The People We Are

There’s a worship song that’s stuck in my head at the moment but in that frustrating way where it’s only one phrase, one part of the song running over and over again without letting me get to the rest of the song so I even know what it is.  The phrase is “this is the people we are,” and it’s a sucker punch to me today because I am having a really, really hard time with the people we are.

umc502I just finished my United Methodist Church Annual Conference, which is four days of 1,800 people bickering and worshiping and chatting and judging and connecting with each other.  It’s a very weird space, to be honest, that is both outrageously holy and maddeningly horrible.  It was less painful than last year and we passed a lot of pretty toothless legislation of how the conference would encourage churches to think about taking stands on some things.  I don’t mind so much that that we aren’t forcing churches into action because I love that the UMC is trying to hold a lot of different opinions together; what I mind is this appearance of engaging things without being anything other than lukewarm.

Is this the people we are?  Are we folks who value unity more than decisiveness?  Because #TrueConfession:  I am that person.  If I decide that I like someone or some organization, I will fight like hell to keep it together even if I know that that isn’t the best course of action.  (It takes an awful lot for me to like someone or something, so part of it is the invested time.  I’m also hella allergic to change, which is hilarious considering my life pattern and my profession.)  So will I avoid the conflict of saying we need to take a stand on this?  Yep.  For as long as I can.

To some degree, I think that’s a good trait.  My being less inclined to force a decision means I get invited to a lot of different kinds of spaces that I might not otherwise be.  It means people feel that I don’t judge when I listen (which is sort of true; some of that is that I have a better poker face than people think).  It means that I will stay in a conversation or relationship for a while because it matters to me to preserve that even when I’m mad about it.

But for sure there’s a downside.  My being less inclined to force a decision means I stay silent when I absolutely should not.  It means I allow myself to be a bit of a doormat sometimes.  It means I don’t call people on bullshit that is harmful and cruel.

One of the things that is hard to talk about in a post-modernist world (which is a fancy term that just means we are beyond the mindset that somebody termed “modernist” that characterized the last half of the 20th century) is the idea of Truth.  One of the tenets of the post-modernist school of thought is that situation determines concept; if I’m from, say, Texas, I’m going to think about things like spacial relation and a relationship with Mexico differently than if I’m from Vermont.  Or if I’m a white woman (which I am), I’m going to approach a text or event differently than if I’m a black man.  And I can’t ever not be affected by that; if I’m a white woman from Texas, I can’t ever sidestep the way that shapes my thinking.

Unfortunately, this really easily becomes a conversation about whether or not there can be any idea or concept that is true across contexts.  If my viewpoint can be changed by my outlook/situation/background, it will always be different than anyone else’s since no one else has the same combination of events and personality and such that I do.  So can anything be capital T True?  Some post-modernists would say no, all is relative.

I think that’s crap, and I think that’s how we get into spaces like this Annual Conference’s wishy-washy legislation and my general distaste for asking people (myself included) to declare where we stand on Hard Issues.  It is not relative that children should not be starved or separated from their loved ones and traumatized.  That’s bad.  It just is.  Why it’s bad can be relative; how it happens can be relative.  But the idea of whether or not you should be able to harm children carries across every aspect of healthy humanity.  Likewise, we shouldn’t be afraid of people simply because they look different than us.  How that fear manifests is relative.  Who that fear is about is relative.  But simply looking at a person and fearing him/her without any other information at all is not a mark of healthy humanity.

So when we have legislation in the Church that talks about how the Church deals with sexuality, I get that it’s a firestorm because the how is murky depending on ideology and position.  When we have legislation that deals with U.S. wars and the Church’s position in supporting or speaking against them, I get that people get heated.  But when we have stuff that’s about whether we should speak against kids being put in cages and left alone, or whether it’s a bad idea to treat women as subhuman, and there’s debate on that?  That’s crap.  Those are absolutes.  The value of a human being a human and not being harmed for simply being a human is a Truth.

Unless that is not the people we are.  In which case, we need to really look at what kind of people we have actually become.

 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  (1 Peter 2:9-10, NIV)
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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)

Lent, Week Six: Sacred and Profane

I have a cold.

It’s sort of the salt in the wound, because I have a cold and my father has upcoming surgery, my sort-of-stepmom is in the hospital, I now officially don’t have a car, one of my cousins is in the hospital, another cousin’s new baby is slightly ill, my housing situation is a mess, I have two papers I can’t focus on enough to write, a friend’s wife has cancer, my chair broke, and I’m to the point where I’m fairly sure if I had a dog to go with my loaner truck they’d both die.  Yee-haw, y’all, I’m living a damned country song.  And now I have a cold, right before Holy Week which is essentially the Superbowl for pastors in terms of hours and focus and time.

Also, we as a country just inexplicably bombed Syria as though they don’t have enough violence to go around and a Supreme Court justice was just appointed who frightens me even more than Clarence Thomas in terms of my rights for my body as a woman, which is saying something considering Clarence Thomas (like the president) has a penchant for sexual harassment.  So perhaps my cold is a little thing.

But all of this seems so incredibly unholy, so terribly profane because it’s freaking Lent and I feel like we’ve been in the Passion for a month.  This much pain and fear and worry and brokenness can’t possibly be holy, can’t possibly be anything related to God.  Where the hell is God, anyway?  I’m starting to feel like I’m trapped in the birthday song my dad used to sing to me because my family is macabre and strange:   “Happy birthday, happy birthday.  People dying everywhere, people crying everywhere!  Happy birthday, happy birthday.”

I make a lot more sense when you see what shaped me, which is true of everybody.

But here’s the thing—in its own weird way, all of that is holy because all of that has God.  Perhaps not God at the helm in the sense that I don’t think God orchestrates pain and war and colds (that would make God rather an asshat, and I’m not down with worshiping asshats).  But God is in the mix because God is everywhere but also because God didn’t become human as a lark.  It wasn’t a weekend vacation; it was a commitment to us and to all of the mess that comes with us, to the cancers and wars and stress levels and even the colds.  God came for all of that.  And stayed.

lent-157185911-589ff1843df78c4758fd6641Which is why it’s so intense that we’re now entering Holy Week (where it’s right in the name, in case we were still confused).  Palm Sunday (also called Passion Sunday) was definitely a profane (in the sense of secular) affair as Jesus rode into town on a donkey mocking everything about Roman processions of victory.  And yet it was made holy by the participation of the less-thans, of the forgotten, by the carpet of branches they laid down.  Those same people completely forgot Jesus a day later and did not stand with Him in the Passion proper, and yet still it was holy.  Still it is holy, as we also wave our palm branches and sing hosannas and delight in this one party day after a long time in the wilderness.  We know what’s coming.  And we know that after the pain and the darkness and the profane, there is Easter.

By which time I will hopefully no longer have a cold.

 

 

On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”  (John 12:12-18, NASB)

Lent, Week Four: Dangerous and Safe

Right, so, this is crazy late, I realize.  I had half a post all set up and then went and had an absolutely ridiculous weekend that involved, among other things, my car breaking down in a different state than the one in which I live and me almost getting squashed by a semi and having to call friends to help me out.

I’m okay.  I’m just saying, it’s been intense.  So this is hella late.  Think of it less like I completely missed last week and more like this is a Spiritual Implications two-for-one post sale this week.  Bogo, y’all.

Many of my friends will exasperatedly tell you that I don’t have a good nose for danger.  It’s not that I’m stupid or even unobservant; I just don’t think about consequences properly (and I’m crazy stubborn) before I barge into all manner of situations that are Pretty Bad Ideas in retrospect.  Most of the time these are moments of physical danger in that I’ll put myself in a place where my bodily well-being is at risk.  Sometimes it’s emotional danger, when I am around people or events that threaten my psychological balance.  And, while some would scoff at the possibility, I’ve even been in spiritual danger, placing my soul in compromised situations.  The friend who rescued me by driving up yesterday to retrieve me from the shop where my car is (and yes, it totally feels like I’m missing a piece of myself to have it be seventy miles away) has informed me there will be so much yelling for my having gone off and taken a road trip with a car I knew was in poor condition.  I’m pretty sure I also freak Interpreter out a lot with how many times I cheat death in the choices I make.  The excuse “it’s worked so far” will only hold so long, I realize.

danger-signMy courting of danger is actually hilarious because I am in no way a thrill-seeker by nature.  I’m actually pretty cautious and I don’t do things that are deliberately meant to raise chemical levels of danger (Will Robinson) response (roller coasters, bungee jumping, skydiving, etc.—count me the eff out).  But I decide quite often that I need to do something or get somewhere and damned be whatever gets in my way, including safety and sanity.  I don’t recommend it as a life strategy.  It irks your friends.

But that concept of danger is such a weird thing, and actually an appropriate Lenten topic—after all, the Adversary took Jesus to the top of the Temple and told Him to jump, daring Him to cheat danger on the idea that safety was certain.  The kind of danger I court is ill-advised, for sure.  And the kind of danger the world provides is awful; my heart grieves for London.  But there’s a certain kind of danger in being faithful that we are asked to walk into knowingly:  a danger to who we are.

I realize that sounds like the set-up for some terrible pun (are you a pilot?  Because we’re about to enter the danger zone) or pick-up line or something, but I don’t mean it that way.  I’m quite serious; faith should challenge your notions of who you and the people around you are.  It should be a dangerous undertaking, not to our physical selves but to our selfishness, our ideas of self-preservation, our priorities.  Jesus tells people to take up a cross, for crying out loud.  Those kill people.

The difference is that in the kind of danger that I find myself in involving sketchy motels in nowhere towns on dark and rainy nights there is no bedrock guarantee of safety.  When Jesus asks us to stretch, to risk, to grow and change and Go Forth into the world, we don’t do it alone.  We step out in the faith that God will not ask us to do something that will completely and irrevocably fuck us up, because sadistic god is not a god I want anything to do with.  This is not to say that we should just go with whatever we feel is being asked of us; after all, the Adversary was quoting Scripture when he told Jesus to trust that angels would catch Him.  We have to be wise as serpents in the world because it is indeed a dangerous place.  But that, too, is part of the faith life:  learning what God’s voice sounds like and how it differs from the sounds that try to drag you into that which is truly and alarmingly dangerous.

Stay safe, Reader, but not so safe that you can’t act in the many ways God can use you.  And don’t mess with semis.  They are not kidding around.

 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  (Psalm 23:4, AKJV)

Lent, Week Three: Healed and Broken

I went to see Logan this evening; I love the comic book films, love the characters and worlds and adventures and connections.  And for the longest time I loved the action part of action films—I loved a good fight scene where the hero (rarely a heroine) takes down all the bad guys with fists of fury and a kick-ass rock song.

But this—this film was all anger, sorrow, and pain.  I can’t do this level of gore and rage anymore, can’t absorb the sheer amount of ache that we as a culture have reached.  We are in so much pain, Reader; the sickened edges of our never-healed wounds of racism fester in our bellies, the blood we spill on our streets and everyone else’s leaves us weak and stumbling, our throats are raw from throwing up the vapid and unhealthy bullshit we have tried to convince ourselves is any kind of nourishment.  Our illness colors our news, our music, our pastimes and yes, our movies.

healing-touch-sold_We need healing.

It’s funny; I started writing this while half-listening to a Christian radio station and three songs in a row now have dealt with the concept of healing.  Part of that is the Spirit reading over my shoulder, but more of it is that Christianity has a lot to say about healing and the need for it.  After all, one of the many terms for God is “Healer.”

But from what?  Of what?  Oh no, Christiana, don’t be one of those Christians who equate spiritual sin with emotional and bodily malaise, as though some people deserve to be punished with illness.  No, Reader—my best friend has a disease that is frying his brain a little bit more every day, stripping it of its effectiveness.  My good friend’s wife is fighting a cancer that sits sullenly in her femur, spine, and chest.  I myself am gradually going deaf because my body cannot recognize the way it’s supposed to work in order to hear.  I can’t believe in a god who would cause such prolonged torment to satisfy reparation of sin.  That’s sadism, and I don’t roll with a sadistic God.

There’s something to be said, though, for the gulf between Christianity’s language of healing and the reality of just how broken we are in so many ways.  Do we keep breaking ourselves, outpacing God as we find new ways to inflict pain?  Do we never allow ourselves to fully heal, running pell-mell into the next ill-thought thing before our bodies and souls have had time to re-knit?  Perhaps.  I am most certainly guilty of both of these, especially when it comes to myself.  How I haven’t more seriously injured myself on a number of levels, I don’t know.  But I am certainly not whole.  I am broken.

In the film—which I can’t say that I recommend, although it is incredibly well acted, because it is so incredibly violent; there’s a great breakdown of it through the lens of its relationship to religion here—an underlying theme is that you’re never so broken you can’t be at least on the way to healing.  Everybody gets a chance at redemption, at reclaiming the best part of themselves; some take it, some don’t.  Healing comes from being willing to walk back to what you could have been.

I was recently reading an article for class about John Wesley’s ideas of healing and that he had no problem whatsoever with both medicine and prayer as effective tools of healing.  He also never blamed sick people for getting sick.  We live in mortal bodies that are constantly falling apart.  We should definitely take better care of them (preaching to myself) but we can’t stop our own mortality.  We are not Wolverine, able to heal almost instantly, and yelling at sick people about what they should be able to do is both foolish and cruel.  I appreciate that the vast majority of Biblical references to healing have no truck with blaming the broken.  Do they have to do things, like get up or reach out for a hem?  Yes.  Healing requires work on our part.  But do they get shamed into being well?  Nope.  We are all of us broken, so what good would shame do?  How silly is it for one mortal to tell another mortal that their mortality is shameful?

I realize that I’m switching back and forth between a lot of different kinds of healing and brokenness, but that’s a little deliberate (and a little due to my mind being in about fourteen different places right now).  I think it’s all of piece not in that your soul makes you have cancer but that sickness isn’t just a physical thing.  When I am sick—and I’ve been fortunate in never being long-term, all-the-time sick—I definitely notice an impact on my spiritual and emotional self.  And when I’m aware of my broken spirituality, it takes a toll on my physical commitments.

You may choose, good Reader, to push back on any and all of my assertions.  Perhaps, for you, the spirit has nothing to do with the body, or perhaps you’re really uncomfortable with my equating sick and broken because those mean different things to you.  Please, challenge me.  But recognize that in this wilderness of Lent, we are not whole, and we are not healthy.  Even Jesus needed angels at the end to put Him back together from the stress of the environment and the temptations.

I simply want us to consider, as I have been doing in light of the film, where our brokenness is.  Where do we need healing?  What can we do about that, in both the “non-miraculous” medical and the “miraculous” prayer sense?  (Yes, I put those in quotes because I think it’s a false dichotomy.)  And where are we healed that we can celebrate?  Where, in this desert of forty Lenten days, do we already see the bright edges of Easter?

 

 

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him.  Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”  Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly.  (Mark 8:22-25, CEB)

Egypt and Other False Hopes

Why yes, I am writing this instead of the sermon and two papers I need to be writing.  Welcome to divinity school.

Just so you know, it has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad few weeks.  Even in Australia.  Part of it being so bad is that all the spheres of my life are currently out of whack.  My friends and I have been in some weird spaces, school is frustrating and exhausting at best, my three jobs are financially unhelpful and not terribly life-giving, my faith is a wild mess, the political scene is terrifying and sorrow-inducing, and my car now has a crunched bumper and a tail-light magnificently patched together by Interpreter and jank as all get-out.

Nearly everything is not good.

Perhaps that laundry list resonates with you, Reader—I sure hope not, but if it does know that I hate everything right now, too.  I’m weary; not just tired, but worn to strange edges that constitute no recognizable shape.  I’ve found myself wondering a lot lately why I moved here to the Wicket Gate, why I left the Land of Pilgrims, why I’m in divinity school.

In short, why I left Egypt.

I don’t pull in the metaphor to say that the Land of Pilgrims was at all comparable to slavery (far from it; part of it was home in a way I’d never experienced before, but part of it was completely unhealthy), and I know I’m not the first to connect the complaining Israelites to modern angst with God’s leadership.  But I’ve never felt so clearly that connection.  I am soul-sore, spiritually thirsty, and starving for hope.  Of course I’m going to say to Moses that we should never have left, that at least in Egypt we were fed, that selling my soul wasn’t so bad—at least it was safe.  And it was; I was by no means rich in the Land of Pilgrims, but I was stable.  I didn’t have the fanciest place to live, but it was mine and it was home.  I hated my job, but my church sustained me.  I had community.  I had a life.

And here, in this in-between place, I don’t have that.  I have a banged-up car and more student loans and disappointing professors and damn it, God, why did You make me leave Egypt?

Because God had other plans—plans to which I agreed as I sang my little self across the dry Red Sea, as a I said okay, God, I trust You so much I’ll even get a tattoo to commemorate it.  I left my Egypt because it was killing me to stay and every one of my beautiful, caring friends saw it.  I left because the wilderness was terrifying but wide open in possibility.  And I left because God said come on, we’re moving, and I said, okay.

I now have three jobs in which I regularly practice pastoral relationship even as I am learning what that even means.  I helped a friend move this morning and then we sat on his stoop in the chilly sunshine and just were with each other, which is one of the best ways I re-energize in a relationship.  I got to simply be with Interpreter last weekend while he patched up my car and patiently answered my questions about how it’s put together because I know zilch about cars.  I get to go back to Egypt this summer for an internship that will probably kill me but will definitely change me.

13This wilderness is not accidental.  Do I need to change some things to make it healthier?  Yes.  Moses had to pull water from rocks and the Israelites ate raining bread; the wilderness isn’t mean to be experienced without change.  And it isn’t meant to be itself a destination; the Israelites were looking for the Promised Land.  I am looking to be ordained (which sometimes feels as far from a Promised Land as possible, but hey).  And sometimes, the wilderness lasts longer than intended—it took the Israelites forty years to go a distance that should have taken a month at most.  But even on the worst days when you are freaking sick of bread and your feet hurt and your throat is parched and you have run out of travelling jokes completely, going back to Egypt is not a helpful choice.  I could indeed go back to the Land of Pilgrims and, I’m sure, settle into a lovely and comfortable life.  But it would be turning my back on all that God is asking of and offering to me, all of the ways that I am growing and changing and learning, all of the impact I’m having on others even as they are impacting me.

This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day that kicks off Lent.  In the Lenten season Christians remember the forty days in the wilderness that Jesus spent, itself an echo of the forty years of the Israelites.  We hold all of who we are to the Light in preparation for the incredible celebration of Easter, the central point of our faith in which we proclaim a risen Christ Whose love overturns even Death.  Easter is a party—but the wilderness is my current reality, even as it itself is shot through with Easters.

Walk the wilderness with me, Reader.  If you feel comfortable, let me know some of what your desert looks like.  Slough off the idea that going back to Egypt is going to help.  And please; remind me to do the same.

 

 And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why hast thou dealt thus with us, to bring us forth out of Egypt?   Is this not what we told thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.  (Exodus 14:11-12, JUB)

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)