Have you ever thought about how your notion of “the good” is different from someone else’s? For years I have studied personality typing. I am a nine on the Enneagram and tend to want to understand the viewpoints of all around me for the sake of connection. I enjoy seeing others’ points of view, although by doing so in the past I have, at times, risked not knowing my own stance more fully.
But the expression, “seeing others’ points of view” doesn’t carry the weight for me that the wondering of others’ views of “the good” does. I am excited to offer my own notion of “the good” and to listen to others’ going forward. Love cannot break through if we cannot begin the dialogue of listening, even in the worst of circumstances.
I will address dialoguing with others in more depth in later posts, but for now, must define my own notion of “the good” in order to better know from where I approach others.
The good that I stand for and protect can best be described as the “kingdom of God.” I understand that for those who are not religious or who have been harmed by religion, this phrase can seem trite, harmful and even off-putting. I do not mean to offend. But in recent years, this phrase has come to mean a great deal to me. I must confess that, delving more deeply into communication ethics with others, the phrase, “kingdom of God” is going to be as different to varying individuals and groups as is each person’s concept of “the good.”
But here is what it means to me: In the kingdom of God on earth, all people are created by the Creator, loved by the Creator and have value. No one person is better than another. That is where I am at this point in my life and I wish to spend my life defending that love in all people. Yes, individuals throughout history, as well as today, have done and do cruel things, have committed terrible acts, and just seem so different from me that I might call them wrong, my enemy, or “the Other.”
But when I call someone else “the Other,” I immediately break any possibility of relationship or love and separate myself from the God within them, no matter how readily available or covered in muck that Spirit might be. Jesus teaches that we are to love our enemies, that before we take the speck out of another’s eye we must first remove the log from our own. In other words, we are all human. We all, if handed the conducive set of life circumstances, have the potential to do any of the bad that anyone else has ever done. Most likely, we each would like to think that we would make a different choice, and hopefully we would. But the truth remains that it is possible that we might not. That possibility, that shadow inherent in being human, is what connects us on a level that we do not enjoy looking at. But at that level, there lies the potential for compassion.
Several weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a free HIV testing day at one of the churches for which I work. The most special moment of the day came when I recognized a gentleman from some pictures of an HIV/AIDS retreat sponsored by the Church summer before last. I said to him, “I know you from the pictures I received.” He greeted me, told me his name, and threw his arms around me. I hugged him back as eagerly. He is HIV positive. He is full of love. In a twist of divine reversal that Jesus likes to constantly toss out at us I thought to myself, “I am so honored that he hugged me. He cared who I was. He acknowledged the Spirit in me.” He could just as easily thought, “I have nothing in common with this privileged-looking woman who has probably never known a day of true suffering in her life.” He could so easily have judged me. But he did not. He chose to love me.
So, I protect love among all people. It’s not always easy to like everybody, but it is possible to project love into the world, first and foremost above all things. The more of us who do that, the less violence and hate there will be. How many people commit crimes as adults because they weren’t loved as children, in fact, never found love as adults in their communities?
I realize, friends, that I’m starting to sound like I’m preaching and as if I were raised in a tradition that quotes Scripture constantly. I wasn’t, and yet the more I can claim the language of my faith, the more comfortable I am using it. We each have a responsibility, in my worldview, to try to bring as much love, even in the tiniest of ways, to each and every day. The culmination of those tiny pieces is worth much more than the sum of its parts and it can change the world.
I understand that my friends and brothers and sisters out there protect different “goods” – the good of individualism and self-empowerment, the good of nationalism, and the good of the law among many other views. May we all learn from and begin to understand each other.