book. He had even done a trial run of those last two pages a couple chapters earlier when he'd had someone else attempt the same exact thing (see - I'm totally not giving away anything here plotwise - READ THIS BOOK!). He just didn't even try to finish it right and that is SOOOOoooooooo amazingly frustrating.

Thanks for listening. You may know return to your regular blog programming.

*For the record, John Green can do in one paragraph what John Irving does over 600 pages - they're not playing the same game, really - it's marathon vs sprint. Then again, John Irving did it over 600 PAGES, MULTIPLE TIMES, so game, set, match.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I Wish I'd Never Been Born

This may come as no surprise, but I've never been the best at having appropriate emotional connections to things. I'm usually either far too detached or far too attached. It was worse as a child.

In about fourth grade I collected three bright orange salamanders (which I named after characters from The Westing Game, my favorite book as a child, other than Dr. Doolittle) from the woods behind our house and build a homemade terrarium for them in an old bucket. This was not an ideal situation for them and they clearly began to get sick, lethargic, and started turning white. I needed to put them back in their natural environment, for their own good. However, I recall returning with the terrarium from the woods crying and my mom having to let them go because I was too attached.

All that to say, people were often shocked at how detached and rational I was when talking about life. My wife seems to think it odd I have lots of memories of conversations, as a child, about dying or having never been born. I blame my father's unabashed (and my subsequent, Stockholm-syndrome-esque adopted) love for It's a Wonderful Life.*

I recall telling people that it wouldn't matter if I died tomorrow. I sort of still feel this way. It would certainly matter today, if you told me I was going to die tomorrow, but come tomorrow, I'm just not going to care; I'll be incapable of it. I suppose that sort of logic is hard to deal with.

More difficult, and admittedly troubling, I remember distinctly telling people that, while I didn't yearn for death, it might have been preferable never to have been born. I recognize now, the right of people to be shocked by a single-digit-year-old kid saying such things. It sounds depressing. If it happened today, I might ended up under psychiatric watch - although that could probably be said for a lot of things I did as a child. I was an odd child.

Still, it belies a kind of logic I'd never really thought about until recently. If I'd never been born, for one, I would not have the capacity to "miss" anything. It takes existence to understand existence (unless you're an anomaly on the holodeck). The second theory, I guess, is mathematically, although I will not vouch for the mathematical abilities of my younger self. I guess I figured having no experiences at all would be preferable to having the negative experiences associated with life. The possibility of positive experiences seemed to be outweighed by the tragedy of negative experience.

Now I was an odd child. The things above are only really the breezeway leading into the lobby of the hotel that is my strangeness. However, I don't really have many memories of being picked on or bullied. I certainly recall never understanding how or why people did anything they did, and I don't recall ever really feeling like I fit in, but none of it because of other people.

There was never anyone who said to me "I wish you'd never been born," and I don't even remember wishing I'd never been born; I simply acknowledged that it would probably be better. Perhaps the negative experiences of life simply tainted all the rest for me.

Wow, that was a long introduction, even for me. What I'm getting at is both a complex and a simple question: Life is a guarantee of pain and hardship, but is nothingness, non-existence better than living through pain?

I'm still pretty convinced by the logic of my childhood. It makes sense to me. But now I also have to wrestle with what is a widely accepted theological axiom: life is a gift. That gets a bit confusing when broken down into individual details. It's tough for me to believe life is a gift for victims of torture and genocide, for drug-addicted babies or child sex-slaves. I'm not sure I can see each life is a gift. The world may be too messed up for that.

I do think, though, as much as it defies my airtight, fourth grade logic, that when speaking generally about life, we can and should say life is a gift. There are some logical arguments to be made (chiefly that life is defined by pain and to rid life of such would be to make it something other than life, even if that other state would be preferable to life - we can say non-existence is better than existence, but really we have no perspective by which to judge; you're either one or the other and true objectivity would require both), but none of the logical, rational arguments are all that exciting.

Instead I offer, once again, hope. As a Christian I believe in the parousia, which is a Greek word (or some form of a Greek word, I don't know Greek) which really just means the arrival of a person, but in the Christian scriptures refers to the return of Christ. Christians hold that this "Day of the Lord," as it's often called, is the time when creation will come to fruition.

We believe that the world in which we live, the lives we live, are not complete, they are building to something. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us a glimpse into what this something is/will be, but we're still looking through a glass darkly - trying to make out the world into which we're becoming, but still falling short.

What that means for this discussion is that life can't properly be judged because the life we experience is only immature life. It is not complete. Whatever pain and suffering we experience (and for some people, that is all there is), is only part of the whole. There is still a fulfillment, a redemption, a conclusion yet to be realized.

To be fair, I think it allows us a caveat. IF this is all life is, then yes, it might be better to have never lived. But that IF is a big deal. You see, each of us, every one of us, is actually alive. Never having lived is not an option for anyone or anything anywhere at any time. It's just not.

While you may or may not believe in parousia, I think it's fair to say anyone who remains alive has some hope that things will be better in the future. Even the pessimists harbor some hope, deep down in their subconscious, that they're wrong.

Like the second rule of improv, it never hurts to go big. Why expect a future of slightly better? What sense does it make not to fan your flame of hope into something huge? Possible disappointment? I suppose. But when do big dreams have to be limited to our experience? That's an awfully selfish point of view. Why can't I hope for a redeemed world, a fulfilled life somewhere in the future, even if I never see it?

(Of course, for Christians, this concept of resurrection makes that more appealing, since we'll all see it anyway.)

Life does not have to be futile if the good I work for, the love I share, pays off for someone else.

I'm just going to live as if life is a gift, whether I really believe it or not, because I suspect it's a better way to live. You can disagree with me if you want, and I won't argue. You've got a lot of solid evidence on your side. But you might want to hear the story George Bailey has to tell before you make up your mind.

*By the way, if you have or watch a colorized version of this movie, you are dead to me!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. My integrity is not for sale. Those who know me well are aware I would relish the chance to give a bad review in exchange for a free book. If I've failed to do so, it has nothing to do with the source of the material and only with the material itself.

Subtitled "A Memoir... of Sorts," this book is the best of its tradition - not an autobiography concerned with factual representation and historical posterity, Cron attempts to retell his life in service of the overall narrative.

I had previously read his first book, Chasing Francis, which is very good. However, despite the quality material and expert prose, Cron set the bar well above "very good" and never quite reached those heights. For most of Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me, the narrative seemed to be moving in the same direction. Then it wasn't.

Cron once again brings wonderful and timely analogies to augment witty prose in telling humorous and formative stories from his childhood. It felt like a fun ride that wasn't really going anywhere. Quite suddenly, for us and for him, it turns into an extraordinary, moving encounter with God rivaling that of Augustine or John Wesley in its profundity and beauty.

My sacramental friends (of whom I am probably numbered) will celebrate that the eucharist serves as the connectional element of Cron's life. It is a worthy and powerful bookend to the story of one young catholic boy's tumultuous relationship with an aloof, alcohol father and ultimately with himself. It is a fitting image of unworthiness, loss, self-doubt, forgiveness, life, and eternal value which the book explores.

I think some of the contemporary and cultural references lose their punch when they're explained (I'll blame the editor and not the author for those errors), but it's so well written and entertaining. From the moment of the "turn," I could not put it down. Instead of a "too-good-to-be-true" tale, we get a hopeful, grace-filled story of redemption and growth that is excellent because it does not reach the bar it sets for itself.

It's a very good book and I may have to read Chasing Francis again.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Rule of Love

In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial, a lot of jurors have been saying a lot of things. One thing I hear most of them saying is that they wanted to convict Zimmerman of something, but the law wouldn't allow it. That's got me thinking a bit about law.

I'll likely never make it onto a jury - mostly because I won't lie about the things you'll read here. I've also got a lot of lawyer friends (this is what happens when you're a history major) who have been drilled repeatedly in the importance of the rule of law. To them, I apologize. Sorta.

Rule of Law has been held up as the foundation of democracy. It makes sense, for the most part. We see it with the problems emerging in new-ish democracies around the world. Things don't work unless people trust the process, unless everyone is playing by the same rules.

President Morsi, of Egypt, was deposed by the military, supposedly because the populace was clamoring for his impeachment. I've been told that Egypt doesn't have a legal or legislative process of recall. If you want the President out between elections, this is pretty much the only way. That somewhat shaped how I've viewed the situation. Somewhat.

We, in the United States, don't often appreciate what Rule of Law means for us. If the President were impeached by the House of Representatives, tried in the Senate and found guilty, he would likely, angrily, step down, leave office, and move on early to a lucrative career speaking to corporate boards in exchange for duffle bags full of cash.

Conversely, if the President were impeached by the House of Representatives and the charges dismissed in the Senate for lack of standing (you can't just get voted out for unpopularity in the US - you need to have done something unbecoming your office), opponents would likely, angrily, concede defeat and continue grumbling to themselves in their cable news ghetto (whichever ghetto that happens to be).

There would likely be no armed conflict, no protracted process (the actual process is protracted enough), mostly because people in the United States respect the Rule of Law. No matter how clear the Constitution seems to however many of us may agree, the only authoritative voice on the matter is the collective voice of nine old people in stuffy black robes.

As a society, for the most part, we respect that.

It's quite unbelievable in the grand scheme of things. And it's no wonder we fight tooth and nail between our different interests and ideologies for control of the process. As convoluted as it is, this legislative process is the only means by which we can change, alter, or amend this Rule of Law that so thoroughly governs our lives.

What's even more amazing is that this system, which is supposed to be "blind justice" - that is, blind to special interests for the sake of justice, is often "justice blind" - that is, blind to justice for the sake of law.

It's not just about Trayvon Martin - it's also about Citizen's United and the Affordable Care Act and the fact that no one of any consequence at any major financial institution has faced any charges related to the massive lapses in judgment of recent years.

The United States was founded as a protest to the Rule of Law. Our revolutionary fore-fathers didn't like their lot in the system (mostly because they had very little say in the system) and they opted out.

There was a Rule of Law in 18th century Britain, it's just that a King had undue influence over its practice. Historically speaking, that King had less influence over the Rule of Law than any other monarch had ever had over any other nation in the history of the world.

Some are offended I'd even call 18th century Britain a "Rule of Law," since one person had such an out-sized impact. Law is supposed to be an inclusive process of reasoning together, where majority rule is tempered by tolerance for minorities.

It's a great idea. I much more appreciate living in the 21st Century United States than under the rule of mad King George and I'm more grateful to live here than in Egypt right now. (Although we do need to admit that this "Rule of Law" has been passed on to any number of other nations - including jolly old Britain - and we may no longer be the best at implementing it.) The concept of Rule of Law, as practices in modern western society, is far superior to any other form of government that's ever existed. I'm not even sure one could govern an involuntary society any other way.

That being said, I am part of a voluntary society that operates differently. As much as we allow the principles of the Rule of Law to creep in from time to time, the Kingdom of God operates on the Rule of Love.

This Rule of Love is much messier than the Rule of Law. There are no clean lines, delineation, or definitions. There are no winners and losers. A humble spirit and a commitment to self-sacrifice will get you farther than a strong argument and an air-tight case.

The Rule of Law means winning the battle of ideas, logically proving one's point and setting the course for the future. It also means someone coming up short. It means, while the value of the losing side may be recognized, it is not respected; and while the problems of the winning side may be recognized, they are not addressed. To do so would confuse the law.

We do so because the ends, the quiet society where everyone ultimately respects the Rule of Law (except for those odd many few we keep locked up for everyone's protection), justify the means, the ambiguity of right and wrong.

The Rule of Love means recognizing the failure and value of every party and attempting a solution that brings reconciliation without removing consequences. The Rule of Love means walking with, and perhaps suffering with, both those who suffer needlessly and those who deserve their suffering. The Rule of Love means refusing to name winners and losers unless it's corporately - that we are all losers in situations of unresolved conflict and that conflict can be resolved with no losers.

I'm not sure the Rule of Law can accommodate the Rule of Love. It leaves too much in the hands of too few. How can a jury or a judge be counted on to represent all of society without a strict rubric of accountability? In the age of hubris, ego, and bribery, subjectivity is a luxury we can ill afford.*

For many that means separating the Rule of Law from the Rule of Love. When dealing with the courts or the public, we accept the Rule of Law and when living our personal lives or perhaps when engaged in matters of faith and the faith community, we accept the Rule of Love.

Of course both Rules depend on people buying into the system. If an impeached President raises an army to retain power, a war ensues, a victor is proclaimed, and the Rule of Law resets, often with entirely different parameters. You can't force someone to participate in the Rule of Love. Of course, that's obvious. But what we often fail to recognize is that you can't force someone to participate in the Rule of Law, either. You can force them into non-participation through incarceration or execution or expulsion, but participation can't be compelled.

Neither system works the way we hope it will - the way we often pretend it will.

In the end, it comes down to persuasion. How do the Rules persuade those skeptical of participation to fall in line? The Rule of Law does so through force. It is, without question, the most efficient way. The Rule of Love does so through, well, love. It is, without question, a messy, inefficient, often unsuccessful way of doing life.

The Rule of Law has proven effective in the short term (even a "short" term of several hundred years); it's never been effective in the long term (but I guess there's something honorable about the notion that "this time we'll get it right"). The Rule of Love is horribly ineffective in the short term (at least on a large scale), but I have great hope it will be wonderfully successful in the long run.

As much respect as I have for the Rule of Law, it just doesn't possess qualities to which I'm willing to give my life. I'm going to choose the Rule of Love, come what may, it just seems so much more worth dying for - and at least I'd be in good company.

*I am sympathetic to the notion of universal health care, even if I'm skeptical of the current attempts to deliver it in the US, but even I was/am leery of the methods employed to fit this scheme into the Rule of Law.