by David Rommereim
I love words.
When used well words become moments for health and healing. When used poorly, Kurt Vonnegut said, "So it goes." Poor uses of words tend to produce badly. From a bad attitude to bullying, they perform poorly.
When used in verbal conflict the words position for power. When used to share ideas they build community. Perhaps that is why Jesus used that biblical formula and commanded that we "love the neighbor as you love yourself." How hard would it be to "love your self" so that you could accomplish the command and "love the neighbor?" That is the core of what we teach, good words lead exemplary action.
The early Christian desert monks in the first and second century (CE) rarely spoke about "sin." That three letter word became common liturgical nomenclature when the priest became the one to announce absolution. He said, "Your sins are forgiven." However, it was the desert monks, who worked hard at simply keeping from "bad words." The more they tended their gardens, worked, and prayed, the less they strayed from the good. It is, after all Christians who are challenged to "keep Jesus' Word" (John 14. 23-24). The focal point of that Word is a simultaneous exchange between (1) God, (2) yourself, and (3) the other (neighbor, friend, loved one, or any part of the earth). The exchange is called agape, or divine love. That love means doing good will.
From day to day, that form of love does not seem possible. You say: "There is a bottom line." Or, "We live with the zero sum game ~ winners and losers." On the other hand, "I have to be as tough as the next guy. In such a world Jesus' Word agape sounds naïve. However, once you spend time meditating on the Word of Jesus (doing good will) a whole, new world order opens.
From the minute details of the butterfly in your back yard making her way to that mountain in Mexico where all east coast butterflies nest, or the stranger that crosses your path with a frown on his brow, or even, the beloved who needs to hear you say, "I love you" lets souls touch. Boundaries, barricades, walls, protective machinery from guns, knives, drones, or surveillance cameras are no match when souls touch and Jesus' Word becomes the order of your world.
I was struck by such a new order when, last week, I met with 30 clergy from Queens and Far Rockaway. We deliberated on the lingering residue from Hurricane Sandy. Pastors reported that the remnant tended to produce bad thoughts caused by finger pointing, name calling, and hot anger left because the poor remain in harms way through a storm who's wind died, but affect persists. People remain in harms way, while our city talks about rebuilding that four-mile boardwalk by Memorial Day 2013.
The clergy spent time speaking about a post-sandy-experience while we also began planning our collective contribution toward recovery. One preacher from Far Rockaway spoke about his experience. He said, "Sandy is like salt. That is, salt has no real taste, no flavor. Its only purpose is to extenuate what's already there."
His courageous, agape words, sounded like they bounced off a mirror. Through his words I could see the poverty before Sandy lingering around my face. I could see my own inability to pay attention to the neighbor "whose backs are against the wall." As I looked in the mirror, I noticed the room way in the back where decisions are secretly being made. I noticed everyone, especially those who remain in harms way (in the Rockaways, Coney Island, Staten Island, and Red Hook) are not at that planning table.
Agape, the Jesus Word, and the world order based on "doing good will," now implicates the people of faith. With this Salt of Sandy, we are challenged to keep Jesus' Word. Keeping means I stare at the mirror and see around me what has been there from the beginning: God, Self, neighbor, and Gaia/Earth.
The means and ends of our decisions and actions as participants in communal well-being are vital to the good that we do as a people of agape. If we recover without listening and working with those whose backs have been against the wall for a long, long, time, then we have failed to do good.