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.
There 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)