The Love Response

by Dustin Davis (Spiritual Formation Team)

Last week we learned of another mass shooting in the United States, a term so
commonplace now that it even has a definition: four or more people killed by gun
violence in a single incident. This one occurred at Umpqua Community College in
Oregon.

What has followed since then has been the now routine response from news outlets,
politicians, advocates on both sides of the gun control debate, and from citizens. And it
seems that apathy is becoming our “new normal” in the face of what was once shocking
and impossible violence. A friend I follow on Twitter posted, “The scariest thing about
today’s mass shooting is not the shooting itself, buy my apathetic response to things like
this now.” I saw many other comments in the same vein.

My favorite call-in show on my local radio station asked last Friday how listeners cope
with such tragedy when it occurs in our country. Caller after caller after caller shared
how they feel hopeless, how they have no faith in our politicians and leaders to pass
legislation and how even if they did they are not sure it would help. Even though it is
safe to assume that no one wants to see such violence continue, it feels as if many are
beginning to check out of the conversation because their hearts are too heavy, have
been broken too many times.

I can relate. Whenever I hear of such news, in the past I have taken a moment to
pause and whisper to myself, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
But even now that seems childish and somewhat trite. It seems that sending my
prayers and good thoughts is no longer enough.

As I was meditating on this feeling of general hopelessness and my own growing sense
of despair, I remembered a quote from Mother Teresa that is painted on the wall in my
congregation’s fellowship hall.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I have always thought this quote simply sounded nice, another pearl in a long wisdom
necklace. Now, however, it seems to sit in my heart with a very real weight, and
although some might think it naive or dismiss it as wishful thinking, I feel that these
words are our best guide toward a more peaceful future.

This quote, you see, is more than just nice words. It tells us what to do. It is actionable.
It provides a way forward along a dark path where debate and government have failed.
It reminds us of what is most essential. We must remember that we belong to each
other. It asks what our response will be in light of needless violence: hopelessness or
love?

Hopelessness has a firm grasp on us at times, so, for argument’s sake, let’s image what
a love response would look like. For me, I have promised to reach out to my family and
friends the next time I hear about a violent tragedy. I will remind my family that I love
them, and I will send a message to a few friends, perhaps those I have not talked to in a
while, to remind them that I am grateful they are part of my life. In this small way I hope
to remind them of their infinite worth and that they belong to someone. What does a love
response look like for you?

Shootings like the one that just happened in Oregon are a failure on many levels. Some
say it is a political failure. Others say it is a healthcare failure or a security failure. In
some way, all of these are true. I want to add that it is also a failure of individualism.
Somewhere along the way those who plan and carry out mass shootings, or any violent
act for that matter, have forgotten, or never knew, that they belong to others. I cannot
help but wonder if the Oregon shooter remembered that he was a son, maybe a cousin
or nephew, a colleague or a friend. Did he know he was a member of a community?
Did he know he was a child of God?

I will risk being called naive to choose the love response, not just because love feels
better than hopelessness or because I can act on love and not on hopelessness, but
because it is what I, we, are called to do.

THE CAPACITY FOR LOVE IN DISAGREEMENT TIMES

Lenten Practice: Centering Prayer
Daily Act: God’s Spirit is a place of unity drawing us together in oneness. Today, intentionally extend love to someone with whom you disagree.
Weekly Prayer Phrase:

I DWELL IN YOU AS THE SOURCE OF ALL LIFE.

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

One of the blessings and challenges of community in Christ is that you are very likely to encounter someone else with whom you disagree. If everyone you know thinks like you, it might be wise to consider expanding wider the boundaries of your community. The body of Christ is made of many members.

The reality is this: we can hurt each other.

We can wound with words or lack of words, action or lack of action. It can be intentional or unintentional. Resentments build up within us overtime. Trust decays. Whole communities can be diminished because of a single marring moment never fully tended.

This is where our spiritual lives can develop a strength in us that is not hard or uncaring. We can choose to not be personally punctured by every potentially offensive remark (politically or otherwise). I have noticed that sometimes the people with the “thickest skin” also have the softest hearts- wide open to receive the other even when they are not received in return. What capacity for love! I marvel.

I have witnessed some of our own leaders in Community of Christ stand in love as they received a barrage of angry disagreement from a fellow member. I have witnessed the grace they extended, by choosing not to react to those words born of anger and instead to ask questions that would get both parties closer to the heart of the matter.

I believe these are people who have rich prayer lives. From where does the capacity to love so unconditionally come? It comes from the source of love itself, which can be found within each one of us, if we choose to access that deepest space within where God resides. It takes a kind of strength that comes from life in the Spirit to see past whatever disagreement one is in the midst of, to the presence of the divine in the one with whom they disagree.

I want to be clear that I am not talking about being passive or submissive. There are so many complexities to human conflict that I could write all day long and you would probably get tired of reading! I am talking about an honest love that refuses to give in to the sensationalism of the moment and seeks always a deeper understanding of one another where oneness in Christ becomes possible.

The spiritual life is for these times precisely. It is about developing those inner resources that can sustain and guide us in the moments that feel awkward, tense, strained, or where we are tempted to act as not our best selves. These are the moments when we rely on the One we claim to follow. This is the very point of being formed in the pattern of Christ. Who am I called to be when anger flares up within me, when it would be easier to cast aside the person before me as unworthy rather than put forth the effort to see Christ in them too?

There is a space within yourself where all the patience, forgiveness, and love you need for Christ-like relationship is waiting to be discovered. I pray you will dwell there and this is why: on the days when I am not my best self, I yearn for you to see past my angry, clumsy words to the Christ-life also within me.

I think the whole world is yearning for this seeing.

Lent is the season for reconciliation. Consider the wounding you’ve received, the wounding you’ve caused. What is God’s invitation to you in this time of repentance and forgiveness?

Reconciliation

Lenten Practice: Examen
Daily Act: Reflect on your life and consider relationships in need of reconciliation. Is there a reconciling action you are invited to make today?
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“SEARCH MY HEART AND MAKE IT ONE WITH YOURS.”

Today’s reflection was written a while ago when I was struggling with a strained relationship. I believe it is important to be honest about these relationship fractures in our lives. The possibilities for peace we pray for are sometimes waiting to be realized in our own families and communities, where lasting peace begins. Pay attention this day to how the deep in you calls you toward reconciliation.

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

I want to stay angry
To live in the feeling of being wronged
Until all is made right again
I want people to know that I take
What they say seriously
That words have power
And demand caution when being used
In destruction purposes

I want to stay hurt
Dwell in this river of self-pity
To satisfy my own self-righteousness
To avoid the painstaking
Slow work of reconciliation

So of course I am resistant to the ways
The solitude moves me to love
To the Spirit promptings within
That gently urge me to get over myself
And move along
The compassion that comes
And sweeps away these sorrow crumbs
Clearing me out
Restoration
To begin again and again

In one moment, I resist
In the next, I relent

Our yearnings are for unity
So this separation we’re in
Is a form of self-sabotage

I am reminded
In love
That angry words are attached
To bodies with faces and hearts
And minds and stories
Other humans
Imperfect like me
With their own muddled
Union yearnings

Sometimes to be a disciple
Is to swallow pride
However sharp as it goes down
And to demonstrate the
Radical Christ love
That is the point anyway

What is deepest within me sings
Forgiveness

Thick are our protective layers
But not impenetrable
All is redeemable

When people are bound
By this communal thread
A vulnerability
Even a meanness
Can be a pathway in
If one has courage and strength enough
To follow it
If one can pass through their own
Swells of self-righteousness
Like moving under the waves
To avoid drifting back to shallow shore
Sometimes we have to hold our breath
And be submerged to go further in

Could it be that our raw, aching sharing
Was actually a love feast
Placed on the table before us?
A taste of the sweetness beyond niceties
A craving for authenticity
A taste that may take time to acquire
And appreciate

Like God
Something we can’t just know all at once
We sip at the mystery

In this prayerful pause
I notice I am
Moving into the day with
A softening, opening heart

So it is in the peaceable kin-dom
Loving confrontation has a holy purpose
So that loving does not enable the defenses
But opens wide
The real

This is the hardest love task
To name the hurts
And journey together
In love
Into a deeper way of being

It is not avoidance
And it is not anger either
It is something deeper
Call it grace
Call it forgiveness
Call it reconciliation
Call it life in Christ

Be patient with one another, for creating sacred community is arduous and even painful. But it is to loving community such as this that each is called. Be courageous and visionary, believing in the power of just a few vibrant witnesses to transform the world. Be assured that love will overcome the voices of fear, division, and deceit.

-Doctrine & Covenants Section 161