Monday, October 26, 2009

Loving thy neighbor (by Billy Coffey)


(This is a repost from What I Learned Today, April, 7, 2009)

My friend Pete loves everybody. It’s a matter of pride to him, I think. He’ll tell you that he loves you the first time you meet him. Doesn’t matter who are or what you look like, either. “I’ve never met anybody I didn’t love,” he’ll say, “’Cause I love Jesus and Jesus loves me. So I gotta love you, too.” Then he’ll grab you in his gargantuan arms and lift you off the ground, shaking your bones like a pair of dice.

That’s Pete.

Pete is also as traditional as they come. Church every Sunday and Wednesday, and not a morning goes by without scripture and prayer. The combination of the two has infused in him and his family a bedrock of faith that for years refused to be shaken by anything life could throw at him.

Until the other day. Until my phone rang and he said in his breathless, forty-four-year-old voice, “You gotta get over here. Now.”

Pete was on his front porch when I got there, rocking back and forth in a lawn chair that was not made for rocking, looking thoroughly displeased. He offered me our usual snack—a Coke and a bag of peanuts. I proceeded to dump the latter into the former and take a sip of the salty sweetness.

“What’s up?” I asked him.

“Don’t believe it,” he said. “Don’t believe it, don’t believe it, dontbelieveit.”

“Don’t believe what?” I asked. Another sip.

“Johnson house sold there, across the street,” he said, pointing.

I turned around and followed his finger. Sure enough, the FOR SALE sign on the house across from his had been topped with another that said SOLD. The Johnsons had moved three weeks ago, and everyone figured that the house would be empty for a long while given the economy.

“Great,” I said, facing him again. “You have new neighbors. What’s the problem?”

“Dontbelieveit dontbelieveit dontbelieveit.”

“Pete, you swallow something you weren’t supposed to?" I asked. "You been in the moonshine?”

“Lookie!” he almost shouted, pointing again. “Lookie there and see what the cat done dragged in. Dontbelieveit!”

I turned again. Standing on the front porch of the Johnson house were Pete’s new neighbors. Older lady, slightly younger gal. They were attempting to arrange an assortment of rocking chairs and tables just so and not quite getting it. An aggravating situation for some, though they seemed in bright enough spirits.

“Pete, I don’t—”

“—LOOKIE!”

The older woman, now utterly confused by the configurations of her new porch, simply gave one of the rockers a hard shove into the younger lady. The act of frustration was met with laughter from both, who then proceeded to fall into one another’s arms and share a very long, very deep…kiss.

“Dontbelieveit,” I said.

Pete buried his head in his hands. “Lawd,” he said. I wasn’t sure if he was praying or merely dumbfounded. “Lawd Jesus God help me.”

Praying.

“Lawd, why’d You do this to me?” he moaned. “Thissa sort of thing that happens out in Hellywood, Lawd. Not ’cross the street.”

I shook my head in amazement, and the sheer irony of it all made me laugh. Pete, God-and-mama-and-apple-pie Pete, I-love-everybody Pete, had gotten a gay couple for neighbors.

“Huh,” I said. “Ain’t that something.”

“Somethin’?” he retorted, raising his head to look at me. “Don’t you know this ain’t good? Ain’t you read your Bible, boy?”

“Yep,” I said.

“Well, there then,” he answered, as if that explained things.

“You a little homophobic, Pete?” I asked, with a sip of my Coke and a smile.

“Homophobic?” he said. “Homophobic? Boy, I gotta eat a corndog with a knife and fork.”

I snorted out my drink and bent over, wiping it from my mouth and blue jeans.

Pete stared at me, unsure of what had just transpired that would cause me to make such a mess of myself. “What am I gonna do?” he asked. “What. Am. I. Gonna. Do?”

I thought about that. What was Pete going to do? Fume and pout, I supposed. For a little while, anyway. But then Jesus would come calling. The Jesus Pete loved and Who loved him more, Who said that hate was never really any good for anything other than eating up your own insides. He would come calling and tell Peter that it’s easy to love those who are like you, that everyone does that. But that love Jesus wanted from Peter was the hard love, the kind that’s not easy.

It’s okay to not like what they do, Jesus would say, because He didn’t like it either. But Jesus also loved those two women, and He wanted Pete to do the same. Because Pete had faith, and because that faith just might be the closest thing to Jesus those two women ever see.

“Just wait,” I told him. “It’ll come to you.”

We stared across the street. The two women resumed their rocking chair arranging, then stared at us.

They waved.

We waved back.

***

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his new website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.

***

And be sure to stop by Nick the Geek's blog and wish him a Very Geeky Birthday and check out my little tribute to him over at
The Fellowship of the Traveling Smartypants.

19 comments:

FaithBarista Bonnie said...

“Homophobic?” he said. “Homophobic? Boy, I gotta eat a corndog with a knife and fork.”

Oh, Lawdy!

I'm out here in Caleeforny.. yep. Loving God will have you love your neighbors. No matter what.

Pete would have a heart attack livin' in my neck of the woods.

I often imagine Jesus hanging out with these folks so much, that people would call Him Friend!

Hope that deadline of yours is in your rear view mirror now, Billy!

~*Michelle*~ said...

When you share this story (and all your others, I always feel that I am sitting right along side of you on that porch.

Love it!

Like you said, loving people sure is easy when you like 'em, eh?

What a great lesson in TRUE love. Loving others and accepting others even when you don't approve of their choices. Just like the love and grace that God gave me when I am sure He didn't approve of how I lived.

~*Michelle*~ said...

PS. Hit "publish" before I could add that He also continues to love me with my "current new and improved" screw ups as well.

Joyce said...

I guess if everyone were easy to love He wouldn't have needed to give us that commandment...loved this post today...good luck with your deadline!

Annie K said...

It's easy to pick and choose who we want to love as long as they are 'easy' to love. Guess I have to remember that not everyone finds it easy to love me...(I know, huh?)

...Eat a corndog with a fork and knife...(snort!)

Jeanne Damoff said...

Love this, Billy. And, since it's a repost, I'd love to hear an update about how Pete loved his neighbors. Jesus loved perfectly, which included telling people to "go and sin no more." But I don't have His perfect wisdom and insight and authority. I'm often at a loss for how to express love to friends whose lifestyles will lead to their destruction (if I believe what the Bible says about it). If I remain silent, is that love? I wouldn't remain silent if they were driving full speed toward a cliff.

God is good in what He forbids. It keeps coming back to that for me, but how to express it? Oh how we need grace every moment. I hope Pete found a bushel full.

Bridget Chumbley said...

I know Pete did the right thing. It sometimes takes us a little time to realize what God wants us to do and how we should respond.

I can't stop laughing at the corndog comment!

I'm glad you reposted, Billy. I missed it the first time!

Helen said...

I read this earlier when there weren't any comments, but didn't quite know how to express what Jeanne said.
I agree that one needs to be kind and friendly. But it could become a hindrance to them if they think "Helen is a Christian. She goes to Church, and Bible Study, and says "God Bless you" when people sneeze, and she sees nothing wrong with our lifestyle."
If that is what my behavior implies, I am leading them away from God, not to HIm.
Where is it appropriate to share that sin is bad for them. I'm not just talking about homosexuality. There are lots of sins besides those. Where or when is it appropriate for us mere mortals to say "Go forth and sin no more..." (which would probably come out more modern like ;-)

jasonS said...

I remember this one- very, very good.

To Helen- I think you answered your own question, when they see Jesus. He was full of grace and truth, compassion and hope. He addressed the person before the sin by offering eternal forgiveness for the sin. For us most likely, we will be able to speak these things in the context of relationship. If they have no interest in knowing Jesus, we will probably just turn them off if "address" things too soon.

Rebecca on The Homefront said...

I love this post!

Interesting how it draws out different reactions: "Go and sin no more" versus "see to the plank in your own eye." In the end, I think Pete has the best answer: love them, whether it's hard or easy. And eat that corndog with a fork and knife.

Terra said...

Billy, I love this post.
It is so true, and yet almost always difficult to follow, to love all.
It is easy to love some people, for each of us, but boy howdy, some people are so hard to love.
Pete has some work cut out for him.
Will there be a part 2?

sherri said...

I Love it- believe it- and try my best to practice it.

Peter P said...

"Boy, I gotta eat a corndog with a knife and fork."

I'll come back next week.

Maybe I'll have stopped laughing by then!

Nick the Geek said...

OK, I'm glad I wasn't eating or drinking when I read this. My laptop wouldn't have survived when I reached the "corndog" comment.

I do wish that we would start loving people the way Jesus did though. What's the update on poor Peter and his neighbors?

Nick the Geek said...

katdish,

Thanks

Laura said...

Yeah, the corndog comment was tops.

This is a good one, a tough one, a real one. Dealing with it myself in smalltown, usa.

Love is bigger. nothing is black and white, but love has to transcend. people disagree on what love means, but...doesn't the Bible give a perfect definition?

Candace Jean July 16 said...

This may have been one of my first "come to Billy" posts. Love it. Need a rePete - how are things with Pete now?

Missy said...

Peanuts in the coca-cola. Gotta love the South!

Thank you for sharing this story. This is something I have struggled with as a new believer and God has been working on changing my heart and my views on this topic. Your posting has given me some insight and food for thought.

I also love that you are not afraid to post about your faith and what you believe, no matter what the repercussions may be.

JML said...

Amazing. I have a couple of lesbian friends who I think the world of. It's actually hard for me though, because truthfully, part of me just wants to shove Jesus in their faces to make them change. I don't know how to do it graciously, so I made it a point to love them. . . we'll see what happens.

I can hear this conversation though. He sounds like my father. Lost, and still trying. Great post. I really appreciate it!!!