As I watched my youngest graduate from Junior High School, my heart was torn. It was not for the reasons you might assume. While I felt joy in the celebration of these kids (many of whom I have known since preschool), I wrestled with the sadness coming from witnessing behaviors minutes before which have become the norm rather than the exception. And not from the kids.
My husband, my older son, my daughter and I came together to celebrate with my son. I realize that this was Jr. High graduation and some areas of the country do not even consider that event worthy of a ceremony (I didn’t experience it and don’t feel I’m less the person for it.) However, last night was about celebrating a milestone in a child’s life. As with most milestones, families play an integral part in the support given to reach it and desire to celebrate it together.
Finding four seats together became a daunting task. Although everyone needed a ticket, not everyone’s “party” arrived together. I understand the desire to include extended ticketed family with your group. However, when saved seats have morphed into rows, we need to ask ourselves what’s really at play here.
We found seats: I sat alone, my husband and daughter sat several rows back and my son sat in the back row by himself. Meanwhile, the two “saved” seats in back of me never filled.
As I sat alone, I mourned. First, for the immediate grief of not sitting together with my family. We’ve been through a lot these past few years. My son has encountered the typical Jr. High social challenges, confronted the academic rigors that come with maturity, and dealt with many difficult situations experienced by our whole family. In many ways, we’ve been stretched to our limits for a decade. Last night, it would have been nice to be woven together in our celebration.
I also mourned the small rips into humanity I witnessed earlier in the day in my own community. Two different adults looked at me and continued to cut me off in a parking lot. “Just because you can does not mean you should” has become a well known mantra in our home. My kids have learned that this world is not “all about them.” Sometimes, we sacrifice for the sake of someone else. It may involve a big act-maybe even their life. Yet, many times, the humility involves the routine moments of asking what can be done to make life better for someone else. When we cannot even give up an extra minute, who have we become?
How easy it is to explain away those behaviors. We are all stressed. Some days, we wonder how the lists for our days will be accomplished within the 24 hours we are given. Our minds are constantly multitasking; hoping that fulfillment will be found in reaching our expectations. Whatever the cost. But maybe, we need to evaluate what it is we expect: out of our days and out of our lives. Who informs your identity? How does that influence your daily expectations?
Two years ago, I lamented the division in our nation through my post. http://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/11/14/the-hard-work-of-being-neighbors/ Since then, has anything really changed? The trespasses against our neighbors continue-some with loud fanfare; others in a more quiet “sin of omission” manner.
Everyday we have an opportunity to shine a collective light in the moments we have with others.
treating waitstaff (despite your frustration)
responding to the annoying neighbor kid (who ironically is perceived as a “trespasser”)
listening to a person who holds a different political view (without unfriending them or tuning them out)
tempted to financially gain from someone else’s loss (just because you can, does it mean you should?)
driving or standing in line (Is your time really more important than someone else’s)
Our natural selves will find it difficult but our transformed selves can embrace the hard. Did we not invite Jesus in to do just that?
Paul exhorts us in this way: “…Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8)
I know we can do better. Jesus made it so.
On November 9,the day after the Presidential election I woke up to a raw reality.
A tidal wave of voices-loud, vulnerable, celebratory, discouraged, respectful, disrespectful, urban, rural, old, young, male, female-washed over our shared land of Earthly citizenship. The feelings of divisiveness that had been bubbling below the surface for so long exploded. Americans of every political perspective spoke: some through words, others through actions. And running through it all was a question that lurked in the hearts of all: Does my narrative matter-to anyone?
The Pharisees challenged Jesus with this question: What is the Greatest Commandment?
Jesus gave an unexpected answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and Love your neighbor as yourself.“
The Pharisees themselves didn’t fully grasp the implications of their own question.
We don’t often grasp them either.
How can you love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t see your neighbor as yourself?
You see, for the past year, opinions, pleas, conversations have flooded social media, workplaces, social gatherings. There are lots of voices and not all of them are audible. But does anyone really listen?
It’s much easier to reduce people to labels and perceptions that keep people at a distance.
Listening takes work. Especially when passions are at play. Many times, our passions are viewed in the context of our narratives. The problem is that our narratives are not complete. We are still living them. There are more experiences that will shape us, new information that will challenge us and people that we need to encounter-that will further expand our perceptions of what it means to be Americans, as well as fellow Creations of our God.
Investing in others’ lives takes work. Lauren Winner writes about the spiritual practice of hospitality in her book Mudhouse Sabbath. She writes, “God’s creation gives us a model for making and sharing homes with people, but the reality of God’s Trinitarian life suggests that Christian hospitality goes further than that. We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives.”
Further,Winner suggests that the invitation happen in the context of our messiness; not when we think we have our “home” orderly, That, my friends, requires vulnerability. Letting go of the walls of our cause and standing in the same space. Acknowledging that at our core-we our both humans-created in the Image of God. We come bearing our imperfections and our common longings for validation.
It’s easy to love neighbors like ourselves. When we feel misunderstood, we tend to look for comfort in those who share our views. We long for someone to listen and validate our pain and hopefully our identity as we see it. But when we engage in those interactions, we must be aware that there is a bigger narrative at work. One that involves the stories of people different than us.
To love neighbors as ourselves, demands movement into places of discomfort, vulnerability, and risk. Because that is what we long for from others.
The show “Breaking Borders” (Travel Channel) brilliantly challenges us to come to the table-a symbol of community-and know your neighbor. Really. By Listening, Restraining the temptation to exert control with words. Hearing each other’s stories. Asking questions. Understanding that perspective is shaped by our personal stories.
Who would have thought that Israelite settlers and Palestinians living in the West Bank could engage in civil conversation on the politics of homeland? But it happened. Despite disagreements. Sharing stories and breaking bread together remove walls. We recognize that most of “those” people are really like us.
Loving our neighbor can only come about through recognizing that Jesus makes it happen. Even if our neighbors don’t know him. He’s the root of our love.
God ordained love. The kind that transforms the way we see each other through our Earthly lens. Love that is born out of the Holiness of God’s character. Sacrificial love as described in 1 John 4:7-9.
Navigating through these tumultuous waters is not easy, friends. Can we covenant to doing the hard work together? To venture into those sacred spaces as we are led? And to be willing to be transformed in the process?