You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other! (Galatians 5:13-15, Common English Bible)
Three or four years ago I was talking with a man and we were discussing the attitude of people in our country. It was a lengthy discussion about how we seem to have lost compassion and empathy. Our conversation was all about how we treat each other.
As we had our conversation I said, “The problem is 9/11. Ever since the terrorist attacks we have become a society that doesn’t trust each other. Since that happened I am not sure how we ever get back to where we were. We need to get back so that we care about each other again. We need to be about more than ourselves.”
My friend said, “Keith you are wrong. It all started before 9/11 and it is simpler than one particular day.”
“OK,” I replied back. “Are you going to enlighten me or leave me uninformed and guessing. It needs to be good because I am not convinced by what you have said so far.”
He pointed up at the ceiling but said nothing. I replied back, “What? Are you thinking the problem is sheet rock? Attic space? Or is it the roof? You are crazy. Those things are not the problem.
He looked at me, shook his head, and said, “No, not the ceiling or the roof or the attic. I was pointing at the AC vent. It’s air conditioning.” He saw me making a face and replied, “I mean it. The problem is air conditioning.”
“Air conditioning? That makes no more sense than ceiling or the roof. How did you ever come up with that idea?”
He went on to explain that before air conditioning, it was too hot to stay inside, so we sat out on the porch or went over to the fence and talked across the fence to our neighbors. We got to know people. Because we talked more, when someone needed help we jumped in and helped.
He continued explaining that since air conditioning is part of just about everyone’s home, it is cooler inside than outside so we don’t go outside anymore and we don’t get to know our neighbors. Since we don’t know our neighbors we are far less likely to help because we often never know they needed help at all.
As he talked my mind started considering what he was saying and wandering a bit. While I am still not convinced that air conditioning is the problem, at least not the whole problem, he does have a point. From the time I was about four years old, through junior high, I lived in Southwest Houston. When we moved in the house had no air conditioning. We did have an attic fan. That helped but it wasn’t air conditioning. My friend was right. We spent a great deal more time outside. We knew all the neighbors around us. We were involved in one another’s lives. When window unit air conditioners became part of our house, first in the family room and then my parent’s bedroom, I would guess we did stay inside more often though I really have to think about it because we already knew our neighbors.
When I began high school, we moved to Pasadena (for those of you who don’t know Pasadena, Texas it is a suburban city southeast of Houston). We moved into a house with central air conditioning. We didn’t know any of our neighbors, at least not the ones who were there when we moved in. Later the house next door sold and we did get to know those neighbors a bit, but it was nothing like the old southwest Houston neighborhood.
Today, I do know many of the people in our condominium complex. And I do know, all the ones who are my neighbors, at least some. Since all these units are air conditioned I am not sure how my friend would explain that.
What I do know is this, in our lesson today, Paul reminds the church at Galatia of the importance of loving neighbor. Then he goes a step further and it is a lesson Americans today would do well to heed. “But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other!“
I fear we are there. We continue to bite and snap at each other. It was not that long ago when the public and political discourse in the United States was much different than it is today. We may not have always agreed but we could at least find ways to behave civilly to one another. Our leaders may not have always agreed but they found ways to move past the differences to find compromise and work together for the good of the city, the state, or the country.
Today not only do our politicians not get along, we seem to find little room for tolerance for people who hold different political views than we hold personally. If we support one side, these days, the other side is wrong and we cannot budge off of our own positions to find common ground. And, I would argue, if we could find ways to talk, we would find more common ground than there are differences.
I am also seeing problems moving from our politics and secular society into areas of faith. In many cases we do exactly what Paul warned against in our lesson. And, the more we bicker with one another, the more the Church seems to become more and more irrelevant to the secular world. We are biting one another and it is causing us to eat each other up.
I pray that somehow, we will find ways of moving past these difficulties. We all need each other. What makes America great could be argued and has been for the foreseeable future. I have my ideas and others have there own. I don’t know if air conditioning is one of those things or not.
I do know what makes the Church great, or what we need to do to make it great again. Paul says it in our lesson and Jesus says it too. “Love one another.” Until we find ways to demonstrate our love for one another, we will never be great, air conditioning or not.
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved