I hereby proclaim 2020 the year- no, the decade!- of Love.
By what power do I make this declaration? Why, the power of suggestion of course, and hopefully the power of the words I’m fixin’ to write, and the power- come on, you knew I was gonna say it- the power of love.
So what I’m gonna do today, six months after I unaccountably disappeared from my history column, is just sit here and talk with you guys, and you can nod along, occasionally uttering an ‘Amen sister!’ under your breath as the spirit moves you, or you can crumple up your copy of the venerable Explore magazine in disgust as you shake your fist in rage toward the heavens, whichever grabs ya. Either way is fine, because once I write this stuff I just kinda release it out into the wild like a baby bird you might find lying in the street and nurse back to health, and whether it struggles to keep aloft before primal memories kick in and it soars away on a chance updraft, or whether it flies full speed directly into a hard smack on a cinder block wall, I’ve done what I needed to do. The point is, my work with this baby bird is done, and you can applaud as the birdie tries to find its wings or you can take potshots at it with your BB gun. Whatevs.
I was gonna kick this thing off by observing that 2019 has been a tough year for a lotta people, but that’s too dumb and too easy and too trite. It’s also been a helluva good year for people too- and all of us have felt the moments of great joy in the middle of the darkness, or when the sky falls right in the middle of a sunshiny picnic day. A lot of people in my posse have had new babies or grandbabies this year, and some diagnoses of cancer- some have fallen apart and others you wonder how they’ve managed not to. The rain sometimes falls while the sun’s shining, and it’s not actually the devil beating his wife like you’ve always heard- it’s just life.
For the country as a whole, I think we can all probably agree on this one thing: that we don’t agree on anything. We’re so divided around here, and we can’t even agree on why that is because we don’t listen, or we pretend to listen but we’re really only waiting for the other guy to shut up so that WE can pipe up and tell her how wrong she is, and most of the time how stupid and gullible too, often punctuated with implications that his parents weren’t married or that his mother was a female dog, or with comparisons between her or him and various of the more unsavory body parts. Yikes.
But that’s not what I gathered you all together around the old cracker barrel to jaw about. I’m not gonna try to argue you out of anything or into anything. It’s not my intention to preach or pontificate, rant or rave, gently persuade nor to leap across the desk to grab you by the lapels (in this scenario there’s a desk)…(and lapels.) None of that. Here’s the set-up: I grew up in Boerne, Texas, and I know her citizens identify, by and large, as conservative Christians, and I know pretty well which way my hometown swings at polling time. But somehow I came out of that same incubator and mutated into a wild-eyed liberal, as some of you might’ve suspected. And I realize I’m not even a square peg really, but like a Rhombicosidodecahedron-shaped peg, and I’m no more able to squeeze myself into that round hole than I am able to wedge myself into my high school blue jeans, even with the aid of a spatula, a can of Crisco and a team of engineers. When my 6th grade class at Boerne Middle School held a mock election during the 1976 presidential race, I was the only one who voted for Jimmy Carter. Then there was my second-ever real-life presidential election in 1988, after the conclusion of which I turned to look at the poll numbers in the Boerne Star only to make the not-too-startling discovery that I was the only person who went with Dukakis-Bentsen in my whole voting district…and one of very few in the rest of the country too, apparently.
I also consider myself to be a follower of Jesus, a Christian. A bleeding-heart lib who’s also a Jesus freak- the two really aren’t mutually exclusive.
Once again I’ve drawn out my simple set-up to nearly the length of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, when all I’m trying to say is that I’m a liberal Christ-believer, and what I wanna do is sit here for a minute and maybe give you a little understanding of what how I see some things. Sometimes I feel like if we could call a cease-fire on all the shouting and the name-calling and hate for just a minute, if we could just sit down together and talk and listen, without comment sections, without the kind of anonymity that allows us to tear each other down, without GIFs and angry reactions and CAP LOCKS- that if we did that, maybe some of us would begin to understand why the other guy thinks and believes the way they do. Not necessarily to agree, but to try and understand, and respect one another again. And then maybe the dividing line that separates us will get to be less of an impenetrable fortress, and we can see start to see each other through the pickets again.
It’s so simple, really.
I used to try to stop doing all the bad stuff in my life, in the name of being a Christian, and I don’t mean stuff like bitterness or jealousy or anger or talking smack about people- I mean like trying not to do outward stuff that I thought looked bad on God, like smoking cigs and not only out & out cussing, like the Big 7, but even stuff like Geez! because I read somewhere it’s just a sneaky way of breaking the second commandment (because it’s supposed to be a short form of saying Jesus; by that logic ‘cheese & crackers!’ is out too, so it’s a good thing nobody says that outside of Utah, I think.) See, what I thought serving God meant was straightening up your act and becoming an upstanding citizen- and I was young, so heartbreakingly young, nineteen when I started trying to do the Jesus thing for real, even though I’d been raised in the church and the Hagys were there every time the doors opened. (There were more than a couple of Sundays when my dad subbed in the pulpit, my mom played the piano, and my sister and I babysat in the nursery. I don’t know what my brother was doing- probably he was the congregation, although someone else would’ve had to be there in order to provide the baby to b e sat so my sister and I could legally ditch my dad’s sermon.) Although a life spent in Sunday school class had me well-up on Noah and Jonah and that time Balaam’s ass talked to him (which was one of the best classes EVER, but not so much for our mortified teacher I’m afraid, who knows why she didn’t call it Balaam’s donkey and tell us kids to shut up), I had no idea what they meant about Jesus dying for me. ME?! That was a buncha bad guys way back when men went around in dresses and chanclas, what in the world did all that hafta do with me? At nineteen was when I finally went, Ah, ok, now I get it…kinda. Sorta. Wait- a baby is full of sin? I had theological issues, but I wanted to please God and be a good person, and back in my salad days I thought that involved speaking in a soft, gentle voice and sprinkling a lot of Praise the Lords into my conversation and getting rid of my AC/DC cassettes in case I started getting the itch to worship Satan because Bon Scott was suggesting that kinda thing when you played ‘em backwards. Since I had then and still have no idea how one would go about playing a cassette tape backwards I was probably never in serious danger, but you can’t be too safe, am I right?
In addition to somehow getting the impression that I should get super feminine all of a sudden and whipping up a whole bunch of church lady garb on the sewing machine, and all that chin music about submitting to my husband, I also heard from a lot of people who should’ve known better that it was my place now, as the ideal of a Godly Woman, to put on my marching shoes and start deciding what other folks were doing wrong who weren’t Walking in the Light like me, and calling them out on it. And that didn’t sit as well with me. Somehow I managed to swallow that thing about being a submissive wife- for a while- but here was my newfound relationship with Jesus coming smack up against my mutant liberal gene, and this was serious trouble.
I kept going to church because I wanted to be a good mom to my kids, and in my squirmy little brain I guess I just sort of ignored the increasingly insistent parts that I flat-out disagreed with- the parts where I realized more and more that I was expected to not only walk the walk but vote the vote and think the way everyone else did. And to get mad about all the stuff that made these other folks mad. Then I found myself UN-teaching my kids all the crap they were hearing in church, and I finally quit.
I go to church again now; I started going back after a ten year break, and only because I was tricked into it by a promise made in a rash moment. But I stayed because I started seeing things in a whole ‘nother way. And because I found out that following Jesus doesn’t require one to tow one particular Party line or another- that there’s room for us all at the table, and a whole lot of work that needs to be done.
As long as I’m killing you softly with my words, I’ll let y’all know two things about which you couldn’t conceivably care less: I was born in 1964, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and all- and my dad hated hippies. Now, he was the exact right age to BE a hippie, but if you go to your device right now and look up the antonym for ‘hippie’ you’ll find a picture of my dad in the 1960s. Without describing Pops in even more tiresome detail than that you’ve already plowed through in order to get to this point in the article, I will just say, you know those pictures of the dudes standing around in mission control at NASA when Apollo 11 landed on the moon? Clean-shaven, flattops, white, short-sleeve rayon shirts and every last one of them smoking like an exhaust valve? Ladies and gentlemen, that’s my dad- only he was the guy smoking a pipe instead of an unfiltered Camel. He wore Buddy Holly glasses, drove a sedan, carried a briefcase to work- and loathed hippies. I wasn’t all that self-aware before about the age of…whatever age I am right now, but I do have a sense of absorbing Daddy’s hippiphobia along with my Gerber’s strained carrots. (I pause here with a special bulletin: hippiphobia is actually a word that means what you think it means from this context. At first I thought I just now invented it, but I went to look it up to make sure it doesn’t mean something horrible that doesn’t belong in a family magazine.) When I do start remembering things, I think of hippies as the kids who used to hang around the ice house where the old man used to gas up the car, and they seemed pretty tame- there were a lot of striped pants and bare feet going on, I think one guy was wearing a ruffly tuxedo shirt, and the boys from a distance all vaguely resembled Jesus in their hair and beard choices, with the sandals and all. But when my dad bitched about hippies, he always called them dirty, lazy dope fiends- my dad was hip with the lingo like that- who ran around bare nekkid and hated Nixon. This information both intrigued and confused me, since all the hippies I’d ever seen had their naughty bits properly tucked away, plus at that point in my life I thought Nixon lived in the middle school down the street and was a guy my dad worked with.
Why bare nekkid hippies hated my dad’s buddy from the office was a mystery to me, and please note that my father never said nekkid without prefacing it with the modifier ‘bare’. In my middle-age wordsmith incarnation, it now seems to me somewhat redundant, but in my childhood one never ran around nekkid but that he or she was bare as well. My father actually witnessed with his own two eyeballs some bare nekkid hippies in the very act of running around, but he had seen these folks on a visit to Austin’s Hippie Hollow, the very place one would check first if seeking out BNHs, so that was his own damn fault.
I think my dad and his cohort back then formed their impressions about hippies from the negative coverage all over the news and it must’ve looked like the end of the world in a way- at least the world they knew- and from pop-culture images culled and blurred together of people running around bare nekkid at Woodstock, John and Yoko lying in bed for peace, buzzcut young men coming back from Vietnam missing arms and legs, or not coming back at all, the Ohio National Guard shooting students at Kent State- young people putting daisies in the barrels of guns and Charles Manson and the Merry Pranksters and the acid test, the White House as the sun went down, under siege, ringed with buses to keep the protestors out.
My point is- and yes, I have one- that hippies represented everything people like my dad hated, a lot like the much-maligned Millennials who terrify and inflame an older generation today. And I think the whole idea of Jesus’s charge to His followers to LOVE ONE ANOTHER kinda got mixed up in all that- A love-in? What are they talking about? You mean free love, sleeping around, we made love in my Chevy van, make love not war, dope, Mary Jane, LSD- what the hell is this crap??
And love one another became something Those Damn Hippies said, instead of the most vital direction Jesus ever gave us all.
But about the religion of love, the hippies were right.
But wait, people cry- It’s not that simple! There’s a whole lot more to it than that! Love’s good & all but you also hafta have laws and justice!
But what I think now, now that I’m fifty-five years old and a grandmother, having been lifted up by amazing grace, carried away by great joy, and knocked down a few times along the road as well- what I believe is that it IS that simple.
Before I go on, let me make clear that I do NOT assume that everyone reading this is Christian, and I have EVERY respect for every other journey of faith. This piece just happens to deal with this particular faith.
Listen! This one time in the Bible, the Pharisees- who were always trying to cause trouble for Jesus all the time and trip him up and all- were trying to catch JC in a gotcha! thing, so they asked him what was the greatest commandment. I have no idea what they thought Jesus’d say that’d get him into hot water, but this is what Jesus did say, he goes, “‘Love God with all your heart and soul and mind.’ That’s the first one, and the second greatest one is along those same lines: ‘Love your neighbor like you love yourself.’ The whole law and everything the prophets taught depend on these two commandments.” Wha-at? That’s amazing, if you think about it! All these people trying to put the Ten Commandments out on the courthouse lawn, when Jesus said THIS one’s the greatest commandment! If we Jesus followers were to go around living our lives according to THIS, think how wildly much more effective that would be in bringing light to the world than any statue would ever be!
It’s so simple too, because there are instructions on how to do it, on how to love each other. WHO are we supposed to love? When his buddies asked him that, Jesus responded by telling them the story of the good Samaritan who saw a guy all beat up on the side of the road and picked the guy up and took care of him, carried him to the doctor and even paid for it all, even though the beat-up guy was an ancestral enemy of the Samaritan’s people. So yeah, Jesus said, you help strangers, you help foreigners- you help whoever needs help. Also, the Samaritan good guy never went through the other guy’s pockets to see if he had any dough, and he didn’t ever stop and take any time to try and decide whether this character was worthy of being helped- he just helped a person who desperately needed help.
When I’m pulled up at an intersection and there’s a human being standing there with a cardboard sign I’ll give that fellow human a few bucks or whatever I can, which is never more than a few bucks because I’m so dang poor. You know everybody says not to do that, Oh they’ll just turn around and buy beer with it! Well that’s THAT person’s beeswax, isn’t it? That’s between her and God, and God never asked me to decide whether she deserves to be helped or not. You know what’s between me and God? That I saw someone who needed help and I helped them. That I showed them the same love I would want someone to show me if it was the other way around. If the person to whom I just gave that dough just scammed me out of the three bucks- nothing’s changed between me and God. Remember that awful thing that used to be on t-shirts, “Kill em all, let God sort em out?” Well I stole it and upcycled it for my own use and now I think like this: Love ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out. If I’m gonna mess up down here walking around in the world, bumping up against all these other people and their lives and their stories like human bumper cars, if I’m gonna get off the tracks some way and go terribly astray, then I want to err on the side of love. And it changes lives. That’s the amazing part. It changes YOU, and the love that shines out of you beams out into the world and it changes other people as well.
Jesus tells us to love, tells us who to love, and how to love too, and that part’s my favorite thing in the whole story of Jesus’s life, where he says, When you saw me hungry, you fed me; when you saw me thirsty, you gave me a drink; when you saw me sick you took care of me; when you saw me naked you gave me clothes; when you saw me in jail you visited me. And when the good guys asked him, when did we do any of that stuff for you?, Jesus answered: Whenever you did these things for the least important of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me. If you saw Jesus beat up on the side of the road, would you walk on by? If you saw Jesus standing at an intersection with a cardboard sign, would you lock your car door? Walking through your neighborhood in a hoodie, would you shoot? Running hell bent for leather from a world of violence with his precious child in his arms, would you blast him with tear gas? If you saw the baby Jesus lying in a cage crying for his mother, would you turn your head and say, Well he shouldn’t’ve broken the law? Because He also says, whatever you didn’t do to help my brothers and sisters, you withheld from me.
We need laws in a society, but we need laws that are just and merciful, and we need to change the ones that hurt people. I’ll hip you to another thing in the Bible that changed my life- it’s what they call the Parable of the Forgiving Servant. What it’s about, see, is this guy owes the king a ton of money, and when it comes time to pay the guy can’t, so the king goes Ok, well so now I’m gonna sell you and your wife and kids into slavery, because that was the law back in the day and as I’ve been told so often lately, following the law, no matter how evil the law may be, is the most important thing and way more important than just people and families and all that. So back to the story- the guy falls down and just flat-out begs the king not to do it, to give him one more chance, yada yada, and the king softened up, and not only gave the guy more time, but he just went on ahead and cancelled the whole thing. “Forget about it, what debt? Ha, I kid, I kid, now g’on, get outta here.” Then the guy left, all happy and he doesn’t owe the king all that money anymore, so what does he do? He goes straight over to this other guy’s house that owes HIM money, and my Lord, he grabs him around the throat! And lemme tell you, being grabbed around the throat is not for the lighthearted- it’s actually happened to me recently. But anyway the guy who’s just been forgiven throttles this other guy and is shouting at him, “You better give me back that dough you owe me!”, because this fella does owe him, but a WAY less money than the king just forgave him for. This second fella, he does the same thing, begging for some more time to pay up, but the just-forgiven guy is like, Oh HELL no! and throws the other fella in prison.
We, whose families came here as immigrants and refugees, if not this year or last, or in your lifetime, at least at some point in time, just as much strangers in this land as those who fled here last week. “Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another- mercy triumphs over judgement!”
In a country where 65% of our population identifies as Christian, and in a time when so many of them are claiming- wrongly, as it happens- that the United States is a “Christian nation”, race-based concentration camps SHOULD. NOT. EXIST. Private prisons should not exist, and hunger and homelessness and the grinding cycle of poverty and mental illness should not be demonized. We Christians are called on to feed and house and tend to those hungry and homeless and sick, to show mercy and compassion and to welcome the refugee- we are called to take care of the widow and the fatherless- and to proclaim our love for Jesus while we refuse to love the least of His brothers and sisters is, as any one of those bare nekkid hippies could tell you, very bad karma.
I know that of all topics in the world, this one is the most calculated to make people hate my guts, and I know that’s a risk as I write it. I’ve spent some time over the past three years in what may very charitably be called a snit, but I’m tired of being angry, and we need to have a turning point where we at least try to climb out together from the rotten place where we’ve been stewing, and to get ourselves pointed back in the direction of the light, to a place of forgiveness and compassion and hope. And love. God embodies love, and all who know God know love; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in our hearts. Sometimes there’s a place where you gotta speak your truth, where you gotta stop saying, We should just sit down and talk! and just go on ahead and start the conversation already.
Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
The hippies got at least one thing right-on. Peace y’all.
Matthew 25: 31-46
1 John 4:8-12
‘Get Together’- The Youngbloods, 1967