Ok, so we need to talk. In case you missed it, to quote a favorite line from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, ” Strange things are afoot at the Circle K”.
People are not behaving well. They are not using good manners. They are being very mean. And nothing seems to be happening to change that. They are mean to each other about serious things–like what’s the best way for us to help people who need extra help, but not help out people who are scamming the system, like how we can provide jobs to people who genuinely want to work for a wage that provides them with a life above the poverty line, like how we can make sure that babies and little kids and permanently disabled people and sweet little old people can go to the doctor instead of the emergency room when they have a cough or cold, like how it’s apparently ok to be mean or hateful or depersonalize someone if they’ve been mean or hateful or depersonalized you first. We key cars, break windows, yell at people in grocery stores, holler at the television, avoid seeing family members we know think or vote differently than we do. We write screeds on Facebook, elucidating all the ways we are right, and someone else is wrong, or pointing out their faulty logic. And in the midst of all of this, we have forgotten some very important things.
We need to remember that we really are all in this together. We need to remember that if we don’t find a way to live alongside each other, we will live alone, and that life will be ugly, brutish, and short. We need to remember that extreme statements are meant to insight extreme responses, and that people who yell and make statements that include “always” “never” and “everyone” are rarely representative of an actual situation or crisis.
We need to remember that we are all, whether we recognize it or not, in the process of learning how to be together, how to function with and around each other. When we return hate for hate, when we make our responses and actions situational (He hit me first, so I can hit him, even though I know hitting is wrong…), we lose opportunities to learn how to understand each other, and we simply respond out of our selfishness to be comfortable and unchallenged. There are those who would argue that if someone breaks into my home, I have the right (and still others would say I have an obligation) to use lethal force to resolve a burglary situation.
What I have to say is this: The moment I have to think about using lethal force to prevent someone from entering my home and taking my stuff or my life is more than one moment too late to do anything reasonable or rational about that situation. What I want to know is this–how did I get to a point where I’m living a life where someone wants my stuff, where someone in my neighborhood or in my area has singled me out to burgle, where someone in my neighborhood feels so unsafe, so desperate that their only recourse is to rob houses? What I’m trying to say here is that letting desperation fester, helping people believe they are hopeless and stuck in a never-ending cycle of want and need, and inculcating people with a constant stream of sex, drugs, consumer goods–all the while sending a myriad of mixed messages through advertising, gaming, targeted marketing, and outright lies makes addressing the problem–one of hopelessness and some kind of poverty, damn near impossible.
And then, there’s Jesus. There’s this Jesus who says things like “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I’ve been turning that over and over in my mind for two weeks…how Jesus levels the poverty playing field, by talking about the poverty of spirit. That’s all of us, folks. Plain and simple. Our spirits lack, and in times like these, that lack screams through the hustle and bustle and pretty lights and colors and demands MORE MORE MORE. Material poverty isn’t a symptom of spiritual poverty–that’s a lie people will tell you. Likewise, spiritual poverty isn’t a symptom of material poverty. Often, the two over-lap. We see this in the faces of the people we pass on our way to work–they are at intersections and bus stops and in lines at the soup kitchens around the corner from our office. But we also see people who are well-dressed, well-educated, well-spoken, and sometimes (God, I hope…) just as well-intentioned as we are suffering from extreme spiritual poverty. And all of those people deserve the comfort Jesus affords to those in mourning, and he promises them comfort, just a little bit after he blesses their poverty.
I believe that my job, as someone who loves Jesus and who is “out and proud” about being a Jesus person, is to try and live and love like Jesus did, to live and love the people who are alive in the world, just as they are. And some days, it’s really hard. When we get into tight, emotional spots–like the ones we’ve been lately experiencing in the United States, we tend to loose focus on the underlying causes of the discomfort…we band-aid things that should be stitched, we ignore internal injuries to confront flesh wounds, we don’t take all our antibiotics…and we fester.
I feel like we’re stuck in a feedback loop. I’m so tired of it. I’m so sad about it. I don’t know what to do to make things different, or how or what any of us are really supposed to help work this mess out…except that I kind of do.
The only way we get out of this is to be kind to each other, and to stop believing the worst about our brothers and sisters. We have to be better than we believe we can be–whether it’s letting someone go in front of you in the grocery line, or volunteering at a shelter, or just not flipping off the person who just cut you off in traffic–the only way we are going to ever feel like things are going well is to make things be well.
Our poverty, however it’s expressed, with be in the world–all of us are lacking a widget…a God-shaped hole inside of us that we struggle to make full. God fills those holes, bridges those gaps, sutures those rifts…and God does it with our hands, and voices, empowered by Jesus’ life and emboldened by the Holy Spirit. We have to act like we believe that, like we really believe we can be the hands and feet of Jesus in broken and dying world. It is a long, a hard work, and we won’t live to see it come into full flower. And that’s ok. But the time is definitely now, and we have to start really living out the unfettered and unapologetic Gospel of radical inclusion and compassion, not because the world is about to end, or because we might be smote, but because living and loving like Jesus says we can, like we ought to, creates the world anew, and brings about the Kingdom of God every single time. And that, especially now, is worth remembering.