What Jesus Left Out of The Great Commandment

Jesus said and taught a lot of things. The meaning of some of what he said is easy enough for us to grasp (“A man reaps what he sows”); some of what he said strikes us as pretty cryptic (“The Son of God has no place to lay his head”); some of it is downright abstruse  (“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”). And then we have this:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard [Jesus and some of his critics] debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

So there is Jesus flat-out telling us that this is the most important thing he ever has said or will say.

Seems like a good thing to pay attention to, no?

If Jesus says that something is the greatest commandment of all, then we can be certain that we have found ground upon which we can stand for the rest of our life, without once having to wonder whether or not we’re in the right place.

And what Jesus says at Mark 12: 28-31 is easy to understand. The Great Commandment is so simple. Yet it’s so deep and rich it’s like a mine from which we can forever extract pure gold.

The Great Commandment (obviously) consists of two parts: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Pfftt. Like those are so hard to do, right? You could probably do those while sitting right there in your chair!

Let’s all fulfill the Great Commandment, right now! Let’s all close our eyes, and love God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul.


Feel your love for God.


Feel your love of your neighbor. Feel yourself feeling how your neighbor isn’t really such a bad guy at all. Feel yourself forgetting all about how your neighbor constantly plays his stereo at concert-decibel levels, or how he seems convinced that his leaf blower endows him with a special, divine right to wake up everyone in the neighborhood at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning as he blows the debris from his yard into everybody else’s. Feel yourself forgetting how your neighbor flicks his cigarette butts over his fence, or how he won’t even try to keep his dog from constantly barking.

Don’t you just hate your stupid, lazy, inconsiderate #%@!! jerk of a neighbor?!?!!!

Loving God is easy—but that guy! Who could love that guy?

Or the guy in the pick-up truck who cut you off on the freeway yesterday.

Or the lazy, manipulative coworker who keeps trying to take credit for your work.

Or the boss whose imperiousness leaves him or her apparently incapable of a normal human interaction.

Or the roommate who thinks it’s cute to eat your food.

Or this person.

Or that person.

Or these people. Or those.

Thus do we begin to sense some of the more challenging aspects of the practical, everyday application of Jesus’ supreme commandment to us all.

Having an abstract feeling of love for your fellow man is easy. But having actual love for your actual neighbors? Not so much.

That Jesus. He sure does know how to … pick his commandments.

Fundamentally, though, the Great Commandment really is pretty simple to execute. First off, you love God. But you must love God seriously—with, in fact, all of your heart, mind, soul and strength. In order to fulfill the Great Commandment, you must get alone, take some time, and really, really love God.

And when you do that (and, in fact, do do that, right now), what happens?

What happens is the part of the Great Commandment that Jesus, in his awesome wisdom, left out of the Great Commandment. And why would Jesus leave something important out of the Great Commandment? I believe it was so that we could discover for ourselves what he most intended us to—because discovering a thing for ourselves is how we really own and understand that thing.

That’s what great teachers do. They lead us up to the point of understanding—and then leave us to experience that next step, to suddenly comprehend the critical truth of the matter, for ourselves.

What Jesus didn’t say about the phenomenon of the Great Commandment is what happens when you love God with all your heart, mind, and strength.

And what happens is that you feel how much God loves you.

That’s the part he left out!

It’s not love God, and then love your neighbor. It’s love God, feel how much God loves you, and then love your neighbor.

Three steps. Not two.

We’re not designed to unconditionally love our neighbors. Our normal, everyday, quick-to-anger, reactively judgmental, habitually evaluative minds don’t work that way. But our hearts (which as a rule are overridden by our minds, especially when we’re out making our way in the big bad world ) are designed to fully process full love. But to open those channels, to get that love flowing at full capacity, we first need to tap into the One Big Love.

If you’re really going to feel peaceful, benevolent, patient, and truly loving toward people—even people as obnoxious as some of the “neighbors” in your life—then you’re going to need undiluted, pure, direct-from-the-source Divine Love.

Love; get the maximum, purest kind of love possible; love.

That’s the real deal of the Great Commandment.

In effect, the way to “do” the Great Commandment is to simply do its first part: to love God with everything you have. The next part—the miraculous part, where, filled with God’s love, you then fully love others—will naturally follow.

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  • So that explains that feeling! Excellent! Thank you!

  • patrice wassmann

    This is a really wonderful post. So true. I watch my husband do this everyday. Every morning he spends time in meditation and study and prayer, and he is one of the kindest, most loving persons I know. I see him growing daily in wisdom and love. Now, if I could only get myself to do the same thing……

  • A’isha

    This is literally brilliant, John. I never thought of it in order like that. You have to love God first. No way can you love others completely–or yourself even–without loving God first. At least I don’t see it. Sure I loved people before loving God, but it’s those unlovable people that I couldn’t love.

    The second part (loving your neighbors as yourself) can’t be done without feeling and knowing God’s love for us. And let’s face it, sometimes we don’t feel God’s love. It’s believing that God means it when he says he loves us and won’t leave us that gets us through those times when we can’t actually feel his love. Also, being loved by others helps remind us of God’s love…kind of like they’re representing God on earth by the love they show us when we can’t feel his love.

    One more thought on this…when we love others, we’re actually showing them God’s love which in turn can help others fulfill the Great Commandment. So if we’re all doing this thing Jesus said was the most important, it should become, in theory, a great love-fest. Since I don’t see that in society, there must be a bunch of Christians (me included) that are not loving God with all our hearts, souls, and minds; and loving our neighbors as ourselves (which means we have to love ourselves before we can love them.)

  • Pat Schutz

    This is SOOOOO awesome. I’m so happy I’ve stumbled upon your sermons!

  • good one!

  • Heather Smith

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” This is how he wants us to come to him and then love others as we love ourselves….but we are supposed to hate our own life and everyone in it in comparrison to how we love God….so, how exactly, does that translate into loving our neighbors as we love God?

  • A’isha

    I don’t think Jesus meant this literally…it was more like exaggeration to prove his point. In order to follow Jesus you have to love him more than you love anything or anyone else.

  • Exactly.

    That whole “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” bit….and “in losing our life we find it” part – it’s all related too. It’s about putting God and others first and ourselves last. It’s about not letting selfishness and self-centeredness and ego (sin) rule our lives. It’s about being God-focussed and other-focussed. For truly, ego (selfishness/sin) blocks our ability to see “the other” and feel with them (compassion) in their life experience. When we dethrone our ego from the ruling position of our lives and put God and others at the center of our circle of concern – we are following the model Jesus taught us; we are living compassion-centered lives.

    Jesus uses a similar linguistic technique when he speaks of the Pharisees and says we must be even more righteous than they are. He doesn’t mean we must be even better rule followers; he means righteous on a completely different plane of being.

    Good writers know that if you are going to exaggerate a point, you don’t go small potatoes – you go…. gargantuan. The Bible is a beautiful piece of literature. We would get so much more out of it if we approached it as such.

  • Beautifully said! I wish I’d read this before writing my homily a couple weeks ago.

  • Lymis

    Does anyone know what the “hate” part was translated from? Because I have always had trouble believing that was likely to be the best translation of whatever concept was originally intended. Something more like “forsake” perhaps, or some complex feeling like some of those terms we keep getting from the Germans.

    ‘Cause “hate your mom for Jesus” just doesn’t seem to line up with the rest of the message.

    On the other hand, “realize at your very core that everything having to do with human physical life, including your most treasured relationships, pale utterly in the face of communion with God, and the knowledge that each of these people you treasure doesn’t so much need you as they need their own eternal connection to God, which just so happens to be the very same connection that you have, and that their connection to God is at one and the same time a completely shared experience with you and also none of your business” is always closer to what I’ve felt it meant, even though that wouldn’t fit on a bumper sticker.

    Sort of like the way “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” always seemed to me to mean “Hey, any vengeance going on is My problem, not yours, so just drop it and get over yourself” rather than “If you serve Me, you will beat the crap out of anyone you think is ticking Me off.”

    You love your neighbor as yourself by letting them have their relationship with God on the same terms you have your own, wherever that may take them. Again, I can’t see “hate” as the right translation for that.

  • Lymis

    John, this is wonderful, and an excellent point.

    When we let ourselves experience God’s love for us, we can’t help but do that in the knowledge that we are imperfect, and often, small, petty, hateful, and all those other things we are sadly capable of – and that God still loves us just as we are.

    So when we love others as we love ourselves and let ourselves be loved, it has to be with the awareness of all those flaws in them. We don’t always have to LIKE everything about our neighbors, any more than we have to like everything about ourselves, but we do have to love them.

  • Perfect. This.

    For me, the order begins with deeply knowing – on an internal; palpable; take my shoes off; wow, that was crazy; ok, clearly someone’s trying to grab my attention here; woo-ee-oo; holy $#*! – level that we are so incredibly loved by the One in whom we live and breathe and move and have our being. If I have learned nothing else in the past ten years on this spiritual journey…..it is this: God loves us. God loves YOU. Even if you don’t love God now or yet or feel like you love God enough. You are enough and God already loves you.

    This. Knowing this, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes, is what often picks us up off the “dirt floor basement of our hearts.”

    If you’ve had the good fortune to ever love someone – really love someone – or be loved – deeply loved, not in the gushy way, but in the touch your soul, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, cut from the same cloth, must have shared past lives together, give BOTH of your kidneys for them kind of way…..God loves us like that.

    And when we know this – know it – on a DNA level; it changes us; it sets free this Divine love within us, so we can love like that too.

    For me it was holding my first child. How could it be that I loved this odd, blind, pink, bald, squirming, demanding, bundle of the best thing I’ve ever inhaled – this stranger – so completely, so all encompassed and consumed by, so intimately……. so immediately? And then it hit me. God loves me like that. And it didn’t feel anything like the love from the Sunday School god I had met so long ago and had prayed to to save me and heal me when I was sick and take away my bad thoughts and help my team win a softball game and keep my sweet Aunt Ruth from dying from cancer and my Grandpa from going to hell.

    It didn’t feel like that at all. And although I’d become a born again Christian and been dunked by full immersion a long time ago, when I first shared this story of deeply knowing (gnowing) God’s love for the first time with my good friend Deb (a Presbyterian USA minister) she surprised me by saying, “Thank you for sharing your conversion story with me.” And she was right.

    I grew up in a tradition of trying hard. Doing the right thing. But it wasn’t until I found myself face down on “the dirt floor basement of my heart” that I felt Jesus pick up the puddle that was me off the floor and say, “Ah, Hon. Stop trying so hard and just let me love you.”

    Knowing we are loved we are set free to love ourselves and others as God first loved us. This is the truth that sets us free. Thanks be to God.

  • vj

    LOVE this one! Just a perfect description – “what happens is that you feel how much God loves you”. This is WHY spending time with God energizes us to go out and love the world. And why, as a corollary, it’s impossible to go out and love the world without first understanding how much God loves us….

  • Excellent, John, thank you.

  • vj

    In addition to what A’isha and Christy have said, I think the ‘hate’ part can also mean those cases where turning to Christ means turning away from family and cultural traditions that are in conflict with following Christ. Which, to the people still following those traditions might feel like you are turning *against* them (i.e. ‘hate’) – there are many cultures where a Christian convert is regarded as ‘dead’ to all the people he/she grew up with etc. So, for some, there is definitely an element of hating=leaving father, mother, etc behind when choosing to follow Jesus.

    [but, I also agree with you that ‘hate’ as we understand today doesn’t seem like quite the right word]

  • Drew

    Yeah, but how do I love God, aside from loving people? I can’t make him a nice meal, give him my jacket, give him a hug when he’s feeling low, sit with him while he’s in the hospital for surgery.

    I suppose I can tell him how much I appreciate him, thank him for this and for that, admire some of his best work. Does it matter that I’m not even sure he’s there and that, frankly, I’m kinda pissed off at him a lot of the time.

    This may sound flippant, but I’m quite serious. Help!

  • Mike Swanson

    Time for a mashup–Who is my neighbor? Enter Good Samaritan, and the story goes on from there. Time to BE that Good Samaritan, too.

  • This is wonderful. And I don’t usually say that. To me it leads right into HOW we show our love for God – “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Showing love to our fellows is loving God who made all of us..ALL OF US. and of course – going hand in hand “31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.” = Thank you for an inspiration this morning.

  • John C Hoddy via Facebook

    Beautiful, and spot on!

  • mike moore

    I understand, but I cannot accomplish. This commandment is beautiful, but unreachable for me.

    On any given day, there are people to whom I sincerely wish ill, no matter how much I would like to feel otherwise.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing my father drop dead, so cruel is his barbed tongue, especially when directed at my Mom. Should I happen across my ex-business partner who (quite literally … guns, baseball bats) attempted to kill my husband and I to cover up his embezzlement from our company, it’d be hard not to hit the gas and run him over. Can’t even describe my thoughts in regards to the 17yo neighbor who raped our 13yo niece … and got away with it! (because it took months and a suicide attempt before our niece was willing to speak of it out loud.)

    And then there are the strangers … a few days ago I saw a photo of a dog which appeared to be in some kind of ghoulish Halloween make-up. Not the case. The dog had been tied to the bumper of a car and dragged across pavement. All I can think when I see such things is: someone needs to tie this torturer to a bumper and drag him across pavement for a few blocks.

    I can’t help but feel that Jesus’ words are the equivalent of, “flap your arms fast enough, and you’ll fly …”

  • Rici Larsen-Young via Facebook

    At the risk of looking stupid, I don’t get this? Could someone kindly explain?

  • Mike,

    Yes, humanity is mortally infected with sin (as you pointed out only 4 examples), yet Jesus heals us from sin’s curse.

  • John,

    Great observation in this text. I have never seen this truth before, thanks.

  • Iolanthe

    I know what you mean, Drew.

    As an “intermittent Christian” (I call myself Agnostic because my mind is fully Atheist, my heart is Mushily Christian, and “Agnostic” splits the difference), I go through this, too.

    Most of my success in this area involves … yeah … Gratitude, simple and stupid as that sounds — mostly wonder at, and appreciation of, the beauty of this little mudball we call Home, the amazing balance of all its systems (even though we’re working hard, we Apes, at destroying that).

    And talk about pissed off! When my amazing brilliant hilarious son, a combat PTSD sufferer, took his life, you can IMAGINE the angry words I had for God.

    But here it is, 15 years later, my son is still dead, but I DO manage this gratitude. It’s a good place to start. Sometimes lately I have felt so grateful, even for the simplest things, that it takes my breath away.

    BTW, I still turn into the very embodiment of murderous rage every time I have to commute across town, though. If my Thought Rays could kill, Earth’s overpopulation problem would be solved quickly, starting with people who don’t signal turns, folks who stop to chat at the top of an escalator, and followed in there somewhere by Right Wingers who apparently get their entire “education” from Fox News.

    Not proud of this, but there it is, my confession of my major sin.

    I figure, even if He’s not there, it certainly doesn’t hurt anything to TRY to behave myself as if He is, to remember that I probably piss off my neighbors as often as they piss ME off, and if they haven’t killed me yet, and occasionally cut me slack, I can return the favor.

  • Iolanthe

    I think of this as sort of the Christian equivalent of the concept of Buddhist “detachment”.

    “Hate” in the KJV, is often used to mean what we would call “disregard”, or “treat as unimportant”. To me, it means if you are not willing to set aside your ego and your comforts and your safety and your attachment to your particular family over all others, you’re still not quite “getting” what Jesus calls us to do.

    I’m wrestling with this right now. I want to become more involved with the Occupy movement, but I’m scared of that “rubber bullets and tear gas” thing. If I really want to serve here, and feel called to serve in that capacity, I have to “hate” (i.e. disregard, consider it trivial) my fear for my physical safety.

    Hope that helps. That’s how I grapple with it all, anyway.

  • Karen Deyle

    It’s easy to look at others who disappoint you, hurt you, commit all manner of wrongs against you – these so called “neighbors” who have wronged you and therefore are difficult to love – or not deserving of love. But I also look at this in reverse. Follow the premise that we are all sinners, and have come up short. Even though we ourselves can be contrary, difficult, hateful, prideful and undeserving. Still God loves us abundantly – extravagantly – anyways! Then try out loving that unloveable neighbor through those lenses.

  • Rebecca

    Oh Mike…how honest and true for all of us. On a good day we say we love people, but what we picture is the cute little old couple across the street, the people at work who have never done anything to piss us off, anybody except… the people who are hard to love. I think this is the # one reason that almost everyone I know nods their head and smiles at me like I am some kind of village idiot when I go on with my “liberal” ideas. People think “she is just so kind, she doesn’t even know that welfare moms are just gaming the system and don’t want to work!”

    …or that I would surely support the death penalty if MY child had been raped and murdered. Or that I’m just soft in the head for believing Muslims are generally peaceful people just like Christians when it is obvious that THEY all want to kill us.

    And so we go through life believing that if someone (or ANYONE) else went through what we went through they would understand our beliefs, our bitterness, our…hate.

    But Jesus of all people (never mind God!) understood that like no other. And He KNEW exactly how deceptively simple that “Love your neighbor” idea was…that guy was simple like a fox 😉

    Wonder how hard it is for Him to love me? I’m too embarrassed to even GO there with the list of my faults and deeds as to why he shouldn’t love and cherish and give it all for ME. And he knows – I mean REALLY knows – how hard this is. The thing about love…it’s really not about letting that 17 year old get away with harm. Loving him doesn’t mean justifying what he did, excusing him because of his rotten childhood (or the rotten uncle who probably raped HIM).

    It just means that Jesus tried to show us the only way to that Kingdom on Earth that He talked about is for us to overcome our instincts and WORK at the idea of His kind of love. Not the easy, human, of course you love your mom kind of love. And I believe for some of us, the ONLY way to come to that kind of love is relationship. Jesus was all about relationship.

    So…maybe you can’t go meet that 17 year old and try to get to know him and forgive him and Love him like Jesus. Not saying you should. But perhaps getting to know someone like him…volunteering with troubled teens, or (don’t hate ME now!) sex-offenders. See, Jesus didn’t have to get to know the prostitute, or the adulteress, or the tax-collector-nee-thief. He already knew them, because He WAS them. Or us. (now there’s a whole ‘nother can of worms 🙂

    But he told us we DID have to get to know them. That’s the only way our little Human brains and hearts can ever get to that Love He had. It sucks, REALLY sucks, because who wants to go hang out with a bunch of losers like that anyway?!! But the funny thing is, when you know someone for the screwed-up, selfish, unbelievable MESS they (uh – WE) are, you also start to see the beauty. The part that makes God love us, even THOUGH…

    And that’s the only way us human beans can love each other. Or at least the only way for those who harm us.

    Sorry to be so long – I hope I don’t sound preachy. This is really a lot harder for people who have gone through some bad stuff due to other people. But the reward is sooooo worth the work. Or we can keep holding tight to our justifications and miss out on that Love – something about the Peace that passes understanding….

  • “I guess they had it comin’.”

    “We all have it comin’, kid.”

    — The Unforgiven (screenplay by David Webb Peoples)

  • Drew

    Thanks! I appreciate your input.

  • Iolanthe

    BTW, on that “feeling God’s love” thing: some of us are wired in such a way that if we take quiet, physically still time to “feel God’s love”, we may just start fidgeting or thinking about how our knees hurt or whether we are hungry, or something like that.

    I have had much better luck feeling “in tune” with God, feeling the love of the Creator of the Universe, when I am moving my body. I have had more profound experiences, both of loving God and being loved by God, in yoga class, or out on the dancefloor, or out hoeing or weeding my vegetable garden, or caring for my roses, or hiking out in the desert or up some tree-lined canyon in our hills, or walking along the beach, than I have ever had in my Prayer Closet.

    Maybe a few of you other “wanna pray but my ADHD makes it difficult” folks will find that “praying with your feet” works better for you. YMMV.

  • Iolanthe

    Yep. Exactly. If I look honesty at my own faults, maybe I don’t have to self-flagellate or despair, but it sure puts everyone else’s faults in perspective, doesn’t it?

  • Iolanthe

    Stealin’ that! ;-> Thanks!

  • mike moore

    with equal thanks to Brian and Rebecca above ….

    Buzz, your quote really hits home, thanks for the perspective.

  • Iolanthe

    Really beautiful, Christy. You just made me cry .. in that GOOD way. ;->

  • Sometimes I love God the same way I love Nature – A thing that is beautiful, encompasses all life and upon which all life depends… but I acknolwedge that it’s indifferent and sometimes frickin’ brutal. (Nature definitely, God… maybe is ultimately a good “artist” but it’s impossible for us to see the big picture)?

    And I don’t even consider myself as having gone thorugh a lot -I’ve not had a normal life by any means, but people have gone through a lot more than me.

    I’ve noticed that some people get mad at even “liberal” Christians because of this commandment. They like the “loving your neighbor part.” The “Love God” part SCARES them (because of what some people who claim to love God have done, you know). I’ve replied to this by saying “What if one thinks those two commandments are one and the same?” – If you see “God loves people, so by loving people you love God,” it works out.

    And it’s hard. In my humanness, I (too) often wish I had a blow-up-the-world button. One of my favorite television mini-seires/specials ever is the History Channel’s “Life After People.” I think that gives you a good picture of my struggles fulfilling this commandment.

  • Sara

    Christy, your post left me in tears. Thank you for putting into words the feelings I haven’t been able to express.

    John, I forwarded this article to my pastor with a note saying I hoped he would do a sermon on it someday. As usual, you went right to the heart, laid it bare in all it’s glowing beauty. Thank you.

  • Ann Freeman Price

    I have always thought the Great Commandment has three parts that are plainly present. Love God (that’s number one), love your neighbor (that’s number two), AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF (that’s number three). And you really can’t do number two until you have worked through number three. It’s similar to what you wrote in your post because a lot of loving yourself is realizing that God loves you just the way you are and frees you to love yourself and in that freedom to love other people.

  • Christie

    This is beautiful and an accurate description of what I have experienced. Not that I feel it 100% of the time or even 10% of the time, but it is possible for me. Here’s how I experience it:

    -Focus on God, all the beauty of God, the Light and Truth of God, the Love of God for His creation.

    -Realize I am part of that creation.

    -Feel unworthy of the love God has for me because I am not completely beautiful, pure, and true.. I definitely have a lot of ugly feelings and thoughts. Sometimes those are expressed and sometimes not, but seeing as God knows my heart, he knows it’s there and loves me anyway.

    -In my humbleness, feel so grateful for that Love. The unconditional Love He gives.

    -Realize that His Love extends to ALL of His creation. Every person I see and don’t see receives His Love. Even those I dislike and disagree with.

    -Feel humbled again for being such an ass as to reject others based on my feelings.

    -Remember I have the capacity to see as God does, because He lives in me.

    -Actively try to observe God’s people (which is all of humanity) through His eyes and not my own.

    -Feel humbled yet again because as surely as I do that, I feel the love and compassion for others that is otherwise so hard to find.

  • James Urton via Facebook

    I’m with Rici on this… Totally confused.

  • “Peter, do you love me?”

    “Yes, Lord, I love you.”

    “Feed my sheep. Peter, do you love me?”

    “Yes, Lord, I love you!”

    “Feed my sheep. Peter, do you love me?”

    “Lord, I have answered you three times! Yes, I love you!”

    “Feed my sheep.”

  • Love your blogs…thanks for sharing your talent w/ the world. The love thy neighbor thing kicks my butt on a semi-regular basis and I find myself often having to seek God’s help with it. God bless ya brother!

  • Mindy

    Christy, this is phenomenal. Just . . . breathtaking in its forthright truthful message. You can’t feel it until you feel the unconditional part.

    Until you realize that He LOVES you, even when you suck, you don’t get it. YOu realize that you suck (general you, not you in particular!) a lot, because you’re human. But that phenomenal, UNCONDITIONAL love is what gives you the desire and strength to try to suck less next time. And the next time. And while you’re on your own journey of less suckitude (I believe that is a Shoreism), you find it easier to see that all the others out there who annoy the crap out of you in their own sucky ways are on their own journeys, and even though you saw them suck at life, they probably don’t, most of the time. Because you are humbled and loved, you forgive, you accept, you love. It’s not easy. But it’s possible when you stop and let yourself BE loved.

  • Mindy

    I don’t have to move my feet so much as my hands. I feel it most while quietly creating. I feel worked through, as if the love is physically moving through me. Hard to explain, but I know exactly what you mean.

  • Mindy

    Mike, I can’t add much to what Rebecca said so beautifully. All I can say is that I’ve been there, in very similar shoes – on more than one occasion. When you or someone you love are treated like dirt by someone, yeah. That’s what you feel. Normal, human stuff. Accepting that kind of cruelty would make you no better than those perpetrators.

    Loving them feels counterintuitive; for me, it is only possible when I remind myself (over and over and over) that something had to have gone very, very wrong in their lives, at some very crucial moment of development, for them to have become capable of such hurt. They are deficient in a crucial way; the love they needed to develop and maintain empathy simply wasn’t there. Not in the way they needed. So my love starts with pity. That they don’t have what it takes, in their hearts, to care how badly they hurt others.

    And still, some days, I can’t find it in me to love them. Any of them, the ones who devastate their fellow human beings. I find myself missing the patience or stillness of mind to even consider it. Instead, I seethe. Sometimes to the point of tears.

    That is, of course, when I am whalloped with the realization that I need to start over again with that first greatest commandment – find my place of gratitude and awe and love, so that I can let God’s love fill me up again.

    Peace to you.

  • Mindy

    Iolanthe – I loveloveLOVE this entire thing. My sympathies on the loss of your beautiful son. I can’t imagine.

    And my gratitude to you for giving name to the Thought Rays !! I have mine aimed daily at the very same folk. I just figure as long as the other drivers don’t start dropping mysteriously dead around me as I hurtle down the freeway, I’m keeping them in check just enough.

    Deep breaths, use your powers for good . . . not evil . . . My mantra, every danged day.

  • Mindy

    This. Took. My. Breath. Away.

    For me, it was the babies, yes. Inhale my daughter’s head, and God rushes in. Every blessed time.

    I think too many people have no concept of unconditional love. Too many people in this world grew up with an authoritarian, paternalistic God, the one we all tried to please out of fear of retribution. They didn’t get it from their parents, because their parents didn’t get it from theirs, and they don’t know what it feels like. So they keep trying to fill that void – with everything but the only thing that will really fill it.

    Christy, thank you for this beautiful piece.

  • Mindy

    Hey John Shore, how’d you get so smart?

    LOVE this. Big, smiley LOVE button, all over it.

  • Mindy

    What doesn’t make sense? Which part? I’m genuinely asking, because I’d like to help, but not sure where to begin . . .

  • Lots of good thoughts to ponder. Thanks.

  • Sheri

    I love this, and would just add then, that I think there are really four steps.

    Love God.

    Feel God’s love for you.

    Love yourself.

    Love your neighbor.

    When Jesus says “love your neighbor as yourself,” that’s a two part statement in itself, indicating one must love oneself before, or concurrently with, loving one’s neighbor.

  • I can relate to what you are saying. It can’t do any harm to be a good person and treat others with love and respect. Even if there isn’t a god, we can still make the world a better place by fostering understanding and tolerance.

  • Hi Shadsie 🙂

    I do tend to have a love of post-apocalytic fiction. The Stand is my go-to happy place book. That may not be a good thing….

  • Christie

    Thanks, Mindy. Your elaboration is truth. 🙂

  • Christine McQueen

    Once you feel God’s love within yourself, you can’t help but spread that love to others. Because when you feel that love, you also understand that that is how God feels about His entire creation, meaning, whether they know it or not, He loves your neighbor in the same way He loves you. And once we understand that, it becomes easier to live a life of compassion and empathy for our neighbors, even if our neighbors disagree with us on everything.

  • A’isha

    I’m with the you on the babies. When my beautiful boys were born I suddenly understood on a deeper level what love really is. I hadn’t had that unconditional love growing up so had a really hard time accepting it from God. Even after my boys were born I still didn’t understand it completely because I could love unconditionally but couldn’t receive love unconditionally. My adoptive parents helped me with that in immeasurable ways. They’ve been my parents for about 4 years now, my mom a little longer, and I finally can accept being loved by others, including God. I absolutely know they were brought to me by God himself to show me the meaning of love and to love me in person as his representatives.

  • Barb

    THAT”S IT!!!

  • Pam

    Beautiful and often challenging…at least for me. Thanks!

  • Kittyarmy

    You nailed it, John. And thank you for spelling it out with humor. You’re right – it is so much easier to say you love God but it’s far more difficult to actually practice God’s love. But to know and love God is to love others as your own brothers and sisters in God.

  • DR

    This is my take on it.

    The Love of God is different in that it acts like radiation – once you are exposed to it. Really exposed to it. It radically changes you, it realigns everything inside of you, right down to the DNA. But positively – renewably. You become your Self, the self without attachments, without addiction, without anger, without the filters and mirrors we see ourselves through because of the wounds of the past. It *changes* you, it becomes a tangible part of your being. The lens we see the world through become infused by that Love. It’s so pervasive that we can’t not give it to other people, as we are altered by it? Our view of others – our experience of them – no longer becomes dependent upon our needs of the, our expectations that are unmet, borne of fear, dipped in disappointment.

    That’s been my experience anyway.

  • Carl Ferreira via Facebook

    I always looked at this whole thing like this: God is not visible he is not living here with us like our neighbors are. So how does one love God? The way I see it is that the ONLY way to express your love for God is by loving your neighbor.

  • James

    I just don’t understand the fixation on this single phrase, as if it’s suddenly central to Christianity. It directly contradicts so many other tenets/truths/doctrines of Christianity in the Bible and in almost 2,000 years of Christian tradition and practice.

    Plus, Mr. Shore uses so much abstract language, and that always confuses me. “Love God with all your heart”?… What on EARTH does that even mean in terms of real day-to-day existence? I’m so lost…

  • stan colenso

    That can’t be right, Ayn Rand said…

  • Erwin Goodwin

    Very nicely written. I think you have it very correctly, that you have to FEEL God’s Love before you can love your neighbor.

  • Deb

    that is just wonderful.

  • Oh thanks John.

    About two years ago, when I was going through the early stages of ending my marriage and feeling lost and alone, I started back to college. One of the first classes I took was a comparative religion course. The teacher, a part time pastor, couldn’t help but interject his views of other religion with Christianity being the “better” of the two. Frankly I was quite disappointed as I was hoping for an honestly objective view on things (and I hope for world peace and a million in my bank account…see what that gets me.)

    Anyhoo, what that class did do was to find myself deconstructing my own faith and I ended up tossing out a lot of religious dogma to the curb. I was left with those two commandments of Jesus. I came to the conclusion that Christianity hinges on those two simple yet difficult commands. I will be spending the rest of my life trying to follow them, failing repeatedly, yet trying again. He gave us those two commands for a reason, a reason often overlooked, yet so vital. To me it is the most important statement Jesus uttered.

    But I’m odd like that.

  • Donald Rappe

    I find this to be a really excellent question,Heather. It gets right to the heart of the matter. While I also like the discussion it (and John) provoked here, and I tend toward the understanding that the word must mean (oppose under certain circumstances) as some indicated in the discussion of your question. Now, I have to dig through the Library of the Boca Chica Institute for Advanced Study which is in my shed. I’ve got a 25c copy from a ministers retirement garage sale with Greek NT on one side and a translation into clear German on the other. I should be able to find the Greek word and GooGle it. If I learn anything, I will return.

  • Donald Rappe

    I love your comments, Shadsie deepest!

  • I’d like to help too. Fixation on which phrase, James? The story of the Good Samaritan from which the Greatest Commandment is taken is not suddenly central to Christianity. Which other tenets of Christianity does it (the phrase) contradict? Jesus used a lot of abstract language as well, for there is a great deal of truth in metaphor and myth. Let’s start with the questions you have.

  • Your words ring so true…..we walk a similar path, beautiful boys and all. The family of our choosing is an amazing gift and very often a lifesaver. How wonderful that you found yours…..or they found you – that you were brought together to love unconditionally. It is a gift beyond measure to love and be loved like this. I’m so glad you have this in your life….

  • Thank you, Sara. I’m glad you found meaning in it for you. John has a way of bringing important topics to light.

  • Mindy

    Well, the fixation on that single phrase is because Jesus said it was the most important thing. Pretty straightforward – if you forget everything about me, remember this one thing – the Greatest Commandment. The rest is just . . . the rest. I agree that much of what has been practiced in the name of Christ has flown directly in the face of that greatest commandment. I’m fairly certain it never meant to say “love your neighbor ONLY if you can convince him to believe exactly what you believe, and if you can’t, smite him.” Yet Christians have quite often acted like that. For centuries, even. But just because something has been not been followed well for 2000 years doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying, does it?

    Love God with all your heart. Well, that is an abstract expression, yes, but a common one. I say to my daughters that I love them with “my whole heart and then some.” It just means that I love them the very most that I am capable of loving anything. That’s how I feel about God. When my daughters act like pills, I get annoyed/frustrated/angry – but I never stop loving them. I’ve had days when I didn’t like one very much. But I still loved her with everything I have. Again, that’s how I feel about God, and I imagine that’s how He feels about me. Wants me to straighten up and fly right on the days I don’t, but loves me to pieces in spite of whatever stupid thing I’ve done.

    Day-to-day, the love is just there, the foundation of everything else. I’m not conscious of it every single second, no. When I’m busy with something, I’m thinking about that something, not how much I love God OR my daughters. But it’s there, underneath, keeping me stable. And when I start feeling . . . unstable – stressed, frustrated, angry, sad – I know I need to stop and focus on that foundation, quietly and gratefully remember why I love. When I do that, the reciprocal love fills me back up, and I’m much nicer to be around.

  • The Celts call these thin places…..where the veil between the human and the Divine lifts for just a moment and we experience a connection where it is difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. This can be anywhere and anytime, but some places more consistently hold this space of opportunity. Nature is surely one. I too find God in the dirt….or more often, God finds me. Gardening as a contemplative practice is a beautiful thing…..

    We should all be so blessed as to learn to pray with our feet. Thank you, Iolanthe, for saying it so well and so beautifully here.

  • Exactly, Christine. Exactly this. “You can’t help it.” Filled to overflowing with knowing we are loved we can’t help but go about our loves spilling this love onto others. This IS evangelism. Loving others as God loves us. This is Grace lived out. It’s not telling people about Jesus; it’s showing them the love of Jesus -how it changes us – for good. There’s a writers mantra: Show. Don’t tell. “Do this,” Jesus said of the Greatest Commandment, “and you will live.”

  • It does help. Thanks, Iolanthe. I have found Buddhist principles helpful in illuminating a fuller understanding of Christianity. Detachment is among them.

  • Donald Rappe

    The word I find is μισός which translates to hate in English. Not much help from the Greek. However, I thinkthere is some further insight to be gained by seeing which Aramaic and Hebrew words were commonly translated into this Greek.

  • Thank you, Mindy and Iolanthe. This means a lot.

    Babies, yes. Rushes in, yes. Third paragraph – I couldn’t have said it better. This is what I’m passionate about. This is the story of too many of us. This is the story of humanity. This is what Jesus came to change. This is what must change to save our world. And it all begins with those who know the great truth of the Greatest Commandment showing this love to others. This is the transformative power of unconditional love that turns us – and the world – upside down for good. This is the work of the kingdom of God which is within you.

  • Donald Rappe

    This link addresses this subject directly: http://www.tektonics.org/gk/jesussayshate.html

    It gives an example that a Spartan man (soldier) must hate his own life for the honor of Sparta in an old song or poem.

  • DR

    James who or what do you love with your whole heart? What gets you through the day?

  • DR

    That’s exactly my experience of this – detachment. Exactly!

  • Donald Rappe

    Ayn Rand was the AntiChrist, wasn’t she? And now today so many of her political followers are mascarading as Christians.

  • Donald Rappe

    John, I really appreciate your analysis of spiritual questions. Before today I never realized that people speaking semitic languages have no easy way to “like” someone or something, but, can easily choose between loving them and hating them. This seems to me to potentially explain a lot about middle East conflict.

  • James

    There isn’t really one single thing that gets me through the day. I don’t even really approach my days as “Okay… just get through this…” I just wake up and continue on my journey: trying to improve myself, be a good person, do what I know is right, etc.

    They aren’t religious callings, of course (I’m an atheist). But they’re ideas that have helped me make the most of each day.

  • Kathleen Baker

    Wow! Thank you, it’s been a rough few weeks and I really needed to hear this in this moment.

  • Perhaps these people have children and should get them started early:


    Don’t worry, it’s NOT real. It’s part of a Cracked.com Photoshop contest. (Main contest is here but many of the entries are not worskave/intentionally very offensive http://www.cracked.com/photoplasty_3_the-40-most-inappropriate-childrens-book-covers/?wa_user1=1&wa_user2=Weird+World&wa_user3=photoshop&wa_user4=recommended Not to be clicked if you can’t just cannot tolarate lowbrow humor. Some of them are very funny, some are just… ugh ).

  • vj

    “it means if you are not willing to set aside your ego and your comforts and your safety and your attachment to your particular family over all others, you’re still not quite “getting” what Jesus calls us to do”

    Iolanthe, you said it SO much better than I did – thanks! Now, if I could just get the ‘living it out in real life’ part……. You’re right, it is definitely something to wrestle with (I suspect for a lifetime).

  • Dave Celis

    Actually, it’s NOT three steps … he left nothing out. It’s ONE step.

    Read the Great Commandment again. He said “The second is like unto it…” According to Jesus loving God IS THE SAME as loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s all one.

  • Jeanette

    Actually the first part can also be hard. Loving God can be difficult at times… during times when your life doesn’t make sense or when you watch those you love suffer. When I lost my loving, kind husband to cancer at age 50 I found God’s ways difficult to understand. My mom suffered with Alzheimer’s and I also found her suffering difficult to bear. At these kinds of times, when someone I truly loved and knew to be of the best character possible, it is hard to see others prosper while these suffer. And to say “they’ll get their reward in heaven” doesn’t bring much relief. Like a child, I would say, “That’s not enough. I don’t care about that. I want them not to suffer NOW.”

  • Jeanette

    My minister once chose this point for his sermon and said that its meaning was you must be willing to give up everything for your faith.

  • Lymis

    It’s a great question. And it’s an important one, and it’s one that everyone has to find the answer to for themselves. It isn’t about what you do, though often, the doing flows naturally from the experience.

    The first and most important thing to do is aim exactly what you asked us directly to God. Open yourself and tell God that you want to love Him and you want to know him and that you are giving Him permission to enter your life in whatever way God has in mind to make that happen.

    Many people throughout history have been very explicit that the best way they found to experience loving God was exactly in loving other people – feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, and so on. Others found that the best way they found was getting away from other people and spending time alone, in silence, in nature.

    I’d say that anyone who doesn’t experience feelings of being pissed at God sometimes and feeling God’s absence sometimes isn’t being serious about being in a real relationship with a real Person. You get pissed a someone real who you think let you down, or when the relationship gets complicated, of when they make valid demands on you that you wish they wouldn’t. You don’t get pissed at a lucky rabbit’s foot or an imaginary friend, or a book of useful hints and tips.

    For me, the big shift happened when I finally said “You say You want to love me, and I simply can’t be perfect. Well, here I am, doing something I’m not proud of, and if You mean it, then come along with me, because I’m going to do it anyway.” And that was a huge shift point for me from having an assent to a bunch of rules and traditions to having a relationship with a Person.

  • Christy

    Thanks, Jeanette. The former Fundamentalist in me cringes just a bit when I hear this though. Nuanced and received in the spirit of detachment, of focussing on what’s important and what truly matters, living a life of gratitude for what one has rather than focussed on what is missing – I can see how we are all essentially saying the same thing here. Presented without nuance and spirit – taken literally – people hear and interpret this very differently. They hear: try harder to not want things, try harder to think about the right things, put forth effort at building your faith, just focus on Jesus. They also hear abandonment, sacrifice, emptiness, loneliness, and effort. It is why the rich young ruler hung his head and went away dejected when Jesus said he had to give away all his riches in order to follow him.

    It’s not literal. It’s not in the giving. It’s in the willingness to give. It is an internal shift in perspective. A knowing in one’s being what matters most and living in accordance with that.

    It’s in the intangible internal place of willingness…. to let go (like in the story of the Binding of Isaac) …..that the Divine catches us. This is grace internalized. This is the place of transformation. This is faith…..to step to the edge and let go, to trust….to surrender our false sense of control.

  • I love Cracked.com! wandering over for a look-see.

  • James

    Just a brief response, since I’m at lab and don’t keep a Bible with me here (for obvious reasons), but the passages I’m referring to are scattered throughout the Bible – from specific rules laid out in the Old Testament (including the Ten Commandments themselves) and punishments prescribed for violating them to the violent ends prescribed for non-Christians in the later parts of the New Testament (including the rather depressing fate of the bulk of humanity in the Book of Revelation). These are depressing and violent rules laid out in sections of the Bible that precede and follow this “Great Commandment.” So, I just don’t understand this modern fixation with this single passage. Sure, Jesus said it’s his most important commandment, but Christians aren’t meant to follow JUST that single passage. If that were the case, then why didn’t Christians just make their Holy Book consist of the four Gospels? Why include anything else?

    I would also strongly take issue with the notion that Christianity has always focused on the “Great Commandment.” As an American citizen brought up in the Christian religion (though I am not one myself), I’ve been exposed to pretty much every flavor and facet of Christianity that has settled and taken root in this country. And I’ve never heard the “Great Commandment” take a prominent role in Christian belief. Christian beliefs and practices focus more on some sections of the Old Testament (particularly the Ten Commandments, of course), and the latter sections of the New Testament (the Acts of the Apostles, the Pauline Epistles, and Revelation). This new and sudden focus on Jesus and the “Great Commandment” seems to come out of left field. From this outsider, it appears vague in intent and direction compared the more concrete instructions and warnings from other sections of the Bible. It lacks the certainty and specificity of other sections of the Bible (hence why I don’t even understand what it’s asking Christians to DO on a daily basis – How am I supposed to love my neighbor as myself when I’m in line to get a latte, or giving a lecture on evolution?). Of course, my life and lifestyle are very far removed from Christianity, so perhaps I’ll never understand. Still, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. 🙂

  • James

    Thanks. I put a reply just above your comment (in response to Christy) that might help you see where I’m coming from here. I think my lifestyle just isn’t Christian, so I can’t really understand what y’all are talking about. Thanks anyway, though!

  • charles

    John, I have personally considered that the “idiots guide to Christianity” for some time now-

    What I believe is that once you can take car of that business, you can move onto the the rest of the Bible.

  • Diana A.

    True, but it’s easy to miss that. John’s breakdown makes the message clearer.

  • I am gathering from your comments that you have renounced your Christian past but still live by the Golden Rule? Is that a fair statement?

    Would it help to think of your lifestyle as Buddhist or Taoist? or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu……for at the heart of all the world’s great religions – when you strip away all of the dogma and belief, ritual, myths and legends – when you get to the heart of the matter, lies the common thread of the Golden Rule. It is why it is the Greatest Commandment. Rabbi Hillel of the first century was asked a similar question that the lawyer asked Jesus in the gospels: to recite the whole of the Torah while standing on one foot. He said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

    Don’t take my word for it. Many scholars have written about this quite extensively. Karen Armstrong is one very well-written author on the subject: The History of God, The Case for God. Marcus Borg: The Heart of Christianity.


  • Universality of the Golden Rule: It is older than Christianity, but it has always been at its heart. Like the Pharisees (Powerful religious leaders of their day), “the Church,” in its ego-driven need for control and self-protection, focussed on the wrong things: My god is bigger; My god is better; My translation is more accurate; My theologians are smarter. Ego (read sin) – for 2,000 years – got in the way of the message of Jesus. Those who “got it” earlier on were categorically wiped out by the powers that be in Religion and Religion controlled Government. (Gnostics, Cathers, “pagans,” “heretics”). Jesus didn’t come to start a religion. He came to change the world. It is not the same thing. When we get that right, we will have done much to bring about the kingdom of heaven….. which is within you.


  • karen hancock

    I think it is like when Jesus said “when you give someone in need a drink, or clothing, or give them food, you have done it unto me” The way we show God we love Him is to serve and help others, and treat them the way we would like to be treated (The Golden Rule)

  • Will: Gimme a break. I never censure or block anyone off this page who maintains anything near a tone of respectful engagement.

  • DR

    Someone here said he lives by the campground mentality which I found quite lovely: “Leave the day a little bit better than how you first found it” (or words to that effect). Your reply made me think of that.

  • DR

    You’ve been petulant and defensive since your first comment here. Bear in mind that you’re posting with a lot of people who are holding you accountable for the *impact* of your expressed beliefs about homosexuality. Stop being such a victim, your beliefs hurt a lot of people and a lot of us are pretty angry that you could give a sh*& about that and instead, have this whiny, self-absorbed “No one is being nice to me here everyone is against me” attitude.

    There are hundreds of testimonials on this site alone that show how you and your beliefs are DAMAGING the spiritual, emotional and even physical components of the GLBT community. And a lot of us are furious with you about that. So stop expecting everyone to be nice to you and realize you’re choosing to be here with the people that are here. In short? Grow up Will, try to cultivate a little self-awareness and drop the belief that you’re entitled to believing whatever you want to, expressing those beliefs and having everyone still like you. It’s not the real world.

  • That’s such a strong point, Jeanette. Thank you for saying this.

  • James Glines via Facebook

    in my small understanding, I thought by loving others you realize that you are giving love to God. Maybe it’s also love your God and then your feel love and then do something with it and love your neighbor. What about loving yourself? Is it ok to care or respect and honor yourself or you have to do all that to others and God before self…it’s also left out. Just sayin…..

  • the way i see it is this…god created us of his own image. god is love. we were made from that love. it’s through society that we forget about loving, god, ourselves & others. because i love god, i love myself. because i love god, & myself, i love everyone. we are all connected. we are all children of god. that doesn’t mean i don’t get irritated or angry with others. i just remind myself that they too were created from the love of god. these people are my brothers & sisters. i don’t know what’s going on in their lives, but i love them just the same. the ‘good’ guys & the ‘bad’ guys. thanks, john for sharing this. blessings.

  • Wakes people up at 8am?

    Who isn’t awake at 8am? I mean, sometimes I sleep in until 6:30, but 8am? Is there some kind of plague in the neighborhood?

    Anyway …

    Yes, I agree. Loving our neighbors, or really anyone, as ourselves definitely requires miraculous intervention. It seems like such a simple instruction until you try to act on it. (No offense to my neighbors, in case you’re reading this. You guys are great … although I wouldn’t mind if you’d keep your dog on a leash or stop shouting at him at 5 in the morning and … ahem … never mind.)

    Loving like that requires an act of grace, and an outpouring of it into our hearts and souls.

    Great post.

  • Allen

    Nice work again, John! And I admit I was expecting a different “missing part” of the commandment, which I might call 2A. It’s a progression.

    1A: Love God w/all heart, soul, mind, strength.

    1B: Feel God’s love for you.

    2A: Therefore realize that you are lovable, and love yourself .

    2B: Love your neighbor as yourself.

    I guess I’ve known enough self-hating people to want to articulate that not everyone does in fact love themselves. (I mean, if you don’t have any self-respect, you can treat others like sh*t and claim you’re just following Jesus’ second commandment to the letter.)

  • I always liked St. Augustine’s “love God and do as you like.”

  • Yes. So true, Karen.

  • vj

    Yes, Christy, you are totally right that it is a gift. I got that from my own mom – an unchurched, new-age-ish lesbian, who showed me what unconditional love looked like, even though I turned out completely different to her (churched, not at all new-age-ish, and straight!). She never criticized me, was always willing to pitch in and help when I asked, never said anything negative about my husband or kids (or anyone else), and could see that my church ‘family’ gave me security and a place to belong when she moved away from home (she ‘retired’ to the country when I graduated high school).

    When I read in the comments about all the messed up ‘churches’ so many grew up in, I think that maybe it was a good thing I only started going to church after high school….

  • James

    Eh, I wouldn’t really call it an active renouncement. Though I did go through the rather awkward step of formally severing ties with the churches I’d previously been a member of (except for the Southern Baptist Convention, which claimed they had no mechanism to remove a member from its roles). But I only did that because it didn’t seem honest to allow a church organization to count me as a member, when I really wasn’t. Anyway, that’s another matter entirely.

    I’m something of a reluctant atheist. It came down to the fact that I know what I need to do to try and be a good person, grow and contribute to my community, better myself, help others, and be responsible… and I found being a Christian incompatible with those goals. Of course, I don’t mean that Christians can’t be good people; but I simply couldn’t be a Christian and also do what I must do to try to be a good person. That was such a painful truth to accept, that I don’t think it would really help me to “try out” another religion, or try to think of myself as a Taoist or Buddhist, etc. For one thing, I’m not learned in the dogmas and histories of most other world religions (except Judaism, and perhaps a small amount of Islam). For another, Christians are obliged to believe and practice a number of things, and I’ve tried hard to abide by those rules and regulations. Finding myself incapable of doing so (without ceasing to be true to myself), I’d feel a bit disingenuous just embracing another religion altogether, with its own completely different set of requirements.

    While I don’t doubt the presence of “The Golden Rule” in nearly every human society, I’m not sure what your point is in bringing that issue up. I think secular and religious people alike try to embrace that virtue. While I think many religious people fail to fully live up to that rule when it comes into conflict with the requirements of their religious beliefs and practices, many secular people fall short due to other human failings.

    In my case, I pretty much fall short on a daily (if not hourly) basis. But, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and try again. And I’ve found it a lot easier since I took a deep breath one day years ago and said to myself, “I cannot do this while also trying to be a Christian.” Thus, the birth of a reluctant atheist, who is still thoroughly confused as to why some Christians over the past few years are suddenly fixating on “the Great Commandment.” Oh, well. 🙂

  • So that’s how the SBC claims the largest Protestant membership. Son of a…..preacher man.

    I don’t yet fully understand this: “I simply couldn’t be a Christian and also do what I must do to try to be a good person.” Can you help me understand why and how you see it this way? What is antithetical about the Christianity you walked away from and being a good person? I’m not arguing with you. I think we might have walked a similar path. Tell me about the god you don’t believe in and we may find I don’t believe in that god either.

    And maybe this will help: I grew up Fundamentalist Baptist in a separatist sect full of judgment and shame and guilt and manipulation and authoritarian mind control. It’s a pretty shitty way to be introduced to god. And then this happened: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2011/10/31/what-jesus-left-out-of-the-great-commandment/comment-page-1/#comment-101234

    And the Christianity I claim now looks nothing like the Christianity I walked away from. It may seem that ‘some Christians over the past few years are suddenly fixating on “the Great Commandment” ‘ but I think if you are willing to take a longer view…..it has always been there just not in the Christian Evangelical/Fundamentalist circles we once traveled in.

  • James

    I’m actually not from a “fundamentalist” background in the pejorative sense. I mean, on the one hand, Christianity by definition is fundamentalist, since there are specific beliefs and practices that Christians are required to carry out in order to get into heaven after they die. But, my background in Christianity is mostly through what are commonly called “mainstream” Protestant sects, and a few “liberal” sects in my later years. My family left Southern Baptism before I was a teenager.

    Anyway, without spilling my guts too much, I just couldn’t lie, or deny my nature as a human being (both the good things and the bad things). And those were both things I would be required to do as a Christian. I wanted to be honest — with myself and those around me — and to be realistic about how I can grow and better myself, and contribute to my community and my family. And I couldn’t do those things as a Christian.

    So I left — about two years ago. And I’ve felt liberated ever since. I’ve been able to grow more as a person, and I feel like I’m making a more honest contribution to my community, my family, and my profession. Even my personal health has improved!

    I know what this means: this means I’m going to hell. Christianity is pretty clear cut about that. But, I need to make the best of the time I have here. It’s not much time, and I have a lot of loving, learning, sharing, and growing to do.

  • I come from the self-identified Fundamentalists. They take the name with pride; so it’s not pejorative in this case. If you grew up in it, you get a fundy pass.

    James, sweetie, you’re not going to hell. Certainly not for being true to yourself. If I lived by your understanding of Christianity I’d be going to hell for being a woman who wants to go to seminary…..and I’m pretty sure it’s the church that’s wrong about that. You said, “I just couldn’t lie, or deny my nature as a human being (both the good things and the bad things). And those were both things I would be required to do as a Christian.” Try this instead: And those were both things I would be required to do as the type of Christian with which I was familiar……but not as a completely different type of Christian that aligns themselves with an unconditionally loving God.

    Do you see where I’m coming from? In science, you are bound to get the wrong answer when your premise is based on the wrong assumptions. Your assumption is you can’t be you and still be a Christian. This simply is not true. And John does battle with that lie, putting sword to paper, (metaphorically) here every day.

    I am glad you feel more honest about yourself. I’m reassured that you feel liberated. I’m happy you have found a way to be yourself and contribute to your community. God is happy too. You being your best self in the best way you can be is all that is asked of you. You loving others as you would like to be loved is loving God. This is what John’s post is about.

    Church let you down, James. You walked away from church. But church is not monolithically representative of the whole of Christianity. And church is not God. Church is and can be all kinds of F***ed up – how I know – because it is run and occupied with people. Many of whom are oblivious and selfish, lacking in compassion and self-awareness…..and have no idea what God is really like.

    I showed you how the Golden Rule transcends Christianity to show you how God – the Divine – also transcends Christianity…..how God transcends church. We try so hard to pound God into the shape and size of our houses of worship. But God is bigger than that, and I don’t think God finds this amusing.

    There is another book you might find helpful, along with the others I have mentioned, Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. She is a beautiful, gifted writer. She too has struggled with her faith and wrote:

    “These are grim times, in which the God of our fondest dreams is nowhere to be found.

    But down in the darkness below those dreams — in the place where all our notions about God have come to naught — there is still reason to hope, because disillusionment is not so bad. Disillusionment is the loss of illusion — about ourselves, about the world, about God — and while it is almost always painful, it is not a bad thing to lose the lies we have mistaken for truth. Disillusioned, we come to understand that God does not conform to our expectations. We glimpse our own relative size in the universe and see that no human being can say who God should be or how God should act. We review our requirements of God and recognize them as our own fictions, our own frail shelters against the vast night sky. Disillusioned, we find out what is not true and are set free to seek what is — if we dare.”

    I hope you dare, James. Because this Christian loves you enough to hope that you can discover the truth that will set you free from the fear of hell in the afterlife so that you are able to find and experience true joy and Divine love in this life. I hope that you will be able to come to a place where you can know that you are not going to be punished for being who you are when God does not believe this about you.

    Blessings. ~ C

  • Martin Stillion

    The trouble with the “greatest commandment” is that if you take it seriously, it obliges you to take all the OTHER commandments EQUALLY seriously. To love God is to OBEY him. Jesus himself also said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Plural! Not “some of my commandments” or “only the commandments you agree with”). As an earlier commenter noted, loving God can actually be very difficult, contrary to John’s assertion.

    People seem to think that calling this the “greatest” commandment exempts them from having to pay attention to the other commandments. That is erroneous.

  • Mindy

    James, you will not go to hell. If all that you write here is sincere, and I have no reason to think otherwise, you are a warm, compassionate, loving person who knows he’s not perfect and believes that without that perfection, God won’t accept him.

    To that I say – quoting my grandaddy – P-shaw! I am much like you – I grew up in non-controversial, mainstream Christianity. I had best friends in high school who were Southern Baptists and to this day haven’t had a drop of alcohol, don’t dance, etc. Makes me sad for them, because it seems so . . . unnecessary. As if that makes them more acceptable to God? Why? Why would He care that someone doesn’t dance? I think actually He’d be sad that they don’t allow themselves such a joyful expression of happiness.

    The thing I got from Christianity was this: God made us human, with all the beautiful, messy complexity that entails, then expects us to spend our lives denying that very humanity if we wanted to wind up with him. As if this life was nothing but an entrance exam for eternity, and only those with the “strength” to deny who they are at the core – ironically, God’s human creation – will pass and gain entrance to heaven. Really? So this one life we get is all about denying our humanness, rather than using it for good – for others, for joy? Huh? And I just couldn’t buy it.

    I’m not here to try to convince you to try Christianity again – because I haven’t yet, either. I’ve never stopped believing in God, but I went through a period of many years in which I was so turned off by the ugliness of Christianity – seeing it lorded over people and used as an excuse for bigotry by so many of its self-appointed spokespeople who are raking in bucks for doing nothing more than present themselves as “better than,” lives rife with hypocrisy – that I became convinced it was all a sham. Not just Christianity, but organized religion in general – but especially Christianity, because by its evangelical nature, it is the most in-your-face religion I’ve come across. And it was painful to let go, because the rituals of religion can be so comforting, so joyful, so . . . good.

    I’ve not yet figured out how to reconcile my appreciation of the beauty of finding solace and community in religion with my disgust at the power hierarchies in religions that appear to care far more about control and power than compassion and love – which is, to me, the one thing I’ve always believed God wants for us all.

    Then a dear friend turned me on to John’s blog, and over the last couple of years, I have met so many amazing people here, so many people who seem to not only embody Christ’s mission, but who are also refreshingly honest about their failings, their uncertainty – their very humanness. I am not a student of the bible, I am don’t know if I’ll ever once again embrace Christianity. But I’m a lot closer to it now than I used to be, and keeping my mind and heart open to these discussions and these people have led me to feel closer to God. I appreciate the regular crowd here more than I can say, and I know, without a doubt, that even on my worst days, God is not sending me to hell. And he’s not sending you there, either, James. He’s smiling on your humanity, on your honesty and on all of that loving and learning and growing and sharing you are committed to doing. You sound . . . lovely.

  • DR

    In one of my most favorite books in the world, The Last Battle by CS Lewis, there is a young man who was taught to worship Tash. Tash was actually a very evil presence and was able to deceive others into believing he was good. This young man had been taught differently and followed Tash with a purity, verocity and devotion that was unlike anyone else.

    On the Last Day when this young man had to face the True God – Aslan- he begged his forgiveness. Aslan said that whatever this young man had done in the name of Love – in the name of Good, the Good and the Love that is productive and affirming? He was doing it in Aslan’s name.

    Sometimes stepping g away from religion is the place where we discover who we were made to be and who made us. In stepping away from Christianity you may have discovered Jesus. I’m unlike some here, I do believe hell exists. I believe it’s a place that is for those who hate God – who hate love so much that they choose to be there, the presence of God isn’t something they even want.

  • Mindy

    No, Martin, you are not correct. It is the greatest commandment because Jesus said, effectively, that if you forget everything else I’ve ever said or you’ve ever read or heard about God, fine. But THIS is the one thing you shouldn’t forget. If you keep THIS commandment, you’ll be keeping the essence of all the others.

    Literalists need not apply.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Why shouldn’t literalists apply? Are you suggesting that not even the “greatest” commandment deserves to be taken literally?

    Read the passage in context (Mt. 22): When Jesus identified this as the greatest commandment, who was he speaking to?

    Pharisees, that’s who.

    Pharisees were literalists.

    Pharisees were in no danger of forgetting the law. Pharisees were the ultra-Orthodox Jews of their day, and they knew the law backwards and forwards. The person who asked him the question was not only a Pharisee but “a lawyer.” He asked Jesus about the “greatest commandment” as a trick question, to “tempt” him (Mt. 22:35). The Pharisees were hoping that if he identified this or that commandment as the greatest, they’d be able to accuse him of saying that the other commandments were less important.

    So Jesus chose the one commandment that is the linchpin of the law: Love God. He didn’t say, “If you get this right, you can forget about the other commandments.” He said: “On these two commandments ALL the law and the prophets.”

    By misconstruing what Jesus said here, you’ve fallen into the very trap that he deftly avoided.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    dang … beware the dreaded missing word. It’s ““On these two commandments … hang … ALL the law and the prophets.”

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Not much of an answer, was it?

  • What part was confusing to you?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    I never said I was confused. Stop judging me.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    What I want to know is which part of Martin’s assertion Mindy judges to be “incorrect.”

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    I always feel obliged to point out that the” greatest” and “second greatest” commandments themselves do not originate with Jesus. They come from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, respectively. It’s fashionable to hate on those two books, but if they contain the two greatest commandments, they can’t be all bad!

    Anyhow, there is incredible wisdom in Jesus’ statement about these two commandments, but still, that statement was essentially a debate trick: a clever riposte to a difficult, abstruse philosophical question. How it came to be upheld as the be-all, end-all of the gospel is something of a mystery to me.

    I wonder why, instead, we don’t hold up Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler (Mt. 19:16–30) as the essence of the gospel. After all, in that instance the question was much more direct: “What must I do to get eternal life?” It might even have been a sincere question, whereas the lawyer’s question in Mt. 22 was not.

    But of course, the answer Jesus gave there is much, much harder to obey — or to pretend to obey — than the greatest commandment is.

  • No, you said my answer wasn’t much of anything. But I’m the one accused of judging. I’m going to try not to get angry and give you a second chance. What part of it did not answer your question about how we are to love God?

  • The part that seems incorrect to me is where he says: “People seem to think that calling this the “greatest” commandment exempts them from having to pay attention to the other commandments.”

    No we don’t. We see how the Greatest Commandment and the Second that is just like it and the Ten Commandments all dovetail rather nicely together.

  • DR

    Ahh. You’re a troll.

  • I always feel obliged to point out that in the first century Rabbi Hillel was asked much the same question in the same challenging manner that the lawyer asked Jesus: while standing on one foot recite the whole of the Torah. To which he replied: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

    Mindy’s point about literalism is pertinent here. You are focussing on the words of these specific questions while missing that they are all home to the exact same concept: selflessness, putting ourselves last and God and others first. We could add the parable of The Goats and the Sheep from Matthew 25 here as well. This is about ego and compassion/sin and Divine love about which I wrote earlier today: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2011/10/28/the-mild-goose-festival/comment-page-2/#comment-101433

    Re: “But of course, the answer Jesus gave there is much, much harder to obey — or to pretend to obey — than the greatest commandment is.” No it isn’t. It is the exact same answer: put yourself and your wants last.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Well, “People seem to think” is rather vague; obvi0usly he doesn’t mean EVERYBODY thinks this way. As long as SOME people think this way, he’s not incorrect.

    Anyhow, so you’ve got 12 commandments and they dovetail rather nicely together. I can get on board with that. What about the hundreds of other commandments?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Indeed! Didn’t we meet at the troll convention?

  • Ralph: I’m going to take you out of moderation. Just resist your urge to get personally snarky, okay? Keep it about the TOPIC, don’t get insulting, and I can go back to not having to monitor these comments. You’re new here, so don’t know: I don’t tolerate any kind of ugliness here—and, yes, I get to decide what does and doesn’t qualify as ugly. If the conversation’s worth having, it’s worth having without getting nasty or in any way rude. Thanks for understanding. Welcome to the group.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Are you saying it’s not difficult to put yourself and your wants last?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    You’re welcome. I will behave if DR behaves.

  • Are you Jewish?

  • I’m saying it’s doable.

  • No, Ralph. That’s not a satisfactory answer. If DR misbehaves, I’ll take care of it. Someone else being an asshole is not a moral waiver for you to also become one. We’re not children.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    I note that Rabbi Hillel said “Go and learn.” He didn’t say, “Just let it melt away.”

    A world of difference, that.

  • Dualism is one school of thought, but there are others. And the world is not so simple as either/or, will. It is very much made up of yes/and and sometimes maybe.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    I don’t really think that’s pertinent. Does your argument depend on whether I’m Jewish or not?

  • Well, in your world can a girl go and study torah or go to seminary?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    I *think* I live in the same world you do; at least I hope so! Strictly as a matter of personal opinion, yes, everybody should study the scriptures and people of either gender should be allowed to go to seminary. I’m sure people from various traditions will disagree with me, but I can’t help that.

  • I think it’s pertinent to know where people are coming from. Are you atheist? Because I haven’t figured out if you are for or against Christianity yet.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    That’s how I like it, for now. 🙂

    I guess the answer depends on whose definition of Christianity we are talking about, doesn’t it? The biblical principle is “To every man an answer.” Do you have a faith that will stand up to all comers?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    I forgot the 🙂 in my previous reply, John. Understood. Don’t worry, I will take responsibility for myself here.

  • Donald Rappe

    I wonder if there can be a thin place in the blogosphere?

  • Donald Rappe

    I love the several levels of this story. Jesus is asked a theological test question. In the story, the priest and Levite are the theologically correct people and the Samaritan has bad theology. And who was the man on the Jericho road who was beaten and robbed?

  • Donald Rappe

    I think Jesus is the man on the road and those questioning him were among the robbers. This is a condemnation of all those who would use theology as a club instead of a lamp. But Jesus lived to take the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, to purify the temple court of all nations and command the Torah down from the hill of Zion and out to all the peoples. The “great” commandment. Bloodied, but, we still can hear him teaching. The universal teaching which is the Way, the Truth, and the Life to all who receive it and however it is sourced. Wherever theology or philosophy is a light and not a robbers club.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    >Mindy’s point about literalism is pertinent here. You are focussing on the

    > words of these specific questions…

    Hm. I didn’t realize there was something wrong with paying attention to what texts actually say.

    > while missing that they are all home to the exact same concept: selflessness,

    > putting ourselves last and God and others first.

    Seriously, just because I didn’t MENTION that doesn’t mean I MISSED it. I was interested in exploring the text in greater detail, that’s all. Is something wrong with that? Are you saying selflessness is the ONLY thing we can or should infer from these texts? Are you claiming that your interpretation is superior to mine?

  • I’ve found thin places in my car while driving. It’s not a mountain top, but God does work in mysterious ways.

  • Ralph, if you want to have a conversation then I’m happy to do that. If you want to throw shit at the fan to see if I get pissed off about it, I’m not interested in playing.

  • DR

    I don’t think he’s here for real conversation I think he is just some angry dude with an axe to grind. But as usual, you’ve handled him with a lot of class.

  • Christy

    What a text says and what it actually means is not the same thing. A world of difference, that.

  • Melody

    Agreed. Just like Thomas and our other favorite trolls, he’s just trying to pick fights so he can continue playing the martyr.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Which is more than can be said for you.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Conversation would entail your clarifying your position by answering questions that are put to you. So, again: Are you saying that selflessness is the only thing we ought to infer from the passages we have been discussing?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Which part of what the text says do you want me to ignore?

  • Melody

    Wow, what a hateful, arrogant comment. Just where did she handle you without class? Jerk.

  • Conversations would entail you not inferring things in your questions about my point of view that I am not saying and to show a little openness on your part and not try to completely control and manipulate the conversation. A little vulnerable honesty would go a long way. This ain’t my first rodeo, friend.

    Your original question was why does the Greatest Commandment get to trump all the “1oo’s of others?” I’m a spirit of the law kinda girl now, Ralph. I used to be the letter kind. Upon further careful study and evaluation, particularly in light of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees, for me, it is not a compelling argument that the point of our relationship with the Divine is for God to be an accountant and us to be rule-followers.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Sorry, Melody. The comment ended up in the wrong place. It was meant as a reply to DR. I can agree with DR that Christy handles herself with class (at least up to the point where she accuses me of “throw[ing] shit at the fan to see if I get pissed off about it”). DR, however, handles himself with significantly less class than Christy does. John, our Almighty Moderator, professes not to tolerate ugliness, but evidently he makes an exception for DR.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    So it is possible to love God without obeying him?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Is off-linking your idea of a conversation?

  • Ralph: You’re new here. DR is a long-time friend of this blog (and of me personally). You become a friend of mine—you spend a couple of years on this blog, as DR has, thoughtfully engaging people—and I’ll cut you the same slack I do her. In the meantime, if you want to continue commenting here, tread carefully. “But evidently he makes an exception for DR” is getting real close to being rude to me personally. That doesn’t work for me.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Thanks John. We’ll see whether I stick around for a couple of years or not. Even if I were to do so, I don’t know whether “slack” would be the best thing for me … I need more practice at being gracious than I do at being snarky.

  • Christy

    I’ve put forth a good faith effort here. It was expedient. I’m having trouble with your communication style. If I have a choice, I don’t wish to engage with people in this way, and here I have that choice. Best of luck to you, Ralph.

  • Christy

    If you understand and keep the spirit of the law, which God says is loving God, how is this disobeying?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Well, I think your argument is essentially circular. It goes like this:

    Q: How do you love God?

    A: By obeying him.

    Q: How do you obey God?

    A: By loving him.

    It has the benefit of simplicity, I guess …

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Ah well. You and I appear to agree on at least one thing: your position here is not really worth defending.

    I’m really not interested in formulations that begin with “If you forget everything else Jesus ever said …” The average reader can sit down with a Bible and read everything Jesus ever said in one evening, and still have time to catch Letterman. Forgetting things that Jesus said is just laziness.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Anyhow, if your position really is that the Greatest Commandment “trumps” all the others, I refer you back to the text. The Pharisees tried to trick Jesus into naming a commandment that trumped all the others. He replied by naming the one commandment that brings all the others along with it. For Jesus to declare to the Pharisees that one commandment trumped the others would mean that the Pharisees won the debate. Clearly that didn’t happen, so clearly Jesus didn’t mean to say that the greatest commandment trumped the others.

    That is what the text says, but hey, why bother with what it says when you’ve already decided it means something else?

  • Christy

    Did you read the link about logical fallacies?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    No. If you want conversation, then converse. It’s hypocritical to appeal to me to make conversation on my end while you use non-conversational tactics on your end.

    If you wish to accuse me of indulging in a logical fallacy, kindly do so in your own words.

  • Nice straw man, Ralph. You show up, accuse me of saying something I never said, then say how it’s completely and utterly wrong.

    Perhaps you are a lawyer. You are adept at asking closed ended questions and trying to force people into corners to get them to say what you want them to say. My position is worth defending, but it is clear you aren’t interested in actually talking about what Jesus said or what the text means; you are interested in lobbing accusations, trying to score rhetorical points, and “win.” I’m walking away, not because I don’t have something worthwhile to say or because I can’t say it well, but because I am unwilling to play your ego-stroking game.

  • Diana A.

    “I always feel obliged to point out that the” greatest” and “second greatest” commandments themselves do not originate with Jesus. They come from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, respectively. It’s fashionable to hate on those two books, but if they contain the two greatest commandments, they can’t be all bad!”

    Yes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. In other words, just because the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus are full of it in some ways, doesn’t mean that the occasional fragment of wisdom can’t come from them.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama


    Do you think Jesus believed those books were “full of it”?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Does this mean you’re NOT saying that the greatest commandment trumps the others? Why do you clam up when asked for clarification?

    I am not a lawyer, but some of the most upstanding, respectable people I know are lawyers. Thanks for the compliment.

  • I already clarified my point, which you ignored. I said the greatest and the ten dovetail together. They are, in spirit, the same.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Anyhow, to be fair, you’ve said elsewhere that the 2 greatest commandments “dovetail” with the 10, and the other 600-plus are more or less superfluous variations on a theme. Or something.

    (It’s interesting that all 12 of the commandments that you’ll cotton to come from that nasty brutish Old Testament! 1 from Deut., 1 from Lev., 10 from Exodus! What’s up with that?)

    So yes, you’ve already said that you don’t believe the greatest “trumps” the others … but in the above comment it appeared for a second that you might be contradicting yourself. Apparently you weren’t. That’s fine. But: if you want to take a whack at me for logical fallacies, go ahead, just remember that turnabout is fair play.

  • Diana A.

    I read the link, so your efforts weren’t entirely wasted.

  • Diana A.

    He certainly thought the Pharasees were full of it when they insisted on “straining out gnats while swallowing camels.” Yes, I know. That’s different.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Yes it is. Jesus had a lot to say about how the law was being misinterpreted in his day. But he was profoundly respectful of the law itself.

  • James

    Thanks for all the comments and thoughts, folks! I wasn’t expecting my first attempt at commenting on this site to get so much attention. The second attempt (in another post) didn’t go so well… it turns out I need to learn how to read before I begin typing. But anyway, I digress.

    I hope I’ve been sincere with what I’ve said on here. Looking back, it sort of sounds like I’m some idealized sprite who soaks and drinks up experiences and sees everything as a positive opportunity for growth. I’m really much more complex than that — and really not a wonderful person. But I try to do better, be a better person, etc. I’d say about 10% of the time I succeed… which is actually an improvement. So I very much see my behavior and existence as a “work-in-progress” sort of journey. It requires a lot of brutal honesty and constant evaluation. It also requires me to shed a lot of idealism, and be realistic about who I am, and what I can do to improve upon that. And it’s that realism that put me most in conflict with Christianity and Christians. In order to be a Christian, I had to lie about my true nature as a human being, and a deeply flawed (and not-very-nice) person. If I had to lie about that, I couldn’t honestly evaluate myself and work on improvements. This is an oversimplification, of course… it makes me sound like I sit around with a notepad and pen listing out my deficiencies and how I can realistically make lemonade out of my lemons. But, that might get the point across.

    I don’t mean offense with this point, but I’m always surprised to hear modern Christians embrace their flawed, troubled humanity. The Bible explicitly states that God made Adam and Eve in his image — and he made them perfect. But Adam and Eve themselves corrupted humanity forever (or, at least, until Jesus’ second coming) by their own choices (the so-called “Fall”). Thus, I’m always confused when I hear Christians talk about how God made us flawed (selfish, sexual, short-sighted, limited, etc.) and how that’s okay. But, isn’t the whole point of Christianity that we AREN’T okay as we are? Isn’t that how Christianity justifies the eternal hellbound fate of most of humanity? Otherwise, I just don’t see what’s holding Christianity together. The Christian narrative is: we had a chance, we screwed up, and the vast majority of us will burn forever because of it. It’s in the Bible, after all. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

    But perhaps I’m not making sense. I’m home sick from work, and in severe need of a nap.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Anyhow, Diana, the argument being made here by John & Mindy & Christy goes far beyond admitting that the OT contains “the occasional fragment of wisdom.” Rather, they appear to be saying that these two Old Testament verses quoted by Jesus are the most significant statements to be found anywhere in the Bible. Here’s John from his OP:

    > So there is Jesus flat-out telling us that this is the most important thing he

    > ever has said or will say.

    (It’s certainly debatable whether that’s an accurate representation of what Jesus means by “the greatest commandment,” but whatevah.)

    > If Jesus says that something is the greatest commandment of all, then we

    > can be certain that we have found ground upon which we can stand for the

    > rest of our life, without once having to wonder whether or not we’re in the

    > right place.

    So according to John, the most important, foundational, infallible utterance Jesus ever made consisted of … two quotations from the Old Testament. That’s the same Old Testament that Mindy admits she never pays attention to, and Christy says makes God look like Thor. (I don’t know whether John is on record disparaging the Old Testament or not … what he says about Scripture on the ThruWay Christians FB page is, IMHO, quite thoughtful and nuanced.)

    Despite all that, evidently I’m the one who commits logical fallacies.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Sometime we’ll have to get together for a beer and you can show me how you can discern the message of scripture without looking at the words. That sounds like a pretty neat trick.

  • DR

    I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have called you that. I do find your aggressive tone here really off-putting. In my opinion you’re just here for a fight and it seems like that’s clear from the conversations you’re having with others. I hope I’m wrong. But again, I’m sorry for the name calling, that was silly.

    And I’m a woman by the way. A very girly one. (you called me a man below).

  • DR

    Ralph, you seemed frustrated that Christy wasn’t answering your questions in earlier comments. Isn’t your refusal of answering hers exactly what you’re frustrated with? I’m curious as to where you’re coming from as well and yes, it does matter.

  • DR

    Ralph, I’m cool if you’re not my #1 fan. I think we’re probably both going to survive the other’s negative opinion of one another which is pretty well-entrenched at this point so please put the testosterone pipe down, you’ve got the biggest – opinion in the virtual room. I still maintain that you’re not really here for dialogue but it’s certainly entertaining to watch and keeps things lively so who cares! 🙂

  • DR

    Oh ralph. I just want to cuddle you to my bosom. You sound miserable.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    DR, thanks for the sincere engagement! 🙂

    Folks who hang out here seem to hold church authority in downright contempt (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/11/14/church-authority-smurch-schmashmority/) and are also rather disdainful of scriptural authority. That leaves us with a bunch of individual popes defining Christianity on their own individual terms. I couldn’t possibly tell one of these popes whether I’m for or against Christianity until I see his or her doctrinal statement. When Christy gives me her definition of Christianity I’ll tell her what I think of it.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Now, now, I’m a married man! But I wouldn’t say no to a nice game of Scrabble.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” — Humphrey Bogart

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Apology cheerfully accepted. Sorry if I offended by assuming you were male … it was a 50-50 shot, I just got it wrong.

    You can attribute my aggression to my gender if you want … it doesn’t bother me. I’ll just smoke another Camel and gargle some raw hamburger.

  • DR

    After seeing how you spoke to some people who demonstrated enormous patience with you? Who are treasured members of this online community and have helped so many here? I’ll pass on the friendship however ironically offered.

  • DR

    I’d play only after you demonstrate a certificate of completion from Anger Management class. from how you’ve acted here with these lovely people who’ve been so kind to you, I don’t think you’d lose well.

  • DR

    This is great information I kept this bookmarked!

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Me confused.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    What makes you think I’d lose? 🙂

    Which comments of mine — apart from the ones directed at you earlier — are you having trouble with?

  • DR

    Ralph, I’m not going to giive you any attention anymore. You’re dismissed (and I’m not easy to alienate, I like feisty posters but you’re…..at a different level. We’ll leave it at that.)

  • DR

    You are a SAINT!

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow. It was thoughtful of you to cease hostilities, however briefly, but I guess it was too good to last.

    When I begin to see the second greatest commandment actually put into practice around here, I may get closer to agreeing with what John has to say about it.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Saint Ralph. I like the sound of that.

    But aren’t we all “saints”?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Ah, here I am:


    St. Ralph. Feastday: June 21.

    Benedictine bishop known for his learning. Also called Raoul and Radulf, he was the son of Count Raoul of Cahors and, as was the custom of the times, was entrusted into the care of the monks of Solignac, France. Educated under Abbot Bertrand, he may have became a monk, although he certainly rendered invaluable assistance to several abbots before receiving election as abbot himself in several houses, including St. Medard, Soissons. Named bishop of Bourges in 840, he took part in various synods and founded monasteries and convents. Ralph was also known for his learning and the deep concern he felt for the monks in his care. He attended the Synod of Meaux in 845.

    Sounds like a decent enough guy.

  • DR

    So in other words you’re not going to answer the question ( I didn’t expect it.)

  • DR

    Ralph it’s clear you feel quite victimized. Victims tend to make excellent bullies and you take the bully cake, I’ll give you that. The unconsciousnessof those of you have sometimes who enter into these conversations is so creepy, but I know – it’s everyone else’s problem. Right? Youre just……misunderstood. Keep telling yourself that perhaps you might even believe it soon.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Wow … if I get any more psychotherapy here I might have to quit drinking.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    If Christy wants to know whether I’m fer Christianity or agin’ it, she’ll have to tell me whut it iz first.

    So far she’s wondered whether I’m Jewish, atheist or Catholic. I wonder what I’d have to say to make her think I was a Muslim?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Anyhow, I’m glad we had this little chat. You’ve helped me to see that comments like the following (from this thread alone)…

    “not correct”

    “need not apply”


    “a troll”



    “throw shit at the fan to see if I get pissed off about it”

    “some angry dude with an axe to grind”

    “trying to pick fights so he can continue playing the martyr”

    “hateful, arrogant”


    “not really here for dialogue”

    “not going to giive you any attention anymore”

    “feel quite victimized”

    “try to completely control and manipulate the conversation”

    “interested in lobbing accusations”


    “I don’t wish to engage with people in this way”



    …are really just examples of people demonstrating “enormous patience” with me, and that if I feel “victimized,” it’s really all just in my head.

    I feel better already.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    John … I’ve been hoping that the comment-box rabbit trail below would lead to the following point, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. So I’ll just ask directly.

    Why do you assume that “the most important thing [Jesus] ever has said or will say” has to be a quotation from the Hebrew Torah?

    The second greatest commandment is simply a formulation of the Golden Rule. We don’t need Jesus for that … we can find the Golden Rule in just about any world religion or philosophy.

    The greatest commandment is something we could have gotten from any rabbi, or indeed from any teacher in any religion that involves devotion to a deity. Again, we don’t need Jesus to tell us to love God.

    Jesus said plenty of things that aren’t so easy to find elsewhere. Things only the incarnate Son of God could have said. Things that make Christianity unique among religions.

    But somehow the most important thing he said isn’t even an original statement? It’s not only a quotation from the law, but something that plenty of other teachers besides Jesus could have said and in fact did say?

    I think you’re taking a big leap by assuming that “greatest commandment” = “most important thing I ever said.”

    I don’t follow women’s lacrosse, so if someone told me Team A and Team B were the two greatest women’s lacrosse teams of all time, I’d be unlikely to conclude that those two teams were the most important franchises in the history of organized sports.

    Which is kind of like commandments. Your community here seems a little bummed out by commandments in general. You don’t like being told what to do; you’ve said so yourself. So if commandments on the whole aren’t that great, why is the greatest of them so much more important than everything else?

    Furthermore, how is it that the central principle of Christianity turns out to be something we could have found just as easily in Zoroastrianism?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Oh, and I’ve also just realized that the ultimate expression of patience is giving up on the conversation in disgust. So the fact that I’m still here must mean that I’m not patient enough. I still have much to learn…

  • Donald Rappe

    I’m glad you’ve got that part straight 🙂

  • Donald Rappe

    Just for the record, Pharisees were not particularly literalists. They differed from the legalists by believing in a life “to come”.

  • Funny, that. Isn’t it.

  • DR

    Yes, it’s so unsettling to watch people like this become unglued. Brrr.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Unsettling, but fun. Pass the popcorn!

    DR, you really had me going last night when you dropped your deflector shield for a few minutes. I’m still not quite sure what made it go back up. Any time you wanna talk, or play Scrabble, let me know.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Well, Christy …

    You asked whether I was for or against Christianity. I may now have just enough information about what you call Christianity to give you an answer.

    And that answer is …

    I am 100 percent, entirely, thoroughly …

    indifferent and apathetic toward it. Not the slightest bit for or against.

    Since the most important features of Christianity are, according to you, the features it happens to share with nearly every other religion or system of ethics one can name, then obviously it doesn’t matter whether I choose Christianity or one of those other religions or systems. There is no need to favor any particular religion over any other, since I can get what I need from any one of them.

    What a refreshing thought.


  • Donald Rappe

    Well spitting animal, you may now be drawing very close to the Kingdom!

  • Christy

    It is refreshing.

  • James

    The Kingdom? What does that mean?

  • Lymis

    Personally, I’d think you have it backwards.

    I don’t think that formal Christianity is the only way that God interacts with human beings – and in fact, I feel that thinking so is arrogant and reflects a belief that God is cruel – in most cases, people who aren’t exposed to Christianity aren’t because of an accident of birth, and all the historical civilizations before the birth of Christ or sufficient cultural interaction so they’d hear of him would be out of luck.

    So, it would make far more sense that the most important theological realities, the most important interactions between God and God’s creations, would be reflected in all human civilizations’ best moral teachers.

    In fact, to me, the things that are most specifically and uniquely present in a particular religious tradition (no meat on Fridays, or use a specific prayer rug at specific times of day) seem to me to be the MOST likely to be human inventions. That doesn’t invalidate them as good practice for placing yourself in the right state of mind to approach God from the human side of things, but it makes them far less likely to be universally necessary for connecting to God from God’s side.

  • Vanessa

    It’s “obtuse,” not “arbtruse.” In fact, “arbtruse” is not a word at all.

  • Are you talking to me? Not sure if you are, but the word I used is “abstruse,” which is a word–and is the word I meant to use.

  • James, the Kingdom of which Jesus repeatedly spoke. The one, he said, is also within you.

  • Very nice. Thanks, Lymis.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Thanks Lymis. I do hear what you’re saying.

    So how do you know where to draw the line between human inventions and universal spiritual truths? Atheists would say that God himself is a human invention, and that we don’t need an imaginary guy-in-the-sky to tell us how to treat each other. How would you answer that?

  • Allie

    I think everyone was given a conscience for just that reason. Most of us are great liars, especially to ourselves, but the truth is there if you’re willing to be honest.

    I personally believe that Jesus’ Great Commandment is a wonderful razor for cutting through human inventions. If I can’t figure out why a thing would be offensive to God or hurt somebody, I figure it’s made up from whole cloth. I may be mistaken about whether or not a particular action is hurtful, but I missed the part where Jesus said stupid people can’t get into heaven. Even in the OT it says, more than once, Hey, what made you think you need to do all this stupid stuff? What I asked you to do was be nice to each other, how about you try that?

  • Allie

    We don’t have to guess about this. We know what Jesus did about legalism and literalism, not just from the Great Commandment, but from specific examples of how he lived his life. Such as picking corn and healing people on the Sabbath. Or how about the observation that what came out of a man’s mouth made him unholy, not what went into it?

  • This would be the god I referred to earlier when I asked you to tell me about the god you don’t believe in and perhaps we will find I don’t believe in that god either. How we use words to describe the Divine (which necessarily limits the Divine and is a challenge anytime we try to use words to describe an inherently subjective experience with an ineffable force) doesn’t mean that’s the way the Divine is. EG: Because some choose to describe and understand God as an imaginary guy-in-the-sky doesn’t mean that’s, in fact, who or what God is. That’s merely how some people choose to understand the Divine and relate to what they call God.

    The doctrinal notion of the fall of man in the garden and original sin is a theory, an explanation, a myth: ways we have made sense of our place and relationship in the world. Other theories, or explanations, or myths point to a Divine nature within – of yin and yang, good and bad – and like in Native American Spirituality parables, the one we feed is the one that grows. So in this way, the universality of spiritual truths keeps getting discovered and rediscovered again and again and again and encouraged as an individual practice; and, yet, humans continue to take these universal spiritual truths and try to pound them into religious structures involving power holders and the powerless, winners and losers, us and them, the in group and the out – again and again and again.

    When all the great spiritual masters have said the same thing: The Kingdom of Heaven is within you; when you know this, you can stop searching for and chasing the ox because it doesn’t exist outside of you…..and this knowing (insight, conversion, understanding, gnosis, repentance, enlightenment) compels you to go into the world in service to others rather than in service to yourself.

  • James

    Yeah, but what is this Kingdom? I’ve never really understood it at all. It’s always spoken about in abstractions. I live in the real world, at my desk in lab. In a body filled with organs and blood and lymph, among other things. What’s this “Kingdom”?

  • Your mother sounds wonderful, vj. I’m so very glad you have her and a healthy church family.

  • charles

    total win.

  • Will

    www. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstruse

    Definition of ABSTRUSE : difficult to comprehend : recondite

    Example of ABSTRUSE : I find questions about the definition of the word “abstruse” to be very abstruse. 😀

  • Yas

    In my experiences, many christians I’ve spoken to speak and/or preach from a position of privilege (there are numerous types of privileges so I won’t begin to list those). I come from a home where I was severely abused for 10 years. I’m sure there are many individuals on this site that can relate though it is extremely rare when someone tells me they were physically and/or sexually abused in their lifetime. In 1997, my mother nearly strangled me to death and my younger brother had to forcefully remove her from me. My mother was and remains an extremely bitter/angry woman (that is an understatement) because she didn’t have the marriage she wanted. She’s told me many times, “I should have aborted you,” and followed these degrading statements with random beatings if I missed the bus, if I she caught me sleeping after I came home from school, etc. The beatings, whipping and head beatings (she would take my hair and repeatedly bang my head onto the living room wall in her home ) would many times leave me without much breath. My older brother would sometimes get me a paper bag and literally repeat many times “calm down and breathe” because my body was so tormented by pain that crying and breathing at the same time was unbearable. I won’t go into the deets of sexual abuse.

    So, as someone who loves Christ, I can personally say that doing love unto someone or loving someone who I normally would prefer to curse out and hate, remain angry with for the rest of my life, or equally beat them as they beat me, or throw them unto oncoming traffic in the hopes they die and are not able to exert physical violence on me, is not at all a facile task. One more time, loving someone or doing love unto someone who almost killed you with their bare hands is e x t r e m e l y difficult.

    The odd thing is, the only reason I believe in Christ is because he knows what it feels like to be me, though I can say with the utmost of confidence that he suffered more than I ever will in this life. That actually brings me comfort and the fact that he was willing to forgive a murderer seriously challenges me to “count the costs” of following him. Counting the costs for me means that I have to somehow (perhaps through supernatural strength) love my mother, and the gentleman who randomly killed my uncle due to his pigment before calling him a n*gger (only a few years ago). If one of my friends who is self-identifiedqueer were ever murdered because of their orientation, I would somehow have to figure out how to love or do love towards her murderer. I’m not sure when I will be able to genuinely love or do love towards my mother or the man who killed my uncle, but I pray that it will happen before I die. My maternal side is Jewish and I won’t even go into the stories for my aunt regarding her folks in the camps. I know a couple of older folks who survived the brutalities of the civil rights movement and I can tell you by hearing their stories how hard it truly is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” When government-sanctioned crime/prejudice/hatred is in the picture, loving someone is another ballgame. I’m sure children all over the world who were systematically rape would also say it’s difficult to love their rapists.

    How does one do love or love an individual who is more than just the annoying neighbor – who is a rapist, a murderer, an abuser? Suggestions?

  • charles m

    John, can you sticky this OP on your FB page- it is such a title wave of winning that it deserves it.

    the comments, perhaps not so much….

  • Blake

    How does one do love or love an individual who is more than just the annoying neighbor – who is a rapist, a murderer, an abuser? Suggestions?

    Sometimes we can’t reach the ideal love God asks of us. Sometimes we feel like we can’t. Regardless, we shouldn’t stop trying.

  • That Guy

    Honestly this is something I struggle with as well, since I have so much built up anger at a good few people and it’s just hard to not hate them, especially when they show no remorse.

    Hate one of many Egypts that we need to make an exodus from.

    I must say though, while I do struggle with it still, I have came across a few ways of looking at things that help me greatly and make it feel possible.

    Firstly, I remember that Jesus died on the cross for everyone. You will never look a person in the eyes and see someone who Jesus didn’t die for. It’s part of the bigger topic of remember that God loves you unconditionally, and then working to be a conduit of that kind of catastrophic love.

    Secondly, see that everyone is a beautiful person.

    Now I know that you are probably starting to list off in your head all of the people who you don’t see as possibly being able to be beautiful, but there is a different way to look at people.

    I used to always look at people as being either bad or good, but a few years ago I was introduced to a new prospective.

    I think this video gets to the heart of the idea in many ways: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhfUzodLRvk

    If we view everyone as having the holy, beautiful person God made them to be deep down inside them then no matter how ugly they seem, we can see them as still having beauty within in the same way that a beautiful sculpture is already within the medium being it is revealed through cutting or chiseling.

    If we start looking at people as God’s sculptures in progress, I think that we can start to love them for who they are, even when we hate (and very often rightfully so) how they currently are in many aspects (and for some just down right every aspect).

    And on one last note, remember that we all are broken.

    People often do horrible things because of their own suffering. Fear and hurt are big drivers in what we do as human beings. It certainly doesn’t justify any actions, but it makes some people more understandable.

    God bless.

    Thank you for your great question!

    You are in my prayers ^.^

  • Al

    Considering the mean-spirited dirty deed the hypocrites of North Carolina did yesterday, this blog is curiously relevant. It’s hard to love my neighbours when they so shamelessly and so ignorantly have judged that my kind of love is unworthy of either God’s approval or their acceptance. And yet, in my heart of hearts, I feel the power of love and know that love is, in the end, the only hope for healing that any of us have.

    In time, I believe that the Great Commandment, can’t help but lead to equal rights for gays and lesbians. And who knows, if we really got it right, we could so change the world that it might become the earthly paradise it has always had the potential to be. I’m guessing that’s what Christ intended when he spoke it, anyway.

  • Michelle Par

    My pastor’s wife (really a copastor at our church, although she doesn’t call herself that) was leading a Bible study a few years ago and we were discussing the 10 Commandments. She said that 5 of them lay out our relationship with God, and the other 5 lay out our relationship with other people. Therefore, Love God is the summary and basis of the 5 commandments that talk about our relationship with God, and Love Your Neighbor is the summary and basis of the 5 commandments that talk about our relationship with other people.

    So it seems that by following these two commandments only, one would be naturally following all of them. Doesn’t seem like a problem of what to pay attention to, to me.

  • Michelle Par

    Those of us who work nights aren’t up by 8 am.

  • John Stefanyszyn

    The 2 Great Commandments…which version do you LIVE by?

    Jesus said:

    …You are to love and serve the One and Only True Creator God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

    Man says:

    …I will love and serve myself first and foremost with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength…for I desire to be free to establish “good and evil “ in my own eyes, and I will worship the “religious god” that I choose…for I have established that it is right to be free to worship any god.

    Jesus said:

    …You shall do GOOD (in the righteousness of the One Creator) to your neighbor.

    Man says:

    …I shall do good to my neighbor as it benefits me for I am not my brother’s keeper but I serve and magnify myself (XES) first and foremost.

  • Steve

    Or better, let God love you; once you do that, it becomes easier to love God.

  • Barbara Heller

    John, I’ve always said it’s three parts, not two — but now you’ve gone and made me change my mind. Again. You’re absolutely right that feeling God’s love is another very important aspect of this commandment. For my part, I’ve always felt that “as yourself” is also an extremely important and mostly overlooked aspect of this commandment, so I’ve always counted it as the third step. I think that a whole lot of people get hung up on that part of the commandment: Love yourself. The degree to which you can love God or your neighbors, or feel God’s love, is limited by the degree to which you love yourself. Four steps?

  • Barbara Heller

    Recondite is an awesome word…. 🙂

  • Ngakau V Serevantez

    Just three steps.

    Love God. Worship Him only. Love others.

    To love yourself is a selfish act. To loves others before yourself is an selfless act.

    The love for yourself will fall naturally as a wife submits to her husband in all matters naturally because of how the husbands treats her wife. It is a moral act of God to love your wife unconditionally so to see the face of our God.

    The more give to God and others the more you will gain the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom in this matter.

    God Bless