I was thinking about sheep and goats today, and not just because my family keeps threatening to buy us goats.
Seriously, they do. I really have no interest in animals at my home.
Anyway, I was thinking about how we as the church are responding to the horrors in our world. Because it was on clear display this past week, the evil of this world.
I want to say I understand the anger and outrage but I don’t. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what it’s like to lose loved ones, community, the sense of safety in that way. I’m torn to say anything really about how any of the countries affected should respond or how someone near one of the many attacks should respond.
I am, however deeply troubled by what I see people saying and spreading. Specifically people who like me, weren’t there. So much fear and hate. Such a strong us vs them mentality. The deepening of the us vs them. The solidification of biases and the growing comfort to dehumanize other people. To stop seeing their humanity, their similarities to us, but rather define them as something not someone.
But it’s nothing new for us. We do it all the time. I fear our story of the goats and the sheep would be far different than the one we think we are living. For those who don’t know it, it’s a story Jesus tells about who was with him and who was against him. He talks about all those who supported and loved the marginalized and oppressed. It’s focused on actions and how when we care for the least of these we are in fact caring for Jesus. They didn’t even know they were doing it for Jesus, just that it was right.
I worry too many of us who see ourselves as sheep, the righteous, would have a far different story told about us.
For I was hungry and you asked about my income. You asked me to beg and prove how desperate I really was. You belittled me and made sure I deserved it. You made sure I understood that you needed to be a good steward of your money. You ensured I knew this was a one time thing and you wouldn’t be supporting this life I’ve chosen.
I was thirsty and you asked if I have a drinking problem.
I was a stranger and you said that we are closing our borders. You asked me if I was a terrorist. To many of “you” in our country will hurt us. We won’t be safe with “your kind” around. No we need to protect ourselves. For all you knew, I intend to kill my family. How could you love your neighbour if you let me in?
I needed clothes and you told me to get a job. You told me to work harder like the rest of you. That we all make it work, I just wanted to leech off the system.
I was sick and you knew I deserved it from years of drug use. It’s the consequence of my life choices.
I was in prison and you extended my sentence because I hadn’t served long enough. Because I was dangerous and you were full of fear. There was a debt to be paid and you need it paid in full. You needed the gangster and the extremists off your streets. Longer punishment is what you needed me to have.
This the privilege of the west.
This is my privilege.
I get to say so much of what I do because I wasn’t there, being shot at. I get to say this because it’s never been tested in my life. I get to say this because I’m reasonably sure it’s more about what someone else should do than what I should do. I wasn’t shot at, or robed by a violent criminal, I know drug users, and I am happy to spend my money supporting others. So I can say what you should do, what’s right. Its easy, because it’s not really asking much of me at all. What I’m saying here doesn’t force me to change.
But it’s not less privileged to get to say we don’t want them. Stay out of our country. This place stays as it is. Because if you come it will change, I will have to change, and I don’t want to. You can’t make me. I can make you stay and I can make sure I don’t have to change. You act like me or get out. I get to do what I want, how I want, when I want. If you’ve got a problem, don’t come. To blame the poor rather than system that’s made so many poor. To blame some people for choices and offer passes to others. To use my neighbour as the reason to spread hate for the oppressed. I’m defending my community, my neighbourhood, my country. And frankly they matter more.
The power. The dominance. The inward focus.
The fear is on both sides. The fear of those who would do us harm, take advantage of us, use us. But also the fear they feel; alone, powerless, abused, stigmatized.
And the most dangerous prey on that fear. They prey on those who are alone, powerless and desperate. They look at our actions and say to those we fear “see, they don’t want you. You aren’t one of them. You’ll never be accepted. But we accept you, we love you, join us.”
Our fear of terrorists will create more terrorists. How easy is to it to recruit a teen when their mother was assaulted simply for being a Muslim? How easy is it to recruit a child when their parents were killed by a foreign military? How easy when we make it clear you aren’t welcome here?
But this so much more than just refugees, its how we respond to so many we deem difficult, dangerous and honestly in the end, just not worth it.
How do you think gangs recruit young people? Don’t you think the stigma we place on the poor, the way we do all we can to push them farther from us pushes them to gangs?
Our desire for punishment creates more crime. How would you get a job with no skills after years of imprisonment? What would you do when the community you go back to is the community that helped pushed you into crime in the first place? Why would you invest in community when you know that second you tell someone you’re a convict they want to keep their children away from you?
Our greed and blame forces people to stay in poverty. We want more and more for ourselves, giving less time, money, care to those on the margins. We blame the single mom working 2 jobs saying she isn’t trying hard enough. If she wanted out of poverty she could. Are we so blind to think people desire poverty? That if all it took we effort we would have so many in our communities in poverty?
But that’s the problem isn’t it. They aren’t part of our community. We make damn sure we keep them away from our community every way we can.
Community and love are our answers. Our desire to create safety will undoubtedly be our undoing. By refusing community/relationship/love we’re pushing people to become there very thing we fear they were.
But we can be different. When the world is retreating to their corners we can be different. Sharing a meal together, listening to stories, honestly and genuinely investing in the life’s of those we are taught to fear. This is how we live out the Kingdom and this is how we fight the horror of this world. By seeing the table as big enough for everyone. By understanding that violence beget violence but love, love overcomes.
The more we vilify our enemies the more enemies we have. The more we pull away from the community the worse the community becomes. But the more we reach out, drawing those on the fringes looking for acceptance, love and hope to a community that values them as they are the harder it is for them to become the thing we fear.
I clearly don’t have all the answers. I do know that far too much of what I hear is born of fear and not love.
Fear of the unknown, the loss of power, the artificial sense of security and certainty we so covet.
Its not born of love. Love for our neighbours, for the least of these, for the poor the widow and the orphan.
It’s so clearly no born of love for our enemy.
And so I worry far too much of what I’m hearing and seeing isn’t not born of Christ.