My mind has been troubled often recently with the changes that change brings. Profound, right? I am not only referring to the sometimes painful and difficult process of personal change. I speak of the ripple effect to those we love.
I slowly have been stepping away from some of the conservative dogma that defined my youth for years now. I blame it on my increased exposure to the people, places, and things that were often demonized and scary. I blame it on the recognition that it is difficult to think of real, live, skin-covered humans in front of us as evil (or at least it should be). I blame it on my increased willingness to question incessantly and dig deeply into scripture.
I blame the people I love. The people who have been hurt by doctrine over grace. Hurt by the theology of tradition. Confused by those who follow a loving God (don’t we all say that?) yet harshly speak of others. Hardened by those who callously state that they “love the sinner but hate the sin”. (Can anyone show me where Christ suggested or modeled that approach?) Would most humans want to be helped by someone who says that they hate something about them? I have a hard time picturing me reaching out to someone who espouses that approach.
Allow me to stop here to stress that I have not denounced my faith in Christ as the true bridge between us and God. That Christ is indeed God. That we are all sinners. We all mess up. We all are weak in our own ways. We all need the grace of God. We all need forgiveness. Forgiveness is freely given to all who ask. These things remain. But they are merely the beginning. They are the tiny entrance to the path.
I have found myself oddly at odds with other Christians when I stress the importance of loving one another. ALL one another. When Jesus spoke the greatest commandment (to church leaders trying to trick Him) and it’s vital partner commandment, there were no exceptions. He said to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And the second commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Why do I quote this passage so often? Because “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” That means all the rest of scripture bows to these words. All scripture is secondary to this. The Old Testament prophets are secondary to this. The rules given to old and new believers are secondary to this. Loves trumps all.
Before we speak–love.
Before we act– love.
Before we think–love.
Before we judge–love.
Before we quote scripture to condemn–love.
And before we love–God. Otherwise we are incapable of doing the rest.
So why have I so often put my phone down with a defeated sigh after a conversation with someone who has known me a long time? Why have I felt a growing chasm with some family and friends? Why is my deepening commitment to social justice for the poor and marginalized seen as a betrayal of sorts? Why are my questions of the status quo seen as personal barbs by so many? I am still me. I am still the same person they joked with for years. The same person they greeted with a smile at church. Only, not.
I am far less judgmental. I am far less likely to shake my head at someone caught in the results of their poor choices. I am far less certain that I have all the answers. I am far more willing to reach out and help regardless of what circumstances placed that person in need. That’s not my job. I can ask so that help is more effective. But I cannot demand anything. I cannot insist on a willing audience for my views on faith. I cannot, will not, demand that people behave in a way that I deem appropriate. That, again, is not my job. That is between them and God. I can pray. I can help. I can speak when given an opportunity. But only if first there’s love.
It’s a revolutionary change of perspective. It’s a revolutionary way to live. All based on the revolutionary example of Jesus. And based on the very delayed realization that I am not the Holy Spirit. Of course I always knew this. But I didn’t really know it. I used to decide that some people were more worthy of love than others. Some were more worthy of help than others. Some more worthy of grace. But then I realized that Christ didn’t have a pecking order of sins. He didn’t have a list of “must dos” for receiving His free grace and love. He just loved whoever was placed in His path. He just suggested that everyone put their rocks down and walk away when confronted with a question of law and justice.
We are to be the hands and feet of the revolutionary love of Christ. God is to use those acts of love as a way of drawing others to Him. I am not the one to convict of sin. He is. I am not the one that knows all that someone has dealt with. He is. I am not the answer. He is.
The homeless drug addict is just as hungry as the homeless war veteran. They both need food. The poor child still needs clothing and soap no matter if they are poor due to a family medical crisis or to alcoholism. She still needs to feel like she belongs in school. The difficult teen needs understanding no matter if their belligerence is due to a feeling of entitlement or a feeling of worthlessness. He still needs caring adults.
I may be the only love that someone feels today, this week, this year. You may be the only grace that someone experiences today, this week, this lifetime. And we cannot know what may come of it in advance. Our love may help a young girl ask for help out of an abusive relationship. Our love may help an elementary boy feel less invisible and worthless in school. Our love may stop a suicide attempt. Our grace may give a new sense of resolve to an addict that stumbled, again, for the umpteenth time. Our mercy may help the cheating spouse to finally admit their shortcomings and work toward resolution.
And we may never know what good God used our acts of love for. And that is okay. He does.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:1-2 NIV)
Seems as if God is trying to tell us that love is a big deal. Let’s listen, big.
And for those who seem concerned that I (and others like me) have lost my way. I have not.
I have found it.