It’s a special day on the blog–I get to share some of my husband’s words. Ricky is my favorite person to talk to, because he tells the sometimes-uncomfortable truth and asks the Good Questions (the ones we all want to ask) and looks people in the eye, and isn’t afraid to introduce the elephants in the room. I could write a long list of the things I like about him (let me count the ways) but here’s my favorite thing: when he asks, “How are you doing?”, he’s really asking. I’m so grateful for him, and the way our conversations have helped me move forward many times. And, since what he’s written about for today’s post is a journey we’ve shared to a large extent, it’s quite meaningful to me. I hope you enjoy it, too.
It was late summer in southern New Mexico. I walked across the parking lot, from the door of my car to the door of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in downtown Las Cruces. As I entered, there wasn’t a familiar face; after all, I was only there because some out-of-town friends, James and Deborah and two-year-old Edmund, invited me. I didn’t normally set foot in mainline churches, and I’m sure asking for instructions didn’t help me blend in either. As the service progressed my friends arrived, I fumbled through the scripted service, and I smiled as sippy cups and hard plastic toys rolled on the ground. We sat in the back near an African family with three kids.
And then came the Sharing of the Peace, the part of the service when people shake each other’s hands and say something like, “Peace be with you.” First, James turned to me and smiled over some of God’s Peace. Then, Deborah and Edmund managed to flash some quick Peace before diving for the sippy cup again. And then strangers walked over to me and initiated the transaction of passing me the Peace. I tried to reciprocate, but I found it difficult. I couldn’t seem to manage passing Peace to anyone. I faked it. I didn’t have any to give. Instead, I clumsily accepted the orbs of Peace handed to me. I cried. I didn’t know why.
I think I do now, though. I needed people who didn’t know me, and who looked nothing like me, to be willing to accept me and wish me well. I needed to witness that that still happens, because it had been so long since I had.
Every time in recent history that the American Church has assembled itself on the national stage, it hasn’t been to call attention to what makes Christianity beautiful—grace and genuine good will. It has been to dutifully emphasize the boundary which defines who’s in and who’s not, to clear away the smudges in the line and remind us that, really, not all are welcome or deserving to participate in our community. It steals from the playbook handed to middle-schoolers on how to efficiently create cliques, and it squeezes out those who are just different enough: single unwed pregnant women, thinkers, homosexuals, Democrats. It fights to maintain a dominant “Christian” culture, enforcing compliance through the legal system. It fights to be in power. This is not what I understand Christianity should be.
Jesus gives us some good words for this:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
How can we see clearly enough to pass judgment on the single, unwed mom if we haven’t felt the weight of responsibility of figuring out how to maintain a full-time job and give birth to a baby, all without a partner to lean on? Or how do we point fingers at the young man trying to figure out if he is gay if we’ve never had to choose between living a lie and being cast into exile? Living life in community with people who are different than we are is messy and complicated, but the Bible says we are supposed to try to put up with one another (Ephesians 4:2).
Since moving to Maryland I’ve tried to pass Peace to new people I meet. I smile at them and look them in the eye; I try to remember something about them and wish them goodwill. Usually, they’ll pass some Peace back to me too. I like to think it is a welcome interruption given the faster pace of life. The Lutheran church my family and I have started attending is simple and allows for different sorts of people to make up its membership. My kids are loud and think it is silly to spend the first 15 minutes of the service with the rest of the adults, but as the adults walk around and pass Peace to one another, they also pass Peace to my kids. That is precious to me, and if there is ever a time when my kids need some help finding Peace, I think will be precious to them, too.
Ricky is an engineer and appreciates all things technical. He likes playing music, watching his kids sample new foods, and an occasional, lively political debate. He lives in Columbia, MD with his wife and three beautiful children.