Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What is love?

Today was the last day of my world religion class with Dr. Alonzo Gaskill. He has some quirks that have bugged me occasionally, but I have mostly enjoyed his class. His class has been focused on cultivating religious understanding and helping us to appreciate the diversity in the world of the belief. As he concluded the semester with a summary of his own belief, he read us a scriptural passage, 1st John 4:20, that I am sure I have read before. 

"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?"

As Dr. Gaskill read these words, I pondered on how we react to those who are different. How do we treat the Other? How would I want to be treated as the Other? 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of sorts for me. I finished my thesis, I became involved in I'm A Mormon Feminist, I changed several habits in the my life, I introduced new habits, and I met up with my friend from freshman year to take her to the OW action. Even though this semester has been incredibly stressful and emotionally draining, it has given me time to reflect on the path that my life has taken. Through my involvement in Mormon feminism and LGBT advocacy, I have come to see how God wants us to treat the Other. 

This realization, however, is not my first moment of understanding. When I was in my hardest area on my mission, ธนบุรี (Thonburi), I remember feeling emotionally exhausted. My time in the area had been difficult. To add to the difficulties that I was already experiencing, we never had any serious investigators.  Without any serious investigators, I felt confused: Why had I been sent to this area? Why was I being entrusted with a young missionary to train? 

Near the beginning of that move (transfer), we bought a map of Bangkok from a local bookstore. It showed the major road, จรัญสนิทวงศ์, that cut through the ธนบุรี side of the river. It showed the countless side streets (ซอย), the major Buddhist temples, and other historic landmarks. When I came to ธนบุรี, I was told that it was a struggling ward that had never recovered since a series of unfortunate boundary changes. My mission president sent us to boost the number of Elders to four in the ward. I was told that God had inspired this call and that I should work hard to do the best that I could. When I looked at this map, initially, I saw potential. I saw the opportunity to find new people to teach. 

As the move progressed, however, I became frustrated. The people there were uninterested in our message. No matter how hard I tried, people would not investigate the Church. They would compliment me on my Thai, saying how clearly I spoke, but they would always give the traditional response of "Every religion teaches us to be good." My spirit languished. Why was God not blessing us with success? Why was I not finding people to teach about my cherished faith? One day, when we were planning for the next week, I looked at the map in a new light. I remember looking at the map and seeing what our Heavenly Parents saw. Not just street numbers or names of temples and landmarks. The map showed  the homes of my siblings. Siblings born halfway across the world. Siblings who knew nothing about Them, but could still be happy. Some of them denied Them or felt angry at Them. Others embraced Them and cultivated relationships with the Divine. I thought, however, of the heartache that They feel when their children reject them. Perhaps my rejection by these wonderful people, who didn't see the need for Deity, was a portion of how our Heavenly Parents felt when They experienced rejection.

I don't believe that we all need to be Mormon to experience happiness. That was not the point of the story above. The point is, however, that I have come to realize what rejection is. There are parts of me that I fear will be rejected by others if they knew the "real" me. I fear that people's love is conditional or that their love will be taken away if I should do something that does not please them. 

And now we return to the scripture mentioned above. If people does not love their siblings, they cannot say that they love God. I struggle to love perfectly. I find myself becoming frustrated with people and with their shortcomings, but I always try to return to that foundation of love. That foundation of love teaches me that the people around me are my siblings. Children of our Heavenly Parents. I do not want others to experience the pain that comes from rejection or isolation. When we truly love God, we will love our siblings. And that is love. 

1 comment:

Morgan Bergstrom said...

I really enjoyed this Jacob! I was walking this morning up to campus and saw a man in a wheelchair giving out something. He turned out to be a Jehovah's Witness handing out pamphlets. I wanted to be kind and considerate to him so I listened to what he said and thanked him for the pamphlet.

As I was walking up to campus, I was worried for him. Worried that people would judge him or treat him unkindly just because he is a Jehovah's witness. I found myself thinking of the very same things you wrote about in this post. That as believing disciples of Christ, we should seek to emulate Christ's love for all people. I completely agree with what you have written. Regardless of what something believes, dresses like, speaks or does, we are all brothers and sisters and should sincerely treat everyone as such. I wonder how different the world would be if we could more fully master this basic, yet essential concept of the gospel. Well done Jacob. Well done.