Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Challenge - Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other. (John 13:35)

The holiday season starts this Thursday with Thanksgiving, and let's be honest, the holidays can be stressful because you have to put up with family, extended family, and even family friends that get to you. We all have at least one person who seems to be a royal pain. And if we're even more honest, it's because we find them unlovable.

And before we begin this week's challenge, we fully acknowledge that we're about to walk a tight-rope on this one, but we think that extreme examples are what it takes sometimes to get a clear point across. So here goes...

Would you love your neighbor, or family member, if she was as strange looking as the woman below? And would you still love her once you realized that she was a man? A heterosexual man with a defacto wife?

The gentleman to the left is Stu Rasmussen, America's first openly transsexual mayor. You may think this is strange, and even inappropriate, and you aren't alone. So do the people that voted for him, and even eventually stood up for him. And the reason why they were willing? Because they loved him. And we'd like you to listen to their story.

(Click on the photo for the audio. The story begins at the 24 minute mark. If you don't want to listen to the full story, please at least start at the 33 min. mark. It's only a few minutes.)

Listening to Stu tell his story it is painfully obvious that he suffered a lonely childhood, with a mother that we would characterize as less than ideal. And there is no mention of his father. He describes the slow process of beginning to wear women's clothes in terms of if he could "survive" each step.

Eventually, he made the complete transition to wearing women's clothes, and there were consequences. Towns people stopped going to his movie theater and teens would drive by and would hurl insults. Rasmussen's girl-friend began to fear for their safety, thinking he might be killed like Matthew Shepard. But life went on, and Stu eventually ran for mayor and narrowly won. Then the real story begins.

A Christian group from Kansas came to Silverton, Oregon to protest Stu's election after his story became national news. If you listened, and we hope you did, you heard so-called Christians call him "disgusting" and even use a few gay slurs, despite the fact he is not homosexual. The hatred exhibited toward him caused the towns people to counter demonstrate on his behalf. The same men who complained of Stu's inappropriate dress, and even sought to have a dress code imposed against him, donned dresses and stood on the corner in defense of him. In the end the small town of Silverton rallied for their own.

For the sake of argument, let's say that Mr. Rasmussen's desire to cross dress stems from his desire to be accepted and loved. "That's wrong" you may think, but what extremes have you gone to find love, acceptance? Have your actions stepped outside the bounds of what you believe to be right as a Christian? We think that at some point we have all crossed that line out of fear or even desperation. Yes, his actions are more extreme, but in the end let he or she who is without sin cast the first stone.

So what do you do if you have a family member that you can't avoid, that you just don't know what to do with and even find embarrassing? You've got two choices: act like the Christians that showed up and hated Stu or the local Christians who loved him.

If you want to hear the effect that the love of his neighbors had on him, please sincerely listen to the man struggle for words and the silence that befalls him as he is overcome with the emotion of knowing that his fellow neighbors, whom he once thought might want to harm him and even kill him, and who were open and honest in their varying displeasure of his cross dressing, were in fact willing to don dresses and suits to show their love and support for him in the face of hate-mongers.

The interviewer breaks Stu's silence and offers "that must have been a turning point for you?"

"The biggest one, yeah," he replied.

And what was that turning point? We think it was that he finally felt loved and accepted. He describes that moment as being "amazing."

We aren't advocating cross-dressing. What we are trying to demonstrate here is that we all have people in our lives - family, friends, obnoxious coworkers or fellow students - with whom we disagree with at some deep level. But despite our differences we are forced to make one of two choices, to either love them or hate them. Indifference is the only middle ground, and we all known there is no middle ground with these people. The good book puts it very plainly:

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (I John 4:20)

And it gets even better because this is the definition of love:

Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (I Cor. 13:7)

It would be so much easier if "they" would just straighten up and get it together so "we" wouldn't have to put up with their mess anymore. But have you considered that "we" may be the one that "they" have to put up with as well? It's interesting to note that Jesus never once embarrassed or condemned a "sinner" but he had some very harsh words for much of the religious establishment. Grace is indeed an "amazing" thing.

Our only consolation for you is that if "they" become too much to bear over the Thanksgiving weekend, there's alot of football that can be watched. But if that doesn't do it for you, you can always go see a movie. And we're betting that your local movie theater owner isn't also your cross-dressing mayor, because Mr. Rasmussen is one of a kind. See how easy you have it.

And one final thought, even Jesus' family thought he was "out of his mind." They put up with him, and he with them. God knows how hard it can be sometimes, because He's been through it too.

Photo: People Magazine
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