We've Always Known: Why Don't we Do it?

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  • 1. We’ve Always Known:Why Don’t We Do it?Jane GilgunI don’t get it. For thousands of years human beings have had the key to the good lifewhere everyone would have enough and we would care for each other andourselves. Yet, three quarters of the world’s population suffer because of the actionsand inactions of other human beings. The key to the good life is the Israel Shema.Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your Godwith all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Thesecommandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress themon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walkalong the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbolson your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on thedoorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9).Related to the Shema is this.“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among yourpeople,but loveyourneighborasyourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18).To me, this is the original Good News. This is what people could have lived,breathed, taught, and acted upon. Some did. Many did not. So, we have rapes,murders, child sexual abuse, kids shot on the streets, water boarding, countriesthreatening other countries, starvation, and holocausts. We have budget cuts thatharm the most vulnerable and bring more richness to the super rich.Selfish, devastating me-first actions throughout the world are committed bycountless hundreds of millions of people over thousands of years.It doesn’t even seem to matter that the Christian tradition sought to fulfill these twoprinciples. This is from the gospel of Mark.One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing thatJesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all thecommandments, which is the most important?”“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lordour God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and withall your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second isthis: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater
  • 2. than these.”“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is oneand there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all yourunderstanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor asyourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not farfrom the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any morequestions (Mark 12: 28-34).Jesus lived these two commandments. He called out those who caused suffering.Some of those in power did not like it. They killed him. As he was dying, Jesus said,“Forgive them, Lord. They don’t know what they are doing.”Indeed. Many still don’t know what we are doing. We founded a religion based onJesus’s life and teaching. Jesus did fulfill the Scriptures. He brought forward the mostimportant ideas human beings will ever have. We apparently see his life andteaching through a glass darkly.What Happened?I wonder what it will take for people who say they are Christian to live the wordsthat Jesus fulfilled. Many have lived these words. Yet, so many others go their merryways, destroying other people while telling themselves and those like them whatwonderful people they are. Many people besides Jesus have been killed for livingthese words.I wonder what makes it so hard to live these words. I was raised Christian. Thesewords took second and third place to rules and dogma that I heard from the pulpitand in religious instruction. Original sin, the immaculate conception, Jesus is God,Mary is perfect and you are not, confess your sins, don’t touch the host, and all thoseother things.What Happened to Experience?The experience of a loving God.The experience of loving God.The consequences ofexperiencing the love of God. Where was this talked about? I did not hear about thisfrom the pulpit and in religious instruction. I don’t hear people talking to each otherabout what it means to love God. We’ve gotten so far away from the words ofScripture that many people have no idea what it feels like to love God.If we love God, we naturally love our neighbors as ourselves. We don’t put ourselvesabove others and think destruction has good outcomes. In our everyday lives, wethink about the consequences of our actions. We work on letting go of revenge
  • 3. motives. We don’t let others push us around. We set simple limits and let othersknow when they have crossed the line.We take good care of ourselves. We don’t put ourselves down. We work on letting goof our own self-hatreds. We care about the well-being of others. We don’t put othersdown. We work on not hating others.This is all so simple. What makes it so hard? Let’s do what the Shema says. Talk toour children about the love of God, talk to each other, talk when we go to bed andwhen we get up, put a sign in our homes. Let’s live these simple words.Spiritual but Not ReligiousMore people than ever are spiritual and not religious. No wonder. They have aninkling of what it means to be spiritual. They know through experience that there issomething beyond ourselves that gives our lives meaning. They may not say theylove God. They may be uncomfortable with the word God. Why wouldn’t they be?The word has so many meanings, including the father in the sky, an all-powerfulbeing who choses some and not others, the punishing being, the being who grantsour wishes or not, among so many others.People who are spiritual and not religious know God is love and seek the spiritual asa plant seeks light. They recognize that they long for something. They may call whatthey long for a spiritual presence. Some people call this God.If people in religious institutions put the Shema front and center, churches would befilled with people who now are spiritual and not religious. Many people are turnedoff by the messages and beliefs that have subordinated the central message of allreligions. The central message is this. Love the Lord your God with all your heart,and soul, and might and love your neighbor as yourself. All else follows from this. Sosimple and yet for thousands of years subordinate and mostly ignored.What a price we have paid for ignoring these simple principles.Why I Wrote ThisI wrote this after four days of anger and upset. These difficult emotions arose in meafter spending five hours at a social service agency that serves the most high-riskchildren and families in the county where the agency is located. I heard stories of amother with four young children who is about to be evicted and who has no place togo. I heard of a teenage girl in bed with her boyfriend with the bedroom door openin full view of a social worker who was talking to the girl’s mother. I heard of a boyin residential treatment for volatile behaviors and whose only support in this worldis about to die an early death because of lung disease caused by her smoking.
  • 4. In the newspaper this week, I saw a series of three photos of two men fighting in thestreets of an Arab country. The first photo shows the two of them about to shoot.The second shows one of the men immediately after he was shot. The third showsthe man who was still alive pulling on the dead man as if to awake him.The events in these lives are preventable. Such horrors don’thave to happen. If welived the words of the Shema and talked about them as Scripture recommends,these events would not happen. Our own lives would take on new meanings.God is Not MoneyThere is one God. God is not money. God is not power to get your own way. God isnot social status. God is not I am better than you and mine is bigger than yours. Youare not God.God is love of others and of the self. People who love themselves love God andothers. Whatever material goods and social status that they have they use to fosterlove of God, others, and the self. Everything we have and are is subordinate to thelove of the one God.About the AuthorJane Gilgun is a professor and writer. See Jane’s books, articles, and children’sstories on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and other internet booksellers.