Halfway en route to our vacation destination and we were headed in the wrong direction.
“At the roundabout, turn left,” she said.
Except there was no left.
The GPS was mistaken which forced us to veer right which pushed us onto the interstate which meant we were driving 70 mph in the wrong direction.
This is my metaphor for trying to do what God requires in real-time which is the title of this morning’s scripture, “What God Requires.” I am adding an “of us” to the end to make the title, “What God Requires of Us,” because although this passage is a warning to the Israelites to not trust their judgment over God’s instruction, it is also a reminder to us that however confident we are about where we are going, there is always a very real chance we are headed in the wrong direction.
The Bible is arguably clear about the direction we need to head to abide by God’s commandments.
We must move in the direction of Love.
The demands of the covenant do not require the arrival at a particular destination which makes our propensity to drive in the wrong direction all the more perplexing. How can we possibly keep getting lost when all we are being asked to do is head in a general direction?
This morning’s commentary points out that, “The demands of the covenant are both simple and yet inexhaustible. They can easily be remembered, and yet the nature of the human mind and the inevitable temptations … make constant vigilance necessary.”
The demands of the covenant are simple if we pay attention. Our navigation system is fueled by an awareness of where love is lacking in our world. When we see this disparity of love, we know what direction to go. We set the course to do whatever we need to do to ensure that love is delivered to that very place.
Remaining alert to where love isn’t so that we might know where we are being called to go is dependent on our openness to the suffering of the world. The challenge is that we are driving so fast and are so easily distracted by things that really don’t matter that we neglect to look around. Our lives, our vehicles, have evolved into shelters from the suffering of Others when they were created to serve as shelters for those who are suffering.
This evolution of purpose is seen clearly in the impact of our economic systems on our social connections. While decades of studies show that emotional intelligence takes a dive among the affluent, a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science in June 2021 found that even the exposure to economic inequality causes the development of “a more competitive mindset and, as a result, a decrease in emotional intelligence.”
This is troubling news for those of us living in societies marked by increasing economic disparity particularly when meeting the demands of God’s covenant requires the ability to recognize, understand, label, respond to and regulate the emotions in ourselves and others. Discerning what direction Love is pulling us in any given scenario is impossible without a high level of awareness and concern for the suffering of the stranger.
This same body of research on affluence and emotional intelligence includes an interesting twist that gives hope that we might nevertheless stay the course. Researchers found that the levels of emotional intelligence and empathy remained the most consistent when participants self-identify their socioeconomic status. This means that who we choose to stand in solidarity with dictates the direction of our behaviors. If we self-identify as poor or working-class, our empathy for others remains high; we continue to identify and respond to the needs of others. It is only when we begin to self-identify as middle class and beyond that our care and concern for the wellbeing of others take a turn in the wrong direction.
I think about the consequences of these navigational errors often.
I step out of my car to pick up groceries or to walk in a park or to grab a coffee and I prep myself for the possibility of an unfriendly encounter.
I try to predict what someone would say, and what I might do when I respond.
In the back of my mind is the very real fear that someone might hurt me just because I am wearing a hoodie with the words, “Protect Trans Kids,” and my heart breaks because this is the fear nonbinary and trans kids live with every day.
In truth, these are the fears most kids feel every day, children of color and children with disabilities, children with language barriers, and children with behavioral issues.
It doesn’t take much to become a target which means it won’t take long for children to learn what parts of themselves need to be cut off or remain hidden to feel safe from questions and criticism.
To feel safe from exclusion and violence.
These fears are not unsubstantiated concerns manufactured by the active imaginations of children but are fears manifest in facts signaling that God’s demands are not being met. These fears are the flashing lights and screaming sirens telling all of us that we are headed in the wrong direction.
We are headed in the wrong direction when 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
We are headed in the wrong direction when our most recent year was the deadliest year for transgender and gender non-conforming people in the U.S. on record.
We are headed in the wrong direction when one in ten of the trans and gender non-conforming victims of violence are under 21 years of age.
We are headed in the wrong direction when we fear the expression of difference in children more than we fear a world where children cannot express the differences that should be claimed and celebrated as that which defines their true selves.
One day I was driving,
and I woke up.
I knew what direction to turn and I knew how fast I should go because I had a vision of what Love looked like upon arrival.
If I couldn’t shelter trans and nonbinary and gender nonconforming children from the realities of this world, I would drive into the fear myself and fight with them on the front lines. I would take the hits and absorb the hurts so that maybe I could lessen their exposure to cruelty and pain. I would put on a sweatshirt that screams, “here I am!” and pray that at the very least there will be a source of warmth in a world so hopelessly cold.
No matter how lost we are there is something inside of us that still believes in a future where the direction of Love is brightly lit and seamlessly paved. Something inside us sees this possibility and knows our purpose is to be a part of that construction crew.
These demands are easily remembered, simple, and inexhaustible. They are demands that are radically rigid, rarely accomplished, and regularly abandoned by every generation but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Halfway en route to our destination and we are headed in the wrong direction.
Pullover if you must.
Slow down if you are able.
Turn off the TV and put down your phone and close your book and look for the young faces filled with fear sitting on the side of the road. They are reminding us of the things that truly matter. The things that cannot be bought or saved or used as collateral. They are offering us a resurrection of care and concern manifest in a world that cradles the vulnerable and celebrates the nonconforming.
One by one we reverse our course and drive straight into the storm.
God’s demands are becoming our demands.
Demands for a world where all people celebrate the extravagantly unique and outrageously fabulous creatures we were all created to be. Demands for a world where no one opens their car door, gets out, and feels afraid.