Please Don’t Mention This
“No. Please don’t say it, please don’t say it.”
I am begging this gentleman in my head.
We’re both sitting in the half-full waiting room at the doctor’s office. Everyone is spread out in every other seat.
Except for this man and the older gentleman sitting beside him.
They’re talking loudly enough for all in the room to hear.
I see the direction the conversation is turning.
And that’s when my internal begging increases:
“Please don’t mention it.”
But then he does. There it is.
He talks about being a Christian.
Community-Minded or Not?
In other circumstances, I would have been pleased to hear his talk. What this man is saying is itself good. He is talking about helping with the teens at church and seeing a friend again at church who had been sick.
He clearly cares for the people at his church in a loving way. That’s good.
So why didn’t I want him to mention his faith here?
Because in a room full of all-masked wearers, with clear signage on the walls stating masks are required (and in a doctor’s waiting room, no less!), he is maskless.
Of all the people in the room, the one talking about Jesus is the only one not following the community rules.
Our One Job
None of the rest of us want to be wearing a mask either, I’m certain. But we do it because we’re asked to, and out of courtesy for each other as well as for protection for ourselves.
As the two men continue their conversation, I try not to fume. I glance around at the others there; I wonder what they’re thinking. I wonder if they’re wanting to move a little further away from this man’s germs.
And a little further away from this man’s religion.
This comes to mind:
“I often envision an exasperated Jesus coming back, and the first words out of his mouth to his followers as his feet hit the pavement being “You had one job: Love. So, what happened?”
– John Pavlovitz
That’s what John Pavlovitz wrote in a book I just finished reading, If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk: Finding a Faith That Makes Us Better Humans. (It was initially the title that caught my attention. But the content kept it.)
Pavlovitz also writes this:
“If we were to reflect and have honest conversations with one another—and more importantly, with people outside our gatherings—we’d likely find that the most serious wounds to the body of Christ have been self-inflicted.
The Church is not fighting the rebellious, faithless, heathen world, as I’d always been taught, but itself. And as a result, I find myself in two fierce battles lately. I am simultaneously fighting both with and for my faith tradition.”
– John Pavlovitz
Sigh. I relate. It’s really not about masks or no masks per se. That’s just a symptom.
The deeper issue is this: Are we or are we not willing to show love to the world, even at personal expense?
Today maybe it’s masks. Next year it may be something else.
But whichever tool-du-jour is at our disposal to show love to our neighbor, shouldn’t believers step up and use it?
Instead, we’re fighting amongst ourselves about it.
But What About Me?
“The way you treat other people…is the space where your values are on full display. . . . Jesus called it the “fruit” of a life: the tangible, visible, feel-able part of human beings that reflect whatever has taken root in their hearts.”
– John Pavlovitz
The door opens to the hallway of patient rooms. A nurse calls the name of the talkative man. It’s his turn to go back.
I imagine hearing a collective sigh of relief rising up from our little pop-up community here in the waiting room.
It’s only later when I return to my car that I think about my double standard. Yes, I am wearing a mask to show love to my fellow humans.
But no, I am not responding in love to this particular fellow man at all. I’ve already completely judged him, this man I know nothing about.
Just because I see his face doesn’t mean I see his heart. Maybe he’s not wearing a mask because of a medical condition. Maybe he recently recovered from covid and knows he isn’t contagious. Or maybe he just doesn’t wear one because he doesn’t want to wear one.
Whatever his reason, I don’t know it.
And while I still think it would have been courteous for him to put on a mask, especially in light of his Jesus talk, I don’t need to stereotype him as a bad person.
As I wear the Christian label myself, am I doing anything differently than he is? I’m struggling with anger about him, with self-righteousness, with pride, all the ugly things.
Are we both violating the law of love, our one job?
His violation may be a more visible expression of a lack of concern for others, but my violation, even though in secret, is just as much a failure to love, to give the benefit of the doubt, to even care enough to ask him his story.
We’re just the same, he and I.
Let’s Not Screw It Up
The things I hear about the church’s reputation these days is troubling. Again quoting John Pavlovitz:
“Sadly, the American Church has in many ways become the greatest argument for someone not becoming a Christian, for rejecting organized religion and never looking back.”
– John Pavlovitz
None of us wants to see this happen.
But even as we fail to live up to the ideal image of Christ, can’t we at least not be jerks?
It’s not easy, but I want to do this:
“Loving beyond our capabilities is almost always going to be inconvenient beforehand and beautiful afterward, rarely the other way around. . . .
Nothing feels as good as when we show someone more decency than they may deserve, when we err on the side of loving them—even if their response is less than appreciative.”
– John Pavlovitz
I want to err on the side of loving more and judging less.
Love is our one job.
Let’s not screw it up.
Read Barbara’s post on kindness for reminders of how to move through the world.
Her words convicted me about our call to love even our enemies:
“How is it that we apply this to everyone else under the sun, except the person who irritates us the most?”
Read all of Barbara’s words here, then link up your blog posts below.
Do you find yourself judging people too before you know the facts? Share your thoughts in the comments.
My thanks to NetGalley + WJK for the review
copy of If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk
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