Monday, November 4, 2013

All My Exes...

So here’s the saddest thing I’ve seen this week. I was driving up Pennsylvania Ave. yesterday and noticed a big red X on the back of a car, up ahead of me in the turn lane. Human nature being what it is, I was immediately curious what this driver was so "anti-" as to prompt him or her to feature it on the finite space of his or her back window, publicly objecting to its very existence. So I tried to inch ahead in my lane and see what it was.

I’ve always been curious about such things. Remember those tasteless stickers of cartoon Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) himself onto the Ford logo (or Chevy or Ohio State or whatever)? Despite being kind of crass and a blatant violation of international copyright law, they were a fascinating study in what motivates people to go on record—for the world to see—as someone who hates a particular brand, school, city, or even a group of people.

As I drove past the car in question, though, I saw that it was not a group of people but one particular person who was bearing the wrath of this driver. You know those too-cute-by-half little stick people families that people put on the back of their cars (read: minivans)? The kind that show Mom and Dad and Brother and Sister and dog and even sometimes goldfish in stick-form? Well, this car had three people on it: Mom, Dad, and a toddler I’m guessing (I drove by rather quickly). And affixed over either Mom or Dad was the big red X.

That sight killed my good mood with record speed. I began thinking about what could create such bitterness, such that using a razor blade to remove the offending person was not enough. No, this person’s sticker had to remain there with an X over them. I deemed it unlikely right off the bat that he or she had died. More likely there had been a split.  Either the father (or mother) split and left his spouse to raise the child alone, or there had been an angry, toxic split over a disagreement or series of disagreements or something and their parting had been on vicious enough terms to warrant the big red X.

In that moment, I think I would have done anything in my power to reconcile those two people—at least to the point where the X could come down. And I began thinking about whether I’ve ever been angry enough with another person to try and hold them up to public shame—to feature them X’d out (or the victim of an licensed, urinating cartoon Calvin) on the back window of my car. 

Sadly, the answer is yes.

I haven’t actually done it because it sounds like a lot of work and because seminary students and ministers have to stay above reproach and because I wouldn’t want to tip my hand that I’d been that hurt or that affected by someone else...but there have been a good (bad?) number of times when I have burned a bridge so completely that it wouldn’t have been too big a step to throw them up on my back window.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to kickstart a conflict that will end with such a complete breaking of ties and trust. A little slight on the part of one party, blown up and bottled up by the other. A comment said in the heat of the moment. And before you know it, a big red X has been applied, if not on the back windshield, at least in the heart and mind of the offended one.

And that’s usually how the story ends. My experience is that we humans generally long for reconciliation, but are notoriously unwilling to take the first step. We want to hear someone else humble himself and apologize first. We want them to make the move to cross the chasm between us, even if we know deep down that we are the ones to blame for that chasm.

This is, in a sense, the story of Scripture. It was not a petty spat or mutual squabble that fractured our relationship with our God; it was one-sided. It was all us. We didn’t want to submit to his will. We wanted to make our own rules, find our own way, do our own thing. So we bent our wills away from his and put a big red X over the God who created, loved, and sustained us. And despite that fact, even as the Old Testament relates the unfolding and re-developing of a relationship between God and man, it’s never us who initiates it. God makes the first move—in a burning bush, on the top of a mountain, in the hearts of those he calls. Like a slighted friend or spouse, we sat in our corner, stewing, hardening our hearts all the more, unwilling to even try and make the first move.

And so Christ came to us. He took and flesh and dwelt with us. He fed us and washed our feet. He died on a cross for our sins. And, in Christ, God reconciled the world to himself. He didn’t just remove the red X we’d placed over him; he gave us a new heart so that we could remove it.

And with that new heart, we ought to approach our relationships with each other differently. When Christ has rebuilt our bridge at the cost of his very life, how can we be quick to burn our own bridge with others? How can we collect red X’s in our minds like the tick marks on the side of a WWII fighter plane? How can we be unwilling to make the first move toward repentance and reconciliation when a chasm has grown between us and a neighbor, friend, family member, or co-worker?

I've recently preached on I Corinthians 13 twice (once on a Sunday morning and once at a funeral) and been twice reminded that love keeps no record of wrongs. And as Jesus reminded Simon the Pharisee, whoever has been forgiven much, loves much. When I’ve been forgiven a record like mine, it makes no sense to X out people based on their record with me. I pray that God will continue to give all of us, more and more, the same mind that was in Christ Jesus and give us the grace and perseverance to carry on loving one another.

Do you have a red X you need to remove? If so, the best way is to ask God to do it. And while you’re asking, let him know that you might put another one on without even thinking about it, and you’d like him to take that one off too. And the next one. The good news is that someday, we’ll run out of red X’s.