Saturday, June 30, 2018

Turning the other cheek

I'm always surprised at how weddings and funerals can bring out the worst in families. Or it can bring out the best.

Major life changes that we celebrate with family are times when we must be with people whom we may disagree with either politically or socially or religiously. There are often unresolved issues from childhood that become more prominent when so many expectations are heaped upon these gatherings. 

I also look at major life changes (weddings, child births, funerals) as a way to start over. To be a uniter not a divider. To find the spark of love that you once had for each other and capitalize on it.

My husband teases me all the time about my love of logic and science. He calls me Spock which I just love. But I often lead with my heart when it comes to people. I am easily hurt and disappointed by people when the hand I extend to them in welcome is slapped down. It doesn't happen often but when it does I am reminded of the story in Matthew's book in the bible about turning the other cheek.

I don't consider myself to be a Christian in the accepted definition. I don't believe in the traditional Judeo Christian god or believe in heaven. My spiritual beliefs are constantly evolving and are grounded more in humanism and transcendentalism with a good dose of astrophysics. None of that truly matters. I should be judged by how I live my life and how I treat people - especially people who are in need.

In that regard, I am a Christian. I try to follow the example of Jesus and others who came before and after him who didn't just talk the talk but also walked the walk. 

So turning the other cheek is a bit of a conundrum for me. Although I feel that I need to be respectful of others beliefs (as long as they are not harmful) and always try to lead with kindness, I am also not a pushover. 

Was Jesus a pushover because he turned the other cheek? Did his violence in the temple make him a hypocrite? I think about these things when my extended hand is pushed away. 

Where is the line between being forgiving and losing your self respect? 

I have no problem drawing that line with friends and coworkers and others. But with family it is much more complicated as walking away from one person affects others you care about. I wonder too how much I am expected to give up in order to keep the peace. Why my hurt is somehow less important than someone else's.

There are no easy answers. As a Unitarian Universalist I live by a set of principles, not a creed. We have as our first of seven principles: we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I often refer to this as "the fucking first principle" when faced with someone who clearly is not a good person and I am holding my anger in to deal with them respectfully. 

As times go on and our nation embraces anger more easily, the first principle and Matthew's story become more present in my thoughts. Do I owe it to EVERYONE to be respectful and kind when they are not either of those things to me? 

If a family member knocks me down over and over, am I not living my beliefs if I fight back? Even Jesus had his limits in the temple.

When I agonize over these choices I often come to a place of peace. Because those I am agonizing over are not agonizing over me. They dismiss, they judge, they "other" me. But I take the time to consider my beliefs and hold them up to a mirror. 

Maybe I will never have a temple moment but that doesn't mean I will not hold others actions up to their own mirrors. And maybe that's where grace lies. Not in lashing out, not in turning the other cheek, but in being honest and respectful in the face of people who use their beliefs to harm. 

I might not be a Christian but I am nonetheless christian.