I’ve known people who have gone through personal crises of faith. For some, it was borne of the inability to reconcile the history of the church with the church’s teachings. For others, it came from a sense of perceiving God as absent in a time of great need. I have to tell you, friends, I am seriously grappling with some faith issues right now. For me, it’s not about the apparent hypocrisy of the church or the perceived absence of God in our world. It’s much, much more personal, for I am struggling with the hypocrisy within myself and the absence of needed Christian virtues in my own thoughts and actions.
I very specifically recall attending an Ash Wednesday service in the late 1990s where one of our ministers encouraged us in a Lenten activity. She called on us not to give something up for Lent, but to take something on. Particularly, she challenged us to stop for a second before every interaction with another human, and in that split second, say to ourselves about the other, “I love you because you are a child of God.” We were asked to do this before we responded, engaged, listened, judged, acted. I love you because you are a child of God.
I remember taking this call to action to heart. But what I remember most about it is the moment I failed at it. I was driving in traffic and was directly behind a truck carrying landscape workers in the bed of the truck. Mostly, they were sitting such that they were riding backwards, facing me directly. One by one, I began looking each one in the face, saying to myself, “I love you because you are a child of God.” I hadn’t made it very far when I got distracted by the lewd gestures being directed at me by these men. Try as I may, I could not keep going. Defeated, I changed lanes to get away from the situation. I was so discouraged by my inability to see these men beyond their crude behavior. I wanted to be more like Jesus, and I failed.
Today, I am writing as our nation is in upheaval. Covid 19 has taken the lives of over 107,000 Americans, with more than 1,850,000 confirmed cases in the US. And we are fighting over the wearing of face masks to help reduce the spread of the virus. We have had multiple incidents of very public threatening and fatal actions against people of color by white Americans, the latest being the horrific death of George Floyd. And these are the public incidents that have been filmed and become known. Protests are filling our nation’s cities. Riots are fueling tensions. Businesses are in ruin from looting and arson.
I wear a mask when I am out. That’s one way I say, “I love you because you are a child of God.” But it gets really hard when I or others are chastised or criticized or called names because of our choice to wear a mask.
I see George Floyd on the street and I scream, “I love you because you are a child of God!” And then I look at the smug expression on officer Derek Chauvin’s face as he intently held his knee on the neck of a man pleading for his life, for his very breath, and I’m called by Christ to recognize Chauvin as a child of God. I cannot do it.
I watch protesters of all colors, and in nations all around the world, joining together for the long injustices against people of color and I say, “Yes! I love you because you are a child of God.” And I see some rioters and looters taking advantage of a situation, turning it into an opportunity for personal gain or to sow unrest and I try to understand and I cannot.
I listen to our nation’s president declare that he is the president of “law and order” in the same breath as he declares himself an “ally of the peaceful protester,” even while he is permitting a peaceful, lawful protest to be broken up with tear gas and munitions so he can walk across the street to a church and hold up a Bible for a photograph. I cannot reconcile the disparities and hypocrisy. How? How do I love this man because he is a child of God when I am so vehemently opposed to his actions?
And I have Facebook friends who proudly post this picture of the Bible-wielding president, declaring he has sealed his reelection with this decisive statement of faith. And I have other Facebook friends who have declared him no different than Hitler and are unfriending anyone who disagrees.
I am awash with struggle. I want to have the solidarity of those with whom I agree on these societal issues, but then I recognize that picking sides doesn’t heal. It further divides. How can I recognize God in those with whom I so strongly and passionately oppose?
Today, I am floundering. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. I believe that Love is the antidote to all our ails. And I want to believe that Love will prevail. Dear God, let Love prevail. Help me be Love. Help me Love. Help me. Help.
I wish you grace and peace as you journey.
Yours in Christ.