Yesterday I attended a new church and met many new friends. While chatting with two new friends after the service, I shared that I was relatively new to Texas. They welcomed me, and I gushed about how everyone was so nice in Texas. I expected my new friends to agree—southerners just love when I applaud their hospitality. Instead, I was met with raised eyebrows. “Oh, really?” they said. Taken aback by this unusual response, my eyes widened—and so did my lens. It dawned on me that as gay men, their experience in the South was nowhere near hospitable. My cheeks burned with embarrassment. Realizing that I had just put my gross ignorance on display, I stumbled to recover. They graciously let me off the hook, but the damage was done: I am the latest in a long line of straight people who failed to realize the pain of my gay neighbors. As we left, I silently vowed to be more aware of perspectives other than my own.
We made our way to my favorite vegan restaurant (my husband is such a good sport) and emerged minutes later with hands full of takeout bags and non-milkshakes. As we crossed the grassy lot adjacent to our parked car, we encountered a man throwing a tennis ball for his German Shepherd. We are extreme dog lovers, so of course, we stopped to pet the dog. We chatted with the man about the dog’s limp and how he’d hurt his paw, about rescuing dogs and how tough it can be to keep them healthy—the same things we’d discuss with any dog owner. We said our good-byes, and then the man asked an unexpected question: Could you spare some change for some food?
For the second time that day, I felt smothered by the weight of my ignorance. I hadn’t noticed the signs that this man and his dog were homeless. Sure, he looked a little scruffy, but hey, who doesn’t from time to time? Standing there with the man and his dog, I felt the sting of the unevenness between us. It didn’t matter to me how he became homeless—didn’t even cross my mind. I was concerned about how this man could possibly care for his beloved dog. What would he do if the dog’s paw was infected? What would he do if a cut on his own hand was infected? Would a shelter allow him to bring his dog? When he finds a job, where will he leave his dog? How will this man feed himself, much less feed his dog? How will he survive come winter? My heart ached deeply. It’s not fair. Why do I have so much, and he has so little? What can I possibly do to fix this imbalance?
I was sobbing by the time we reached the car. I felt silly for reacting so strongly and I wanted to shove it aside—to the back of my mind and the bottom of my heart—but instead, I made a conscious decision to let myself feel it. I let down my walls of indifference and I let my heart wring out all the emotions. I sobbed for the man and his dog, for the gay men who didn’t experience a warm Texas welcome, for my self-centered ignorance, and for the widespread apathy in our world. I sobbed for our choice to remain so disconnected from the “others.”
Yesterday reminded me that I can be right about every tentacle of my faith—all the right doctrine, all the right definitions of sin and righteousness—but if I’m not loving my neighbors, I really can’t say that I’m wholeheartedly following Jesus. I’m really just padding my ego. Consider the words of James:
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:14-17, NLT)
Jesus offers many a call-to-action to love your neighbor. After instructing his disciples to love and pray for their enemies, Jesus explains that God “gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matt. 5:45) Jesus is explaining that God’s love is indiscriminate. God loves my neighbors—all of them. My gay neighbors, my homeless neighbors, my immigrant neighbors, my lonely neighbors, my disabled neighbors, my unbelieving neighbors and all the rest receive God’s rain, his sunshine, and his love. Jesus drives the point home: “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?” and “If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?” (Matt. 5:46-47) In other words, we have no excuse for concentrating our love on those with whom we share a socioeconomic status, a political opinion, a country of origin, a lifestyle, or a faith. We are called to take our love outside of the boxes formed by our own perspectives.
Yesterday’s experience revealed that my faith is disconnected from my life in a major way. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one. We are living in a time of serious division, and not just politically. Christians in America profess faith in Jesus, but we aren’t living like Jesus. If you find a division between what you believe and the life you live, here are three suggestions to start bridging the gap.
- Acknowledge that your perspective is limited. For example, I assumed everyone experienced the comfort of southern hospitality.
- Seek out other perspectives. I never considered how the same environment can yield very different experiences.
- Get to know people face-to-face. There is a huge difference between reading about someone, and interacting with someone. Go meet people, resist the urge to be defensive, and let God do what he wants to do inside of that experience.
Most importantly, reflect on your other. Who is your other—your opposite, your enemy, the invisible among you? Get outside of your own little box. I’m not suggesting you abandon what you believe; I’m suggesting that you add to it. Add love. Acknowledge your indifference, shed it, and seek to connect with new people.