I was planning on writing today about a completely different topic but, as usual, I find my mind focused on somewhere else instead. And with the largest mass shooting in American history happening earlier this month, I guess that’s understandable. It would be oh so easy to politicize this horrific tragedy and use it as a soap box from which to broadcast an opinion about a particular candidate or a certain law, which seems to be the popular American thing to do now when these types of events occur. But instead, please allow me to dig a little deeper and examine what may very well be at the root of a much larger issue.
To get right to it, I think it’s hate.
At first, hate doesn’t always seem like that big of a deal. We throw the word around casually, saying we hate this vegetable or that style of music. This seems to match the simple definition as found in Webster’s Dictionary: a very strong feeling of dislike. But check out the full definition: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.
Whoa. That seems quite a bit more intense. And a quick skim through the world’s and our own country’s history unfortunately provides a lot of examples. Native groups and settlers. Race against race. Nation against nation. And, perhaps worst and least understandable of all, religion against religion.
There has always been plenty of hate to go around.
Maybe that’s why Jesus chose to talk so much about the opposing force: love.
Especially as His time on Earth was growing short, Jesus seems to grow desperate in reminding His disciples to not forget this supposedly simple but all important teaching: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35). This seems to mirror his earlier answer to the question about the greatest commandment in the law: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40).
When others think of us, the Church, do they think of us as loving? Because I think the first word we are often associated with is judging. And that doesn’t seem to be anywhere in our job description. Worse yet, I often hear Christians sounding pretty hateful (myself included). But the world already has enough of that. What it needs is the powerful, all-consuming, life-changing love that God first offered to us, and that we are commanded to give away radically to others.
This has everything to do with Hope House Detroit. I think the educational programs, fun activities, and mentoring relationships we offer are a tremendous asset to our community. But if they aren’t planted in a soil rich with love, if they are not cultivated in an environment saturated in that love, then we’re not really offering anything all that special.
I want to end today’s post with one of my favorite prayers by a great example of radical love, Saint Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
May these words become our prayer. May this prayer become our life.