I avoid her. I fear running into her at the post office or the grocery. She has a way of taking a chunk out of my spirit.
Just when you wanna hate people, though, they go and do something nice. Just when I’m ready to have nothing to do with someone, I become aware of their struggles and like the Grinch my heart grows three sizes.
In my small town there is a woman who feels I’m entitled to her opinion of my driving. In addition to my atrocious driving habits, I apparently pastor a not-Christian church. I need to know that, too. Apparently.
Emotionally it is easy to become annoyed with this woman. I don’t have any first hand understanding of her struggles. Nor has my personal driving instructor done something nice for me. However, I know she volunteers to do tedious work in our community.
People are complicated and messy. I’m sure she has challenges of which I’m unaware. Her behavior tells me that she does. Our “stuff” often spills over onto innocent people. As a local pastor, who won’t strike back, I’m an easy target.
My faith tells me that we all hold the sacred within us. I can’t just write her off if I believe what I claim.When I remember this, I find my heart growing and softening. I’m more tolerant. I find ways to interact with her in love rather than mere tolerance.
I even find myself seeing the good within her. Love really is greater than fear and annoyance.
In the state parks, national forests and parks, and other places I hike, I rarely find food wrappers or soda cans. But I’ve found a few things that confound.
As a hiked along a steep, nearly deserted trail I came across a curious thing. The ten, maybe twelve foot diameter tank rusts in the middle of a wooded area far from any roads. The ugly object captured my attention because it was so out-of-place.
On another hike, I came across a burnt out Subaru in a clearing. A wheelbarrow was jammed into its rear window. In that case, however, there was a road near enough that it could’ve been driven in and torched.
Still, I wonder about the backstories to these and other objects. Why do we leave our garbage in areas of otherwise pristine beauty? Why are we, in the colloquial, shitting where we eat?
We’re doing the same to our culture in the United States. Politicians and talking heads are the obvious culprits. However, we let them get away with it and play the game, too. On Facebook we throw memes at one another rather than using this remarkable technology to listen to one another. Twitter can be even worse with its drive-by snide remarks.
Too many of us would rather win an argument than learn how others think. We tend to demonize the other side, whatever that side happens to be. We fail to admit that we need one another. We need the whole body of humanity.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians using the metaphor of the human body, The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ (1 Corinthians 12: 21 NRSV Read in context.) Though he wrote to Jesus-followers, I believe recognizing our oneness can be expanded to all of humanity. As we drop rusty garbage in our culture we say to others, I have no need of you.
The first step in stopping the poisoning of our culture is for us to accept that we need one another. Not everyone is going to do that because I say we should. (I know, shocking.) In the meantime, I choose to encourage respectful people.
In practice this has meant hiding both obnoxious liberals and obnoxious conservatives from my Facebook stream. I also recently stopped following nearly one-hundred screaming people on Twitter. I refuse to watch television shows in which people literally scream at one another or refuse to listen politely. I don’t need it.
Notice I didn’t say I deleted or hid those who disagree with me. I dropped those who focus on winning an argument at the expense of learning and growing together. I shake the dust off my feet where I am not welcome (Matthew 10:14).
When we focus on winning, we forget that none of us has the whole picture. We are all needed to solve the problems before us. If we’re going to clean up the rusty objects and torched cars in our culture, the first step is to listen to one another. We might even learn something.