Our family is not a pet family. There, I said it, hate me if you want. I don’t really like animals. Jay gives me a hard time about it, and if I’m really honest, when I see that my friend on instagram just got a puppy, I feel bad for them. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m too selfish for a pet. I can barely keep life together with 3 little humans. If we got a pet, I would probably just curl up in the fetal position and give up on life.
So our neighbor has a yappy dog. You know the kind. The ones that bark like they are going to eat you alive. Every time we walk to our car, the dog barks at us. We had never actually seen this dog, as it is behind the door, but it knows anytime we get close, because it acts like it has never seen human flesh and it’s starving.
My kids are slightly terrified (think Sandlot). And you can usually hear me saying, “Forget about the dog. It’s behind the door. It’s not going to get you.”
So yesterday, the kids were outside playing and I saw my neighbor leave her house to take the dog for a walk. I almost yelled to the kids to get inside so that they wouldn’t be freaked out when the dog inevitably lunged for them and barked, but I decided to let it play out. As I walked outside, I was struck by what I saw. The owner was holding the non-barking dog, while my kids stood in close proximity. She was apologizing to them for the barking and explaining that the dog was from the shelter and that the previous owners were not very kind, so the dog is generally afraid of people.
You could see the wheels turning in their minds while they got even closer and tried to pet him. It was in that moment that I understood a little better what it means when Jesus said we needed to become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'” Matthew 18:1-4 NIV
This “going towards” when all logic tells you to walk away is very child-like. And also very Kingdom-like.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in light of the tragedy in Orlando. When I heard what had happened, a major thought ran through my brain:
What if someone had “gone toward” Omar Mateen? What if, instead of backing away from him in those moments of his angry outbursts; someone had “gone toward” and built a bridge of understanding? What if, instead of being persuaded by the lie of Radical Islam that all Americans hate Muslims; he felt included, wanted and appreciated by those who “went toward” instead of backing away in fear?
Maybe nothing. Maybe the outcome would have been exactly the same. I can’t assume to know anything that went through his head.
But I do know that we have bought into the lie that building walls and boundaries are the keys to keeping us safe. That keeping people out of our well-kept lives is the way to keep the “bad-guys” at bay. And I’m not just speaking politically here, I’m talking about our neighbors that we don’t know, or maybe the ones that we do know, but that think differently than us. Or our neighbors that look different than us, or speak a different language than us.
We have been taught to fear what we don’t understand, and we don’t take the time to understand those things that we fear. It’s a never-ending, wall building cycle.
That’s why seeing my children try to pet this dog, the one who they once feared (and maybe rightly so), but that now to them had a history and a story, was such a profound picture of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom that embodies the self-sacrificing love of Jesus. The Kingdom that includes, not excludes. The Kingdom that builds bridges that lead to understanding, instead of walls that continue the pattern of misunderstanding and assumption.
We have a choice in these pivotal moments. We have the choice to say “hello” to a woman with her head covered, instead of in fear, hiding our children behind us. We have a choice to stand-up against broad, brush-stroke generalizations, which continue to breed fear and misunderstanding. We have a choice to get to know someone who is different than us, instead of continuing in our own assumptions. It’s not easy; these choices that bring understanding. But Jesus didn’t promise ease, He promised Life. And this Life that He promises is the beautiful fruit of following His call to bridge-building, not wall-building.
May we, as followers of Jesus, be quick to build bridges, instead of putting up walls.