“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” — Isaiah 6:1,8
Fifteen years ago, when I was an undergraduate student at UMBC, I would engage in debates with people from other religious traditions. No matter how logical their responses, I would rebuttal with, “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10) or “Jesus said it! I believe it! That settles it!” Yep, I thought I knew more than others, especially more than those who did not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives. I exhibited egotistical piety that has long been cultivated by our Christian dominated society. One that says the Christian experience of God is the only true way to eternal life and life abundantly. I knew I must spread this only true gospel, and consequently proclaimed with boldness, “Here am I. Send me!”
Yet, while in seminary my spiritual awakening was ignited when one of my professors reminded us, “If your Jesus is so easily taken, then your Jesus ain’t worth having!” Thus, I was faced with several questions: If I am telling God here am I, send me, am I willing to go wherever God sends me? And, in my going, am I willing to have my life completely changed? Am I willing to seek not to be right, but to be the embodiment of God’s love?
Over the last thirteen years, I have spent time building relationships with people from different faith traditions, sexual orientations, gender expressions, and various socioeconomic groups. What I have figured out is that maybe I was wrong. Believing in Jesus is not what was wrong, but condemning (either publicly or in my heart) those who didn’t proclaim Jesus as Lord is not the way of Christ nor is it pleasing in the eyes of God.
I finally recognized that I can actually learn something from people who are different than me because they experience the Divine differently and/or believes differently than me. It was not until I began relationships with those who were different than me that my eyes were opened. I now recognize that we must go beyond merely coexisting and tolerating others, but we must take seriously a theology of love which finds meaningful ways to let the other know that they matter and that they are important to our journey together. So, I make it a point to tell everyone that they are loved because of who they are. I am not going to love you in spite of who you are. I am going to love you for who you are!
As I write this, our Muslim brothers and sisters are in the midst of Ramadan, a moment for them to surrender their desires to the will of Allah. I, along with my wife, Ariel, had the opportunity to attend a Ramadan Iftar, the evening breaking of the fast, with the Institute for Islamic, Jewish, and Christian Studies (ICJS) at The Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore. I have learned and come to appreciate that individuals and communities have found multiple ways to commune with the Divine Spirit, and how dare I waste the precious moments worrying about their ways not matching mine. Life is too short. Time is too precious. So at the Ramadan Iftar together we communed. And what a blessed, life-giving experience it was.
I am perplexed when I think of the many mystical and fantastical biblical stories we, Christians, believe, yet we choose not to believe that God will speak to and through the Prophet Mohamad, peace be upon him. In other words, our lack of humility won’t allow us to come to grips with our own hypocrisy. So, I ask:
· How can I call myself Christian and deny food and shelter to those who are in need?
· How can I be a Christian and my heart is cold as ice and hard as stone whenever I talk about or engage with a group of people who are dissimilar than me?
· How can I call myself a Christian and not stand up for the children who are separated from their parents either because of the racist penal system that continues to destroy ethnic minorities families in America or because of unethical immigration enforcement? In fact, we recently learned that the US Government has, “Lost Track of Nearly 1,500 Undocumented Kids in Foster Care.” Let’s not lose sight that these are brown children missing! This reminds me that there are some politicians and business leaders who proclaim that Jesus is Lord when, in fact, greed, prosperity, and the almighty dollar are their lords.
· How can I call myself a Christian when I protect the life of an unborn child and say nothing or actually have negative responses to those who can’t afford to feed their families even after working two or three jobs?
A friend reminded me that some people may miss out on the fact that a full spiritual awakening may require us to gain something from each faith tradition to grasp the keys to full enlightenment. Therefore, we must remember that we are on a journey together. One’s spiritual awakening is a journey that requires an openness to explore the world through many lenses including your own. You don’t have to walk in another’s shoes to understand their perspective; you have to be open to the fact that they may have different needs and desires, therefore different shoes.
Recently in an interview following the Great Britain royal wedding, Bishop Michael Curry said, “If we love our country, we will follow the teaching of God, the ways of love!” I have committed myself to seek God’s love in every response, and sometimes I just need to close my mouth and just be a presence of God’s love. My Christian journey is not determined upon you being wrong and me being right or vice versa. One’s journey toward spiritual awakening must be tied to humility, kindness, and acceptance. Humility says, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t understand it all. But I am going to show up and be present in a relationship with you. Because I love you and I can’t be all that I can be without you. So yes, here am I. Send me!”
Michael Hunt is Pastor at The Open Church of Maryland, and a member of the 2018 ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship.
Baltimore is part of a national conversation around questions of justice, race, and community. Members of the ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship consider how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teachings and practice can contribute to the public conversation about (in)justice. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely the author’s. ICJS welcomes a diversity of opinions and perspectives. We do not seek a single definition of justice between or within traditions.