As we get older our passions and beliefs often undergo many changes, becoming more expansive and inclusive in some, while others become more dogmatic. I have met my former self a couple of times in the past and it has made me realize just how the passage of time has polarized my way of thinking. It got me to wondering if who I have become is really a result of growth and understanding… or have I, in the weariness of age, grown tired of conforming to the Truths I once, in faith, lived my life by.
I know exactly how many of these dogmatic people feel because at the beginning of my journey I too felt persecuted for Christ’s sake. It was just Jesus and me against the whole world, and if people didn’t like me, it was because they didn’t like Him. I could be antagonistic and even rude towards people and Peoples who didn’t share the same views that I held because the GOD of the Universe was on my side and We owned the World. I suppose I got much of this from growing up in a Christian Reformed environment… we were, after all, the people GOD chose after the Jews killed Jesus, and not only was I baptized as a child, but I also carried the mark of circumcision, which practically guaranteed me a seat in the Inner Sanctum when the Pearly Gates were opened, or so was my thinking when I was young, energetic, and willing to do anything for Jesus… well almost anything. The Second Commandment that Jesus gave us to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” was about to become a challenge for me.
I didn’t have a problem with the First and Greatest commandment that said we should Love God with all our heart… but when I left my comfortable Christian community in June of 1966 to enter Navy boot camp, my neighbors suddenly became people of different races, religions, colors, and well… sizes. I would soon learn, as we were marched naked to the showers, that many of my new neighbors, were much larger than me. Perhaps, I thought, it was because they had never been circumcised! Talk about persecution… I was sure feeling it those first few nights away from home.
Language was another problem. The closest I had ever come to swearing was to try and think of the word that Johnny Carson was being “beeped” for on the Tonight Show. I didn’t realize that there were so many beep-able words in the English language. Surely God did not mean that I should Love all of these men as my neighbors! I had never known a “heathen person” before, at least not on a personal level, but there was no doubt in my mind when I first entered boot camp, that I had just been cast into a whole company of fallen angels.
Time would soften my views and I learned to appreciate my new neighbors, even though their behavior and language did not change. Just a little less than two years later, while serving as a medic with the Seventh Marines somewhere in the countryside around Da Nang, it would be men like these who would give away their position so that a medivac chopper could lift me out of a combat zone and into safety, knowing full well that by doing so they would seal their own fate, and earn the right to have their names written down on some memorial Wall in years to come.
I have met a lot of people in the years that have followed… people who are nothing like me at all. Many live and hold beliefs that seem so strange and even threatening at first… but as I have lived and worked among them, I am beginning to understand the Second commandment Jesus gave us. By Loving others as ourself we create Oneness… The Oneness that is God.