We all have those experiences we will remember for a lifetime. Sitting with my son in a beer garden in Germany, with a few thousand closest friends, during the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany is on my list. My son was of an age it was important for him to begin to view more of the world and as I had some business in Germany, and the airline miles, taking him seemed like a great opportunity. But there was so much more to this trip for me. I had been blessed as a twelve year old to travel to what was then West Germany, to play soccer. And the trip coincided with the previous time the World Cup was in Germany…albeit a divided Germany. And now the World Cup was back in a unified Germany and it was special!
World Cup for soccer players is larger than the Super Bowl, the World Series, and all of NASCAR combined. The last World Cup in 2014 (every four year tournament) had over 3.2 Billion people watch or roughly 46% of the world population. It is a big deal. And being in the country of origin during the event is an experience beyond description. People from all over the world, coming to support their teams, festive yet competitive, and recognizing they are a part of something so much larger than just themselves, their team, or even their country. And people got along…even in the midst of the game, opposing team fans would be passionate for their teams but at the very same time, loving “the game” more than just this particular outcome. We witnessed fierce supporters…these people travelled thousands of miles, paying thousands of dollars to be there, and yet, the way they all got along gave me a taste of what Heaven will be like. And for the record, I hope the beer is as good in Heaven too! But I digress.
All of this has been coming to my mind and my heart of late because of the lack of an early warning system on my social media! I really want something to pop up on screen before I can look at my feed and say, “WARNING: PEOPLE TREATING EACH OTHER REALLY BADLY AND SAYING SOME REALLY CRUEL THINGS! DON’T READ….GO DRINK MORE COFFEE AND PET A PUPPY!” This would be incredibly helpful in keeping my attitude better, this is not the situation which I face. I face having to deal with negativity and cruelty online which, well, should be beneath us as a people group.
This is not a Rodney King “Can’t we all get along” message. Partly but not entirely. There are some very important issues within this country we need to talk about, discuss, debate, address, etc. Most of these issues are complicated and can’t be reduced to a 140 character “Tweet” and/or create a Facebook post short enough for most people to read. And what we are reading is often so laced with bias it is no longer “yellow journalism” but “NEON yellow.” And because of this, emotionally charged people are hurting one another daily when we need to be coming together as a community, a city, a state, a country, and a world.
I remember in my own life being angry and always ready for an argument. Having grown up as a hardcore atheist, one not believing there was a God, I got into a lot of heated conversations with people who claimed to be a believer. When I look back on those times I feel several things…I feel shame for my actions. I hurt a lot of good, well-meaning people who were not prepared for the likes of me. I know I kept others from hearing what I have found to be Truth. And I discovered Truth can best be found in a conversation rather than a heated exchange.
Understanding what impacts people is important and in a broken and fallen world (See Genesis chapter 3 for more details!) there is much which has caused people to view the world through certain filters. In which case two people examining the same event see and feel different things because of the filter in which they observe. Those filters can be historical as in how we grew up, our household members or friends, the neighborhood, etc. The filters can be because of things which have happened to us such abuse, war, poverty, education, business success or failure, those who have helped us along our journey or those who have harmed us.
Jesus was definitely against hate and all of us should be also. How He dealt with difficult people is an example to all of us. Jesus asks questions. In Mark chapter 11, when angry people are challenging Jesus, He asks them a question. In fact He used questions a whole lot. Asking questions allows light to shine into areas that may be a bit dark. “Why do you feel that way?” may be the key to unlocking someone’s long held beliefs. Or the key for them to recognize the filter through which they are looking at circumstances. Jesus refused to accept hatred. In John chapter 4, Jesus has a long conversation with a person who would have been hated by His fellow citizens, a Samaritan. Not only was this person a Samaritan, she was a female (lower on the social order in that day) and she was likely a woman of scandalous activities…one of “those” women as my mother would have said. And yet Jesus engages her in conversation! How telling for us! Jesus wasn’t defensive. When people, even His own disciples made demands on Him, He was perfectly willing to set a boundary. And Jesus gave us great instruction. After telling us to “Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” (Matthew 5:44) Jesus also gives us this:
Matthew 7:3-4. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?”
This verse demonstrates perspective. Do we recognize our own behavior, our own story, our own pride, our own prejudice, our own shame, our own challenges, our own failures and successes? These directly impact our ability to discuss a major issue with someone else. We may need to start the conversation with a question? “Why do you feel you are so animated by this topic? What happened in your life?” These questions will lead to conversation whether it is about politics, religion, or why someone doesn’t like brussels sprouts. Be prepared to talk about what it took to remove the log from your own eye (or how the process is going) while you listen to their story. “Yes, I remember when I couldn’t even look at those little green suckers on the plate…then I found out my mom didn’t know how to cook them!”
Just like in Germany in 2006, the people who came for the World Cup loved their own…own team, own country…but they loved the game more. We need to be like them…we need to love people over all else. No we don’t have to like everything they do, but we need to be willing to engage, with love, and work toward becoming a more loving people…it’s not just what Jesus would do…it’s what Jesus did.