Serving without exception

ServeOthers

Self-described Christians are refusing to serve gay couples. The president’s spokeswoman was denied service by a restaurant owner with deeply held beliefs.

Our society is fraying. The refuse-to-serve mentality is spreading, leading us to a dark place.

As Gandhi taught, an eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind.

We don’t have to continue down this road blindly. We can light another way. But if we want to be that light, we can’t reject, shun or demean anyone.

Instead, We must love, serve and respect everyone. Each of us has many such opportunities each day.

Last weekend, my church participated in the local Pride Parade. As we waited for the march to begin, a man walked through the crowd carrying a sign that said, “Jesus Is Coming.” He told us we were horrific sinners doomed to burn in hell.

We had to decide how to respond. Do we ignore him? Argue with him? We chose to offer kindness. We smiled, said hello and offered him a bottle of water. He was free to turn it down, but he graciously accepted it.

We didn’t attack his views but respectfully explained ours – Jesus is already here, calling us to love everyone. We wished the man a blessed day as he went on his way.

Serving others doesn’t mean endorsing their beliefs; it’s recognizing and respecting them as a child of God. To refuse service is to deny the image of God within each of us.

There are many ways to advocate for our beliefs. Demeaning others is not one of them.

Faith is service

Many self-described Christians argue that living their values means shunning those who believe differently. It’s a dishonest claim. If love is your core value, then every act of kindness and service is an expression of faith, not a rejection of it.

Sacrificial service is the heart of God’s value system. It’s the only way out of our current darkness.

What’s happening today isn’t new. Sadly, it’s been the norm in our society. Over the centuries, many Christians have refused to love and serve black people and Native American people and many others – including other Christians — whom they deemed inferior.

In Jesus’ time and place, many religious people also shunned those who lived and believed differently, insisting that any interaction with them amounted to participating in their impurity and their sin.

Jesus took direct aim on that attitude.

He befriended the marginalized and the shunned, pushing back hard against the religious people who objected. He ate with those whom others labeled great sinners.

To Jesus, a lack of love was the only sin. He understood that simply telling someone to change means nothing; we must be a source of the unconditional love that makes change possible.

And when the religious leaders objected to all of this, he told them to worry more about the plank in their own eye — take a good look at yourself and drop that stone from your hand.

Lack of love is the only sin

Instead, be like the Samaritan in the parable, the shunned person who gets it right because he loves and serves. Don’t be like the religious people who walk past with their noses in the air.

Be a source of love.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. That’s the rule we must apply.

We need to remember that shunning doesn’t help anyone grow or change. Only love can do that.

Refusing service doesn’t fulfill our faith. Only love can do that.

We can’t vanquish darkness by bringing more darkness into the world. Only love can do that.

That is the way, the truth and the light that can lead us to a better place.

Thank you for the lessons in love

Pride flags

A group of 20-somethings lined the curb for the final stretch of my city’s Pride Parade route last weekend. They cheered everyone in the parade and high-fived them.

One young woman in a “Gay Pride” shirt added something. She told each of us: “Thank you!”

I’ve heard that so many times over the years. Many dear friends and strangers alike have said thanks for being an ally and joining in the struggle for equality.

At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond. I’d say something like, “Of course! You’re welcome.” And I knew that my response was totally inadequate.

Or I’d say that I look forward to the day when we no longer need parades of any sort because everyone is treated as an equally beloved and beautiful child of God. But that response also felt inadequate.

In time, I realized what I really wanted and needed to say when someone thanked me. I wanted to say: You’re welcome. And thank you, too.

Thank you!

First, thank you for choosing to be my friend and loving me. That means more than I can even put into words.

And thank you for the many lessons in love that you’ve taught me over the years.

Thank you for teaching me what it means to live courageously and to love courageously, and to recognize God’s presence in all of it.

Thank you for giving me an example of what it means to be graceful in the face of hatred and discrimination. I will never forget that.

Thank you for showing me what it means to respond to hatred with love, time and time again.

Thank you for showing me how to be persistent, even when justice seems so absent and distant – especially when justice is absent and distant.

Love wins. Always does. Always will.

Thank you for reminding me that it’s important to be myself and to celebrate who I am, even when I’m not exactly sure who I am; especially when some others would like me to be something that I’m not.

Thank you for teaching me what it means to live in a way that’s true to myself and my faith.

Thank you for showing me what it means to love when there’s a cost involved, when you know that simply holding someone’s hand could have repercussions and you do it anyway.

And most of all, thank you for being a visible reminder that love wins. Always does. Always will. Sometimes, it just takes a little time.

For all of that, I say: Thank you! And I love you.