I remember my childhood friend coming out to me through Facebook when we were in college. I remember the weight I felt in wanting to communicate to her that I love her deeply even though we don’t see eye-to-eye. I remember fearing she wouldn’t understand, particularly with the distance between us and no opportunity to look her in the eyes or hug her. She in Colorado, me in Texas, and 8 years since our last hug. And you know what, my fear was well-founded. She didn’t understand. She was hurt and put up walls. And had it been me, I probably would have done the same.
I recall, a few years later, sitting in a room with Jewish high school students, having been invited to be a part of a world religions panel. I remember them asking me, point blank, what I think about homosexuality. And, then, as if to add coal to the fire, they all looked to one student who boldly proclaimed that he is gay. They waited for my answer. The fear was smaller then than it had been in college, but the ache carved into me deeper. And for a moment, the distance between these students and myself seemed just as far as the physical distance between my childhood friend and me. How do you communicate to someone that you love them, you value them, even though you don’t agree with them?
I was hoping to post something upbeat today, but I’m just not there. Instead, I’m wiping tears from my eyes and longing for a taste of understanding. I find myself again, searching for some word, some gesture, some moment to close this gap. I’m not angry that the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. I’m not afraid or hurt by a law. This ache isn’t because there are people that live in contradiction to what I believe. No. These tears are falling for the seemingly insurmountable distance between all of us.
We are called to love our neighbors, but my neighbors feel far away. Some have boarded up their windows, turned out the lights and stay hidden in the back room hoping no one will knock on their door. Others have turned their fences into barricades, crawling out of their bunkers to launch grenades and then diving back to the safety of their side. How can we love each other when we live this way? And it isn’t just “them”, regardless of who “them” happens to be for you. It’s “us” too. We are all living as though our neighbor is the enemy. It simply isn’t true. My childhood friend is living in a way I believe is contrary to God’s plan. But she isn’t my enemy. She is my friend. We haven’t spoken in years, but I will always consider her my friend. I will always love her, though we live from different world-views. If she ever needed me, I would be there. That high school boy is not my enemy. He is a human, made in God’s image and navigating this broken world just like me.
I am not better than they are. They are not more open-minded than I am. We believe different things. We live from different places. And we both want the other to understand what we hold as the best truth. But screaming at one another, dropping missiles of hate into each other’s yards will do nothing but blow all of us to pieces.
My neighbors feel far. It’s a distance created, not by disagreement, but by an inability to separate our moral compasses from human value.
I will share with you how I answered the students that day…if you want to know. You can message me and we can untangle the aches and hopes and joys of our souls together. But for now, I will weep and pray, not for laws or justice or protection, but for the vastness between us all to get a little smaller. For bridges to be shortened, gaps filled, and walls torn down. For boarded up windows to be opened and bunkers to be abandoned. I will weep for a friendship that seems so lost. I will pray for God-crafted souls to find their way in this broken world. And I will try to quiet my fears and find the courage to knock on my neighbor’s door and invite him to walk beside me.