If I had never seen an animal,
and didn’t believe in a merciful God,
I would instantly believe in a merciful God,
having seen an animal.
– Monique Amado
If I had never seen an animal,
and didn’t believe in a merciful God,
I would instantly believe in a merciful God,
having seen an animal.
– Monique Amado
Today I just wanted to share with you a beautiful passage I re-read today when I pulled my copy of Gustave Flaubert’s novella A Simple Heart off the shelf for no particular reason, except to see how many pages his novella has. I was struck again by the beauty of these words. I hope it will bless you too…
“…Then she wept at the story of the Passion. Why had they crucified Him when He loved the children, fed the multitudes, healed the blind, and had willed, in His meekness, to be born among the poor, on the dungheap of a stable? The sowings, harvests, wine-presses, all the familiar things the Gospel speaks of, were a part of her life. They had been made holy by God’s passing; and she loved the lambs more tenderly for her love of the Lamb, and the doves because of the Holy Ghost.
She found it hard to imagine Him in person for He was not merely a bird, but a flame as well, and a breath at other times. It may be His light she thought, which flits at night about the edge of the marshes, His breathing which drives on the clouds, His voice which gives harmony to the bells; and she would sit rapt in adoration, enjoying the cool walls and quiet of the church.”
– Gustave Flaubert
A Simple Heart
** Image credits: all artwork by Christian Schloe
I started watching Louis Theroux documentaries several years ago when I lived in England. In case you don’t know who Louis is, he’s a journalist, documentary filmmaker and presenter from the BBC who travels the world interviewing unlikely people—people, in fact, who most of us would shy away from. He has interviewed white nationalists, black nationalists, neo Nazis, religious fanatics (including the folks from Westboro Baptist Church who hate pretty much everyone), swingers in Los Angeles, extreme wrestlers, gangsta rappers, survivalists in North America, the criminally insane (or those perhaps pretending to be so they can live in lush hospitals rather than in hardcore prisons) and many others.
What makes Louis unique is his ability to win the trust and friendship of diverse people whether he agrees with their views and lifestyles or not. He most often doesn’t seem to agree with them yet seems to have a morbid fascination with them and a way of pushing the limit in terms of his disarming inquisitiveness.
After watching Louis, I often go away thinking, “Man, he’s so much like Jesus!”
Here’s why I think that:
He meets people where they are. He doesn’t come in trying to change them, at least not overtly. He shows up, is courteous and exudes the best of manners. He doesn’t talk down to people, but he also doesn’t shy away from confronting people’s narcissism and duplicity. When he has a contention with someone, he mentions his disagreement so politely and hesitantly that it would be hard to imagine anyone getting upset with him. Although some do…
Those who end up disliking him (rare as it is) are those most entrenched in a worldview that brings with it self-righteousness and exclusivism. Much like Jesus dealing with the Pharisees of his day, the people who get the most irate with Louis are those who are so convinced that their thinking is right that they become volatile and sometimes even threatening when contradicted. They tend to fall under the category of religious or racial extremism. Those who have become most angry with him have been white separatists, some of the Westboro Baptist members, and neo Nazis.
His sense of horror over people’s behavior seems always couched in seeing people as human and not evil. Though it seems hard for him to hide his sense of revulsion at the lifestyles of some of the people he visits, he still treats them as human beings. Even when he asked probing questions of the young man who raped and tried to kill his own mother, he managed to ask him accountability questions while at the same time treating him with dignity and respect.
He hangs out with “sinners.” And not the garden variety type. Not people who feel bad for saying the F word, or who yelled at their kids today and feel guilty about it. Not the pastor who committed adultery. Or the nursery school teacher who commits credit card fraud. No, that stuff is small potatoes. Louis goes to the murderers, the prostitutes, the pimps, the porn industry and…judges them? No, he just hangs out, talks with them, tries to understand where they’re coming from. In other words, he extends friendship and grace.
He’s fun to be with. When you watch one of his films, you see that the people he interviews genuinely enjoy his company. They laugh with him at his silliness, at his awkward and often uncomfortable questions, at his willingness to participate to whatever degree he’s able to—either physically or psychologically. He enters their world and goes where few dare to tread and because of this, he often wins people’s trust.
His gentleness belies his courage. Although he is clearly nervous at some of the situations he gets into, he doesn’t let it stop him. He’s no coward. You couldn’t be a coward and confront neo Nazis who suddenly ask you if you have Jewish blood or show up to train with extreme wrestlers with a drill sergeant for a coach. (In the wrestling documentary, the coach pushed Louis so hard that he had to throw up.) The guy’s got moxie.
He’s got heart. “Extreme Love” is possibly his most moving documentary in which he befriends families of autistic children, gaining the trust and love of both the families and the kids. They include and welcome him because he included and welcomed them first. Sound familiar?
Louis could teach all of us a thing or two about how to treat people we differ from with more love and respect.
I hope you get a chance to watch one of his films. Like me, you may wonder if Louis Theroux is sometimes Jesus in disguise.
Image credits: BBC & Banksy
Now that Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner has blown the door wide open on the transgender discussion, and having witnessed the horrors of judgmentalism being thrown in that general direction, it’s my turn to enter the conversation. I’m not entering the discussion to debate the moral implications of a person being transgender. I’m not entering it to take sides either way. The reason I am entering it is a bit more complex.
First, I’d like to point out that both the ultra conservatives who are screaming through their keyboards about sin and repentance and those, such as psychologists on the other side who push for sexual reassignment surgery on those who are questioning their gender, seem to be missing something. And that something is a whole demographic of people who are not wanting breasts in place of a flat chest or vice versa. They are simply confused—confused about why they want to dress like a woman if they’re a man or why they have so many male tendencies and characteristics if they’re a woman.
There are many cross-dressers who have no desire to change their anatomy. They just like to wear the clothes of the opposite sex. George Sand, the French writer who was romantically involved with Chopin and a host of other men, dressed in suits and men’s clothes. “George” was a woman, by the way, but had to use a pseudonym because female writers weren’t taken seriously in her day. In her day, dressing like a man was controversial. Now women are expected to wear men’s clothes and “power suits” in certain office settings, especially in managerial roles. Now it’s the norm. But George Sand wasn’t confused and wanting to be a man. She just decided she liked men’s clothes and that they were cheaper and that was the end of it. Nowadays, in Western cultures especially, women are so used to wearing men’s clothes that they don’t give it a second thought.
Another thing that needs clarification and is often misconstrued by ill-informed people is: just because a person likes to cross-dress, it has nothing to do with their sexual orientation. There are many cross-dressers (some famous ones) who are happily married to the opposite sex. Some are homosexual. Some are not. But being transgender does not automatically mean someone is gay.
Both sides of the debate seem to have silenced, or ignored, this whole other group of people—those who are gender dysphoric. The conservatives have silenced them with one kind of shame. The liberals have silenced them with another kind. It is as if, on the liberal side, there is an assumption made that those with gender dysphoria need or want a movement to speak for them. Many with gender dysphoria don’t want or need that. They just want to figure themselves out without drawing any more attention to themselves than they already do for their perceived awkwardness and eccentricity. What they want is acceptance, and most often the acceptance they are most in need of is self-acceptance. And that is a deep and lifelong work for any human being. But it isn’t helped by exclusion and ridicule.
The main reason I am writing this, and the reason I can write about this, is because someone I know and care about very deeply struggles with just that—gender confusion. To protect this person’s anonymity, I won’t say whether the person is male or female or who they are. But I will say that I have seen firsthand the pain, confusion and mental torment this person lives with on a daily basis. They are not wanting to join the LGBT movement. They just want to have peace in their mind and heart about who they are. Lest someone from the Church start with the “They just need to seek God,” thing—they do. But they’re still confused. Lest the LGBT crowd say, “They just need to embrace their sexuality and examine whether they might need reassignment surgery.” Please. They’ve been down that road and had the discussion with psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. It doesn’t go away. And no, they don’t want to “reassign.”
So instead of entering into a debate about what’s up with Caitlyn Jenner and why she looks better in a tight dress than most women, I would rather open up a different kind of conversation, one that reaches out to those who are thoroughly confused as to who they are, including what gender to identify with. I want to open up to both sides—the conservatives and the LGBT community—an invitation to a deeper compassion, a compassion that looks not just at those getting the headlines, not at the street marches and movements, but toward individual people who may be living through their own private hell while the two sides of the debate waste time throwing mud at each other.
Consider this: the transgender community has an attempted suicide rate of 40%.
Now for just a few moments, please take yourself out of whichever side of self-righteousness you are on, and imagine living just one day tormented with a confusion so great that it makes you want to take your own life. Stay with that image for a bit and if it starts to bring you to tears, stay there a little longer. Then imagine that this is what every single day is like, hour after hour, minute after minute, for a person with gender dysphoria. And often, with that confusion goes a lot of dissociating from a possibly abusive and brutal past—sometimes physical and sexual abuse, and more often than not, psychological abuse.
There is a way other than the “live and let live” mentality or the “repent” mentality. That way is compassion. That way is connection. That way provides a safe space for someone to wrestle with their confusion in an atmosphere of love. Please: create a space of welcome, of acceptance, of belonging, because that is what all of us need most. And someone’s life could depend on it.
* Image credit: Gustav Klimt, Bronze Autumn
Some people think that the opposite of love is hate. Some have said the opposite of love is apathy. While there may be some truth to both of those, the opposite of love is actually fear.
It’s interesting that when Jesus cast demons out of certain people or healed them of ongoing illnesses, he didn’t spend hours analyzing how they got into that condition. In Mark 5, he didn’t ask if the demon-possessed man had had an abusive childhood. They didn’t have psychiatric labels then (that we know of) like we have nowadays. Jesus simply met people where they were at and he moved them forward, often by healing, freeing, and delivering them from what was causing their suffering.
I once had a pastor who said, “God never does something just for you. What he does for you is also meant to bless and affect others.” Jesus didn’t just deliver this man for the man’s sake; an entire town had been affected by his “issues” and the entire town would later be affected by his healing. One of the most marvelous passages in the Gospels is Mark 5: “Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind.” This wasn’t after years of extensive therapy. This was after moments in the presence of Perfect Love.
Christ’s love is so powerful and his power so loving that all he needs to do is speak words of healing, or touch someone, or be touched, and oppression of body, mind or soul must cease and leave. This begs the question: what if we were able to love from such a place of being so grounded in God and his love that our mere presence, our mere words, our mere touch could bring healing to others? There’s nothing “mere” about any of these things.
There are people in our lives, around whom we may feel rejected, criticized, and like nothing we ever do is good enough for them. Around these, we may feel anxious, bound-up, irritated, and uneasy. We want to remove ourselves from their presence. On the other hand, there are people we are drawn toward because they exude love, acceptance, and a deep-seated joy that’s not dependent on circumstances. Their acceptance of us is not based on what we do, it’s based on who we are to them. In their presence, we feel freer, more able to be ourselves, at ease, and at home. No human can love us perfectly, but these people give us a glimpse of that perfect love that everyone longs for.
God is the only one who can love us perfectly for the simple, yet profound, reason that he is love. It is the very essence of his character and of his being. He cannot be, or do, otherwise. This is why Jesus was a magnet for the downtrodden, the discouraged, those heavy-laden with care (and he still is). These are the ones who are often most open to the slightest kindness, the gentlest touch, because when a person is wounded, the last thing they need is harshness. They need tenderness.
The man in Mark 5, prior to his deliverance, was much like the guy on the train who most people avoid—the one who is dirty, smells bad, and mumbles to himself or shouts obscenities. It is very likely fear that makes people look away—fear of being reminded of one’s own inner poverty when in the presence of outward poverty. But Jesus was afraid of no one because Jesus was the embodiment of perfect love and perfect love casts out all fear.
It is dazzling that in Mark 5:6-7 the man ran to Jesus and worshipped him before he was ever healed. The man wanted God. The demons were afraid of God. So the man was in a state of push/pull—drawn to Jesus, yet at the same time repelled by him. But once he was free, he begged to be allowed to stay with Jesus. Instead, Jesus sent the man back to his town (the very town that had alienated him) and told him to tell everyone what God had done for him, making him the first bearer of the Good News of God’s healing, freeing love in that vicinity. The man’s life was his testimony. The people had seen him before, and they saw him now, and there was no denying that the man was changed, transformed, and free due to encountering God’s perfect fear-evicting love in his Son, Jesus Christ.