Living in the “in-between” is hard. To put it more elegantly. It. Just. Sucks. In fact, I spent an afternoon of tears, hugs, and hot tea with a sweet friend who’s right there—in the in-between. The circumstances of her in-between are different from mine. But I can empathize. I know that it’s painful. It’s confusing. It’s frustrating. It can be more horrific than that netherworld in that very popular Netflix series. . . . But wait. That’s the Upside Down. We’re in the In-Between here.
My in-between has been full of crushing disappointment—for myself and even more for the ones I love. And it’s messed with my sense of hope. I haven’t wanted to write, which is one of my favorite things to do, because what is there to write about when your topic is Love and Light and all you feel is dismal? But just recently, I’ve realized that there is still a lot of Love and Light sneaking in through the broken places, and I don’t want to miss it—whatever my circumstances. Hence, my latest reflection on Fear, Hate, and Love. . . .
I’m a pastor, and that means that one of the various things I do is preach. I speak in front of people—usually large groups of people—on a regular basis. I am also an introvert. (More accurately, an introvert who has learned to act like an extrovert, as the occasion calls for it. Which is exhausting. Perhaps another blog entry for another day.) It feels like one of the greatest jokes of the universe that I, who used to tremble in ninth grade English anytime we had to give a report in front of the class, would not only become a public speaker by profession . . . But would actually come to enjoy it! Nowadays, I love to tell a story to people. To weave together details and images and help (hopefully) to lead an audience to a (hopefully) deeper understanding of something (hopefully) meaningful.
I love to preach. But do you know what I hate? Giving church announcements. Oh, I dread that moment in our Presbyterian worship service when the preacher-of-the-day candidly and “casually” welcomes everybody and gives the spiel about where to find this and that and highlights upcoming events and tells visitors where to find their thank-you-for-being-with-us gift. Do I feel unwelcoming? No. Do I feel unhelpful, uninformative, unfriendly? No, no, no. None of those things. So I’ve had the most difficult time pinpointing what my problem is. But all I know is that I feel like I’m back in ninth grade English class on the verge of hyperventilating.
And that’s when a dear friend and pastoral mentor of mine shared the manuscript of his upcoming sermon with me. His words were about Fear and Hate. More specifically, unlearning Fear and Hate, from that same amazing movement I blogged about earlier. He reminded me that hate is almost always derived from fear. We humans hate what—or who—scares us. And that thing or that person or those people become an Other. And it can feel easy to hate an Other—a not “me,” a not “us.” That’s why choosing to love is powerful. It is the complete opposite of fear and hate. It breaks the spell, shatters the hardened shell, bends the prison bars of fear, which is at the root of hate. But fear and hate require an unlearning. It’s a process.
The Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago when I had a tiny breakthrough in my terror of “friendly announcement time” was the Sunday I preached about Fred Rogers. In my sermon, I included the line from the upcoming A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood movie, where Fred (played by Tom Hanks) says, “I think the best thing we can do is to let people know that each one of them is precious.” What a brilliant truth. So as I stood up to do the announcements that morning, I tried to remember that inspiring quote. Instead of seeing the congregation as a massive, monstrous, faceless enemy, ready to mock me in my nervousness, I stopped to look at as many individual faces as possible. These were real people. Human beings with needs. Human beings who actually liked me. But even more than that, my job in that moment was to welcome them. To love them. To speak to them and treat them like each one of them is precious. Because they are. And although a tremble threatened to rise up within me, it soon dissipated with the warmth of love. Love overcame fear and hate in that moment. It can be done!
Unlearning fear and hate and intentionally choosing to love feels like a sweeping movement. Something that should only take place on a monumental, worldwide stage. But I’m finding more and more that learning to love most often takes place in the small things, the little details. The reassuring squeeze of a hand. A note sent in the mail. Speaking kindly with a child at their eye-level. A cup of tea shared in solidarity and understanding. A sincere smile given to someone who seems very different from you. These little bursts of Love and Light nourish and revive us no matter what season of life we’re in . . . even in the in-between.