For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
I wasn’t really aware of Gold Star families until the controversy between Donald Trump and the Khan family. Hearing several of the families discuss the loss of loved ones in active duty, I gained an appreciation for the sacrifice these families gave tad to make for our nation. So earlier this week, when I found myself behind a car with a license plate indicating they were a Gold Star family, I was immediately predisposed to feel good about them. That lasted about three minutes!
We were exiting Route 202 and approaching the traffic light where the ramp met the main road. I watched as the Gold Star family car slowed as the light changed to yellow and then to red. With his left turn blinker on, the driver had ample time to stop, but after slowing briefly, he seemed to change his mind. Stepping on the gas, he blew through the red light, careening around the corner as the cars on the main road began to move.
I was reminded that none of us is perfect. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, the line between good and evil runs through the center of the human heart. Most of us are a combination of the two. We are honorable in some areas, and scoundrels in others. Even Hillary and Donald have good points and bad ones.
Seeing people in terms of absolutes is one way to demonize a person, to steal their humanity away. It is important not to idealize people as if they had no faults, nor to condemn them as if they had no value as persons. We are all a mixture of self-interest and self-sacrifice, a melange of greed and generosity. Too much of our contemporary debate ignores that. We paint people in monochrome – all good or all bad – whether in political debate or ecclesiastical debate. When we demonize or idealize people, we structure disagreements in ways that preclude any reasonable discussion. After all, if they are evil, so is every idea they have and I can dismiss everything they say.
When we are tempted to dismiss someone’s words, we need to stop and ask ourselves, have I given thought to this idea, or am I dismissing it because of who it came from? And when we find ourselves painting someone with that monochromatic paintbrush, we can stop and take stock of both the good and the bad they represent. Most of all, we can pray for those with whom we disagree, asking God’s blessing for them. In that way, we can move ourselves a little more to the good side of the line through our own heart.
Prayer: Gracious Lord, through Jesus Christ you came to a people mired in sin and affirmed the good within us. Help me to see others in that same way – to recognize the sinfulness and evil while still affirming the good and righteous. Keep me from reducing people to two dimensional figures who exist only in my imagination. Show me once more how to love even the unlovely, and to challenge those I admire. Most of all, remind me that I am a mixture of admirable traits and dishonorable qualities. Forgive my failures to live in imitation of Christ. Empower me anew to live in response to your call to my better self. Amen.