The Lorax has always been my favorite Dr. Seuss book. I’ve always appreciated its message of caring for the environment, and the dangers of colonialism and manifest destiny, and just how cute that little Lorax is when he speaks for the trees. I remember asking for the movie The Lorax on my 16th birthday and watching it again and again–and feeling wistful and yearning at the end, wishing that something had gone differently or something could be fixed.
I saw the remake yesterday, and though I won’t give away the ending for anyone who may have stumbled across this blog, I will say that I left feeling more complete–this was a movie of reconciliation and restoration and hope, whereas the previous version had a rather melancholy conclusion.
I’ve felt more hopeful about the church in recent years, and the growing concern in churches about issues of the environment, social justice, and even simply loving our neighbors. Granted, I’ve lived in Seattle for the past couple of years, where these are core issues of the political and social sphere, and incidentally, the primary focus, I would say, of the church I attend. It’s been easy to forget that people don’t operate from this mindset in other places–the church in particular. And it’s been easy to forget that one of my main reasons for leaving the church as a teenager was because of the lack of attention the church paid to these issues.
Last week I had a friend visit from Montana where I went to school for a year, and was reminded that 15 hours of distance really is a lifetime away, if I can express it that way. Montana’s beautiful, but in some cities things are a lot slower over there–not just in day-to-day living, but in mindset. I remember being mocked regularly about my vegetarianism, and my concerns about the environment and unethical industry practices denounced because meat-eating was “the way of life” in Montana. I remember being ridiculed for my concerns on social justice, and people laughing at me when I expressed my anxiety about gun policies. I remember sitting in my dorm room at school while the guys “wrestled” a pig before they shot and slaughtered it, and after the school had feasted on it, was pressured into participating in the social hour in the dining hall where I could still smell remnants of that poor pig. And these were Christians treating me–and each other–this way.
This week I’m back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for spring break, and I’m again reminded of the vast cultural and theological differences that made me want to escape this place to begin with–where phrases like “All those Mexicans need to learn to speak English if they’re gonna be stealing our jobs over here” are abundant, and recycling is a thing of the distant future. I’m deemed a Leftist and a liberal because I’m concerned about the ideological implications of our vernacular, because I don’t think that birth control is only for women who want to have a lot of sex without the consequences, because I’m concerned about the psychological implications of negative self-talk and communication, and because I don’t think that every single detail in the Bible is to be interpreted in a literal context (four corners of the earth, anyone?).
Jesus’ message to us was to continue His work, bringing the kingdom of God to view with mercy, justice, and peace–and yet there is dissonance, there is a lack of understanding of what this means, and how we are to bring this about. I’m reading a book called When Helping Hurts in which the authors discuss the great shift of thinking concerning the evangelical perspective on helping the poor:
“The idea that the church should be on the front lines of ministry to the poor is not a new concept in the North American context. As numerous scholars have noted, prior to the twentieth century, evangelical Christians played a large role in ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor. However, this all changed at the start of the twentieth century as evangelicals battled the theological liberals over the fundamental tenets of Christianity. Evangelicals interpreted the rising social gospel movement, which seemed to equate all humanitarian efforts with bringing in Christ’s kingdom, as part of the overall theological drift of the nation. As evangelicals tried to distance themselves from the social gospel movement, they ended up in large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation. This shift away from the poor was so dramatic that church historians refer to the 1900-1930 era as the ‘Great Reversal’ in the evangelical church’s approach to social problems” (Corbett & Fikkert 45).
How sad that theological and ideological differences caused this split, and the result is that, in the eyes of many in the “fundamentalist” or “conservative” church, concern about social justice, the environment, poverty alleviation, and civil rights is a “liberal” issue. Concern about what should be done regarding the Trayvon Martin case is a “liberal” issue. Concern about how to treat your gay neighbor is a “liberal” issue.
A couple of months ago I was very struck by the article “I’m Christian, unless you’re gay,” which highlights the issue of Christians judging and condemning anyone who is different than them–even other Christians. The author says, “Why is it that sometimes the most Christlike people are they who have no religion at all?”
When Jesus’ message is one of hope and love and reconciliation, why is it that when people think of “Christian” they think of hate and condemnation? When Jesus’ message is to let the oppressed go free and care for the poor, why is that when people think of “Christian” they think of colonialism in the name of evangelism, or war, or Rick Santorum, or Mitt Romney?
How did it come to be that the body of Christ became synonymous with any of these?
I don’t know how it came to be–but after continually pondering these issues I’m left with the feeling that Christians who don’t live this way, who are trying to do what Jesus said to do–”loosen the bonds of wickedness, undo the bands of the yoke, let the oppressed go free and break every yoke, divide your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked to cover him” (Isaiah 58:6-7)–we need to be louder. In love. Whatever way we can be. And it might be the simplest thing.
For me, I need to shed the fear of disagreeing with my family and friends in these matters–to make my stance known. The problem is that when you make your stance known, oftentimes the other party feels that you’re condemning them, even if your delivery is made in love, or in the interest of scholarship. But I’ve come to realize that if I’ve done everything I can to deliver my message in love, if I’ve done it using all the great communication training and experience I’ve had, and I’ve done it to the best of my ability, then I can be at peace with that, even if my message isn’t received well.
Because above all else, I think that Christians need to learn to love others–and as this mom’s response to her teenager’s report on the “I’m Christian, unless you’re gay article” proves, there is hope that we are moving forward.
We can disagree with a lifestyle choice without declaring hatred. We can disagree with a lifestyle choice and still love people. We can be Christians and care for the environment, because caring for the environment doesn’t mean that we agree with abortion or Democratic political policies or socialism. We can be Christians and show love and acceptance to gay couples without supporting gay marriage. We can even be Christians and agree with certain socialist ideologies, because the church, in Acts 4, was essentially a commune.
It’s hard to get people of an opposing viewpoint to listen to you, but it’s pretty impossible when all they feel from you is hatred. As my AmeriCorps supervisor always says, “People will never remember what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Let’s be the love of Christ to people in the world. That’s not a call to abandon our spiritual convictions or act against our personal theologies. It’s a call to hold fast to Truth while still practicing love–which is, in my opinion, the more difficult path.
When thinking of the state of the church as a whole, I used to have that same wistful, yearning feeling that the original Lorax movie left me with. A state of incompleteness, of wishing that something could be different. I’m seeing glimpses of what the church could be and it gives me hope, but I know we have a long way to go. My greatest desire is to see the church become the second version of this film–the one with reconciliation, with hope, with a feeling that this is how it’s supposed to be–a world where people in the church can express love to each other and to those outside of the church even while holding opposing views, a world where Christians–all Christians–can feel comfortable caring about God’s creation and His people without feeling like they are subscribing to any particular political ideology.
I know we can get there. I’ll keep praying. And hoping.