NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 19, 2013

Looking in a new direction

In the Spirit
Lt. Jeff Brunelle

---- — My 2-year-old, Lily brings my wife Meghan, and me great joy … and a fair amount of panic! Lily loves to climb and jump on things. Like any toddler, she doesn’t give much regard to safety.

At our home, the sofa is in front of a large window. Lily likes to jump on the sofa and it usually ends the same way: She gets a bit too rowdy, lands a bit off balance, and bumps her head on the window ledge. The thud is followed by the sound of her cry from both pain and fear.

I suspect my response it typical of any parent who loves their child. I pick her up. I check her for injuries. I ask her where her “boo boo” is. I kiss it all better. Seeing that it’s just a bump, I try to calm her. I speak soothingly. I reassure her that everything is okay. I hold her close to me, and I dry her tears. Then, finally, when she is calm enough to listen, I gently tell her that she shouldn’t jump on the sofa, because she could get hurt, and “Daddy doesn’t want you to get hurt, because Daddy loves you.”

This response is natural, because I love her. Since I love her, I want to help her in her time of need, but I also want to give her some wisdom to help her avoid having to go through that kind of pain or worse again.

Humanity would be much better off if we loved each other like parents love their children. It is the closest love on earth that even remotely resembles God’s love for us. So, really, what I’m saying is that humanity would be much better off if we loved each other like God does.

Chapter 8 of the Gospel of John starts with the story of a woman, caught in adultery, who was about to be stoned to death. Jesus confronted the would-be executioners, saying that any of them that is without sin should throw the first stone. When they all left realizing that they were sinners, Jesus decided not to condemn her, but did tell her in verse 11, “Leave your life of sin.” In another instance from John chapter 5, Jesus heals a man who was lame for 38 years. He reminds the man to “stop sinning before something worse happens.” These are two of many examples in scripture where Jesus helps someone, and then gives some form of the command, “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus meets the needs of people, and then offers them advice on how to avoid getting into trouble again. He does this because he genuinely loves them. He doesn’t want to see them suffer.

Taking this approach in our lives requires that we love the way Jesus does. We have to care about others enough to want what is best for them. We have to help them in their moment of need, and then offer some spiritual, and also practical guidance for the future.

Our society is comprised of varying levels of two main points of view: “Left” or “liberal” and “Right” or “conservative.” As I write this, our federal government is shut down because of factions within it taking extreme positions on opposite ends of the spectrum.

The extreme “Left” considers all choices to be equally valid. The needy are all “victims” who need to be rescued. It is the responsibility of everyone who “has” to provide to those who “have not” by way of a full menu of government programs offering everything from free rent and food to free phones and health care. The one thing missing is any kind of advise about choices to avoid. Giving any would be considered “judgmental.” Without it, many become perpetually dependent on the assistance received and suffer an endless cycle of consequences. This side is marked by compassion that lacks accountability.

The extreme “Right” believes that everyone should be responsible for themselves. “Survival of the Fittest” could be their motto. They quickly forget any breaks anyone may have given them along the way. Don’t have money to buy food? Oh well … starve! Can’t get your medication? Not their problem either. Addicted to drugs? Good! If you overdose, there will be one less “moocher” taking their money. They offer no help, just a lot of “I told you so” to those who didn’t do things “their way.” This side is marked by accountability that lacks compassion.

Some say compromise is needed to find middle ground. This approach assumes that somewhere between the extremes lies the answer. I propose looking in a new direction. While “Left” and “Right” fight it out, perhaps our answer is not found somewhere in the middle, but “Up” … figuratively speaking. Look to God’s example for how to best help people. Offer help motived by unconditional love. Look to meet immediate needs, but also help people make good choices to ensure a brighter future for our whole world, one life at a time. This is the embodiment of The Salvation Army’s mission: “To preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to meet human need in His name without discrimination.”

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Lt. Jeff Brunelle is the pastor and commanding officer of The Salvation Army in Newburyport.