This has been a difficult week, both as a pastor and a father. We’ve seen an insurrection – a failed coup attempt – that shook the very core of our national experience. What we experienced on January 6 – the protests, the violence, the unfortunate deaths – are the consequences of years and years of divisive rhetoric and attitudes that seek to believe that I am right and you are wrong.
What we saw Wednesday didn’t happen over night, nor did it happen because of the last four years of divisive and hate-filled leadership. It happened because we have slowly, over the period of 30 years, refused to talk with anyone who disagrees with us and have allowed ourselves to commune with only like-minded individuals, whether in our communities, professional lives, and, yes, the church. We no longer accept, or even see it as a possibility, that there may be other opinions or, even, that someone could love God or our nation if that person is not in agreement with our own views.
I worry about the continuation of this trajectory for my children. I have two kids, ages 7 and 9 months. They will, one day, inherit the world that we leave for them. They will have to pick up the pieces of our broken experiences and make a life for themselves. I want for my children to have a better world than I experienced. That desire cannot be centered upon material things. It has to be centered upon basic principles that enable true life and connection with God to be lived out in our world.
So, what kind of world do I desire for my children?
I desire a world built upon love and respect for one another. The people we share love, too often, are only those we agree with. If you voted for the person I voted for in November, then I’ll love you. If you are a member of the same faith tradition that I am, then I’ll love you. If you share my skin color, then I’ll love you. Those are often the ways we share and express love, and it is wrong.
We have to be willing to love one another no matter who they are. For that to happen, we have to begin to reclaim that the imago Dei (image of God) is found in all people, and not just with those whom I share an affinity with. When we recapture this basic principle of faith, then we are able to see the value and worth in every person, no matter anything about then.
I desire a world that embraces mercy and grace. Admittedly, sharing mercy and grace is not easy. It is easier to fight than to forgive. That’s been our basic principle for too long. We don’t forgive one another. Instead, we refuse to forgive anyone if they have hurt us, and we will continually look for things in someone’s past to discredit them. Our own personal lives becomes the arbiter of what it means to live faithfully, and anyone who does not meet our standards is unable to or unworthy to receive mercy and grace.
That’s not faith. Our faith teaches us that we all make mistakes, and fail to live within the promises of God. We err, daily, in word, action, and thought. In order to be able to share mercy and grace with one another, we have to admit that we do not get it right all the time, and we err just as much as the next person. That reality gives us space to recognize that we all have moments that fall short of our expectations for one another, and those God desires for us. It is enables us to have the space to be graceful and merciful with one another, especially when we realize that we would want the same considerations of mercy and grace to be shared with us.
I desire a world that is empathetic towards one another. I share this, last, because it is perhaps the biggest need. We struggle to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, because our own experience is the rule and judge for determination on all things. We cannot compute when someone struggles in life, because we believe that if we made it then they should as well. Our existence is covered by a set of blinders that prevents us from seeing anything else but our own path. We cannot be empathetic towards someone when we cannot see their pain.
Empathy must come through listening and experiencing each other’s stories. I cannot be empathetic to the cries of justice if I am not, first, willing to hear their pain. When I admittedly disagree or dismiss someone’s cries in a reactionary way based upon my own biases or presuppositions, I am no longer in a position where empathy and change is possible.
We must be wiling to hear each other’s pain, and put ourselves in their shoes. That is necessary for empathy to be expressed. It is necessary for us to create a world that is better for our children.
I desire a better world for my children and your children. It will be hard work, but it will be necessary work if we want to get past the divisive rhetoric that has destroyed our shared existence. I want to do this work, because I do not want my children inheriting what I was given and what we are experiencing.