What Does It Mean To Love Thy Neighbor In The Age Of Trump?
When I think of my life these past few years, I picture a woman holding two baskets, standing outside in a storm. She–I–keeps getting knocked about by wind, rain, and passers-by. With each gust my arms swing wildly, and as they do items in the baskets fall out. I can’t stop to pick up what has fallen because another gust or punch will come soon. If I lean down, even for a moment, I’ll be knocked down on the ground myself.
The image of the woman, storm, and baskets were inspired by Father Richard Rohr, a prolific writer and Franciscan monk. In his book, Falling Upward, Rohr describes life in terms of two tasks. As Rohr writes, “The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second task is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.” (Rohr, xiii).
The ‘container” as it relates to faith life is constructed by doctrine, creed, stories, and practices. My container was formed in 35 good years of life in the church, as a child, teenager, and adult. It was upended a few years ago when I resigned from pastoral ministry. My beliefs and practices have changed dramatically since then, but I still identify as Christian and hold onto the essentials. I check them via the Apostle’s Creed, which I say every night before I go to sleep. Less intentionally, I return to two non-Creedal doctrines of my faith: the commands Jesus called the greatest. First, to love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and second, to love my neighbour as myself.
Alternatives to love of God and neighbour are all around me. In the age of Trump, love seems nonsensical. It would be far easier to believe the worst about the person across from me physically or through the conduit of a screen. It would take less energy to believe those who disagree with me are somehow made less in the image of God than me. This, after all, is what ties the two doctrines together. If we are invited to love God, Whom we can’t see, how much more the neighbours made in His image whom we can?
I realize as I write that I’m drawing on the words of St. John in his first letter, words so often sung and repeated to me throughout my life they became tedious. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love.”
The harder I am shaken–by life, by world events, by conflict, by evil–the more essential the two commands appear. Against the cruelty of these days, the plea to love God and neighbour feels like sunlight waiting to stream in behind a dark, heavy curtain.
But who, as a religious man once asked Jesus, IS my neighbour? Jesus answered the man’s question with a story, and it was about caring for someone we have good excuses to ignore. My neighbour is the person I pass, and the person who crosses paths with me–often family, but also friends, coworkers, even strangers. The commands to love God and neighbour are commands to particularity. They require me to ask God’s help in what it means in this situation to love Him and to love this neighbour, right here.
Father Rohr said the containers would need to be sorted through in the process of authentic relationships with God. At this point it seems different to me: the containers, the baskets being flung about and clung to don’t so much hold love of God and neighbour as they are love of God and neighbour. Only what can be contained in them is worth holding onto.
May 16, 2019