The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor

by Angela Furlong, postulant for Holy Orders and seminarian

“May we prefer nothing to loving God and loving our neighbor. And may our faith make us well. Amen.”  

Social Justice is complicated. It always has been, even as far back as when Jesus walked the earth.  And addressing it unveils false assumptions, overt, covert, and unrecognized prejudices, fear, and vulnerability. Addressing it enables the projection of all voices involved… all voices, everyone.  Because racism, sexism, elitism, genderism, all -isms hurt everyone.  And by addressing them, we create a tension that makes room for dialogue and love. Why?  Because…. Humanity. In all of our beauty and divine giftedness, we are still imperfect, insecure, and afraid. Afraid of the unfamiliar or the unknown. Afraid of our sensitivities and frailties. Afraid of difficult and painful truths.  Afraid of vulnerability. Afraid of the frightening realities of the oppressed; realities brought to the forefront of the battle for social justice by sojourners of oppression like The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Elie Wiesel, Harriet Tubman, Maria Stewart, and a proselytizing sojourner we all know… Moses. I have never lived as the lead in any of their narratives. I am neither Jewish nor African American. And that is a vulnerability that makes it difficult for me to truly embody and relate to their human experiences as oppressed peoples.

But this I do know. I am a Christian. And I was created as equally and as belovedly by God as every other human being on this earth. I know that this world has both darkness and light and that the world looks toward the United States as a privileged beacon of hope and safety, freedom and opportunity. But at whose expense do we gaslight the world with these ‘American’ images, feigning freedom and opportunity for ALL… as we continue to oppress and denigrate people of color, women, LGBTQIA+, asylum seekers, the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted…labeling them as ‘others’? As we toss aside our neighbors and love ourselves? Neighbors who struggle for true equality in housing, education, employment, healthcare, safety, access to healthy foods… and justice. They are our sisters and our brothers. They are ‘us.’ We are one. Our context dictates our vision. Our privilege blinds us.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ~ Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963

Consider our current struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic. We were advised to isolate ourselves, to stay home. We were advised to wash our hands frequently and not to congregate. Most of us have homes in which to shelter ourselves and sufficient food to feed ourselves. But some of us depend on people congregating in order to receive charity in the form of work, food, shelter, recognition… agape. Some of us rely upon social settings for basic human survival. Some of us live on the streets and have neither sink nor soap, neither food nor shelter. Do you see us? Do you know our names? Can you feel our bondage to deprivation and pain… the invisibility? We, the privileged majority, the sufficiently fed and sheltered, can choose to close our eyes, ears, and hearts to this truth, this reality. Or we can open our eyes, ears, and hearts to the pain and injustices that persist in our society and we can address them head-on through dialogue, prayer, and direct action. As a Holocaust survivor and a familiar to deprivation and pain, Elie Wiesel so aptly reminds us that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. How many times have we driven past a hungry panhandler on the street, or looked the other way when confronted with a homeless beloved sleeping on a bench or in an alleyway? How many times have we heard the cries of hungry stomachs and not offered a morsel? Avoided the cries of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed? Our context and our vision matter, and they impel action (love) or inaction (indifference). Consider the hemorrhaging woman who touched the hem of Christ’s cloak in a seemingly hopeless but desperate act of faith and was healed. Don’t just sit there. Do something. Any suffering is ‘our’ suffering.

Dr. King spoke of a constructive, non-violent tension that enables men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. For the sake of inclusiveness in today’s context, I propose we change the word ‘men’ to ‘humanity.’ And while we’re at it, letus change ‘brotherhood’ to ‘beloved community.’  For the sake of ALL of God’s beloved humans. There IS a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which IS necessary for growth. And we DO need to create that kind of tension that will help humanity rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and beloved community. And we can apply this tension, this advocacy, this Love, to all of the -isms and oppressions we face today. We have the power…the free will… to transform our vision of ‘other’ into a loving vision of ‘us’, of ‘one-another’.

Love your neighbor as yourself

God

Dr. King was well-experienced with the assaults of injustice and well-versed in Biblical text. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he opens the eyes of those blinded by privilege by affirming that ‘human progress comes through the tireless efforts of people willing to be coworkers with God.’ This letter has been justifiably labeled the Gospel of Freedom. Like our Biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Dr. King’s Gospel of Freedom promotes Jesus’ Way of Love. God’s love for us and our love for each other. Dr. King’s approach was considered extremist. As he so passionately reminds us in his letter, Jesus was an extremist… for love, truth and goodness. Jesus was non-violent and He loved ALL. He was condemned for breaking ancient societal laws in order to love and serve the dignity and well-being of His fellow humans. Jesus fought against the extremists of hate. And so did Dr. King. Dr. King fought against racism and hate, crimes against humanity. If doing so meant that he was labeled an extremist, then he embraced that label for the good of humanity.

As we struggle through this pandemic and allow it to headline our narrative for survival, let us not forget those who are most susceptible to the horrors of the human condition, the pain and suffering of the quietly normalized and invisibly oppressed‘ others,’ our neighbors. May we all bear witness to their suffering. May we but touch the hem of our creator, of faith, hope, and love, and may that cure us of hemorrhaging injustices.

We are caught up in a turbulent estuary of vocation and free will.

God calls us to Love. Relieve the suffering and the oppressed.

God calls us to Live… in Beloved Community. Advocate for justice.

God calls us Beloved. Be Loved.

God calls us.

May we respond,

“Here I am.”

Amen.