I cried in class today.
It wasn't an "OMG, I got a B on my paper" sort of cry; or a "I just bombed that speech" kind of cry. It wasn't even a "I have no idea what's being told to me and I'm completely overwhelmed" cry.
It was the cry that comes from a bleeding heart.
My U.S. government class is one of my all-time favorite classes. The material is fascinating, the class is engaging, and the professor is incredible. I've learned more about political science in this class than I have in my entire life. It's usually the highlight of my week.
But today, I took a knife to my heart.
The worst part is that I was blindsided. There I was, swimming in the glories of knowledge, absorbing everything about the judicial bramble I possibly could, processing at a rate I didn't even know was possible. Then a small-group discussion was announced. Okay, not my favorite. Mostly because there's always way too much to talk about and never enough time. But I can dig it.
To preface the discussion, my professor pulls up a slide with a picture of protestors. It didn't take me long to recognize the fluorescent and obscene signs they were holding: it was Westboro Baptist Church. Reflexively, I cringed. The title of the article read something about the protest at a military funeral, and I knew,
This was not going to be fun.
My professor then proceeds to warn us about the intensity of the audio clip he was about to play. It's an auditory article from NPR about the case Snyder v. Phelps. Snyder claimed that the Westboro picketers led by Phelps imparted "intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy."
"I'm struggling with the fact that this guy died a couple days ago, and I want to feel really happy about it." I hadn't heard about Fred Phelps' death until that moment; the moment when my professor revealed the conflict that is inevitable in this situation.
As I sat there, staring at the transcript on my desk, my notebook balancing on it and my crossed legs, I attempted to listen. The back and forth between the justices and the banal opinions of the journalist suddenly became meaningless.
All I could see was tragedy.
The thought of that family, mourning the loss of their son, of whom they were proud for his service, having to see people who expressed that their son was hated by God. People who claimed that they were thankful for dead soldiers. It tore my heart.
And then I thought about those people holding the signs. The same people who have used countless military funerals to protest homosexuality, Islam, the Catholic Church, Jews, Obama, McCain, and other things most of us at least respect. These people who scream with their signs things like:
"God hates fags"
"Fags die, God laughs"
"Pray for more dead soldiers"
"God killed your sons"
"God hates your feelings/tears"
"Thank God for 9/11"
"God hates you"
And then the tears started.
Right there in the second row, my eyes fixed on the chair in front of me, my vision blurring just as it is while I write this.
My heartbreak was two-fold. First, I ached for the victims of this lashing. And then I ached for the ones lost enough to perpetrate it. And for reasons unbeknownst to my delicate heart,
I find that the depth of my grief is greater for those sign holders.
It seems contrary to what your instinct might pull you towards, and it is. Often, when we think of "the least of these," we are considering the ones who are marginalized, outcasted, ignored. We scoop up the trampled on and make our loving attempts at healing each other. We get angry and claim righteousness and point at the bullies, saying, "we would never do that!" And we rage about them to each other in the name of justice: "Can you believe what they did?! That is not the Jesus I worship."
Maybe we're right about the Westboro protestors. (Okay, it's likely we're right). But is that an image of grace?
Whether or not we want to think about it, the blood of Jesus covers their sins too. These rageful, hateful, spiteful people who ooze disdain and condemnation are loved just as much by the Creator of the universe as you and me. And that breaks my heart. Not because it's true, but because they don't know it is. These people have lost sight of, or have been lead away from, the raw truth of the Good News: there is life for everybody. Their idea of what God loves and what he hates is so twisted, that they are missing out on the big, beautiful, communal mess that is the Church.
They are missing out on the glory of the grace of Jesus.
I'd like to think that I can handle the opposition, because I know that Love wins in the end. I have the confidence of victory in Jesus to get me through. These picketers, these people whose fear and discomfort has driven them to rage and hate... they don't have that. They might think they do, but peace doesn't throw punches. Hope doesn't hurt. And love doesn't give lashings.
That's a lostness that I pray I never know.
So yes. Part of me wants to be grateful that someone who perpetuates such horrors to the children of the Most High King is no longer on earth to do that. But I just can't. Because I believe that Fred Phelps left this world without understanding who Jesus is, how the Spirit works, and who, in fact, God loves. *Hint: it's everyone.*
May you find grace and peace and blessed assurance that the love of Jesus reaches to the ends of the earth, and his blood covers even the ugliest of sins.