Guilt by Disassociation

On 9/12/01 I was on my way to the mailbox and waved at a neighbor who lives across and down the street and was on the way to her mailbox. I barely know her but she immediately crossed the street toward me so I started walking in her direction. She put out her arms and we hugged because it was, after all, the day after 9/11.

What was odd though is what she said as we hugged, “I’m sorry”. She is Muslim and her beautiful face is always surrounded by a hijab/scarf. I said aghast, “You don’t have to be sorry! This happened to all of us”. We smiled sadly and went our way.

It’s 6/18/15 and I’m remembering that moment and understanding my fellow American neighbor a bit more. Because it is, after all, the day after 6/17 and 9 Americans have been murdered in their church at their prayer meeting. It has been reported that the white murderer told his victims that he was killing them because they were black. I am white and realize I feel shame over this man who I don’t know, I’ve never seen, and have no relation to.

I thought my neighbor was so sadly shocking when she apologized but I now get the guilt by association. An association that is about as broad as you can define!

There are about a billion white people in this world of about 6 billion. I associate with a few of them. There are 2,000 million people in the world who claim to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The Bible says they’re my brothers and sisters. Add up the numbers and percentages and still they really don’t account for much because my association is clearly greater with those who were massacred at that church last night.

Like them, I know the love of Jesus. Like them, I know He created every skin color and said it was very good. Like them, I know He conquered death for those who love Him. Like them, I know that we are all sinners who fall way short of the glory of God. Like them, I know our divisions are sin.

I also know they are in His presence today and while we mourn and drop our heads in disgust over our inhumanity to one another, they dance with joy and lift their heads to the One who loves his broken people and has made these nine whole – wholly loving, wholly good – HOLY.

In the bigger story, 9/11 and 6/17 and every single other date with it’s despicable list of atrocities is not about me, not about you, not about Muslims, not about whites, not about blacks, not about the wealthy, not about the poor, not about looters, not about business owners, not about guns, not about rights.

The bigger story is about separation: separation from Jesus, whom we were created to depend on and called to take on his character. Our guilt comes from disassociation! The bigger story is about how our vain ego and its need to control has made us a broken people. Broken people choose all manner of things over love.

Jesus is love. And my identity is in the One who is Love. That’s the association we’re all needful of. That’s the association He keeps inviting us into.

Last night I imagine that Jesus, filled with righteous anger, wept. And still He chooses to associate with us. How long will he continue to wait for us?

Belonging

Stacked on our entertainment center is a pile of greeting cards for my youngest daughter who graduated from college last month.  While congratulations cards may be common place, I consider this pile profound.  You see, my daughter was blessed to be born into the lines of her grandparents’ families.  My father’s living sisters and brother-in-law and my mother’s living sister and brother-in-law, the aunts and uncles who have passed and the cousins they all gave me…along with my husband’s sister, brother, their spouses and my brother…are not distant relatives.  Although most live many miles apart they are made of good stuff.  The stuff that shares in each other’s sorrows and joys.  The stuff that hurts for one another, laughs with one another and truly delights in one another’s triumphs.

Really.

You should read the notes they wrote to their niece, great-niece, second-cousin or cousin-once-removed!   Many of my cousins have seen my daughter, at best, once a year.  Others have seen her a few times a year.  But that has not kept their interest in her welfare at a distance.  These were not the cards of obligation.  Most arrived before her graduation announcement was even mailed.  I debated sending formal announcements because I hate the perception of obligation that many feel when they receive them.  But her college graduation is a big deal and my husband and I wanted to share the joyful news.  So we sent them after the ceremony with a photo of her at her commencement tucked inside.  No expectation of cards or gifts; just another tradition of love and connection.

Back to that stack of cards. Under the printed prose on the greeting cards many wrote of being proud of her. When you are proud of someone you exhibit a connection to them; that you care about what happens in their life.  The generosity of our family’s sentiments: “job well done”, “you are amazing”, “so proud of you and your accomplishments” — and the added generosity of gifts many enclosed, left her with a wide opened mouth over their wide opened hearts.

One always quick-witted cousin added to her list of compliments “we are wondering how you sprang from our gene pool”.  Besides the good laugh, this sentiment sums up why this isn’t a typical pile of greeting cards.  My family takes its gene pool with humor and with serious commitment. We are as dysfunctional as the next family.  But we are proudly and loyally connected.

Those of us in the second generation remember the family celebrations of our childhood.  We know few of our friends had the joy of knowing their cousins.  And so, time and distance can’t hold back the desires to know that the second, third and fourth generations are well.  Time and distance doesn’t get in the way of us aching when there is bad news in the family.  Time and distance doesn’t stop the celebrating for each other when a family member reaches a milestone or accomplishment.

Family must be at the top on the hierarchy of topics to grumble about.  Listen to any late night host’s monologue.  Sadly, most of us are slow in life to turn off the critical spotlight on our family’s quirky shortcomings and we’re slow to turn it onto what functions well in our families.

The search lights coming off this pile of cards announces that this recent graduate has an extended family who takes the time to hurt for each other, laugh with one another and delight over each individual’s joys. The light of these cards says she belongs.

I’m overcome by the gift of belonging.