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JOE LAGUARDIA: Resolve to make compassion more widespread than condemnation in 2013

Last autumn, I held a respectful yet heated email and snail mail debate with a family member who saw the importance of taking a stand on certain divisive social issues relevant to the election season.

He sent me a book on the encroachment of government, I sent him a letter about how Christians need not fear any government.

He sent me a statement of beliefs that his church drafted and published designed to exclude certain people from fellowship. I sent him an email questioning why a church needed to ostracize people before they even entered the building.

He argued that the Bible tells us to be holy; I argued that Jesus' compassion doesn't condone a spirit of discord and judgment.

This was but one conversation of many I had with folks over the past year, a year characterized by a divided political landscape. So, as we stand on the precipice of a new year, I would like to propose, dear reader, some resolutions that might benefit all of us who want to enter 2013 with a new, more conciliatory -- albeit, thoroughly Christian -- perspective.

Resolve to let joy, rather than fear, determine how we go about engaging our communities and public spaces for Christ. In John 15, Jesus gave a sermon that discussed the notion of abiding in Him. When we abide in Christ, we abide in the Father; and They abide in us.

This abiding produces a type of joy that remains in our life despite all odds.

First John 1:6 says, "Whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, 'I abide in him,' ought to walk just as he walked." Love, John writes later, "casts out fear" (4:18).

Resolve to see people in terms of their relationships rather than as adversaries or mere political or social groups. What I mean by this is that it benefits us to see people in terms of who they are in the midst of God's creation. People are not animals, caricatures, or political footballs to be coerced or managed; they are sons, daughters, spouses, friends, mothers, fathers, grandparents.

I always cringe when I hear politicians and preachers talk about people as if people are lone creations that stand apart from everything else. When you isolate someone, it becomes really easy to oppress them and treat them as "the other."

If we see people as interconnected, however, we start to see that even our enemies are not very different than us. After all, did God not say that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves?

Resolve, finally, to make a friend with someone whom you would not otherwise befriend. This is the surest way to make hospitality -- the welcoming of a stranger (Matt. 25:35, 48) -- a part of a well-balanced spiritual diet.

Some of the most beneficial friendships I have made came out of an interfaith group with which I meet on a regular basis. We have plenty of differences and dissimilarities -- both culturally and religiously -- but, there is never any shouting or debating, only a sharing of stories and, inevitably, of lives.

Resolve to read up on something you know very little about as it relates to the Bible, other faiths or persuasions, or history and traditions. We spend so much time ingesting information from media outlets that agree with us, it's good to step out of our comfort zones once in a while to read something with which we're not familiar.

I hope that, whatever resolutions are made, the year 2013 will be different than the last in that we can make reconciliation more valuable than division, compassion more widespread than condemnation.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.