Thursday, May 5, 2011

Love, Hate, and the Other

Unity among Christians is something that I think quite a bit about (and sometimes write about), and the Rally to Restore Unity going on this week over at Rachel Held Evans's blog has it at the forefront of my mind this week.
Here are some thoughts.

My friends and acquaintances are all talking about Water for Elephants, and since it stars Robert Pattinson, I'm going to have to see it eventually.  And books being almost always better than their movie counterparts (notably excepting the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), I decided I'd better get on it.  I stayed up until the wee hours this morning finishing it, and as with every book I resist reading when it is popular, I had to kick myself for holding out.  Great story, good writing, lovely experience.

A crucial big of knowledge in this story is that the 1930s traveling circus subculture bears a great, bold dividing line between the performers and the workers.  They don't mix, ever.  The disdain is open and mutual.  Jacob, the main character, is originally helped by Camel, a working man who takes a bit of a risk in order to help Jacob get a job on the show.  Jacob's talents are discovered and he is given a pretty high position, bunking in with a performer named Walter.

Later in the action, Camel has fallen ill and Walter and Jacob risk their own precarious positions in order to take care of him.  On learning of Walter's efforts, another character asks Jacob, "I thought he hated working men."  Jacob acknowledges his bunkmate's surly demeanor toward workers, but explains how Walter has gone out of his way to help Camel, even to the point of giving up his bed for the old man.

And that made me think.

It's easy, I suppose, to hate a group, or at least to demonize, belittle or dismiss one.  In the book, the groups are Working Men and Performers, but in the Christian world, we could sub in groups like Calvinists, Arminians, Charismatics, Catholics, Southern Baptists, Lutherans... [insert your "Other" here].  It can be equally easy to hate the person who is the face of one of these groups (like John Piper or Rob Bell or Jim Wallis or Mark Driscoll), because we very rarely have personal contact with them.

It's easy to hate someone you don't know.  (The distance and anonymity with which internet communications can be conducted have proven this a thousand times over.)

On the other hand, it's different when you sit eyeball-to-eyeball with someone.  When you look at them, and not at a computer screen.  When you see and hear them, and interact rather than just read-and-react.

Walter may hate working men in general, but once he had one living in his train car, breathing the same air as him, he didn't hate.  He loved, bringing needed food and water, assisting with bathing and toileting, and risking his own neck to care for this "hated" working man.

As followers of Christ, those compelled to follow the ultimate model of love, who claim as our Father the One who is Love, it seems like we should be at least a step ahead of a circus clown in the area of love.

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