Author: Nicole Speer
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. ~John 13:34
A couple of months ago I was having tea with a friend when I saw a man walking down the sidewalk, extending a greeting to everyone he passed in the busy shopping center where we were sitting. I watched curiously as he came closer, wondering why his greetings were rebuffed or ignored. As he approached the area where we were seated, he greeted us with the loud and passionate statement that women should be cherished. I was delighted and smiled as I welcomed him into conversation: Yes! A man who understands!
We covered a lot of ground in our brief conversation, talking not only about the oppression of women — and especially women of color — but also about love, Jesus, and the importance of human connection. He identified himself as someone experiencing homelessness. He may have also been coping with a severe mental illness, given the care and intention he put into forming his words and sentences. Not once did he ask for anything other than conversation. He simply wanted to connect with another human being.
Despite the welcoming topics of our conversation, the more we talked, the more anxious I became. This man who was so passionate about love and connection was Black, in a community that is not only overwhelmingly white but that is often unaware of its racism. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the looks he was getting from the white female shoppers making wide arcs around him. I saw the white men who hesitated as they looked our way, presumably checking that my friend and I were “safe” before moving on. When he paused our conversation to greet a woman walking into a nearby shop with a joyful “Hello, Mother!,” she snapped back angrily, “I am NOT your mother!” as she hurried into the store. It broke my heart to witness the cruelty extended to this loving soul, and by extension to witness the cruelty of a society that creates people who cannot recognize their shared humanity.
As we parted ways, I reflected on how this man was embodying what Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as agape – an active form of love that insists on building and maintaining community, even in the face of discomfort. Despite the deplorable way people were treating him, he kept on extending love. No matter how many times his attempts at connection were rebuffed, his love was not deterred.
It is not easy to extend love to those who are different from us. It is especially hard to extend love when we are experiencing discomfort in the form of confusion, anger, fear, or pain. But as Christians, extending love in the face of discomfort is exactly what we must do when we are commanded to love. Many of us make prayer a daily practice to strengthen our love for and connection to God. What is our daily practice to strengthen our love for and connection to each other, and especially to those who differ from us?
Loving God, in this season of resurrection and rebirth, may we all commit to strengthening your community. Help us to know each other as you know us, so that we may love each other as you love us. Amen.