A week ago today, a man armed with a shotgun walked into the office of the Capital-Gazette newspaper, opened fire and murdered 5 people, wounding two others. This kind of atrocity is unthinkable for a warm, charming town like Annapolis. Annapolis is my hometown and the place where I now serve as a pastor. Violence like this quite literally- emotionally, spiritually- hits home deep within me.
And it got me to do some soul searching.
For far too long, most people would chalk up our societal challenges as cultural or political struggles. In a way they are. However, on a much deeper level, our problems are spiritual problems. I’ve always known that, but in the last week, I’ve relearned that powerful truth.
Spirituality centers around four main questions: Who are we? Whose are we? What is our purpose? What’s our destination?
To simplify things even more, I believe that spirituality centers on our ability or inability to love and our ability or inability to do good and avoid evil. Increasingly more of us are at a loss for how to do these things. We see our shortcomings, not just in the physical violence some people commit, but in the verbal violence, self-centeredness, and apathy many more of us struggle with.
The answer to our dilemma, quite simply, is love.
Also running in the soundtrack of my thoughts has been a deep desire to connect with people to talk about deep things and to do meaningful life together, but so often barriers like religion (I’m a Christian and a pastor) get in the way. Cultural and political differences throw their weight around, too.
While we cannot whitewash those differences or pretend they don’t exist— they most certainly do!— could there be a common ethic which could form new community for the purpose of inner- and interpersonal change and transformation? Could we learn to recognize and treasure our differences and diversity, all the while sharing in the greatest yearnings of our common humanity?
I firmly believe that the answer is yes– a resounding YES. That yes is the basis of Greater Love Annapolis.
With Greater Love Annapolis, I envision the establishment of a network of neighbors committed to something I call “the ethic of Greater Love”. That ethic is centered on four main principles:
- Unconditional Love
- Living by the Golden Rule: loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, and expressing that love in thoughtful, intentional, practical, and ongoing ways
- Seeking to build relationships of cooperation and friendship with all of our neighbors, regardless of culture, race, nation of origin, sexuality, economic status, religious or political affiliation
- Offering our neighbors the gift of deep listening for the purpose of understanding and empathy
- Striving for forgiveness and reconciliation wherever there are broken relationships
- Operating out of a profound respect for the dignity and worth of every neighbor, recognizing in them our shared humanity
- Personal Integrity
- Safeguarding ourselves from self-harming behaviors and addictions while actively seeking healing from any of these personal defects
- Nurturing a spiritual life that leads to personal growth, wisdom, and greater integrity of character
- Honest dealings with ourselves and others, both publicly and privately
- Making our lives fully accountable to a network of trusted friends
- Considering the dreams, aspirations and welfare of others before ourselves
- Speaking only that which builds up all of our neighbors, refraining from language that tears down and belittles them
- Solidarity with Our Most Vulnerable Neighbors
- Raising awareness of the attitudes, systems and powers that marginalize and prey upon the most vulnerable members of our community and all those whose voices are not heard.
- Peaceful, loving, and persistent confrontation of those attitudes, systems, and powers.
- Establishing new community and systems that protect and empower our most vulnerable neighbors
From here, I anticipate conversations and discussions about what our network would look like and do. I see an organized effort to create community Greater Love Annapolis groups for the purpose of hanging out, conversation, learning, accountability, and planning for advocacy/community organizing. I see a movement of transformed and transforming people of mercy and justice, lived not in tribalism and self-righteous anger, but with loving passion and fearless strength for greater equality, dignity and opportunity for all people.
I see an Annapolis community with a deeply spiritual, shared conscious.
I see awakening and revival, rooted in love.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”