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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Lesson of Love

There are periodicals I routinely read just to be informed about certain areas in my life.  It is not just religion and spirituality issues that I want to be up to date.  I also have wide-ranging interests because I know that a variety of interests make me a more interesting person.  And if I have wide ranging interests, then I am likely to be more creative.  All innovators know putting together things that are not necessarily linked produces new possibilities.

Over my life I have applied this principle, although for a long time I would not have known to call it innovative.  Early in my studies, I wanted to wander beyond my own Quaker tradition.  As I spent time with people who were not like me and read more widely in Christian history, I began to realize how narrow and provincial I was.  I am not sure how it could have been any different.  I grew up on a farm with people who were mostly like me.  That was my “world.”  Until you know there is difference, you define things, as you know them.

My earliest years were before Vatican II, that amazing global Catholic council in the late 50s and early 60s that dramatically opened up Catholicism and affected how non-Catholics related to the Roman Catholic world.  Little did I realize how much Vatican II would affect me and my own little world.  There are many ways to describe it.  I would say my mind expanded.  My soul grew in ways that added depth and breadth.  My “world” got bigger.

One of the things I decided to do was regularly read some Catholic literature so I would be more informed and better able to participate with fellow Catholics in whatever community I lived.  After all, if there are over one billion Catholics in the world, many of my neighbors will belong to that faith tradition.  And I better well understand their perception and experience of God.  I acknowledge somehow their God is my God.  If they experience God in a variety of ways, I need to know about it and celebrate it.  To that end, one thing I regularly read is the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly Catholic publication.

In a recent edition I read a sermon by Thomas Gumbleton, who is the retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit.  He shared a story that was charming and I would like to share.  It is the story about Judaism.  Gumbleton says, “I have a priest friend in another diocese who invited an Orthodox rabbi to speak to his parishioners about Judaism. He explained about the 613 laws of the Torah and how he faithfully keeps those laws. Someone asked him about his belief in an afterlife. The rabbi said, “I believe everyone eventually gets into heaven.”

Now I knew things were going to get interesting.  Gumbleton continued.  “Then people raised their hands; they all had the same question, ‘Why do you keep all those 613 laws if you think everyone is going to get into heaven anyway?’ The rabbi smiled and answered, ‘Because God has asked me to keep them.’”  I laughed.  Even before I read on, immediately I thought, “of course; it’s a matter of obedience.”

I think obedience is a tough term in our culture.  Most of us don’t want to be obedient to anyone---to be “beholding,” as my grandfather would put it.  We want to be independent.  Indeed, why would be bother with 613 laws if we were going to get the good stuff anyway?  That seems stupid.  And stupid is how so many folks think about obedience.

But Gumbleton adds a great twist that helps me understand obedience.  He says,  "It's a matter of friendship.  If a friend asks you to do something, you do it.  In this case, you recognize that what God is asking of you is for your own good.  God asks and we respond. God loves and we respond.”  I love how he takes it into the realm of friendship.  That image of friendship is one of my favorites for the God-human relationship.  I like to understand God as friend.  Of course, for a Christian this works very well, particularly when Jesus enters the pictures.  Jesus as friend is a powerful way to perceive the relationship.

And clearly, any one of us who values friendship knows if a friend asks for something, we are going to try our hardest to do it.  If a friend asks me to do something, I don’t tell him that’s stupid.  I don’t evaluate how I feel about it.  I respond.  I act.  A friend is a person I love and I act out of love.  That’s how it is with God.

As I step back from the story, I realize it is a wonderful lesson of love.  In our culture love can be sexualized to the point of ridiculousness.  Or it can become so superficial, it is like the greeting of the waitress in a restaurant who asks, “Love, what can I get you?”

The lesson of love is not whether it is 613 laws or just one law.  The lesson of love is friendship is a relationship of responsibility and responsiveness.  If my friend asks for something, I do it.  That's true for the best friend I have: God

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