“On These Two Commands…”
As I am writing this message, I find myself very close to the finish line of Charge Conferences. One of the highlights of these times of sharing with pastors and leaders around the district has been the time of “Holy Conferencing” around the Gospel reading from Matthew 22:36-40. What has been personally challenging is to think about how Jesus states: “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
In this time, there are many uncertainties: Covid-19 cases keep on the rise. Political polarization is quite high. A surge of violence motivated by extreme political views keep emerging in our society, and sadly, these uncertainties are also impacting us, as the Church of Christ.
The truth is that there are various factors that are causing these uncertainties that we have no control at all. The good news is that one thing we can control during this time is the choice to love God and neighbor as ourselves. I know, these two commands are not new, and it is not the first time that we are asked to pay attention to them. We have heard many sermons, Bible studies, songs, and read books and poems based on these two commands. In fact, one of your co-lay leaders, Dave Johnson also references these two commands in his message for this week.
In my last message, I talked about the concept of cultural humility. Although this concept’s emphasis is on adopting a posture that will allow us to appreciate and learn from people who belong from cultures different from our own, I am convinced that these principles can help us to have better interactions with all people who is different from ourselves in any way: politically, denominationally, theologically, racially or in any other way.
For the last few years, I have attempted to develop a biblical and theological framework that can help us use these principles in our personal lives, in our congregational lives, and ultimately, in our communal lives.
Loving God, Neighbor, and Ourselves through Lifelong Learning and Self Reflection…
The first Cultural Humility principle is about adopting a lifelong learning process and being open to vulnerability in the form of critical self-reflection as it relates to the way we engage those different from ourselves. One spiritual discipline that is vital as we incorporate this principle in our lives is repentance. However, what should precede repentance is confession. What is hard about this process is to have the ability to identify the areas in our lives that need redemption. The areas in our lives that we need to confess our sins. The areas in our lives that we need to repent.
The first principle is the hardest because is about us. It is about going deeper within ourselves. It is about sitting with our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, especially as we interact with others different from ourselves in any way. The truth is that it is intimidating and terrifying to get to know ourselves well, in the same way that God knows us. The dilemma we have is that if we are not able to know ourselves well, we will also be unable to love ourselves fully. Consequently, we will not be able to love God and others well and fully, especially those different from ourselves.
In this time, and by having this first principle as our lens, a lifelong learning posture as well as an openness to critical self-reflection, can take the form of interrogating ourselves about what makes an interaction with someone different from me challenging. For instance, if it bothers us that someone has a different political conviction than my own, we should wonder if it is really about some unresolved matter in our own lives before assuming that it is merely because we have different political convictions.
Very often, as we take a look to our own life journey, we can identify specific moments in our lives that shaped us and that we were made to believe we did not have an option to choose. And this might apply to our political convictions and commitments. Adopting a lifelong learning posture and being open to critical self-reflection can lead us to realize that our own political convictions and theological differences need to be redeemed.
My invitation is that as we prepare to vote, as we prepare for a post-election season, as we prepare to face a new rise in Covid-19 cases, may we adopt a lifelong learning posture, may we be brave enough to be vulnerable to ourselves, may we be open to critical self-reflection about the ways in which we have loved God, our neighbor, and ourselves. More significantly, may we be open to confess the way in which we have not loved God, neighbor, and ourselves well, and may we repent, and may our political, theological, and other convictions we might have be transformed, so that they can reflect the values of Jesus’ kingdom that emphasizes God’s image in all people first.
God help us transform our world by imagining it differently,
Dreaming it passionately via all our senses, and willing it into creation.
As we think inspiring, positive, life-generating thoughts
And embody these thoughts in every act we perform,
We can gradually change the mood of our days, the habits of years,
And the beliefs of a life time.
Let’s use art and imagination to discover how we feel and think
And help us respond to the world. It is in nepantla (in between-ness) that we write and make art,
Bearing witness to the attempt to achieve resolution and balance
Where there may be none in real life. Amen.
(Adapted from Gloria Anzaldúa’s quote)
If you would like to view past editions of Time with Ismael, follow this link: https://heritagedistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/