Vesper, Wed 4 29: Love One Another
On Maundy Thursday we read the passage in John in which Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. I’d venture to say it might be difficult to know any disciples these days unless we narrow the directive of loving one another to loving the handful of people we are quarantined.
Honestly, by Maundy Thursday this was not a new commandment. By then Jesus had told his disciples and his followers multiple times to love one another. He had even put it in a commandment when he responded to the challenge to name the most important commandment. He says to love God with everything you’ve got and then he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is reported to even say loving your neighbor as yourself is like loving God with everything you’ve got.
In case we wanted to nitpik about who is our neighbor, Jesus also instructs us to love our enemies. Maybe Jesus is just a little too radical about this whole “love one another” thing. But he gives us tools.
Judge not. Forgive. Luke wraps it all together: Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
And here might just be a problem with loving one another. We cannot hold onto the tools. Forgive? Ha! Let go of judging? Not right now! It’s as if our tools are white hot steel that we drop the moment we touch them.
I believe we are living in the most polarized time I can recall from history lessons, much less the part of history I’ve lived. It is easy to point to the Civil War as the most polarized time in US history but that was primarily around a single issue—with multiple consequences including economics.
Still, it was the issue of slavery that divided us. People were for or against the war in Vietnam. Today there is a kaleidoscope of issues that set us at opposite ends of spectrums of opinion. There are issues of racial tension and inequities of access to resources. There are issues of gender and sexuality and inequities of access to resources. There are issues around immigration and who should or shouldn’t be allowed to come to this country and how they get here if at all. There are issues about how law enforcement and justice works or doesn’t work in our country and we have reduced it to being for the police or against them. Many have placed protecting the environment and economic thriving at opposite poles and asked people to choose, one or the other. As if you cannot make a living and have a place to live at the same time. That is part of the problem, we make everything black or white and we’ve lost our vision for gray. Whether you are an essential worker or a non-essential worker, you have views on opening up or not opening up the physical distancing regulations. Our judgments and our poles come with labels. I read a statement recently: Why do all liberals think Trump supporters are stupid? Wow! I can’t even begin to tease out the meaning and consequence of the labels liberal, Trump supporter (or not) and stupid. We have lost our ability to see individuals. We see issues that trigger us and judgments we apply without knowing individuals and either/or outcomes. We have to change. We cannot survive in this polarization and division.
At the end of Keep A True Lent, Fillmore briefly goes through the 12 Powers. He says this about Love: Love, in Divine Mind, is the idea of universal unity. In expression, it is the power that joins and binds together the universe and everything in it. Love is a harmonizing, constructive power.
Without love, our universe falls apart. Breathe into that for a moment. Without love, our universe falls apart. Would that be a teeny tiny motivator to get better at loving one another if the consequence of not doing it was extinction?
It’s easy to say, “Don’t be so dramatic!” Look around. Is what is unfolding in the world dramatic? Are people discovering and, still being surprised, that consequences apply to them too? The concept of our connections is playing out in contagion. Ripples of destruction cross borders and economies and manifest without regard to politics or language. Familiar labels don’t apply. So let’s begin anew.
I am really puzzling the significance of this pandemic unfolding against the backdrop of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and fall in the Southern Hemisphere. It seems to herald both the dying of the old and the emergence of something new. It is the decay of old busy-ness and a quiet beginning of perhaps a sense of wonder. How do we get back to love?
We have to begin with neighbors. Whether they live down the street or they live on a street in Nairobi or Wuhan, we are all neighbors. See faces not judgments. And if faces still trigger you, see little lights of souls inside the heavy armor of humanity we have fearfully constructed. Inside the huffing and puffing is a soul, longing for love and freedom and a sense of wholeness. Just like you. Understand that even if you cling to calling them “enemy” you still have to love them. So set down those labels.
If you feel harmed, hurt, angry, forgive the errors first and then work towards a better world. We are all unskillful, as the Buddhists say, in our own way. I may not be unskillful in the same area or the same way as you, and I still have my unskillful ways. So I forgive myself for judging and then forgive those I have judged. We don’t abandon the work for a world that is kind and just and generous. We just let go of judgments and condemnations we have about who is responsible for that world not being manifest as completely as we’d like right now. The world is kind and just and generous right now. We have to look for the evidence, lift it up and celebrate it.
Love one another, the universe depends on it.