I know I find it impossible some days. Why do I let it bother me so much?
If I claim to love everyone, to be grateful for the lives of all people created so masterfully, and then actually express that, well… I need to live it, don’t I?
Imperfectly and broken, for sure, but I need to live it even when it’s impossible.
I attended a conference last year where the keynote speaker talked about how we, as Christians, too often differentiate between the “pretty poor” and the “ugly poor”. The pretty poor are those folks we are naturally drawn towards to help: teen moms with babes, orphans, seniors in care, or perhaps people new to Canada. But our persistent need to determine who’s worthy and who isn’t rears its monster’s head and we exclude the ugly poor: people on the street who smell of weeks worth of booze and no showers, people of certain ethnic groups we have prejudged repeatedly, people of different sexual orientation or gender identity, people with mental illnesses that demand our time and space a little too much, people who access frontline services for time periods longer than we think is appropriate (“sponging off the system”).
Ugly poor. Unworthy poor. Poor who should know better or be better or do better. People we think should TRY HARDER.
As I was reading my newsfeed this morning, an article speaking about the ‘sin’ of transgender people was shared by a prominent young earth creationist. His comments and the comments that were attached to the article were disgusting… vile… untruthful… and all I could hear in my head was that resounding gong when someone speaks of loving people, but really only is puffing up hatred. I was between wanting to cry and throw up.
Yet even using my descriptors that I did in that last paragraph: “disgusting”, “vile”, “untruthful”, “resounding gong”… those are loaded, emotional terms. Other than expressing my hurt and anger, what good are they doing? The only reason this person’s post made it to my newsfeed was because a friend of mine shared it on his, and thus I saw it.
Why did it upset me as much as it did?
He’s a representation of who I was 15 years ago. Perhaps therein lies the anger and frustration. I believed that the LBGT community was a huge group of mentally unstable people who could choose to change if they wanted to (more will power and more repentance, folks!); I believed our particular brand of Christianity had the corner on truth (plain reading, infallible bible, etc); I believed in a young earth; I believed that Christians in North America were being persecuted; and I believed that the most loving thing I could do for other people was to share THE Gospel (believing our Gospel was the correct Gospel; the word “interpretation” was heretical).
When I read of teachers, authors, friends and colleagues being in that same place I was, I cringe. I know now that in many ways I was hostile, haughty, ignorant, and cruel.
And yet there were many ways I was loving, kind, patient, truthful and embracing. So when I come up against people who represent my past, I have to learn the ways of love in many ways:
1. I might be hurt or afraid by specific comments related to specific people(s), but this doesn’t encompass the whole of any person (I hope!)
2. I have to remember the vast number of people who didn’t believe as I did way back when, and loved me anyway. People who were/are LGBT folks and allies, Wiccans, atheists, women exiting prostitution, addicts and recovering addicts, and so many more. The grace extended here was tremendous.
3. There are people who, to this day, support me, love and care for me, and they come out of conservative evangelical traditions. We might not agree on some things, but we can share meals together and be good friends. We respect and love each other.
When we walk away from times and places that turned toxic on us, our natural propensity is to throw all the babies out with the bathwater. In some cases, this is the needed thing. Especially when we begin to have discussions surrounding abuse — of any kind — we need to understand that cutting ties completely might be the only way for someone to have a healthy, restored life.
Birth pains are difficult on parents and infants — always. I have (and am) screeching to get away from some traditions that “birthed” me, but to accuse these traditions of being 100% ignorant, 100% wrong, 100% awful is simply untrue. My anger says that it’s real, but the Spirit nurtures some needed space within me and I gain a better sense of clarity.
My traditions taught me profound forms of music — singing especially, learning through singing, and engaging in singing as sacred.
My traditions taught me to delve into spirituality from a young age.
My traditions taught me that our interconnectedness of being helps create community.
My traditions taught me that communal worship can build up, nurture and strengthen.
Christians who embrace a progressive label, an emergent label, a social justice label, or any other label that is seen as sinful or unnecessary are often ostracized, beaten down with the Bible, marginalized and hurt. But with these real and painful experiences, sometimes we get a little too high on our horses; we use snark, mockery, and derision to fight back.
And my inclination IS to fight back. Seeing now how wrong I was on fronts sacred to so many people (and how many people I needed forgiveness from), I am super-sensitive to people in more conservative traditions bashing others. And make no mistake: it is bashing. I thought this was a loving thing?
Tony Campolo wrote today about his son Bart. Bart has become a secular humanist and Tony and Peggy are taking a lot of heat for their son’s choices. The ol’ Proverbs 22:6 is being whipped out (“…train up a child in the way he should go…” — out of context, and definitely being used as accusatory), and blame is being place in many places when perhaps blame doesn’t need to applied anywhere.
Enter: second round of face palms for the morning.
It’s not enough that Bart’s being bashed and condemned to hell, but his parents have to be treated in the same way?
Part of me wants to walk away altogether. If the best parts of who we are fling Scripture, sit high and mighty in our theology, and call others down to the point where we’re all sludge between the toes of worms, then I want nothing to do with it. Here’s a big birthing pain: how do I love friends, colleagues, teachers and people in general who treat others so terribly in the name of love?
I’m reminded of the story of the Good Samaritan… the wrong kind of person who did all the helping, the healing, the paying, the carrying; the wrong kind of person stopped and embraced; the wrong kind of person showed faith and acted on it; and the wrong kind of person was called “neighbor” by Jesus BEFORE anything stupid like conversion was ever brought up.
How do I love the people who call me aberrant… sinful… condemned… or any other bible-themed insult?
I have no idea.
It’s easier to love the addict on the street than it is to love people who claim to have intimate relationships with the Author of Love, but show it through leaving long Scripture passages (which are apparently supposed to be self-evident), use psuedo-science to prove that praying the gay away is godly, call for the destruction of Muslims, snipe at charismatics, snipe at Catholics, snipe at Protestants, snipe at anyone who might be showing signs of religious syncretism, forbid people from participating in church because the party line isn’t towed, or make such claims that consistently begin with the word: obviously (obviously not a real Christian, obviously a heretic, obvious biblically illiterate, obviously a heretic, etc).
I have no idea how to love people in this instance, other than running away. There’s too much fear and anger.
But the presence of anger shows me that I need to love. Jesus reminds me that I need to love. At all costs.
Ask me tomorrow.
Maybe I’ll have a strategy worked out by then.