“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you . . .”Matthew 7:12
As I descended the hill and made my way onto a major Ohio route, I saw the flag in front of me. During these schismatic political times, I am not unfamiliar with numerous political variations of the American flag, but this one really bothered me. I could feel its venomous bite, and like a poisonous snake, its toxin worked its way gradually into my consciousness.
What is the purpose of a flag filled with hateful words? Do they have kids? If so, were they okay with their own children seeing those words? This was also a major school bus route; those students would also read those words. Did they think about them before hanging it up? On and on my mind chewed on this image like one tries to chew taffy with its sticky consistency adhering like glue.
It wasn’t long before a stereotypical image began filling my mind regarding the type of person who chose to hang the controversial flag. Soon enough, the flag message became fodder for a few of my conversations–that is until my consciousness began to send me pangs of remorse and guilt.
“Steph, you are pigeon-holing people you haven’t even met yet. You don’t know that person, nor do you know the life they have lived. Who do you think you are? What makes you so great to sit in judgement?”
On and on my consciousness scolded me. Then, came the remembrance of an image. It was from my third grade classroom. A small framed principle was hung beside the long ago classroom door, allowing it to be visible to those of us inside the classroom. I was seated in the front of the classroom, due to my height, in a desk near the door, and consequently, the sign. The image was embossed with golden flourishing, and the lettering was classically formatted in a bold black scripted font: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
As best I can remember, this classic tenet was dulled with age, lacked any eye-catching appeal, and therefore I am fairly certain it wasn’t something to which I paid particularly close attention. While memories of my third grade are as faded as that long-ago picture, I do seem to recall our teacher, Bonnie McKenzie, referring to the picture, from time to time, when any one of us was not acting kindly towards one another. In fact, I have a hazy recollection of Ms. McKenzie, once standing beside the picture, and firmly instructing us that this was the most important rule in our classroom.
It occurred to me that I had seen the very same thing somewhere in my grandparent’s house, but like all third grade minds, it wasn’t a precept I fully understood. Rather, I interpreted it as a reminder to, “Be nice.” Not that I always applied it, after all, I was a third grader, and life wasn’t always fair, but I’d like to think I mostly tried . . . at least until those angsty, hormonal teen years . . .
Regardless, I am now no longer a fledgling third grader and absolutely capable of understanding the golden rule more fully. Therefore, I continued to wrestle with my consciousness over my self-imposed verdict of the flag for the rest of the evening. My mind kept circling back to that darn third grade image, and I knew that if I was talking negatively about this unknown person, I was NOT practicing my beloved teacher’s guideline.
Don’t get me wrong, I am sure Ms. McKenzie was as flawed and imperfect as the rest of us, but I would like to believe that it was important to her that she imparted the importance of this rule, above all others, to her students. Thus, that is how I settled my mind.
“To keep the Golden Rule we must put ourselves in other people’s places, but to do that consists in and depends upon picturing ourselves in their places.”–Harry Emerson Fosdick
While I’d like to believe I’ve lived through a wide array of situations and therefore have a wide breadth of informed life experiences that grant me permission to quickly judge or criticize–it is one of my greatest ego-driven flaws. One could argue, as I have, that the ability to discern quickly can be a strength in certain situations. However, quickly drawing conclusions is still deduced from my limited life experiences and perspective rather than taking time to place myself in the shoes of the other person.
As the strangely linked cogs of my stored memories continued to churn their mental back and forth, my mind led me down another deep recess to the remembrance of an additional memory: Rev. Larry Brisker, my one time pastor, teaching his flock about the concept of “agape love.”
“Agape love is selfless love . . .the love God wants us to have isn’t just an emotion but a conscious act of the will–a deliberate decision on our part to put others ahead of ourselves. This is the kind of love God has for us.”–Billy Graham
I cannot pretend to be an expert of Bible scripture, but I do faintly recall first learning about the concept of agape love from Rev. Brisker. It was one of those rare teenage times when I truly focused on the sermon. (Sorry, Rev. Brisker, I wasn’t always focused, but in all fairness, I was awash in those darn, distracting teenage years.) As best as I can recall, Rev. Brisker’s message on agape love was based on a passage in Corinthians I often call, “The Love Chapter”. In particular, it was the verse about the clanging cymbal that held my attention because, well, I thought it sounded cool. Ok, I was a kid, but the point wasn’t entirely lost on me.
God loved us, period. It wasn’t based on feeling or the hollow promises of impressive sounding words. God’s love came from actions–not feelings–and that, Rev. Brisker explained, was the highest form of love and what we should all aspire to offer others–no matter what they believe or how they choose to act. Of course, I am quite certain the Reverend was MUCH more eloquent than my memory.
Therefore, Dear Reader, I recount both of these faint memories to share this conclusion. In this extended season of recent years filled with uncertainty, political divide, and one series of crises after another–both home and abroad, it was, and is, my lesson to re-learn that when I am quick to judge, that I must step back, and try to see things from the other person’s perspective. In fact, it is my prayer that my conscience continues to remind me to refrain from acting as a loud clanging cymbal filled with noise based only upon my perspective. The bigger picture is NOT about me.
Instead, I pray that I may humbly be reminded, as often as needed, to extend compassion and understanding to ALL. May I work harder to find a more gracious, warm hearted attitude, and not be so quick to render judgement. Otherwise, I am acting in a way that could be, and has been, hurtful if/when someone quickly passes judgement upon me.
Therefore, as the Golden Rule encourages all of us to do, may we all offer understanding and patience to others in the same way we would expect it given to us. We don’t have to agree on all fronts to find common ground that binds us together as fellow human beings. Agape love challenges all of us to humbly serve and offer grace to all as our Creator does for us on a daily basis.
“You can have the ‘golden rule’ do unto others as you would have others do unto you. But then you take it one step farther where you just do good unto others, period. Just for the sake of it.”–Jennifer Beals