Learning and then loving rightly

Reflecting on Black History Month, Bishop David Bard encourages us to do our part in cultivating hearts and souls that love more deeply and intelligently…

It seems as if we just turned the calendar to a new year, and the first month of that new year has already passed. January is always a busy month. Projects that slow for the holidays pick up speed again. Appointment-making for the coming year begins. The North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops meets.

As January becomes February, we enter Black History Month, and on the fourteenth, we have Valentine’s Day. Black History Month is important for helping us enrich and deepen our understanding of our history as a country and world. Later in the year, we will mark Women’s History Month (March), Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (May), Pride Month (June), and Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15). Each of these shares an effort to enrich and deepen our understanding of our history, noting the impact of persons who have often been excluded from or marginalized in our historical narratives. Each of these remembrances celebrates significant contributions and notes the unique challenges of groups of persons.

Central to the anti-bias, anti-racism work we are committed to as a conference is deepening our understanding of our history and its ongoing impact. A deeper and richer comprehension of the effects of race and racialized thinking on our history is necessary in our work of building a more beloved community in the name and spirit of Jesus, this Jesus whom Paul says “is our peace” and “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14, NRSVue).

Learning a richer, deeper, more complex history. Enlivening our minds so as to help build beloved community. One might say this is intelligence in the service of love. Learning and love.

Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the significantly important figures in Black history in the United States, in his sermon “Love in Action,” wrote the following, “Never must the church tire of reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent.” You have heard me share that before. He goes on, “But if we are to call ourselves Christians, we had better avoid intellectual and moral blindness . . . . We are commanded to love God, not only with our hearts and souls, but also with our minds” (Strength to Love). Learning and love.

Dr. King earned his doctorate from Boston University. One more recent faculty member at the Boston University School of Theology, Robert Cummings Neville, also writes about the importance of intelligence and its connection to love: “Christian intelligence is one office of the church’s ministry, and the timely and well-placed exercise of this office is absolutely indispensable to the practice of the gospel of Christ. Without the cultivation of informed intelligence to the utmost, Christian ministry becomes stupefied, banal and boring. . . . The practice of the Christian life requires informed intelligence. . . . Christian intelligence is needed to prize the world divinely” (The God Who Beckons). Learning matters. Informed Christian intelligence is indispensable, and it serves our ability to prize the world divinely, to love rightly.

Dr. King wrote his dissertation comparing the concept of God in the works of theologians Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman. Paul Tillich was a well-known theologian in the mid-twentieth century. In one of his sermons, Tillich wrote about truth and love and said, “Distrust every claim for truth where you do not see truth united with love; and be certain that you are of the truth and that the truth has taken hold of you only when love has taken hold of you and has started to make you free from yourselves” (The New Being). Learning and love.

In this Black History Month, which is also a month in which love is celebrated, may we pray that God enlivens our minds, enlarges our hearts, makes our spirits gentle and generous, and creates capacious souls in us. May we give ourselves to learning, to cultivating an informed Christian intelligence in this time of social media soundbites, rampant misinformation, and echo-chamber conversations. May we do our part to cultivate hearts and souls that love more deeply and intelligently.

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