Guns and Immaturity, Part 4
Love God. Love neighbor. Love self. Love period. Rev. Jacqui Lewis
Because we are inseparably interconnected with all beings, we cannot mature into our truest nature without first accepting others as possessing equal value and equally deserving of the respect we desire for ourselves. When Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he did not say to love only our neighbor. Rather, we must also love ourselves by understanding we, too, are worthy of love and respect. This is not an insecure, narcissistic type of self-deceiving love, but an understanding that we are the beloved of God, even with our numerous imperfections and selfish tendencies. At our core, at the level of the being we were created to be and are becoming, we are children of God, made in God’s image and likeness. Fortunately, God sees the finished product, the consummated being, and not the immature stage of becoming we currently and individually manifest. The key to loving our neighbor is to acknowledge the consummated being in them, too, instead of the immature 2-year-old they act like at times.
In order to perceive a being-in-the-making in others, to see through the overly-defended, exterior appearance of so many people, we must learn to listen to and understand them in undefended, open ways. It requires faith that there actually is a being-in-the-making within everyone. Once we acknowledge and speak to that maturing being, we not only find it easier to love and respect them, we also find them less threatening. We still may not agree with them, but agreement is not a requirement of love. At this level of engagement we can identity the many similarities between us instead of emphasizing the few points of difference. We will likely find that our personal desires and deepest hopes are complimentary, and that we can perhaps accomplish together as brothers and sisters what is out of reach as separate beings. Jesus encouraged us to see the good in others, not only to help us love them as neighbors, but because by seeing the good in others we are better able to see the good in ourselves. In fact, the two abilities develop together.
Valerie Kaur, a Sikh author, writes, “Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear… the goal of listening is not to feel empathy for our (neighbors), or to validate their ideas, or even change their mind in the moment. Our goal is to understand them.” This is the type of undefended attention required to love our neighbors. We become vulnerable enough to risk being changed by them. It is not our charge to change others; it is our charge to love them. Deep love requires deep understanding. There is an old adage that familiarity breeds contempt, which is true when we view others through our overly-defended biases by trying to determine how they threaten us. We cannot see through the defended exterior of another until we seek to understand them from a place of undefendedness in ourselves. We listen to them in search of what they perceive that we do not, instead of searching for ways they are wrong. When we see deeper into the core of their being, they will reflect our inner most selves, not as a duplicated image of us in our world, but as a reflection of us as we would be in their circumstances.
When we connect with someone in a way that affirms our interconnectedness and celebrates our similarities, we will not hate, harm, or kill them. This requires an open-mindedness that does not arouse our sense of defensiveness. Our sincerely held beliefs are not threatened simply by respecting others for theirs. Such familiarity only breeds contempt when we receive others from a threatened space that presupposes our superiority over that person, which is an assumption built on the false premise that we are or need to be superior to anyone.
As a volunteer crisis counselor, my heart aches for the countless numbers of people in deep despair because they feel unheard, unacknowledged, unappreciated, and unseen. The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is apathy – not caring, not seeing, not appreciating. The despair they feel often leads them to violence acts, most often against themselves, but sometimes against others. When we are in despair, we contract into a very small life-space that we fear will simply disappear and take us with it if we cannot find a way to be heard, understood, and acknowledged. Violence is one way to gain such acknowledgement. It is an immature cry for help. Being seen by another does not require violence, however, when someone is listening with the intent to understand.
This is the 9th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and are not intended to imply the agreement or support of other individuals or organizations. If you wish to respond to my thoughts, please contact me directly at email@example.com.
 Valerie Kaur, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love (New York: One World, 2020), pp. 143-144, 156.