Everyone is Trying
I was really struggling a few weeks ago. Have you ever woken up and gone through your morning half asleep to realize about 10am that you've had no coffee? I was feeling that all day long. Disconnected, tired, and even ashamed.
Why? Because I forgot something really basic: imperfect people are imperfect.
I try not to be cynical, but it's just the truth of things. No matter how hard people try, we simply can't be right or good all the time. And yet, I still am disappointed by people that I think are good.
Take example someone on Facebook. Someone who told me about Jesus. Someone who taught me memory verses about the love of Jesus for us and the whole world. They posted something the day after the Paris attacks about self-preservation and keeping refugees out of America. It really honestly broke my heart. I just couldn't deal with the bizarre irony that someone who had offered me love and compassion as a child couldn't see that they wanted to deny other children and families that same love. I actually cried several times. It was just...disheartening. It doesn't just disappoint other Christians, it makes us look like terrible people and hypocrites. We are terrible hypocrites, unfortunately.
So, I went on retreat that weekend, thankfully. Just some time for me to get away from life, have someone else take care of all the mundane, everyday stuff and reflect. And I came to a conclusion, in a roundabout way.
I had a strange memory of choir. Now, I've spent more of my life consistently in a choir than I have going to church. Many of the most formative lessons of my life have been taught there. On September 11, 2001, I walked into the chorus room feeling absolutely decimated by the hopelessness of what was happening in New York. Two hours later, despite being fairly sure that all our classes were cancelled, we went to our daily chorus rehearsal. I learned some amazing things in choir, but that day, I learned about resilience from a lady who knows more than most people about that particular quality.
But resilience and perfect tone weren't the only thing that I learned in choir rehearsals. When I had my own choir, a children's choir at a very lovely church, I had a small problem. We'll call him Tommy.
Now, if you look on a website of Awkward Photos, you would probably find a photo of Tommy. He was a little bit chubby, with old-fashioned glasses and a terrible squint. Not a problem. Choir isn't about whether you look like a GapKids model. Choir is about how you sound together as a group.
And God bless him, Tommy made us sound...different. He couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. But what he lacked in pitch, he made up for in pure volume and enthusiasm. Tommy was the epitome of the phrase "making a joyful noise." My children sounded angelic, and I could usually get the less confident singers to be a bit quieter, but not Tommy. Tommy sang his heart out on that wrong note. Every. Time.
I tried putting him as far away from the microphone as I could. I tried asking him gently to sing quietly and asking the kids in front of him to drown him out. It wasn't very nice looking back, but Tommy was driving me to distraction.
So I went back to that lady that knows more than anyone I know about teaching little ones to sing, and I said "Dr. Shaw, what on earth do I do? I've got 36 children that sound like a professional choir and one that literally hurts my ears."
And of course, she said the right thing, a thing which I really should have figured out. "Tommy is a part of your group. In fact, you're blessed to have Tommy. He loves singing, even off-key. He clearly loves Jesus, and what does it matter how he sounds if that's true? If the point of it is to sing about Jesus and lift him up, then he's excelling better than the other kids. His parents will come just like the others, and they will be proud of him. Teach them to sing as a group and just accept that he is just as unique and special as any other kid." I felt kind of ashamed that I had worried about it.
And the performance itself went fine, just like most performances do (except the one where I had a kid lock his knees and pass out). And there in his little red choir robe, Tommy stole the show. If I had had a smartphone or a video camera, that performance is the one I would want recorded for posterity. He sang wrong, but he sang his heart out. He swayed in the wrong direction, danced when he was supposed to be still and at one point ninja chopped a holly branch that was hanging near his face. When the baby Jesus was brought out, held by a blonde Virgin Mary, he went "WOOO! JESUS!" I almost lost it.
It was a very lively performance, and I could hear people giggling and laughing behind me. What would have just been identical, perfect-sounding rows of angelic children turned into a memorable event. And my choral director was right. Tommy was totally wrong, but dang if he didn't try his hardest. His best effort was enough.
That's where I had my revelation on retreat. You see, we're all a little bit like Tommy. We are out of sync with each other. There are other Christians who drive me slightly nuts because they interpret the bible differently. There are Christians who completely ignore bits of what I think are the basic tenets of our shared faith, and they would probably say I'm going to hell for some of the stuff I believe. And yet, we are all in this together.
Not to say that we get some kind of get out of jail free card for acting like jerks, but frankly, I don't really have the right to judge when I think someone is getting terrible information. We are all acting on the best of what we know at any moment. That person who quite frankly was acting quite badly, was told by everything and everyone she listens to that her home and family was under attack by Muslim refugees, who are exactly the same as ISIS. My information says that refugees are desperate, homeless, drowning and the real people being damaged and killed by ISIL. Everyone is trying.
Sometimes we unexpectedly succeed together, but we also generally fail together. Their failure is mine, and mine is theirs. We are all judged with how we judge others, and I just don't have room to judge when I've failed at loving and caring and compassion too. A few years ago, I read an amazing passage by Neil Gaiman, written on New Year's Eve. I'll just leave it here. Because if we are making mistakes, maybe we still have room to learn.