Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Love or Barbies?
The other night, my daughter and I went out to dinner. We started playing this game where we would ask each other to choose between two options very quickly. So, it might go something like this: pepper or salt? [answer] sun or moon? [answer] water or land? [answer] cats or dogs? [answer] goats or chickens? [answer]. This game got started, I later learned, because my daughter intended to slip in a question at the end, just as my momentum had built on answering quickly, to get me to reveal what I'd gotten her for Christmas: movie or book? Harry Potter or Toy Story? See? It was a well-devised trap. But, I did not fall for it. In response, I said with a smile: "goats and chickens." (See http://bit.ly/aoggq4)
We played this game, giggling, for almost our entire dinner. Near the end, we were running out of ideas, so I started down a line of questioning that went something like this, followed by my daughter's answer: love or hate? [love]; love or war? [love] love or like? [love]. Now, these "love" answers came rapidly. I barely got the question out and the answer was given. I wanted to challenge her a bit, though, because the love choice was easy when compared to hate, war, and even like. So, I threw in love or hamburger? [love] love or Sprite? [love] love or dessert? [love]. About now, the answers started coming slower. A little more thought was being given. A second or two passed, especially on the love or dessert one. Nevertheless, I began to feel so proud as a parent. I'm doing something right, clearly. My daughter chooses love! I decided to push things a little further: love or toys? . . .[um, love?] love or Barbies? . . . [smile, shoulder shrug, quiet voice, love, I guess, but maybe Barbies]. We both laughed, but something powerful struck me.
We play this game everyday in our lives. We must decide between love and something else. For most of us, most of the time, we choose "something else." Often, we don't realize. Often we do. And, the answer almost always turns on what is most comfortable for us and how similar the to-be-loved is to us. In other words, if it is easy, if they are like us, we will choose "love." The harder it gets, the more often we will choose "something else." The closer we get to having to give up something we already love to love someone else, the more likely we are to turn away.
Here are five scenarios to illustrate the point. In law, these would be called hypotheticals. In music, variations on a theme.
1) I'm getting off the train and an old woman needs help lifting her suitcase down the steps. I'm in a hurry. One additional step in my day and I'll be late. The woman is my mother. Love or get to work? Love!
2) I'm getting off the train and an old woman needs help lifting her suitcase down the steps. I'm in a hurry. One additional step in my day and I'll be late. This woman reminds me of my mother. Love or get to work? Love.
3) I'm getting off the train and an old woman needs help lifting her suitcase down the steps. I'm in a hurry. One additional step in my day and I'll be late. The woman appears dirty and homeless. Love or get to work? Um . . . love?
4) I'm getting off the train and an old, dirty, homeless woman needs help lifting a large black trash bag down the steps. She is talking to herself. I'm in a hurry. One additional step in my day and I'll be late. Love or get to work? Maybe get to work. . . .
5) I'm getting off the train and an old, dirty, homeless woman needs help lifting a large black trash bag down the steps. She didn't pay for her train ride. I saw her go from car to car avoiding the conductor. I'm in a hurry. One additional step in my day and I'll be late. Love or get to work? Get to work.
Why do we do this? We look at people and determine whether they deserve our love? We withhold it if we conclude they don't? We withhold it if it makes us uncomfortable? We withhold it if we are scared? We withhold it because we don't believe they will be sufficiently grateful? Wait a minute. We withhold love? We only hand it out to the deserving, safe, grateful?
I can't help thinking of a comment I read in the last day or so in discussions about the DREAM Act and immigration issues. The comment was this: "Romans 13:1-7 states, 'Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.' Clearly illegal aliens don't believe this basic Christian tenet, so I do not see why I should be obligated to respect mercy or forgiveness for them." This comment has been nagging at me. I hate it, but for reasons other than I would have thought. There is unlove in the comment. That saddens me. There is misunderstanding, perhaps purposeful, in the comment. That bothers me.
What I hate about it, though, is that I think the essence of the comment hits close to home. I haven't said it or thought it in this particular context. But, isn't this an expression of how we frequently act? We set out before us what others have done or do and then we decide whether we should love them, whether we should forgive them, whether we should extend mercy to them. The woman who is my mother getting off the train, well, she gave birth to me. She loves me. I will love her. The woman who resembles my mother getting off the train, she seems nice enough and reminds me of my mother. I will love her. The dirty and homeless woman is sad, she needs help. And I won't need to touch her, just her bag. I guess I'll love her. The dirty, homeless, crazy woman with the black trash bag looks scary. What if my hand slips, what if she smells, what if she starts talking to me? What if she's ungrateful? I doubt I'll love her. And, the dirty, homeless woman who didn't pay her train ticket? Why should I love her? I paid my ticket. She obviously doesn't respect the rules. I will not love her.
Thank God He does not love us the way we often love others. In the book of Matthew, these words of Jesus are recorded: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:33-38)
A follower of Christ should be known for loving the undeserved, unsafe, ungrateful. As Jesus said, even the pagans, the unbelievers, love their own people -- those who love them, those who look like them, act like them, seem safe like them. A follower of Christ is different, though. She understands how she has been loved: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) While I was still a sinner (and I still am), Christ died for me. Died. Not carried a suitcase down the stairs for me even though I didn't buy my ticket. Not drove me to the doctor even though I came to the country illegally. Died.
When I find myself thinking about the worth of another person, whether they deserve love from me, whether I "should" be obligated to extend love or mercy or grace or forgiveness, whether something they have done disqualifies them from receiving my love, or whether I have the right to withhold love from them for any other reasons, I will remember what Christ did for me. I will remember these words of Jesus: "Freely you have received, freely give." (Matt. 10:8) When I have the choice between love or something else, I pray that love will flow naturally, quickly, unreservedly out of me. Love or Barbies? Love!