Today is a post by one of my dearest friends, Jordan. Jordan is a gifted writer, and an amazing friend. I can’t say enough or even begin to describe how much her friendship means to me. Her post deals with a hot topic in Chattanooga, TN. I hope her thoughts will carry far.
Calling Out the Humanity (Jordan Davis Henry)
In conversation with a friend recently, I realized something obvious and eye-opening about myself: when Jesus and I are on pretty good terms, I LOVE people and want to know everything about them and hear their stories and write about their stories and talk to them for hours; when Jesus and I are not doing so well, I HATE EVERYONE. Two things have happened recently in rapid succession that have shed some light on this fun little personality quirk of mine. The first is that I got fired for the first time; the second is that my friend was arrested for doing nothing wrong.
Event 1: For the past year, I had been working in a field that I enjoyed and doing work that I felt good about. There were the normal upsets that you experience as a working human when you’re not self-employed (ie: when you have to talk to other humans). Then there were some deeper frustrations and some breaking of trust that happened more recently, and I did not handle those events very well. Ultimately, I got fired because I behaved like a disrespectful, angry little girl who just couldn’t learn to keep her mouth shut.
Event 2: If you or someone you know live in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area, you’ve probably seen the Facebook groups, the YouTube videos, the Huffington Post article, and local news interviews profiling the events that took place on the UTC campus a few weeks ago. The long and short of it is that my friend was arrested when he very calmly, very politely told a UTC-approved street preacher who had been telling students that they were hell-doomed fornicators that if she wanted to spread the Good Word she shouldn’t be yelling at everybody.
My friend was arrested about two weeks after I was fired. In those two weeks, I had done a lot of complaining to myself about the injustice of it all (as in: “how could they fire me, the Crowned Goddess of the Universe, who had never not once in my whole life done anything wrong?”) There was a lot of hyperbolic self-praise, a lot of internal temper tantrums, and not the tiniest molecule of accepting my part in the whole thing.
And then my friend was arrested, for actually not doing anything wrong. (If you need proof that he didn’t do anything wrong, go watch one of the YouTube videos documenting the event. My point is not to give you a list of reasons he was unfairly arrested – you can see it for yourself.) He approaches this woman, who for a week had been hurling insults and hate speak at the student body, and tried to speak some words of reason and (dare I say) peace.
For many of my friends who grew up in the greater Chattanooga area, the only “gospel” they’ve ever heard is this kind of hate speak. A list of reasons you’re already damned, that you’ll never be worth loving. “I am part of the tiny conglomeration of humans that have figured IT out, and I’ll be laughing up in heaven with Jesus at you while you’re burning in hell.” I have friends who have been so spiritually blasted by their upbringing that they can’t believe in anything – and I don’t blame them.
I’ll be honest: “the tiny conglomeration of humans that have figured IT out” is the demographic I most struggle to love. (Particularly when they also shout things like “Lesbo alert” at a young gay woman in a public forum, as this woman did.) Because they tell people I love that they are unlovable. Because they cause others to confuse Jesus with the devil. Because they are ugly and broken and twisted and ignorant and stupid and evil and unlovable….
Except they aren’t all of those things.
They have hearts that beat and have been broken. They have experienced psychological and spiritual trauma. They have been let down by someone they trusted. They look a whole lot like me.
At my very best (by which I mean “when the Holy Spirit intervenes in my spirit and opens my eyes”), I see potential when I look at people like this street preacher. I see the chance for redemption, for resurrection.
Because I am filthy and ugly and twisted and ignorant and unlovable without grace.
(I in no way mean to suggest that those affected by this woman at UTC should just pipe down already and stop being so pissed off and wounded by the whole thing. They should be angry. I’m still pretty angry. And don’t forget that Jesus did his fair share of turning tables over when he was pissed off, and I think Jesus is pretty mad that my friend was arrested without cause in order to protect a woman who was spreading hate in His name.)
But I also believe that Jesus loves that woman just as much as he loves my peaceful, grace-filled friend. I believe there is redemption for the street preacher, just as I believe there is redemption for me. I believe that the same Creator who draws Spring out of Winter and new life out of decay can change someone’s heart.
I was fired because I spoke out of my anger and woundedness instead of speaking from a place of peace and grace. There’s more to it than that. I could explain all the reasons I was angry and wounded. But that’s not the point. The point is that I realized that it had been many, many months since Christ had been welcome in me. And when I stepped back from the anger and woundedness, I saw the person I had become, and I really, really did not like her.
I saw a person who bore a seriously ugly resemblance to the street preacher who’s spreading her anger and hate around the UTC campus and other campuses. I don’t know this woman. I don’t know the experiences she’s had that have brought her to this point in her life. But I know that there is grace for her, even though she has no grace for the students she’s abused. Even though there seems to be no grace in her worldview. There are still people like my friend in the world who call out the humanity in people like that preacher. Who say, If spreading any kind of Good Word is the goal here, maybe you should start with some grace.
Which is, I suppose, the point: if we’re living the Good Word, this beautiful, rich, exciting message of Shalom, maybe we should start by seeing others through the eyes of grace. And especially to look with grace at those who are just really, really daggum hard to love.