Monday, May 30, 2011
The other day a tire shop in our neighborhood was celebrating 70 years of business. We heard that they had a band playing and were providing food (we’d go almost anywhere for free food) so a few of us wandered over that way. A friend of ours who is homeless had been hanging out with us, so he headed over as well. Kate, Matt, and I walked inside and one of the men working there offered us sandwiches and drinks. We gladly accepted and took them back outside where we sat on the steps to eat. Our homeless friend went in after us. A few moments later he emerged, empty handed. I asked him, “Didn’t you say you were hungry?” He nodded slowly, his lips a tight line across his face. “They told me it was a closed party.” He laughed, a tired laugh, one resigned to this outcome, having seen the situation too many times before.
The realization of what had just taken place slowly washed over me and I felt emotions rising up inside me like the buildup of a tidal wave. My friend had just been refused a meal because someone had looked at him and judged him, deeming him unworthy to take part in their celebration. I didn’t know what to say. “I’m so sorry.” The laugh again. “Welcome to my world.” He walked away, sketchbook in hand, to draw the band that had started playing. I turned to Kate. “Should we say something to them?” She didn’t reply, her brow furrowed in contemplation. Our friend left after a couple short minutes.
Matt walked inside. When he came back out Kate and I asked him if he had said something. He nodded. He had asked them, “Isn’t this a community event?” They said yes. “Well,” he said, “I came in here and got some food and then a friend of mine came in after me and you turned him away.” They gave some excuse about not having a lot of food and wanting to save it for customers. Well, we’re not customers and never will be. We didn’t finish our food after that. I called our friend and told him that we hadn’t left the situation alone, that Matt had gone in and said something to them. I invited him to join us for dinner. At first he was noncommittal, but then he said, “Yes. Yes, I will come to dinner, because I still have my Mission Year friends. They still love me.” And we do. His rejection at the tire shop was like a knife in my gut.
I was upset by this episode the rest of the afternoon. As we walked through our neighborhood I thought of the passage in Luke where Jesus talks about giving a banquet.
“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed…” (Luke 14:13-14)
I wished I could invite everyone to dinner. Anyone I saw who looked dirty or homeless or poor or sick. Anyone who might have been judged or turned away by the owners of the tire shop. I wanted to celebrate with them, to give them dignity and show them love.
Later, I read another passage:
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” (Proverbs 25:21)
Once again, I was convicted and aware of the bitterness and judgment in my own heart. I was angry at the people who had turned my friend away. They had become enemies to me. Yet we are commanded to love our enemies, a concept I have been wrestling with throughout this year. We are told to feed them when they are hungry, to give them water when they are thirsty. I began to picture a different kind of banquet – one that included not only the oppressed but the oppressors, not only our friends but our enemies. Jesus dined with the “sinners” and outsiders in society, but he also ate at the table of Pharisees, people who were watching and judging his every move. What does that look like for us?
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that…But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)
Love your enemies. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. This is not just a suggestion or a crazy concept – this is a direct command from Christ. What would happen if we decided to follow this command? How different would this world be if we chose to love our enemies? What does that even look like?
Last weekend we talked about this for morning devotions. We named some people and groups of people we could categorize as enemies in one way or another or toward whom we harbor resentment in our hearts. Then we prayed for them. There is such freedom in letting go of anger and hatred and seeking to view your enemy as God does: a beloved child created in His image.
This semester I am taking a class called “Global Issues, Social Change.” Recently we have been discussing human rights. In our last class we split into small groups and discussed human rights issues with each other. My group focused on torture. Most of the people in my group seemed to agree that although torture is wrong, it can be justified in certain situations. The whole discussion felt wrong to me. I wanted to say that I believe torture is always wrong, that it cannot be justified in any situation. I wanted to say that instead of torture, we should love. I didn’t want to speak, though, until I had time to gather my thoughts and organize them into something coherent.
Love your enemies…it’s hard enough to grasp on a personal level, but what about on a global scale? What does it look like in the context of torture, terrorists, and national security? Love a terrorist? Love someone who has plans to kill hundreds or thousands of people? That's insane. Yet isn't that what Jesus is asking us to do?
I was quiet for most of the discussion. I wasn’t sure how to present my view. I wasn’t even completely sure what my view was. I wasn’t sure what it would look like to live out what I was thinking. Exploring issues like this is one thing within the safety of my Christian community, but it’s a little more intimidating in a diverse group in a college classroom. When the time came for each group to share with the rest of the class, my group nominated me as the spokesperson since I hadn’t said much. I agreed. I recounted to the class what we had talked about, all the different aspects of torture that we discussed, and the general consensus that the rest of my group had come to. At the end I added, “I feel pretty differently from the rest of them, but we don’t have to get into that right now.”
After class one of my friends (who had been in my group) commented on how quiet I had been. I told him that I hadn’t been sure what to say because I had a very different view and it was pretty radical. His reply was, “And you don’t like conflict. You want peace and harmony.” I laughed and agreed. He said that I should have shared anyway because discussions are boring when everyone agrees, they’re much more interesting when someone has an extremely different view, especially when that view is radical. Then he asked me to share with him. So I told him, “I believe torture is wrong in all situations. The philosophy I try to live by is radical love (which is impossible to completely achieve in this life, but I hope for it anyway). I try to follow the teachings of Jesus, and He taught us to love our enemies.” His response was that no one lives that way. I replied, “You’re right. I guess I’m a crazy idealist.” As he walked away he called back to me, “Keep the dream alive!” I smiled because that seemed like the kind of cheesy line that would be in a movie.
After he left one of the girls from my class approached me and said, “I wanted to ask you about what your view is because I remember you said you felt differently from the rest of your group.” What followed was a great conversation and I was able to explore my ideas even further. We talked about love and trying to live a lifestyle that doesn’t compromise the values to which we cling. We talked about hard situations and having faith that God would always provide a better way, that He wouldn’t put us in a place where our only option was to compromise. We also talked about grace, because we’re only human and we will make mistakes.
(side note: I’ve been praying for God to open my eyes to areas in my life where I can grow. Obviously, I need to grow in my confidence and boldness in speaking out about my convictions and beliefs. I asked this girl to call me out in the future when discussions like this take place and to directly ask me what I think. I think it would have been really interesting if I had brought my view before the class. Maybe doing so would encourage others, like this girl, who do believe in God to think a little more deeply about how Jesus lived and what He said. God is faithful. I feel challenged.)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Love God. Love people. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy.
Let us live guided by Love.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
As a new year begins, I am amazed and encouraged to look back and reflect on the year that has just passed. The faithfulness of our God never ceases to astound me. My cheeks are wet with awe and humble gratitude. I consider where I am and realize that it is somewhere I never would have envisioned myself. Now I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Without the quirkiness of Houston, the busyness of the city, the diversity of the people, the struggle, the despair, the victories, and the celebrations, my life would be missing so much. I would not be who I am today.
I have planted myself in Houston’s soil and slowly but surely my roots are extending deeper and holding me stronger. The nutrients of this Houston earth are beginning to feed me, to grow me, to sustain me. Houston has become a part of me and continues to be more so.
I am allowing myself to fall in love.
The other morning I read through some of my journal entries from this time last year, when I was beginning the second trimester of my Mission Year. I was floored as I read story after story of how God showed up. All I had to do was make myself available to Him. Though I doubted, though I struggled, though I resisted, though I closed my eyes and my heart – God was faithful. God is faithful. Always, ever will He be faithful.
What I loved the most was seeing certain names come up over and over and remembering the process of beginning, pursuing, and deepening those friendships. I read about interactions with neighbors, my hopes and prayers for those relationships, and how God answered those prayers and blessed my often feeble efforts. I read about my friendship with the refugee family and all that we went through with them. Although I was often tired and not extremely excited about going to their house and struggling through communication, I always ended up feeling blessed by our time together. Being with them made me feel at home and as I think back on our relationship, I am amazed at how God brought us together.
Now God is dreaming a dream within me. I dream of remaining in Houston, of moving into a neighborhood and dwelling there, building relationships and maintaining them for years, investing in the children of the neighborhood and watching them grow, caring about the needs and issues of the community because it is my community, my home. I want the threads of these relationships to be woven throughout my journal entries and memories not just for one year, or even two, but indefinitely.
As Mission Year ended last year, Houston looked at me and said with furrowed brow and slight sad confusion, “You can’t leave.”
I looked at Houston and said, “You’re right.” And I stayed.
As I began to consider options following my second year working with the program, Houston again looked me in the eyes and said, more firmly this time, “Sarah, you can’t leave.”
Again I looked at Houston, caught slightly off guard, and I said, “You’re right. This is home.”
I look forward with anticipation to living out my life here until God leads me elsewhere.