By Ken Robinson
So said Jesus to the lawyer who had quoted scripture about loving God with all your heart, soul, and might, and loving your neighbour as yourself. He asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus’ answer left no one in doubt. He offered the toughest possible example – a hated, loathed Samaritan as the good neighbour helping a noble Jew in need by the road. The message was clear – the neighbour we should love includes everyone. No exceptions. None.
In 1972 our church was given an equally tough challenge through prophetic inspiration. We who had based our existence as a movement, in part, on rejecting polygamy, were instructed to bear the burdens of polygamists who had come to us seeking a better, more Godly way of life. We were to love them as we love ourselves. What a challenge to our identity!
How would we do this? We had to go to them, listen to them, help them cope lovingly with multiple wives and children – abandoning none! Oh, how we learned about the demands of love! To really love we must also change.
Today’s world generally casts love as exciting, inherently mutual, self-satisfying, and comfortable.
When it starts to lose those qualities it is said people are falling out of love. Yes, we say we ‘fall into and out of love’. It just happens to us. No need to take responsibility. But often love is first an act of will; a choice to act lovingly. Feelings of liking, warmth, and even closeness grow in time. It’s also like that with loving God. In choosing to love others and to love God, we discover God’s love for us.
I am so grateful for life experiences, many of them deriving from my work as a clinical psychologist and later as a church minister, that have helped me learn about love and loving. In my very first year, newly graduated, I knew I harboured no prejudice against anyone. I was asked to go spend some time in the gym of the adolescent remand centre with a newly arrived group of five boys. I opened the gym doors and saw five aboriginal boys. I heard my own mind silently exclaim “Oh no!” Immediately I was accused in my own heart.
Where had that prejudice been hiding inside me? I stayed, I listened, we talked, we played. To my surprise I discovered they were great kids. Smart kids. They had learned that if you stole a chocolate or some soft drinks in their small town in North-West Australia, you were arrested and flown (first ever flight!) 2000 kms south to Perth to stay in a ritzy new centre, with your own bedroom and toilet, a great gym, and terrific meals. After two weeks ‘holiday’ you’re told to behave and flown home with stories to tell. Smart kids! For me, the learning of a lifetime about prejudice, and needing to see the log of wood in my own eye.
I can tell similar stories about my experiences with girls and boys, men and women who were thieves, prostitutes, drug addicts, psychopaths, murderers, schizophrenics, from disintegrating families, homeless, homosexual, or depressed and suicidal. I listened, observed, interacted, prayed, reflected and learned. I tried to see them as God might see them. I had been counselled in my evangelist blessing to endeavour to see people as God sees them, so I could minimise my tendency to judge others. Most of the time I came to appreciate greatly most of the people I worked with. In many cases I became a strong supporter. And, I was changed.
In Fiji I went with Jai Ram and Leon Clifford to the tiny home of a poor widow, raising several children, two seriously disabled. The church had earlier bought her a sewing machine (her only luxury) and persuaded the government to provide her a two-room house, thereby escaping extreme poverty. She had a tiny vegetable garden. During our visit a lady came to collect clothes the widow had made. Before the customer left the widow gave her some fresh vegetables from the garden. The vegetables were worth almost as much as she received for the sewing. We asked her about that. Her answer was simply to praise God for her blessings which she delighted to share. I learned more about generosity that day than from any text or sermon.
I have learned to listen, and observe, and engage and see new people in new ways – as God might see them. The more I have done this the more I thank and love God for a world that is marvellous beyond description.
Just as this has been a portion of my process so it is with our church. With great determination and courage the church has stepped out to encounter polygamy, unspeakable poverty, homosexuality, same sex marriage, the offering of sacraments to those who come rather than just to members, and other circumstances that have been ‘strange’ to us. We have listened, talked together, consulted the scriptures, prayed and sought inspired guidance. We have most often moved forward in new ways of ‘loving’. We have been changed.
We hear that still, small voice saying, “Do this, and you’ll live.”