The last time I visited my son and his family in Colorado, my five-year-old grandson and I were sitting at the kitchen table, pretending to be Grinches.
We were making elaborate plans to steal the Who’s Christmas, complete with a detailed map pinpointing the location of each house we planned to attack when I happened to glance out the window.
“Quick, ” I told my grandson, “get your shoes on.“
There was a huge skid loader rumbling up the street. It stopped two houses away from us. Watching heavy machinery trumps planning to steal Christmas any day.
We swiftly donned shoes and jackets and, with my husband in tow, raced to the site where the skid loader sat.
The neighbors were having a new roof installed, and the skid loader was lifting a large bundle of shingles and other roofing materials and placing them on the roof, where four men waited to unload it.
An older man, obviously the supervisor, watched from the yard.
We viewed the process with rapt attention as the roofers speedily transferred the materials from the outstretched tongs of the skid loader to the roof.
Then the man who was driving the skid loader, who might have been the supervisor’s son, got into a pickup truck with the older man and prepared to drive away, while the other four men set about installing the new roof.
Before I continue with this story, let me fill you in on some important details.
The two men in the pickup truck were white.
The four men on the roof were Hispanic. They were playing music while they worked – the lively, accordion-y Mexican kind of music that just makes you want to tap your toes.
As the men in the truck passed by the spot where my grandson, husband, and I were standing, the younger man stopped the truck and addressed us. “Enjoy the music,” he sneered sarcastically. He obviously thought that because he and I shared the same skin color, we would also share the joke disparaging the style of music coming from the roof.
I gave him my best I-am-not-amused stare that I learned from 30+ years of being a high school teacher, waited for the requisite four beats, then icily replied “Thank you. We will enjoy it.” He smirked and gunned the truck down the road in response.
“Humility,” (my word for the year), I thought. “Servant’s heart,” I thought. “Reflect God’s love,” I thought.
“What a jerk,” I thought.
Here is the thing about humility – it doesn’t mean you must accept unacceptable behavior. It doesn’t mean that you tolerate the intolerable, and racism is absolutely intolerable.
Christians look to the verses from Matthew “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” and Luke “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” for guidance about how to treat those who are unkind or even downright hostile.
These verses, however, do not tell us to be doormats.
It is true, we are supposed to love our enemies, to respect the humanity and the weakness we see in them, failings we all have in common. But, as Anne Lamott says, it doesn’t “mean unconditional acceptance of their crazy behavior.“
Even though it may be easier to ignore offensive behavior, allowing others to continue acting in a deplorable manner without pushing back gives them tacit permission to continue.
Standing up for ourselves and for others allows us to set realistic boundaries and promote justice.
When advocating decency, if we are forgiving rather than vengeful, and respectful rather than angry, we prevent resentment from growing in our own heart.
Back at the roofing site, oblivious to any tension between the adults, my grandson began dancing to the music.
His dance consisted of first hopping on one foot then the other, followed by a series of cartwheels, and ended with him running around in circles, arms outstretched, until he collapsed on the grass. I clapped along with the music and enjoyed the show.
When he completed his dance we waved goodbye to the men working on the roof and went home to resume our Grinchy plotting.
This time, our hearts perhaps lightened by the music and dancing, the Grinches decided not to steal Christmas after all. They decided to help Santa deliver presents to the Whos instead.
Even Grinches, it turns out, can have behavior made better by love.
You can find the places I link up here.