If it’s not a life
You would wish upon yourself,
Don’t wish it on “them.”
If it’s not a life
You would wish upon yourself,
Don’t wish it on “them.”
To hate another is to hate one’s self.
To hurt another is to hurt one’s self.
To love another is to love one’s self.
To heal another is to heal one’s self.
How long, how long will it be
Before we see
There is no “me,”
But only “we.”
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. — Matthew 17:1, NRSV
Peter, James, and John are members of the original Christian “congregation.” They meet constantly, receiving Divine teaching from the Messiah and witnessing His works of compassion, healing, and justice. Their understanding of Jesus, however, still has much room for expansion.
As a part of the group, these three witnessed plenty of miraculous and awe-inspiring things. Jesus has healed countless people, fed thousands with a mere lunch, calmed storms, and walked on water. Yet the fullness of His identity as the perfect embodiment of the Law and Prophets of Israel, plus His Divine Sonship, has eluded the disciples until these three were called away “by themselves” in the Transfiguration story.
It’s when these disciples decide to accept Jesus’ invitation to climb up a high mountain alone with Him that they see Him in all His glory. It’s at this point that I find a valuable teaching, because many people striving to be faithful become stifled or complacent with “group think.” This limits their personal experience of God to moments sometimes engineered, dulled, or manipulated by community.
It’s important to have a community of faith that holds you accountable, forces you to encounter difference, and provides group worship that facilitates God’s movement in your heart and life. Faith is not a solo-only effort. We are communal animals, after all.
What tends to happen is people leave their spirituality with whatever the community does or decides, often without taking time to consider whether or not all the facets of that community’s faith are consistent with the truth of God that individual has experienced. Sometimes half the teachings don’t make sense when thoughtfully considered, but we are encouraged to just let that go because “it’s all faith.” The problem is that faith doesn’t have to defy consistency or your own sense of what God has done or revealed in your life.
This is why it is important to also take responsibility for your own spiritual growth.
No priest, pastor, organization, or fun group of people can make up for a lack of intentional pursuit of the reality of God in your life. If you actually want to know God, you’ll have to accept His invitation, climb the high mountain, and learn to recognize Him. This takes dedication and work, often more than many people are willing to do.
But it is worth it.
There is peace and joy in knowing how close God is to you. There is beauty in realizing how sacred all people, places, and moments truly are if we become aware of God’s Presence on it all. Even if you find that your comfort zone no longer suits your needs, that scary pursuit of the unknown becomes infinitely more bearable when you are faced with personally encountering the Source of all that exists.
I hope you will take a moment to consider what you believe and why. I hope you know just how close God is to you already, and I hope you will accept His invitation to follow, recognize, and delight in Him.
Peace be with you!
In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. — Judges 17:6, RSV
Like others who grew up in the United States, I was raised with an emphasis on individuality. Sure, you’re expected to have a respect for family and authority as a child, but as an adult, the goal is to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and carve your own way in the world. If you end up in an unhappy or undesirable place, that just means you didn’t put in the work or effort to get yourself where you wanted to be.
In recent times, this individualistic mentality has actually intensified. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if it is proven to be dead wrong. We get to choose what version of the truth suits us best, and we form tribes that align with our own sense of what is right and wrong. These groups are actually just larger extensions of our individual selves, and we use them to do battle with others.
We have “representatives” upholding party lines, no matter how insane and unhelpful such tribalism might be for us as a nation. As a society, we have carved ourselves into groups that are either entirely supportive of or condemnatory toward police officers. We must be either pro-choice or pro-life, even though solutions exist that could actually appeal to both sides. We can go online and find articles published by terrifically biased sources and share that misleading information, justified only by the fact that we agree with it.
Further, it’s become fashionable to speak and act callously, even cruelly, whether in the name of our specific cause or even just in the name of “freedom.” We are obsessed with our rights while dismissive of our duty to use them responsibly. Using vicious language designed for shock value, we have become more violent in how we think, speak, and act with regard to each other. Should anyone try to correct us, we are quick to remind them of our right to speak and do as we please, and our individual freedom will not be hindered by something so pesky and invasive as compassion.
This is what we see in the Biblical passage referenced at the beginning of this post. The Book of Judges is full of ironic warnings regarding our tendency to depart from the path of God, and the core of the problem is quoted above and appears as the very last sentence of the book. “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). It seems the ancients shared our self-centered problem.
In Judges 17, the unnamed mother of a man named Micah makes a graven image from silver coins (violating the teaching of God). Micah takes this idol and establishes a shrine in his home. Soon after, a Levite happens upon Micah’s home, and Micah makes this Levite the priest of his shrine. Then in Judges 18, the Danites get involved, take the Levite and the idol, and “set up the graven image for themselves” (verse 30). One woman’s sin, perpetuated by her son, becomes the sin of an entire tribe of Israel. To put it more broadly, because one person did what they felt was right, without regard to anyone else, an entire nation suffered violence.
I hope you can see where I am going with this.
As long as we allow our thoughts, words, and actions to go unrestricted by compassion, our nation and world will suffer violence. If we continue to live our lives in our own little, individual bubbles, our society will face dire consequences. Every individual person has the ability to build up or tear down, to give life or to take it. For us to choose correctly, we must stop caring only about what is right in our own eyes and strive to look through the eyes of others.
What would happen if the staunch, pro-life advocate looked through the eyes of a woman who couldn’t afford to feed herself, much less the healthcare and maternity leave needed to care for a child? What would happen if the most avid pro-choice proponent saw the guilt a young woman carries after having an abortion? The most anti-police demonstrator could learn much if they saw the fear and anxiety that accompanies an officer’s family every time she puts on her uniform and goes to work. A blue-blooded tribe could also stand to experience and understand the fear a patrol car elicits as it rolls down the streets of a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood.
Could the Democrat grow to appreciate the need for a careful, conservative approach to change? Could the Republican see value in loosening our hold on a system that hasn’t been working correctly for quite some time? Maybe those in the public eye could learn that shock value is not the same as substantive content.
Each of us, perhaps, could learn to approach our daily lives with a compassionate heart and an open mind.
None of this means that we need to stop thinking critically for ourselves. It does mean, however, that thoughts and actions rooted in our own narrow perception of life don’t add up to much. When we cease to care about how we affect each other, we abandon the most fundamental commandment of God. We love Him in how we love one another.
I hope you’ll join me in trying to take a more “outward” approach to life. We Christians have just entered into the season of Lent, a time for personal reflection and growth. It is also an ideal time to make compassion a daily practice. We could listen to those that we disagree with, without waiting for our turn to speak. We could imagine what it’s like to be like those who are different from us, and when we are unsure, we could ask questions. We could ask the simple question of how we would like to be interacted with if we were in the same position as someone else.
Transformation is often viewed as a process that comes from power. The law must change, the policy must be altered, and the results must be major. While I agree in a series of just laws and policies guiding us, I believe in Jesus’ model of transformation: One person and relationship at a time. Consistent, intentional effort for the Kingdom of God will lead to far greater things than we can ask or imagine. So let’s get started!
Peace be with you!