Thursday, September 10, 2009

Golden Rule Days

School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days. When I was young we were quoted the "Golden Rule" all the time. In school it was probably the first thing I learned. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It was repeated often, drilled into us, and despite the best efforts of many fine teachers the rule was often forgotten. Or perhaps not forgotten so much as ignored. And to be honest, my recollection was that others ignored it far more often than I did myself, because it seemed like I was often the butt of jokes and pranks and bullying. But I'm sure I inflicted my fair share of pain and suffering on my younger brothers as we grew up, so I suppose it evened out.

But evening out isn't the goal. Evening out almost has a connotation of reward, or retribution realized. I can't tell you how many times something has happened where I've seen myself or others get taken advantage of or worse and thought to myself "Oh, you'll get yours someday. What goes around comes around. Karma is going to catch up with you." And those weren't just statements - they were my hope. Almost prayers. I found myself being wronged and instead of praying for strength in adversity I essentially prayed that others would suffer the same fate (or worse) than I had. I hadn't learned anything from the experience. I had forgotten the "Golden Rule."

In the Gospel of Luke Christ addresses this wonderfully. He doesn't just say "Do to others as you would have them do to you" because this can be misinterpreted. He expands on it. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Give to everyone who asks of you. Expect nothing back. Be merciful. Stop judging. Stop condemning. Forgive. This passage from Luke is the essence of Christ's teaching in one convenient package. If we expect God to show us mercy, we have to be merciful towards others. We have to recognize the Christ that is within each person we encounter. When we show another mercy, we are showing Christ mercy. And that mercy will in turn be given us by God.

Loving one's enemies is a difficult thing. I was bullied a lot as a young boy. And it was very painful for me to see my son go through many of the same agonies. The constant fear and anxiety of each day, never knowing from where the next attack was going to come from. And it made my son very angry. And a lot of joy left his life. But he persevered. He didn't lose his faith, he never gave up, and he has consistently remained one of the most compassionate people I've ever known. Injustice angers him - whether it's racism, or sexism, or abuse or neglect. But he no longer allows himself to be consumed by the anger, and he is always willing to try and understand why things are as they are. And he always treats every person he meets with respect.

I think we all struggle with being judgmental. It's just so easy and natural and human to have knee-jerk reactions to the things that happen to us or that we encounter on a daily basis. I always get very upset when I see an adult screaming or hitting a child in public. And my immediate reaction is I want to go to them and scream in their face and see how they like it. But then I remember I had my own share of physical "corrections" growing up. And as I matured I came to understand why my parents used that form of "education" with me now and then. I understood that it wasn't their fault or that they were trying to be intentionally abusive or anything like that. They had been brought up a certain way and likely had been abused themselves, and it was all they knew. And it was difficult for them to break that pattern. But they eventually did, because that pattern was not continued through me. And I think I've learned that the best way to stop being judgmental is to work towards understanding. Understanding others, making an effort to understand their situations, and working towards solutions rather than merely reacting in kind.

Be merciful. Forgive. When I read this passage the theme that keeps coming back to me is humility. So much of what Christ teaches us is about humility. We all work hard to get ahead in life. To live comfortably. To achieve a level of peace. But that comfort, that peace cannot and should not come at the expense of others. We have been wonderfully blessed with God's grace. And like any gift freely given that gift needs to be freely shared. We must stand up for those that can't stand up for themselves. We must pray often and fervently. We must forgive so that we in turn will be forgiven. We must be willing to humble ourselves before God, and live that humility. It must become natural to our nature, just as breathing is natural to us.

Love. The greatest lesson of all. Love God, love all, and we shall in turn be loved. Do to others as you would have them to you.

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