The Transforming Power of Love

Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17

The Lord had revealed to the nations his saving power…

In talking to some friends about all that has gone on in Baltimore the past couple weeks, I mentioned the observation that what I found most sad, beyond all that we had transpired, was the number of people that were clamoring for power, politically, religiously, and socially. There are the people that have to put others down to bring themselves up, there are those that feel their going to swoop in and save the day, and certainly those that take advantage of people in moments of vulnerability. Now I’ve said this before, that, if you have go out looking for it or taking it from others, then you really haven’t found true power; as a matter of fact, it is more an abuse of power than anything and certainly not the power that Jesus speaks of and commands today in loving one another. The saving power of God is revealed in Christ and as John tells us in the second reading, is Love.

In the midst of the social, political, and religious context of Jesus’ time it wasn’t much different. It’s a tension that has always existed and will always exist as long as humans are around, of this power of love that Jesus speaks of and the perceived power that comes from roles, vocation, class, status, and place in society. It’s not to say that some of it isn’t necessary but it becomes an issue when our identity is wrapped up in the role and lose sight of the larger picture and our larger connection with humanity, in Christ and love. We live in a time when the positions and roles still have more credence than love. What hasn’t helped is that we’ve sentimentalized the message of Jesus and watered it down from the radical call that he was commanding of his disciples and for each of us. Ultimately it’s what will cost him his life because the power he gives and is not only casts out sin but at the same time sheds light on the shadow of these systems in which he lived and the systems that we live and participate and the brokenness and dysfunction that follows. It’s not that he was trying to shame anyone, put people down, show himself as better, or anything like that, but rather loved and shed light on the blind spots in order to grow and heal them.

He shows it himself in this image, this social structure, that he presents of slave and master in today’s gospel, where for Jesus, loving means meeting the disciples where they’re at, as friends. Although they may have had perceptions of him being something that he was not or saw him as superior to themselves, such as slave and master, he breaks down even that social structure. When we live in that mindset, we lose sight of who and whose we are and the humanity that we share and it makes love nearly impossible for our lives. It becomes about the perceived power that we hold over others, which of course, is not love at all; it’s for our own agenda and wants. That’s not to say that we don’t love in a way that really isn’t love. We are all taught along the way what we think is love but really often is not; but God wants to take us to a deeper place, to that place of love through love and in love. Love meets us where we are. Love heals. Love reconciles. Love sheds light and frees us. Love because the eternal bond that makes us one. If what we do, how we think, or whatever leads to division and thinking that one is better than the other, we’re pretty much guaranteed it’s not love.

Peter runs into that same tension with Cornelius in today’ first reading from Acts. We hear as Peter approaches that Cornelius falls at his feet in adoration and Peter quickly cuts him off and reminds him that he too is a human being. Now he was different when he arrives, on the surface, but Peter had found that true power within, the divine, and so he somewhat glows when he shows up today. How different he is, though, from the Gospels, when he anticipated a “better than” approach to now even breaking down the social structures between Jew and Gentile, those baptized and those not. Peter has found his deepest identity and it has nothing to do with what he does, but rather who he is, only through love and now he can do nothing but give it away and then through that breaks down the barriers and walls and begins to lead people to a deeper place beyond role and status and structure to a place of love.

It’s radical what the disciples were called to and what Jesus modeled to them and for us. It went against everything that the social, political, and religious structures wanted and threatened them, but most importantly, because it revealed their own vulnerability and their own limitation and the shallowness of what they thought was power; the power of this love leads not only to his death but to the risen life. That’s what none of them ever could have anticipated! Jesus challenges us and leads us to that deeper place of conversion in our lives. Where have we tried to put ourselves above others, forgetting our own identity? Where have we stepped on others and taken advantage of others to get what we want rather than living and showing love?

The gospel demands much of us today because it demands us to change our lives and the way we see others and to meet where we’d want to be met, right where we are. It challenges us to question our motivations in life. It challenges us to evaluate the systems that we participate in and how we to need love to cast light upon us so we can grow and to, like Peter, become the saving power to others, to become love. It’s the only way we can love, where there is no longer slave and master, but friends. This I command each of you, he tells us, love one another. Not in a sentimental kind of way, but rather, move below the surface and allow love to shed light on our own hurt and what we hold onto so that we may become love in order to live the command of loving one another.

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One thought on “The Transforming Power of Love

  1. An excellent opinion article detailing some the reasons for the violence in our inner cities. We see the end of the article with a focus on looking for love. Obviously it fits right in the your homily and this weekend’s Gospel and readings.

    Perhaps a new evangelism in the inner cities to help folks understand the power of love (God)?

    The Real Problem With America’s Inner Cities By ORLANDO PATTERSONMAY 9, 2015

    This story is included with an NYT Opinion subscription. Learn more » CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — THE recent unrest in Baltimore raises complex and confounding questions, and in response many people have attempted to define the problem solely in terms of insurgent American racism and violent police behavior.

    But that is a gross oversimplification. America is not reverting to earlier racist patterns, and calling for a national conversation on race is a cliché that evades the real problem we now face: on one hand, a vicious tangle of concentrated poverty, disconnected youth and a culture of violence among a small but destructive minority in the inner cities; and, on the other hand, of out-of-control law-enforcement practices abetted by a police culture that prioritizes racial profiling and violent constraint.

    First, we need a more realistic understanding of America’s inner cities. They are socially and culturally heterogeneous, and a great majority of residents are law-abiding, God-fearing and often socially conservative.

    Continue reading the main story RELATED IN OPINION

    •Editorial: How Racism Doomed BaltimoreMAY 9, 2015 According to recent surveys, between 20 and 25 percent of their permanent residents are middle class; roughly 60 percent are solidly working class or working poor who labor incredibly hard, advocate fundamental American values and aspire to the American dream for their children. Their youth share their parents’ values, expend considerable social energy avoiding the violence around them and consume far fewer drugs than their white working- and middle-class counterparts, despite their disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates.

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    Baltimore CreditPatrick Semansky/Associated Press In all inner-city neighborhoods, however, there is a problem minority that varies between about 12.1 percent (in San Diego, for example) and 28 percent (in Phoenix) that comes largely from the disconnected youth between ages 16 and 24. Most are not in school and are chronically out of work, though their numbers are supplemented by working- and middle-class dropouts. With few skills and a contempt for low-wage jobs, they subsist through the underground economy of illicit trading and crime. Many belong to gangs.

    Their street or thug culture is real, with a configuration of norms, values and habits that are, disturbingly, rooted in a ghetto brand of core American mainstream values: hypermasculinity, the aggressive assertion and defense of respect, extreme individualism, materialism and a reverence for the gun, all inflected with a threatening vision of blackness openly embraced as the thug life.

    Such street culture is simply the black urban version of one of America’s most iconic traditions: the Wild West. America’s first gangsta thugs were Billy the Kid and Jesse James. In the youth thug cultures of both the Wild West and the inner cities, America sees inverted images of its own most iconic values, one through rose-tinted glass, the other through a glass, darkly.

    While there is some continuity between the old Western and thug cultures learned through extensive exposure to the media, that of the urban streets originated more in reaction to the long centuries of institutionalized violence against blacks during slavery and Jim Crow. The historian Roger Lane has traced the roots of Philadelphia’s black “criminal subculture” all the way back to the mid-1800s; W. E. B. Du Bois found it thoroughly entrenched in his own study of Philadelphia in the 1890s.

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    Continue reading the main story This culture is reinforced by contemporary conditions like poverty, racial discrimination, chronic unemployment, single parenting and a chemically toxic, neurologically injurious environment, like the lead paint that poisoned Freddie Gray.

    Its intersection with overly aggressive law enforcement was not random or inevitable, but rooted in a historical irony. As the political scientist Michael Javen Fortner documents in his forthcoming work “Black Silent Majority,” when Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York introduced draconian new drug laws in the early 1970s to combat the increasingly violent street life of New York City, he did so with the full support of black leaders, who felt they had no choice — their lives and communities were being destroyed by the minority street gangs and drug addicts.

    But it was not long before the dark side of this intervention emerged: Soon all black youth, not just the delinquent minority, were being profiled as criminals, all ghetto residents were being viewed and treated with disrespect and, increasingly, police tactics relied on the use of violence as a first resort.

    And yet it didn’t work, at least in one important respect: Although the black homicide rate has declined substantially, it still remains catastrophic, with blacks being murdered at eight times the national rate — and, among teens, it has been rising again since 2002.

    In tackling the present crisis, it is thus a clear mistake to focus only on police brutality, and it is fatuous to attribute it all to white racism. Black policemen were involved in both the South Carolina and Baltimore killings. Coming from the inner-city majority terrorized by the thug culture minority, they are, sadly, as likely to be brutal in their policing as white officers.

    Continue reading the main story RECENT COMMENTS

    EEE 20 hours ago Most working class Americans of all races, creeds, and ethnicities know the sting of being a disempowered employee.Couple that injustice… Garrard 20 hours ago Imagine. Wouldn’t it be nice if corporate vans with loud-speakers started plying the streets of our inner cities, begging its residents to… AinBmore 20 hours ago I wonder what interactions Prof. Patterson has had with poor black youth to make this pronouncement about who or what poor black kids are… • SEE ALL COMMENTS

    We see this in stark detail in the chronic violence of New York’s Rikers Island correction officers, the leadership and majority of whom are black. We see it also in the maternal rage of Toya Graham, the Baltimore single mom whose abusive reprimand of her son, a video of which quickly went viral, reflects both her fear of losing him to the street and her desperate, though counterproductive, mode of rearing her fatherless son.

    WHAT is to be done? On the police side of the crisis, there should be immediate implementation of the sensible recommendations of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, including more community policing; making the use of violence a last resort; greater transparency and independent investigation of all police killings; an end to racial profiling; the use of body cameras; reduced use of the police in school disputes; and fundamental changes in officer training aimed at greater knowledge of, and respect for, inner-city neighborhoods.

    Accompanying this should be a drastic reduction in the youth incarceration rate, which President Obama can make a dent in immediately by pardoning the many thousands of nonviolent youths who have been unfairly imprisoned and whose incarceration merely increases their likelihood of becoming violent.

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    Continue reading the main story In regard to black youth, the government must begin the chemical detoxification of ghetto neighborhoods in light of the now well-documented relation between toxic exposure and youth criminality. Further, there should be an immediate scaling up of the many federal and state programs for children and youth that have been shown to work: child care from the prenatal to pre-K stages, such as Head Start and the nurse-family partnership program; after-school programs to keep boys from the lure of the street and to provide educational enrichment as well as badly needed male role models; community-based programs that focus on enhancing life skills and providing short-term, entry-level employment; and continued expansion of successful charter school systems.

    The president’s My Brother’s Keeper program, now a year old, is an excellent and timely initiative that has already begun the coordination and upscaling of such successful programs, as well as the integration of the private sector in their development.

    And finally, there is one long-term, fundamental change that can come only from within the black community: a reduction in the number of kids born to single, usually poor, women, which now stands at 72 percent. Its consequences are grim: greatly increased risk of prolonged poverty, child abuse, educational failure and youth delinquency and violence, especially among boys, whose main reason for joining gangs is to find a family and male role models.

    As one gang member told an interviewer working for the sociologist Deanna Wilkinson: “I grew up as looking for somebody to love me in the streets. You know, my mother was always working, my father used to be doing his thing. So I was by myself. I’m here looking for some love. I ain’t got nobody to give me love, so I went to the streets to find love.”

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