Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who would Jesus bomb?

I have spent the last two weeks in awe. In awe of the beauty of the people around me.

The cashiers and baggers at the supermarkets. Those men and women who pass our food, drinks, and laundry detergents over scanners all day and all night. Those men and women whose hands are sometimes covered with paper cuts from magazines and paper bags. Whose wrists and ankles are bound with bandages and braces because of the repetitive movements while standing on their feet all day.

The waitstaff at restaurants and coffee shops. Those men and women who take our orders, literally and figuratively, and then have to contend with the myriad reasons why people who ate and enjoyed their meals think they shouldn't have to pay for those same meals.

The construction workers building houses that few people will buy. Those men and women who are hoping to get paid a fair wage, even though they know that the housing market is painfully slow.

I have smiled and greeted the talented growers and harvesters and bakers and vendors at farmers' markets. I watch them interact with each other across aisles and from one tent and stall to another. All hoping that this will be the day that they break even, at least.

I am stirred to whoop and holler and also well up with tears when I watch my fellow classmates in exercise classes at the gym. Both genders, all ages, heights, widths, hairstyles, fashion sensibilities (yes, personal style is evident even in the gym), and religious persuasions are represented. I am most impressed by the Muslim women who work out while fully covered from head to toe. There we all are, hopping, skipping, jumping, pumping, and sweating together. Trying to stay heart healthy, keep these bodies in motion, and make room for the glass of wine or slice of pie that is yet to come.

I look around the sanctuary of the church my family has begun to attend on Sunday mornings and am overwhelmed by the beauty of all the shades of brown in that room and up on the pulpit. Men and women, united by the need to come together, our hope for a better life, present and future, and the desire to have others know the same hope and future. The sounds that rise from the singers, the congregation, the ministers, in unison and harmony, melody and rhythm - they are truly magnificent.

Plumbers and electricians and carpenters.

Gardeners and yard maintenance workers.

Gas station attendants and car wash workers.

Housekeepers and nannies and babysitters and dogwalkers.

Lawyers and politicians and town hall meeting attendees.

For the past two weeks, as I have walked and jogged and driven through my daily rounds, I have been overwhelmed with the radiance, the tremendous splendor of the eyes and mouths and hands and hair and bodies of the people around me. They are breath-taking. Beautiful beyond words.

Confession time - the bad news first: There are a few groups of people that I have been prejudiced against for a long time. Years ago, I decided that I had the right to negatively judge certain groups of people simply based on their appearance. I have looked askance at "them" and allowed my mind to fill with sarcastic, critical comments whenever I see "them." I felt no guilt about it; it was what it was. I didn't like "them," and that was that. I will not go so far as to say who makes up those groups; I think it is enough to admit in this public forum that I have prejudices.

Now for the good news: As my mind and spirit and heart have been opened in a new way over the past few weeks, I am noticing that I notice "those people" a lot less. Who are "those people" anyway? They are me. They are us. And, God, are they beautiful. Strong. Resilient. Smiling. Intent on living full and productive and meaningful lives, just like us, just like me. They are afraid and lonely and angry and frustrated and adamantly concerned about their hometowns, their countries and cultures of origin, the economy, energy costs, and the environment. They want their children to live long and healthy and good lives. They hope that their loved ones are doing well, whether nearby or far away. Just like us, just like me.

As I have thought more deeply about my judgmental spirit lately, I have found myself repeatedly wrestling with several questions. How dare I choose one or two or five groups of people to compare myself to, with the inevitable outcome being that I end up on top???!!! How could I so quickly and easily forget that I am part of several groups that other people have decided are the "them" to them? (Does that make sense?) After all, I am a woman. I am an American. I am an African-American. I am a follower of Christ. I have Hindi friends (I stand corrected on this one: I have friends who practice Hinduism. Always so much to learn. Thanks, Monee). I have Buddhist friends. I have friends who have chosen to have faith in no one and nothing but themselves. I am a homeschooling mother. I am one half of an "interracial" marriage. I am a northerner living in the south. I have gay friends. I have straight friends. I have many, many friends who are illegal immigrants. I am against war. I voted for Barack Obama. The list goes on and on. And for every thing that I claim to be, there are those who are against what I have chosen.

Ultimately, these past two weeks of newly discovered compassion have pushed me to wonder: what does it mean to live within and outside of so many categories and boxes? Who decided - and who continues to decide - that such boxes are necessary? What would it mean to live without these categories? When will I stop defining myself and others by them? Who will I be as these boundaries recede in importance?

And just in case I am able to come up with reasons for hanging on to my categories and keeping the boundaries and barriers between "us" and "them" high and strong, I am compelled to consider the words and ideals of The One I claim to follow. The One who came to bring good news to the poor, the blind, and the imprisoned. The One who spoke to and touched lepers and women and homeless people and foreigners and tax collectors and the sick and political opponents and children at a time and in a place when doing such things resulted in Him being called "unclean" - among other things. The One who crossed social, economic, cultural and religious boundaries to invite others to be part of his homeless band of misfit revolutionaries - what would He say about my barriers and walls and prejudices?

The question that remains, after I look around me at all the people in the gym, the market, the pharmacy, the hospital waiting room, the playground, the sanctuary, the library, the arts and crafts stores I frequent, the bookstores, on street corners, in office buildings, in line at drive-thru windows, after I flip through photo albums and newspapers and magazines, and scroll through websites looking at people waving flags and banners and pumping their fists in anger about one issue or another, the one question that keeps coming to my mind is this -

Who would Jesus bomb?


lulliloo said...

AHHH! I LOVE this post. Yeah, so energizing Gail!

One of my favorite quotes (the person escapes me) says that "there is no governing body that determines the standard of beauty but our cultures lives as though there is".

We are to stand and fight this absurd adherence to boxes and standards and labels of value...and this is what your post does my friend, it stand on truth. That we are all created in the breathtaking image and form of a wondrous God and that in itself is a mighty thing...Keep noticing~

T said...


Launa said...

Gail, you should be a preacher yourself. I love it. This is the only way for us to live our lives -- wide open to other human beings. It's also the biggest challenge Jesus left us with. I will read this again and again (and think of you when I am once again at the grocery store trying my best to communicate!) Launa

Moneesha said...

What a powerful post it!

Incidentally, Hindi is the name of the language - the religion would be Hinduism.

Talk to you soon.


Lori said...

And the answer is Jesus would not bomb anyone?????????? What about Sodam and Gomorrah? Was Jesus out for Coffee? Just being funny. Great post Gail.
Jesus will be coming back on that White Horse. And all of our categories and boxes will be affected on that day some for good and some for bad. I'm working on a new category. Categoryless, oh that puts me in the Categoryless Box. All in fun. Love you!

T said...

Yes, Lori makes a great point (idea for yet another blog? But maybe fit for another author, no slight intended). The social point and the appreciation for the variety God provides-- for once not held in things but in hearts and decent actions-- is well put. I take it more as a challenge to exercise this rather glowing way of thinking. As long as there is no threat to the day.
It was Pastor Stigall of Hope Church I think who said that three quarters of integrity is timing. My goodness, balance of spirit is such a challenging thing. Knowing WHEN for everything must be part of the peace we feel in Heaven.

GailNHB said...

Lori, you and T both make a good point. I agree that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah doesn't fit with this "glowing way of thinking." I would also admit that there are many Biblical accounts of death and destruction, of slaughtering all the men, women, and children that the children of Israel faced as they crossed the desert during those 40 years and during so many battles since then, that disturb me deeply. Stories that I question and find very inconsistent with my view of a loving and forgiving God. I don't like those parts. I don't read those parts very often. I don't get those parts, and I am fairly certain that I never will... at least not any time soon.

What intrigues me and disturbs me even more these days is the account of a certain man, facing certain death, unjust death, undeserved death, the highest threat at any man can face. There was no greater threat to his day. He had the power to stop all the proceedings, to bring a full and total halt to all the injustice that was about to befall him.

But that man, that amazing man, did not defend himself. He did not take up arms against his enemies. He didn't bomb anybody that day. He didn't cut off any ears; in fact, he restored the ear that one of his heavily armed companions cut off of one of his assailants. He took all that his enemies dished out - and he prayed that they be forgiven for all that they were doing to him. He was certain that they didn't know what they were doing, and he was right. They had no idea.

That's the story that rocks my world a whole lot more than the more bloody ones, the stories of fire and brimstone.

Lori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lori said...

Okay, just remember though the Bible is not a Salad Bar. You can't pick and choose the passages you want Gail. Yes God is a God of Love and yes He is Forgiving. But He is also a God of justice and hates sin. And yes I know we are off your intended directions but you know Im A.D.H.D!

Read Matt 6.

As far as "glowing way of thinking" its a great way to value the beauty in Gods creation. To value the lovelies and unlovelies alike. To see everyone as equal to us and like us. In the book "The Last Lecture" the author states that he likes to think and see the best in people. The World would be a better place if we thought that of everyone. As christians in a relationship with Jesus shouldn't we all strive to do this. This has been a great dialogue. Thanks Gail. Blessings