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Posts tagged ‘neighbor’

True Love is Golden

Luke 6:27-31      

Have you heard of the law of reciprocity?

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How about the golden ratio?

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In essence, the law of reciprocity is the social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. Reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative. Conversely, in response to hostile actions, a person is frequently just as hostile and in some cases, even more brutal in response.

This idea of Reciprocity is old. It’s possible that it is even part of our human DNA. Well, at least it’s something that human beings developed socially thousands of years ago. We do know that in the time of Hammurabi (c. 1792–1750 BC), the 6th king of the Babylonian Dynasty, there was the Hammurabi code, a collection of 282 laws and standards for citizens’ conduct. You’re probably familiar with the “eye for an eye” principle. That’s this code, specifically Law #196.

These laws of reciprocity showed up in the Torah and the ancient Israelite culture, and were the cornerstone of ancient Greece. In fact, you can look around the world and throughout history and find the rules of reciprocity. They seem to be a social norm for us as humans.

Now what about the golden ratio? In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. Expressed algebraically: using quantities a and b: a > b > 0.

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Yeah, I’m not great at math and especially not algebra. For some of you who are, I bet you get this right away. For me and for others, however, it may be helpful to consider the golden ratio in architecture, art, design, music, and nature. It’s helpful for me to see the spiral arrangements of snails or the patterns of the veins of leaves.

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The golden ratio.

And it is both of these concepts—the golden ratio and the law of reciprocity, that lead us to something we’re all familiar with.

The so-called golden rule.

The golden rule, is of course: do to others that which you would want them to do to you. Pure, positive reciprocity.

The silver rule is the same, yet in the negative sense: do not to others that which you would not want them to do to you.

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Pretty much every religious or faith tradition, as well as secular and humanist traditions, claim some form of the golden and/or silver rule. In fact, in interfaith work I have come across the golden rule countless times, as it is seen as the one universal concept that we can all agree on, in spite of many other competing truth claims. So on the surface the golden rule seems like a perfect ethic for all of humanity. Like the amazingly beautiful and mathematically perfect golden ratio, the golden rule may just be the one thing that can bind us all together.

Right?

Not exactly. Don’t get me wrong—when I am with people of differing traditions, conflicting opinions, and even very opposite beliefs than my own, the golden rule can be a comfortable place for us to find common ground. And of course I would like people to treat me as well as I treat them, especially if I treat them well, right?

But wait—the golden rule isn’t perfect, and that’s been proven throughout history and all over the world. Consider whether the golden rule works in situations of adversity and struggle, and especially in contexts of marginalization and totalitarianism. Sadly, we can see in our human history when people who were pushed to the margins were subjected to the golden rule while those in power were not.

We see this today. I for example, I would never tell my black or brown or other non-white friends, or my gay, lesbian, or transgender friends, who have been mistreated, to turn the other cheek when they are racially profiled. Anytime someone’s humanity is questioned, or their dignity taken away, how does the golden rule apply? If you were being oppressed, how would you react?

Obviously, I’m not advocating for revenge or violence or vitriolic reactions. But when hateful things are said and done to people, I have a hard time telling them to be passive and to just accept what’s been done.

No, I think we sometimes overlook that the golden rule is nuanced and has layers to it, according to the context. And it was no different for Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew raised by the law of Leviticus in the Torah: love your neighbor as you love yourself.

But love your neighbor seems different than just “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Love your neighbor? It feels different than  “don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.”

Love. Your. Neighbor.

Of course, Jesus posed the “who is your neighbor” question with parables, and it never turned out the way people thought. Their neighbors, as it turned out, were not the ones closest to them, and were often even perceived enemies like the Samaritans or tax collectors. And so that’s what I mean when I say we sometimes overdo it with the golden rule, because we hear these words in Luke’s Gospel:

Love: your enemies, do good to those who hate, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you; if someone hits you in the face, let them do it again; if someone steals clothes from you, give them more.

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Really, if you take your time and look at these words, they are triggering, are they not? There is NO WAY that I’m telling people I know who have been bullied to love the bullies and let them stay bullies. There is NO CHANCE that I’m telling anyone who has suffered abuse of any kind to just pray for their abusers. If a friend is cursed by another, I’m not telling my friend to bless that person. If someone steals stuff, they should be rewarded? If someone smacks you in the face, you should just let it go and say: “Please sir, may I have another?” And really? We have to do good to those who hate us?

Wow, Jesus, what was in that glass of wine you drank?

But remember that with Jesus there is always something subversive and contextual. Yes, preachers and churches and politicians have used even the teachings of Jesus to propagate misogyny, prejudice, racism, war, hate, and their own agendas.

But when Jesus said to LOVE it was not a feeling, it was an action, and it always circled back [or spiraled] to the reciprocal triad of love: love God, love yourself, love others.

Those three always went together and interchanged. If you love the Creator, then it follows that you love all of creation—all living beings. And you love yourself, and you love the other humans you encounter because you all belong together.

In the case of an enemy, agape love isn’t about being a doormat or excusing terrible behavior. In fact, love of enemy can mean confrontation of evil and resistance. Cue Martin Luther King, Jr. who we often point to as a U.S. pioneer of non-violent protest and resistance to bring about major social change. This is what love of enemy looks like. Likewise, Jesus’ contextual view of hate was that some people hated and cursed others simply because of their nationality or ethnicity or their religion. Jesus was flipping over the tables of people’s prejudice and challenging their own biases.

And no, Jesus is NOT telling anyone who has been abused to just accept it. It’s the opposite. Take a look at the “turn the other cheek” thing. Context: the one striking you on your cheek would have been your master. Remember that slavery was alive and well in Jesus’ time. If a master wanted to discipline a servant, he would assert his authority by striking your right cheek with the back of his right hand. That was proper striking etiquette. Now picture this happening, and after you’re struck on the right cheek, you stand there and turn your head to show your left cheek. It would be impossible for the master to strike your left cheek with the back of his right hand. This becomes an act of resistance, as you break the so-called etiquette of acceptable violence and expose the master’s powerlessness.

Let’s get down to it. There is no perfect ethical code or moral law. This is what gets us into trouble and how we end up giving way too much power and authority to a small group of people. No, the power and universality is in the agape love-act itself. What binds us all together on this messed-up, chaotic, seemingly fragmented planet is agape love. It’s not a feeling, not some impossible dream or wishful thinking. Agape love can be resistance, solidarity, subversive, compassionate justice, prophetic, paradigm shifting, difference-embracing, counter-culture, and downright dangerous for the oppressors, the authoritarians, the haters, and the manipulators.

Love. Of the Creator and all creation. Love. For yourself as you are. Love for others.

These three great loves are one, and they truly are golden.

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Won’t You Love Your Neighbor?

John 13:33-35

Someone who loves a neighbor allows them to be as they are, as they were, and as they will be.  -Michel Quoist

You can be a follower of Muhammad or Jesus or Buddha or whomever. Always, they said that the most essential factor is to love your neighbor and to love you.  -Leo Buscaglia

Image result for won't you be my neighborAs a kid, I remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood probably more than any show. To this day, when I see old clips of him singing “There are many ways to say I love you…” it brings me back to my childhood and makes me teary eyed and happy and peaceful.

Perhaps it’s because Mr. Rogers helped me through some difficult times like when I was sad or bullied or scared. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Rogers’ show was groundbreaking and controversial in its day. The show addressed issues like racism and death. One of the main characters, Officer Clemmons, is a gay Black man with a beautiful tenor voice.

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Why would that be groundbreaking and controversial? Because, sadly, at that time, you didn’t see main characters who were black or gay, unless they were stereotypes. And you certainly didn’t see a white dude dipping his feet into a wading pool and singing songs with a black police officer. Mr. Rogers was intentional about asking us each time “Won’t you be my neighbor?” but being a neighbor also meant befriending and loving those who were different than you. Fred Rogers always encouraged us to love ourselves as we were and to love others as they were.

Loving someone—being kind to them, according to Mr. Rogers, was the most important thing we could do to show that we were alive.

I’m with all the critics and pundits who are saying that the recent documentary about Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, entitled: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? A Little Kindness Makes a World of Difference” is a much-needed movie for people to watch, and it comes to us during a time when kindness and love seem in short supply.

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Here’s why:

I also remember as a kid some of my classmates made fun of me or anyone else who watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. They said it was a show for babies. According to the bullies, such a show was weak and childish. Now that may seem like playground banter to you, but stay with me. What has changed? Look around.

The bullies are saying and doing the same thing. It’s weak to be kind to people who are on the margins and vulnerable. Instead, we’re told that they take our jobs or money or health care away from us; they worsen our schools and neighborhoods. Likewise, if people look different or come from another country or culture [particularly poor ones], we shouldn’t welcome them, we should keep them out. They are to be feared and not trusted.

They are not our neighbors.

Neither are those who love a different gender [or more than one]. Neither are those who don’t identify with a binary gender or who have transitioned or who are transitioning, or who are just not sure. Neither are people who have brown or black skintones to be trusted. In fact, we should call the police on them when they make us feel uncomfortable. We should use extra force with them because they are dangerous. They are out to hurt us. And so are people who practice other religions besides Christianity—who wear special clothes are hats or coverings and pray in different languages and read from different sacred books. They don’t look or feel red, white, and blue enough, and so they are not our neighbors.

Friends, it’s even true that U.S. elected officials [including the President] are spreading these ideas and bullying those who don’t agree. If we are kind and loving to those on the margins or to those who are different than us, then we are weak. And we’re given license and permission to refuse services and basic human rights to people simply because of their gender identification or expression, their sexual expression, their skin color, their nationality, their linguistic background, or their religious practice. The bullying hasn’t stopped, and it won’t, as long as these bullies are given money and authority…

And as long as people like you and me stay silent and stop making new neighbors. See, the message of Mr. Rogers may seem trite and simplistic in a time such as this, but it’s not. It’s profound and difficult to be kind and to love people as they are. It’s courageous to love yourself with all your flaws and then to turn around and love all people as your neighbor, with all their flaws. There is no weakness in such a thing. Living kindness and love is brave and daring and risky. Jesus taught this and lived this. It was the greatest and newest command of Jesus of Nazareth, to love one another—to know and love our neighbors. And when asked who our neighbors might be, I don’t have any doubt that Jesus and Mr. Rogers would be on the same page, and that both of them would see what is happening in the White House, in Congress, in the Senate—in far too many of our schools and workplaces and courthouses and on our streets–as the opposite of kindness and love.

So it’s time, if you haven’t already started, friend. It’s time to ask: won’t you love your neighbor? Won’t you love yourself? Won’t you be loud with your love and kindness, right now, in this moment?

 

 

 

Who Are Our Neighbors?

Luke 10:25-37

WhoMattersMoreWhelp, this is a well-known story.

I’ll try to highlight some of the details that may sometimes go unnoticed before I share some thoughts. First off, the person asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is a lawyer. Why that is significant is because of what lawyers do. Lawyers qualify and define elements of the law, correct? Good lawyers are concerned about justice. So, in this case, the lawyer is examining the Mosaic Law of the Jewish faith to find out exactly what he must do to justify himself before God. This is not an attack on Jesus. This is a legitimate question. What do I need to do to be right with God? Jesus responds appropriately: “What does the law say?” And the lawyer knows:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, life, power, and thought; love your neighbor just as you love yourself.”

That’s from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. And Jesus says: “There you go, good job. Done.” But the lawyer isn’t satisfied. So he asks a follow-up question: Who is my neighbor? And then Jesus tells the famous parable-story. Some insight:  it begins in a typical way like many ancient Jewish teaching stories—with an introduction akin to a joke: A priest, a Levite, and an Israelite walk into a bar…

But in this case:
A dude is beaten up and dying on the side of the road, and then, a priest, a Levite, and….

And an Israelite walks by…right?

Uh, no. Remember that probably there were at least 70 people listening to this story. They all expected for the third character, the hero, to be an Israelite. But wait—it wasn’t. Before we get there, some quick notes on the first two characters. The priest decided not to help the dying man, most likely because he wasn’t sure if the dying man was a Jew. Better to be safe than sorry, because if he were not a Jew, going anywhere near him would defile the priest and he’d have to go through a lengthy process of becoming clean again. Oh, and also, the guy might die soon. So a priest certainly couldn’t touch him. The priest is the higher class, the elite. Then, the Levite. The Levites were not as high as a priest, but they were descendants of Levi and assisted the priests in the temple. The Levite decided to pass by, because maybe he saw the priest? How could he do that which the priest passed up? So the Levite walked on by. So now the lower-class Israelite will arrive and save the day, right? WRONG!

It’s a Samaritan. The Samaritans were a mixed race between Jews of captivity [when they were exiled from Israel] and the Samaritan people of the actual land of Samaria. Jews [called Israelites, too] were hostile towards Samaritans. The Mishna, the oral traditions of Judaism that developed about law, say this about Samaritans in Mishna Shebiith 8:10: “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.”

Right. That’s harsh. Also, you may remember Jesus talking to a certain Samaritan woman at a well of water? She told him: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan” [John 4:9]? This Samaritan, though, would be bound by the same law as the Jews. So seeing a dying person on the side of the road was equally dicey. This dying person did not qualify as the Samaritan’s neighbor. So why did he help?

Because he was moved with compassion.

He did the right thing, regardless of the ethnic and religious conflicts involved. He put himself at risk. And the crowds listening would assume that the half-dead person now rescued by the Samaritan was Jewish. So add that to the drama. Jesus tells the lawyer: go and do the same.

The lawyer wanted to know who we are obligated to love. Jesus answers with a story that says it’s not about obligation, of loving the person near to you, or like you. Jesus erases the line of difference. Whoever is in need or hurting is your neighbor.

mylifematters1Friends, in the course of 72 hours this past week, all sorts of &*$! went down. Two more Black lives were taken away. Their names are Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was needless violence, and yes, it was committed by police officers and once again against Black people. And then, violent individuals not affiliated with the peaceful BlackLivesMatter demonstrators in Dallas, Texas, opened fire on police and civilians, taking the lives of five Dallas police officers and harming many others. As a white person, I cannot understand the racial profiling that others have experienced. I can only stand with my friends and colleagues while they express anger, frustration, and grief. I can only continue to work for understanding and peacemaking in our communities. I can only choose to be vocal and to say that Black lives do matter.

girlBLMWhen thinking about this burning question of who is my neighbor, this is what I hear:
My neighbor is anyone and all who are ignored, discriminated against, treated as lesser, and all who are the targets of racism and prejudice.
I cannot just walk by and ignore their suffering; I shouldn’t try to silence their anger, frustration, and sadness. I should love them. I should stand with them. Loving my neighbor compels me to help put an end to this sick, institutional, societal racism in this country, inspires me to continue to talk with colleagues and church and community folk about why it’s important to stop saying that if we support Black Lives Matter that we are “against” the police or “against” others. That is not only false, it is also harmful. We can be “for” the just treatment of Black people everywhere and also “for” those in law enforcement. We can be “for” the honesty of admitting that the U.S. has deep, racist roots within its systems and society. And at the same time, while we support Black Lives Matter, we can also support the just treatment of undocumented immigrants, transgender and non-binary folk, the poor and homeless, the abused, and all else who deserve our love and attention. Of course we can.

I close with some words from the UCC’s Acting Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, Rev. Traci Blackmon:
Ultimately, the guns used to kill those 5 officers last night and wound 6 more and 1 civilian and the guns used to kill Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Amadou Diallo, 49 mostly black and latinx people who were LGTBQ at Pulse in Orlando, and the 9 people in bible study in Charleston, were loaded by our common enemies, fear and hate.  This same ammunition is responsible for the bombing of mosques and the burning of churches. This same ammunition fuels the escalating levels of death in our nation’s streets as a result of communal violence. Irrational fear and hatred that nurses at the breast of a nation increasingly divided against itself.

We must mourn them all because we are all connected.
And we must find our way back to love.
Murder is a by-product of people who have lost their love.
Love is our only hope.

changestartsBLM

And look–the WNBA players who chose to wear these t-shirts while warming up for their game were just doing what we should all do. Their message was simple: CHANGE STARTS WITH US. Let’s stop trying to spin things to fit some agenda that isn’t helping to bring us together. Remember the Dallas police officers who protected Black Lives Matter protestors. Let’s set an example for all the kids and youth who are just waiting for us to cooperate and love each other as we should. Come on. Change starts with us.

 

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