In his book, “Our Endangered Values,” former President Jimmy Carter wrote about how, after losing the Governor’s race to Lester Maddox, he had a crisis of faith. (Some of you will remember Maddox, an avowed segregationist who threatened with a pickax handle any potential black customers who approached his restaurant in Atlanta for service.) After his loss to Maddox, Carter writes that his faith was shaken for the first time – his faith in himself, in other people, and in his religious beliefs.
His sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, a noted evangelist in those days, challenged him to set aside his political and business ambitions for a while and focus on his religious commitments. So, he did – he devoted himself to mission work, one of those missions leading him to Springfield, Massachusetts where his assignment was witnessing to Spanish-speaking families. Partnered with a Cuban-American pastor named Eloy Cruz, they visited the poorest of the poor. Soon it became obvious that Carter’s passing familiarity with Spanish wasn’t adequate to the task, so he spent a great deal of time in those humble homes, listening to Pastor Cruz.
Carter was often so deeply affected by Cruz’s words and his almost instant intimacy with the poor people whose homes they entered, that he had tears running down his cheeks. At the end of the mission, Carter asked Cruz what made him so gentle but effective as a Christian witness, and Cruz said, “Pues, nuestro Senor no puede hacer mucho con un hombre que es duro” (“Well, our Lord cannot do much with a man who is hard”). He went on to say that he tried to follow a simple rule: “You only need two loves in your life: for God, and for the person in front of you at any particular time.”
Last Sunday, Rev. Kerri Parker, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, reflected on the subject of gun violence by preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan and its emphasis on love of neighbor. With all the seemingly intractable problems we face, whether it be political division or gun violence in our schools, it’s easy to feel inadequate and powerless to the demands of the day. Perhaps then is the best time to take Pastor Cruz at his word. We don’t have to solve all the problems we face, but, in all situations, we are called to engage in two loves: for God, and for the one in front of us at any particular time.
Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides