This blog is dedicated to the diversity of God's church. I'll start there, by reminding myself that diversity is generally a good thing. But I think there is a limit. Diversity doesn't mean all behavior is acceptable. Tolerance does not mean "anything goes."
Take meanness, for example.
In recent weeks, I have heard from three or four in my remarkable congregation reports of people just simply being mean to others. Things like excluding them from activities, gossiping maliciously about them, and just generally treating them with coldness and disrespect. That is something I cannot tolerate.
In fact, I just sent out an email to the staff to encourage them to "set the tone" for the congregation. When you go to church, you want to experience warmth, openness, and love, right? And the staff can really go a long way in creating that atmosphere. I even asked the staff to "fake it" if they weren't feeling particularly loving on a given day! In other words, act "as if." It is that important. People come to church for love, both to receive it and to give it.
After all, Jesus did not suggest to his disciples that they love one another, he commanded it! My wife likes to remind me, "Jesus did not say to show love for your neighbor 'if you feel like it today.'" Jesus said, "Love your neighbor." (By the way, He also said, "Love your enemy.")
Now, I know that we as mere humans-under-construction are not perfect (yet), and we have days in which a little grey cloud seems to hang over us wherever we go. I know that God has given us a range of emotions, good bad and otherwise, by which to experience the world. In fact, I have preached sermons about that very topic. But when it comes down to it, you can decide how you will treat others: to be cold and mean, or to be warm and loving, that is the question. What makes people choose option A over option B?
I don't want to sound like my remarkable congregation is filled with a bunch of meanies. Not at all! In fact, every single visitor who has spoken with me in the past year has practically gushed about the friendliness they have felt here. That makes me smile! But two or three meanies in an otherwise warm and loving congregation can make a really big impression. I guess probably the pictures of meanness people have shared recently stand out so sharply because they are painted on such a friendly backdrop.
Sunday my family went to the baseball game, and the Cardinals' pitcher was replaced pretty early, because he was doing so terribly. Since we were rooting for the Royals and were in Kansas City, this was a fun thing for us. The stadium speakers began blasting out "Hit the Road, Jack" as the pitcher walked off of the field. When my daughter Cori heard the song and realized why they were playing it, she got her I-am-just-about-to-be-sad expression on her face. Gazing up at me with furrowed brow, puckered lips, and teary eyes, she said, "Daddy, that's not very nice. That song will make the pitcher sad."
Leave it to sweet-hearted Cori to extend the Christian imperative to love your neighbor even to the pitcher of the opposing team! If she can do it at the baseball stadium, surely we can do it at church, where people come for the sake of love.