I have been reading through William Penn's Fruits of Solitude and wish that I had read it sooner. It seems that if most of the world followed these simple bits of advice, most of our modern problems would not exist. Among his many edifying insights, I found this quote that really spoke to me:

 

"Love is above all; and when it prevails in us all, we shall all be Lovely, and in Love with God and one with another."

 

This of course echoes Christ's teachings to love our neighor as ourselves and love our enemies, also. When love goes beyond the "warm, fuzzy, Hallmark feeling" into the 1 Corinthians 13 practice, it becomes a very weighty commission, in my experience.

 

This type of across the board, self-sacrificing love is a the center of the New Testament, yet it is the most controversial part of Quakerism, I've found. I can tell people any number of controversial things and they take it all in stride, but the moment I bring up non-resistance or nonviolence of any kind in relation to Christ's teachings on love, the tone changes to outright hostility and ridicule. Why is this? Has anyone else noticed this? Nonviolence as an expression of love is a very difficult practice, I think, and it goes against instinct (at least my instincts), but Christ's example and teachings about doing good to enemies is so obvious, I wonder how so many Christians can overlook it. (It was one of the main points that led me to Quakerism.)

 

And, for a religion based on such a thick book (and supplementary books besides) when you cut to the heart of Christianity, all of those pages and volumes can be minimized to one simple word: "Love". Yet that one word symbolizes a concept that is so challenging in practice, you could spend your whole life dedicated to striving after that one word and never fully meet the challenge.

 

I've spent the last ten years meditating on the meaning and practice of love (truthfully) and I still feel as small and overwhelmed by it as when I first began.

 

Love is above all because it is the most difficult thing God ever asked us to do, and I can only dream and hope for a day when it prevails in all of us and we are all lovely and completely in Love with God & each other.

 

That said, why do so many read the Bible, encounter that repeated directive to love all people, and then ignore it? How can they spend so much time discussing whether a woman should or shouldn't cover her head or speak in church, or the how and why of baptism, but brush over passages that tell us to do good to our enemies? Is it a matter of convenience? And why is nonviolence such an offensive belief? I'm eager to hear the experiences of others who have encountered this.

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Maybe because when we love all people, it takes away our right to judge others. And when we lose that "right", we lose our sense of being "better",  our own perceived "God-ness". Many people don't want to let go of their Inner Pharisee. Yet, we often forget that the only people whom Jesus condemned were not the sinners, but the Pharisees - the "whitewashed sepulchers". (And the money changers, but that's a different story. :)

Well, we've left out part one: "Love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength." After that, loving human beings ought to be relatively easy!

 

This does not mean, by the way, loving 'our concept of God.'  It means actually coming to know the actual Who It Is. (I can't claim to be more than an acquaintance, though it seems like it's been one awful long time... but that Actuality is still leading me by the nose, stumbling along to some continually still-mysterious... probably just another realization of yet another crucial consideration I've spaced on.)

 

Human beings remain my best example of what God is like. Though as my wife said once, "If you're expecting someone to give you what you can only get from God-- it can really make you hate them!"

I think learning to truly love other people is often an exercise in learning to love God, because as 1 John 4:20 says, you can't love God who is unseen if you cannot love your fellow human, who is seen (and understandable).

 

Jesus also said that to show love to God, we must keep God's commandments. Since the two most important commandments are to love God will all of our hearts, minds and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves... and we cannot truly love God until we learn to love our neighbors... it would seem to me that learning to love on an earthly level is to experience a remote sense of what it means to follow the first commandment. :) To love God.

The 'Inner Pharisee'... I've encountered that many times in my own life! I can see how other people's 'Inner Pharisees' could affect them, too.
Yes, but... We aren't told "to experience a remote sense of what it means to do this." We're told to do it. By someone who wasn't kidding. To seek and find; that would seem prerequisite. Sacred peekaboo...

Hopefully in time I'll have the same experience, but so far, the best I can do is try, and hope that someday I will accomplish it... I have a willingness to love God, and most of the time a willingness to love people, but all of the time my love is incomplete. And while my intentions in my devotion to God are as whole-hearted as anything I've ever experienced, I know without a doubt that my love towards my fellow humans is always lacking. From this I conclude that if my love isn't whole enough for a human, it isn't whole enough for God, either. I always just fall back on the hope that God's unfailing love will overlook these shortcomings. :)

Just to elaborate a little more on what I mean:

 

Love is patient   -I am not always patient.

 

love is kind   -I am not always kind.

 

It does not envy  -Sometimes I envy.

 

it does not boast   -I sometimes boast, though I try to avoid it.

 

it is not proud.    -I know in my heart I have pride.

 

It does not dishonor others,   -I do, knowingly and unknowingly, dishonor others in my prejudices, self-absorption, and socially ingrained habits.

 

it is not self-seeking   -At an almost biological level, I usually can't help but be self-seeking.

 

it is not easily angered    -I am not easily angered, but when I finally do become angry, I often find in retrospect that whatever I was angry about really was inconsequential.

 

it keeps no record of wrongs.    -Even if I choose not to hold a grudge, once a person has wronged me, I might be civil, but I never give them another chance to hurt me in the same way again, whereas Christ will give us the same opportunity again and again and again. He is never self-protective.

 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.    -As much as I, in theory, abhor evil, I think sometimes I do delight in evil, when I am unaware of the complete consequences of what a seeming 'blessing' has done in the 'big picture'.

 

It always protects,     -I do not always protect.

 

always trusts,       -As I explained above, I don't always trust other people, and I often catch myself failing to trust God.

 

always hopes,         -I try to remain hopeful, but I have my moments of despair when I am overwhelmed with the heartbreak and terrible things happening in the world around me. It comes back to having a failure of trust.

 

always perseveres.     -I'm a determined person, but my perseverance in any situation is not 100%.

 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

This is what Jesus commanded, but I never in any moment am invested completely in one task or emotion. So unless the sum of my entire life counts towards this love of God, I am very limited in my ability to dedicate myself with complete focus in one direction.

 

Love your enemies! Do good to them.

 

Again, Christ said this. I don't know if I have any personal enemies, persay, but when I am hurt by someone (physically, mentally, emotionally), I usually distance myself from the "repeat offenders" rather than giving my services or friendship to them in sacrifice.

 

 

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

 

I have a lot of difficulty with this passage because there is that self-preservationist instinct in me that says, people should not live with abuse. Not only abuse, but they shouldn't open themselves to abuse. For instance, one night while I was home alone with my toddler (my husband was out of town), a drunk man showed up at my door well after 9 p.m. and asked to borrow my phone. It would have meant opening the door to hand him the only phone in the house, my cell phone. I did not want to open myself to the possibility of being harmed by him, so I didn't open the door and I didn't lend him my phone - and he wasn't even my enemy. He was just a stranger I didn't trust. Jesus did not have these hang-ups, though. He would have opened the door. He would have given the phone.  If the man harmed him, he would have forgiven him. He would have done what he could to help the man, because his love has no bounds. Real love is not restricted by self-preservation or self interests, but like Christ's love, is completely invested in supporting the well-being of the object of your love, and that should be the person right in front of you or beside you. I just don't find that sort of capability in myself. There is always that small part that wants to protect myself, my family, my child, my backyard. I suppose that's why there was wisdom in Paul's suggestion to be single, and Christ's teachings to forsake worldly wealth. :) When you don't have anything to lose, you're able to surrender yourself more fully to doing the work of Christ.

 

Paul can talk about what love 'is supposed to be like,' but we don't get to do it out of somebody's recipe book, no matter whose. Human love looks like... human beings doing the best they can out of what they're given. (Sometimes what my friend Frances used to call "Spontaneous Natural Affection" runs short.)

 

This "Commandment" is like doing yoga; you don't just decide to twist yourself into Asana 'A' and then do so! One time when I'd gotten disgusted with myself for not practicing enough, I did get myself into such a position, and (since I hadn't been practicing enough lately) I couldn't get out of it again. So I panicked, and moved too fast, and spent the night on the couch feeling wonderful (except that I couldn't get up, and wasn't sure I'd ever walk again, and did need a crutch the rest of the following day.) Doing this right, you move as far as you can in the right direction, to the point where it stretches & feels good. The next day you do the same; you may or may not notice any "progress", except that it does begin to feel right, in fact it even feels "good."

 

"What others set as duties, I give as living impulses" ~ Walt Whitman

I've come to believe that a major reason is the people think the really Good News of just how good God is and how much God loves us is too gtood to be true. Once you really accept the amazing truth about God, the rest pretty much falls into place.

 

I am greatly indebted in my understanding of this to James Bryan Smith (Friends University Professor) and his Apprenticeship Series trilogy: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, The Good and Beautiful Community.

This is really a major piece of it... but there's also the fact that people usually don't [I mean, "I don't]:

 

really want to "give to the one who asks me," because it costs me and probably can't give him what he really needs. And this makes me feel uncomfortable, guilty, looking too frantically for some reason I was right not to!

 

I mean, it isn't just that we fail to realize God's goodness, but that as long as we think we need to bring the goodness to this party, we can't get in! ("Wailing and gnashing of teeth," indeed!)

 

And every once in awhile we let God work us, let God work in us-- knowing that "we can't do __" but seeing that God has done us the tremendous favor and honor of using us this way!

 

Falling short on the little stuff... I don't feel very lovable, and thus I don't feel warm fuzzies toward God or pretty much anyone else. A lot of stretch, for me to get it right. But as with the yoga, I expect God can do it where my own efforts would fall short or go awry.

Dear Lauren,

I have been contemplating your post, and the wonderful responses, for several days.

My observations:

It is much easier to love our enemies when we love God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength. That transforms us into loving people. Otherwise, we love with effort through our egos. (Love that "inner Pharisee" line!)

If we can't overcome all the sins that lead us to not love, then we work from where we are. We don't need to berate ourselves about being human. God is not done with us.

It is OK to love someone and not give them the shirt off of our back, if we see that the person already has a shirt and coat and other items. There must be some point at which we discern that the person needs something that is not being asked for (or "sued for"). Like the woman who asked for money for baby clothes, she obviously needs something else, which she asks for as money, but chooses to disguise the real reason she wants it. But it is difficult to make that decision as to how to help, and that is why it is better to err and give to a needy person. What would Jesus have you do?

Finally, about someone ringing your doorbell and asking to use your phone. Jesus did not respond to all pleas for help, and he was aware that many people wished to do him harm. He knew when someone really needed HIM and HIS help. He also knew what God wanted from him, which included knowing he would be betrayed, and by whom. I don't think most people would fault you for refusing to let a stranger at your door come in to use your phone, not nowadays. But let me tell you a story, to illustrate that we must always pay attention to circumstances:

At 11:30 pm on a very cold night in January (17 degrees), a man responded to his doorbell. There on the doorstep stood a man, naked and bleeding. The resident closed the door and called 911. When the police arrived, there was no sign of the naked man. The next morning, the resident followed some naked footprints and blood trail in the snow to the shed in his backyard. There he found the naked man, frozen to death. As it happened, this naked man had rung at least two other doorbells. Only this resident had called 911. Later reports indicated that the man had been having some mental issues recently, and his mother was worried, especially since he had begun taking off his clothes.

Would you close the door on a man like this? Under what circumstances? If you were a man answering the door, would that change your decision? If there were someone else in the house to help, would that change your decision?

What would Jesus have you do? Staying close to the Source helps us in discernment that can have life or death consequences.

When this story appeared in the newspapers last January, I believed that Christ had died again, this time in Columbus, Ohio.

 

Paula, you are right, there were times when Jesus withdrew from crowds or sensed that someone was trying to trap him and evaded. He certainly didn't leave himself as a standing duck for all malice aimed at him. He was careful to choose which services and sacrifices were important for him to do, as he knew his priorities from God.

 

Thank you for sharing the story about the man dying in Columbus... the nakedness, the bloody footprints, being turned away (or denied) at door after door, did remind me of Christ. If my husband were home, the decision whether or not to let the man in would have fallen to him, since he would be the one to restrain the man if he became violent, and whether or not to subject his body to that hazard is his choice. I would have at least given the man a blanket and asked him to sit on my porch furniture while I called 911. It's amazing to me that the police did not notice the footprints in the snow.

 

It is much easier to love our enemies when we love God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength. That transforms us into loving people. Otherwise, we love with effort through our egos. (Love that "inner Pharisee" line!)

If we can't overcome all the sins that lead us to not love, then we work from where we are. We don't need to berate ourselves about being human. God is not done with us.

 

It is so true, in ourselves we are not enough to produce anything perfect. I believe that it is possible that God will never be done with us during our lives here on earth, and that is why we have to be humble before God's perfection.

 

I can feel good feelings towards God, but that does not mean it is real love. A man can have good feelings towards a prostitute while having relations with her, but that is not love. I always fall back to the Bible because that is my religious background, but most religions would describe love in terms of action, not feeling. I believe this is for a very important reason: brain scans have shown that while love can cause the pleasure areas of the brain to light up, it doesn't always do this. Studies have shown that parents taking care of their children receive no more pleasure than people doing housechores - yet the act of taking care of your child is the manifestation of love, even if you aren't feeling "love" (or the pleasurable feeling that we associate with love) while you do it.

 

I think many people, in these times, begin their relationship with God out of the good feelings it gives them (perhaps in some people, especially in other centuries, it was done mostly out of fear). This type of "good feeling" relationship is like a parent and young child - the child instinctively has good feelings towards the parent who meets the child's needs/desires with good things. There is a pleasure association there. I believe that God wants us to ask for help, both spiritually and physically, but I think this has to eventually transcend the "gratification mentality". It may become something like an acknowledgement of smallness before God, but I notice for many people, this relationship remains at the state of, "I love God because God gives me many good things, and has promised me many good things, and this makes me feel good. So to give God some pleasure, I will do good things to these people, and God will reciprocate by giving me more good things and feelings."

 

Life can have its share of joy, but I really question whether doing the loving thing always feels good. As any parent can relate, there are many times at 3 a.m. when doing the loving thing for your child does not feel good, when all you want is rest, or a mental break, or an aspirin, but your child is not about to stop needing you at that hour. I think, if we are to grow, eventually our relationship with God has to evolve out of the newborn phase of always wanting for our own gratification. As humans though, we can't help it - our brains are designed to give us a strong drive to pursue the things that give us the most pleasure. So I think often, that is why we have our 'comfort zones', even in religious/spiritual life, because those zones 'comfort' us, giving us a little pleasure and not too much deprivation of pleasure.

 

Even when we do good to others (or act "lovingly") it is often partly because as a reward, we feel mentally and emotionally good afterwards, even if for a short time. And when someone stops making us feel good when we do good or "loving" things for them, we often lose the motivation to continue serving them. I have found some people believing that because they no longer find pleasure in a certain ministry, it is a sign that they are no longer supposed to serve in that way. But does serving (or loving) according to God's will always give us gratification/pleasure? Did martyrs feel pleasure while they were dying instead of defending their own lives? (That would be an interesting thing to find out!)

 

Even if we go back to the example of parenting - we can say, well, you may not feel pleasure right away, but an hour later, a day later, years later, you will receive your reward through the love or success of your child - but God's plan works on a much larger time scale than ours, so I think it is possible that we never see the good fruits of our labor in this life. Some of us sow but are not also the reapers. Should the lack of good feelings prevent us from acting in love?

 

But when I feel myself acting too "newborn" in my relation to God, I find myself recalling this poem, which expresses the desire to truly love God because God deserves all of our love, and not because we are doing it to have our desires met:

O my Lord, if I worship you

from fear of Hell,

Burn me in Hell.

If I worship you in hope of Paradise,

Exclude me.

If I worship you for you alone,

Do not withhold your eternal beauty.

 

-Rabia the Mystic, 712-801 A.D.

 

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