You guys, my beloved pastor Ron Patterson is so insanely beautiful and wise. He ALWAYS is but his message last Sunday about love and hate and humility and building bridges just TORE me up . After he finished I stood up in my pew and clapped and cheered and WOOT WOOTED and pumped my fists and well, my church is not that kind of church. And so Craig said: SIT DOWN, HONEY. HONEY. Sit down. So then I stayed standing even longer than I WOULD have because Craig is not the boss of me and nobody puts baby in a corner and submitting to your spouse is not really something we focus on much in the UCC.
In related news, I REALLY FEEL LIKE PEOPLE SHOULD STAND UP AND CLAP MORE IN GENERAL. Like, just as they go throughout their day. But we can talk about that more another time. Without further ado, meet Pastor Ron!
First off, things are tough out there in this world of ours. There is real evil—it exists, you can see it operating in some of the crazy behavior we hear about that makes reasonable people afraid for the future. Women and girls are kidnapped, aid workers and reporters are killed and religious ideas, taken to their extreme, are cited as justification and as a motivation to build the momentum of hate.
Young people who do not feel they have any investment in the future are being seduced by the promise of glory or the belief that violence is the way to solve their personal problems and make a meaningful difference with their lives. They are being taught that violence is the best way to claim and express their religious political identity or to salve the wounds they believe have been caused by others.
And it would be easy just to stand here and offer smug words of condemnation or to wring my hands about how God-awful those poor deluded fools over there are behaving, wishing that they would sit down over a cup of coffee with me sometime soon so I could enlighten them with my wisdom and straighten out their thinking about truth, beauty and the American way.
And it would also be easy just to suggest that our military be given a free hand to bomb those with whom we happen to disagree into the stone age or to meet their violence with greater violence or to force those evil people into a different way of looking at the world more in tune with our ideas of how the world should be.
And yes, let me say it—sometimes force is necessary, sometimes sacrifice needs to be made for the sake of defense and yes, we need to speak out—all of us for the sake of the truth as we see it…..but the way of Jesus is a different way—it is not the way of us against them—or we have the truth and you don’t have it and you need to get some of our truth or God doesn’t love you.
Between 1608 and 1638, Protestants and Catholics fought the Thirty Years War because they both believed that the other side did not know the truth about Jesus. Eight million people died because the spiritual ancestors of those beautiful people across the street at St. Williams disagreed with our spiritual ancestors and they all decided—both Catholics and Protestants, that the way of Jesus justified killing one another to make their way the only way. Do you suppose that made Jesus happy?
In the year 1,000 an army of Western Christians sacked Constantinople, the capital city of the Eastern Christians because one side used leavened bread in communion and the other side used unleavened bread. Thousands dead because of yeast or the lack there of, in the communion bread. Do you suppose that is what Jesus had in mind when he said: “This is my body broken for you…..”
I do not pretend to understand the terribly deep hate that some of our Muslim sisters and brothers have for one another or for Christians. I do not pretend to understand the hate that motivated Christians to lead the Crusades. What is there about religion – theirs and ours and others that turns love into hate and hope into fear? I know there is a deep history of mistrust and fear between Sunni and Shia Muslims and there is a legacy of tribal mistrust and hatred and ideas about vengeance that I do not understand – but I do know my own religious history, I know the nastier, violent parts of the Bible. And I know our own history as a people even here in the United States. The history of slavery and the way we treated the people who were living here when we moved in, and the blood bath that was the Civil War…….
Let me suggest just a few ideas for you to think about. Buried right there in the middle of our Bible lesson for today and layered over and surrounded by all the scary stuff about violence and the end of the world—sort of like those news reports some of us sit and listen to all day—is a little word from Jesus that is a big word about life. Like a flower planted in the desert, Jesus says—heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the word was power and the word was the way that leads to life. What is the Word? Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the way and the way he laid out (Love) and the words he spoke (Love) will endure, not the hate, not the hopelessness, not the fear.
Do you believe that? That’s the promise that comes each year at Christmas. Love. That’s what born in the manger and all that “Silent Night, Holy Night” candle glow, peace on earth stuff—that’s what it’s about. That’s the message, that’s the promise. Jesus. Love.
Question: Is that promise strong enough to confront the hate? Is that promise a truth by which you and I can live?
The way of hate is not just out there or over there in some other country or among people with whom we happen to disagree. Hate may manifest itself in the behavior of the followers of any religion. And hate is tricky- the sneakiest trick the devil plays is to get you and me to hate the haters and thereby wallow in the mud that has made this world miserable from day one.
If becoming a bigot myself is my best answer to the bigotry of another, then hate wins. If enhancing my own intolerance is my considered intellectual defense to the intolerance of another, then hate wins. If manifesting my racism is my solution to the racism of another, then hate wins. If even suggesting for a moment that because I love God, others don’t or that they are somehow less than the beautiful creations of God’s love, then hate wins. And if I am so sure that my way of worship is the only way to worship or to pray, then hate surely wins and wins big time.
Do you remember that little story Jesus told about seeing the speck in our neighbor’s eye while failing to see the log in our own? There’s an awful lot of that going around and I’m sorry to say that some days under the influence of the harsh reality of this good earth, I fall into that mistake myself.
I can’t fix the Middle East. I can’t sort out the complexities that drive people to deny the humanity of other people. All I can do is get my heart and my head and my hands around the words Jesus said would never pass away.
I can love my neighbor. I can honor the image of God that I bear. I can love the power of love—which is another word for all I believe about God. If I only believe in a God who is some distant being out there, way far away, then I can get away with all sorts of nasty behavior toward the person next door, but I don’t see it that way.
God is my neighbor. You are my neighbor. The person who disagrees with me is my neighbor. Even the person who hates and behaves terribly is my neighbor and despite the fact that I have trouble saying it and often more trouble believing it, even that unloving, misbehaving, hate manifesting so and so who is attempting to tear the world apart, that person is my neighbor and they bear the very image of God.
Now that’s the theory- so how do we put it into practice? I don’t think it works long distance for most of us. I don’t think it works when you or I wring our hands lamenting how awful things are. So here’s what we do: Turn off the news channel! Leave your echo chamber! Find someone who disagrees with you and take him or her to lunch. Make friends with someone who follows a different faith. Read a good book and learn something new about another religion. Practice your own faith so that it shows.
Recognize that if everyone you know agrees with you, you are probably living in the same far country where the Prodigal child squandered his inheritance—remember that story? If your mind is made up and you know what you know and don’t want to know more, then at least consider that you might have closed the door to the possibility that the Holy Spirit of the living God might move through you to make this world a better place.
So…Change your mind! Love someone. Give something. Plant a tree. Light a candle. Hold on to hope. That is the way that leads to life! And more people on that journey are exactly what this hurting world needs.
(ALL MANNER OF CHEERING AND WOOT WOOTING AND FIST PUMPING AND ALL THE THINGS!!!! Honey, sit down. I will not.)
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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