Here’s a playful puzzle.
What could happen if we brought a legalistic mind to bear on a life of love?
Think of the possibilities.
How about banning those eighty-hour work weeks? How about banning those
time-consuming recreational activities and hobbies? How about dealing harshly with those who, for whatever reason, take time away from their commitments to love?
This is foolishness, of course.
For while such thoughts may call some of us to a reckoning, such absolute prohibitions are meaningless in the face of the single parent who works two jobs to support a family and who may grab an hour here or there to indulge in some favored form of relief.
For the life of love is contextual, and does not lend itself to absolute regulations.
How much easier it is to regulate a life of faith, where one can reasonably measure compliance with an identified set of beliefs.
But the life of love is not so easily judged.
It does not lend itself to the construction of precise formulas.
It does not lend itself to the building of booths.
Love is responsive. It resists proactive measures. It is hard to organize and hard to structure. It does not lend itself to five and ten year plans.
One can make a life-long commitment to act in love-based ways; one can launch an enterprise or a career or a family that attempts to meet the call of love. But it will unfold on it‘s own terms, dancing capriciously away from the best of concrete expectations. For in the arena of love, one may succeed in ten accidental ways and fail in a thousand programmatic ways.
No matter how much one burns to build, one can hardly lay brick to mortar.
So spoke Jesus to the Pharisees.
In laying down the two commandments, Jesus presented us with a challenge.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your
neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”*
This is a challenge to step outside the box.
For he bids us find ways to love God that do not compromise our love of neighbor.
And in no case may we seek support from any law, statement, belief or teaching that contradicts these commandments.
But we have fled like cowards from the challenge.
Since olden times, in any moral dilemma, we have simply chosen Jesus’ first commandment over the second.
The love of God has been more important than the love of neighbor.
And so we have condemned all manner of things that might be helpful to our neighbors, for fear that they may detract from our love of God.
We have felt free to inflict injury on others for the sake of the love of God.
Fearing vengeance, we return again to the ancient image of a fire god, who may cast us into the flames if we support or suffer the companionship of unclean neighbors.
In our time and in our place, our cowardice is most clearly illuminated by our treatment of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered neighbors, sisters and brothers.
In other times, our flight from Jesus has been exposed by our wanton pillaging of scriptures and other religious authorities to support slavery and genocide.
In our times, our flight from Jesus is most exposed in our wanton pillaging of scriptures and other religious authorities to support the violent suppression of those who maintain a sexual identity that is other than straight.
I say that we are exposed.
For our actions speak nothing about them or God, but volumes about ourselves.
I say this most sincerely, at the risk of incurring the charge of sacrilege; but I would say it about any of the victims of Christianity, for there is no more apt expression.
By their stripes we are revealed.
Like the Pharisees of old, who countered Jesus’ acts of love by referring to other authorities, we have felt free to cobble together a mass of citations that speak against the members of the GLBT communities.
But unlike the Pharisees, we have been told quite plainly that nothing may override the two commandments.
By Jesus’ word, we can find no recourse in any biblical law, scripture, scriptural interpretation or scriptural authority.
We can find no recourse in any concern for any “ritual impurity” in our communities.
We can find no recourse in any concern for any “cleansing” of our communities.
Yet we continue to haul out the old parts and attempt to patch them onto a life of love.
God forgive us.
Rather than question our understanding of God or our understanding of our communities, we would rather commit acts of hate against our neighbors.
We say that there is no godly intimacy apart from the biological male-biological female relationship, because such godly intimacy is not mentioned in scripture.
I am reminded of a pastor who once said that flying saucers were demon spirits, for they are not mentioned in scripture.
From such have the ideas of Galileo been liberated.
From such have the ideas of many minds been liberated.
But is that where it ends?
What would you do for someone for whom you cared?
Would you shudder with revulsion at the sight of them? Avoid eye contact with them? Avoid facing them? Would you shun them and isolate them? Think of them in crude and graphic sexual positions, based on your imagination? Tell jokes about them and what you believe to be their sexual practices? Draw crude and graphic pictures of them in sexual positions and mount them on placards, demonstrate against them, and threaten them and those who support them with hell?
Would you do this for someone for whom you cared?
Then how would you treat someone whom you were called to love?
Would you do these things?
And would you beat them, murder them, or, in the most perverse demonstration of righteous violence, rape them?
Once again, we are disgraced by common decency.
For common decency, the secular voice of democracy, has pushed ahead of us, identifying these acts as hate crimes; has pushed ahead of us Christians, yet again, as it did when it outlawed the stoning and hanging and burning of those whom we regarded as transgressors.
Common decency has so far surpassed us that such beatings, murders and rapes are now considered to be the acts of a lunatic fringe.
Yet the exclusion remains.
Someday, Lord, the promised land.
Where we can feel free to love our neighbors without fear of offending you.
Where we can love our enemies, and realize that even if we believe, somehow, that members of the GLBT communities are our enemies, we can love them all the same.
Where we can imitate you so closely that we can drink and dine with publicans and sinners, and that even if we believe, somehow, that members of the GLBT communities are tavern-keepers and sinners, we may still drink and dine with them.
Some will shake their heads and sigh, and say: “Jesus is only dragged in as a pretext. Exclusion and violence involve darker matters of psychology, sociopathology and criminology. Exclusion and violence have nothing to do with Jesus."
Nothing to do with Jesus.
But everything to do with religion.
For Christian exclusion and violence carry a freight of authority and tradition.
And there are those of us who, like the Pharisees of old, would deny any act of love that conflicts with established teachings.
And there are those of us who, like the Pharisees of old, would sacrifice the love of Jesus on the altar of another law.
But we can’t go there, now.
It’s too late for that, now.
Because that’s already been done.
And it is so finished.
I post new articles twice-monthly in “Author’s Corner”.
If you live in or near the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and you would be interested in meeting with others for discussion or prayer, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All are welcome, regardless of identity or personal choices. Please understand that I do not have the resources to guarantee that I will be able to read or respond to all other correspondence.
Toward Dawn is a privately-funded outreach, and it neither solicits nor accepts contributions.
*Mark 12, 30-31
Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over sixteen years. In his home denomination, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.