At a recent children’s sermon, my 8-year-old granddaughter was asked to bring something important to her to share with the other children and the congregation. She brought a handmade card filled with hearts and the words, “God made the earth and God made us. He loves me and He loves you.”
Why do adults so often disregard or place conditions on the love we are called to share? When we place conditions on love we slam the door on compassion and replace it with bias, narrow-mindedness, nastiness, and condemnation. The opportunity to love one another and open doors is lost.
Faith is not seeking like-minded people to re-enforce our pre-conceived ideas. Faith, rather, encourages us to be thinkers and doers who challenge and are challenged. Faith leads us out of our comfort zones and into a world where we are called to listen and learn from one another. Faith celebrates our God-given intellect as a gift to be used wisely.
It saddens me that religious leaders called upon to comment on society today too often do not bring enlightenment. Rather they focus on an “anti” message, which includes condemnation, rejection, bigotry, and even contempt. They ignore the wise words of an 8-year-old who said, “God loves me and God loves you.”
What I too often hear is a rigidity that ignores the unconditional nature of God’s love. I can see why someone might conclude that, “If this is what Christianity is, I want no part of it!”
Religion is frequently misused to disregard and malign the poor, those different than ourselves, or those made vulnerable by life circumstances beyond their control. Some years ago a Pastor told my daughter that if she had more faith, her mental illness would go away.
Her response to me about that hurtful, ignorant and mean comment was, “It’s faith that keeps me going.”
How tragic that an opportunity to affirm her life circumstances became a time of rejection. The one living with the pain was the one who understood faith.
Over my lifetime, I have been blessed with people in my life who were unlike me. Their contributions to my life have been tremendous and enriching. We can seek to deal with controversy and disagreement by accepting only like-minded people. We can avoid or even reject those who threaten our values. Unfortunately the barriers such attitudes create lead us away from God’s people and into like-mindedness that disregards God’s love for all people.
In my ministry, I often found myself drawn to people who were unlike me in many ways. We often differed on scriptural interpretation, social issues and other realities that frequently divide people. But we shared compassion, love and respect that are central to faith. We don’t need like-mindedness or conformity to experience oneness and community.
Our journey of faith should not have a “road ends 1000 feet” sign. Faith opens doors, broadens our love for humankind, challenges attitudes and invites us to celebrate diversity and be open to the gift of insight found in meaningful relationships. As my granddaughter said, “God loves me and God loves you.” Knowing God loves everyone is the basis for a faith adventure filled with hope.
• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau.