Vision New England Blog

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The general blog of Vision New England dedicated to equipping and encouraging New England Christ followers to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly and make disciples.


The Parent

The Parent

 

I’m about to discuss a subject that I usually tend to avoid, because I generally believe the topic can’t really be articulated very well within the confines of human language. Nevertheless, this theme keeps popping up in my life, and I’ve been feeling very pulled to write about it lately, so I’ve decided to stop resisting.

 

Today I want to talk about one of the only things that I really get (even if it’s hard to explain) about life and how we should live it: unconditional love.

 

Jesus teaches that we should strive to love one another unconditionally. Because we are human, though, this is often close to impossible for us to do with most people, many of whom we probably don’t even like. Even so, we should still try to achieve this feat in one form or another, even if it's less a matter of "love,” so to speak, and more a degree of acceptance – relating to others humbly, and showing people mercy and justice regardless of their situation, and what they may or may not have done to/for you.

 

While Jesus is the quintessential example of unconditional love in The Bible, in all honesty, I've learned the most about this quality from the modeling of my own father, Bruce, who I've seen exhibit more profound and moving displays of love than any other person I've ever met. I could provide seemingly endless examples, but unfortunately, as with most personal anecdotes, without a certain amount of lengthy context (much of which is too sensitive and intimate for this sort of article) their real force and meaning would be lost. Therefore, I'm mainly going to omit these illustrations, and rather just focus on what, specifically, I've learned about the nature of unconditional love from my dad, and explain why I believe that reaching for this ONE quality is the most important thing we can do in trying to live lives of mercy, justice and humility.

 

Unconditional love is not about an outcome. It's not about someone loving you back, or gaining anything from your relationship with them. When you love someone regardless of if they love you - despite whatever horrible things they may have done to you - and whether or not they are even in your life at any given moment, this is the most magical, beautiful, and powerful gift that we can give to someone. This sort of love is how God loves, and if we can find this for even a small number of people, it's a truly incredible thing.

 

It can be really hard to manage this sort of love as a human, with all the instincts, emotions and volatility with which we experience life. Jealousy, anger, fear, and desire, all have an annoying ability to obscure the real meaning of love. These feelings leave us dissatisfied, wanting more, or wanting better. Often we try to make people into something they aren't, and change them, or we try to force them into a role that they don't want or aren't ready to adopt. When we have these expectations associated with what we think is love we can get so hurt, and go so far astray because none of this is actually what love is really about.

 

My dad will sometimes say to me, "I love you anyway," rather than, merely, “I love you.” What he means is that he loves me even though I'm not perfect - even though I sometimes disappoint him, and even though he sometimes doesn't agree with things I say and do. While I would never do it, I could say the most hateful things to him, and he would love me anyway. I could storm away from him in anger, and never speak to him again, and though it would hurt him and make him sad, to say the least, it wouldn't destroy him because he'd love me anyway. That's part of the wonder of unconditional love. It sustains you even when people fail to live up to what you may want from them. Of course we are going to want things, but when we can love without the necessity of these hopes being reality, we gain a special kind of peace that's hard to find, because we have that love in us, no matter what, and that love is from God.

 

In addition, loving unconditionally is the purest way to understand and learn justice, mercy and humility, and to recognize how to put these qualities into practice, because love is, simply, all of these things. Like God, love is the parent of these three qualities.

 

When we can set aside our own self-interest for the sake of helping and supporting someone; when we make time for them, and work to understand them, even when it’s inconvenient, or show them patience and encouragement, even if it’s a challenge, we learn true justice. Through unconditional love, we learn that sometimes justice requires sacrifice and suffering, and that we don’t need to resent these parts of life, but can embrace them as being used for something greater.

 

When we see people for all that they are - mess and everything - and we can treat them with love, respect, and kindness, this is true mercy. These people may have hurt us, and they undoubtedly have the potential to hurt us more (because love requires vulnerability) but we can overcome the fear of this pain, and the scars it may have already caused, with forgiveness and acceptance.

 

And when we can finally internalize that our own plans, hopes, and desires aren't the most important thing in our relationships we can experience true humility, where we finally acknowledge that there is something much bigger than ourselves at work in the world. When we surrender to loving others in the way that God loves us, this is sufficient. It is through unconditional love that we learn how to cast off the selfishness that can be so hard to overcome, and in doing so we further perpetuate our ability to do justice and show mercy, both with those we truly love, and to others in general.

 

Essentially, this is my less eloquent way of paraphrasing the classic 1 Corinthians 13 passage. Of course, it’s a great collection of verses, both beautifully written and also incredibly meaningful, but I think people often reference it more because it’s poetic than because they really appreciate what it says. In reality, the message is incredibly challenging, and mercy, justice and humility often don’t come easily. However, this is perhaps the most important reason why we need to use the few sources of deep and meaningful love in our lives to refine and practice these qualities, so that they may permeate the rest of our life. It is within this context that we graduate from an intellectual (and ultimately insufficient) understanding of love – one which can be discussed in words – to a complete understanding of love, which cannot.


Not Doing Justice Equals Doing Injustice

James 4:17
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is a sin for them.

 

 

Since being asked to write this blog, I’ve been praying for focus and direction. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the result has challenged me, and forced me to face some realities that I had previously been quite content ignoring; after all, God loves to challenge us, and push us to be better versions of ourselves. Nevertheless, what I’ve realized has still made me uncomfortable, and highlighted certain crucial shortcomings that I’ve been blatantly ignoring.

 

I’ve never been politically motivated. In fact, I’ve generally regarded serious discussions about the workings of the world as dangerous. I’ve also never felt like there was anything I could say or do that would change even the slightest thing about the problems society faces. Lately, however, I’ve been experiencing a profound shift that I would like to share, because I think it’s completely relevant to our responsibility to “do justice.” This shift began as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, and I read something that made me think about Adolf Eichmann.

 

During my final year at college, I was assigned to read a book called Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Hannah Arendt. It became one of four books that have had a profound influence on my life. The book details Arendt’s journalistic investigation into the psychology and personality of Adolf Eichmann (one of the major organizers of the Holocaust) during his trial in Jerusalem in 1961. In this exploration, Arendt discovers the disturbing truth about Eichmann, and about humanity in general; she calls it “the banality of evil,” and highlights it in saying that, “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.” When you consider Eichmann’s admitted role in genocide, and that he was responsible for the horrific deaths of millions of Jews, you realize just how grim a revelation this is.

 

In addition to her discussion of Eichmann himself, Arendt also examines the actions of other groups and governments during the Holocaust. In doing so, she finds that these illustrations also depict the banality of evil, and how the majority of evil in the world is done by normal people, not monsters, who simply refuse to stand against injustice, are only doing their jobs, or obeying orders. For example, most countries failed to resist the identification and deportation of their Jews, and they more or less cooperated with the Germans in this task. Furthermore, most Jewish leaders themselves even cooperated with Nazi officials in organizing the Jewish population, a fact that Arendt points out led to gravely more deaths than what would have occurred had the leaders refrained from doing so. Only in Denmark was there real, direct, organized opposition to the Nazi’s efforts, and Arendt explains that because of this the Germans were virtually ineffective with their task. In fact, Arendt writes that, “It is the only case we know in which the Nazis met with open native resistance, and the result seems to have been that those exposed to it changed their minds. They themselves apparently no longer looked upon the extermination of a whole people as a matter of course. They had met resistance based on principle, and their ‘toughness’ had melted like butter in the sun.” What happened in Denmark is an example of political, decisive action, as opposed to the banality of evil, and it is the only thing that led to justice in a time when the standard was fear, and compliance.

 

What Arendt shows throughout her book is that evil reigns when normal people face injustice and refuse to do anything about it. They adhere to the means, and execute their orders, no matter how unthinkable. Actually, they don’t really even think about what they are doing at all; they simply obey blindly, because that is what we’ve all been brainwashed to do, and if they experience a moment of doubt, their fear of what will happen if they break away from the status quo cripples them, and they return to their unthinking, believing it to be safer than taking a stand. The only way to confront this is to take a definitive, unyielding position against wrongdoing, and model what it means to be political by taking action (as was the case in Denmark.) Only when this happens will others become willing to act as well.

 

Fear is a powerful motivator, and we live in a world of fear. These fears are both big and small, and they are tearing the world apart on countless levels. Fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of others, fear of ourselves, fear of war, fear of pains – these are all commonplace, and they cause us to walk through life looking over our shoulder, under our beds, in the mirror, across the ocean, and everywhere else we could possibly conceive there to be danger. We create danger that wouldn’t even exist because we are afraid, and this illusory danger can even frequently overshadow real threats that we may face. Fear allows sin and injustice to thrive, and it needs to be confronted with courage.

 

I’ve been thinking about these themes quite a lot lately as I’ve seen different events unfold in the news, and even in my own life. Take a look at our broken world. It is easy to tune out all the suffering, wrongdoing, and hate, and deny that it’s happening, because accepting that this is the reality is not only terrifying, but it challenges us to the very core. Arendt states that “under conditions of terror most people will comply.” This inability to resist injustice and evil actually perpetuates it, and therefore is a sin and crime itself, and in my avoidance of conviction and action I have been an accomplice, like many others. This does not sit well with me.

 

Because of this realization I’ve decided to become political. I’m not running for government, or starting a political movement, or anything like that, but I’m choosing to be more informed, and to act on my convictions and beliefs. I’ve begun to challenge myself to advocate for others, and reach out with compassion (even when it’s inconvenient) when I see them treated unfairly, rather than remain silent because this just spreads darkness and despair rather than love and hope. I’ve decided not to turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world, but to confront them whenever possible. I’ve committed to engaging in respectful discourse with others, even if they hold different beliefs than me, in an effort to understand them better, and to help them understand me, rather than continuing to feel threatened by one another. I refuse to sit back any longer, staying out of the mess and being comfortable, because the mess has gotten out of control, and I will not be a part of the global bystander affect that has allowed this to happen.

 

I think as Christians, it is our duty to challenge our fears, to act courageously on the convictions God has placed in our hearts and, moreover, to actively search ourselves for these convictions. Even if it’s not something overtly political that we are standing for, we need to be political about something. We can all do something. It doesn’t need to be a largescale display, we just need to do what we can in whatever situation we face. We need to be for justice, because allowing injustice when you can prevent it is as equally wrong as directly committing it.