taking the words of Jesus seriously

A post circulated amongst my Facebook friends as America swelled with opinions on President Trump’s travel ban and a federal judges decision to block it.


Not taking in Syrian refugees and closing our borders is not ‘mean’ or ‘heartless.’ I lock the doors to my house every night. I don’t lock them because I hate the people outside my house. I lock them because I love the people inside my house.


I went back and forth, scrolling over it, blood pumping. My organs raged inside of me as I remembered the migrants I’d met two years ago in Nogales, Mexico, escaping war and famine as refugees.


What would I type?


How would I respond?


How do we respond when we can’t hear each other?


I am grieving today because I feel utterly disconnected from people I love and respect–or rather, people I loved and respected before the internet became a war zone.


Attempting to figure out how to respond to the decisions of the American rule makers (and the yays and nays of those who celebrate and fear them) is exhausting, depressing. When conviction strikes, we cannot be silent, lest we crumble into the muted moderates of the 1930s, right? And yet, I feel like my words are losing meaning in the over-saturation of angry opinions.


Won’t we be lonelier and more divided a year from now if we do not find another way?


Passive aggressive back-and-forths on social media bring each of us to the end of our days either buoyed by the “here, heres” of those who already agree with us or angered by the responses of those who do not. I am confident enough in my own weariness to say that the only change of mind taking place on social media is the conclusion that those we disagree with are not worthy of our connection any longer.


My friend Danielle wrote the other day that, when it comes to loving their neighbor, it’s usually the definition of “neighbor” that we disagree on, not the definition of “love.” This has stuck with me as I think about how dense our divided armies are becoming as we talk past one another.


He thinks life is the goal, so he stands with the unborn. She thinks life is the goal, so she stands with the victims of police brutality. He thinks safety is the goal, so he praises new walls and bans that ensure his life and those of his kids. She thinks safety is the goal, so she marches for those fleeing war to have options for entry. He thinks all lives matter, because his Bible says that God made them all. She thinks all lives matter, including the black ones, and would like to focus on them specifically for a while.


But the buzz words, they trigger us. Our one-liners and borrowed rhetoric and absorbed (and often under-researched) storylines, they push. They don’t pull. They don’t draw in.


My toddler will be twenty months old next week. We are currently trying to get him to stop spitting his milk out onto the carpet every time he drinks. When he doesn’t understand, I must be more committed to rephrasing than I am to getting louder. If I get louder, he gets more aggressive. He can’t help it. It is in his tissue like it is in mine. He hunkers down into self-preservation and sets up for defense. I want him to stop soiling our carpet. It matters to me. But we will not get to that goal, and he will not grow in his understanding, if I simply yell louder.


I think this is why Jesus spoke in parables. The stories were disarming and engaging. They were told using everyday subjects like seeds and barns, figs and coins. They were left open-ended, invitational. Jesus taught the world not by lecture, but by story. He allowed those with hearing ears the option of deciding who they were in the situation. He dropped truth by allegory and allowed his hearers an opportunity to figure out the layers and what they should think and do. His stories were not romantic or quaint. They were large pills to swallow for those listening.


The one we all despise was the one to help the wounded roadside man. The seed reacts differently depending on where it falls. A poor woman gave it all, a shepherd of many left for one, the master rewards as he sees fit.


Parables are inconclusive. For that reason, they are powerful.


It doesn’t seem like what we are doing is working.  We must practice rephrasing. This does not mean that in moments of hate or ignorance we forfeit our convictions. It does not mean that we sit idly by when those we define as family and as neighbor are under threat. It means, rather, that situations so scary and important require not just any response, but a considered response.


Let us try humanizing sentences and, maybe more importantly, questions. Let us try invitation. Let us try inspiration. Let us remember the things that have historically inspired…like beauty and art, like songs and parables and meals. Let us try words like, “I’m scared,” and “I’m hurting,” and “I’m losing this very important part of my reality.” Let us try, “Can we talk? And, “Can you help me understand why you are so afraid and why you think I don’t have to be?” And, “You are not the one, the thing, I want to fight.”


Let us get close to those who are hurting and learn how to tell their stories in a way that brings people in. Let us pray and practice translating as to make these truths and pains relatable, understandable, a part of us all.


Last night, as the child that I love—the one I would do anything to protect—was asleep in his crib, my husband and I locked our doors, set the alarm, and went about our business scrubbing dried milk off of the carpet. In the middle of the cleaning, we were interrupted by the loud sobs of a woman from the street. Unlocking the door and warily running out in our pajamas, we discovered that she had been beaten bloody and was terrified. We brought her inside, iced her cuts, and helped her calm down enough to figure out her next and safest steps. She caught her breath, grabbed her belongings, and gave us the address of trusted friends.


Last night, we locked our doors. We also needed to unlock them.


Most of us are not monsters; we are just lost in the hate-inducing, time-wasting arguments that are not nearly as effective as parables. I pray, like Jesus, we can keep telling stories that are deeply true in new and surprising ways until they are heard.

About The Author


Britney Winn Lee is an author, liturgist, and United Methodist pastor living in Shreveport, Louisiana, with her creative husband and big-hearted son. Her books include The Boy with Big, Big Feelings (Beaming Books), The Girl with Big, Big Questions (Beaming Books), Rally: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Jesus and Justice (Upper Room), Deconstructed Do-Gooder: A Memoir about Learning Mercy the Hard Way (Cascade Books), the recently released Good Night, Body: Finding Calm from Head to Toe (Tommy Nelson), and the forthcoming The Kid With Big, Big Ideas (Beaming Books). With a masters degree in nonprofit administration and her local pastor licensure, Lee has worked for over a decade in faith- and justice-based, creative community-building. She writes to make room. See what she’s creating at patreon.com/theseparticularwords and on socials @britneywinnlee .

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