Have you ever played that game “Never, Never Have I Ever”? It’s a kids’ game, a drinking game, a party ice-breaker, an all-around easy game to adapt for all ages. The basic gist is this: one person begins by saying “Never, never have I ever —” (insert crazy stunt, theme event, travel destination, broken body parts, or whatever). Anyone who HAS done that crazy thing, traveled to that specific country, or broken that particular bone then has to take a drink, sit down, put stickers on their face, or do something goofy. Depending on the venue, there are variations on who’s the winner and who’s the loser.
In all variations, though, there’s a reflection of our human propensity for “one-up-man-ship”. “What’s that?” you ask. It’s the head game we’ve all played to portray ourselves as the richest, the brightest, the most hard done by, the most persecuted person by listening to another’s story and then topping them. By topping them, we diminish the other person’s lived experiences and place ourselves squarely on the top.
Person A: “I had a horrible fight with my spouse this morning. It’s getting harder and harder to get through these tiffs!”
Person B: “That’s nothing! Wait until you go through a divorce like I have and then you’ll know what hardship is.”
Person A was seeking a listening ear and understanding; Person B was willing to offer some of that, but more than that wanted their lived experiences brought out and honoured foremost. To do that, Person B diminished Person A’s experiences and ended up expressing little love or empathy. While not a nice thing to, Person B wasobviously struggling with pain issues too, and trying to get empathy and understanding as well.
Oh the games we play.
I’ve begun reading the works of John O’Donohue. Leaning on wisdom from the Celtic church, O’Donohue crafts poetry and blessings that seeks to bless and not curse. I’ll admit that I find this difficult not for lack of subject matter, but it’s so easy to come off as cheesy and trite. O’Donohue, I believe, has a mixture of the profound and cheesy together. Sometimes cheesy is good.
Sometimes I’m guilty of playing “Never, Never Have I Ever” with the people around me. It kind of feels good. It gives me a sense of power; of self-righteousness; of relief from anxiety that I could somehow be a bad person.
- Never, never have I ever demanded Muslims be kicked out of Canada (as opposed to all of those OTHER people who are).
- Never, never have I ever declared that Christians were being persecuted in North America (unlike all of those OTHER whack-jobs who want to play victim; and… oops… except when I actually DID declare we were being persecuted perhaps 15 or so years ago).
- Never, never have I ever known a life without bouts of severe depression (unlike all those others who simply can’t relate to my situation… until they can and I won’t let them).
I don’t like that I know this game far better than I want to. I don’t like that I sometimes puff myself up above all of those “others” because I’m more righteous, more just, more beleaguered, more put down, more of a target, more holy, more… anything.
The game isn’t just about winning at the good things; we all use it to win at the lousy things too. We try to top how bad we have it or prioritize who has it the worst in life. When I read Facebook posts about how Canada shouldn’t open its doors to Syrian refugees because: a) we need to take care of our own first, or b) they aren’t refugees but terrorists in disguise, or c) Christians are getting the shaft, I cringe.
- A) We’re all living on stolen land. Christians stole the land first 500 years ago from indigenous peoples, so we have absolutely zero footing here.
- B) Jesus invited all to “Come…”. He knew Judas was a traitor and thief, and that Peter was a hothead, and that James and John were brats. He still invited ALL to “Come…” There’s enough. Even in an our age of disparity and scarcity, when we share the abundance we have, there’s more than enough. Our seniors will be cared for adequately; our LGBTQ+ youth will find homes; and yes, we have more than enough resources to welcome fleeing peoples.Will we choose to be afraid that our own will go without (as the Early church did when the Hebraic widows and the Hellenist widows fought over food distribution; see the book of Acts)? If so, perhaps how we’re living life NOW together needs some serious reconsideration.
- C) Christendom as its been lived over the past 500 years in North America is being challenged to change and grow, but Muslims aren’t taking over, prayer isn’t being removed out of our schools (unless parents specifically tell their kids to pray publicly in schools to the point where they become obnoxious and the self-martyr complex arrives in full force), and just because one Christian is passionate about Syrian refugees that doesn’t mean they’re automatically apathetic to abortion.
“May all that is unforgiven in you… be released…”
Can all that’s unforgiven in me be released? All that’s unforgivable? All that’s hoarse with my outrage and frustration; all that’s tired with nurturing what’s sacred to me; all that’s secretly desiring to demolish the other?
Can in truly be so?
We have room to invite Syrians to come; we have space at the Table for all, Muslims included; the very air we breathe is filled with prayer, so our fears that God is being kicked out are truly unfounded; we have the need to release our grip on land we’ve stolen; and we have opportunity to understand that all with needs are welcome. No one said it would be easy; and no one said learning to live in community would be hurdle-free, but it’s what Christ calls us to — to live it each day with sleep being rubbed out of our eyes, sour milk sitting in the fridge, and kids’ toys on the floor.
I get angry when people trash Muslims in the name of Christianity. It’s horrible and cruel. It’s like we’ve lost all ties with our own violent past, pointing at another group. I get exhausted with Christians who are convinced that prayer is being removed from every inch of our public spheres; the paranoia is excruciating! And I roll my eyes when Christians accuse people of being uncaring when we desire to open our borders to refugees, so that obviously means we apparently are uncaring about abortion.
“May all that is unforgiven in you… be released…”
May it be released in me: the anger, the exhaustion, the frustration, the impatience.
May it all let go of whatever holds live within, and drift away across the sea never to be seen again.
May this be for me.
May this be for you.
May it be so for all.