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Ash and Oil: March 16

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’” (Matthew 5: 43-45)

I frequent a web community that’s interested in “simpler living.” The discussion boards there are filled with folks doing all sorts of interesting and creative things to limit their impact on the planet, and to streamline their lifestyles from the pursuit of “more” to a fulfilling life of “enough.” They share tips with one another, ask useful questions, and post great articles and resources.

But there seems to be a troublesome trend among many in the community on the site that has prevented me from wanting to participate in the discussions myself. Discussions will often turn into screeds against those who have not embraced their way of living more simply. They are disgusted with their wasteful neighbors, the ones who drive gas-guzzling SUVs, buy the latest electronic gizmo for their children, or eat out a few times a week instead of staying at home.

The tone of their disapproval ranges from clucking tongues to outright disdain for these “others” – these terrible folks who are so blithely going about tromping on the planet, gobbling up all its resources and trashing it for everyone else.

I understand the need to blow off steam when frustration arises, but the angry self-righteousness I occasionally see on display in that community is disappointing. And it’s also a very good lesson to me, because I could so easily be persuaded to join in myself.

Our passion and commitment to lead responsible lives of justice and mercy can lead us to be…well, not so merciful. Our eagerness to do right and to be right can lead us to a narrow approach with those who haven’t embraced our way or who don’t understand our choices – and it prevents us from being open to important lessons from those very same folks. Our neighbors become our enemies.

It’s a good thing then, when Lent comes around – when we are reminded to humble ourselves. That we stumble and are in need of repentance. Holy Week is that final stretch, the last leg of the journey to the cross, to the darkness and shadow of Good Friday and the new beginning and new life of Easter morning. This is the story that inhabits us, the story we should want to share and live out with everyone around us – the story that compels us to love those who challenge us and invite them along on the journey.

Pray: Heavenly Father, give us the humility, the patience, and the compassion to walk alongside our neighbors, to be open to what they have to teach us, and to share our own passions and commitments with them in ways that invite them in, not shut them out.

Take the next step: Take a next step by helping others take a next step. When an opportunity arises for you to share an earthkeeping option with another person, consider how you deliver your message. Is it confrontational or invitational?

[Image: Flickr user Stephen Geyer]

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