When I was a child, memorizing verses from the Christian Scriptures, hymns, and other writings of the faith was an important part of my religious education and spiritual growth. Memorizing came easy for me, and so I found this practice enjoyable. For those who found memorizing a challenge, I am sure that the practice was counter productive, but for me, it was fun, week after week of Sunday School, to receive something new to memorize.

Now, in my adulthood, I am somewhat amazed at how much of those memorized texts apparently sank deep into my spirit, as they will come to mind when I least expect them to, sort of like a spring from a deeply buried reservoir bubbling up to the surface.

It is not uncommon from me to have something from this internal bank of texts be the first thing that comes to mind when I hear some startling or unexpected news — of either joy or sorrow — or when I am trying to figure out what I am supposed to do in a given situation. Some of my favorite memorized Scripture verses are these:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:1-3.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2.

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

For me, these verses and so many others that are embedded in my heart and mind, act like a compass in the living of my life. But Scripture was not the only thing that I memorized. Learning Martin Luther’s Small Catechism was also a part of my growing up in the Lutheran faith. The Catechism contains what Luther believed to be the essentials of the Christian faith for parents to teach their children — the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the Office of the Keys and Confession. It also includes Luther’s simple, applicable, daily life explanation for each part of the Catechism.

While I still know most of the Catechism from memory, there is one part to which I often return. It is Luther’s explanation to the eighth commandment. That is the commandment that reminds us that we are to not “bear false witness against our neighbor.” Of this commandment, Luther says, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbors; but defend them, speak well of them, and explain their actions in the kindest way.”

Defend. Speak well of. Explain in the kindest way.

I find those things relatively easy to do with people who agree with me, or with people I love and care about, but it is much more difficult to live into these words regarding people with whom I have little in common, or whose worldview is a 180 degrees from mine, or whose values come from a different place than my own. But those are the folks in our lives for whom this instruction is fundamentally critical.

We live in such divisive, polarized times. Some days it is difficult to even read or listen to the headlines. Who is going to be shouting at whom today? What insults are going to be thrown in the public square today? How low will our public discourse degenerate in these 24 hours?

But what if — regardless of your religious or faith perspective — each and every one of us sought to take Luther’s words to heart about how we engage with one another — on both the small things, and the big things? Could it make a difference? I think so. After all, if we are going to turn the tide of polarization, somebody has to start.

So, today, think of someone specific with whom you disagree, whose perspectives and opinions are the opposite of yours. And then practice putting Luther’s explanation to the eighth commandment into action.

Defend. Speak well of. Explain in the kindest way.

It just might make you feel better, and who knows, if we all do it, encourage others to do it, and it becomes habit, maybe, just maybe we will find a better way to be different together.

Many Blessings,

+Pr. Char

Feb. 7, 2018

Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Dr. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.

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