(Image courtesy of Clint Mcmanaman via Creative Commons)
Last night I was pissed.
About 20 minutes before my friends’ band, Monkhouse, was scheduled to play, as I was putting on my shoes to head out the door, a disturbing bit of news popped up on my laptop screen.
Westboro (I refuse to call them “church”) was planning a visit to Joplin, MO for Sunday – to celebrate the loss of 125 lives.
I was instantly incensed and the better angels of my nature quickly fluttered away.
Forget that I had agreed to watch family pets this weekend.
Forget that I was at the tail end of my monthly budget and that my little car had just completed a whirlwind road trip.
Forget any practical considerations, I WAS HEADED TO JOPLIN!
You see, last December I attended a little gathering in Memphis called the Outlaw Preachers Reunion.
Most of the people attended had lives that had intersected at previous conferences and were intertwined through the conversational world of Twitter. Some who had never met introduced themselves first through the twitter handle, secondly through their blog name, and only lastly with their given name.
I was not a tweeter.
Hardly anyone knew who I was. I had found out about the conference primarily through Jonathan Brink’s blog, which I frequented, and I had met Connie Jo and her family, as well as Pastor Nar, only weeks before the reunion at a conference at Open Door Community Church. That was about it. I had a blog, I had written for some webzines, and I frequented Facebook, but this #OutlawPreachers Twitter family was a whole new ball of yarn I was eager to be tangled up in.
As an introvert, I was a bit overwhelmed by this prospect of meeting and greeting, and I stood around a bit awkwardly at first. One of the first groups of people I met and engaged in conversation with was Pastor Steve Urie from Joplin, MO and two ladies from his church, Spirit of Christ MCC.
I feel I should pause here and note that I am absolutely horrible with names. The only reason I remembered Steve’s name is because Brandon Mouser linked to him. I feel like Facebook was a personal gift from the Creator to help me connect names and faces on a daily basis… except for annoying people like me who put pictures of feet and squirrels where their face should be.
So, Steve and the two ladies from his church invited me into their conversation. They offered me space in their room (I did end up in another room, but I did not forget their graciousness). I sat with them during several sessions. They were comfort and grace and hospitality to a girl who felt a bit out of her element.
Hospitality is a bedrock of both my theology and my Southern culture, so anytime it is offered I feel home and I feel love. It is the trait I most want to nurture in my own life.
On Sunday, May 22nd, I was driving with my father back from St. Louis, MO where we were with family, to our home in Little Rock, AR. When we stopped to eat a late lunch, I watched the wind whipping the trees and flags outside, and hoped that we would not have to drive the rest of the way home in the strong rainstorms we had driven up through. We crossed the Arkansas state line around 6ish and headed for home in the final stretch. Meanwhile, near the other end of the state line, Joplin, MO was being ransacked by the worst tornado our country has seen in 50 years.
At latest count, 125 lives were lost.
At Spirit of Christ Metropolitan Community Church, Pastor Steve was beginning service in the building the church rented from Unity of Joplin. When the storm hit, all in attendance were able to make it safely into the basement, except for two people who sustained minor injuries. Pastor Steve’s spouse, Heath, was triaged and sent to the hospital to be treated and released for a concussion. The aftermath revealed SOC MCC had lost their building, and Steve and Heath had lost their home. Many cars were also lost, as well, but, graciously, families were not.
The community of Joplin, MO is faced with the task of sorting through the rubble and rebuilding their lives out of the destruction, and the Church in Joplin, MO is faced with the task of being grace, peace and comfort to those who are grieving loss and confusion. The Body of Christ is tasked with helping to gather the scattered pieces of lives and molding them back together with hope.
And now, a group of media hounds who spew a vile gospel of hate are planning to descend on the city in the midst of the memorial for all the lives lost and shattered and proclaim that God Hates Missouri.
I want to jump in my car.
I want to cover it with huge red hearts that read “God Loves Joplin” and even “God Loves Westboro” because I truly believe that God loves even the vilest of us, and desires that our hearts are redeemed and turn to him and his way, his way that was demonstrated by his son, his way that springs forth from his spirit, his way that manifests in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Last night, I was fuming.
But I talked to people, and I was reminded that all Westboro wants is attention. And like a sullen child, all they know is to get the attention they crave through despicable behavior.
I don’t want to be yet another person to add to the chaos in Joplin, MO. And as much as I want to believe my swooping presence will make a difference against Westboro’s hate, I know that it will not. It will not, because no one is listening to Phelps, no one is taking him seriously, and anyone who may possibly be responsive to him is not going to be swayed by my Corolla covered in cardboard hearts.
Hearts are changed by interacting with love in community.
The absolute best thing I can do to counter the hate of Westboro is to deeply love my neighbors, especially those who are grieving, those who have suffered rejection, those who feel unloved, right here where I am on a daily basis.
The absolute best thing I can do to counter the hate of Westboro in Joplin is to support the work of the community there that is already laboring to share the love of Christ and his Church for all people, beloved creations of the Creator.
So, I’m not going to jump in my car.
I’m going to love my neighbors and strangers and Church and family right here in Little Rock.
And I’m going to take the money I would have spent on traveling up to Joplin and send it to SOC MCC so they can continue to spread love and grace to families who are hurting, and who will be rebuilding long after I would have returned home. I’m going to support their efforts as a means of comforting Pastor Steve’s congregation with the comfort I received from them, so that they can in turn comfort their community. And I know that Steve’s comfort and hospitality came first from the Creator, whose grace toward us is not in vain, but continues to flow as we allow our lives to pour into one another.
If you would like to join me in showing support, you can like Spirit of Christ’s Facebook page and find many ways to donate to SOC MCC and the community of Joplin.