Hate is actually quite popular these days. Love is not. Instead of loving our enemies, we seem to love hating them. They give us something to focus on instead of our own flaws.
As a pastor, my work often draws me to hospitals. Surprisingly, it is there that I find hope for the world. In the midst of pain and grief, there is also compassion. The beeping monitor that indicates a pulse can simultaneously hammer away the walls that divide us. Wealthy or poor, young or old, conservative or liberal, illness strikes us all. When it does, our fearful hearts crack open to people we might otherwise dismiss.
Years ago, when our son was diagnosed with a congenital birth defect, we spent countless hours in hospitals. One day when we arrived for a medical procedure, an East Texas twang blasted through the waiting room. In vain, I searched for a seat out of ear shot. The horrible sound hit my ears with offensive political and religious nonsense. Sadly, there was no escaping the bigger-than-life persona of Texas past.
She had loud costume jewelry, thick blue eye shadow and big hair cemented in place with hairspray. At one glance, I determined Jesus was going to have to love her because I could not. Then I heard her say, “My youngest boy is here because he has chronic renal failure. Someday he will need a kidney transplant. We drive here every month to see Dr. Edmund Gonzales. He is one of the best in the country.”
Edmund Gonzales was my son’s doctor. Instantly, I didn’t care about the vast theological, political, or fashion divide that stood between us. I confess, I only crossed the divide because I was desperate. I wanted to learn more about the doctor performing my son’s surgery. “Did I hear you say that Dr. Gonzales is your son’s doctor?” I asked. She turned to me with a bright, welcoming smile, and I sat down next to her.
We passed the time sharing our experiences. We talked about our brave boys, supportive husbands, and children left at home. We talked about that moment when you learn your child is seriously ill. We talked about fear and faith, guilt and forgiveness, living in the moment instead of borrowing trouble from the future. Before saying goodbye, we promised to pray for one another. The two of us would never be found at the same political convention, church service or hair salon. But in that hospital waiting room, we discovered the power of common ground.
Oddly enough, desperation can open our hearts to people we might otherwise dismiss. These are desperate times. We cannot waste another second tweeting insults and casting stones at our foes. The fearful must become the faithful who cross boundaries so love can heal the wounded.
The Rev. Katheryn Barlow-Williams is the senior pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.