Recently I sent this post out to those who subscribe to our site. I wanted to post it for others too as it’s sparked some good conversations:
I hope you didn’t take my subject line the wrong way because 34 years into my marriage, I’m sticking with my man. But like Michael Jackson sang with Paul McCartney, “I’m a lover, not a fighter!” How about you?
Our national discourse is distressing. And Christians, among whom I count myself, are freaking me out the most when they talk about banning “them” from our country and gathering places and when they talk about being prepared to shoot (shoot!?!) “those people.”
Jesus-following is the thing I want to focus on the most in my life; that’s what I aspire to. And I just can’t picture Jesus packing heat or building fences after drawing up lists of who’s in and who’s out. Because he didn’t. When the gospels tell us that Jesus did many other things besides what is recorded, so many in fact that “the world could not contain the books that could be written,” I’m absolutely positive that none of those theoretical volumes include stories of Jesus living in a gated community to keep “them” out or carrying a gun “just in case.” He told us that the thing that matters most after loving God with every ounce of our being is loving our neighbors as ourselves; he told us to turn the other cheek; he told us to pray for our enemies and to be good to them. He gave weird advice if you listen to what our world says we need to do to live well. And where are our strategies getting us, by the way?
Do we want to live in the sort of world that emerges on the other side of shooting the “other?” Do we want to tell stories to our grandchildren of what a great job we did being sure that nobody we didn’t understand came to live on our street, sit by us on the bus, or join our softball team? What’s the value of our worshipping safety if we have no love?
The only thing I’m going to fight for is love. In my own strength, I can’t do it well. In my experience, I need supernatural power to be able to love almost anybody. But good news: God gives it when we ask. I’m going to keep drawing near to God, talking to him, begging him to help me to understand others and to make me more loving (I didn’t say any of this was easy!).
I had an encounter a while back. I wrote about it in my book, Burning Down the Fireproof Hotel. The risk of sharing this story out of context is that you might see my racial blindspots (which are plenty), you could think I was glib (I hope I wasn’t), and/or you’ll perhaps judge me for the messiness of this story and what it reveals about me (I’d not blame you). I’ll include it here anyway, but please keep reading beyond it:
I was walking in what we have of a Chinatown in D.C. one night. I’d had dinner with a couple of friends, and I was heading back to my car a few blocks away. I passed through a thicket of people, tourists mixed with locals, professional folks heading out for 14-dollar cocktails, and others who would likely sleep on the streets that night. I heard a voice behind me demand, “Give me a dollar.”
I turned, smiling, and said, “No.” The young, well-dressed, black teenager insisted, “Then give me some change.” Again I said, “No.”
He barked, “Why won’t you get me something to eat?”
Though the crowds were thinning in the evening darkness I made a split-second decision that, rather than turning around and walking back to a more populated area, I’d continue on down the sidewalk side by side with my conversation partner. This decision coincided with a silent prayer for knowing how to react to him, even how to love him.
I joked, “Why won’t you get me something to eat? How do you know I’m not more hungry than you are?”
I’d felt peaceful up to this point, but his tone unnerved me a bit as he barked, “You’re scared of me.”
I answered, “Why would I be scared of you?” trying to sound upbeat.
“Because I’m black,” he said.
“Hey, that’s not fair,” I reeled a bit, still hopeful. “Do you not like me just because I’m white?”
“That’s right. I hate all white people. I hate you.”
At that point, I stuck out my hand and said, “How do you know we wouldn’t like each other if we had a conversation? I’m Cary.”
To which he replied, “Get the fuck out of my neighborhood.” Which I swiftly did.
But not before my heart was broken a little bit.
I went home that night to my aforementioned husband. I thought when I told him the story he’d tell me I was crazy to get into the dialogue described. Instead he gave me a verbal high-five, saying that it was cool how I’d been able to engage rage with humor and love. He noted that I’d emerged stronger from a conversation that didn’t really get the result I wanted (for both me and the young man to have a little cognitive dissonance push us each one step further from easy stereotypes towards a measure of racial reconciliation). And I’d come out of it with sadness instead of fear, still hopeful for barriers to fall… if not that night, then eventually.
Many of you subscribers practice other faiths or no faith, and I’m grateful for the richness of the SPACIOUS community in that regard. Many of you know far more about love and loving in difficult circumstances than I do. Plenty of you are being personally pushed beyond comfort zones to imagine lives of greater inclusiveness, openness to neighbor love, and a world that wasn’t what you expected or thought you were promised. Many of you are fearful, worried for your and your children’s safety.
But the main thing I’ve learned in the last year of touring around with my book, hearing stories of neighbor love and meeting amazing people, is that there are more people out there who want to lean into love, insist on love, and even fight for love than there are people who want to put fear and harm above love. In fact, I’m not sure anyone would choose fear or punishment or slamming the door on someone or shooting them through the peephole over a life of love.
Let’s just take a moment, though, to realize that we are faced with that choice.
Perfect love casts out fear, the Bible tells us, and I know from experience that it’s true. As for me, I’m going to take a chance on love. And I know a lot of you are too…because that’s the spacious world we want, isn’t it?