Being Human: Contrasts and Contradictions
Optimist or pessimist? Glass half-empty, glass half-full, or it depends on what’s in the glass?!? ~snort~ Leap out of bed can’t wait to see what a new day holds, or hit the snooze button three times for those last intermittently interrupted 30 minutes of sleep which for some reason seems to be the best sleep you’ve gotten all night? Grateful for a past full of successes and failures for bringing you to exactly where you are now, or filled with regret for life not being what you expected, what you hoped, and hanging onto the mistakes that have left wounds and scars that don’t seem to heal? Angry at the people that dun did you ‘rong, or making peace with the imperfections in others as well as your own? Determined that the years in front of you however many they are will be filled with experiences and love and laughter in the midst of the hard stuff that by nature will come, or dreading the natural decline that will simply remind you of all you haven’t done and will likely never get to? Ready to forgive and make peace with the unrepentant who will never admit how right you were, or clear that until there is appropriate and authentic responsibility taken for being wrong, no peace is there to be found?
And our answers are . . . yes? Yes to both sides of all those equations and more? Yes to being grateful and sometimes filled with dread? Yes to experiencing peace and still hoping that one person will admit they were wrong and take responsibility for how they hurt you? Yes to loving some mornings with enthusiasm and other mornings of eternal snooze button pushing? Yes to gratefulness and regret, to half-empty and half-full and fill it with the liquid refreshment of choice? Yes to being forgiving and not forgiving seemingly depending on the day or the hour or the moment which can turn on a dime?
It’s called being human. And know it or not, pastors resemble all those remarks just like regular people even if sometimes we don’t want, or are afraid, or others don’t want to know that about us. My guess is that same thing is true for folks in education and medicine and trash-collecting and librarianing (you’re welcome) and law and Dept. of Transportation and Admin. and business and you get the picture. We are all a study in contrast and contradiction and yet often our expectations of ourselves and others are that we are not. It’s part of how we decide whether we can walk through life as friends or adversaries. When there is disagreement about one thing, we decide we will disagree about all things. When we take a particular position about one issue, we must then be defined as having that same general perspective on all issues. I don’t know about you, but that’s not really true for me. I love Willie and his brother Bobby Nelson’s southern gospel album, “Farther Along,” and I love the Budapest Strings recording of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” I love the “Die Hard” movie series (the first one is flat-out the best) and I love the opera “Die Zauberfote” (The Magic Flute) by Mozart. I have a thing about being clean, and yet I love running so hard that when I’m done the sweat is running down my forehead and the back of my neck reminding me I’m alive! I love being around people a LOT. AND I love being by myself with music and a good book, a LOT. I know I’m not the only one! We are a study in contrasts – that’s what we have in common. What a conundrum!
What happens when we decide to pigeon-hole someone into a generic group that we’ve decided can’t and don’t agree with us on ANYTHING? What do we miss? Maybe the depth of their value? Maybe the height of their intellect? Maybe the compassion of their spirit? Maybe their inherent goodness that resides just underneath the surface of a passionate disagreement? Are we willing to give each other the time to give each other a chance? You know, a chance at being more than an opinion or an issue? A chance at being a confoundingly complex and perfectly imperfect consistently inconsistent child of God?
My most recent favorite chapter of a book starts out this way:
“Being and optimist is hazardous duty these days. Right now I’m nearly two years into the daily work of building faith communities that embody radical hospitality, true diversity, real authenticity, and agenda-free community. In many ways I feel like I’m the same person I was when I started forty years ago. I still feel like the same little boy with the same big God: still filled with wonder, still overflowing with hope, still certain that our best days are ahead of us. Often I’m moved to tears and covered with goosebumps as I meet people on this same path of expanding the table. I see them shedding old prejudices, reaching across former divides, and seeking new ways of expressing the audacious love of an eternal God. They remind me of just how much goodness is still here in this place, and they point toward what can and should be. They are so often the very thing that fuels me to keep going. They help me hold on to the eyes of compassion which isn’t easy.” (John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, Westminster-John Knox, 2019).
We in communities of faith called churches who are part of organized religion struggle. We struggle with how the “general population” sees us and makes assumptions without knowing us, and we struggle within from how we see one another and make assumptions without really knowing each other. This period of history seems defined by division and labels and marketed assumptions about how we see one another in ways that have no depth or oftentimes even truth. The question is whether we are willing to be vulnerable enough to get to know one another on deeper levels beyond the politics, the economics, the education levels, and the rhetoric. It means time. It means real time with other people in conversations that move past the I’m-fine-how-are-you toward what is heartbreaking for you and what do you love. It asks us to risk knowing people beyond the people we already know. AND it asks us to risk a generosity of heart and spirit that allows folks to mess up and still be loved and not mess up and still be loved and simply be who they are and still be loved.
My glass this morning is completely empty because the coffee was so good I drank it to the last drop. Actually that’s not quite true. The conversation I was having over the coffee was so good, that I drank it to the last drop and didn’t even realize it. And when all was said and done, my cup was full to overflowing. A study in contrasts – the gift of life shared.