Thank you for sharing these quotes, Sheelah. I found them to be quite fertile beginnings for meditation. I look forward to pausing to reread them in the future. These are my thoughts thus far. It’ll help if I enumerate the clauses of the first passage.
(1) Our challenge as Christians is not to try to convert people around us to our way of belief (2) but to love them, (3) to be ourselves living incarnations of what we believe, (4) to live what we believe and (5) to love what we believe.”
I was initially puzzled by the conclusion of Main’s quote (5). What would it mean “to love what I believe”? I know a few smug ideologues—but, of course, that can’t be what was meant here. I worked backward through the quote trying to make sense of this line; for I had thought I was tacking and in complete agreement until I hit up against this bit at the end.
The second to last line (“to live what we believe”) seems to me to be little more than a rephrasing of the line immediately preceding it (“to be ourselves living incarnations of what we believe”). So, I collapsed (3) and (4) together. However (3/4) seems to say something different than (5). So how were they to be related? I read back further still and saw that (2) “to love them [i.e. those around us]” seemed to be that which is defined by the conjunction of (3/4) and (5). In other words, to love those around us is to simultaneously become what we believe and love what we believe.
Now, if we become a something and love that same something, then we love ourselves. Have I gone off the rails, or is this not implied by what Main is saying? We will love ourselves when we succeed in meeting the Christian challenge to love those around us and forgo any desire that we may have to convince them of stuff.
If it is OK to read the passage this way, then it appears to affirm a (new-to-me) approach for interpreting “love your neighbor as yourself.” In order to love another, the lover must love the one whom she herself becomes in the loving of the other. In the same vein, in order to love herself, the lover must love the love she has for someone other than herself. When we love, it is not actually other selves that we are loving. Rather, when we love, we love love itself—whether this loved love be our own act of loving or the act of some other’s loving. And if God is love, then the love of love is the love of God. So, we love love first, then we can love others and ourselves by loving the love in ourselves and others. Is this not congruent with Jesus’ identification of the greatest commandment and what he says comes right after? I think so, but maybe this is a vain analysis of something that is only understood in performance.
As for Day’s quote, I initially had a critical reaction. It seemed that she was operating within the autonomous-self paradigm. At first, I read the “we must only work on ourselves” to mean “we each-as-an-individual must only work on our respective selves—each to each’s own.” But after very few minutes, I saw that it was my own reading that imposed this individuated-self interpretation upon Day’s words. The text could be read just as well through the lens of interdividuated selves. The ‘we’ can be understood as a group growing in grace as they love one another. This group works to improve the love they all share—while loving this love they share even as they are working on it.
What, then, does this make of the “people” referred to in the last sentence? I think that the “we” refers to all of those whom we love and with whom we jointly endeavor to improve our love. Accordingly, I think that, the “people” Day refers to at the end (i.e. those about whom we can do nothing other than love) are those who don’t join in our endeavor to improve the love we share. These are our enemies; they are working against what we are working for. Yet, as Jesus instructed, it is best to love our enemies. Our friend are those we both love and with whom we work in tandem on improving our expressions of love. Our enemies are those we can only love, because they won’t work with us on improving any expressions of shared love.
In a lecture delivered to the Seminary of the Southwest in September of 2017, James makes the point that loving our enemies should not be construed as pretending our enemies aren’t really working against us. Our enemies are, by definition, truly working against us, but we don’t have to respond in kind. We don’t have to work against them. There is a transcendent model we can follow, whereby we are guided toward working for the benefit of all—ourselves and other people. Jesus didn’t say, “He who is not with me, I am against.” He only said, “He who is not with me is against me.” There may be people who are against us, when we are for the resurrected Lord. However, we cannot be for the resurrected Lord if we are against anyone.