Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us. – Charles Spurgeon
Close friends at Summitview have more than once referred to me as “cheeky.” I assume that this is a British term that encapsulates all of the best parts of wit, sarcasm, cynicism and humor. But maybe I am being optimistic. At my worst, “cheeky” is a charitable description of my nature. I can be straightforwardly cynical, rebellious and quick-tongued. I have a desire to break from stereotypes and confront people's perception of the way the world works. So often, this is purely sinful.
Recently, I was confronted with the idea that I tend to play the villain, unknowingly, perhaps because there is an area of my life where I am treated as the villain. In the animated movie Despicable Me, Gru is a loveable bad guy who relishes the role of the villain – doing his own thing and living by his own rules. (Spoiler alert!) Through a series of hilarious circumstances, the film finds its conclusion in the three daughters that Gru adopts and how their love shows him that he does not need to be a villain. Love overcomes his rebellion. It can even overcome “cheekiness.”
We (myself, Summitiview, the church and society) tend to vilify others. We literally make them “other” than us for whatever reason, and the “villains” end up trying desperately to find identity in the label or stereotype that we give them. They cannot possibly be like us, so they don't even try.
I am a public school teacher. I am seen as “other.” There are several of us here at Summitiview (and I don't presume to speak for them), but sometimes I feel like a villain. According to parts of Christendom and conservative America, I propagate the lies of liberal government institutions and polish the brass on the sinking ship. I work for six hours a day, nine months of the year and get gold-plated benefits because of that evil union. Once I am tenured it is impossible to fire me. I don't let kids pray in school. I support the teaching of evolution and rewrite history. Character education in my classroom includes birth control training, keeping the public displays of affections to a minimum and making sure that no religious group gets as much of my time as the Mother Earth Club or Rainbow Club.
Is this how we see public educators? Is this who I am and is this what I am wasting my time on? Whether its members of my own church asking me, “How can you do that?" or through the political rhetoric of favorite Christian media outlets, I am a villain.
We vacate entire sections of society because they are villains and then expect something to change.
Recently, I was honored at a Mormon banquet for public educators. All of the graduating seniors in the area chose one teacher to honor as the most influential teacher from their childhood. Most of us were public school teachers, and some were dance teachers or coaches. I felt like Gru in Despicable Me
. It was the first time in a long time that I didn't feel like the villain. Someone helped me let my guard down. I realized that I didn’t need to be “cheeky,” cynical or rebellious because that is not my identity anymore. My identity as the mischievous civil servant was changed to that of someone far more valuable.
I do not want to sound like a bitter school teacher. I was on the other side of this equation for once, and the one thought that popped into my mind that night was, “Shame on us.” Shame on me. This Mormon congregation did a better job than Jesus' church sometimes does in telling educators that they are not villains. We disagree on more things than I count, but one of their students spent five minutes honoring me and bridging the gap. Every elder and leader in the church nodded in approval, and before I left, every one of them looked me in the eye and sincerely thanked me for what I do. I cannot know their motives, but I do know that I felt much more welcomed than I have felt at my own church in a long time.
I am not trying to accuse anyone, but it gave me pause to ask the question: “How often to I vilify others?” Do I take the political rhetoric and cultural stereotype as the whole description of one of God's children? I don't vilify public education but I vilify plenty of other things. I may even at times vilify those who have these misunderstandings about me. This is mutually assured destruction.
I know that when I make someone into a villain, I am not saying, as I should rightly say, that they are a sinner, but that somehow their sin is greater and more devious than mine. I do not want to bridge the gap between me and the villain – showing someone their rebellion and their worth, their need for a savior and that I appreciate what they do.
What am I afraid of? That I may get some of their sin on me? If that is the case, then they should be more afraid of getting some of my self-righteousness on them.
The bottom line, and after weeks of reflecting upon this, is that it is not about me at all. I create villains out of “them” when my fears supplant the power of God. When we act out of fear, selfishness and the desire to just win the argument, the only possible outcome is self-righteousness. Somehow my life choices have purchased for me a better standing in the sight of God and the world than “theirs” have. When my standing before God is purchased only at the Cross of Christ, then no one is any more a villain than I am. The Cross is truly the only bridge between sinner and holy God, as well as between sinner and sinner.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:18-21)