S6 E1 | Good and Beautiful and Kind with Rich Villodas

Can goodness, beauty, and kindness make any difference at all in a wounded world? Rich Villodas, pastor and author of Good and Beautiful and Kind, talks with Amy Julia Becker about what it means to live lives formed by the love of God.

Guest Bio:

“Rich Villodas is the Brooklyn-born lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, a large multiracial church with more than seventy-five countries represented in Elmhurst, Queens. Rich holds a Master of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.” He is the author of two books: The Deeply Formed Life and Good and Beautiful and Kind.

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Interview Quotes

“Love is the most powerful force in the world to bring about transformation. And so what I’m trying to do here is identify in individual, interpersonal, and institutional ways—what does it mean to love well?”

“The world is really longing for a faith that is training people, informing people, to love well…the world instinctively knows that Christianity is to be marked by love, which is why I think that the world serves as a gift, a prophetic gift to the church.”

“[Humility is the] hard task of lowering our defenses…when we’re able to do that, I think we are establishing our true self in Christ. Our true identity is not in what people say about me, how people agree with me or disagree with me, but it is back to love. It’s rooted in the love of God.”

“We’re all fragile to some degree, and humility is an opportunity for us to really root ourselves in something deeper, namely the love of God.”

“Vulnerability becomes a pathway towards moving beyond…fragility to really deep soul strength in God. It enables us to move towards others and have difficult conversations and be exposed to my own blind spots and ways that I’m missing the mark.”

“If the church can become a greater place of curiosity to recognize the larger idols fears, longings of our souls, I think it can lead us towards wholeness.”

“When we give ourselves to justice, we actually move ourselves closer to wholeness because our wholeness is not found in a privatized relationship with God. Our wholeness is found within the interpersonal engagement with others. And so to the degree that I can offer myself and love to others is the degree to which I will become whole. And so wholeness is not just this individual project.”

“I think we need to reframe a bit where wholeness is found…[It’s] not simply found in my prayer closet. It’s often found in the streets as well.”

“If people can reframe love and see it as the most powerful force in the world…that moves beyond a sentiment…I think we can amble towards wholeness and take the next step there in our journey.”

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Season 6 of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast connects to themes in my latest book, To Be Made Well…you can order here! Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.

Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Amy Julia (4s):
Hi friends. I’m Amy, Julia Becker. And this is love is stronger than fear. A podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and social division. It is so nice to be back with you after a summer hiatus. Although the summer hiatus was nice too, but I get back to this and I realized that I can’t really believe that I get to do this podcast. It’s like so dreamy for me because I get to read books by people that I respect and admire and then talk to them about it. And I, as any of you, who’ve been following along in any of the forums that I put content out into the world will know that I am a book nerd. And so reading books and talking to other people about those books or absorbing their ideas in some capacity and getting to talk to them about it, like, yeah, dream come true.

Amy Julia (51s):
I’m so glad that you get to be here as well. And I will tell you, we’ve got a great season coming up today. Rich Villodas later on in the season, Ruth Haley, Barton, Laurie Ferguson, Wilbert, Willie, James Jennings, and so many more, just beautiful voices that will uplift and inspire. And I think really be a part of a transformation that again, moves us towards a place of honesty, humility, hope, and healing. So to start the season today, I’m talking with Rich Villodas pastor of new life, community church in Queens, New York. His latest book came out a couple months ago and we today are going to talk all about that book and how we can become people who are experiencing God’s healing love and bringing God’s healing love into our communities.

Amy Julia (1m 38s):
His book is called Good and Beautiful and Kind, and it is all those things. I hope you will enjoy his book and enjoy this conversation as much as I did. So I’m here with Rich Villodas and I’m really excited to get to talk with him about his new book. And rich, just want to welcome you to the podcast,

Rich (1m 58s):
Amy, Julia, thanks for having me back on. It’s a gift to be with you.

Amy Julia (2m 3s):
Well, I was introduced actually to you and your work. I don’t know, a couple of years ago when The Deeply Formed Life came out, that’s your first book. And if anyone who’s been a longtime listener to this podcast might recall. We had a great conversation about that book, which I have recommended to countless people. I think what I love about your, that book, but also your ministry, because I now follow you on Instagram, which I also recommend to people who are looking for like depth and substance in the world of Instagram follow Rich Villodas cause it’s like daily dose of that. But anyway, I love this combination of a kind of simple gospel Orthodox Christian faith that is paired with contemplative prayer and action in the world.

Amy Julia (2m 45s):
Because I don’t feel as though there are many places that I find those three things like actually in not even tension, but just in communication with each other. And that’s something that is, has been true of your work for a long time. It’s true of your new book. I really appreciate that about what you’re doing. We’re going to get a chance to talk about that a bit, but I did jump at the chance because I’ve been now following you for a couple of years to talk about this new book. Good and Beautiful and Kind, where did where, well, I know where you got the title, but for listeners who don’t know that, will you tell us where the title came from?

Rich (3m 20s):
Yeah. You know, the title comes from this wonderful poem by Langston Hughes, the great African-American poet. And he wrote a poem called tired. I I’ve read many of Hughes’s poems. And I read this poem number of years ago and have come back to it year after year, because I think it succinctly captures belongings of our soul as well as what’s happening in our world. And the poem essentially says, he says, I am so tired of waiting aren’t you for the world to become Good and Beautiful and Kind, let us take a knife and cut the world in two and see what worms are eating at the rind. And so he’s, there’s this longing for goodness and beauty and kindness.

Rich (4m 3s):
He knows there’s something wrong with the world and his invitation and really is to take a knife. And it’s a jarring image, but he’s not getting at kind of further dividing the world into this side. And that side he’s trying to get beneath or talk. He’s more talking about depth than division. So when I read that poem and I thought about the kind of work that I’m trying to do as a pastor, as an author there as a follower of Jesus, I thought that’s, that’s the, those are the words that I think our society is longing for. And it’s a great poem to, to seed really the ideas that I tried to bring forward in this book.

Amy Julia (4m 43s):
Absolutely. I think there’s, it was interesting cause I knew the title, but I obviously didn’t know the contents until I read it. And you know, I’ve recently been working on a book about healing and really about the power of God’s healing love. And so I got into this book and was like, oh, that’s what this book is about too. And it’s by no means. I mean, they’re very, very different books, but I just was, it felt so apropos to have you on this podcast with the title of it being Love Is Stronger Than Fear. And this is a podcast about the healing power of God’s love when it comes to both personal pain and social division and all of those themes run through this book as well. And in the introduction you asked this question, what does it mean to have our lives formed by God’s love?

Amy Julia (5m 26s):
And I thought maybe that would be a place to start just to give an overview of the book, but asking that question, what does it mean? Why does it matter for us to have and to live lives formed by God’s love?

Rich (5m 38s):
Yeah. You know, it’s, it is the strongest power in the world, the love of God and love as a force, you know, lots of folks think of love and break sentimental categories and to preach about love too much people think of you, you’re watering down the gospel. You’re not taking sin seriously yelling to see that love the most powerful force in the world to bring about transformation. And so what I’m trying to do here is identify in individual interpersonal and institutional ways. What does it mean to love? Well, and a big overview of it. You know, I’m, I’m beginning by talking about sin, which is that I, you know, I don’t know how popular debt will be to begin a book on sin, but what I’m trying to do is frame sin as failure to love, as opposed to just abstractly missing the mark or morally failing.

Rich (6m 38s):
I really, if the greatest commandment is to love a love God, your heart, soul, mind, strength, and love your neighbors yourself. That’s the greatest commandment. The greatest sin must be failure to do that commandment and it’s failure to love. And so I begin by talking about how sin turns us inward it’s that Agustine phrase of incorrect use and say that we are a self referential turned in on ourselves and not towards God, not towards our neighbor. And, but that’s not the only problem with us within us. There’s a larger problem of powers and principalities. And so I don’t know how popular having a second chapter on powers and principalities, this is going to be, but I’m trying to get at this a larger force in our world that disrupts the flow of love powers that we cannot see with our eyes that get entrenched into ideologies and institutions and individuals that block the flow of love, which leads to us living in a traumatized world.

Rich (7m 36s):
Right? So write about trauma. And then from that point on really those are the forces behind the, the fractures that block, the flow of love. And then from there, I’m trying to talk about how do we move towards love through contemplative prayer, through humility as kind of that chief virtue that can cultivate love and through really in family systems theory of differentiation, I use kind of like calm and curious presence in the book, but that’s not all love is love is not all just about interpersonal. It’s a part of the larger world as well. So I finally, the last part of it is focusing on dealing with conflict, forgiveness, and justice and trying to hold these things together.

Rich (8m 21s):
So it’s not by any means a comprehensive take on it, but it’s, I think it’s a broad take on the ways that we can have our souls be trained, to love well in a world that quite frankly does not live well. And so that’s kind of the big picture, but I’m trying to, in many ways, you know, the initial title of the book was called rooted in love. And, and then I was just, so you’ll see that phrase come up over and over again, to be rooted in love. And after, you know, draft two and draft the Hughes is like, oh, that’s really what I want to get at here. But you’ll see me talking essentially, it’s a book on love, but coming at it from a different angle.

Amy Julia (9m 4s):
Yeah. That’s so interesting. And I, you know, it’s interesting because before I knew that the Hughes poem was the inspiration for the title I had heard, I think it was Peter Kreeft. Who’s a philosopher say that we are longing. Like all humans are longing for truth, goodness, and beauty. And then I heard a pastor say, and our generation is longing for it in the opposite order for beauty, goodness, and truth. And that like when we see the beauty of God, we then begin to understand the goodness of God, which leads us to the truth of God anyway. So I actually thought that was where the title was coming from. And I was a little bit like why kindness instead of suits, which is of course not what you’re doing at all.

Amy Julia (9m 44s):
I learned on the first page when you was talking about the Hughes poem, but I still think there is something of that getting after those human longings, like this is what we all want and why are we not living that way? And I get it that, you know, sin is not a popular word and it can seem like a, an old fashioned religious concept, but I, you make a claim that it is actually incredibly necessary in order for us to understand our world, but also how to live in love. And I loved, you had a quote from Barbara ground Taylor, that sin is our only hope. This is all, which is not, you know, as, as usual, not a sentence you kind of expect, have you had a really helpful one right?

Amy Julia (10m 28s):
Soon as our only hope, will you say a little bit more about that?

Rich (10m 31s):
Yeah. You know, Barbara Brown Taylor Episcopal priest has been so helpful and helping me see again, sin in a hopeful kind of a way. And you know, she gets at this idea that abandoning the language of sin, this is kind of her language that will not make sin go away. And that just because we do away with it, what it does is it doesn’t give us the appropriate category to address some of the larger points of fragmentation, of evil, of pain in our world. That if the issue is simply about education or the issue simply about some moral failings here or there some more inconsistency, it puts, it puts humanity far in far to a positive light.

Rich (11m 21s):
Something else is the principle at work in the world. You know, whether I’m watching star wars these days. And so whether it’s calling the dark side or whatever, there’s something about our society that cannot be neatly explained and categorized that when we see some of the atrocities, when we see mass shootings, when we see war, when we see disease and such, there’s like, there’s something else that’s wrong that is emerging outside of ourselves and taking root within ourselves. And so I think the language much credit to Barbara Brown Taylor for helping me, if someone like Fleming RutledgeThe as well, it’s this GA that we need this language in ways that are not condescending and in ways that are not a moralistic and weaponized, but in a way that helps us to see the gravity of the challenge and the fractured and the alienation that we see.

Rich (12m 18s):
And so I, and I think this is where Christians can offer the world a broader lexicon to explain really what’s happening in the world. And maybe there’s some other resources that we need to move us towards wholeness.

Amy Julia (12m 34s):
Well, and I think what you do a great job of is I’m not over simplifying sin in this. On the one hand, you give a simple definition, failure to love. But on the other hand in talking about both the ways in which we individually have a failure to love, we get curved in on ourselves. There are moral choices we make, but also just neglect. I mean, I’ll, you know, self-centered is all those things, but there’s also this external powers and principalities forces that malforms us as well, but, you know, systems of oppression, essentially that act on us rather than, and they also perhaps act within us. But nevertheless, there’s both the agency that I have to make choices that are sinful to use the word.

Amy Julia (13m 20s):
And then there’s also this, I can’t even help it, that sin is affecting me because it is out there as a force in the world. But in either case, being able to see that and name it for what it is you’re contending is something that actually allows us to experience. As you say, stumbled towards wholeness. It’s not some new, a path towards wholeness, but stumbled towards wholeness, which in turn allows us to become agents of healing. So there is this really positive direction that takes us towards the love of God, if an, as we’re able to actually name sin and see it for what it is and the ways that it distorts and deforms are being.

Rich (14m 7s):
Yeah, yeah. The hope is not that we’re seeing sin in such a way that keeps us turn inward on our, on ourselves and, and keeps us there. I mean, there’s some Christianities that will have us focus on our human depravity to the extent that we never moved towards wholeness. You know, there’s some context, you know, I grew up in a Pentecostal context where, you know, folks talk more about the devil than they did about Jesus. It’s easy to talk about sin more than wholeness. And so the goal is not simply to, to end there, I think, but I think it’s a necessary place to begin to get at the, the, the, the depth and the comprehensive nature of the struggle that we find ourselves in, which then leads to us recognizing there’s not just something in here.

Rich (14m 53s):
There’s a larger force outside in our world called powers and principalities that we need language for as well to really understand the trouble that we’re in and maybe the resources to get out of it.

Amy Julia (15m 4s):
And I also think we have this in putting sin in the context of a failure to love. There’s this deeper truth that in the nature of love, I remember a friend of mine once saying, and I don’t know if this is true anymore, but then when like FBI agents were trained in how to identify counterfeit hundred dollar bills, they weren’t given counterfeit a hundred dollars bills. They were given real ones. And that’s what they had to study, because if they knew the real thing well enough, they would be able to identify the counterfeits. And I think there’s something there as well in the sense of like, if we, in the person of Jesus and in the story of the scriptures and in the yeah, descriptions of love lived out, if we can get to know love, then we start to be able to see.

Amy Julia (15m 58s):
And actually your book has a lot of wonderful, personal examples of you over the course of a lifetime of walking with God beginning to see the ways in which you are not being formed and shaped by love. And in fact, our feeling to love as a result of that, whether that’s in like reactivity to somebody who says something and you feel all defensive, or whether it’s in a failure to clean your, you know, facial hair out of the sink with your wife or whatever it is, again, very real life scenarios. So many of us can relate to, but I really love that sense of love is at the core love is the beginning and the end. And we have to talk about sin in order to make sense of why we’re not all living in loving la-la land all the time.

Amy Julia (16m 42s):
Right. And yet it’s also an insistence that we can be headed in that direction by God’s grace and by that equipping and rooting that he wants for us.

Rich (16m 53s):
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, that is the standard that Jesus offers his disciples in terms of what does it mean to truly be a follower of me? It is love. And I think what I’ve discovered in preaching and pastoring and writing and conversations that are coming up is that’s what the world is really longing for. The world is really longing for a faith that is training people, informing people to love well, and anytime it’s not happening, the world instinctively knows that Christianity is to be marked by love, which is why I think that the world it serves as a gift, a prophetic gift to the church.

Rich (17m 33s):
When the, when the world says you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, I think that’s a great gift. I don’t think we should be receiving that defensively, but they’re calling us to our original purpose in God, which is to love well. So the rebuke that the church is receiving from the secular society from the world around us, actually, I can, could be God’s word being spoken through them, to us.

Amy Julia (17m 55s):
That makes so much sense. And I, again, I think this, the first part of this book in terms of identifying the problem of sin is really helpful. And then you turn towards what you’re kind of talking about here. Okay. So if that’s not how we’re living, how could we, and you, you say you, right, our world is fractured because many followers of Christ have not learned to pray in a way that opens us up to God’s healing. And I was, again, a little bit surprised that that’s the tr it makes perfect sense. And yet it’s like, oh yeah, okay. So prayer is kind of the first answer, not the only answer and praying in a way that opens us up to God’s healing, which is essentially praying in a way that also acknowledges and begins to notice our brokenness, our woundedness.

Amy Julia (18m 39s):
So could you talk about what does it mean to pray in a way that opens us up to God’s healing?

Rich (18m 44s):
Like, you know, prayer has become, and this is fresh in my mind, only because of the continued problem of mass shootings in our nation. And every time there’s a mass shooting, the word prayer is like one of the first words that emerges. So it’s a very religious theological term that tends to dominate social media and the world because the first response usually is, you know, thoughts and prayers. And every time that comes up and the way that it’s used just reminds me that prayer is so often just been seen as self-oriented catharsis.

Rich (19m 27s):
It’s seen as a way of just pacifying the situation without actually allowing that space to be a place of personal transformation, a place of seeing the world differently of joining in what God is already doing. And so, and, and it’s ironic because I begin the chapter by focusing on mass shootings and, and one of the ways that prayer has become an obstacle to transformation in our society,

Amy Julia (19m 58s):

Rich (19m 59s):
Is the saddest thing in the world, because when Jesus teaches us how to pray, he’s he says to actively pray, you know, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And so it’s often the case that when people hear that prayer, they hear it in the form of Lord. There’s so many problems in this world. We can’t do anything about it. Please let your kingdom come. As opposed to Lord. There’s so much that we can do, but only in your power. And I think prayer has often been seen in the first way, Lord, there’s nothing we can do. Please fix this world, come Lord Jesus, come. And I think the Lord is looking at us and saying, I want you to come.

Rich (20m 41s):
You know, I want you to put feet on your prayers, but I do believe prayer is the star. And so much that sin is the starting point to recognize how fractured our world is an alienated. Our world is I do believe prayer is a starting point to a world that’s marked by wholeness, but it is a particular kind of prayer. That’s not going again, pacify the, you know, status quo is not gonna just going to keep me oriented within myself. It actually is going to move me towards love and towards the other and towards wholeness and justice.

Amy Julia (21m 19s):
Yeah, it’s interesting. I remember when my husband was in college, one of the terms they had in their kind of college fellowship was the prayer Heisman. So using the like portrait of a Heisman trophy winner, who’s like, you know, pushing the hands away. They’re like, oh, I’ll pray for you. Like help you. I’m not going to engage with you. I’m just going to pray for you. And I think that like that, I mean, again, it’s not funny, but that is what we often see with the tactical response of like, I’ll pray for you. And yet I think what you’re wearing, what you’re writing about is a different way of prayer, which is I’m going to start with that contemplative space. And you give a couple of examples, both in terms of stillness and silence and God’s presence.

Amy Julia (21m 60s):
But then also you use the example of an ancient prayer called the Jesus prayer in terms of just really examining the heart and saying, God, I want to see what is wrong inside of me. I want to see that sin not so that I can like wallow in the, you know, despair of it, but so that it might be healed, which will free me up to enter into the world in a different way, and to take action and engage out of a place of love and not out of a place of woundedness, which leads me to another question, because you write a fair amount about the ways that we try to protect ourselves the sense of our defenses, whether that’s against criticism or even just against someone who has an opinion, that’s different than ours.

Amy Julia (22m 49s):
And you write about the practice of humility as an antidote to soul fragility. So could you talk a little bit about that? Like how is, what is soul fragility and how has humility and antidote and how can we practice humility? Like how is that not something that just kind of happens, but something we can actually practice.

Rich (23m 7s):
Yeah. Sole fragility. I’m so familiar with it because I recognize how, how emotionally fragile I am towards critique difference, disagreements that there’s something in me. I mean, some, you know, theologians a lot, we call it the false self that there’s something inside of me that I’m trying to establish prop up a way, a way that I’m trying to offer myself to the world as competent as capable that I’m reading my identity in all these things. And then when those things are challenged, the false self is threatened. And so, so fragility is really this idea that we are constantly on guard trying to protect ourselves from the threats of others.

Rich (23m 57s):
And humility then becomes the way of, I was trying to address humility. W when folks usually think about humility to think about doing the lowly task, and what I’m trying to do is it’s the hard task of lowering our defenses, that, that when we’re able to do that, I think we are establishing our true self in Christ. Whereas our true identity is not in what people say about me, how people agree with me or disagree with me, but it is back to love. It’s rooted in the love of God. And so this is the gateway for me. And I think so much of the conversations that we’re having related to race related to politics related to sexuality related to whatever across the board is such a minefield.

Rich (24m 47s):
And we can’t have, you know, healthy conversations or deliberate with one another, because there’s so much fragility. Now that term, you know, lots of folks think about like white fragility. And so folks typically gold there, and you know, that white people can’t have a hard conversation about race because there’s just something in them that’s weekend. And so they’re going to make up all kinds of obstacles and such make some movement here. And, you know, I think there’s some good sociological terminology to understand what’s happening, but there’s a larger fragility that moves beyond his wife and it’s the soul for. So for me, I’m trying to say in various circumstances, we all have this and the most powerful in our world, or seemingly powerful in our world have this, those that are on the margins of society have this, we’re all fragile to some degree.

Rich (25m 45s):
And humility is an opportunity for us to really root ourselves in something deeper, namely the love of God.

Amy Julia (25m 54s):
Well, and you give an example, I’m trying to think, I remember that you knew you were having a meeting with someone that was possibly going to be criticism of you. And so you took a walk just to be like, why am I so either freaked out or defensive going into this meeting and then wrote down a variety of things that you were like, here are some lies I believing about myself. Could you talk to, did you tell that story a little bit? Just because I think it’s an example of the non-reactivity calm presence and humility that you’re getting at in this kind of center section of the book.

Rich (26m 28s):
Yeah. You know, when this happened after January 6th, after January, I, I preached a message after, you know, the insurrection of the capital and all that. There, I, I preached a message on remembering our baptism providentially that Sunday after January 6th on the church calendar, it was focusing on the baptism of Jesus. And so I thought this is a great opportunity to remind ourselves in our congregation, who do we belong to in light of this national, this national news here and, and really crisis. So I preached this message and I, you know, talk about corrosive racism and cable news, discipleship, and charismatic prophecies and conspiracy theories, you know, all the bad stuff that starts with the letter C and I talked about the whole thing.

Rich (27m 21s):
And a few days after I started getting a number of messages from congregants who were frankly upset that I covered some of those things and which surprised me, but I started having a number of these conversations in one of our congregants who really is a pillar of our church, asked to, you know, have a two hour meeting. And I’m thinking, I think that can come out of a two hours. And so I just asked, you know, can I, can we meet for, you know, 75 minutes for 90 minutes? You know, this is my, again, this is my anxiety here. And, and I got to a point where two hours before the meeting, I’m, I’m just messed up.

Rich (28m 5s):
I’m thinking that this is a bad conversation and is really bad. So I go for a walk on Queens Boulevard, sit in a bench and start naming. Some of the lies are asking really God to help me see the messages that I’ve internalized, that’s causing so much anxiety in me that I need to lower my defenses. And, you know, the Lord sort of bringing to mind about six to seven lies messages, but it was only until I was able to do that work, that I was able to live from a deeper sensor. And it wasn’t that everything was just perfectly fine when I had that meeting a couple of hours later, but I was able to come at it from, I think, a more centered present, a place where I was no longer thinking about my own inadequacies and the things that I’m not getting.

Rich (28m 50s):
Right. And, but that takes a lot of work to be in those spaces. But it’s something that I’ve has helped me along the way.

Amy Julia (29m 0s):
Well, I know from reading other places, this book, but all other books and your, you know, posts on Instagram and so forth as well, that there is a daily work that you’re doing, not because every single day you have someone asking for a two hour meeting to critique a sermon, right. But because there is a sense of every day, I can come into the presence of God and ask without fragility because I well and ask without fragility for God to reveal the places in me that I need to see that are dark or ugly or need to be brought into the light. And the reason I can do that is because God’s intention for me is love. It’s not that God’s intention is to punish me for that or shame me for that or cast me out.

Amy Julia (29m 42s):
None. I mean, so far the opposite. And that’s where I remember when, just back to the word fragility, when white fragility came out and I read the book and certainly as a white person recognized myself in much of her descriptions of that and felt like there were some helpful aspects to it. But I also was really thinking about the relationship between fragility and vulnerability, because vulnerability is not the same as fragility, right? I mean, fragility is like, if I knock on, you know, not give you’re going to break, right. Whereas vulnerability is like the ability to be wounded, but I think it’s also the ability to be open to love. And so there is a sense of if I’m not defending myself, I might get wounded, but I also might be open to love.

Amy Julia (30m 27s):
And so if we are vulnerable in God’s presence, we’re guaranteed that love, right. If we’re vulnerable in one another’s presence, then it’s just, we have a chance of that. Whereas if we’re fragile all the time, we’re just gonna be that risk of either cutting ourselves off or being broken all the time.

Rich (30m 45s):
That’s so well said. And I wish I put that in the book, but you’re right. I mean, it is vulnerability, which humility cultivates that ability. Again, most folks think humility is okay, I’ll have to, I’ll be the guy to clean the toilets and I’ll do the lowly task. And I think that aspect of humility, what I’m trying to do is say, I think there’s something a bit deeper that moves beyond just the tasks that we give ourselves to, but how we see ourselves and how we see others and how we see God that informs now our interactions and vulnerability becomes a pathway towards moving beyond the kind of fragility to really deep soul strength in God Enables us to move towards others and have difficult conversations and be exposed to my own blind spots and ways that I’m missing the mark.

Rich (31m 37s):
And so, you know, every time I meet with a congregant who, you know, they say, you know, I just met with someone yesterday and my fragility came to the surface again. And the person said, can we, you know, pastor rich, can we, can we meet, I have some puzzles and some wonderings and my mind went to all kinds of, okay, what did I preach recently? And that I post anything on social media and who I haven’t. And I went to all these interpretations of what I think could possibly happen. And then I basically said, and this was my anxiety. I said, I responded. I said, could you do me a favor? Could you, could you be a little bit more specific about what you want to talk about before our meeting and the person was fine and the response they gave, I was like, oh, that’s all right.

Rich (32m 24s):
I look forward to meeting. And I think in some ways that’s a good practice so that we’re not blindsided all the time with what’s happening, especially in the world that we’re in. But I do know that that request partly was wise, partly came out of my fragility. And again, I felt the Lord saying, you know, the lady could have come with all kinds of negative stuff, but your identity is not rooted in that. Right. Then it inserted in something deeper, but it’s an ongoing

Amy Julia (32m 53s):
In my own life. I realized this was a couple of years ago. And I think kind of stemming out of some similar self-reflection before God that I would often, if I knew that someone was not in a good place emotionally, but I wasn’t sure why I would assume that it was my fault. And so again, it goes back to some family systems, things we don’t need to get into here, but so what, so first of all, I started to learn. It’s not always my fault. And then I would be so relieved that it was not my fault, that I essentially had no compassion for the fact that my husband or sister or child was upset. It was just this funny process of recognizing like they’re still upset.

Amy Julia (33m 33s):
And even if it’s not your fault, perhaps you’d like to care for them, you know, but I do again, that sense of being able to, yes, with vulnerability and humility, enter into challenging conversations and disagreements and, you know, have curiosity about all of that is, is key to being people who are being healed and able to bring healing into the world. And I wanted to turn to that, you know, for this kind of last section of our conversation together, because, you know, there’s a real progression in the book we receive gods, well, there’s a, the world is a fractured place. We can receive God’s healing presence through prayer and humility, even addressing anxiety.

Amy Julia (34m 16s):
And some of the things we’ve been talking about and then, and not necessarily always in ABC order, but we can move out into the world from a place of greater wholeness to bring that healing. And I just wondered if you have any stories from your congregation or your own life, that point towards that movement towards healing and wholeness and how that ability to bring healing out into the world, you know, how that can actually happen. I’m also thinking of this is earlier in the book, but you wrote in God’s hands, our wounds become sources of healing for ourselves and for others, God wastes nothing, not even our deepest pain. And I think that’s such a word of hope as well, that sense that we can move from brokenness to healing, not only in our own lives, but actually as a blessing to the world.

Amy Julia (35m 4s):
So again, are there any stories or examples that come to mind of that, that process?

Rich (35m 9s):
Yeah. You know, there’s a couple of come to mind one in my own life. And then one from something I saw in our congregation that I, I talk about regarding the election season, in my own life, you know, back to the woundedness part, you just mentioned, like to live in a world that’s inflicted by and, you know, sin and powers and principalities leads to a kind of traumatized society. Fromm has been a word that’s been coming up more and more in recent years to being, you know, aware trauma aware. And, and how do we have again, the vocabulary to talk about what it means to be human and the ways that block the flow of love.

Rich (35m 54s):
And I remember having a conversation with someone, a guy in our congregation, who we were very different from one another and across the board, or we saw everything so differently. And he was just a pain in my neck. I mean, truly, and in my neck, every time I got an email conversation, we just saw things so differently. And I remember I was about to have a conversation with him. And one of our pastors calls me and I’ve been thinking about at this point, you know, that people who have been so traumatized, they have a hard time loving for good reason. And if we don’t recognize the trauma that we carry, that could just be a bit of information that keeps us from actually seeing people in their room witness, not to excuse behavior and all that, but to meet them on a different level, so to speak.

Rich (36m 46s):
And so I remember having a conversation with his pastor and he said, do you know that this person had been in conversation with and was about to meet? He began to just outline the level of trauma from his story that he’s experienced over the years. And as I began to hear about the depth of loss and the depth of trauma information that I didn’t have before, which is why the church can be a really beautiful place for wholeness when we learn each other’s stories and we know each other’s, we talk a lot about genograms at new life and we share genograms with one another, just as our family history and the, and what, how we’ve been, how we’ve sinned, how we’ve been sinned against something. When we, when we get access to that information, something shifts in our souls where we’re able to see someone in a different light.

Rich (37m 32s):
And I remember hearing about their story of trauma. And after hearing about the level of loss of the experience, I was just able to be present with the person in a new way and not everything was solved in that moment. We, we still disagreed on so much, but I do think my vision for this person, my love for this person, my affection for this person was shifted. I think significantly because I recognize there was some significant loss and pain, and I have my own significant loss and pain that I must happen to. And so I think our wholeness, when we recognize the depth of brokenness and room, goodness, that we were all carrying, I think that positions us to love.

Rich (38m 13s):
Well, I also think about, you know, I write about what does it mean to be a common, curious presence in the world? And the best thing, one of the best examples I think about is in 2020, you know, we had this election, Amy, Julia, I don’t know if you remember it. There was a guy named Donald Trump who was <inaudible>. But so I remember getting an email from one of our pastors saying, Hey, I have a great idea. We should have four weeks before the election is conversation on zoom with our all invite, the whole church and have two people, one voting for Trump, one voting for Biden. Talk about why they’re voting for each.

Rich (38m 54s):
And I thought, this is the worst idea ever heard of that. Now, remember we’re experiencing COVID racial, injustice, political. I mean, I’m like, why would we do this to ourselves who are fragile congregation? And so I said, we’re not going to do it. I came, she came back to me, said we can get two of our elders to do it. And I thought, you know, this is even worse, you know, just really gonna crumble. And, and then, you know, I kind of heard, you know, like we’re the emotionally healthy church, you know, and I’m thinking, that’s when my predecessor, Pete Scazzero was leading it, you know, this is a new day

Amy Julia (39m 35s):

Rich (39m 35s):
Done with that message. And it turns out that I agreed to do it. And what I saw really surprised me, and I’m the pastor of this church, you know, and what I saw was two people who were calm and curious. And I, you know, when I, when I tell this story, I don’t want to romanticize that everything was wonderful and there was no significant disagreements and we didn’t get awkward. And the chat section was pretty awkward at times during that webinar on zoom, I did notice a love level of curiosity that what was happening was the two elders that were in conversation with each other were just asking, curious and compassionate questions about helped me to understand, again, we didn’t walk away with much agreement on some things, but I do think the way we modeled something that could be different in the world.

Rich (40m 37s):
And I, and so, I mean, I, I can’t, I don’t want to be naive here and idealistic and romanticize this thing here, but I do think the church, if the church can become a greater place of curiosity to recognize the larger idols fears, longings of our souls, I think it can lead us towards wholeness. And that event, I think actually pushed our church forward in terms of wholeness and healing, as opposed to greater fragmentation. And so those are just a couple of stories that come to mind.

Amy Julia (41m 7s):
I love that last story in particular, because of that sense of whether or not this was the intention. It seems to me, you created a space that said, we really mean it, that your politics are not what create your identity. And certainly that create your sense of membership and belonging. Here. We have leaders who disagree and I would assume they’re talking to each other in terms of, because of what I believe to be true about the love of God I’m voting in these totally different ways. And so to, as you said, to model that way of thinking that way of engaging with, you know, quote unquote the other side, but in a personal manner, I do think it took tremendous courage on your part and on theirs to do it, especially in our, in our society, but all my gosh, how much do we need that as a way, especially among, I mean, even among Christians, especially among Christians, we are not in a place of being calm and curious with one another, I think, particularly in the political realm.

Amy Julia (42m 13s):
So I just, I really love that story. And I think it does speak to the way in which becoming, you know, emotionally healthy can actually lead to really bringing, you know, goodness and kindness and beauty out into the world. Well, I could sit here and talk to you all day, but I’d love to just ask one more question because the final chapter of the book is about justice. And I was thinking about the kind of trajectory as you use the words earlier, individual interpersonal, institutional, there’s this sense of healing and love, and even an understanding of sin, all of those things work on all three of those levels.

Amy Julia (42m 53s):
And the book is kind of leading in a direction towards justice, but it makes me wonder sometimes like, is justice a result of healing work? Because if it is, I, it feels a little bit like we’ll never get there. And I, and of course we’re never going to get to like perfect justice, but like, I’ve got, I’ve got a lot of healing work to do. So I can’t trouble myself with that justice business quite yet, because, you know, so like, how is justice a part of healing work? And not just once you’re all set, you go out and you care about the poor or something like that. Does that make sense? Like what I’m asking

Rich (43m 28s):
That makes tons of sense. And it’s something that comes up over and over in our congregation on so many different levels, not just apply justice, but apply to just serving, you know, people hear about emotional health and Sabbath and introspection and self-examining, and then they go, you know, when I get a hole, then I’ll serve, well, we’re going to be here for a long time before you do that. And so I, I think there must be this interplay, this concurrent interplay of action, to your point where you said earlier, contemplation reflection and action.

Rich (44m 7s):
And, you know, there’s some theologians like Gustavo with the edits out of, in Latin America, who would, who would say that from a liberation theology perspective that we begin with practice that justice is really about prac beginning with practice, and then reflecting on the practice that we’re giving ourselves that he begins with action. And, but then we’re reflecting on the action that’s taking place, whereas others might begin with reflection and then moving towards action. And so I think, however, it’s hap however that’s happening, whether we’re beginning with that first and then reflecting, I think personality wise, temperament wise, that might differ, but we need not wait until every wound has been healed.

Rich (44m 58s):
Every genogram has been done, right? So we have 20 counseling sessions and 10 spiritual direction sessions and, and one Enneagram assessment before we can work for justice in the world. No, but reframing justice again, justice is Cornell. West said, justice is what love looks like in public. And so if I’m to give myself towards love in public institutional ways, it calls for action right now. Now it’s going to differ from person to person, and it’s going to differ in terms of scope. I talk a lot about justice from a local perspective as a pastor, we want, it’s very easy to get caught up on social media and think about justice in very abstract ways that we don’t actually end up doing anything except tweeting and posting a picture about why we should be doing XYZ.

Rich (45m 50s):
When I preach about justice and teach about justice, I’m thinking about my local community in Elmhurst Queens. I’m thinking about, you know, New York city, I’m thinking very concrete. And so I’m trying to move our congregation to immediately begin to address matters of justice today. And the, it need not wait until we find wholeness in ourselves. And so, as a matter of fact, Amy, Julia, I would say that it is when we give ourselves to justice, that we actually move ourselves closer to wholeness because our wholeness is not found in a privatized relationship with God.

Rich (46m 30s):
Our wholeness is found within the interpersonal engagement with others. And so to the degree that I can offer myself and love to others is the degree to which I will become whole. And so wholeness is not just this individual project. I’m getting engaged. I went to a private retreat and I love my, I go to monasteries all the time. But if we think that is, can only be found in a monastery and not found as well in the soup kitchen and not found as well in the protest line and not found this well, and the ways that we’re promoting policies for equitable living, that’s where we find wholeness as well. And so I think we need to reframe a bit where is wholeness found is not simply found in my prayer closet.

Rich (47m 15s):
It’s often found in the streets as well.

Amy Julia (47m 17s):
And it seems to me that that what you said to begin that that reflection and action are in a dynamic with each other, so that when I am, you know, out on the streets with a protest sign, or when I’m serving in a soup kitchen, there is an opportunity whether it’s in the moment or later to say, to recognize God’s presence in both of those places and to recognize the presence of love or the ways in which I was turning away from that love. But just to, to have a contemplative mindset, which I think is the mind of Christ. I think back to even the story of like, you know, Jesus hears that John, the Baptist has been killed and goes off to pray and gets interrupted for like a day to provide food and teaching and healing for people.

Amy Julia (48m 7s):
And then as soon as that’s all over, he goes off to pray. Like he did get kind of, he had to wait for it, but he also made sure it happened. And so there was this public and private interplay and, you know, obviously Jesus was operating out of a place of wholeness that I do not quite have, but nevertheless, I think it’s an encouragement to me to not think I need to be doing any of this perfectly and that it is all actually kind of weaving together and a part of the healing and the wholeness to be able to both recognize, you know, again, using the movement of your book, recognize the distortion of love, practice and participate in the, really the receiving of God’s law in terms of that humility and contemplation, and then of living that out, whether it’s in individual interpersonal or institutional places.

Amy Julia (49m 3s):
Yeah. So thank you for just giving us so many different facets of the love of God and of what it means to live a life that is beautiful and Good and kind, I really loved your book and I’m excited for people to be able to read it. Okay,

Rich (49m 20s):
Thank you, Amy Julia so much. And at the end of the day, if people can reframe love and see it as the most powerful force in the world in situate that moves beyond a sentiment, you know, sentimentalize it and all that there, I think we can take amble towards wholeness and take the next step there in our journey. But if, if I can help them to do that, I’d be very pleased. And I think a greater sense of wholeness can await us. So thank you so much.

Amy Julia (49m 52s):
Thanks so much for being here. Thanks as always for listening to this episode of Love Is Stronger Than Fear. You can check the show notes for links to the books and passages and articles we mentioned. And if you have listened to this far, you might be someone who cares enough about this podcast to go and give it a rating or review, and or to share it with other people who might benefit from conversations about hope and healing in our fractured world. So take, I don’t know, two minutes and offer that it would be a gift to many, and I deeply appreciate it. I’m always grateful to Jake Hanson for editing this podcast and to Amber Beery, my social media coordinator, who does more to support this show than anyone will ever know.

Amy Julia (50m 39s):
And I am also grateful to you, my listener and I pray and hope that as you go into your day to day, you will carry with you. The peace that comes from believing that Love Is Stronger Than Fear.

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