Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mattering

I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love another. And this is love, that we walk according to God's commandments. (2 John.1.5-6)

Crusaders

Last weekend hurled us into a haze of cognitive dissonance. We knew what we saw and heard was factual. Yet as we processed the news, we couldn’t shake the feeling it might not be real. Norway. Could there be a more benign place on Earth? On hearing of last Friday’s two-fisted attack on its government offices and a youth camp, the brutality of it didn’t compute, because Norway didn’t make sense. These were public servants and young people, bright of mind and rich of promise, ripped from the human tapestry by a deranged “Christian crusader” prosecuting a delusional war on multiculturalism. As with all terrorists, demonizers, and ideologues, only the crusade mattered to him. Nearly 100 lives randomly destroyed, countless relatives and friends forever marred by irreplaceable loss, an entire nation shattered, and a world stunned beyond speech—they mattered not.

This idea of “mattering” haunts me. In addition to the Norway coverage, the US debt-ceiling farce got plenty of play, as did the premature death of pop diva Amy Whitehouse, ongoing violence in Syria, escalating famine in drought-plagued East Africa, and continuing fall-out from the British tabloid scandal. The rhetoric and actions swirling around these stories were rife with insinuations that a select few matter, but the majority doesn’t. And the more I contemplate the heaviness of this useless burden I’m more convinced mattering is why love matters.

Why Love?

Jesus taught us many things—instilling in us humility, tolerance, self-sacrifice, joy, trust, and so on. But He commanded us to love. Heeding Him without question would seem the right thing to do. Still, there must be a reason why love is paramount, why we’re taught all that is right and good in us begins there. What makes love the linchpin? Why not faith or hope or truth? Why love? The answer is so obvious many look it in the eye and never recognize it. Loving others in obedience to Christ—as much as we love ourselves, with all the concern, patience, and understanding we desire for ourselves—is how we tell those who come into our lives, “You matter.” Not, “You matter to us.” Or, “You matter as much as us.” Simply, you matter.

Love confirms we see them. We hear them. And we value them as they are. We honor them because they reflect our Creator. Our mutual origins in the hands of God, Whose breath brings all of us to life, forge a love-bond calling for basic respect and selfless concern. And the only way we convey how much others matter is by loving them without condition or expectation. Loving them is all about them, only them, because Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves isn't meant gratify or ennoble us. (That it often does is irrelevant.) Jesus instructs us to love others because every one of us matters to God.

The Vast Jigsaw Puzzle

That’s all love is: reassurance we matter. No one is inconsequential. None is worthless. Each of us exists as an essential piece in the vast jigsaw puzzle that, when properly assembled, portrays God’s perfect image. It’s when we mangle pieces with hatred, prejudice, ridicule, violence, and cruelty that God’s beauty and perfection are lost. It’s when we refuse to love one another as Christ commands that we lose consciousness of how much each of us matters. It’s when we make love hard with reasons and opinions asserting those we must love don’t matter that we become mangled by hatred and resentment. But, ah, when we do love—ratifying the value of those around us—the rest flows unrestrained.

Over and over we hear the Apostles echo Jesus’s love commandment, because people who courageously value those around them naturally coalesce into a community where harmony, peace, nurture, and joy thrive. Conscious awareness that everyone matters constantly reminds us of what really matters—and why what seems important may not be so important after all. In his second letter to the Church, John writes, “I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments.” (2 John 1.5-6) This is nothing new, he says. We’ve been talking about it since we started. It's incumbent on him to remind his flock that loving one another is imperative for the sake of its stability and unity as a community. It’s essential they know they each possess unique worth vital to the whole.

Going All the Way

In saying, “I love you,” we take care to understand what we’re saying and what’s expected of us by saying it. If we speak love, we must be committed to do love exactly as Christ commands—to make love happen by going all the way. Indeed, the central message of John’s first letter emphasizes there’s no use professing love if we’re unwilling to prove it. He’s so determined we get the gravity of love’s demands he doesn’t sugarcoat the topic or leave the door open for any exceptions. Here’s the Reader’s Digest edition of 1 John:

“Whoever says, 'I have come to know God,' but does not obey God’s commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys God’s word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. (2.4-5) Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before God whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts. (3.18-20) Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother sister whom they have seen cannot love God Whom they have not seen. (4.7-8; 20) Everyone who loves the Parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God and obey God’s commandments. And God’s commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (5.1; 3-4)

This is the discussion John references when he says, “This is nothing new,” in his second letter. Obedience to God and love for others aren’t linked; they’re one and the same. Lip-service love gives slip to the lie that we truly love God and our faith is real. In an age when no news is good news, every day conspires to prove how little we matter. Which is why true love that goes all the way—that happens on the ground, touching every life that touches us—has never been more crucial. Mattering is what love’s all about. In saying, “I love you,” and showing we mean it, we transmit healing and self-worth to people in desperate need of knowing they matter.

Most loving God, grip us with an understanding of why You command us to love truly, without condition. Create in us a gnawing desire to say, “I love you,” and mean it. We confess mixed results in our struggle against the idea that some matter and others don’t. When fear and doubt tempt us to stray, deal with us as You alone can, firmly and gently. Teach us to love Parent and child—every child—equally and lavishly. Amen.

It’s a brave thing we do, insisting everyone matters and proving it with love.

2 comments:

Britt said...

This is a beautiful gem you have crafted, Tim! Thank you for reaffirming our mission to love our fellow human beings. It is wonderful to see Christ's commandment at work. Where there is love, there is God.

Tim said...

Britt, I believe we let love get so complicated we forget why it's the foundation for everything else in our lives. Since being loved is the most precious gift we receive we somehow get it in our minds that those we love should meet our worthiness standards--as if we've got a finite quantity of love we must distribute cautiously, at our personal discretion.

But if God is love and God is infinite, then love is also infinite. Loving may be exhausting at times (it frequently is), but love cannot be exhausted. And this makes nonsense of the notion it should be earned or deserved. With a bottomless supply at our disposal we can give it away without condition or reservation--especially to those who've done their best to encourage us to believe we shouldn't love them and all the more to those who believe they don't matter to us!

What a joy to hear from you, Britt! And how it gladdens my heart to know that you're among the great love-givers! Thanks for your kind comment. It's precious to me.

Blessings of joy, and much love always,
Tim