By Dr. Burt Burleson | Contributor
The Bible, cover to cover, recognizes the significance of – and challenge of – getting along with one another. It is held up in some texts as the “yard stick” for Christian discipleship; in some passages it is evidence of wisdom, in others it is the calling to love whoever happens to be our neighbor or our enemy, and in some verses, making things right with others is essential for being made right with God. Getting along, seeking peace in community, being kind, being truthful in loving ways, reconciling as we are able, offering forgiveness. These practices are biblical and have been taught by saints throughout the ages as essential spiritual work for individuals and communities.
I emphasized the idea of work for a reason, and it’s a reason we all understand. It really is work getting along, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s really hard work, and that is the case whether we are speaking of families or roommates or old friends or fellow citizens or fellow disciples in church or speaking of the person who selfishly took the parking place we had been waiting on at H-E-B. Relational challenges seem to have been a fallout from “the fall” and why we have spiritual work we must do.
It is, of course, work we must do at Baylor and, as is the case in every institution, some of this work is prescribed and insisted upon, and these helpful behaviors that are essential in community are reflected in certain policies and expectations for us all. Human beings, frail creatures of dust that we are, need rules and guidelines. So, we have conduct codes for those things that help us to be safe and fair and healthy and to be in community.
Although complying with expectations is something we all must do, compliance is not really at the heart of this spiritual work, is it? At the heart of our work is the conviction that we are all bearing the image of God and worthy of love and respect and kindness. And when we work to love others, we are not only expressing that conviction, but we are also manifesting that reality that is within us. The loving reality that scripture tells us God is, is flowing to us and through us into the world.
President Linda Livingstone often reminds us that, “The world needs a Baylor.” The world has always needed Christian communities that are manifesting love and justice and righteousness and equality and peace and all that is good. Our community can be about that; Baylor can offer that to the world.
And this brings me to my purpose for sharing these thoughts with you. Our community is to reflect our higher calling. But like every community, we also reflect a culture, for better… and sometimes, for worse. What is out there, seems to be in here. And what is now out there in our culture and nation is, many would agree, more divisive and louder and more fearful and angrier and more suspicious and threatening than it has been in a long time. (Certainly in my “baby boom” adulthood.)
The sin and brokenness of the world never bypasses anything. We bear something of it and so we bear it at Baylor. We — and I mean all of us, we — bring part of it here to our community, and whether we are looking at the sin of it way back into Baylor’s segregated past or at the more recent brokenness of relational violence or just at these last few weeks as we have struggled with one another because of an incident in Chapel, we know that we bear the brokenness of our world. We carry it and we rightly lament, “The world is too much with us.” (Wordsworth)
And yet, scripture tells us that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it (John 1:5). Our community can and does bear the light of God and can and does reflect our calling to love. Sometimes, somedays, it seems easy and “second nature,” flowing to and from us, but on other days, in other times, it’s hard spiritual work. And, sisters and brothers, we are called to that work now. The world needs a Baylor bearing God’s love and that is not captive to our divided culture.
As you know, the earliest Christian thinkers were led by Scripture, by their experience and by the Spirit to describe God as a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They said that in this divine mystery, there is unity and difference. Take note, everyone, that at the heart of our faith is our central doctrine claiming that reality itself is characterized by “unity and difference.” This is the DNA that is all things God created and that resides in all things — including us. As Baylor grows and grows with differences, we can also grow in unity, manifesting the divine building blocks within us all.
And from that very large confession, a million small things will flow. We will be patient with someone or seek to understand someone or intentionally befriend someone who is different than we are. We will offer a bit of help to someone in need or let our heart feel compassion for someone broken or express our convictions with civility. We will take the time to know someone’s story or lovingly have a hard conversation or, as Jesus would, we will forgive someone who took our parking place at H-E-B. There is a lot of spiritual work to do. My prayer is that, as we do that work, those beyond our community will say of us as they did of the early Christians, “Look at them, how they love one another.”
Dr. Burt Burleson, B.A. ’80, has served as university chaplain and dean of Spiritual Life since 2007, where he nurtures the depth of faith, spiritual wholeness and missional life with students and the entire Baylor community. He joined Baylor after serving 12 years as pastor of DaySpring Baptist Church in Waco.
Here are few texts for those who might want to study this further and which informed this column: Exodus 20: 1-17, Leviticus 19: 15-18, Psalm 133, Proverbs 16 and 17, Isaiah 1: 16-20, Micah 6:8, Matthew 5: 3-12, 5: 23-24, 18: 21, Luke 6:35, John 13:35, 15:12, Romans 12: 9-16, I Corinthians 10: 13, I Corinthians 11 and 13, Galatians 5:14, 6:2, Ephesians 4:2-6, Philippians 2: 3-16, Colossians 3: 12-14, Hebrews 13:2, I Peter 4:8, I John 1:7 I John 4:8.