I find there can be a wide divide between theory and practice. Using words like love, empathy, and understanding is one thing, but actually putting them into practice can be challenging. Jerry Streets recently introduced me to a book by Howard Thurman called Jesus and the Disinherited. One of the most interesting thought exercises in the book is the exploration of Jesus as a person living in the context of his social situation and how that likely influenced his teachings and behavior. The book emphasizes a difference between the teachings and the institution around them concluding with an exploration of the practical application of universal love.
In my personal experience, I find universal love to be a practice of seeing the interconnectedness of all things. Somewhere in that process there is an acknowledgment and respect for the common source of all phenomena. What to do with that respect for the “beingness” of another could be the subject of a much longer write up, but the cliff notes would allude to compassion and inner freedom. Compassion because I see that the other person is a product of a long chain of universal conditions that have brought them to this point. And inner freedom because true compassion is much more constructive than anger. In a sense, the energy of that compassion is the transformed product of the original anger.
In my last conversation, Jerry and I unpack the philosophy and practice of universal love. Frederick “Jerry” Streets is an adjunct Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Yale Divinity School, and a visiting professor in the Department of Social Work and Latino Community Practice at the University of Saint Joseph. He previously served as the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor in Pastoral Counseling at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University. From 1992-2007, he served as the Chaplain of Yale University and Senior Pastor of the University Church, in which role he established a model of multi-faith campus ministry. From 1975-2007, he served as Senior Pastor of the Mount Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport, CT, in which role he led the congregation through significant growth, oversaw the building of a new church edifice, and developed social services and outreach ministries.
We cover a lot of ground ranging from practical love to modern societal issues such as racism and empathic failure. Jerry shares a moving story of his own experience with and response to discrimination in his life that puts Thurman’s theology into practice.