What If?






Here is some food for thought.  Food for thought where I don’t really want you to agree or disagree.  Just mull it over.  That’s a good word - mull.  Mull it over.  You can almost feel the wheels starting to turn just by saying the word.  And what is this mulling over about?  I have sat back and watched, read, and listened to many conversations and reports about the huge number of arrests of illegal workers in Morton and other towns.  At first, I wanted to respond with a similar level of vitriol that people were espousing, but in a rare moment of restraint, I held back and kept reading.  The details – illegal immigrants, billionaire owners, ICE, a small town, heartbroken families, struggling businesses, job fairs – all spun around and it was like a game trying to figure it all out.  And in the commotion, the details seemed to mask what really was there. 
These observations kept trying to combine with my optimism.  I am a terribly optimistic person.  I tend to see the good side of things to the point that it annoys rational people, so I was a little perplexed that I could not see a good side to any of it.  To hear educated, professional adults say hateful things about a girl crying because she misses her recently incarcerated daddy really affected me.  To see people get into a ping pong match of hatred on a Facebook feed in a futile attempt to make the opposing side feel inferior and wrong saddened me.  The desire to hate the hater welled up within, but the realization that it was not only pointless, but remarkably hypocritical kept that in check.  But the questions I had rolling around in my head never stopped.  In what might have been a futile attempt, I wanted to understand them.  What makes people say hateful things about a sad child?  Or what makes people proud that a hardworking adult is put in prison for working?
And voicing those questions helped me find a flaw in reasoning.   I could hear the response to ‘the child is sad, and God I want to help her’ as tinged whispers saying ‘her daddy should not have been here in the first place’ or in expressing disdain that workers were arrested while doing something as innocuous as ‘just going to work’ would receive responses of ‘he should not have been working here’ or ‘he stole some other American’s job’.  And in hearing those responses, I found a commonality in what was being said and it was a difficult and revealing truth.  With that commonality, some will find it easier to think about and possibly be able to talk about it without causing offense whereas others will have to stretch to think about it in this sense because wounds and beliefs are remarkably steadfast.  What was this commonality?  The law. Well-intentioned people said what they wanted about the situation (for better or worse) and stood behind something that was unyielding – which it is always good to stand behind things that are unyielding when it comes to verbal spats all the way down to snowball fights – and that monolith was the law.  The law said these people were wrong, and starting at that point, people feel safe and justified to speak out because the person who broke the law is wrong, and therefore the observers and the players are somehow not obligated to render softer emotions towards those getting arrested because the monolith stands firm because it was and is the law. 
And on a basic level that choice isn’t wrong because it is the law after all.  But what if?  Can a person ask ‘what if’ of the law?  I chanced it and started mulling over the ‘what if’ and it brought me to two different points in history that mirror the events and people involved that I think can allow us to mull it over by stepping back and seeing it play out at a time and place very different from our own backyard.  The first event is from the Bible and it is a story I think many are familiar with – the story of the adulterous woman.  Picture it - Jesus was hanging out and teaching one day at the temple and a crowd came up on him bringing rocks and a woman.  The organizers of the group intended to trap Jesus and/or kill the woman.  The woman was caught in adultery and the law said that was a big glass of nope.  She broke the law.  And the crowd ranged from those who wanted to use her as a trap to those who genuinely hated who she was and all that they thought she represented to those who were able to stand behind the law and say, “She broke the law.  I know that.  And this is the punishment, and since it is the law, it must be just.”  They came with the law - the sturdy, unyielding law - and what happened next threw them for a loop.
Jesus – the one who was sinless – did something strange.  He mulled it over and drew with a stick in the dirt.  He knew the law.  But he did not approach the woman with the law or judge her through the lens of the law.  He approached her with a humanity that could empathize with her.  And to those who did not show compassion, he did not shout at them or vilify them or troll them on their Twitter feed.  He just asked them to think about something.  Mull it over.  If they think they have never done anything wrong, he was down with it if they wanted to go ahead and throw those stones.  But – a huge ‘what if’ – if they thought that maybe they had done something wrong before, they needed to drop stones of judgement and walk away.  Just mull it over a bit.  And in that moment, the ones who seconds earlier were comfortable with judgement while leaning against the towering, unyielding law now found themselves uncomfortably close to identifying more with a broken woman lying in a heap, weeping and exposed.  By stopping and thinking about it, they found they had more in common with the one they wanted to punish than with the law that they were so ready to defend and execute.  Jesus wanted them to look at the law and then look at her and realize which is greater.
Once again, the law was there.  The law said she was to be punished.  The law helps keep order.  But a huge what if gets thrown in there and if we can quiet the urge to cry out and get angry and justify our positions, maybe, just maybe, we can hear the whispers of mercy and grace slightly echo above the rigidity of the law that makes us feel so safe and comfortable – not because it is by its nature comfortable – but because the law judges so we can sit back and allow the law to judge for us. 
            And the other instance that mirrors the recent events?  May 2, 1963.  All hell was breaking loose in Birmingham because a bunch of children wanted to participate in trying to break down laws – whether de facto or de jure – by doing something probably more innocuous than going to work on time at a chicken processing plant.  They went to a park.  And what happens?  Police, dogs, tear gas, batons, and water from fire hoses rip into those kids as they are hauled off to jail.  Many were angry.  Many were sad.  Many were shocked.  But one of the greatest tragedies in that moment was lost behind the racists actions of Bull Connor and Jim Clark and drowned out in the screams of school children whose clothes were getting ripped off by dogs and high pressure hoses.  That tragedy was in the crowd that day.  That tragedy was in diners having lunch, in cars passing by, in homes looking out across manicured lawns and picket fences, and it saw, heard, smelled, and felt all that was going on.  Perhaps they even felt a twinge inside when they saw the commotion, but they quieted the urge as they turned to one another and said, “Sure it is not good, but that is the law.  They should not have skipped school.  They should have done things the right way.  We have the laws for a reason.”  And in standing in the shadow of the law – something that is designed to keep law and order – they felt comfortable to stand apart from the melee and leave others to struggle and cry as loved ones once again were taken to jail. 
So whether it is August 7, 2019 in Morton or May 2, 1963 in Birmingham or 2000 years ago on a dust laden street at a Temple near the Mount of Olives, humanity stands bare in front of the law and whether or not people realize they have a choice or not, they do.  The options are to stand in the shadows behind the law because the law is safe, orderly, and the right thing to do in society, or to walk out from behind the law and see the raw humanity that lies broken in front of you and to realize that maybe sometimes the law should be the perfect gentleman and allow compassion, mercy, and grace to step forward and make people feel human again.  This is not to say that the law should be done away with because compassion without laws is not feasible; however, I also believe that order without compassion is a cold existence that does not allow us to live and love in a way befitting of a society that claims to have stemmed from ideas of freedom, equality, life, and pursuits of happiness.
I realize these days are difficult.  But rather than raising sabers to argue and attack, just mull it over.  Maybe there is something lying in wait to be discovered amongst all of the commotion.  Maybe rather than seeing blue and red as colors that paint sides as democrat or republican, we could see it once again represent liberty and the blood that runs through all of our veins.  Maybe, just maybe, we could see each other the way God made us to be – made in God’s image and equal because we were all redeemed by one price – and not by whatever demographic is most noticeable or most likely to make a person expendable at the time.
I hope you read this and don’t get ticked about it because that is not my intent.  If you agree with it, I hope you are not itching to forward it to people who disagree with it.  I hope you read it and just mull it over.  Ruminate.  What if.  What if rather than standing with the law in judgement, we could look at people as fathers and mothers, providers, and protectors and slowly come to find out that we actually have more in common than not.  What if.  
I’ll leave you with a quote by Søren Kirkegard that I remind myself of often because it helps punch me in the gut when I try to jump in the artificial worlds of social media where lines are drawn and tongues are lashing: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”  May God keep you and carry you in these hard times as we all mull it over.


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