Many people ask me at times, “What’s so difficult to YOU about being a Christian? You don’t subscribe to all of the dogmatic literalism, in fact, you’re too liberal for most liberal Christians. You don’t have all the little rules and formalities about liturgy and theology and sexuality that many deal with, you just hold to that one verse about ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.'”
I often respond to those allegations with another statement: “Yes, but have you ever paused and taken a moment to contemplate the sheer magnitude of that statement, that seemingly ‘simple’ Commandment, and all it truly encompasses? I think if you take a moment to take into consideration just exactly whom your neighbor is, that Commandment can be as much of a challenge as any of the other rules of other religions combined. And sometimes it takes all the strength I can call on God to give me to follow that teaching.”
I’m not merely trying to make some eloquent theological statement by saying that. It has been, at least for me, the truth as I know it. That one Commandment is often, especially in today’s world, one of the most difficult ones to follow, and I will not pretend that I always succeed at it because I don’t always live it to the extent that I would like to. The “right” thing is not always the “easy” thing. But in the long run, even when the path is difficult to traverse, and the “road less taken” by many, I find it far more fulfilling on a spiritual level than an easier road.
When many think of “our neighbor” whom we are supposed to love as ourselves as Jesus refers to in His parables and teachings, many of us immediately think of those with whom we interact in daily life. The nice couple down the block, or the Minister or the doctor and their families. Then there are the typical images conjured by such a statement in the mind of the atypical charitable Christian – those less fortunate than us; the needy; the disabled; the single mother attempting to raise three children on her own; the homeless people on the sidewalks of less affluent areas of major cities; those suffering from debilitating illnesses; those who are the good people who seem to be having a difficult road in this strange and mysterious journey we know as the life experience. We often think of those who are remembered in our prayers, or at night just prior to sleep in between the drift from consciousness to slumber-those kind souls who we want to have the comforts we ourselves possess but who do not. But what Jesus really meant by His statements means much, much more than that. The term “neighbor” to me encompasses all other human beings, even those who we may not be very fond of, at least on the surface level.
Yep. You got it, even the people who we cannot imagine as being neighbors, let alone called to mete out the same level of love and kindness and compassion we ourselves would want, and those who do not always show it to us, they are covered under that as well. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, even Fred Phelps who wishes death and hell upon the LGBT Community are all our neighbors. The guy down the street who has the “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” and “The Bible said it, I believe it and that settles it” bumper stickers on his car is a neighbor. The person at the water cooler at the office who gets a big kick out of telling “fag” jokes. The lady at the dry cleaners who talks about how much she looks forward to the Rapture and how all those who do not attend her church are going to be, “left behind, just like in the books” is a neighbor. The evangelical atheist who laughs at anyone who has a deep faith in God and constantly preaches his non-belief as truth in a fiery display of passion usually reserved for a tent revival (and which often conceals a deep level of insecurity) is a neighbor. The sales guy at the auto dealership who talks fast and does his best to get the maximum commission even when an honest deal is forfeited in the process, he too is a neighbor. And yes, even those with drastically different religious views than our own, from those of other religious paths who feel that Christianity itself is incorrect and wrong, to those who are of the line of Christian legalistic theology who feel that the LGBT Community is a threat to society and destined to abandonment, condemnation, and eternal damnation by God and of society. Yet, we are called to love all of these people with the same level of love that we ourselves would expect, that is, if we take the spiritual teachings of Christ seriously.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty tall order. What a challenge we are presented with now! Sure, it is easy to be loving and kind and compassionate to those who are kind in return, or even those who are not specifically kind to us, or whom go out of their way to elicit our kindness. But to love those who seem to treat our feelings with little to no regard, and even those who go out of their way to make life less pleasant for us, be it out if carelessness, apathy and in some cases malicious intent driven by their own fears and insecurities? That seems unthinkable, if not impossible.
Difficult, yes. Impossible? No.
I will spare going on too much about what most have heard before about the symbolism and the allegory in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. But a little bit, I feel, is necessary. I can often see and hear this scene being played out in my mind, and this is one of my favorite Bible passages of all time. In Luke 10:29, a lawyer (what is it with people always making lawyers out to be so confrontational, even then?) decides to be a wise guy and test Jesus, Who promptly made His point very well. The lawyer asks Jesus how he can achieve eternal life, and Jesus asks him to repeat the Law, to which the lawyer quotes back the Great Commandment of “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirms that this is the correct answer, but the lawyer seeks clarification and to justify himself, so he asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan in which a man traveling is accosted by robbers who beat him and leave him for dead. A priest and a Levite both see the poor man lying there, but walk by and do nothing. A common Samaritan came by, however, and showed true compassion, not only caring for the man and treating his wounds, but carrying him to an inn, caring for him there, and paying to have him taken care of until well. Jesus asks the lawyer which of the three men who passed by was the neighbor. The lawyer responds, “The one who showed mercy” (the Samaritan) to which Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.”
It helps to know a little history and the culture of the time of Jesus during His human experience to understand the implications of this parable. In his (in my opinion) brilliant and thought provoking book “Honest To Jesus,” Biblical scholar Robert Funk writes, “The Samaritan was an undeserving, unclean, despicable outsider in the view of the average Judean.” In Bruce Bawer’s book “Stealing Jesus” (which I highly recommend to anyone seeking recovery from fear based fundamentalist thought and teachings) he goes into more depth about this and devotes an entire chapter to this parable and draws the comparison that the Samaritan “loves his neighbor-and he recognizes that a neighbor is not just somebody who lives next door, or shares his beliefs and prejudices. A neighbor is simply another human being-any human being.” He goes on later to assert that, “Jesus’ message to His Judean audience is that a member of a group you despise may be a better neighbor to you and a better model of neighborliness for you than those who you most respect.”
This certainly gives the parable a little more depth; here was Jesus talking of a person who was an outcast and unfit to and despised by the social mainstream of the time being a neighbor and following the teachings of Jesus where a Priest-a Holy Man-and a Levite failed to. Can you imagine a more modern retelling of this story? To illustrate my point, I’m going to attempt to tell the story in a slightly updated version, it’s far from the original, but you can read the original in Luke 10:25-37. Here’s a modern twist on the same story:
“A fundamentalist evangelical was on his way back from an anti-gay rally at the local chapter of the Biblical Inerrancy Stop-The-Gay-Agenda Society. On his way back to witness to more of what he thought to be heathen people, he had to walk through a very bad area of town. A street gang comprised of a group of militant atheists who hated all things Christian fell upon him, stole all of his money, his leather embossed Bible, his cell phone, and beat him within an inch of his life and left him for dead. A few minutes later, some people from the church came by, but they were late for a dinner date at a political fundraiser and assumed he was on the ground praying or suffering for their cause of his own volition, and passed on by. A few minutes later, some members of another local church passed by and not wanting to get involved as they were dressed for an evening service and running late, walked away as well. Finally, a few minutes later, an unrepentant homosexual couple walking down the street saw the same man who had cursed them a few hours before for being married lying there in the street, and felt compassion for and took pity on him. They helped him up, and drove him to a hospital, gladly offering to pay all of his medical bills and saw that he was cared for properly and brought back to health and took the appropriate steps to ensure that what things he had lost when he had been assaulted were either returned or replaced.”
Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme and overplayed. But I’d really like to see one of those little Jack Chick style comic book tracts where there is an LGBT Pride Parade, and there is a fundamentalist standing over on the sidelines with his Bible and his sign preaching. Suddenly, some kids come up and rough up the sidewalk preacher, stealing his Bible and doing physical harm. Suddenly, a same sex couple comes up, gets him to a hospital and offers him comfort. Now THAT would send a powerful message.
A sort-of similar instance happened to me when I was marching in the Bisexual Pride group of an LGBT Pride event once, where there was as there had been every year, a small section of fundamentalist hecklers alongside the parade route, and some people in my group felt compelled to go out of their way to antagonize them. I suppose it was because of the utterly hateful things this man was yelling at us, accusing us of sex with animals and children and other such nastiness. I stopped them from antagonizing them. I said it wasn’t right. Why yell back? In doing so, I felt it would be doing more to perpetuate their expectations that we were the horrible rude and wretched sinners they expected us to be. My initial thought was to sing, “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of my lungs and drown out the shouts of hate, but as I recall, I yelled out, “God Bless You” to the guy instead, and for a second, his shouts stopped. Something about that stuck with me. Made me think that maybe there was really something to the idea of setting a different precedent and return hatred not with anger or defensiveness, but with love.
Have you ever tried being super nice for no other reason than you felt like going out of your way to be kind to someone who was being rude? That takes effort, to be certain, but the results are often surprising. How often in daily life have we found ourselves in a situation where another person seems to be behaving in a well, un-neighborly, fashion for no apparent reason? I recall a time once when someone was furious with me over a parking space – a parking space, of all things. Suddenly, and with no apparent reason, they felt compelled to channel the brunt of whatever anger they were feeling that day upon me, because I chose the space they had planned to take. I was slightly hurt, and felt I did not deserve the type of verbal abuse I was getting, yet I did not respond with the same level of anger. I could hear in her voice that she was having a very difficult day and I in my heart felt bad about that. After all, I have had days like that myself from time to time. I thought she could use a little unsolicited random act of unexpected kindness. I simply responded with a smile, and said, “You know what? I’ll pull down and you can have this one. I don’t mind walking a little further.” She was taken completely off guard, and as I was walking past her on the way out of the store, she returned the smile, and said “Thank you for what you did back there. I’m sorry about that, I am having a very bad day.” I simply responded with, “Well, I hope it gets better for you.”
This to me is a shining example of one of the greatest gifts God has blessed us all with, the free will to respond to difficult and challenging circumstances with love. It is we who have the opportunity in any given situation to allow God to use us as vessels of Love, or to allow our understanding of God to be obscured by fear and respond with a fearful response that will only create more dis-harmony.
The late liberal theologian Emmet Fox (for those not familiar, he has written several very inspirational books on the teachings of Christ and I’m not certain what his views on sexuality or sexual orientation are; actually, I don’t feel that it’s necessary to know that in order to find the beauty of the message he had) had many sayings I really liked, but among them, one of my favorites has always been, “It is always right to give your neighbor the right thought. Under any circumstances it can only do good to ‘Golden Key’ him when you think of him.” He also spoke of “seeing the Christ” in everyone. Mother Teresa spoke of meeting Jesus in every person she encountered “Christ,” she said, “in all his distressing disguises.” It is sentiments such as these, accompanied by my belief that Jesus was teaching us that each and every one of us, no matter how different, are all children of the same Loving God, that makes me attempt to respond with love even when it can be a very difficult thing to do. For love I feel is the only thing that breaks the chain of evil, fear, and brokenness that separates and divides rather than facilitate the harmony I feel God wants us to live in peacefully.
I have found myself having to put this theory to the test many times in my life. So do I see these incidents as the will of a God attempting to “test” my resolve, my professed beliefs, my “walk” based on what I “talk”? Not in the slightest. Rather I see them as opportunities to learn and grow and to cope as a spiritual being having a human experience. No, it is not always an easy task at all, and it is a task that even the most devout Biblical believers often find difficult as well.
It is tragic to me in this day and age that much of society has equated “being a Christian” and “following Christ” and “doing the Christian thing” in a situation with a dogmatic list of rules, beliefs, behaviors, ways of living, and often times, political party as well. I often have stated that all of the strict rules and regulations which at times bypass the Commandment to Love One Another of lesser importance could be because that one is the most challenging to follow; as a friend of mine put it, “It’s even MORE difficult to do what Jesus would REALLY do.” For all those who assert that Christianity is defined by puritanical behavior, I still say that God is far more concerned with out ability to display charitable actions than chastity.
All of these rules and regulations, all of them to me only serve to further divide and create disharmony and discord among humanity. Yet, the one rule that can further facilitate Heaven on Earth and peace often is pushed aside. I’m not saying that that one rule is not difficult to follow – it can be. It is not always easy to show mercy to the unmerciful. It is not easy to consider someone who calls me an “abomination” as a precious child of God who deserves just as much love as I do. It is not easy to feel love towards those who are allowing their fears of an image of God I once feared to withhold a measure of love and respect from me merely because my sexuality does not coincide with their limited and narrow understanding of God and the true depth of God’s Unconditionally Loving Nature. Yet no matter how difficult it can be it is an imperative, as it is only love that can break the chain of hate and evil.
I have seen it happen a few times. A person who was hurt and abused by someone grew up to become someone who, in turn, passed that hurt and abuse on to another. They passed it on to another, and so on. Then, somewhere along the line, one of the people whom they attempted to hurt returned those efforts with unconditional love and forgiveness, and a transformation took place; the chain was broken, sometimes by a simple act of kindness. These are the real miracles, I feel, the miracles that sometimes go unnoticed by those seeking God somewhere outside, rather than where God lives, in each and every one of us, should we choose to accept and embrace our inherent connection with the Divine.
Those of us in the LGBT Community can, at times, find the Commandment to love thy neighbor as ourselves quite challenging, when others are choosing to act in a rather un-neighborly fashion. I am speaking, of course, of the homophobic – those who have allowed their fears of that which is different from them to interfere with their treating the LGBT Community as neighbors. Some are harsh, cruel and judgmental and even violent and destructive. Yet others masquerade their insistence that we “change” and “become more acceptable to them and their way of thinking” as “love.” Yet, to deny a person the right to be who God Made them to be in peace and without fear and persecution and condemnation is one of the most un-loving, not to mention un-neighborly things I can think of.
So how do we love people who hate us for being who we are?
First of all, it can help to remember that this hate is not of God but rather borne of fear, and this fear is borne of judgments. Judgments about things such as this I feel are strictly a human construct, based on personal interpretations of the Bible that far too often allow fear to overshadow and obscure the unlimited nature of God’s Love, far beyond what the individual may initially be capable of on their journey to seeing the Christ in everyone and deeply knowing God. Let’s take for a moment the analogy of a child or an animal who has been abused, and terrorized or merely had love withheld from them repeatedly and responds with violent, aggressive behavior out of fear; the oppressive religious thinking might in fact bring on this type of anger and fear to create condemnation and judgment. I truly see those who condemn others who are not hurting others but simply being who they are with respect for the rights of others as being afraid and allowing fear to rule their thoughts, and their actions, more specifically their interactions with others.
It helps to remember that those who choose to condemn the LGBT Community are in servitude not to the God I love and know, but to a fearful, human constructed image of God. They are terrified and in the grip of fear of a God I once knew, one whom the love of Christ rescued me from – one that seeks to punish and whose nature is defined by caprice and arbitrary law giving in regards to the basic human natures we were created with. In my mind and my heart, I can to a certain extent understand the fear they must feel and it is easier for me to feel mercy and compassion for these mindsets more than anger, irritation and defensiveness. As hurt as some of their statements can make me feel at times, it helps me to remember that their opinions are not equal to the truth I have known and experienced of God’s Love.
It also helps me to have a good reasoning as to what love means. Despite the drastic differences in belief and thinking, I see them as people, children of God, regardless of what our individual differences are. It is in that regard that I can feel love for those who hate me. Real and honest love is not placating the bigotry, the homophobia, or the hatred nor is it condoning any actions that are deliberately hurtful to others.
Some who hate everything that I am, might assert that their hurtful comments are made out of “Christian Love.” I have seen some conservative Christians who, while they may not agree with the fact that their friends or loved ones are LGBT, they also choose not to judge or attempt to change them, but love them for who they are (such is the relationship I have with my father; my mother is very supportive, my father does not agree but loves me regardless of who I am and that love is returned, when in his company we try to keep the common ground and not discuss those points which we disagree on). On the converse, the assertion of the parent of the LGBT child, “If you really loved me, you would abandon your lifestyle of sin,” is not a cry for love, it is a false need for control over a situation one has no control over-a manipulative tactic borne out of fear. After all, how often does one hear about the LGBT child saying to a parent, “If you loved me, you’d stop reading the Bible and going to church?”
The point I am attempting to make with that is that trying to change who someone is or what they believe is not really the answer; love, unconditional love and respect is what I feel the real answer is. A lot of my arriving at this conclusion came from the blessed (and yet at times difficult) realization that ultimately, there is but one individual on the face of this Earth whom we have full and complete control over (and only with looking inward to the God within to guide us) – their actions, their life, and their decisions and their face can be seen by simply looking in the nearest mirror. Once we realize and accept this, life can become easier. We can have a positive influence on the way others choose to treat others, but changing them is not something we can or should do. We can only set an example of love, and not absolutes. How?
This is most likely one of the most difficult parts of being a Christian. To be able to see the inherent spark of God present in each and every human being and treat and respect it with the sacredness with which all of God Created deserves. The one thing which better enables me to see the God in everyone, even those who hate who I am, is the knowledge that those who I might perceive as my enemies and who are attempting to be God rather than face and vanquish the God of their fears are living in a terrible place, one that I at one time knew all too well. These people need love, respect and affirmation as children of God. They may think very differently, but they are still children of the Most High, the same Source, the same God. They too have moments when they are afraid, when they are hurting, when they are lonely. These people who we cannot imagine ever being part of the same family which we are. They all cry. They all hope. They too have had moments when they lay awake at night pondering the questions to which even the most faithful among believers has no solid, definitive answers.
While demanding a “standard of conduct” as far as their personal thinking and decisions is in my opinion no more appropriate than their suggestion that they should dictate our sexuality, our relationships and who we may and may not love and how, there is but one standard of conduct which I forever believe those of us who call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, are held to and that is always to treat others with the same measure of love and respect with which we ourselves would desire to be treated, regardless of our differences.
Another thing that I am constantly reminded of is that loving our neighbor as ourselves does not mean that we do what would we want exactly for someone to do for us, but what would bring them joy, make them feel closer to God. That is when why I pray, I pray for God to bring another the light, the inspiration and the way to that which will bring them the greatest joy and love in their lives, and everyone concerned the greatest joy. I never attempt to pray for a person who believes differently than myself to believe as I do. I do not feel that necessary nor do I feel it is right, just as I feel it is not right for those who disagree with those of us who are LGBT or in non-conventional relationships to pray for us to readjust to a way of thinking and living which they deem as correct and more aligns with their beliefs and ideas of what we should be. It is not what I would want others to do to me therefore it is not what I wish to them. For if they were to fully experience God’s Unconditional Love, and feel the joy that comes from knowing it they would not change, but they would cease feeling the need and the imperative to change others to suit their views and their needs.
I would not want to change someone, if what they believe truly brings them a personal sense of joy. While I might suggest that they offer the same level of respect and do the same for others, I feel no need to make others believe “exactly” as I do. My faith is stronger and built upon a more solid foundation than that.
I feel that in communicating with those who think differently in an effort to reach out and find the common ground that it is key that we also remember that sharing our opinions and wisdom and our own truth with others that we do not fall into the same trap of insisting that we alone can speak for God. Rather than insist that we are “right” and that they are “wrong,” how about both being right – as in, what is right for you is right for you and what is right for me is right for me? I have always loved the line from “Conversations With God” of “My way is not a better way, merely a different way.”
This first and foremost is one way I approach differences in religious thinking. I see, and I believe that Jesus was teaching of and expressing God as one Creator, one Holy Source that there are many ways of tapping into, connecting, and understanding, each as different and diverse as we as human beings and children of God are, with the key understanding that God can be found not only in all of Creation, but residing within the hearts and souls and beings of each of us. What beliefs beyond the basic tenets that most versions of Christian thinking encompass – the affirmation of Christ as teaching of the path to God through love for one another – may be right for me is not right for everyone else; one size does not fit all, nor do I think that was ever the way the Creator intended it. God’s Infinitely Creative Wisdom is much larger than the scope of our thinking.
It is not merely in matters of religious thought that I find myself in conflicting points of view with others that can create disharmony between myself and my neighbor, it is my life as well. Judgment is not relegated merely to religious lines. Yet, I take the same approach once again; one size does not fit all, and God created us all differently.
I have for many years affirmed that I am bisexual and that is the way God made me, but I wholeheartedly can tell you that although me and my partners are bisexual, not everyone is. There are many people who are genuinely entirely homosexual or heterosexual; it has nothing to do with repressing urges or homophobia that is just the way they were made. Yet I have met people among the bisexual community who insist that every human being is inherently bisexual and feel the need to make everyone else just like them. In my opinion, this assimilation driven tactic is more of an indication of fear, insecurity and non self-acceptance than anything else. I ask them, how can we seeking earnestly for others to respect our differences and accept us as we are require others to conform to our way of thinking? What is natural for one person may not be natural for another.
I have chosen an ethically and honestly non-monogamous relationship with a woman and a man. Being able to have this his has been a blessing and I gift I am very grateful to God for to me; but again, one size does not fit all and what works for me may not work for everyone. I have encountered others who have chosen an even broader path than we have who have asserted that those who choose monogamy are “going against nature” with the same zeal and fervor as those who insist on condemning the LGBT Community on a Biblical basis. I do not feel it is necessary for any other to choose as I do or believe as I choose in order to “justify” having two partners. Love is the sole justification I need and God has provided me that in wonderful abundance.
The point I am illustrating with all of these examples is that it does not matter what the issue is, whenever we judge others and cast them out and deny them the full compassion we would show another, we build fences in between those who are neighbors and ourselves. Remembering that we as human beings are the vessels by which God’s Love is conveyed to one another, when we as human beings attempt to decide who is and who is not worthy of God’s Love and attempt to withhold that love from certain groups or people, we then attempt to assume a role which only the Creator can play but never WOULD play. We become the horrible image of the God we once feared – harsh judge, dispensing love to the favored ones and casting out those unworthy, or unfit. Rather than be a follower of someone else’s prejudice driven ideations of God, I feel it better to be a leader and try to live an example of the kind of love with which God has blessed me. I don’t always succeed. But I hold it as an ideal, one that while I may not live up to all the time, I would like to.
Some of my friends are totally heterosexual (I strongly dislike the term “straight” as to me it implies that one who is not is somehow “imperfect, flawed or broken”!), some are gay, some are transgender, some are bisexual and in relationships like mine, others are monogamous, some are Democrat, some are Republican, some are Christian, some are atheist, some are liberal, some are conservative. We seek to find the common ground. We’re all people. And there have been at least a couple of instances where people who were not really “friends” became “neighbors,” despite our dramatic differences.
There was an instance, when a rather conservative Christian I knew who was constantly berating my “lifestyle” found himself in a very difficult personal situation and a life crisis, and needed “someone to talk to.” Without any hesitation, despite how this person had tried to pull me into debates in the past where they always seemed determined to have the final word-theirs right and mine wrong-I offered my kindness. I offered not so much advice as a non-judgmental ear. Something happened. This person who viewed me as a wretched sinner, social deviant and a scourge on humanity because I love both a woman and a man and have chosen to embrace my sexuality as a gift from God rather than see it as a sin suddenly saw me in a different light. Regardless of how diametrically opposed to his beliefs I was, he saw through that within me with which he could not relate and was able to see the kindness I had offered to him in a time of need and despair, and that light shone through the fear which had obscured his vision and created the judgment and sense of separation he had felt from me as a result of our differing beliefs. At the very least, the love he was shown when he did nothing specifically to elicit kindness was always remembered, and perhaps he will think twice before judging again and not be as quick to dismiss someone as a potential friend merely due to differences in belief.
Another was far more challenging experience. I had an acquaintance who was about as opposite to me as I can possibly imagine. Not a fire and brimstone preacher, rather, a die hard atheist with many of the same social views which have been adopted by many conservative Christian groups-views such as intolerance, sexism and homophobia, and some that many conservative Christian groups are opposed to, such as racism. He was appalled by the fact that I am bisexual and intimately involved with a man as well as with my girlfriend, (although upon the disclosure that she too is bisexual and involved with a woman, he was thrilled and thought it was the neatest thing since sliced bread). Yet, when this person was down and out, and found himself in a bad situation and homeless, we did what others had refused to do: we took him in as a houseguest for a time. We fed and clothed him. We gave him shelter. Initially, he filled our home with horrible racist, sexist and homophobic remarks, dismissed belief in God as a “crutch for the weak minded,” and went to so far as to suggest society would be better off euthanizing those with mental handicaps so as to purge the “weak” and “burdens” to society. That, my friends, was not an easy task. But afterwards, when he moved on and got back on his feet, his entire demeanor had become a shade different. It reminded me that showing love can overcome even the hardest of hearts and the most jaded and fearful of souls. Even with the hatred he initially showed, it came to light that kindness and showing compassion has an odd effect on such attitudes.
I sometimes hear people speaking hate about those who hate the LGBT Community, and I feel that is counteractive to working to create more harmony. I recall vividly someone making a joke when a government figure who was a known opponent of LGBT rights was ill and undergoing surgery and saying they hoped his time had finally come. I was appalled by it, regardless of what the guy had said in the past. I didnt agree, I said, “I dont care who it is, I cant wish suffering on anyone.” I got some wild responses, most of them along the lines of, “How in the world can you do it? If this guy had his way, you would be in jail for who you are or dead!” My response was, “If they truly knew God’s Love, they would not wish such a thing. Maybe if I think good thoughts for them and pray for them to know God’s Love, they will feel it.” I still do. Not for them to change their beliefs, but to know joy that they might know the God of Love Who does not know the type of judgment they are practicing.
Which brings me to something somewhat difficult for many of us to think about when it comes to the thought of who exactly our neighbor is. Does love have some boundaries and limits? No, at least I do not feel it should. As difficult as it may be, even when I hear of the most atrocious crimes against others committed by someone who has allowed fear to obscure their foundation in all that is good, I am able to forgive. I do acknowledge that there are some serious barriers to developing a human connection with some people who have allowed fear to take them over completely to the point where they have seemingly lost their connection with God and humanity, yet I also offer some possible solutions.
Few topics can be as difficult to discuss as ones involving forgiveness and love for all of humanity as our neighbor as it relates to what seems at first glance to be the unforgivable. How can we possibly feel love for those human beings who seem to have completely withdrawn from all that is good, and loving and sacred? Those who have committed atrocities of the worst order? How can we profess to show mercy to those people who have shown none? How are we to forgive, let alone love someone like that?
Take the instance of what I feel was one of the most Christian acts of forgiveness I think I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. I have written of it before, but I truly feel it bears mentioning again, given the topic of what it truly means to be able to catch a glimpse of the kind of Love God calls us to. I am speaking of the instance in 1999 when Dennis Shepard, father of Matthew Shepard uttered the statement to one of the boys who had brutally murdered his son for no other reason than the fact that he was gay with “…this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy” rather than seek the death penalty for such a crime.
I cannot speak for anyone other than myself on this, but I can say that I were I to find myself in such a situation, knowing that my own flesh and blood was murdered in cold blood (which I think in and of itself is horrific enough) for no other reason than the homophobia of his murderers, I would find it only through the strength of God’s Love within me do something as truly forgiving as that, to be able to show mercy to those who showed none. Yet, as unthinkable as such an act may be, I feel in my heart that that is what Jesus Himself would have done. For like it or not, even those who seem to be the very embodiment of evil and hatred are still, underneath all of the fear which has made them distant from Spirit, children of God. It was in my opinion the lack of love these boys had experienced in their lives-accompanied by, based on their views on homosexuality, belief in a God of fear and intolerance-which I feel drove them to such a hateful and despicable act. I feel that only the true, Loving God, embodied and expressed through each one of us as individual vessels of God’s Love, can break that chain of hate which leads to such acts of darkness, cowardice and fear.
I recently watched a documentary with a psychologist interviewing a man who was in prison for hundreds of murders He had been a contract killer as well as having committed unspeakable acts against others. He was non-repentant for his actions, in fact at times he was angry with the psychologist for attempting to help him and who had attributed his murderous nature to a childhood void of love. But there was one moment in his otherwise chilling commentary that struck me. The psychologist asked him about his wife and children; and the man’s entire demeanor changed. He spoke of how much he loved his children and wanted only the best for them and for no harm to ever come to them.
It was in that moment that I actually felt that this person who was so diametrically opposed to my beliefs, who had acted in direct violation to everything I believe, who had done such abominable things and committed such appalling crimes, had something, however miniscule, in common with a person such as myself. Despite the monstrous nature of this man, he somewhere within possessed the ability to love and care for another. There still remained a dying ember of humanity in this tortured soul. There was a human thread there that a great many people would find utterly disturbing, yet it seemed to mentally prove the theory my mind had been dwelling on: just as there is the potential for human beings to commit acts of utter evil and hatred, each of us somewhere is created instilled with the capability to commit acts of great beauty and love. That is where the spiritual compass comes in, and that is where I feel it is our responsibility to sow the seeds of love, to prevent such utter darkness from being able to take root in the human soul.
I’m not suggesting that one go out and embrace a murderer directly. But surely you must know of someone who you cannot possibly see yourself as connected to due to their beliefs or their actions. Next time you see someone holding a “Gays destroy America” or a “Fags burn in Hell” or “Protect The Sanctity Of Marriage” sign, wish some of God’s Love their way, because they need it. They are suffering. I have come to believe that those who inflict suffering on others are merely doing so because their own souls are in such pain. It may not be visible on the surface, but in nearly every experience I have had with someone who was hatefully judgmental, their pain was visible. The mask of tyranny and self-righteous anger shown did not suffice to hide the fear, the terror, and the insecurity underneath.
For some souls who have fully succumbed to fear, it may be up to us to leave the outcome in God’s Care, and pray that someone will send these lost souls hope to pull them out of the darkness. But on a smaller scale, there truly is something that I feel we can all play a part in, regardless of how seemingly small it may be.
The only factor which I feel contributes to evil or evil acts which some can commit upon others is a lack of joy and love, or more appropriately put, a lack of awareness that God has gifted all of us with the ability to feel, to have and to truly know both. A lack of love leads to God being hidden. When we withhold our love from another God’s very nature is withheld leading to more darkness.
We may fear a devil, or an external evil, when in reality all we need to fear is the fear that obscures our relationship with God ultimately with each other. There is no God to be feared only one that we can approach with wonder and seek to understand and know better. God is not only in everything, but in all of us; not just in the Bible. If we keep looking to the skies or in the Bible, and have tunnel vision and only see that which we wish to see or are comfortable with, we may miss a chance for that connection.
It helps me at times to envision each of our individual souls, our lives, and who we are as a blank canvas, to whom God has entrusted unlimited creative ability to us as artists, co-creators, to create a special, unique and one of a kind, irreplaceable and original work of art. We are each given our own unique palette of unique colors and our own unique medium with which to work with and each of us surveys the subject with our own unique, and at times abstract perspective. We are given the opportunity within each of us to use these gifts to create a Masterpiece, as Jesus did, and as God has and continues to each and every moment. Most of us strive to utilize these gifts to create a work of great beauty and harmony, where all the pieces and elements work together to create a beautiful picture, an artistic expression of God. Some may tragically be directly influenced by a fearful environment where their knowledge of God is obscured and instead create one of darkness and discord. When we allow fear to outweigh our faith in God, we can allow boundaries to be made between our neighbor and us. When we allow God to shine through the fear, love can come through, barriers are broken down, and healing can begin.
God resides within all of us, the potential to create, and to be constructive or destructive. Jesus Himself alluded to the things that we were capable of with faith and love. But for us to use the gifts we are given to the best of their abilities, we need the right seeds. It is, to me, akin to the law of sowing and reaping: what goes around comes full circle. If fear is sown more comes in return and if love is sown, it is sown in return. Fear often goes until love is sown back in response, and stops fear dead in it its tracks and shatters it. Seeds of love and compassion are those that yield works of beauty, seeds of fear can lead to the opposite. I feel that the God Of Love and infinite wisdom and creativity resides within all of us, and has graciously granted us each and every one with a unique vision and purpose, a palette of infinite possibilities and the wisdom and creativity heart and passion with which to pursue them, and most of all, the capability to perform acts of unparalleled love and kindness and beauty. Which do we elect to express? It is our choice and our free will to embrace and connect to God, which is what I feel God wants, or to hide in fear.
Only love breaks down and shatters the chain of fear which can divide us from God, and each other. Each time we elect to sow seeds of love rather than fear, the chain unravels a little further. Each time we choose to allow ourselves to see the humanity and the Christ in another rather than feel fear, each time we acknowledge the thread that connects all of us as one Children and one vast, diverse, and colorful Creation of God, each time we choose to find the good, the God in someone rather than something to fear, each time we react with compassion and kindness rather than anger hatred and judgment, it weakens a little more. Each time we return anger with kindness, hatred with love, that is part of the creation of Heaven and peace on Earth Jesus and the writers of the Bible envisioned and which in my heart I believe will come to pass someday; with the only ones being tragically “left behind” the ones who choose to deny the reality of God’s Love instead of being caught up and enraptured in it. But I feel even those would never be lost, and would find their way, somehow.
I feel it is part of our purpose to be vessels, conduits and expressions of God’s Love. God has no shortage of Love, to unfathomable depths, and we can draw from that even when it feels like there is no conceivable way that we can. If we deny love, and succumb to fear it is not God who “punishes” us, but it is we who punish ourselves with the disharmony and brokenness that is created as a result. Often times we are called to be the answer, to the prayers we send to God for others, that is what I feel God taught through Christ and what God is still attempting to convey to us. And only through loving one another can we help to create the world as I feel God envisioned it to be, one of harmony, wonder, joy, diversity, and love.
I still feel that it is through love for our neighbor, actions of kindness rather than mere thought, that we are to show our thanks and gratitude to God for all we have; and everything we could ever need, including all of the love we will ever need, even when we feel we have none left to give is there, if we merely open our hearts and look within for it, and God. For in God’s Love, there are no boundaries – only a never-ending well of strength we can draw on to help tear down the ones we sometimes create.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.