“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” —The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A reflection by Christina Brennan Lee for Sunday, October 23, 2023.
As the world spins in chaos, this quote brings me back to my continuing attempts to answer the age-old question of “What am I to do about x, y, z?” And again anger rises in me and triggers my internal finger-pointing at THEM who are the cause of this or that or any other problem. And, as I drive by Congregation Beth Emeth on Lea Boulevard, I see the passage from the small Old Testament book of Micah 6:8 ~ Do Justly, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with thy God. Which, ironically, after eight years of Catholic school is the first Bible verse I ever learned and still remember because I saw it carved into that building as a child. And often, but in these last few days especially, I remember the quote above from Dr. King.
We, as Christians, know that the principal principle of Christ’s message is Love.
In what is called the “Summary of the Law” by Jesus, there is no doubt about this:
“One of the scribes came near … and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and 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.’” —Mark 12:28-31
This, and messages like it, are all over the Bible in both Testaments such as Micah above and in Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 13:8-10, and of course, 1 Corinthians 13 that, in part, is read at many weddings. But do I “hear” this message and truly believe and internalize? Maybe, sometimes.
And then I revert to the sure, sure — love is the answer with an eye roll. Easy to say and easy to do when people are lovable.
But there are those people — whole groups of them — that popular culture along with family, friends, and certain headlines expect, or require me to hate because of all the awful things they do and, oh, yes they really do awful things. But so do the people I’m supposed to support. In any war, they take one of ours, so we take two of theirs, and they take three of ours and on and on. And of course, there are others who aren’t fighting far away wars but are still doing terrible things in the name of religion, race, politics, gender, sexual orientation, just because it’s all they know how to do, or have been told by their accepted authority that this is the only right way because we say so. Dear Jesus, Mahatma, Dr. King, all of you, and many more, were murdered by those you were teaching us to love. That’s a scary reality.
Insert slow deep breaths here. I’m not heading for a war zone. I’m not a risk-taker running off to save the world in unsafe places. I have often wished I had that kind of courage and drive, but the truth is, I do not. So, instead, I’m working to seek peace and love within myself and the grace to reflect it outwardly with those I meet each day. And still fully human, I am likely to take sides in a given conflict, with a fairly strong opinion, but please, Lord of my Heart and Soul, help me to remember to show love to everyone, or at least patience and kindness even to those with whom I disagree because, as astonishing as it is to my ego, I do remember occasionally that not everyone agrees with me. I also need reminding that I don’t have all the information, I don’t know all the backstories, I may never understand why some feel and act as they do. Yet through You I must work to love those who cannot love me back. I’ll keep trying and, turning to Your Commandment, stand up in love, in kindness, but also with strength for those being maligned, oppressed, and denied basic human rights. It is after all, the principal principle of my Christian faith.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Every week, Christina Brennan Lee writes the Prayers of the People we use in our worship services on Sundays. She also leads weekday prayer services and serves on the SsAM Vestry. Click here to see her People’s Prayers website.