He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
It has been over 40 years that I have been making this journey of life with Jesus. And, as the Grateful Dead sing, “What a long strange trip it has been.” The more I think that I understand . . . the simpler it seems to get . . . the more complicated it becomes. Yet, I really do not think that God ever intended for faith—any of our faith—to be complicated.
One year my mother gave me a framed needle point picture of a turtle with the words: “Keep It Simple Stupid”. The “KISS” philosophy . . . and, no, my mother did not think I was stupid . . . she just liked the philosophy. She wanted to remind me to keep things simple. Ever since then I have attempted to do that. The lawyer that Denzel Washington plays in the movie, Philadelphia, tells each of his clients that he wants them to tell him their story in words that a third grader would understand. He believes that if a third grader can understand it then any jury or judge in the land will be able to understand it. It is the KISS philosophy . . . keep it simple. And, again, I have embraced that idea when I am trying to share the faith . . . keep it simple enough that any third grader can understand so that everyone can understand. I think that is what God intended . . . it is we humans who go and complicate the whole matter of faith. It is humans that seem to screw it up and make it harder than it has to be.
Because I want to keep it simple I pretty much have embraced the quote above as the purpose and meaning to being a follower of Jesus. We are to love the Lord completely . . . and, love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I think that Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, says it in a way that makes sense: He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” As Jesus told the lawyer who was challenging him, “If you do that, you’ve got it covered . . . you’ve got it made.” Just go do it!
That is what I am striving to do . . . love God completely with everything I’ve got . . . love my neighbor just like I love myself. It sounds so simple, wouldn’t you agree? And, it really is . . . it is just not easy to live on a daily basis.
I can honestly state that I have spent a good portion of my journey with Jesus with my nose stuck in a whole lot of books . . . ministers have to do that. They have to read a whole lot of book on theological topics . . . “theo” meaning God, the “ology” part meaning the study of . . . I have read a lot of books on the study of God in hopes of getting to know God better. I have shelves and shelves of theological books and books explaining the theological books. It is mind-boggling the number of books there are about God for the faithful to follow. But, boy do they complicate things. It is like following bunny trails. And, I have to be honest, I really, really liked reading theological books . . . but, a person could spend a lifetime reading about God and never experience God.
Realizing that such reading was mostly “head” knowledge, I switched . . . I switched and started reading other forms of books . . . literature, fiction and non-fiction, biographies and autobiographies, history . . . books about people and their experiences with life and God. This was a different type of reading . . . it was reading for the heart . . . reading for the soul. Finding truth in other people’s stories. But, once again, this is still burying oneself in books and not really experiencing God.
Prayer . . . being still and knowing God . . . listening . . . just being. That helps a lot in knowing and experiencing God. Worship . . . praise . . . thanksgiving . . . fellowship. These help a lot in knowing and experiencing God. In doing these things, one cannot hide behind the printed page . . . one is out in the open with no one else except him or herself and God.
In a roundabout way, I guess what I am saying is that I feel fairly comfortable in the first half of the quote from above . . . I am doing a pretty good job of loving God with my whole being. I work pretty hard on my end of the relationship with God . . . I am not perfect at it (at least not yet), but I have such a relationship with God that God appreciates the effort, understands that I am human, and that I will keep trying no matter how many times I blow it. I think that is part of God’s love and grace.
The more difficult part of the quote from above is not the part about “loving your neighbors”, but the part about “loving your neighbors as you love yourself.” That is the more difficult part. As I look around the world today . . . listen to the news on the radio or television . . . read it in the newspapers and magazines . . . watch people relate to other people . . . witness the senseless wars and crises of our day . . . and, I wonder why we—all of us—have such a difficult time loving ourselves. If the reality of the world around us is a reflection about how we love ourselves because of the way that we treat one another; well, then, all of us need to work harder at loving ourselves.
I can admit that there are days that I do not like myself, much less love myself. I can admit that I am not always the nicest person to other people . . . who is? I can admit that I have my prejudices that color the way that I react and respond to others. I do stupid things . . . say stupid things . . . react wrongly . . . get mad at people . . . use sign language while driving . . . Hey! I can admit that there are days that I have a hard time loving myself . . . so, how in the world am I supposed to love my neighbor. And, I am not the only one with this problem . . . we all have it. Look around and you can see it.
I guess I should have read the fine print at the bottom of my baptism certificate . . . should have read the legalese before jumping in and getting all wet. But, it all sounded so simple . . . so easy . . . all I had to do was to love God and others. Easier said than done. Love and relationships are hard . . . hard because they involve more than one . . . it takes two to tango. Whenever two or three are gathered . . . no, it is not what you think . . . whenever two or three are gathered someone always spills the milk. Arguments happen. Opinions are expressed. Feelings are hurt. And, relationships fall apart. If you have ever really tried to be in a honest and open relationship with another person, you know how hard it is.
Yet, it really is simple. Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbor. Everyone is our neighbor. Everyone is a child of God. All we have to do is to love . . .
Faith is simple . . . love; well, love is a whole other story. Jesus had the gall to tell the lawyer to do this and hit the jackpot. The problem is that once you start loving you can’t stop. It grows in you and around you. It multiples with more and more relationships being experienced and born. It is like that little mustard seed Jesus spoke about . . . a simple, itty bitty, tiny seed that when it is nurtured and loved grows into a mighty bush that is big enough to support birds and their nests . . . it grows! Suddenly it is not so simple this simple idea of loving God and others. It is enough to make one’s head spin.
Then I remember . . . keep it simple. To focus on God . . . to love God completely. To focus on me . . . to love myself for who God created me to be. To focus on others to know this love that makes us connected to God and one another in such a way that we cannot help but to share it. Not in the words that we say, but the actions that we take . . . love is not a bunch of words . . . love is how we care for one another. It is as simple as that . . . but, watch out! It could multiply and get complicated if you really live it. It is as simple as that.