I wanna be loved by you
In the midst of a health pandemic and worldwide protests against racism, Baptist minister Tony Ashley reflects on what God could be possibly saying to us about these very fragile and uncertain times
Our world has dramatically changed and the adjective ‘unprecedented’ is now a common by-word amongst all. Unsurprisingly, through social media and other platforms, spiritual ‘fake news’ - outlandish prophecies and predictions that seem almost plausible to the unsuspecting recipient who is filled with the fear of the unknown – is rife. Is this the end of the world? Is God punishing us? Where is God? Is there a God? Why doesn’t He do something? If we are honest with ourselves, we can admit to asking one or more of these questions.
For those who are from the BAME community, Covid-19 has relentlessly targeted this particular social group; and yet BAME’s have also been dealing with racial shortcomings and the pain and grief which have been kept in the closet for as long as possible. As offensive as it may sound, could there be a simile between Covid-19 and 400 years of racial oppression?
For most, our minds are flooded with frantic questions as we do our utmost to navigate through the ordeal of the Covid-19 pandemic with hundreds of thousands succumbing to this disease and billions reeling from the side effects. It is fair to say that no one is exempt, and recovery will be nothing less than a long and arduous road ahead.
Added to this mix, we have been psychologically, spiritually, morally and sociologically challenged after witnessing the life of George Floyd being intentionally and without remorse extinguished by a police officer in the US. This has ignited worldwide protests against racism through various forms and means whilst people of colour identified with his literal and symbolic plea: “I can’t breathe”; it has compacted altogether with white brothers and sisters finding themselves awakened by the sounds of muffled and deafening silence of historical and everyday accounts of racial injustice that their counterparts have endured. The road of repentance and forgiveness is a marathon that must be run.
These are only two tips of the ‘socio-iceberg’. As world leaders and governments bravely attempt to deal with a plethora of global and local issues which can only be described as both a melting and boiling pot; the Church has been called into action and entrusted with the challenging task of serving its members and communities creatively and holistically within all the constraints imposed due to Covid-19. Church leaders and members have had the privilege and yet onerous task of coping and adapting with the ever-changing demands and expectations of ‘unprecedented’ ministry.
Undoubtedly, we have raised many questions during our private and collective reflections about life, God and purpose as we see a surge in many trying to make sense of reality and our own mortality bubbling up to our spiritual surface. The old adage ‘tomorrow is not promised’ stares everyone nakedly in the face, leaving us confronted as we do our utmost to appear brave and courageous. Many of us are mourning and will be mourning for a long time following the unexpected loss of our loved ones. Our grief is compounded by the removal of traditional practices of saying farewell to our departed loved-ones with isolation adding to the weight that has to be borne.
Amidst all our frustrations, worries, disillusions, justifications and anything else we care to add to the list; what could God be possibly be saying to us about these very fragile and uncertain times? Is there something that we can learn from Him and this simile? Certainly, but I assert that this is not a moment of epiphany and clearly nothing new. Maybe God is revealing to us the relevancy and importance of the greatest commandment, which is to love. Think about it. Love and compassion have been evident in both situations more than we have known in our lifetime. Those words that Jesus spoke in Matthew 22:37-40 still reverberate profoundly today:
“'…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
We may not think that this is what we need to learn, let alone hear at such a time as this. We may desire a simpler remedy to our world’s complex situation that is immediate and easy to explain to non-Christians. However, the greatest commandment to actively demonstrate God’s agape love is our greatest challenge for as long as we all shall live. Surely, love is supposed to encompass everything we as Christians live and breathe. Admittedly, this is work in progress and we are still under construction in many areas.
The greatest commandment applies to both of these life-changing situations. We demonstrate ‘loving God’ by being led by the Holy Spirit as Christ’s disciples and we demonstrate ‘loving our neighbours’ by not just showing tolerance; but by submitting to full acceptance and companionship with all we come in contact with regardless of gender, language, race, class, age and culture. Our very own Baptists Together ‘culture values’ supply us with a solid foundational structure for practical application on loving God and our neighbours. Hopefully this is not mere rhetoric but the very thing we do to demonstrate who we are as a body of Christ. Simply put, we all need God and we all need each other.
It should be noted that there has been an unprecedented amount of love and solidarity demonstrated throughout this pandemic. Amazingly, the same can be said about the campaign against racism. Be it short lived or long lasting, we have the opportunity to learn about the fruits of our labour in loving each other and God during dire situations. Is it truly possible that God is teaching us the power of His love in an era that will be etched into this world’s unforgotten history? Is it possible that we are beginning to harness the power of love to embrace our community and world? One thing is for sure, God’s love does give us a peace that goes way beyond our understanding. Maybe that is why so many new people have embarked on the road to Christianity recently. Not only have they experienced God’s love… they have experienced yours.
Tony Ashley is the minister at Stoke Newington Baptist Church in North London and an accredited Pastoral Supervisor
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This reflection appears in the Autumn 2020 edition of Baptists Together magazine