“Under wings of gold and silver, sometimes we have to hide; for shelter from this bitter winter, at least tonight”
Saturday the 21st of April my family and I went to celebrate the life of my wife’s late grandmother whom we lovingly referred to as Granny D. It was a normal service…normal for Christians…which involved many stories of past loves and losses, and a strong message of hope beyond the grave. We were all convinced of the idea that her life after her death was exponentially better than the one to which she clung immediately prior. This caused me to realize something about the nature of Christian belief, not for the first time, I realize it in different ways everyday…for good or ill, Christians believe some crazy things.
There are many times when I am at odds with the crazy things that Christians believe, even though I am a Christian. I will not go into this list as it is vast and is likely to land me in various debates and controversies which interest me little. I will say that I do share some crazy beliefs held by the majority of people who identify themselves as Christian. I believe in Heaven and Hell though, admittedly, I know very little about these “places”. I believe that a young woman, in the town of Nazareth, was one day impregnated by God and gave birth to a Savior even while she was a virgin. I believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ after three days being victim to the ravages of mortification. And I believe in the craziest of all Christian beliefs: the belief that one should love one’s enemy. I believe all of these things, which is easy for me to say…I haven’t a clue about how easy it will be for others to say this of me at my memorial service.
This was a memorial service so, of course, nobody showed up with an axe to grind…or if they did, they were intelligent enough to stow that axe. Rather, the words that most everyone spoke about Granny D had to do with the fact that she had a loving disposition. There were no grandiose comparisons to Mother Theresa…no calls of sainthood…no false pretense whatsoever. There were just a bunch of people who seemed to remember this woman as a person who genuinely cared for them. Does this mean that Granny D loved her enemies? I don’t know. I don’t know anyone who was a big enough asshole to make an enemy of Granny. But, it seems to me, that it does mean that she took seriously the charge to love people without regard to their race, culture, social status, political proclivities, or education. It was clear to me that her friends and family were nothing if not a cross-section of humanity. She took seriously the craziest tenant of Christianity that exists…love.
When people spoke of Granny D and the way she treated people, there was a theme that ran through the entire narrative, a narrative that ran past the lips of over a dozen free-thinking people, and was not called into question by any of the many in attendance. That theme was the ease with which she carried herself whilst showing kindness to loved ones and strangers alike. This love seemed to come naturally to Granny D. But I don’t think it did come naturally. I don’t think it came easily. I think the fact that it seemed that way was a testimony to the fact that Granny took seriously the charge to love others and also took seriously the fact that she could not do this on her own. Granny D trusted Jesus to do that which her frail humanity could not. Granny D knew it was important to love; love is something all Christians understand to be important (not Christians alone but it is the subject about which I am speaking, Christians). It’s important to love…love thy neighbor…love thy enemy…love thy God…love thyself (or to thine own self be true, if you like). But Granny also knew she couldn’t do it by herself. She understood her weakness. That is why this love seemed so natural, how she pulled it off with such ease.
It is easy to say that you believe in the crazy things that Christians believe. The hardest part about it is how you think others will see you in light of saying something like: “I think Jesus literally turned a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread into a feast for Fifteen thousand or more people”. Yeah they may think that you’re crazy, but what do you care? I’ve seen Sarah Palin’s Facebook fan page…there are a lot of “Likes”. Apparently, there is no inherent nobility in not caring what others think of you. But at your memorial service belief in the fantastical will pale in comparison to the one thing anybody cares about…did you believe the crazy story about love? You either did or you didn’t and the evidence is rarely summed up by the things that you said, it’s more of a gut thing. How did you treat those with whom you came into contact?
How did I treat those with whom I had contact? A lot of the time the answer is: poorly. But this is not because I have a special deficiency in empathy or sympathy; it is because I am quite sure that I can go it alone, that I posses all I need to overcome my selfish nature and truly love people. In short, I don’t take my need for Jesus seriously enough. If my memorial service were to be held tomorrow, there is no doubt in my mind how well I’d fare.