Friday, November 18, 2016

Taking the Higher Road

Sometimes we end up on a team where our teammates are actually cheering against us. I saw this happen when I volunteered in Daniel's 3rd grade class for their Fall Party. I was in charge of handing out bean bags for the pumpkin toss game and explaining the simple rules. If they hit the pumpkins, that were taped to the blackboard, in the mouth they would collect points and end up with that many tickets for buying prizes.

Three of the teams were very positive, cheering each other on. “Oh, almost.” “Good try.” “You got it!” “Good job.” High fives. Smiles. Joy. Wanting each other to do well. I was glad that Daniel was in one of these groups, along with his supportive friend Steven.

But two of the teams had a very different attitude: they wanted each other to fail. I actually heard one student whisper in the ear of his teammate about to throw, “You can't hit it.” Followed by, “That one didn't count.” “You didn't hit the mouth!” Oh my. I was so ready for the 10 minute timer to be up and for those two teams to rotate on to their next game. The negative attitude, started by one or two, was infectious. I know that not all of the students in these two groups were characterized by negativity. But how can you stop it once it's started? It's a natural human response when we hear, “You can't do it,” to say “Oh yeah. Well you can't do it either.” I felt helpless and defeated myself, swallowed up by the negativity in these two groups. And I was the adult.

It's what's going on in our nation.

I've been studying the Sermon on the Mount with a group of friends this fall. Last week we discussed the verse “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” In The Blessing of Humility Jerry Bridges writes that merciful in Matthew 5:7 "is stronger than pity or compassion; it denotes not only feelings but action." Extending mercy was counterculture in Jesus' day, and when we choose to give people grace instead of what they deserve, we're swimming upstream in our society too.

Jesus showed us how to respond in a way that's opposite to the way of the world. He didn't call down fire on those who beat him, mocked him, and nailed him to the cross. Instead, he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing.”

We can choose to exercise that kind of restraint as well, and forgive our persecutors when we're on the receiving end of hate. The line in Michelle Obama's speech, “When they go low, we go high” is such a great challenge. This was beautifully played out by the hundreds of students at Baylor University who joined together in support of a classmate after she was harassed because of the color of her skin. Baylor’s vice president for student life, Kevin P. Jackson said, “As Baylor Bears, it is our responsibility to care for and treat each other with love, compassion and dignity. Any behavior short of this demands our full attention so that we can hold each other accountable while seeking to reconcile and restore damaged relationships.” 

 Let's prove that hate will lose and love will win.

Another inspiring example of solidarity was the hundreds of students at the University of Michigan who came out to form a wall of protection around their Muslim classmates who prayed in a public place on campus. To let them know "You are not alone."

Mohammed Ishtiaq, the University of Michigan’s Muslim chaplain, told The Huffington Post that both the Jewish and Christian communities on campus came out to show their support. He said some members of the crowd held signs that read, “You Belong Here.”  
Although it was a cold night, the amount of support we got was really heart warming,” Ishtiaq said in an email. “Events of solidarity like this give us hope.”
 What a powerful message

My friend Iris in Tianjin wrote a great blog post this week: A challenge to the American church after the election. We are all welcome at the Table:

"I will not stand idly by while those who bear the name of Christ exploit the weak for their own gain.
I will not prematurely call for unity and peace while the religious continue to hinder the marginalized from experiencing God.
I will not turn a blind eye while the church traffics in power and profit instead of offering refuge and solace.
I will not sit quietly while some defend the right to their precious traditions at the expense of another’s personhood.
I will not maintain the status quo while those who are made in God’s image are being desecrated and demeaned.
I will not pass on the other side of the road while the most vulnerable among us are dying."

I was also inspired by the blog post of my friend Rachel in Djibouti. Election 2016: Loving People Well “We can block freeways and burn flags and smash windows. We can boast and thump our chests. We can mock and ridicule, insult and lie. We can refuse to accept a process that may or may not have turned out in our favor. We can wait and see. We can open our mouths and scream. We can hide in silence. We can cry. We can celebrate. 

But we must listen. We can find people who are not like us, both online and in real life, instead of hunkering down behind walls with people who already think like us. We can seek to understand their stories and their histories and their hopes, fears, dreams. We can empathize and not demonize. We can be humble. We can win with grace and lose with dignity. We can speak our own ideas with passionate conviction while allowing others to have different ideas. We can refuse to label or to lump people into certain categories.”

We can choose the higher road. By choosing love. Not hate.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:14-18

Let's fight for, stand for, and cheer for our teammates, our neighbors, our nation.

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