Yesterday, I talked about the first two R words in the baptismal covenant: renounce and reject. For someone like me, who is called to written word as a deacon in the United Methodist Church, the first two R’s are really easy. I see injustice, and I tell people about it. Sometimes loudly. What’s not easy is renouncing and rejecting evil in the world without giving in to the anger and hate that so easily entangles when I feel passionately about something. It’s also really tough to take a stance on anything without offending someone.
The latter, I can handle. I know that speaking out against evil has always been an unpopular task, and if I aim to please everyone on earth, I’m complicit in my silence. But what I cannot be okay with, is hurting someone because of my tone and how I engage in conversation.
I remember posting a status on Facebook lamenting police brutality against people of color, and it was like the sky fell, man. I was accused of perpetuating violent crime against police by fueling the fire. People I haven’t spoken with face to face in years decided now was the time to re-engage in my life. The conversation devolved into yelling points taken verbatim from some of the most conservative and liberal media out there. I tried to moderate the conversation and steer it back on track (I’m all for healthy debate on policy, but I will not debate the inherent dignity of human beings), but it ended up with a real-life #thanksobama comment and something like, “you young people just don’t know what it was like during the Civil Rights Movement, so move along.”
My final comment before I deleted the entire thread went something like this: “Aaaaaalllrrighty then. Two thumbs down for how this went. I will not back down from my stance, and I’m happy to debate policy with anyone via private message. What I will not tolerate is people I know and love accusing others, belittling others, and refusing to actually discuss. Byyyyee.”
Here’s an interesting detail: Every person that engaged in that discussion claims to be a Christian. Every. Single. Person.
I could feel my heart rate increase and my face flush. My stomach felt a little sour, but I felt really good about throwing out some statistics that proved my point. And it was all in the name of justice.
But there was no mercy.
For me, it’s really easy to renounce. It’s also very easy for me to reject, and here’s why: because I’m really good at seeing what’s wrong in everyone else.
But I have to admit that I’ve got blind spots when it comes to myself. I can’t observe my thoughts and actions objectively; I like to give myself the benefit of the doubt while holding others to an especially high standard.
So while I may have been accurate with my statistics, and while I may have been right in my assessment of police brutality, I still wasn’t righteous. I was angry – and yes, there are times for holy anger – but I had become bitter, assuming the worst of my conversation partners.
I so easily renounced and rejected them. But what about me?
The way to peaceful conversation is assuming the best in everyone. Staying humble. Being open to opposing views, and remembering truth – real facts, but also the truth that all people (even the ones who believe alternate facts) are created in the image of God, and no one is too far gone.
I can renounce. I can reject. But can I repent?
In English, repentance means to feel sorry for sin or fault. But in Hebrew, repentance means to turn or return. The Hebrew word is shuv (shooooooooove). The best way I can describe shuv is to walk one way, stop, turn around, and walk the other way. Literally, to turn. It requires an acknowledgement that I’m going the wrong way. It requires movement. It requires action. It requires commitment to retrace my steps to get back on track. This shuv business is no joke.
I find humanity’s reality hidden in Genesis 3; we all are adam, the Hebrew word for “humankind.” After humanity defies God, breaking relationship with God and each other, God confronts the humans. What do they do? Blame the snake. Blame the woman. Blame anyone else but themselves for their actions. Genesis 3 points out our propensity to blame our corruption and sin on someone else; it points out our tendency to choose our own desires over God’s; and it shows, when I read further into Genesis, how just one small act of disobedience can quickly become a slippery slope to a malicious and violent lifestyle.
Renouncing and rejecting, for me, are outward-focused actions. But repentance? Repentance is looking inward. It’s identifying and admitting that I suck too. That I am capable of horrendous things without God. And then, it’s turning away from those things and returning into the waters of God’s ever-flowing grace.
From what do you need to shuv today?