Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Neighbors or Symbols

In the week following our rather contentious election, I have been bothered by the reactions I've seen.  I've been bothered by the great distress many of my friends have had, at how violently emotions have gripped them.  I've also been bothered by the haughtiness and short memories I've seen from my other friends, because I remember the great freak out and panic of 8 years ago.  (Liberals and Conservatives freak out in different ways - liberals tend to be active, protest, riot, try to affect change; conservatives tend to focus on circling the wagons, protecting themselves and their own -- image that - liberals tend to want to liberate and conservatives want to conserve.  Freak outs both times.)

The observation I have today is this.  I wonder if we really see our neighbors as people - as living, breathing people with a mass of emotion and hopes and dreams and fears and inconsistencies, or do we see them a symbols?  Are they complex human beings, or are they reduced to a check-mark to be categorized into a box?

For many Donald Trump is no longer a person.  He's a symbol for sexism, or racism, or hatred in general.  Therefore, if you voted for Trump, you didn't vote for a person, you voted for sexism, or racism, or hatred.  But before my conservative friends decry how horrible this is, President Obama was a symbol as well.  For those who voted for him, he was "hope".  And for those who voted against him, President of Obama was a symbol.  A symbol of doom, a symbol of saying "we lost the culture war." 

Let's be honest, conservative folks - you all knew a pastor or two who stopped praying for the president by name in the prayer of the church, right?  Oh, you could pray for the president, we're supposed to do that - but to pray for Barack... that meant praying for the symbol of "abortion" or "gay marriage."

All too often we don't view people as people - they are symbols.  They are representations of our hopes or our fears.  And we will stick different meanings to different labels.
Are millennials a symbol of "laziness" or "systemic change"?
Was Hillary Clinton a symbol of "Equality" or "Cronyism"?

We could go further, couldn't we?  We could look at this idea of conflicting symbolism and move into some really dangerous ground politically, couldn't we?  Yeah - we could.  But I don't want to (I will say consider your own symbolism that you use).  Instead, I want to bring up one more symbol.

Me, as I wear my collar - am I a symbol of "forgiveness" or "rejection"?

It should be forgiveness - that's what I am, a professional forgiver.  However... I've got several friends who really don't handle me as well since I've become a pastor.  Not because I suddenly became more conservative - but as a member of the clergy I've got a new layer of symbolism applied to me that wasn't there before.  I'm not just Eric - I'm also a conservative pastor.  I get the symbolic weight of all the other pastors they know - sometimes good weight, but often bad.

Whenever there is hurt, whenever there is chaos, whenever there is political power to be gained or manipulated, we like to revert to symbols.

We're not symbols.  Jesus didn't insymbolate - He was incarnate - He became a living, breathing, flesh and blood human being, with thoughts and opinions (and guess what - they probably wouldn't line up with your political opinions or mine, so let's not even go there -- let's not reduce our Lord to a political symbol).  As the Creed said, "... and was made Man."

Those people out there - even the ones you are upset with, disagree with, are mad at, are mocking, are shaking your head at - they aren't just symbols.  They are people.  They are people for whom Christ Jesus suffered and died, they are people for whom Christ Jesus rose from the dead.

But are they being foolish?  Probably.  I'm foolish all the time.  I attach all sorts of stupid meanings to things all the time.  I spent a week breaking out into tears of joy because Kris Bryant fielded a ground ball in Cleveland -- symbols are powerful things.

But people are more important, especially the neighbors God has placed into your life.

Don't symbolize your neighbor - go love them.  Care for them, give them patience.  And when they need to hear it, let them know what Christ has done for them, let them know that they are forgiven.

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