The other day, I was having a conversation with someone from a very different Christian denomination than my own. It wasn’t contradictory, confrontational or disagreeable. In fact, we were pretty much agreeing, though we described it more like “being on the same page.”
I think we’d also both agree that we don’t necessarily represent how people would traditionally know our denominations or, as we might say these days, our institutional brand. We talked a little bit about the institutions called “churches” and how much that’s just not Jesus. We come to God from very different traditions, but we come to one God. We embrace Jesus as part of the journey and travel very different journeys, but it’s the same Jesus, the same love. Neither of us would insist that ours is the only way, nor would we insist that the other is “wrong” in any way, nor would we insist that anyone else must travel our way. We each engage God in the way that’s meaningful for each of us, traditions, rituals, language and understanding. We are different in so many ways.
But that’s okay. That makes things richer, fuller, more lively. If only we could stop stumbling over some of those institutional things on our way to understanding each other. Those things that somehow cause us to see difference as wrong, as something to be feared, something that blocks us from learning or engaging or understanding. Or loving.
I mean, Jesus was a good Jew who went to the synagogue. But he also challenged many of the things that went with that label, reinforcing instead the laws and commandments that were at the heart of living in relationship with all creation because God is in all creation. He lived and taught love.
Jesus teaches us to love as he showed us in his life. In fact, the key part of Jesus’ own demonstration of love in his life was in building relationships, coming to know people, who they are, how they are and why they are – experiencing them and engaging them with all his humanity. Jesus didn’t say don’t be angry, don’t grieve, don’t be emotional, don’t be surprised, don’t question.
He said “don’t be afraid.” He said that a lot. He said “don’t hate.” He doesn’t seem to have said that often enough.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
In fact, I think Jesus wants us to bring to every relationship all the spirit, emotion, knowledge and questioning intellect we can. But not hate. Loving as Jesus taught means the absence of hate. All that other stuff is there, but not hate. Instead, there could be wonder, patience, a desire for learning, a willingness to listen, an understanding that we are made better when we understand each other.
Hate makes the walls that constrain our love. When we break down those walls with love, we leave hate behind. We engage those things that stir that emotion within us, but we engage them seeking understanding. We bring compassion to our anger, empathy to our grief, and wonder to our fear. The world needs that. Now.