Love Is

It’s a natural human behavior to work for approval, to work to be worthy of something—whether that something is love, achievement, honor, whatever. There is something innate in humans—even those born with silver spoons in their mouths—that says that working to prove one’s worth is normal and natural, and from the time we are capable of the slightest reason, we begin to do this, starting with our own parents and guardians and protectors.

What it takes us so long to understand, though, is that parents love us because we just are. We may understand that eventually, once we’ve had our own children and have experienced the deep welling-up and intensity of love at first sight, of instant affection based solely on one’s very existence. Before we had our own children, we may have even experienced those emotions when our closest friends had kids, or our siblings produced our first nieces and nephews. When confronted with the presence of an infant, or a small child—one young enough to not have made any choices yet—it is very easy to understand how love just is. How it doesn’t have to be forced, or conditionalized, or coaxed, or explained. It just is.

These are the types of moments we have in life that give us a microcosm of understanding of how God views us. And a microcosm of understanding of what God was getting at when God said to Moses from the burning bush, “I AM.”

The First Shall Be Last…Shall Be First Again?

Last week we discussed the idea of challenging our students to perspectives of acceptance and love and, most importantly, not drawing distinctions between themselves and others.

However, we must be careful how we articulate that message, lest an equally strong reciprocal message be communicated.

What happens all too often in these situations is that a person whose eyes are newly opened to seeing and caring about socially labeled Inferiors in turn, eventually—though unintentionally—elevates himself or herself to a new level of superiority.

The enlightened person begins to look down on, disrespect, and rudely call out Superiors. So, what we end up with is an inversion of Jesus’s New Testament insistence of “the last will be first” (see Matthew 19:30, Matthew 20:16, Mark 10:31, Luke 13:30).

Our attempt to attain humility can backfire in a significant and damaging way. One possible model:

1)   We recognize the flaw in society’s superiority complex toward certain disadvantaged persons.
2)   We identify with the disadvantaged persons, seeing them as human beings, putting ourselves on their level in order to understand their struggles.
3)   Humbling ourselves in such a way can make us resentful toward those who continue to act superior.
4)   We may start to view ourselves as more enlightened, and therefore better Christians than, those who have not yet learned to humble themselves.

If we follow this dangerous progression, we enter a cycle of being first, becoming last, and making ourselves first again, oftentimes without even realizing it.

In demonstrating a theology of love and attempting to eradicate any structures of inferiority with your students, how would you combat the tendency to become—in a sense—born-again superior? What scriptures, prayers, moral truths do you draw on to keep yourself and your students grounded?