I remember when I was a little kid in New Jersey, my sister and I would go to a friend’s house after school. Their name has since escaped me, but they were a large family. They were very caring, though. I remember their affection. They had a pretty huge house. I can remember their living room, more seating space than floor space. Big windows, heavy dark drapes, and wood paneling…
I remember the Nintendo too. There was a teenager in the house who loved to play a game that I just couldn’t understand. It was called “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” What I couldn’t understand was why on earth it was called that and there was absolutely no kissing. In fact, it was all about war.
It wasn’t until later on into my adulthood that I came to read a complete definition of “romance.” The definition has much less to do with kissing and more to do with chemistry.
I know… same same…
But really, romance is defined much closer to the process of forging of multiple entities into one entity. Therefore the video game was about the combination of three separate vassal states into one united China. It’s what actually happened. It was a bloodbath in history. It’s what is referred to by Vicini when he says, “never get involved in a land war in Asia.”
If you know that quote, thank your youth pastor.
The romance of the people walking the planet, therefore, by the King of creation is one that is forged less in the writing of Dickenson and more in Tolkien. Love is a fight, both to rescue what is loved, but also to bring one’s full self to the field to love someone.
Based on the number of times over the last month that my church has sung “Reckless Love” I would say that we are having a drive toward a heart change in our understanding of how much God loves us and gives up to do so. What we may not realize is that which is given for us is that which we must learn to give. The “reckless” love of God (that which is given without regard for rejection, cost, or comparative value for what is gained from our limited finite perspective) is one which we must learn to emulate. It is through the sacrifice of the cross that we ultimately feel that love given. It is through the extraordinary expense of love by other people so loved by Christ on our behalf that we feel its weight over many years.
I have recently had the opportunity to work in a field where I encounter people way outside of my tribe. I encounter them in their own tribes as a visiting outsider. It’s more than just normal human interaction on the street. It has been like going to churches filled with people of specified ideologies centered on gathering because of something other than churchy stuff.
Yes, I’m being vague. Deal.
In two of these encounters, where I have been at the service of people, there have been large pockets of people whose lifestyles are described, in the most charitable of terms, as alternative. My presence in their gathering was unique because I have never been so fully invited into a gathering of such people without the defensive shields that normally accompany an ordained pastor type person. I was just a dude there to serve.
What intrigued me was that while I served them I simply treated them kindly, called them “sir” or “ma’am” (when such concepts were clearly defined), looked them in the eye, told really bad jokes, laughed at their worse jokes, horsed around, and thanked them. You know… human stuff. This is basic treat people kindly so they don’t complain or say nasty stuff behavior, nothing beyond basic.
But still… often times whenever we would conclude our business, these people would thank me with a desperate earnestness that broke my heart. I mean, I felt like a million bucks for having treated them in such a way that moved them. But that million bucks was nothing in comparison to the emotional deficit left by the idea that being treated like normal human beings was unique for these men and women.
Now I understand the complexity of this issue. Some groups of alternative lifestyle humans are so hurt by what happens in their lives due not only to the hurts incurred by their lifestyles, but also because of their treatment by people who have observed behavior deemed objectionable. Their hurts make them militant. Their militant stance makes them nigh unlovable. It reminds me of a show where a man is being berated by his wife and in desperation he asks what he’s supposed to do and she screams back at him that he should just hug her. The laugh track breaks because her screaming rabid mongoose impression is hardly huggable. In fact, a little later he tries and she shoves him halfway across a room.
The romance of the peoples of the earth by Christ is one where He sends His love out to people who are unhuggable.
Consider this, when we read about Esther becoming the new queen, we look at that whole story with goofy Sunday School goggles on. We have to remember, though, Esther was marrying Xerxes. Xerxes was the same dude who went off to Greece to try and subdue it into his kingdom and ultimately came back with a lot fewer mouths to feed thanks to really bad military planning on his part and the tenacity of the Spartan warriors. Xerxes was an enslaver of men. He was a monster who cared little about spilling blood in order to gain power.
God used that monster to bring His people under a protective hand to ultimately repatriate back to the Promised Land.
Those had to have been dark times.
But God sent His love through unlikely channels in order to save His people.
He sent love that all of mankind would have a chance to feel the immutably perfect love that only He could give.
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give Yourself away…
I have also been working in carpentry recently. The biggest surprise I have encountered since beginning this work is how much it is based upon touch and feel. During my second or third day of working, I was slowly sanding down a board of knotty alder, kicking sawdust into the air, sweating my clothes down, gathering sawdust to look like a sugar cookie. The boss walked by and told me that sanding the wood was one of the most crucial steps because it effected how well the pieces take stain. He then showed me how to glide my hands across the wood to feel the progression of the sanding.
It has since struck me just how sensitive my hands need to be while I’m working. I always thought this work was that manly kind of work that hardens your hands into ten leathery digits and scarred up palms. I mean, I will probably have scars on my palms when all is said and done, but that has more to do with the fact that I get so many splinters on a daily basis, I look like I high fived a porcupine’s butt.
But while working, it is important to feel the grain of the wood. It helps you sense the imperfections that have to be worked out. It notifies you when one of the machines isn’t working properly. It lets you know when smaller sand in greater quantity is needed because there is more work to be done.
Brothers and sisters redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, I have run my hands across the grain of a specific group of people and there’s a problem with one of our machines. There are imperfections in these people, but we are not making them better. We are making it worse by trying the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results. We cannot rely on a machine, we cannot rely on the general revelation of truth in scripture to heal these humans. We cannot say, “come to my church and hear my truth” and offer them no relationship to accompany these hard truths.
The fine grit sandpaper required to fix the problem we have neglected is not going to be easy. We have to get reckless with it. We have to step outside of our comfort zones. We have to risk people confusing us with people who don’t know right from wrong. We have to risk the baleful glances of judgmental humans who think we care more for their opinion than for the love that these people desperately need. We have to risk people in this community thinking we endorse an action by loving a person. We have to risk rejection of our love by the people we are attempting to love.
We have to get reckless.
Consider, the descendent of David whose mind conceived of trees in the beginning and whose hands had the chance to render that tree into a usable form through ancient carpentry techniques had hands scarred by the work, but fingers sensitive to the next correction required to bring His work to fruition.
His work was the same with a tax collector who cheated people from their money. He worked the same with a political zealot who, had he lived today, would have been one of those dudes calling into conservative talk shows breathlessly explaining the host’s points back to him like a weird political catechism. His hands washed the feet of men whose feet would carry them in terror away from Him in a moment when He most needed their company and emotional support. His hands worked to rescue and one of those he loved worked to betray those hands to be pierced and held against the unsanded splintered wood of the cross and hatred of the world.
Don’t tell me you can’t be uncomfortable.
Loving other people who are hard to love does not confer extra credit for an otherwise redeemed man. Going outside of our comfort zone does not give us more of God, more of Heaven, more of redemption, or greater salvation. It’s simply what we do because it was done for us. It’s actually quite a natural reflex. Just lose sight of what people may think. Get reckless. Give love regardless of rejection, perception, or cost. It will not be wasted time.
And it will not be unnoticed.
Let us be a part of this romance that finally brings people in as part of the Kingdom without any more hurt to them. We’ll let God sort out conviction of ideas beyond ourselves to define.