Pastor Rudy Rasmus has led St. John's United Methodist Church with his wife, Juanita, for more than twenty years. St. John's has grown to over 9,000-member church (3,000 of whom are, or were, homeless at one time) and is one of the most culturally diverse congregations in the country. Pastor Rudy attributes the success of the church to a compassionate congregation which has embraced the vision of tearing down walls of classism, sexism, and racism, and replacing them with unconditional love and acceptance. Rudy and Juanita are the proud parents of two daughters.Through reading his book, I came to know Rudy quite well. He has written a book of transparency and realness.
Love. Period. is a way to do ministry, is a way to do life, is life itself, and ultimately has to be the motivation behind every action and every thought. By taking 1 Corinthians 13 and breaking it down into digestible pieces, Rudy Rasmus has defined love the way it has to be lived in the present culture and society. One thing that Rudy says in the book that really struck home with me is about short term missions trips. He says that the short term trips don't always achieve the desired objective. They tend to remove a person's desire to "do" for themselves, make the people more dependent, and fill a need in the person making the trip rather than the person being "served."
A recent conversation with my brother reinforced everything Rudy has said in this book. My brother said that the sole purpose of the church is to point people to Jesus. For the ones who don't know Christ, the church should be pointing to Jesus as the ONLY source of salvation. For those who do know and follow Christ, the church needs to be showing Jesus as the only example to model their lives on. It is the Christian's duty, call to action, raison d'etre, and privilege of life.
Today after I finished the book, I handed it to my husband, who is also an elder in my church, and remarked that it should be required reading. I didn't specify who should read it, just that it should be widely read. And once it's read, it should be practiced.
When I agreed to participate in this tour, I was given the transcript of an interview with Rudy, and I offer it here for your reading pleasure. After reading it, I encourage you to buy the book; read it; buy it for your pastor, your friends, your relatives; and then to start living a life of Love. Period.
1. You believe that loving without condition means loving regardless of race, class, gender, orientation, or past deeds. How would you respond to someone who says he can’t love someone who he believes is making sinful lifestyle choices?
Sinful is a big word with many implications and interpretations based on the cultural context. I define sin as “anything that separates a person from their creator and prohibits that person from fulfilling their God ordained purpose.” With this definition in mind, to determine another person’s “sinful lifestyle choice” is a subjective experience based on how the person interprets the word “sin.”
To begin with, I carefully separate a person’s race, class, gender, or orientation from a person’s conscious deeds which are more connected to a person’s character defined by the way a person thinks, feels or responds. The task of every person in the human family is to respect “the other’s” place in the world rather than assuming agreement is necessary for love to be present.
2. How have you seen love break down walls of classism, sexism, and racism in your own city of Houston?
Achieving racial equality has been a long journey in Houston and the rest of the American South. I drank from a separate water fountain until I was 11 years old in Houston but today it is one of the most diverse cities in the United States.
If the mandate of love is to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” then Houston is proving everyday that it is a place where people of every class, station, or orientation have a place to call home. This is a reminder that love ultimately accomplishes what legislation can’t.
3. You write that there is a big difference between loving our neighbor as ourselves and loving the neighborhood. What do you mean by that?
I don’t believe you can truly extend love to broader cultural context before you can perfect loving the person in front of you at this very moment. If I want to know how you interpret love, I can look for your fruit as a determinant. The love Jesus talked about is not preferential love based on a pre-existing qualification process, but its love in the same way that God loves us and out of this love we are to love “the neighbor.” I am making the assumption “the neighbor” is a sociological parameter and not a geographic determination makes everyone on the planet our neighbor whether we like, agree, or approve of their life expression or not. The greatest commandment was to love God (through sacrifice), love others (through service), and to love self (through self-respect).
4. What is the connection between vulnerability and love?
Madeleine L’Engle once wrote, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
The major obstacle in today’s world prohibiting the sharing of love is scarcity, inadequacy, and insecurity. In other words, not feeling as though I have enough; not feeling I can do enough; and not feeling I am enough. There is a proverb that goes, “The person who doesn’t know what enough is, will never have enough.” Scarcity is rampant in shame-prone, materialistic, competitive societies, which are overly focused on lack.
Love requires a generous heart, free of fear, and a willingness to be vulnerable.
In Love. Period. I wrote, “Love liberates us so we can walk fully in the truth of God’s love, and reach out to others with great vulnerability, in order to engage others in a relationship that brings honor to God.”
5. We hear a lot about being an “entitlement nation.” How do you see that displayed in our society today?
The term “narcissism” finds its origins in Greek Mythology where Narcissus is remembered for having fallen in love with his own reflection. And since he could not obtain the object of his love, he died of sorrow by the same pool. I’m not implying our society has fatally fallen in love with its own image, but could that we have become so consumed with our own reflection, that we have possibly missed seeing the needs of the world around us? At the end of the day, “Love is as love does.”