Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
I am a bishop of two minds. In my best mind, I believe that we are the people that God needs us to be. In this mind, I believe that we see each other as gifts from God, of immense and unequaled value, regardless of race, ethnicity, economic level, or educational background. In this best and most positive mind, language is never a barrier, heritage and culture are valued, and we view each other as sacred siblings in the grand family of God. I would absolutely love to live with this mind.
But I know it is not the whole story. We are not always one in spirit, knowledge, and truth. We allow our differences to eclipse our strengths. We sometimes allow barriers of language, heritage, and culture to divide us. We set aside our reconciling and uniting faith to focus instead on those things which separate us. This is my other, troubled mind.
In short, we are human. At our most generous, we can do amazing things. We take wonderful care of each other, we make incredible sacrifices, we give beyond all expectation. This is when we do it well. But on any given day, we tend to look out only for our own personal needs. We see the stranger as competition at best, and as a threat at worst. We are so worried about our own needs and safety that we cannot even conceive of thinking about the safety and needs of others – and we don’t want to feel guilty about this, either. We make the world all about us individually, or about those few people closest to us. We don’t have anything against other people, we simply need to take care of our own.
But Jesus challenges this notion. Jesus teaches that everyone is “our own.” What we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to Jesus. Jesus does an amazing job of blurring the line between “us” and “them.” In Jesus’ view, there is only a singular “all of us.” I cannot withhold care, compassion, or concern from any other human being – my connection and responsibility rests with anyone with whom I come in contact.
Over the past few months, conversations have focused on who should be talking with whom, who is at the table and who is not, who is being heard, and who is left out. The very nature of this conversation shows that we still have a long way to go. All of us should be talking with – and listening to—all of us; especially white Americans should be listening to black and brown voices. Together we should be exploring and understanding our Asian immigrant voices. Without ample opportunity to listen, to understand, and to respond, we will simply see our tragic problems repeated over and over again. The realities of widespread racial inequality, anti-racial minority behaviors, white privilege, and white supremacy will not go away if we pretend they don’t exist. We must talk about these things if we want to eradicate them.
We do not need more chaos. We need to learn from the chaos to create a world order that is just, fair, kind, loving, equitable, merciful, and peace-filled for all of God’s people. Our vision is a beloved community that includes and appreciates all our differences as well as our similarities. Beloved community will guarantee that all have enough basic necessities met that everyone can enjoy a good quality of life. Beloved community will witness to our broken world what is the will and desire of God. Beloved community is the space where everyone can celebrate who they are, and be celebrated by all those who know and love them best.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).