If you had asked me in the 1980s whether we would ever have a United States President of color, I could not have imagined such a circumstance. If you had asked me again in 2000 my response would have been much the same.
If you had asked me in 1980 or 2000 to imagine the state of America in 2019, I would have opined a country having made modest progress towards a more just and gentle state of affairs. Armed with a political science background and reared in Yuma, Arizona I would never have considered myself naïve. Wow…was I naïve.
There is in our country today a level of hatred and distrust that truly frightens me. The absence of compassion, empathy and general concern for the feelings of others is simply stunning. Perhaps this has always been the true nature of our world and I have been wearing rose-colored glasses. I am truly not sure.
But this article is not about my doubts and general confusion. It is rather about what I “know” to be true. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true! Mark 12:28-34 has a scribe, which was kind of a scriptural lawyer, asking Jesus the following. “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus responded by quoting the “Shema” found in Deuteronomy 6 of the Hebrew scriptures.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus then added from the Book of Leviticus that you should love your neighbor as you love yourself.
The challenge to our understanding of this passage is not to be found in the loving God piece. We get it…but living it out is another thing altogether. Living out our love for God means loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. It gets sticky here because “loving ourselves” is an ambiguous phrase. Without analysis let me offer another translation. “Love your neighbor (everyone), as your love your children (loved ones).”
Most of us would do just about anything for our children. When they speak and especially when they are hurting we center our attention upon them seeking to understand their feelings. We carefully guard our words lest we do harm. We do all that we are able to assist in alleviating their suffering. We love them and this love manifests itself in concrete actions.
The irreducible core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is love. Agape love is doing the best you are able for another human being. The challenge is to prepare ourselves to live out the Gospel in the time allotted to each of us. Where do we begin?
We begin with self-awareness. If I am not self-aware, I will be unable to see, acknowledge or understand the ways in which I have harmed you. How many folks plow through life wounding others at every turn while simultaneously believing they are harmless to all persons and creation herself? Jesus said, “If you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear….” In part, I believe, Jesus was calling each of us to self-awareness.
The Reverend Ron Burford will be with us at our Clergy Retreat on February 6-7 at Slumber Falls. He will again join us at the Annual Meeting May 31st to June 1st in New Orleans. Ron is likely known to you for his stellar work in the “God is Still Speaking” campaign that resonates with us still.
More recently Ron, along with pastoring Sunnyvale UCC in California, has developed an experience/program entitled “Racism Anonymous.” The experience is designed to make each of us more self-aware of how we are each capable of de-humanizing and disdaining the “other.” The “other” in this case, counter-intuitively, is not limited to issues of color. One can be racist, in other words, along multiple points of entry.
The state of our nation today leaves me deeply concerned but not in despair. I continue to believe that living as Jesus taught us to live, we can change our world.
Will you join us on this mission of love?