Monday, March 01, 2021

Reflections from the Journey

Things that sound the simplest may be the hardest to do. Love God; love your neighbor. This distillation of the Ten Commandments from Jesus sounds simple enough, right? Yet it continues to be a challenging part of the journey of faith.

In the final chapter of his book, Who Will Be a Witness?, Drew Hart has a chapter he titles “The Politics of Love.” He writes of this commandment to love, noting that in the gospel of John (John 13: 34-35) it’s clearly understood that disciples love their neighbor. He says,

“For John, this is not about whether disciples of Jesus should love their neighbors. This is what disciples of Jesus do; they love. It is their defining characteristic. They are a community of love. They give, receive, and share love. Love grounds their lives. They practice love and are good at it. They show people the way to live by embodying love. They persevere through challenges with it. It is their lasting mark and eternal legacy (p. 334, Who Will Be a Witness?)."

I’ve heard that message for years. I’ve preached that message for years! Maybe not in those exact words, but with that same intent. And yet, Hart’s expression gave new meaning, and emphasis, and challenge for me as I participated in a book study with some other pastors who explored this book together. As I write this article, the challenge of the words arises in me again. What does it mean to love my neighbor when their views of how to live in pandemic times are so different than mine. Can I love my neighbor, my brother in Christ who tells me that wearing masks is silly when all scientific evidence proves otherwise? Can I love my neighbors when they say hateful, untruthful things on Facebook? Or do I “unfollow” them and forget about it? Can I love my neighbor who holds views that are diametrically opposed to the very values I have learned as a disciple of Jesus and a member of the Church of the Brethren? If love is going to be my defining characteristic, as Drew Hart says, then how will I live in these times when cultural tensions are so high?

Perhaps for some, it’s always been that way. They’ve always experienced cultural tensions - - the exclusions, the hateful language, the threat of violence, or actual violence, the injustices all around them. Those have all been present for persons of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, and other marginalized people. Whether we experiences those injustices or not, Drew Hart calls us to be a witness in the world. He calls us, as Jesus does, to embody love, to make our love for God real through our love for others.

I came across an interview done by John Dear for the Sojourners community. He interviews the late Rep. John Lewis. Lewis is quoted as saying,

“I happen to believe that God is love, that love is God. Hate is too much of a burden to bear. If you start hating, in the end, how are you going to decide who you are going to hate today and love tomorrow? When you fail to accept the Christian doctrine of love and nonviolence as a way of life, as a way of living, and merely a tactic, it becomes like a faucet that you can turn on and off. Love in action, Christian love, is a better way, a more excellent way, and it’s more redemptive. I don’t know how to explain it, but I somehow came to that point, as I grew in my faith, that this is the way. This is the way out, and the way out is the way in.”

I’m not a beginner in this faith journey. Far from it! And yet I find myself very challenged right now to live out this simple command to love my neighbor. For me part of it is a continuing self-awareness of my points of stress and my own woundedness. My own failings and fumblings. Some of it may be the times we’re living in. Whatever the reason, I need the community of faith to support me as I continue to grow into the loving child of God I was created to be. I’m there on the journey with you. Let’s support one another and grow together.

Connie R. Burkholder
Interim District Executive