There’s been a lot going on in my heart lately. I think more than I’ve realized what is going on in the States, particularly in Ferguson and now New York, has weighed on me. Which is okay. It’s good. I’d rather know and be burdened than live ignorant. But it’s a helpless burden, because what can I really do? And it’s a selfish burden, hiding behind the computer screen and the miles and country borders that separate me from the heartache.
Then today I read about a bill that was passed in Michigan that I don’t really understand but that people are saying will allow business owners to refuse services to potential customers based on religious beliefs. And here’s where things get tricky. Because I’m a religious person, I suppose, although I don’t like thinking about myself that way. My mom always says, “It’s not about a religion, it’s about a relationship.” I’m a Jesus follower, a Christian. I read the Bible and go to church and I suppose that makes me religious. But when I read the Bible and when I go to church I read and hear about a God who pursued relationships with the not religious people and that makes me wary of the word.
Semantics aside, one might think that a bill that protected religious beliefs would be right up my ally. Yes, pass the Bible, amen. But here’s the thing. Once upon a time religious people tried to trap Jesus into breaking their law. They asked about taxes, about whether or not they should pay their taxes. And Jesus said, “Whose face is on this coin?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.*
God is not a God of laws. He’s not a God of religion. He’s a God of relationships. How can we build relationships with people if all we’re focused on is our differences?
I’m reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and it’s just my kind of book. It’s effortless and beautiful and deep and painful and real and hopeful. It’s historical fiction and my eyes are wide. It’s the intertwining and worlds apart stories of Handful, a slave, and Sarah, the daughter of Handful’s owners. (I cringe typing about the ownership of humans. Handful’s owners. Gross.) Sarah had always felt a deep unrest within her about slavery. She cringed at the thought of owning humans, too. Or at least she expected herself to.
I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it. – Sarah, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Reading these words, I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I, too, was very good at despising racism and prejudice and homelessness in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses of the internet, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the people beside me I… I what? I thought about myself first. I thought someone else would do the hard stuff. I thought surely someone is more qualified than I. I thought moving into the neighborhood would be enough. I thought as long as I knew the names and the hashtags, that would count as doing something.
Today I cried in front of my students for the second time this school year. The first time was out of frustration. This time I was hurt. There’s a disconnect in my classroom. I don’t know how to love my students well and have them learn at the same time. I don’t know how to be patient and kind in the face of disobedience and disrespect. Well, the biggest disconnect is that I do know how to be patient and kind in the face of disobedience and disrespect, but only sometimes. And so the tears came in large part because of my inconsistency. My feelings of failure and not good enough and settling.
I want to be a better teacher. I want to be a better Jesus follower. I want to be a better listener. Lord, I want to be a better listener. I want to be a better ally for the black community. I want to be a better ally for the LGBTQ community. I want to know how to love the homeless man I pass every week on the way to church. But it all feels so huge and hopeless and you guys, these aren’t things I can accomplish by making lists. I feel stuck. Stuck in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, spending actual moments on things that don’t really matter that much, and then getting overwhelmed by all the brokenness, overwhelmed to the point of inaction.
I guess this is what it’s like to be a 7. Stuffing down all the hard stuff for the length of an episode of Once Upon A Time and another 1,000 words of my novel and then one day, it explodes in clenched fists and tears because of a bill that was passed that I don’t really understand and my inability to express myself and my Jesus clearly in the context of a Facebook comment.
Maybe it’s just enough to let my heart be heavy? To admit that all I know is that Jesus died, is risen, and is coming again? To cling to that hope and truth? To try to love the people in front of me better tomorrow than I did today? Is that enough? I need someone to either tell me that’s enough or tell me what to do.
Edit: Here’s an article that helped me understand that bill.