These past weeks I read what friends have written about gay marriage, gun rights, gun violence, personal rights, etc. I see some friends post pictures that vehemently propose their rights come before life (an "over my dead hands" kind of approach). I see others declare that their right to say who marries whomever supersedes others' rights to marry whomever.
In this Holy Week, I am quiet -- and I listen. To fear ... that someone might have more power than you (and such power is protected by a right to "bear arms"). To injustice ... that you just want to marry whom you love. To invisibility ... as workers rights are dissipated and the middle class is diminished (while banks post the best quarter in six years and insurance company profits rise while benefits decrease). All of us seeking a place to be seen and valued and heard and honored and acknowledged.
In the midst of that I am reminded of my religious tradition -- and Jesus Christ's mandate. Many of us in the Christian tradition commemorate the first time that Communion or Eucharist (which means "Giving Thanks") was celebrated. We celebrate the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). "Maundy" comes from the Latin term "Mandatum" which comes from the phrase: "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" which means "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you."
It was on this night that Jesus Christ was betrayed by those to whom he was closest. Jesus knew that was going to happen -- and he told the disciples so. When the disciples heard Jesus' declaration they were shocked and dismayed, asking, "Is it I, Lord?"
"Is it I?"
"Surely you don't mean me, Lord."
Those of us in the Christian tradition are mandated to love one another. Period. But Jesus pushed the issue: "You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbors and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." (Matthew 5). (Excellent examples of such love exist in Bishop Oscar Romero and the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.) Archbishop Tutu, who endured the hate and injustice of Apartheid, insists: "God Love Your Enemies As Much As God Loves You" which brings shocking comfort. ("Shocking" because it's so wrong -- and "comfort" because it's so right.)
My soul grieves frequently these days. I think of the Psalmist's words in Psalm 42 and 43: "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." I see a nation that continues to determine what we are individually rather than who we are collectively.
I went back to read an Illinois State Senator's words from 2004:
It is that fundamental belief: I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family. E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one." Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us -- the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of "anything goes." Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. ... The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an "awesome God" in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. ... Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?
Hope. The "Audacity to Hope," in the preacher's words. My soul grieves because cynicism casts a shadow on most conversations as we divide ourselves -- and almost all of us are guilty, from the preachers to the president to the pundits. People who portend to quote Scripture to support their arguments forget to "pray for those in authority." Whenever our "right" leads our behavior to not act loving, then we know that something is wrong. Archbishop Tutu (whose nation also knows division) writes in "God Has a Dream":
May each of us, regardless of religious tradition, be courageous enough to love our "enemy" --knowing that God loves them, too. May our behavior suggest that we DO have the audacity to hope and love -- in our words, actions, thoughts; in what we say and what we do not say; in what we do and what we do not do.
"Yet before you can love your neighbor -- your brother or sister -- as yourself, you must first love yourself. And to first love yourself, you must know that God loves you now and loves you always. ... If you are to be true partners with God in the transfiguration of his world and help bring this triumph of love over hatred, of good over evil, you must begin by understanding that as much as God loves you, God equally loves your enemies."