This not an attempt to take sides. It was inspired by a question I was asked by a friend in November after Election Day. The question is deceptively simple on its face. The answer is equally simple. It is the application of that answer that will prove difficult. It’s hard to love your neighbor when they do so much to make themselves unlovable. It’s the parable of “The Unforgiving Servant” come to life: “21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Nowhere in there does it say “And Jesus said ‘it would be easy, nothing to it.’ “ Sure, it’s hard, and a lot of people we will come across are going to make it hard, but that does not excuse us from doing so.
The ability of “man” to demonstrate cruelty towards his fellow man never ceases to amaze me. We read constantly about this deranged person, or that extremist group committing acts of terror upon their fellow man.
Since Election Day, there have been protests, occasionally violent protests, against Donald Trump. Losing is never easy, as many of us can attest. Accepting that loss can be difficult, but accepting the loss is a part of the grieving process.
This is not a question of who is right or wrong. For me, it’s a question of how do we move forward. When we suffer a personal loss, or a game doesn’t go “the right way”, it can be devastating. At the same time, the world doesn’t stop. Work still needs to be done, bills still need to be paid, children fed, and countless other tasks that do not care who is President of the United States.
A lot of cruel, nasty things have been said and done over the course of the campaign. The mother in Houston who told her son to “get out”. His crime, allegedly he voted for Donald Trump in a mock election at school “It was a joke”. A West Virginia mayor resigned after her comments about First Lady Michelle Obama being “An ape in high heels” on Facebook went viral. Cruel comments do nothing but bring about hard feelings. We are called to love our neighbor, not think of new ways to demonstrate our ability to “get even”.
The cruelty isn’t always so obvious. Sometimes it skulks in during the night, like the KKK material left in my driveway one night, or like the vandalism done to a 19th century African American schoolhouse in Ashburn “White Power”.
On a more personal level, it can be as cowardly as one of Kendall’s classmates from OCHS. He told another classmate, one he’d known since elementary school, to “go back to Mexico”. Sometimes it’s unintentional – at least I hope it is. During his campaign, Trump held rallies across the country. Frequently a chant of “BUILD THAT WALL! BUILD THAT WALL!” would arise. Where is the harm in that? None, at least in an imminent sense. But then we fast-forward to last week at a volleyball tournament in Texas. Archer City students chanted “BUILD THAT WALL! BUILD THAT WALL!” at students from the opposing school, Fort Hancock. Archer City has 384 students, not far off from the size of Madison County High School, 83 percent of whom are white. Fort Hancock has 434. Again, about the size of Madison. Now the necessary apologies have been made and accepted. But the damage has already been done. To illustrate the point, take a piece of paper and write someone’s name on it. The say something really mean to it and ball it up. Now unwrap it and tell it you’re sorry. You can say you’re sorry until Doomsday, but you can’t un-wrinkle that piece of paper. The scars remain because you can’t take the words back. There is not ‘putting the toothpaste back in the tube’. The most disappointing thing for me was that no one did anything. No school officials, no parents, no match officials did anything. They stood back and said nothing, did nothing. Proverbs 31:9 tells us: “Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.” Silence is compliance.
You might hear, What’s the use? People won’t or can’t change. I don’t accept that. People can change, I’ve seen it. My Gramma Thompson would use “the N-word” in conversation and think nothing of it. Gramma was not a cross-burning racist, but she had some racist ideas. My brothers and I were mortified. Gramma was a caring, loving person, a real force at Oak Grove. Bill and I realized that we could not just yell and scream at Gramma and expect her to change her ways. Firstly, it was not our place to yell at an adult. Secondly, Gramma was not likely to “respond well” to that approach. We began to calmly, gently and firmly say things such as “Gramma, you can’t say that word anymore” or “Gramma, they don’t like it when you say that”. At first, she was defensive. “We always called them that, and nobody had a problem with it”. Our response was usually something like “Well, Gramma, doctors used to use leeches to bleed their patients, but they don’t anymore. The world changed, and we have to change with it”. I would love to tell you we only had to do that once, but habits take time to develop – good and bad.
So back to the original question: What are we as Christians supposed to do? The easy, snarky answer is “the same thing we were supposed to on Monday, November 7th”: Love our neighbor. Notice we’re not supposed to “Love everything they say, or everything they do, or participate in everything they do. But snarky, cynical supplies are exactly what has gotten us to this point. People who voted for Trump are seen by some as racist, bigoted, uneducated homophobes. People who voted for Hillary are whiny, sore-loser, spoiled millennials who expect a trophy just for showing up, “snowflakes”. As with most sweeping generalizations, both sides are wrong. When either side says something mean, or cruel to the other side the injured party responds with something equally cruel. A quote, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, says “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.” It eventually breaks down into the schoolyard argument of “You’re stupid! / You’re stupider!” Everybody winds up mad, each playing right into the stereotype, and nothing changes. There is a scene in the movie “Road House” in which Patrick Swayze, playing the head bouncer in a bar, tells his employees to “Be nice” when someone acts up in the club. No matter what happens, “be nice” is the rule of the day. That’s not the first Great Commandment, but it does sound similar to the Second -” Love thy neighbor as thyself”.
What does it mean to “Love thy neighbor”? It means we accept people where they are, and exactly where they are at the time. We don’t try to force them into anything, but we don’t have to compromise our own beliefs either.
Jesus met with people from all walks of life: prostitutes, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, He never wavered from his teachings, but he didn’t yell at these people or call them names. He didn’t yell the rich, young man but he doesn’t back from the standard either. “Be nice.” or “Love thy neighbor” if you prefer. As I said, the verse is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” not “You shall love your neighbor as yourself – it’s going to be a piece of cake”. It’s going to be hard, REALLY hard at times. That does not excuse us from trying.
Will we fail at times? Most likely, but we must keep trying. Luke 6:27-28 (ESV) “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Who knows, maybe someone will be watching and will see the example you provide by being “nice” instead of the angry rant they just “knew” was coming. Love is patient. We didn’t get to this point overnight, we’re not getting out of it by being nice once or twice. We need to be patient with ourselves and with others. We need to lean into it and keep reminding ourselves who we are and, more importantly, WHOSE we are. AMEN.