I went into this season having read Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and with experience of living in community in other settings, other times, with other people, non-Christians. I thought I knew what I was in for. I was sadly mistaken.
I thought this time would be different. I thought the Holy Spirit would show up and give us a supernatural ability to care for each other, to draw each other into the healing presence of Jesus, even in the midst of all of our deep and lasting wounds, all brutally inflicted on each one of us through no fault of our own, merely the result of the harsh realities of life. What surprised me though, was how hard it was to see through my own brokenness and love these others, this crew of wounded healers.
The first thing I encountered, known going into this season, is that I don’t really know what love is, or how to love others, outside of a romantic relationship, and it may be argued that I don’t even know in that case. What I discovered is that it isn’t quite as clear cut as one would expect.
The reality is that it is much easier to love the other when much isn’t expected of them, as in the case of the broken sinner, the unrepentant, the non-Christian. Bonhoeffer seems to center the first part of his paradoxical work in this realm, talking of living amoung the broken, not in Christian community, but in the community at large, being a witness to those that need such example. And this is a true blessing, to show the love of God to the oppressed, the poor, the forgotten and downtrodden, the prisoner and the criminal. This is also the least of our efforts, for to love them as commanded comes as easily as one would expect of the obvious.
The hard part in my estimation is loving those that should know better, that should love you back, or first…and this brings up an interesting dilemma. For we are called to humility, and expecting to be loved, and basing the amount and quality of the love you pour out on that expectation, seems to directly contradict the commandment to love and prefer others first, to put yourself second, to take care of another self-lessly, as we are called.
Jesus talks in the Sermon on the Mount about the speck that is in your brother’s eye, and the plank in our own, and making sure our priorities are straight and that we aren’t passing judgement on others, and you don’t really think about what this means, or how difficult it is, until you are in the fire of community, and putting your well being and welfare in the hands of others, especially when you are let down, and realize that the line in the sand is right there, staring you in the face and asking to hold your hand. Are you going to, will you let it?
This requires an amount of ‘woke’ that most people frankly are just not capable of. We are all on a journey, but some of us will just never arrive. But that is all the reason to love them more, these followers of a Broken Savior that are not quite all in the light themselves. Our job, the ones that know and see and get it, is simply to shine the light, and in so doing to throw some illumination onto the path of least resistance, and thereby to contribute, even a little bit, to building the Beloved Community, the very ideal that Martin Luther King Jr sacrificed his life for.
So my conclusion is this, if I have even come to something even remotely close to resembling closure in this season (end with a comma, not a period) — one of the most difficult things we can do as sinful fallen beings is to love first God, then the other, and of course to model this after respecting the self. It is our call to emulate what Jesus taught us, and nowhere in Scripture does it say that we are perfect, or will get it right even half the time. What we are called to do is to seek awareness, and cultivate the capacity to accept, even in the midst of a broken world in which that is becoming exponentially more difficult to do.
Thank God and Jesus for grace and forgiveness, as we learn to navigate this sometimes conceptual and often practical journey of becoming more like Him, of embodying compassion and mercy. I recall and am desperately grateful for the Beatitudes: ‘Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, FOR THEY SHALL BE FILLED.’