"Atticus, he was real nice..."
"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."
-to kill a mockingbird
Sometimes God gets through to me by the simplest experiences. So even though this story happened quickly and probably had no effect on anyone else, it's been on my mind the past few days. And even though I've had to learn this lesson a thousand times, I'm praying that this time it sticks.
Thursday morning I took my grandmother to the doctor in Ensley. Okay Ensley, Alabama is rough, y'all. I'm usually pretty comfortable in towns that aren't exactly filled with the upper class but I was a little nervous when I had to stop for gas before getting back on the interstate. (Disclaimer for Clay: I know I probably shouldn't have pulled over but I would rather have gotten gas quickly than ran out completely in the middle of the ghetto. Agreed?) Anyway, the gas station was incredibly sketchy and gross and if I'm being honest, I felt a little above it. But I got out, locked my grandmother safely inside and started pumping.
To my left there was another man maybe a few years older than me pumping gas in his SUV. He was this huge, Escalade-driving, doo-rag-wearing guy that I was trying very consciously not to make eye contact with. I probably couldn't count on my fingers the number of snap judgements I made about him in a matter of seconds. And here's the crazy thing: I didn't even realize I was doing it.
The next thing I know, a homeless man approaches me on my right. He tells me I'm beautiful, asks me my name, how my day is going. I respond but I'm admittedly not overly friendly. He says he's hungry so I grab the cash I keep in my car door for a sweet tea fund and hand it to him. Then he starts to hug me.
Now, I'm in the ghetto of North Birmingham with an 82 year old woman in my passenger seat and a homeless man who thinks I'm beautiful is trying to hug me. When you're in that situation you realize there's a fine line between not wanting to seem like a snob and not wanting to get shanked. Gingerly, I pat him on the back and return the hug, tell him I'll be praying for him, and he goes on his way.
Here's where the lesson comes in: that guy that I was so wary of at the beginning of the story leans toward me and says "Aye, girl, you 'ight?".
Okay, to a lot of people that would be no big deal. But to me, there was a badly needed lesson in that question. Four minutes ago I hadn't wanted to give this person eye contact because of the way he looked. And here he is, going out of his way to check on a stranger who obviously felt out of place. I was embarrassed. There was a kind heart beneath those thick chains on his chest and in my arrogance I had judged him.
For all I know that guy really could have been a thug. But you know what? I believe that God loves thugs. I believe that God loves everyone and I think most people reading this would say they agree. But that means understanding that God loves every democrat, every Auburn fan, every homosexual, every "liberal" or "conservative", every bad driver or slow waitress in this entire world. From the very bottom to the very top, God loves every one. What God hates is not this group of people or that group of people. What God hates is not necessarily what you hate. That's a very dangerous way to think. What God hates is sin. And do you know what that good God asks me to do?
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"And He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your
soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first command. And the second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself." -Matthew 22:37-39
My "elder brother" attitude can so easily get the best of me sometimes but, thankfully, I serve an endlessly patient Christ. Does He love my sin? Absolutely not. He loves me in spite of it.
I pray that as children of God we all start looking more at the heart of strangers than the clothes they're wearing. I pray that each time I feel a little superior to someone else that I realize we owe the same debt to the same Savior. I pray to finally start truly seeing each person as someone who Jesus loves desperately.