“What side are you on?”
The boy’s face was just inches from mine. His freckles stood out against his pale skin, even in the weak Wisconsin winter sun. He pointed to a line of kids dressed in hats and mittens, standing in a line on one side of the recess field, then to a line of kids on the other side.
“Uh…” I paused.
“No side?” he taunted. “Forget it, then. Go play on the monkey bars with the little kids.”
It seems we form our belief in choosing sides early on. I pondered this as I climbed the monkey bars with the first graders, a humiliation for a second grader such as myself.
What side was I on? And why was Red Rover so serious?
We need only spend a few seconds on social media these days before we see the divides forming. Us vs. them. Red vs. blue. Pro-this vs. pro-that. What are you for? Who are you against?
The worst moments are when we begin to act as if our deeply held beliefs justify whatever actions we want to take. The other side should play far, but since we are right (we think), we can use whatever means necessary.
This is not a commentary on the election, the Women’s March, Republicans or Democrats, Planned Parenthood, or the sanctity of life. It is a commentary on being and behaving and loving as the people of God always.
From Philippians, chapter one:
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Not “Whatever happens, unless the other side is super duper wrong.”
Not “Whatever happens, unless you’re really irritated with how the other side is behaving.”
Not “Whatever happens, unless you are absolutely right and the other side is pure evil.”
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Behave as you would if Jesus were standing right beside you. Because, you know, he is.
Jesus didn’t align himself with any of the warring factions of his day. He didn’t side with the Romans or the Jewish establishment. He loved each person on every side. He spoke truth to power and offered kindness to those in need.
Jesus ate with prostitutes and Pharisees. His band of closest friends included a tax collector (establishment!) and a Zealot (rebel!).
He stood in the hardest place of all: nowhere and everywhere. People continually tried to pin him to their causes, and he continually slipped away.
“I’m about my Father’s business,” he said. A nice way of saying, “I’m here to do my Father’s business, not the business you think I should be doing.”
He didn’t say, “God’s kingdom is the best, so it doesn’t matter how we bring it to earth. The end justifies the means!”
Instead he said, “Blessed are the meek. Happy are the poor. It seems impossible for a rich man to get in to heaven, but because of what God is doing nothing is impossible.”
He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.”
At the end of the day, he gave his very life for those who hated him.
This week I’ve witnessed people–people professing Christ–say horrible, hateful, spiteful things to and about one another on Facebook from both sides of the aisle.
You guys: if you write something on Facebook, OTHER PEOPLE CAN SEE IT. Your boss, your pastor, your family, your friends. That high school acquaintance wondering if they should follow Jesus or not and looking at you to help them decide.
People can see it even if you are writing a comment on a friend’s wall or responding on a private post. Those comments are out there. FOREVER.
There is no place for this type of behavior among those who follow Jesus. We may vote a certain way, or not. Land on one side of an issue or the other. But there is no place for vitriol, for spite, for name-calling, for hatred.
Nowhere in Scripture does it say, “Love your neighbor, unless they belong to the opposite political party, and then let ’em have it.”
Instead, Jesus says, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”
In these divisive, divided, distracting times, let us turn to one another with a spirit of generosity, of kindness, and of love. Let us seek to understand, to listen, to talk about ideas instead of attacking people.
We should and must work for good. We should and must work against evil.
But let us work and speak with love. Love can be firm. It can even have a bite or an edge. But it cannot coexist in the same breath or keystroke with hate.