Growing up as a preacher's kid and a preacher's grandkid and a preacher's niece, you see things in life at an early age that many may never see. Some things are heartbreakingly beautiful, and you feel blessed to experience them. Some impossibly sad, and you feel burdened to know them. And some are so hateful you can't understand them at all.
And for good reason.
Growing up in my family, we weren't safeguarded against the seriousness of life. Or the reality of it. A safe space? That was the closet we hung out in when the tornado sirens started.
Because I was raised during a time kids rode bikes without helmets and played on playgrounds with hard edges, I understood life held a certain amount of pain. And that was okay. It made the days you left the playground without skinned knees more of a success.
No blood or band-aids today! I'm getting the hang of this playing business.
But the pain I never could adjust to was watching my family attacked without cause. Being in ministry isn't a bunch of delivering casseroles and chatting with the elderly. Although, admittedly, that happens.
It's dealing with people in pain, people who cause pain, and, at times, entire groups who simply hate you for existing at all. I can't even count all the bite marks in my tongue from staying silent while grandpa, my uncles, or my dad sat patiently through accusations, attacks, lies, and verbal abuse from this angry person or that angry group.
The men in my family are why I know what real strength looks like: It's calm. It's generous. It's charitable. And it suffers in silence for the good of others. It's also very masculine, but that's a delicious blog for another day.
As a kid, I learned quickly that hurting people hurt people, angry people rage, and sometimes people hate you for no reason at all. Inside of them, something is broken. Or dark. Or dead. And no earthly power can right them.
I'm not going to say I took it all with stoic indifference, let alone grace. Personally, I wanted to punch these people in the nose, but that would have only gotten me grounded.
That didn't mean, however, I didn't reach my tolerance limit a few times.
"I hate them," a disgusted teen version of myself told my father one day. "They're just a bunch of freaking haters. And I'm sick of it. I really hate them."
Dad, because he's groovy like that, asked me a question that has served to cool my temper frequently over the years. "And how does that make you any different than them?"
Ah, man. I knew what was coming: a life lesson. And this life lesson was going to suck.
First, before he unloaded whatever weighty wisdom I would need to consider, I offered up my best argument: 1) they hated us first, 2) they need a taste of their own medicine, 3) I have good reason to hate them, while they hate us for no reason at all.
It didn't get me far.
"If you hate them," Dad countered, "then you're acting exactly like them. You're doing what you know is wrong. You've become no different than them. Is that what you want? To become like them?"
At the time, I didn't know the word to describe how I felt at that thought. Now I do; it's "repulsed."
He explained that it wasn't good enough to not repay hate with hate or act out my anger. This wasn't only about my actions, but my heart. God calls us to not hate, but He also calls us to take a giant leap further and love.
"But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you." Luke 6:27
Man, I just knew I was going to hate this lesson.
The idea of loving a hated enemy, of course, struck me as completely impossible. And, at times, it still does.
Because it is.
Loving our enemies isn't in us. We can't love like that on our own. God, however, can. And does. And shares that love with us, if we'll only ask. But that means we also give Him the right to seek the vengeance or not seek the vengeance we so badly desire.
Man, seriously unpleasant lesson.
The thing is, in life, we will often have good cause to hate. Society will often encourage us to do exactly that, in fact. And to seek revenge. Or to give as good as we got. What that same society won't tell you is that hate will destroy you, too. It'll hollow you out. It'll rip away your peace. It'll torment your mind. It'll sicken your body. It'll rob you of joy even on the lovely days, even in the celebratory moments, because hate has a thin, runny consistency and, once poured out, it gets on everything.
We can let it go. We can forgive and move on. We can release hate because Jesus, who wasn't only a man of incredible words, was a man of incomprehensible action. He didn't only instruct us to love our enemies, He showed us exactly how while hanging on a cross.
"Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."
My family and I watched "Woodlawn" this weekend, which ended up being incredibly coincidental. The movie is about a school in Alabama that overcomes racial division by stopping the finger pointing, stopping the rhetoric, stopping all the airing of grievances and weighing of victimhood and seeking of revenge and turning to Jesus.
These football players chose to stop the repetitive war - where no one was winning, anyway - and leave the past behind by coming together, asking Jesus into their lives, and letting Him change how they treated each other. By coming together, praying together, and letting go of all their anger, they were able to inspire their entire school, which inspired their community, which inspired other schools, which affected their entire town.
They found peace and unity in their community and they didn't need a single march, protest, or counter-protest to do it.
We really can have unity in our nation and here's the historic, tried and tested, formula to do just that. So the question shouldn't be how we end racial division, it's whether or not we're willing to do what will.