If you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what reward do you have? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Q 6:32, 34)
This is the next saying in our journey through the Sermon in the Sayings Gospel Q. I never cease to be bowled over by this saying. I remember reading it as a teen and feeling quite threatened by it. Its simplicity belies just how radical it is, just how much it rocks the ground beneath our feet.
There’s no getting around its meaning: If you love only those who love you back, if you give only to those who are guaranteed to give back, how virtuous is that? Everyone does that, even the people you consider unrighteous (we might say “unspiritual”).
It doesn’t take much thought to see where this leads us. It leads us to the idea that our loving and giving should not be tethered to how people treat us. Even when they treat us really badly, we should still love, we should still give. This, of course, brings us right back around to where we started—to loving our enemies. The Critical Edition of Q titles this saying “impartial love,” which is perfectly accurate. Can you imagine having impartial love? Can you imagine loving everyone with complete impartiality?
I had an interesting coincidence around this idea the other day. I was writing a commentary on a section in A Course in Miracles called “Judgment and the Authority Problem.” I started out by talking about how selective our perception is, how it favors some and ignores others:
In order to make sense of what we see, we have to select the items that we consider meaningful and desirable, and reject the others. For example, my son Michael had a pancake race at his school, where each child races against others while flipping a pancake in a pan. Only Michael’s class was racing, but the whole school was watching, along with quite a few parents. As I looked at that scene, my perception was highly selective. What mainly mattered was Michael and his pancake. My perception simply dismissed almost everyone else.
I think we can all probably accept this basic feature of perception, but the next stage is to appreciate just how much rejection is involved in this. As I said, my perception rejected almost everyone there. That’s a lot of rejection. And that rejection is anything but inconsequential. When people are considered unimportant or undesirable, there are always consequences. Can we accept that our perception involves massive, ongoing rejection?
I then ended my commentary by talking about the alternative to this selective perception, in which we respond to everyone exactly the same:
As we look out at our world, we can rest from all the judging, sorting, selecting, and rejecting. We can relax because Someone Else is the author of reality. Yes, we’ll still need to figure out, for instance, how close a car is to us. But in relation to the things that are truly real—the minds—we can disable the judgment function, uninstall all the filters, and greet everyone with pure and total acceptance.
Shortly after finishing this, I read a post by the spiritual writer David Spangler that seemed uncannily similar. In the latest piece in his series “David’s Desk,” he relates how, when he used to do a lot of traveling, he enjoyed driving through the various states in the US. However, the need to spend time with his family then forced him to fly rather than drive, so that now the states he used to drive through, he merely flew over.
This leads to a discussion of “Flyover States,” which is the title of his piece:
I don’t know when the term originated or started to become popular, but I became aware of it last year during the Presidential Election: “Flyover States.” These are the States in the middle of the country that air flights between the large urban centers of the East and West coasts regularly fly over. To be a Flyover State is at one level a simple description of a fact of life as more and more people live on the East and West coasts and take non-stop flights back and forth. But especially last year, the phrase took on additional meaning. Flyover States were the homes of the “forgotten Americans,” the ones whose opinions and activities were not as important when compared to what goes on in places like New York, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the large metropolises on either side of America.
To be a “Flyover State” carried connotations of being ignored, overlooked, not seen, or even disdained as being of lesser importance.
Indeed, if you look up “Flyover States” online, you find that many commentators saw the 2016 election as being “the revenge of the flyover states.” Those states had been ignored, dismissed, and belittled long enough, and so they rose up and took control.
Spangler then sees this phenomenon as reflective of a state of mind—a “flyover state”—that has serious consequences on the interpersonal level:
However, when I think of Flyover States, it conjures up an entirely different image for me. It seems to me that one of the many challenges facing us in this country, and for that matter in the world at large, is how easy it is to step into a “flyover state.” Such a state is not a place but an attitude that can arise when we encounter someone who is different from us. This difference could be political, religious, ethnic, racial, economic, or something as trivial as a difference in hairstyles or clothing. Unless we are compelled for some reason to engage with this person, we can “flyover” them in our minds and hearts. We can fail to encounter the territory of their life; we can fail to make connection.
Spangler then ends by saying that our hope lies in overcoming this flyover mentality:
At this time, our country is embroiled in problems caused by our various differences. If we hope to solve them, we must work to connect and live in our hearts and minds in united states, not flyover ones.
I was immediately struck by the similarities with my commentary. In both cases, the writer talks about the everyday pattern of focusing on some things and overlooking others. He begins with a personal story that presents an innocuous example of this pattern. But then he applies the pattern to our interpersonal relationships, where it is clearly deleterious, because it means overlooking and dismissing various people. He ends by saying that we need to step outside this state of mind and be inclusive of everyone.
If you know me, you know I consider these kinds of striking coincidences to be messages from a higher place. Something is telling me that I need to work harder on stepping outside my own “flyover state.”
If you put those two pieces—mine and Spangler’s—together and then set them both next to Jesus’ saying on impartial love, you see an interesting thing. Jesus’ simple saying ends up looking like an umbrella that, despite its simplicity, embryonically contains some weighty and highly relevant truths. It looks less like an ancient relic and more like a timeless truth.
First, the saying implies a retraining of our perceptual patterns of attention, which constantly favor certain people and ignore others. Impartial love necessarily entails a complete lack of our normal psychological dismissal of everyone but our favored few.
Second, the saying implies a diagnosis of what has happened in our country and a prescription for how it can heal. We don’t even need to go as far as impartial love, which on a mass level would change our country beyond recognition. Even merely less-partial love carries the prospect of uniting us interpersonally and healing our nation.
Jesus’ words have never been more relevant than they are right now.