Loving Other Footsteps
Romans 12: 9-21
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
There is a moment in the Disney animated hit, The Lion King, where the young lion cub prince, Simba, disobeys his father and is called away to speak to his father alone. (Interestingly, Simba’s act of disobedience is directly linked to his singing, “I just can’t wait to be king!”) As Simba begins to walk towards his father to face his punishment, Simba accidentally steps into one of his father’s paw prints. Disney does a beautiful job of capturing Simba’s realization that he had no idea what his father’s life was really like. Further Simba realized that he still had a lot to learn about being king. (Check out the YouTube video of the scene: https://youtu.be/rw45nBcWNbQ).
I think this Lion King scene gives a wonderful illustration of what is required to sincerely fulfill the concept of love expressed in Romans 12. Such loves demands shared experiences. We can’t fully share or understand one another’s perspectives or concerns unless we change our shoes and boldly endeavor to walk in one another’s footsteps. Indeed, Romans suggest that Christian love requires taking the time to walk in some of the same paths and stand in some of the same places as those around us. Instead it includes not just the people that we like and know, but also those whom we do not like or know. Since they are emotion based, the actions of rejoicing, mourning, and blessing often require more than superficial civility. They require empathy, tolerance, and compassion on a level that can make us vulnerable. Still, Romans 12:21 tells us that we cannot let the possibility of being exposed to evil stop us from using the power of being good.
The United States of America needs this type of vulnerable public and communal love more than ever. White supremacists marching in Charlottesville, VA, over the removal of Confederate rebel statues isn’t about patriotism, pride, or historical perseveration, it’s about fear and hatred. It’s about people who simply refuse to imagine on any meaningful level of the lived experiences of others in their community. It’s about those who call themselves Christians willingly devaluing the humanity of those in close proximity to them. It’s about the shocking tolerance of liberal Christians towards such blatant hatred and violence.
Imagine the public and police reaction if a group of Black Americans stood outside of a building anywhere in America for any reason holding lighted torches while White Americans were inside said building. Imagine the public reaction if Black organizations started erecting large statues of Huey P. Newton, Nat Turner, or Madison Washington on their lawns.
This white silence in America is deafening, dangerous, and damning. It exists simply because many Americans refuse to imagine themselves in the situation of others. Because the hatred and evil is not directed towards them, they are trying to pretend it isn’t real. Roman 12 doesn’t allow us to only be concerned about things that affect us. Hence, if we are to really practice Christian love, then we all have to spend more time knowing and loving the footsteps of others.