One of the few times I’ve been to church recently, I happened to be where my good friend Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, the resident Auxiliary Bishop of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago was celebrating the Divine Liturgy. His sermon was about love versus tolerance. I’ll never forget his words— in fact, they have stayed with me for a long time now.
During a conversation with a friend here in Greece yesterday, we spoke about the problem of illegal immigrants and how they have created so many “problems” for Greek society. “We tolerate them,” he told me as he unenthusiastically motioned his hands in that Greek way.
Recalling Bishop Demetrios’ words, I couldn’t help but think what a horrible ideal tolerance really is. The bishop said in his remarks:
“We hear so much in our day and age about “tolerance” and how we ned to be “tolerant” of the “other.” This is not necessarily a positive attribute. For to be “tolerant” means that I let you live your life without me ever encountering or sharing in your life. I “put up” with you and you with me. In essence cutting off all forms of “communion” or “communication” with the other.”
“It is time that we move beyond mere “tolerance.” We must seek the “other” amongst us and invite them into our lives. We must share our hopes our fears, our joys and our sorrows. We must find ways of transcending our conflicts, both historical and intellectual and create a new future together. The Creator has bestowed upon us the precious gift of life in all its diversity, and we must walk together into the future in a new way.”
I try not to live “tolerance” as an ideal. Because as an ideal, it is negative. To “tolerate” implies, as the bishop noted, that you have to put up with someone, even if you don’t agree with them. Instead of tolerance, let’s try for “respect” and yes, what Jesus himself taught… good, old-fashioned “love.”
The Bishop is a major advocate for “love” versus “tolerance.” He is well-known in Illinois for being one of the main reasons why there is no longer the death penalty and was invited by the Governor of the state to the signing of the repeal a few years ago. Being imperfect myself and always doubting and questioning— I would often ask the Bishop how he could “tolerate” spending so much time on death row with condemned men— the hardest the criminals of our society.
It’s with the same spirit that he founded— back in the hey-day of the AIDS epidemic, the Bishop’s task force on AIDS— the first official Greek Orthodox response to the AIDS epidemic more than a decade ago. Imagine that— not only “tolerating” the sick and the criminals— but expressing true and genuine love for them.
I said to my friend I was having coffee with— instead of “tolerating” the illegal immigrants, why not try loving them, helping them, offering to them the same care and concern that you would want if you were forced from your home and had to emigrate to a strange country?
Thank you Bishop Demetrios for reminding me on this important holiday that above all— it is love that we must cherish as an ideal. And to those who do like to use Jesus as a talking point on this special day— Jesus spoke only about love. So my Christmas wish to all of you— for all of us— is that we try to move beyond tolerance and try to love— even those we do not understand, those we do not agree with and those who might happen to be a little different than we are.
Merry Christmas to all!