Free to love another

Loud pop music greeted us as we entered a small Irish pub in downtown Washington, D. C. Four women were on the seek for some good food and a place to enjoy time with one another. It seemed oddly fitting for us to choose exactly this location as a diverse group of women, who found friendship through a shared passion – the passion to proclaim the commandment to love neighbor and self in a public way as Jesus had asked his disciples.

The doctorate „Public Engagement“ at the Wesley Theological Seminar (Washington, D.C.) had made our lives paths cross in an unexpected way. Maybe without Gods providence we would have never met one another. The communities we come from are very different and even if it hurts, to write this, in the United States these „social bubbles“ might not interact as eagerly as one might wish.

But God has provided us a beautiful friendship, binding together in love and respect a Korean-American Methodist Minister, a African-American Church of Nazarene Minister, a Latina-American Methodist Minister, and a German Lutheran Pastor. It is this friendship that was formed early on in the course, which gave me the greatest lesson I could ever learn: that we are free to love another. We don’t need to stretch ourselves out of shape in order to love the other person, but if I accept my neighbor in his neighborliness I am able to find myself as a human being God the creator has made. By hearing their story, sharing our lives with one another, crying, celebrating, and just being there for one another. It is such a gift and privilege, because I can be, who I am. A German Lutheran, who carries the burden of the troublesome German past, and tries in her humanly ways to influence the the present and future driven by Gods love.

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It is in Howard Thurman I have found an exceptional theologian and mystic, who was able to put the experience I am making into beautiful words (please note that when he writes about male, I am freely contacting female as well!):

„The religious experience as I have known it seems to swing wide the door, not merely into Life but into lives. I am confident that my own call to the religious vocation cannot be separated from slowly emerging disclosure that my religious experience makes it possible for me to experience myself as a human being and thus keep a very real psychological distance between myself and the hostilities of my environment. Through the years it has driven me more and more to seek to make as a normal part of my relations with men the experiencing of them as human beings. When this happens love has essential materials with which to work. And contrary to the general religious teaching, men would not need to stretch themselves out of shape in order to love. On the contrary, a man comes into possession of himself more completely when he is free to love another.“

(Howard Thurman, The Luminous Darkness, New York 1965, p. 111.)

„Message in a book“

Soft and mild wind helped to ease the hot summer air. I was sitting on our patio listening to the song of cicadas as I opened my newest book purchase: A 40-Day Journey with Howard Thurman. With the school break and business slowing down even in New York it was the perfect time to start a spiritual journey.

There could have not been a better person than Howard Thurman to start with as a guide. Since a few months studying as a German Lutheran at Wesley Theological Seminary for my D. Min. I am increasingly emerged into the complexity of Racism and White Supremacy in the United States. A problem, which I growing up in Germany was not aware in its depth and brutality. Thurman, as I quickly discovered, offers a way to combine faith and social action, religion and politics by giving examples from his own upbringing and situation in a deeply divided south.

As I opened the first page of the "used book in good condition", as the seller had described it, a small handwritten note fell into my lap. This was not a "message in a bottle", but a "message in a book", that was carried to me on the waves of transport through the American Postal Service.

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With awe I read the anonymous penciled down message. The handwriting flowing over the page as if the words were spilled deeply out of a broken heart:

"When I dropped out of college, for weeks I didn't tell my parents. I just would be told I was a failure. I didn't want to disappoint my parents, my grandparents and my extended family. I don't recall calling on God to help me through this dark time. I probably felt I deserved all of it. Feelings and guilt and shame for not trying harder and sticking with it. I had quickly shed my faith after leaving home for college and avoided asking for guidance and help from God. I had better things to do than pray, " The last word was erased. Then my contact to the anonymous writer broke off completely.

My heart immediately burned for this stranger, who had experienced so much troubles. Was he able to make his way into a better and positive life? And more importantly: Was he able to find his way back into Gods loving arms? I would never know.

As our brief journey ended with the last hastily pencilled word, mine would just begin. The writings of Thurman I read up to now are an eye opener to understand the brutal make-up of a country I love since childhood. A country deeper divided by racism and skin color than I ever could imagine in my deepest nightmares. As I go on a 40-Day journey with Thurman to discover faith and love beyond color and race, my prayers will accompany the writer of this message in my book. May God show him the beauty in his broken-made-beautiful life.