The Church with the Boarded-Up Doors

I feel like I apologize to you every time I post now, Reader, for my erratic schedule and the lull between postings; I can tell you that I’ll post this and then be back for my usual Advent Christmas carols shtick.  This semester is taking the mickey out of me in ways I really did not see coming at all; I will be so very glad when it’s over.  To be honest, I’ll be very glad when this degree is over, which is super unfortunate.  But the upshot of being here in the Wicket Gate is that I work at a pretty amazing church.

It’s an old church, as in over a century old (which is old for Americans; I know that’s laughable for Europeans, but cut us some slack, we’re young).  Being old means that there’s a lot of repair that has to happen.  Right now our main front doors are gone because water had warped the bottoms of these thick wooden masterpieces, so there’s a beautiful Good Shepherd stained glass window hanging out over a bunch of plywood.  It looks pretty awful, and it confuses the crickets out of visitors, but I was thinking the other day about what it must look like from the street.

boarded-up-entrance-to-church-after-removal-of-doors-767x600Oh, what a shame, some driver may be thinking, another beautiful old church closed down and falling apart.  Because those boarded-up doors make it seem like we’ve thrown in the towel, for sure.  The thing of it is that they are the exact opposite—those plywood planks are the showcase of our growth, our fiscal health, our connectivity (paid for by a grant from our denomination), our stewardship of the building, our desire to make sure we are able to welcome people to this house of God.  Our boarded-up doors are symbols of our being alive, not dead, and I wonder what that looks like when speaking of the larger Church.

I have very little patience left for folks who bemoan the death of the Christian Church and even less for the people (like a classmate of mine, recently) who say that the Church should die because it’s outdated.  Nope.  The Church is not dying, not by a long shot.  Christianity is a truly global religion represented on every continent, with over two billion believers.  It is the largest organized religion on the planet.

Now I know, Christianity doesn’t necessarily equal the Church.  But the Church is its most cohesive vehicle.  The Christian Church is the community that goes out and fights for justice, that works for peace, that stands with people suffering from natural and human disasters.  The Church is the community that gathers to stay strong in faith, to challenge ourselves to live godly lives, to reach deeper into the mind-bending compassion of God to be able to see each other—and ourselves—in love.

It is also the community that is wrapped up in colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, a million different kinds of discrimination, power grabs, ageism, judgment, and oppression.  We, the Church, do not have clean hands.  But that does not mean God is done with us.  My church, my century+ church, definitely has things it needs to deal with about how we interact with each other and our community, and I pray mightily that we acknowledge those things and open ourselves to God’s ability to change us and speak through us to the hurt and the aching need for hope here in the Wicket Gate.  Yet I also pray mightily that we may continue the growth that we are doing, both the quantifiable and the completely unquantifiable.  We are a constant work in progress, thank God, as is the larger Church.

Certain parts of it must change.  That is undeniable, and unsurprising, because no living thing is ever permanently stagnant.  It would die.  So when folks talk about how the Church is dying because it’s changing, I wonder at their definition of death.  Do we have fewer people in American pews than there used to be?  Sure.  But Christians are gathering in Africa, in southeast Asia, in South America, and they can’t keep up with the amount of churches needed to house the communities.  A shift is not a death.  Do we have a different cultural relationship with Christianity than we used to in the West?  Sure.  But Christianity is becoming something that is owned with purpose and determination rather than to impress your boss or make sure the neighbors don’t think you’re a terrible person.  A shift is not a death.  Do the new generations have a wariness about Christianity that often manifests in us leaving the faith?  Sure.  But many are hungering after authentic grace and we millennials, for one, are becoming some of the strongest change agents in the Church.  A shift is not a death.

So look deeper when you see a church with plywood where the doors ought to be.  It may well be that that church has closed—but perhaps that’s to form a co-op with another church down the street, or to move into the city to be closer to the people who need this news of unconditional love, or to switch to a more accessible and less leaky building to keep on worshipping.  Or maybe it completely folded, and that’s okay too because the face of Christianity is changing and that church may have lived its purpose in that spot.  Or maybe it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t done yet, and that boarded-up church represents a workplace where God is calling someone to bring the message of hope back into that neighborhood.  Is it you?

Or, maybe, it’s just getting its doors replaced so it can come out looking beautiful once more, ready to fling those doors open come Easter and let the hymns roll out over the stone steps into the neighborhood proclaiming that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.  Keep looking.  There is life here, and life abundant.

 

We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him.  He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life.  In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:9-10, CEB)

 

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Jesus and Jackhammers

I live in a city that is constantly under construction.  Hundreds of people move here every week; it’s an “it” city, a place to be, and so apartment buildings are blossoming like concrete daisies in every vacant lot and half-empty field.  There is more steel than sky now, and the sun is always crossed by a construction crane.

14974946At my school, too, there is construction.  The divinity building is adding a section to the front for, well, some reason.  They haven’t really communicated it to us students, but it does mean that on a regular basis class is punctuated by drills, chains, alarms, and jackhammers.  Last week we were having a communion service in our small chapel and there was a jackhammer going through most of it and I just couldn’t countenance that.

It’s not so much that I think Jesus can’t be present when there’s construction going on—far from it.  Nor do I think the ritual of communion is impeded by noise, or that such noise is either holy or unholy.  But it was just the perfect illustration, to me, of how much distraction there is in that building and in my life.  I’m in divinity school, and I do not pay attention to God.

Not a ringing endorsement for a pastor, really.

Some of this is the school itself and my many disagreements with how it approaches theological education.  But some of it is the noise in my own head, in my heart, in the places where I still haven’t sat down and understood that I saw a lot of death this summer and I’m super distant from my best friend and I have lost a lot of things there were very important to me and I am not dealing with any of that.  My pastor told me the other day that she’s trying to teach me to think theologically and Reader, that’s what I used to be able to do here.  That’s kind of why I started this blog, to sit with you and examine the ways that God shows up in my life, to encourage you to look for the ways God shows up in yours.   Don’t get me wrong—God is still showing up in my life, to be sure.

I just don’t mark it, and I don’t much care.

The jackhammers are too loud, you see.  I can’t hear the still, small voice right now.  I can’t even hear the thundering pillar of fire, to be honest.  I can only hear the jackhammers, and alarms, and the concerns of Doing the Next Thing and there is no ministry in that, to myself or anyone else.  To leave would seem the obvious solution, to go somewhere for a few days at least where I could hear my God think, where I could hear my heart beat, where I could hear my soul breathe again.  But to leave would be to miss class, to abandon my duties at my church, to lose money while I’m not working, to leave people in the lurch, to set myself back.

It’s about the gains outweighing the losses, right?  And they don’t, yet.  I don’t know what it will take for them to do so.  But I know that I miss my weekly chats with you, Reader.  I know that I miss the grounding of this theological thinking.  And I know that I pretty desperately miss the Jesus Who calls my name, a sound drowned by the damn jackhammers.

Where do you find your silent spaces in the midst of the noise?  How do you open your ears to God?  Teach me, Reader.  I have forgotten the way.

 

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind:  and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:  And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.  (1 Kings 19:11-12, KJV)

Seventy Times Seven

I truly did not mean for my absence to be a full three weeks, Reader; I’m trying to stay to the every-other-week model, but oh, the shit that has derailed me of late.

I’m back in the Wicket Gate, having yet again said good-bye to the Land of Pilgrims and marveled that my heart did not fall out of my chest.  And classes have started up again.  But the main thing that’s consuming my days is the fallout of having had a subletter this summer who not only was careless herself but left the door open—literally—to any and all who decided to wander in, which in my  neighborhood means rather a lot of drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves.  So the last two weeks have been cleaning (as in I’ve-gone-through-three-rolls-of-Clorox-bleach-wipes and I-had-to-buy-gloves-for-this deep cleaning) and trying to figure out what can be fixed.  It’s been convincing myself that I can live with the burn marks now on my nightstand even after I dumped the drawers full of cigarette butts.  It’s been washing the walls and ceilings over and over again trying to get the smell of smoke to at least be palatable and not give me such a headache.

pain-blue-man-bent-overAnd it’s been grieving at the daily discoveries of what is lost.  There’re the concrete panics, like the fact that someone unearthed my social security card and now I have to deal with the possibilities of identity theft, but there are also the suckerpunches of what I can’t replace.  I can get a new pillow and new spoons and new towels, but I can’t get a new rosary blessed by the Pope from Italy from my parents’ visit to the Vatican.  I can’t get a new high school class ring.  I can’t get new notes from last year’s sermons at my church.  It’s not every camel and the death of all my children, but it is a deep and abiding loss.

I have been fortunate—immensely fortunate, more than I can express—to have a community here in my fellow students spring into action.  People have given me time, have given me a mattress, have given me access to their washers so I can launder the clothes that remain.  People have given me so much and that has been amazing.  But it doesn’t replace that which is lost, and it doesn’t cover the pain of it.

Some folks have, in a sincere and likely well-intentioned desire to help, asked if I’m angry.  No—I am furious.  I am horrified, I am enraged, I am wrathful.  I want to punch things until I can’t feel my hands, I want to scream, I want to harm her for the harm done to me.  The sorrow and hatred and pain and sheer outrage are coiled just beneath the surface of everything I do right now, and it is taking everything I have to avoid touching that surface lest the bubble break, lest I be overwhelmed by the immense power of those emotions and lose myself in them.

Because what would it gain me?  She is gone I know not where.  I don’t have the money to chase her through the legal system, though I have filed a police report and am certainly not shy about telling authorities anything I know of her information.  And I don’t have the time—I work two jobs and am taking five classes as well as holding two offices in student associations on top of the slow and painful reclamation of this space.  Vengeance just doesn’t fit on my schedule.

And vengeance it would be.  I know enough of this woman to know she has even less than I do in finance, support, sanity.  What good is blood from a stone?  And I’ve been wrestling most in the last week or so with the promise that “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

One of the many hard things about Christianity is that it demands that its adherents forgive.  This does not mean excuse.  The police report remains.  The crime of this remains.  It is not okay that this happened to me and I cannot believe that God would ever expect me to say it’s not a problem.  The grief of this is very, very real.  The shock of it is real.  The pain of it is real, and no loving God would ask me to pretend that any of that is dismissible as though my reactions don’t matter.  Jesus says flat out, “If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong” (Mt 18:15).  Forgiveness, if it is to have any value at all, cannot come at the expense of my emotional validity.

But it must come.

Over and over again, Jesus says to His followers that we must return to the relationships that hurt not because we are called to be doormats but because we cannot hold others’ sins close to us in anger and hate.  They will poison us, as surely as our own sins do—and we have our own sins.  have my own sins, to be sure, and I cannot ask God to forgive them if I am utterly unwilling to forgive another’s.  I cannot ask for the mercy I refuse to grant.

I am human—very, very human, and I am angry, and I am hurt, and I will take a very long time to get to anything approaching forgiveness for this betrayal.  But I must recognize that I have to walk that direction precisely because it goes against everything in me, precisely because I am so pissed that God would be cruel enough to ask me to do anything other than put spikes around my broken heart and never trust again.  Four hundred and ninety times I am called to forgive these people who are awful and deserve punishment.

May I eventually have the strength for the very first time.

 

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, when someone won’t stop doing wrong to me, how many times must I forgive them? Seven times?”   Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive them more than seven times. You must continue to forgive them even if they do wrong to you seventy-seven times.”  (Matthew 18:21-22, ERV)

Patriotism, Racism, and Christianity Walk into a Bar

And Christianity goes to meet its friends over in the corner, Mercy, Hope, and Peace, and never talks to the two ideas it happened to walk in with because they are totally antithetical to it.

Is how that should go, right?  So even someone like me who lives under a rock (a.k.a. in a hospital pretty much ALL THE TIME—I had my last 24-hour shift this past weekend and it was brutal) is aware that shit went down this week in Charlottesville, Virginia.  And as a white person, it is incumbent on me to take every platform on which I have a voice to say unequivocally that I denounce that violence, that I denounce that idolism, that I denounce the idea that it is ever okay to talk about “getting our country back” as though it was ever ours and as though there’s some kind of fight over it right now.  It is incumbent on me to call out racism and refuse to accept it in any form because, being white, my voice has the kind of power that carries.  It is incumbent on me to work to dismantle that kind of power because my black and brown brothers and sisters are fierce and wonderful creations of God who deserve every ounce of humanity given them at their very birth.

dheuw7hu0aai9bqBecause here’s the thing—so much of the alt-right/Nazi-istic/KKK shit going down in Virginia claims connection to Christianity and that does not work.  Christianity is a religion built around a brown Jew from a poor provincial town, an insignificant carpenter’s son Who was executed for threatening the secular power system by saying things like hey, maybe we shouldn’t put God and money on the same level and perhaps prostitutes are people, too.  There is literally no place in the Bible where I can see any kind of support for violently marching through a town in defense of an icon of a treasonous general supporting a slave state based on the color of people’s skin, and yes I am including the Old Testament in that statement.  If you feel like I’ve missed something, I very seriously and honestly want you to let me know because there is no Christ in the Christianity I hear from the alt-right.  There is no love, there is no reverence for life, there is no hope, there is nothing but hate and blindness in the dim light of those tiki torches.

It is not only my color that demands I speak against this but my faith.  I am a preacher, I am a chaplain, I am a pastor, I am a faith leader and it pisses me off to see the God Who has loved me to a state of wholeness in which I might actually be okay in this life be dragged through the mud like this.  BUT I do not get to say that the people in the march are thus less human, because that same God laid in His own blood in the dirt while men hurled insults at Him and His death was for them, too.  The men in Virginia are my brothers, my fellow humans, God’s created children, and the reason that God blows my mind and keeps pulling me back in is that I am called to denounce them utterly and love them completely at the same time.

As are you, whether you’re Christian or not, because all faith systems save maybe Satanism have an inherent recognition that the other person is bound to you in some way and that you can’t treat someone else like they are less to make you more.  Even atheism, if done with any morality at all, has a certain appreciation of other people.  If I’m going to say that my black and brown friends are valuable and wonderful and beautiful if only because they are human, then I better be prepared to say that these white supremacists who scare the hell out of me are also valuable (if not wonderful or beautiful) because they are human and I do not get to take that humanity away from them.  Even if I really, really want to.

But I do get to call out hate where I see it and say that isn’t okay.  I do get to refuse to let my silence be my complicity, as President Trump has so cowardly done.  I must do these things, because I call on the name of a God Who will look me in the eye at the end of days and ask whether I gave food to Him when He was hungry, whether I gave Her drink when She was thirsty, whether I clothed Him when He was naked, whether I gave Her housing when She was without shelter, whether I visited Him when He was in prison, whether I looked at Her and saw God in every shade possible.

White supremacy has no place with God.  Racism has no place with God.  The idea of America has no place with God, for “My kingdom is not of this world.”  And I will say that plainly, baldly, forcefully from every platform I can find and call upon everyone who reads this to do the same because I cannot pray with any patient or preach from any pulpit if I do not.  That would be hypocrisy of the highest order, and I have had enough of being a whitewashed tomb.

 

Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  (Romans 13:10, NET Bible)

The Wallpaper of Metaphorical Significance

I have my own bathroom at the house where I’m staying.  It’s a fine place with a shower and a mirror and even a skylight.  The door doesn’t like to stay open and there’s carpet in weird places, but as bathrooms go, it’s pretty swell.

One of its many interesting features is wallpaper.  When last Interpreter and family remodeled, I guess, wallpaper was an in thing, especially two different kinds of wallpaper in the same color scheme separated by wooden chair rail molding.  Wallpaper is less an in thing these days, so Interpreter’s wife (I do hate calling her that as though that relationship is what defines her, but Interpreter in Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t have a wife and there isn’t a ready character in that list onto whom she really maps for me.  So we’ll stick with it for now and my poor feminist heart will just cringe) has decided that the wallpaper needs to go.

As with most household chores connected to redecoration, though, wallpaper doesn’t go without a fight.  It takes time to peel it off, especially if it’s not a priority and especially if you can’t be bothered to get the specific tool for removing it.  So part of the “rent” of this bathroom is taking down the wallpaper when I think of it, when I have time for it, when I feel like picking at loose edges.  It’s an exercise that’s good because it has concrete and measurable outcomes when my day job has neither, but it’s also rife with possibility for someone like me who likes to see metaphors in pretty much everything.

photo-13-e1342148421962See, the thing about wallpaper is that it doesn’t come off like a lid.  There’s no magic corner that you pull and the whole sheet of it peels with a satisfying shrrrrrrip!  At least not this wallpaper; no, this wallpaper has some large chunks that come off neatly and many other that are tiny strips, little scraps that leave other corners to pull.  And wallpaper has the decorative layer and also a second layer, and the two layers don’t always like to come together, so sometimes you peel the same area twice—and the second layer really, really likes to stay on the wall.  It’s a very interesting look in that bathroom right now, that’s what I’ll say about that.

But this is my life right now, Reader—not pulling off wallpaper but the wallpaper itself.  Like that bathroom, I will not end this summer looking the same as when I started.  There are some events—weddings, patients who die, friendship shifts—where huge chunks of the paper come off in sheets of change.  There are other events when only the top layer obliges removal, the bottom layer of who I think I should be stubbornly clinging to the ways things are.  And there are other events where nothing comes off, nothing changes, where change has to come in tiny little strips that gradually change the shape of the wall piece by piece.  Some places are hard to get to, and some you have to remove huge things like the towel rack to really get at; there are pieces of me that are getting wholesale shifted around right now, and that’s not always pleasant and is rarely easy.

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to you, this idea of God randomly pulling off my wallpaper self with patient fingers rather than a wholesale chisel to show me what’s underneath, what He wants me to look like, to get me ready for whatever new coat of paint He has in mind that will make me even better.  But when I stand in this bathroom on the weirdly-present carpet under the long skylight and peel wallpaper, I feel like I’m scratching away at my own ready-made metaphor.

Here’s to hoping neither God nor Interpreter’s wife is really gunning for pastels next.

 

 

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)

Home Again Home Again

Having moved twice in a week and slept in several different room such that I definitely woke up several times and couldn’t place where I was, I’m now back in the Land of Pilgrims for the summer.  Thanks for your patience while I traversed the country; I didn’t totally fall off the map, just shifted my vantage point on it.

I’m staying with Interpreter while I gear up to start chaplaincy, both of which are crazy adventures I most surely could never have thought up a few years ago (even last year, really).  Being here has been lovely because I’ve been able to see (briefly) Magister and Watchful and have had a few days off to unwind and start healing some of the wounds of my time at the Wicket Gate.  But it’s also a bit awful because of the truth of Heraclitus’ saying that you can never step in the same river twice.

I’m back home!  I’m with the people I know and love who know and love me, and I have my favorite coffee chain back, and I’m staying with my best friend, and I know where the best grocery stores are.  Except I don’t know these people, not as well as I did, and they don’t know me; we have all of us changed in the past year in the small ways that matter tremendously.  I haven’t yet been to my favorite coffee chain because I don’t have a car, because I live in a different part of town.  My best friend and I are negotiating the incredibly mundane intimacy of living in the same house but having wildly different schedules.  And the grocery stores are where they used to be but feel jumbled, like old transparencies laid on top of one another, making the projection two different images fighting for the same visual space.  My head maps the Wicket Gate first now.

This continuing discovery of what “home” means and how utterly complicated that is is zero fun, actually.  A fellow blogger is having some similar (but far more in-depth) issues as she cares for her post-stroke mother in her childhood home, so I know I’m not alone in this feeling of outside-and-in.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the warning Jesus delivers to the guy who wants to follow Him, that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  I wonder if He meant far more than just not having a reliable bed for the night—I wonder if this is in the same category as “the prophet is never welcome in his hometown,” as “My mother and brother are those who listen to and do God’s commandments.”

I wonder if Jesus left town because He knew He would be too changed to truly return.

I wonder if Jacob thought that when he went to meet his brother Esau; I know he also had the fear of reprisal from having totally screwed his brother over for the inheritance, a fear I don’t have being back here.  Perhaps it’s not surprising, how much the Bible thinks about what it means to go back home and how you can’t really do it—after all, it was written by and for a people who fairly regularly got kicked out of their homes by the empire of the day.  That homesickness for something that never really existed in the first place colors Christianity:  John’s Revelation talks about a city where we end up and stay, a city that last a thousand years.  Growing pains are not part of that city.  Having to re-learn each other’s stories is not part of that city.  Feeling different is not part of that city.

Is forgetting part of that city?

0b64c5f342b44bf18fd2762e6a77424bEven while I try to re-assimilate to this place that I do still very much call home, I am mindful of the friends I made back in the Wicket Gate.  I remember that they have changed me, just as the enemies I made have changed me, as the things I experienced have changed me.  It doesn’t really matter whether I am glad they changed me; that change is irrevocable.  I am not the person I was last August—I would not be the person I was last August had I stayed here in the Land of Pilgrims, and I am fooling myself mightily if I try to believe I would not have changed even here.  We are ever-changing creatures, we mortals.

I don’t have a good wrap-up for you, Reader, as I’m still navigating what it is to be back and yet not.  I will have to leave again in August, return to the Wicket Gate and change some more, re-tell my stories to the friends there of how much I changed in the chaplaincy here (boy howdy will that be a lot of change, I’m sure).  Hopefully the Land of Pilgrims will remain home as I leave again; hopefully it is still home as I sit here on Interpreter’s couch listening to the fridge hum determinedly to itself, my fingers sore from steel guitar strings as they tap on the keys to tell cyberspace that I am back, but I will never be back.

There is no back to go to.  There is no place to lay my head.  Can the unchanging God Who moves with the ever-changing me be Home enough?

 

 

“There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so.  And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.”  (John 14:2-3, GNT)

Loving My Unlikable Neighbors

So one of my housemates is an asshat.

I say this, dear horrified Reader, knowing full well that name-calling on the internet is something we all need less of right now.  And I say this knowing that it is certainly unkind to tear someone apart in a forum s/he can’t see (and isn’t even aware of).  But I also say this from objective (read:  many others besides me) narratives and from subjective (read:  my own experience) narratives.  I say this from having several encounters with this particular individual that were, to put it lightly, unpleasant.  And I say this from exactly that place of hope for cleaner conversations in which we likely all sit right now in the wake of recent political injustices.  Why this particular person is an asshat doesn’t really matter to you since your experience with him/her should not be shaped by my interactions.  But s/he makes it really, really hard to do the Christian love thing.

WHICH IS PRECISELY WHY JESUS TELLS US TO DO IT.

7e2d5d2d9120ee69ea0c1c24bf0fe3eeThere is no shortage of people at which we can direct all manner of negative emotion right now.  It could be on a personal level, like my idiot housemate; it could be on a political level, like misogynistic senators; it could be on a celebrity level, or a random-stranger level, or whatever.  Don’t even try to tell me there aren’t people you seriously don’t love right now, Reader.  But the hell of it is, every single one of them is also a creation of God.

I was struck by this when I got back to the house after yet another ungodly long day of classes and meetings and all of the crazy that this semester is throwing at me.  The house where I live isn’t really a house; it’s kind of an apartment building with some shared open spaces on the first floor.  In that open space is a baby grand piano and this particular person was sitting (facing away from me) at the piano and pouring his/her heart out onto the keys.  S/he’s a pretty decent player and I just stood there and listened for a few minutes.  I love music and wish I were comfortable playing the piano (I have the most basic knowledge but haven’t made space to practice enough to gain any proficiency) and I just loved watching this person be so in that moment with the act of making art.  S/he was a person, a fully three-dimension person in that moment who loves and aches and laughs and plays the piano.

And is also an asshat.  Because the thing about loving other people, Reader, is that love does not mean everything becomes okay.  Let me unpack that:  if I love you, I love all of you, even the parts that drive me up the wall.  But when I love you, I do not allow you to be cruel or unjust; my love is not a permission slip to harm other people.  My loving you does not make you perfect.  Likewise, God love us all.  (YES, YOU.  GOD LOVES YOU.  DEAL WITH IT.)  But God’s love in and of itself does not make every action we do perfect.  We are still more than able to sin (trust me on this one, I know).  We are still more than able to be misogynist, or racist, or demeaning, or dismissive, or general asshats.  We are loved, but that love is exactly what calls us to be better versions of ourselves, to be more like the Jesus Who called us to such an impossibly difficult task as loving those who persecute us or even just really honk us off on a regular basis.

So what does this mean for my neighbor?  For starters, it means that this whole post is making me miss Mr. Rogers like whoa.  For seconds, it means that his/her actions are not excused because Jesus calls me to love him/her.  When s/he says things that are intentionally condescending to me or when s/he does things that negatively impact my ability to continue my day unharmed, that’s wrong.  Love doesn’t make that right.  It’s still wrong.  (For a lovely and well-written version of this in a more historical view, check out Magister’s examination of How to Read History Responsibly.)

But it also means that I don’t get to hate the very existence of this person.  I don’t get to talk about him/her with my friends and laugh about how annoying s/he is; I don’t get to ignore him/her when I see him/her in the kitchen like s/he’s not even real; I don’t get to tell you, Reader, all of the things that s/he does and have you agree with me about his/her asshattery.  I am called to love the personhood of this other, to respect that s/he also has ungodly long days.  When I call him/her out on the jerk things s/he does or says, I am called to do so from a position of knowing that Jesus died for him/her, too.  I don’t get to tear him/her down to bite size because I’m pissed off.  I don’t get to undermine his/her humanity.

Even though I really, really want to sometimes.

Because Jesus asks hard stuff.  And He knew it would be hard; this is that “pick up your cross“-level work.  This is “the rest of the world will think you’re stupid.”  This is “I am flipping the whole system over.”  Love is powerful.  It changes things, if it’s real.

Even me.  And, hopefully, even my neighbor.  Provided I don’t punch him/her in the face first.

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?”  (Matthew 5:43-46, WEB)