Khleber M. Van Zandt V

Khleber M. Van Zandt V

Election Day 2020 is still an eternity away, at least in terms of our American political system.

But the partisan machinery is out there working full force — the incumbents and the challengers, the campaign teams, political action committees and media conglomerates all combining to gin up our anxieties and to convince us what sort of America we ought to be.

For those of us on the sidelines waiting and watching, it’s hard to know what to pay attention to and what to let go. And harder still to simply ignore it all, chaotic trainwreck that it is.

I recently had an encounter that brought our national discussion into focus on the local level.

A person dropped by to see me at church, told me she’d had a difficult day and asked for a listening ear to help sort out her troubles. We talked, we held hands, we prayed, and I hope she left feeling better.

But it was her first words to me that were seared into my memory.

When I walked into the room and introduced myself, she asked meekly, “I don’t scare you, do I?” Taken aback, I wondered why she’d think such a thing.

“My skin,” she said. “It’s dark. Not too many folks look like me here in Venice. And sometimes people I meet seem afraid of me because of that.”

It’s heartbreaking to have a neighbor feel this way.

About 3,000 years ago — back in the time of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea — a guy named Micah went wandering out west of Jerusalem. Though Micah would come to be considered only a minor prophet, some of his words echo down through the ages, especially his question, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”

My Universalist forebears in 18th- and 19th-century America preached that no God of Love could or would condemn humans to hell for all eternity. Yes, justice would take its time in coming, but it would be meted out equitably and with compassion for the human condition.

Answering Micah’s question, those early Universalists believed themselves called to live their theology of justice, equity and compassion in powerful and persistent ways and so found themselves in the forefront of a myriad of reform movements.

Modern-day Unitarian Universalists aspire to a list of seven principles, the second of which is that we will promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. In this principle, we side with the sense of compassion expressed by Mother Teresa:

“Love cannot remain by itself — it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service. Whatever form we are, able or disabled, rich or poor, it is not how much we do, but how much love we put into the doing.”

And in the Christian scriptures, Jesus echoes word-for-word the message found in Jewish scripture to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which is the same sentiment found in the Koran: “None of you truly believes unless you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”

It’s a difficult time in America, and yet we are still called to live by the great commandment to love our neighbors. If it is fear rather than love that comes across, then we have failed that commandment miserably.

The Rev. Khleber M. Van Zandt V is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice; UUCOV.org.

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