I’m cringing as I write this.
That tells you a lot about me. When it comes to politics and theology, I identify as liberal. I firmly believe that Jesus wanted everyone fed, wanted universal health care, and that the Kingdom of God is about politics. It’s about structuring our personal and communal lives in a nonviolent way that ensures everyone has food to eat, debts are forgiven, and healing is freely provided for everyone.
Bill O’Reilly symbolizes almost everything that I loathe about American Christianity. His hyper-conservative politics is reinforced by his hyper-conservative theology. Many of my family members love his show, but I cringe when I hear his voice.
There is an old Christian hymn that has the lyrics "They'll know we are Christians by our love." It was written in the late 60s and was inspired by the Bible verse John 13:35, where Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV)
Really? We're supposed to be able to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians? And the difference is love?!
In reality, it's not nearly that simple, and the fact is, there’s no visible difference.
If you were to go to the grocery store, a football game, the gym, a school, or your work, there would be no obvious way of identifying — through actions — who is a Christian and who isn't, and we should be careful not to judge.
Some of the kindest, nicest, authentic, and wonderful people I know don't believe in Jesus. Contrarily, there are some horrible, mean, and downright disgusting Christians.
Many of the great Christian thinkers throughout our history have seen that goodness, by its very nature, is diffusive of itself. That is, goodness is such that it pours itself out. To the degree to which I am good, I share that goodness with others to the same degree. The doctrine of creation is often seen in this light. God’s goodness is perfect and as such it is poured out naturally and freely to God’s creation. Goodness, in a word, is generous.
While thinking about immigration, I began to ask myself what this feature of goodness implies. How does the fact that goodness is diffusive of itself relate to my treatment of others, and especially to my treatment of those who, through no fault of their own, simply lack some of the basic goods that I have in abundance? Well, the answer seemed fairly obvious. My basic disposition toward my things and even myself must be one of generosity. Now we can argue over the fine points regarding this or that governmental policy, but we must recognize what we have and cultivate a deep desire to share it with others. Sharing our wealth, our food, our clothing is, I think, merely the first step towards becoming generous.
To understand American politics, follow the money. But to understand American goodness and resolve, follow the storms.
Watch towns rally to save children and to provide emergency shelter. Watch people share water and food with strangers. Watch people share chain saws and rowboats. Watch religious communities collect offerings of money and supplies.
Watch people stop work in order to pile sandbags along cresting rivers. Watch hard-hit towns discover their core oneness. All those fears of the dreaded "other" that politicians try to whip up seem to evaporate when storms hit.
When our host led prayers for the victims of the tornadoes, no one asked if they were "our kind of people." They were victims, and that's all we needed to know. While politicians raged across the landscape shouting invectives, rekindling old grudges, stirring pots of fear and distrust, and seeking votes in hardship, actual victims of hardship were joining hands to serve the least of these.