What a week it’s been. Last Friday, many of us cried tears of joy (as a friend of mine said, “I UGLY cried”) when the Supreme Court told the world that the United States would defend the 14th Amendment rights of LGBT people to be “equal under the law” by allowing same-sex marriage across each of our 50 states. We cheered when we heard President Obama say “When all people are treated as equals, we are ALL more free." We pinched ourselves to make sure that the history revealing itself was really real.
And then Monday morning brought a whole new set of challenges. Our Facebook feeds filled with hateful, ill-informed comments by family and friends. Articles were posted by angry bloggers who said marriage between pedophiles and children would be the “next stop on America’s road to moral decline.” Some counties in Tennessee have even refused to perform same-sex weddings, essentially saying that if “they” can get married, then nobody can get married.
As the week as progressed, many of us have found our joy quickly curdling into frustration, anger, and sadness. Many of us have found ourselves shaking our fists at the sky and yelling “JUST STOP!!”
My friends, I won’t tell you not to be angry. Many of the things you’ve experienced this week really should make you angry. But, in the midst of our anger, sadness, fear, and frustration, we have to decide how we will be people of healing, hope, reconciliation, and love. How will we be people who not only HEAR Christ’s red-lettered words, but also live them… especially when they say really difficult things like “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you”?
This week is one of those faith-testing times when we’re asked to not only embrace the easy, feel-good parts of the gospel (God is love! Jesus accepts you! You are accepted!), but to also follow the more difficult parts – the parts that ask us to follow Christ’s example and rise above hate to show grace.
But how will we do that?
John Pavlovitz offers a few helpful suggestions as we wade into “the dangerous, chaotic fray of public religious dialogue.” In this blog post on “Stuff That Needs To Be Said,” he wisely encourages us to remember:
1) People are a product of their stories.
Whether someone is an Atheist, Agnostic, or Believer (or all of the above), they don’t pop out of the womb that way. Our faith perspective isn’t an instant download that comes with the operating system. Every single person you encounter is the sum total of their individual journey; the home where they were raised, the friends they have, the church they grew up in, the books they read, the teachers who inspired them, the stuff they’ve seen, the wounds they’ve sustained, the way they are wired. It all slowly shapes them, and that very specific renovation of people results in the exact version of them standing in front of you at a given moment. Regardless of whether or not you can see it, everyone has a deep back story that looms largely, both in their theology and in the way it gets expressed.
Likewise, you too are a product of your story. You have been crafted by time and experience, education and relationships, by your heroes and your enemies, and these have all formed the uniquely original biases and the blind spots in your own belief system. You know what it’s like to be discounted and dismissed from a distance, so remember that as you are tempted to see people as caricatures and cartoons; just two-dimensional representations of a religious argument.
As you confront people’s ideas and argue with their religion, seek to learn their stories.
2) Theology is a place.
What we believe about faith and God and the afterlife is not as fixed as we often like to think. It is rather, an ever-shifting spot in space and time. Very likely, you believe quite differently than you did ten years ago in both subtle and substantial ways, and ten years from now the same will almost certainly be true. In this way I like to think of theology as a place; as the specific location where you are right this moment.
This is important as you interact with others, because it helps you clarify your limitations and remember your place. When it comes to matters of faith, you cannot make someone be where you are. It’s not your job or your right to forcibly pull someone to your faith perspective; to make them see as you see or agree to the givens you’ve established in your mind. Your responsibility is to openly describe the view from where you stand and hope that something in that is helpful or encouraging or challenging to people. I never feel I need to convince someone to believe what I believe, I only need to let them know where I am, and ask them to meet me there in relationship.
As you talk about God and faith, resist the temptation to try and move people anywhere. If God is real, God will do that.
3) Being right is dangerous.
Whether we claim a deep faith or we are certain that faith is a useless mirage, most of us operate under the general (if well-hidden) assumption that we have it right; that we alone have solved the great puzzle that no other living soul has, holding pearls of wisdom that elude everyone else. Though we may have brief flashes of humility, most of us spend our days fully enamored with our own thinking. This certainty of self wants to be seen as deeply held conviction, but it’s more often used as license to be a jackass. It’s our absolute sense of rightness that usually justifies us to treat people terribly. It’s the paper-thin line we so easily cross, from righteous to self-righteous.
One of the things people ask me about most often, is how I deal with hateful religious people who so freely condemn and so easily cast judgment, and the answer is simple: I remember that they think they’re correct. Even if someone standing across from me (or through a smart phone screen a few thousand miles away) delivers their religion in what feels like the most offensive, vile, bigoted fashion, at the core of all of it they genuinely believe it. If they are people of faith, they do want to please God, they don’t want to go to Hell, and they want me to know when they think I’m headed there. Jesus showed this kind of mercy and kindness when we said of his misguided executioners, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”. Remembering that even destructive faith begins at a beautifully, sincere place doesn’t excuse anyone’s horrible behavior in the name of God, but it goes a long way in us receiving their words with some measure of understanding.
Holy Trinity, even when our Christian brothers and sisters aren’t showing us the love they should, let’s continue to be people of love, ok? After all, love will only win if we continue to use it.