Pilates for the soul

In a recent discussion of the core values of Jesus, I heard it said, "When it comes to the core values of Jesus the right gets it wrong and the left doesn't get it."

Now that I've managed to upset all those who already have all the answers, I would like to have a conversation with those of us who continue to struggle with the place of Jesus and his values in the world in which we live.

When asked of his own understanding of the core teaching of the faith ("Jesus, what is the greatest commandment?") his response was to quote the Jewish Torah.

His answer to the question was a conflation of the Shema, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5) and the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

For Jesus love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably bound in paradoxical tension.As a Christian and I would argue the same is true of the Jew and Muslim, I cannot claim to love God while ignoring the plight of my neighbor nor can I claim to love my neighbor and ignore God.

To do so is sin.In Jewish and pre-Augustinian understanding, sin was that which broke/damaged the relationship between either God or one's neighbor. (Before we start splitting hairs about who are neighbor is, we also need to remember who Jesus identifies as our neighbor need refreshing? read the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37).

I once heard a Jewish rabbi speak of the tenants of Judaism and never leave the kosher kitchen but erupted when asked about the plight of Jews in Palestine.

On the other hand, I listened to a self-proclaimed Evangelical Christian speak of their faith, love and devotion to God and in the next breath go on a rant about "those people" (referring to everyone from Jews, to African Americans, to homosexuals, to welfare recipients, to the refugees gathering on the southwestern border).

We are experiencing a spiritual crisis in our country because we no longer practice the faith as Jesus taught us. It's time for some serious spiritual exercising.

The spiritual regimen of the Christian faith includes prayer, fasting/denial, scripture reading, corporate worship, and acts of charity.You will note on this program that it is balanced between love of God and love of neighbor.

To strengthen our spiritual core, we need to attend to both relationships.

This is not easy work.It takes discipline.It takes motivation. It takes partnership.

It means spending time in prayer/devotion and in reaching out to those in need around you.It means serious study of scripture and the issues that are facing those most vulnerable in our society.

It means lifting your voice in praise and thanksgiving in the sanctuary and raising your voice in the streets on behalf of those without a voice to condemn injustice, hatred and violence.

We can no longer afford to play the left and right game of targeted exercise.We need a full-body workout. We need to develop a strong core.

Therefore, as we begin a new year, I challenge you to commit to strengthening your spiritual core.Meet you at the gym.n

(Jacobson is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Clarion, and assistant to the Bishop NWPA Synod Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA.)