For the year of 2005, my husband and I had the incredible opportunity to live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and work for Habitat for Humanity. During that year we learned about a sectarian conflict there known as The Troubles.
After thirty years of hatred and violence some were able to forgive and learned to love neighbors once considered the enemy. But, there was also ongoing refusal of others to let go of their hatred. Annual Orange Day parades continued to fuel division year after year since the Peace Accords of 1998. Many parents passed that hatred on to their children. Today, the divisiveness and conflict may be played out differently, but it is still a reality, often manifested in rival gangs.
Ten years later, we were in Rhonda and learned about the horrendous massacre of thousands of men, women, and children, slaughtered by their own neighbors. Most of the perpetrators of those atrocities were never brought to justice. They scattered into the mountains or other countries and regrouped. They’re still out there causing mayhem and promoting hatred.
Now, here we are, reliving hatred and strife in America that is pitting us against each other. Extremists groups fueled by years of hatred going back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow are more and more embolden today to act out that hatred. Encouraged by a wink and a nod from the President. Some White Evangelical churches advocating their claim of being “Christian” – cling to power presumed given them by God.
What is going on? Did Jesus lose his way? Or have we reinvented him and relegated him to a dashboard Buddy Jesus bobblehead?
Let’s listen in on a few guys trying to figure it all out for themselves – perhaps you can relate:
One night a few friends gathered in a neighborhood bar. Their conversation quickly turned to questions about how to overcome fear and frustration over the current crisis playing out over their backyard fences, at family dinners, and in the news. The violence and anger coming from all sides made it hard for them to reconcile with their beliefs. They were a varied group: two Catholic brothers – one “devoted” (as in a follower of all the “rules”) and the other lukewarm (as in “rules suck”), a Presbyterian, and a Baptist. After several beers, they found it challenging to reach any consensus on what part they played as Christians. They were even struggling to agree on what a “Christian” was.
Before departing, they jokingly decided to invite Jesus to their whine fest the following week so they could drill him to see if he could help them come to some agreement on the most basic fundamentals of their Christian faith. They weren’t looking for clarity on what was true, noble, and right as much as fodder for their arguments. Something they could use to counter those they disagreed with. But none of them would admit to that. There were stark differences they could not overcome. They each held on to who was right and who was totally on the path to hell. At an impasse, they would let Jesus decide.
So, on the allotted day, they all showed up for a second installment of “My god can beat up your god”. And who shows up? – Jesus (through the front door, not the wall). “Hey, guys, what’s up?” Still in shock that he actually came, they offered him a chair and a beer…or…uh…wine. He took a seat and declined the alcohol, “I’m driving, but you go ahead.”
Then, right out of the gate, one guy at the table explained what had happened the prior week and why they invited him (as if he didn’t know…DUH!). Anyway, the conversation begins but immediately deteriorates into the same dispute as before. Each of them chimes in with their “beliefs”. Then someone has the foresight to ask the “Expert” sitting right in their midst, “Jesus, how would you resolve this?”
Jesus sits quietly for a moment, and then the men observe his eyes welling up with tears. They are shocked and don’t know how to react. Why isn’t he angry and pounding his fist like we do? Why isn’t he pointing out people to blame? There are plenty of them: the media, politicians, white supremacists, and other so-called Christians.
Jesus’ weeping felt akin to when their wives would cry about something they could not get their heads around – like the broccoli soufflé that fell right before Christmas dinner with the in-laws. And, buddy, you learned quickly that your response better not be some lame man-up comment because you just want that awkward moment to be over! How’d that work for you? Exactly.
This Jesus moment was like that. Sure, he was known to throw a few tables around when he got mad, but we only see that once in all of scripture. why don’t we just put that angry, show em’ who’s boss, can’t-control-his-temper-just-like-me Jesus to rest? Sorry.
So the world is falling apart, and Jesus weeps. That’s it? That’s all he can offer us? What are we supposed to do with that? Well, let’s see:
Joan Chittister says of weeping,“Indeed, few of us see our weeping as a spiritual gift or a matter of divine design. But we are wrong. Weeping is a very holy and life-giving thing. It sounds alarms for a society and wizens the soul of the individual. If we do not weep on the personal level, we shall never understand humanity around us. If we do not weep on the public level, we are less than human ourselves.”
The Rabbi Hanoch of Alexander offers, “There are…some things that ought not to be endured. There are some things worth weeping about lest we lose our sense of self. We must always cope with evil, of course, but we must never adjust to it. We must stay eternally restless for justice, for joy. Restless enough to cry out in pain when the world loses them.”
Chittister concludes, “If we do not allow ourselves to face and feel pain…our lies about life shrink our hearts and limit our vision. It is not healthy, for instance, to say that massive poverty is sad but “normal.” It is not right to say that sexism is unfortunate but “necessary.” It is not human to say that war is miserable but “inevitable”. To weep tears of frustration about them may be to take our first real steps toward honesty, toward mental health, toward a life that is worth living.”
We know Jesus did not just sit around weeping all day long. As with Jesus, so with us; God took that pain, that compassion he felt in the deepest part of his being, and turned it into action. “Now go,” God would tell him, “do something for those you weep for”.
He longs to tell us the same thing if we can get over ourselves. If we can see clearly the suffering all around us that breaks God’s heart, the next hurdle is being accountable. It’s way too easy to shirk our responsibility. To just bring Christ into this battle for the soul of America with whatever excuse happens to work at the moment.
Lately, we seem so overwhelmed by the reality of the pain and suffering in our midst that we have either become numb to it or shake our fists in anger. We don’t feel like we have the power to address the massive needs of others, even if we want to. And truth be told, we don’t. So we shrug our shoulders, retreat into our little bubbles, and utter some feeble justification for not “getting involved”.
But we’re definitely not weepers – that’s a weakness we are not willing to put out there. If suffering humanity is lucky, Jesus just blew that myth to shreds for you! Fine. He doesn’t blow things up. But, you get it. Right?
And don’t worry, I’m not going to spew some moral edict to try to guilt anyone out of being a self-serving, self-absorbed jerk. This isn’t about taking on a rule-following, righteous, high and mighty stance. That would amount to the lowest common denominator required for entry into “heaven” at some later date. Is that what you want out of life?
So, let’s reconsider the gift of weeping that Jesus modeled, now seemingly lost as a Christian response to hatred and suffering. Not only should we weep for the state of our nation and the wrongs done to others, but we also need to realize that Jesus isn’t your personal fixer of all things that suck. That is not his job.
I think Rami Shapiro in his powerful book, “Holy Rascals”, gives us the most powerful definition of people of true faith that I have ever read:
“Holy Rascals have only one aim: to pull the curtain back on parochial religion in order to liberate people from the Great and Terrible Wizards who use religion to frighten them in to submission and to manipulate them into doing evil under the banner of good.
We are not anti-religion: we are anti-unhealthy religion: religion that promotes a world of “us against them” and sanctions the exploitation, oppression, and even murder of “them” in this world and the torture of “them” in the next.
We are not anti-belief; we are anti-irrational belief: belief that substitutes ancient fiction for modern science.
We are not anti-God; we are anti-mad Gods: Gods who sanction the lust for power that rules those who invented them.”
What saddens me more than anything today is the fact that there is such contention and visceral hatred among those who profess to be “Christians”. But, the louder they are the less like Jesus they are which is clearly an oxymoron: “Christians” who hate, “Christians” who seek power and prestige, “Christians” who have no empathy or compassion for others. Jesus was the Suffering Servant not the King of the elitists. “This is my commandment,” said Jesus, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s it.
We are so far removed from the Jesus known to his disciples. When the Church turned him into “Jesus Christ Superstar”he got lost in the power struggle for whose faith was the true faith. I would say many Christians probably have no idea that it was the Church struggling for power that created the Jesus so many “worship” today. And there’s the rub I think. Jesus never told us to worship him. He said, “Follow me”. When Jesus said, “Pick up your cross kid and follow me.” What do you think he meant? Pick up your bucket and shovel we’re headed to the beach?
Jesus lived and moved and had his being on the fringes of society. He was a revolutionary; a rebel, an outsider among the powerful leaders of his time. Why? Because he loved without regard for position or status or how it looked to others. He loved “the least of these” with abandon. He touched and healed and served the broken – the outcast. And they responded in love; a love that blurred distinctions between us and them, rich and poor, powerful and weak, saint and sinner. Does that sound anything like what is preached on street corners and in some churches today? Or the hatred spewed by “White Supremacists”? They have tried to remake Jesus into someone who would be unrecognizable to his followers and they have been given a thumbs-up by a president who, at the same time, secretly makes fun of them. It is frightening to watch.
Trillia Newbell, an author and Christian commentator, says: “I want to hear that we’re mourning and weeping, that we are active in our community, that we are going to work to love our neighbor as ourselves, that racism and any kind of hate is evil.”
I want to share one final, uncomfortable, not proud of this, Linda-you-suck-at-caring-but-it-will-get-easier story about two women I met in Belfast in 2005. Both taught me about what compassion looks like up close and personal.
Not long after we got there, I was walking to the post office before work. I was in a hurry. Several blocks ahead of me, I saw a woman lying on the sidewalk. I watched people walk right past her without giving her a thought. Here’s the awful truth, I did the same thing. I needed to get to work; I wasn’t from there and wouldn’t know what to do, and…and…and. I didn’t get far when I heard that still small (annoying) voice — “Go back”. Just two words that felt like a gut punch. So, I turned around. Fearful now that she might be dead, and then how would I feel? “Okay, Lord, this was your big idea. Please tell me what to do.”
I set my things down and sat next to her. It was clear she was drunk. I had to nudge her several times before she responded. She looked irritated at me but sat up. I tried to find out her name and where she lived, but all she said was, “Leave me alone. I’m not worth it.” To this day, I can hear her say those words that pierced my heart. I held her dirty, make-up-streaked face and told her she was worth it because she was a child of God. She said again, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m not worth it!” I told her, “I am looking at you and what I see is someone God loves deeply!” Through tears, I tried to get her up, put her in a cab, and take her to get something to eat. Just then, a mission van pulled up. A guy got out and addressed her by name. He gently helped her up and walked her to the van. I never saw her again.
My second experience wasn’t quite so involved but was equally as dramatic. Again, I was walking down the street and saw a woman with a little boy about five or six walking toward me. He said something that angered her, and she slapped him, which shocked me. Again, I summoned that voice within, a bit more willing to cooperate. “Okay, Lord, what do I do here?” When I got to her, I simply asked if she wanted to talk. She walked around me and kept going. The little boy turned around and stuck his tongue out at me. Alrighty then. Yeah me!
Encountering those two women for just one moment in time literally changed the trajectory of my life! Seeing the humanity of others should teach us compassion. By allowing ourselves to see Jesus in everyone we encounter, we will grow in love for those we usually disregard or, worse, reject outright. Seeing beyond the degenerate, the depraved, the lost, and the broken takes courage, humility, and trust in a God who shows us the beauty in others — and BONUS — in ourselves.
So, there you have it, you macho guys guzzling beer and feeling a bit queasy watching Jesus weep for those who suffer. How do you respond to that? You first need to offer a resounding “YES” to whatever Jesus has in mind for you. That’s it. Easy enough. Right?
Then fasten your seatbelt, brother; this is when the rubber meets the road because God has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11), and this probably won’t be an “I’ll get back to you next week” moment either. There’s much to do, and you’re running out of time because you sat on your duff in that bar so long trying to get out of it. Just pray and stay open to your calling. You’ll know it. Then, brave heart, this is your moment! GO!
Wait…maybe lose the war paint. You don’t want to scare the crap out of people. They have enough to deal with.