I caved in a couple weeks ago. I had (foolishly) promised my daughter last year that, one day, we could maybe possibly think about getting her a little puppy. Elysia is nothing if not persistent; since then she has been asking a few times a month when we will be able to visit the animal shelter. In a moment of paternal weakness, I decided to pick her up from school on my day off and run her by the local shelter. You know, just to look.
I gave her the lecture as we stepped out the car: "We're not getting a dog today. We're just here to look and to learn." She nodded in full agreement.
Thirty minutes later I was filling out puppy adoption papers. As my daughter stared at me with wide, pleading eyes, I gave her the second lecture: "If you take this puppy home, you have to understand it is your responsibility. You will walk him, feed him, train him, clean up his poop, all of it. Understood?" She nodded in full agreement.
We brought Scotch (as in "Butterscotch," not "On The Rocks") home that evening. Within 48 hours I was cursing the special place in my heart over which my 11-year-old daughter seems to have full control. The house training, the constant chewing on anything within reach, the yelping whenever Elysia walks out of the room...it's all just a little too much added stress for our family to handle.
Even Elysia wore down pretty quickly on the idea of dog ownership. I have been on her almost non-stop to play with the puppy, take it for a walk, feed it, clean up his "accidents," and generally keep an eye on it. I continually interrupt her free time to make sure she is looking after the pup. After just a couple days she spouted in frustration, "Why are you being so hard on me?"
Elysia liked the idea of a puppy, but not the work of it. Not the real, time consuming, spend your energies and forgo your comforts, clean up crap kind of work. Owning a puppy is great in theory: she envisioned the part of the puppy that is playing fetch, snuggling on the couch, sleeping with her in bed. But it's the other stuff - the difficult, time-consuming, messy stuff; the walks, the training, the cleaning - that make the snuggles possible.
Church, America is our puppy. More specifically, the people of America - our neighbors, our leaders, our prisoners, our immigrants, our homeless, our CEO's - they are our puppy. Regardless of where you land politically or which candidate you voted for - but, I would contend, especially if you voted for President-elect Donald Trump - there is a call on your life as a follower of Christ to be a peacemaker and a bridge-builder. Our words of assurance and placating posts on social media are not cutting it. The world does not need our words right now; they need our love. Our real, tangible, actionable love.
My fear, however, is that we as Christians in America are more like my daughter than we'd care to admit. The easiest - and possibly the least helpful - thing in the world is for us, the Church, to say "I love you." At this time, with all the hurt and fear and mistrust that are so prevalent, those words are empty. They are, quite frankly, unbelievable. You can say it in all sincerity, but the words just aren't enough anymore. They never were. It is not enough for you or I to say, "I love you if you are Muslim." It's not enough to say, "I love you if you are gay." Fill in the blank: disabled, poor, abused, imprisoned, foreigner, refugee, gender-anything-but-what-I-think-is-normal. It's not enough to think it, believe it, or say it.
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Most of us in the Church genuinely like the idea of love. We like the idea of loving all people in spite of differences and divisions. We like the idea of love; we just don't like the work of it. Not the real, long-suffering, step outside your comfort zone, paradigm shattering, wade into the mess of human emotion kind of love work. Loving all people regardless and in spite of differences is great in theory, but without action love isn't love. Not really.
So my challenge is this, for myself as much as for anyone else: if you are a Christian, it's time to walk the dog. It's time to go and learn what it means to love mercy and to seek justice. Love in action, love that changes things, will mean inconvenience. We're going to have to open doors, go places we'd rather not go, seek out friendships in unlikely places, and learn to not have all the answers. Love is hard and it is time-consuming and it is messy. We have to learn that, seek that, and own that. Until we do, our words and Facebook posts will mean nothing.
We can't snuggle the puppy if we're not willing to first bend down and pick up some crap along the way.