Broken windows and empty hallways
A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today…
…Bright before me the signs implore me
To help the needy and show them the way
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today. –R. Newman
There are some hard truths in this world. I know I seem at times to make light of them, but they are always there. In fairness, I am not making light of them so much as skirting the issue. If I dance around them like Ginger being whooshed effortlessly around a sound stage by Fred, then they just disappear, right? Wrong.
It rained a wooleybooger the other night. I saw the lightning flashing uninterrupted on my wall first. It was so steady and so bright I honestly wondered if we were being invaded. (Jade Helm! Take cover!) The thunder came much later, but was no less menacing. Those who know me well have surely observed my love affair with stormy weather and the rain it entails. I am never happier than in a thunderstorm nestled in the safety of my home surrounded by dogs and boys (and a warm, toasty fire in a perfect world). In all honesty, the first burst of rainfall usually finds me sending rather randy messages to the Cajun in the quiet dark of my room. The rain speaks to me in a way I find difficult to explain.
This rain was different. It brought with it the omen of things to come. The future events I deemed unavoidable and tragic made this storm feel like poison under my skin. Each bolt of lightning and thunder crash made my heart race and my head swim. It was disconcerting and troubling and I could not find sleep.
A couple of weekends ago, as all of you surely know, there was a rally where some people gathered “in power” to protest about people different from themselves. That may be the kindest way to say it. I refuse to write the hateful language involved in said protest. I won’t give those people or their ‘cause’ any valuable space. Of course, we all know it ended with a woman losing her life in Charlottesville when a man drove his car into the crowd that had gathered in remonstration of the protesters. Rest in God’s eternal peace, Heather Heyer.
I received a letter from Paxton’s university the Monday morning after in which the events of the weekend were addressed. There was a lot to say, but one particular line stuck with me, ‘At Carolina, diversity, inclusion, and freedom of speech are at our core and truly living up to them can be difficult.’ You bet your ass it can be. I had been thinking about this very thing as I lay awake that night wondering what in the hell was happening to our country.
I confess I am a glass more-than-full kind of girl and my rose-colored glasses are always firmly in place. That said, I began to wonder if perhaps the country I thought I knew- my country, the one I where I was raised and the one I believed in- didn’t really exist. What if all my notions about these great United States really weren’t all that great? A dream within a dream, if you will.
As long as people have been alive differences have been a given. It seems we fear what we do not know and we judge what we do not understand. This is present on so many levels it can be hard to discern I suppose, what really matters. Unless you believe, like me, that all of it matters.
I’ll be the first to admit when President Obama was elected I felt a huge wave of relief. We couldn’t honestly still be the bigoted, racist country of Watts, Birmingham, Oxford, Atlanta, Tulsa, and Little Rock, if we elected an African-American president, could we? Could we? It seems we could, we can…we are. It was over-zealous I realize now and fairly simple to believe that a change that profound would happen literally overnight. I knew better- but I hoped…oh, I hoped.
Sometimes it is tricky to say what you mean and mean what you say(again with the Dr. Seuss). Conversely, sometimes it is not difficult at all. It’s the thorny things I find most cumbersome. I have no problem telling those I love that I do, and why. I have no problem telling complete strangers that God speaks to me. I can talk at length (or infinity) about the Cajun or my boys or my family or my faith. But when it comes to the tough stuff- I can tell you, but am I perhaps going to put it in gentler language than I should for the subject matter.
Case in point, my son Jack is gay. This is not news. What is intriguing, however, is the way I treat people with kid gloves who do not understand homosexuality or consider it a “choice” my kid made or those who say offensive and wretched things about gay people. To clarify, I make my opinions and my love for my child known very clearly, but I do so in a way that sometimes offends my own sensibilities. What I want to do most times is shout from the rooftop, “My child is a child of God. He was born the way he is and I thank my lucky stars every day that he is mine! God does not make mistakes. My son loves the same way we all do and you’re an asshole if you don’t think that is true!”
The other night found me in a place where rather untoward gay comments were flowing rather freely in the dialogue. It hurt me to hear it. It always does. I am a mother, after all. (To be fair, Jack and his entire family throw around the occasional riotous gay joke when in appropriate company- this was something more.) I was with people I did not know all that well and I found myself being too genteel in my reaction to the slurs. I should add here that some of the people were folks that I work with thus the reasoning for my caution.
I stayed about ten more minutes and politely excused myself. Well, screw that. What I should have done was announce to the group that I found their humor inappropriate, ignorant and offensive. I should have stood and said that I was leaving not only because my son is gay and I do him a giant disservice every time I do not speak up or do nothing, but also because I am a disciple of Christ and that means I do not get to choose who or how or why I love. According to him, it’s everyone, it’s all the time and it’s because all people and things are worthy of love.
Now, here is where the rubber meets the road. If I am to walk in Christ’s footsteps- I mean, really walk the walk and talk the talk… that means I must love even the people I find appalling- and believe me, there are more than a few I do. What this means is that I must believe every person is valuable and better still, not only deserving of my love but intrinsically imbued with God’s very stardust within them.
Someone asked me the other day what causes people to hate. I wish I knew. Further, I wish I had a satisfactory answer. Some would say it’s their family or the environment they grew up in, some would say perhaps where they live geographically or even genetics.
The Nature vs. Nurture debate is not new of course. Francis Galton discussing the ‘nature’ of man, believing heredity played a unique part in a person’s psychological makeup. Conversely, John Locke coined the term ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate) to highlight his view that we are born clean of any prior knowledge- a blank slate to be shaped by the environs around us.
My mother told me a story one time I have never forgotten, and in fact, I used to murmur it to my boys as babies when I would rock them to sleep. It went something like this:
In the beginning, a baby is born with all the knowledge of every age- the past, present and the future. The night they are born, as they lay sleeping, an angel of the Lord visits them. Quietly she puts her finger to their lips and whispers, “Shhhh…don’t tell,” and in that instant, the knowledge is forgotten. The space above our lips ever marked with an indentation to remind us of her visit.
(That space is called a philtrum, by the way.) I have always loved this story and in its most simple form is how I like to think of the nature/nurture conversation. We are born with God inside us. His very breath formed our lives. To me, this means we are by very definition, formed out of love. A love that is absolute. It is untarnished, the meaning of perfection- inside us from the first day we arrive. Now…what happens next is life. We grow and are influenced and formed by the world around us- our family, friends, the media, the government, the world.
This is a heady prospect. What has to happen if you are born in love (and color blind) to turn from love toward hate? I honestly do not know. What I do know is that there is no room for hate at Christ’s table. Absolutely zero. This is the moment where I feel completely safe in saying if you are racist or bigoted or harbor any sort of enduring feelings, thoughts, or beliefs about white privilege and you are calling yourself a disciple of Christ- YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
Now here is the interlude when I tell you I have hope. I have been and remain, more than cautiously optimistic. Let me tell you why. You might think I’m crazy when I am finished- you might be wrong, but you may be right. (Thanks to Billy Joel on that one.) Either way, I’m okay. I’ll wake up with myself.
Here goes. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas, late Friday night. A category 4 storm as it hit land; it has dumped now more than 51 inches of rain in and around Houston. (For perspective, that is just eleven inches shy of my height.) Rockport, Port A and its surrounding areas were whacked with a whopping 23 inches. The death toll lingers at 26 but is sure to rise. In short, this is and will be noted in the history books as one of the worst disasters ‘we the people’ have ever seen. (I just read a USA Today article in which the private weather firm Accuweather puts Harvey’s price tag at $160 billion dollars. Billion.)
You think this was an accident? You think an ark needs to float down the middle of Main Street in downtown Houston for it to be Biblical? I’m hedging my bets and saying ‘no’. My priest Dave preached a sermon a very long time ago about remembering that the God of the New Testament (the loving God, if you will) is still and will always be, the angry God of the Old Testament. We do not get to pick. To do so limits God and I don’t think any of us would say that was intentionally a good idea.
You think as a loving father we don’t frustrate and sometimes disappoint the living hell out of God? (Sorry for the pun.) You perhaps think he sits idly by as he watches us destroy ourselves and our planet with hate, malice, ignorance and no regard for humanity- his very creation? Right. I hear you. I’m just not buying it.
I’m not saying he’s intent to destroy us, mind you- quite the contrary. And I am definitely not saying he caused the hurricane or floods…although I will also carefully say again, I will never limit the power and might of the God I know.
Here’s the thing: Have you ever carefully watched what happens after a catastrophic event? For example: war, AIDS, a flood, a tornado, a typhoon, a train wreck, a terrorist attack, a plane crash or any other thing so unimaginably horrific you wish only happened in books not real life? (Or perhaps, if you are like me, you wish for them to never exist in either.) When these events unfold we become one. This is immediate, not a process, not a thought…but very literally something that occurs in the blink of an eye.
We forget who we are and what we believe and how we feel and we just throw our arms open and love. We raise them wide for everyone and we extend a hand or two; we move towards one another not away from and we remember for a brief shining moment we are all in this together. The globe becomes a small circle of life and infinity in which we are all members- so close that we can hold each other’s hand.
Our feet move in the rhythm of the earth and our hearts beat in tandem with those we do not even know. In those dark moments, we know no color. There is no history, only the now. God makes our vision startlingly clear. Our reaction is transcendent and it can be life-altering if we let it.
What if, as the waters receded our preconceived notions receded as well? What if we allowed the goodness, the ultimate kindness we felt while rescuing others rescue us? I know it sounds simple (or complex, or terrifying…) but think about it. We are never as close to God as in our darkest hour. We are never as certain of his existence when we are faced with peril.
God is there wading through the water with us, helping us to stand. He is there in the still of the night, whispering encouragement and delivering his peace into the abyss. He is a lantern to our feet and a light on our path. He is the Holy Spirit moving through us beckoning us to help the lame, heal the sick, feed the poor, shelter the homeless and quiet the chaos.
He is also the man in the alley alone without a home. He is the child with tear-stained cheeks clinging fearfully to his mother as the water rises and fear strikes his heart. He is the mother fiercely protecting her child and silently praying for them to be delivered from their distress. He is the law enforcement officer carrying the wheelchair bound woman to safety and the men and women braving life and limb to make sure all his creatures are cared for and safe.
God is good and when I say good- I mean very good. Right now, I see no division but rather an openness and unparalleled willingness to just be good, to just be kind and to walk humbly with God as he continues to pick up the pieces and repair the brokenness not only in our communities in the wake of the devastation but the world.
Come take a walk with me on the water, won’t you?
For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. –Isaiah 41:13