No God But You and Me

This sermon was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at First Unitarian Church in New Bedford. As usual, the sermon below is a reading text. The actual sermon as preached contained ad libs, interjections, and other improvisation. Sermon copyright (c) 2006 Daniel Harper.

Readings

The first reading is from Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America, by James Turner.

“On an autumnal day in 1869, Charles Eliot Norton sat down in his Swiss resort to write to his friend and confidant John Ruskin. Norton moved with ease among the most eminent writers of England and America. Son of the distinguished Unitarian theologian Andrews Norton, he had helped to found the magazine Nation and had recently retired as editor of the North American Review. He counted among his intimates James Russell Lowell, Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Frederick Law Olmsted, and shared friendships as well with such men as Charles Darwin, John Stuart Mill, Charles Dickens, Louis Agassiz, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Few men were as well positioned to register the early tremors of any slippage in the primordial strata of Anglo-American culture.

” ‘There is a matter on which I have been thinking much of late,’ he confessed to Ruskin. ‘It does not seem to me that the evidence concerning the being of a God, and concerning immortality, is such as to enable us to assert anything in regard to either of these topics.’ As he tried to sort out the implications of his loss of faith, Norton wondered, ‘What education in these matters ought I to give my children?… It is in some respects a new experiment.’

“It was in many respects a new experiment. For over a thousand years Europeans had assumed the existence of God. Their faith might be orthodox or heretical, simple or complex, easy or troubled — and for serious, thoughtful people, it was very often troubled, complex, even heretical. Yet failing to believe somehow in some sort of deity was not merely rare; it was a bizarre aberration. Then, in Norton’s generation, thousands, eventually millions of Europeans and Americans began to abandon their belief in God. Before about the middle of the nineteenth century, atheism or agnosticism seemed almost palpably absurd; shortly afterward unbelief emerged as an option fully available within the general contours of Western culture, a plausible alternative to the still dominant theism.” [pp. 1 ff.]

The second reading is from the Christian scriptures, Matthew 12.28. In this passage, the radical Jesus has gone to Jerusalem, and has already upset the authorities.

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall 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, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ — this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

So end this morning’s readings.

SERMON — “No God but You and Me”

Just to warn you: this is the first in an occasional series of sermons this year on Unitarian Universalist beliefs about God.

Growing up as I did, a Unitarian Universalist in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the dominant religious influence in my life was religious humanism — or, as some people prefer to term it, religious atheism — the religious position that says that there is no God, no divine power of any kind, nothing supernatural about the world. I grew up in a church where most of the church members did not believe in God. Even though our minister at the time was an avowed Unitarian Christian, to the best of my recollection he never tried to impose his particular understanding of God on the congregation — not that it has ever been possible to impose such understandings on Unitarian Universalists.

Not that I had all that much to do with the minister of the church. As a child, my church experience was mostly shaped by Sunday school classes, by adults who were friendly to me, by children’s chapel, and, later on, by youth group. We learned about God in Sunday school, to be sure. We were even given Bibles when we got to fifth grade. We had no pictures on the walls of the Sunday school classrooms that supposedly represented God. If we wanted to believe in God, that was fine; and if we didn’t want to believe in God, that was fine, too.

When I was older and a part of the church youth group, we talked about all kinds of things, including God and whether or not each of us believed in God. Our youth advisor was the assistant minister of the church, and as it happened he did believe in God. (In fact, he later left Unitarian Universalism and became a minister in the United Church of Christ, although he later told me the reason he switched denominations had nothing to do with theology and everything to do with the fact that the United Church of Christ was more active in prison, which struck me as a very Unitarian Universalist sort of attitude.) The discussion from my youth group days that I remember most vividly had nothing to do with God; it was a discussion of Zen Buddhism, and ko-ans, and satori or enlightenment. When I was in youth group, I was much more interested in understanding what it meant to achieve enlightenment, than I was in arguing over God’s alleged nature or existence.

I tell you all this by way of an excuse. The end result of my upbringing is that I’m not particularly interested in arguments about whether or not God exists. When someone tells me that she doesn’t believe in God, I’m likely to respond, What are the characteristics of the God in which you do not believe? When someone tells me that he does believe in God, I’m likely to respond in much the same way, What are the characteristics of the God in which you do believe? In asking these questions, I have found that there are nearly as many descriptions of the characteristics of God, as there are believers and non-believers combined. That doesn’t make me any more or less likely to believe in God myself, but it does make me far less likely to argue with someone over the existence or non-existence of God, because more often than not the person you argue with is arguing about a different God than you are arguing about. Such arguments seem fruitless to me. Such arguments seem like a kind of idolatry, where idolatry means attributing too much importance to something, an importance far beyond its actual worth.

Now I’ve made my excuses about why I’m not particularly interested in arguing with you about whether or not God exists. Yet I remain very interested in the way different beliefs about God affect how people act in the world. And I suspect that my indifference to arguments about God’s existence, and my interest in how beliefs affect people’s actions, has very much to do with the fact that I was surrounded by humanists and atheists when I was a child. The humanists and atheists I knew didn’t give two hoots about what you believed, but they cared a great deal about what you did. And the humanists and atheists I knew were staunchly opposed to idolatry in any form; they taught me that action is always more important than belief.

The Unitarian Universalist humanists I have known have all cared deeply about what people do with their lives. I have a theory about why this is so. As Unitarian Universalists, we are heirs to the great traditional of liberal Western Christianity. The liberal Christian tradition in the West has emphasized one teaching above all others. Other Christians have emphasized the mysteries of the Trinity, or the rules by which Christians are supposed to live, or they have emphasized the final fate of humanity, or humanity’s sinfulness, or fear of a vengeful God, or the liberating power of a God who’s on your side, or Jesus as Lord and Savior, or one of many other aspects of Christianity. But liberal Christians have emphasized one simple teaching, summed up in the words of Jesus that we heard in the second reading: “The first [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall 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, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Those of you who are particularly observant will have noticed that Jesus says a few different things in this passage. First, being a good observant Jew, Jesus recites the Shema Yisrael: “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad” — and forgive my bad pronunciation of the Hebrew. “Shema Yisrael,” which means: Hear O Israel; “Adonai,” a word we translate as “Lord” and which is substituted because it is improper to say the true, proper name of God aloud; “Eloheinu” meaning roughly “our god,” as long as you remember that this isn’t a name of God; “Echad,” which tells us that God is one, or that Jesus pays homage to God alone. This prayer formula, which comes from the book of Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4, is something Jesus would probably have said each and every day when he prayed.

Then Jesus adds the next verses from Deuteronomy, as was likely done by Jews in his time as it is by Jews in our time. In Deuteronomy, the story is told that God says to Moses: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Jesus knew this old story about Moses. So after repeating the Shema, that’s what Jesus says next: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

This is the first of two great commandments that liberal Christianity inherited from Jesus, who inherited it from Moses and the ancient writers of the book of Deuteronomy. When certain Unitarian Universalists chose no longer to believe in the God of Moses, or the God of Jesus, then as inheritors of this tradition, they were left with the second great commandment of Jesus, to wit: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This second great commandment also comes from the books about Moses, this time to the book of Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 18. In this part of Leviticus, God is speaking to Moses, giving rules for good and moral conduct, and God says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am [Adonai].” Or, as Everett Fox more dramatically translates it, “You are not to take-vengeance, you are not to retain-anger… but be-loving to your neighbor (as one) like yourself: I am [Adonai].”

Remove God from liberal Christianity, and what is left is this second commandment, this powerful moral injunction: Love your neighbor as yourself. Do not take vengeance, do not retain anger: be loving towards your neighbor who is another human being like yourself. And this has proven to be an adequate foundation on which to build religious humanism in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. Indeed, this has proven to be an adequate common ground for Unitarian Universalism as a whole to maintain its integrity as a coherent religious tradition, in spite of the fact that we differ widely in our views of the divine. The liberal Christians among us still repeat the other parts of Jesus’s dictum, that God is one and to love God with all your heart, etc.; and they say, love your neighbor as yourself. The Jews among us might still affirm that passage from Deuteronomy (or they might not); and they say, love your neighbor as one like yourself. The Pagans among us might pay homage to the Goddess, and they would say treat other beings with the respect you yourself are due. The humanists among us see no need for any gods or goddesses, and they affirm that we must love one another as we would ourselves be loved.

I sometimes think that could more difficult to be a humanist and not believe in God, than to be someone who believes in a God or gods or goddesses. If the universe does not include some sort of benevolent higher power, perhaps it is harder to maintain one’s faith in the goodness of the universe, and particularly the goodness of human beings. For if there is no higher power, if it’s just you and me, then who are we to blame for evil? Love other people as we would love ourselves — those are fine words to say, but in a world filled with evil, it may be hard to live those words into reality. Ours is a world in which some people torture other people; when I read the horror stories of what torturers do to fellow human beings, I find it difficult or impossible to love those torturers as my neighbor. Whereas perhaps if there is a god or goddess, he or she or it would perhaps be able to love even torturers. Or what about people who engage in genocide? –how am I supposed to love them? If there is no higher power, if it’s just you and me, then you know who we must blame for evil — we must blame humanity, we must blame ourselves.

So we come to one of the great teachings of the humanists. The humanists have taught us that we must take full responsibility for our own actions. We cannot blame evil on God, or on the devil, or on mischievous spirits. We human beings have to take responsibility for evil, because ultimately evil is caused by us human beings.

The great gift that we all have received from the humanists, from the atheists, is a great big mirror. Instead of looking up at some abstract heaven for answers, the humanists have taught us all that we should look in a mirror first, and ask ourselves for the answers. That also means looking in the mirror and seeing our own limitations. We are limited beings; we don’t have all the answers. Even if you believe in God, or in goddesses and gods, or in some kind of higher power, you must learn how to know yourself; and next you must learn how to love yourself; and you must also learn how to love your neighbor as yourself. All this comes from the great gift that humanists have given to all of us.

I said earlier that the humanists and atheists I knew were staunchly opposed to idolatry in any form; where idolatry means attributing too much importance to something, an importance far beyond its actual worth. It is fine if you are someone who finds God indispensable to your understanding of the universe; I know that I cannot understand the universe without some sort of higher transcendent power. It’s fine if you are a theist who believes in God, but religious humanism teaches us that to love your neighbor as yourself is of first importance; actions are more important than beliefs; what you do with your beliefs is far more important than the niggling little details of whatever beliefs you might have.

Jesus reduced his religion to two great commandments, but the second is greater than the first. Yes, you should love your God (or goddess, or the universe) with all your heart, mind, and being. But then, love your neighbor as yourself. The first commandment cannot be complete without the second commandment. If you believe in God, the only way to prove that you truly are a believer is to love your neighbor as yourself. If you are a humanist, and you believe that there is no God but you and me, you still show your devotion in the same way: by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Two Commandments

This sermon was preached by Rev. Dan Harper. As usual, the sermon below is a reading text. The actual sermon as preached contained ad libs, interjections, and other improvisation. Sermon and story copyright (c) 2006 Daniel Harper.

Readings

The reading this morning is from the Christian scriptures, the book attributed to Mark, chapter 12, vv. 28-34.

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ — this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Story for All Ages

One day, Jesus (and remember, Jesus was Jewish) Jesus was talking to a lawyer about the laws the Jews received from their God. Jesus asked the lawyer, “How do you understand what is written in our religious laws?”

“That’s easy,” replied the lawyer. “We are supposed to love our God with all our hearts and minds; and we are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

“Do you really believe this?” said Jesus.

“Yes,” said the lawyer. “But I have a question. I’m supposed to love my neighbor as much as I love myself. But who is my neighbor?”

To answer this question, Jesus told this story:

*****

One day, a man from Jerusalem was going from Jerusalem down to the city of Jericho. On the road, the man was ambushed by robbers. The robbers beat him up, took all his money, and even took most of his clothing. The robbers left the poor man, bruised and unable to move, lying by the side of the road.

Now by coincidence, just a little later a priest from the great Temple at Jerusalem was going down the same road. The priests were very important religious leaders, sort of like super-ministers. The priest saw the man lying there, but instead of stopping to help him, the priest looked the other way and hurried on by.

A little later, a Levite came down the same road. Levites were the official helpers of the priests of the great Temple at Jerusalem, and only a little less important. Like the priest, the Levite took one look at the poor man lying by the side of the road, looked the other way, and hurried on by.

A little later, a man from Samaria came walking along the road. Now people from Jerusalem and people from Samaria did not like each other, and when the poor bruised man from Jerusalem saw a this Samaritan walking along, he was sure the Samaritan would walk on past him just like the priest and the Levite.

But this Samaritan was moved to pity at the sight of the poor man lying by the side of the road. The Samaritan went up to him, bandaged his wounds, and poured healing oil on his wounds.

Then the Samaritan hoisted the poor man onto his donkey, brought the poor man to an inn, and looked after him. The next day, the Samaritan went to the innkeeper with some silver coins and said, “Look after that poor man until he gets better. On my way back, I’ll make sure to pay you back if there’s any extra expense.”

SERMON — “Two Commandments”

The first reading this morning tells a story about the itinerant teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, and about some people who were asking questions about their religious tradition. The reading ended with the words, “After that, no one dared ask him any question.” Obviously, there were no Unitarian Universalists in the group listening to Jesus of Nazareth, because this story only raises more questions for us. Lots and lots of questions. Like, when the scribe responds to Jesus, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other'” — and Jesus agrees with the scribe — well, doesn’t this mean that Jesus is not God? And what does Jesus mean when he says back to the scribe, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” — does that mean the Kingdom of God is actually here and now and we can each attain it in this lifetime? I also want to know who this anonymous scribe is, because it sounds like this scribe is just as wise as Jesus.

For us Unitarian Universalists, this little story in the Bible raises more questions than it answers. We can only wish that there had been someone like us in that crowd listening to Jesus, someone who was willing to stick out her neck and say, Wait a minute, Jesus, just what do you mean that the two greatest commandments are ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ — and — ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’?

But you know what? There’s nothing to keep us from asking these questions. So let’s do it.

I’d like to start with that second commandment, the one that says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I want to start with that statement, because it is a statement made famous by Martin Luther King, Jr., who asked us: Who is our neighbor? and who asked us: Does it matter what color skin your neighbor has? and who asked American Christians, If you really believe the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, don’t you think it would be wise to pay attention to the story of the Good Samaritan? Since today is Martin Luther King’s birthday, it seems especially fitting that we ask questions about this matter of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

So here’s a question: if we are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, in what way are we supposed to love ourselves? The more I think about this business of loving our neighbors, the more important it seems to think about what it means to love our neighbors the way we love ourselves. I know some people who, quite frankly, hate themselves; and if they were to take literally the commandment to love their neighbors in the same way they love themselves, I personally would not want to be their neighbor. Then, on the other hand, I know other people who love themselves with all their hearts and all their minds and all their strength; I find it somehow unlikely that they can find room in their souls to love their neighbors as they love themselves, for they love themselves with an all-consuming love that allows for competing loves. It’s tempting to think that Jesus was a sort of first century Dr. Phil, and he’s implying that we have to love ourselves in a psychologically healthy way. It’s a sort of Goldilocks way to love yourself: not too much, and not too little, but just right.

We ask that one question, “In what way are we supposed to love ourselves?” which leads us to another question: if the people of Israel were commanded to love their God with all their hearts and all their souls and all their minds and all their strength, how does that leave any love left over to love yourself, or for that matter to love your neighbor? This does not make sense; and suddenly we find ourselves in a realm of mythic and poetical thinking. This story from the Bible is not offering logical, linear checklists for your behavior: number one, love God, check; number two, love self appropriately but not too much, check; number three, love neighbor as love self, check; checklist completed, I must be a good person. That’s not the way this story works; the Bible is a book of stories that do not necessarily make logical sense, because they are written in the mythic poetical vein.

Instead of asking logical, rational questions of this story, let’s retell the story and see what we can get out of it:

The story goes like this: that itinerant rabbi and teacher named Jesus of Nazareth has bee traveling all through the countryside around Jerusalem. At last, he decides to go into Jerusalem itself, Jerusalem the seat of Roman power in Judea, Jerusalem of the great Temple the seat of religious power for the land of Judea. Jesus goes to the Temple, and finds himself debating with representatives of the religiously powerful: Pharisees, Herodians, Sadduccees, and so on. As Jesus is debating, a scribe, that is, someone who is part of the religious hierarchy, overhears them disputing with one another. The scribe is impressed with the answers Jesus gives, and so asks Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” What an interesting question to ask! because you could answer in one of two ways: you could cite the ten commandments of Moses and say there is not one commandment there are ten we must follow; or you could understand the question to really mean, what lies at the very heart of the religion shared by Jesus and the scribe. What an interesting question to ask, as we witness legalistic debates in our own day about what Jesus’s teachings mean, and about whether it is legal to engrave the Ten Commandments in stone and place them in an Alabama courtroom.

Jesus does not give a legalistic answer to this question. Jesus gives a religious answer, citing the Hebrew Bible: “The first commandment is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one”; that is the first part of Jesus’s answer. Jesus continues his citation of the Hebrew Bible: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Then, still citing the Hebrew Bible, Jesus says there’s a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

While the other powerful religious personages had not liked Jesus’s answers, this anonymous scribe does like Jesus’s answers, replying, “You are right, Teacher [note that he acknowledges Jesus as a Teacher]; you have truly said that our shared God is one, and besides him there is no other’; you have truly said that we are ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and finally you have truly said that we are ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself.” Then the scribe makes one last comment that is really quite radical: these things, that God is one, to love God, to love one’s neighbor, “this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”; that is, these things are more important than doing the conventionally religious actions of that time, of offering animal sacrifices at the Temple.

To close out this funny little story, Jesus makes one last remark that reminds me of something a Zen master might say. You know how Zen masters are delighted when someone comes along who is just as enlightened as they are? In our story, Jesus is delighted that this scribe is just as enlightened as he, Jesus, is. Jesus answers the scribe as one equal addressing another, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”; saying, The two of us, we are not far from the Kingdom of God, we are both enlightened about the true nature of religion.

This story still speaks to us today. It speaks to us in spite of the fact that too many people want to make it into a legalistic, linear, non-poetical story. Too many people today focus on one little facet of the story, and those people say to us: You have to believe in God with all your heart and mind and soul. What they really mean, of course, it: You have to believe in our God, the way we define God, with all your heart and soul, and maybe you should leave your mind out of the equation so you don’t start asking difficult questions.

Heretic that I am, I’m going to ask a difficult question: when we hear this story, how are we to understand God? Are we to understand God as a being that requires animal sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem? –in other words, are we going to get a literal, logicalistic answer to this question? No, of course not. This is a mythic, poetical story. “God” in this story functions as a way for us to understand how we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. God represents that which is good, that which is best in the universe; God represents the essential oneness of the universe; God represents the love that ties our universe together. Jesus offers a statement that is like a Zen koan, that is, a statement that cannot be understood through regular logical thought. Jesus says, the universe is one; you are to love it with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength until there is nothing left of you for you are not separate from the universe, you are a part of it; you are a part of your neighbors and so you love them too with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength. Jesus is not making a rational argument here; instead, like so many of the great religious teachers, Jesus presents us with a mythic poetical truth; you have to know it in your body not understand just it in your mind.

I have to admit, I am not particularly comfortable with the mythic, poetical truth that Jesus throws at us. At the most basic level, I’m not sure I want to love all my neighbors; there are one or two people in this world for whom I harbor a certain amount of resentment and I’m not sure I want to let go of that resentment. And what about this notion that God is one, and I’m supposed to love this God notion with all my heart, et cetera, et cetera? Personally, I find that a little creepy, mostly because I have no interest in turning into a Jesus freak who puts bumper stickers on my car like, “God loves you,” and “Honk if you love Jesus.” Yech.

And therefore, I like to take the easy way out. I like to say: hey, Dr. King said we should love our neighbors like ourselves. I’m fine with that statement. I know part of that statement was addressed to me as a white guy, and Dr. King was telling me that I have to love all persons regardless of their skin color. OK, I can do that, I can stand up against racism, I can recognize the racism in my own heart and I am committed to eradicating it. So I’ll just understand “God” [in quotes] as a metaphor for the oneness of all people regardless of skin color. I’ll just understand loving my neighbor very abstractly and very narrowly, as treating everyone the same regardless of their skin color. That’s relatively easy; I can do that.

But that avoids the wholeness of poetical truth of this story. In the best Zen master fashion, Jesus has thrown something that cannot be encompassed by rational linear thought processes; Jesus has thrown something at us that stops me dead, something that I find impossible.

But as I think that it’s impossible, I realize that maybe nothing less is possible. As much as I’d like to cling to my resentment, to my hatred, I know there’s something bigger than me out there. That “something bigger” is what Jesus identifies with the God of the Israelites. Now if I were thinking linearly, I might think that I should take Jesus literally, and that I should start worshipping the God of the Israelites; but I cannot do that literally in the way that Jesus did; I cannot go to the great Temple in Jerusalem and offer animal sacrifices; I cannot think literally in that way.

When I hear those two commandments, in my heart I think of them in this way: to love the world in all its interconnected relationships with all my heart, mind, and soul; to see it as one interconnected wholeness of being; and to realize that in that interconnected wholeness of being somehow I must learn to love everything for everything is a oneness.

These two commandments are not two, but one great commandment for life, telling me, telling all of us, how to live in relationship through love. Love your friends and loved ones, yes. Love your neighbors, no matter what their skin color, no matter whether they are lying broken and bleeding in the gutter at the side of the road, yes. Love all living things, for that matter, the way you love yourself, yes.

Martin Luther King taught us about these two great commandments, just as prophets down through the ages have taught us the same thing. It’s up to us to live these commandments. And you know what? –if we manage to do that, we just might bring about a kind of heaven on earth.