Mercy And David Kuo’s Gift
Andrew Sullivan went to his friend David Kuo’s funeral, held in David’s Evangelical megachurch. And he came away changed. Excerpt:
What I guess I’m trying to say is that so many of us have come to view evangelical Christianity as threatening, and in its political incarnation, it is at times. But freed from politics, evangelical Christianity has a passion and joy and Scriptural mastery we could all learn from. The pastors were clearly of a higher caliber than most of the priests I have known – in terms of intellect and command. The work they do for the poor, the starving, and the marginalized in their own communities and across the world remains a testimony to the enduring power of Christ’s resurrection.
In some way, this was David’s last gift to me. His own unvarnished, embarrassingly frank belief helped me get over my prejudices against evangelicalism as a lived faith. His faith strengthened mine immeasurably, especially when we were among the first two to bail on the Bush administration in its first term. It was not a shock that his last day above the ground opened up more windows and doors in my mind. He doubtless hoped it would.
I feel no grief. I remain, as someone once said, surprised by joy.
I love this. I felt a little bit of it after dinner with Andrew and friends in New York earlier this week. It will not surprise anyone to learn that Andrew and I will simply not be able to agree on theology. It may surprise some to know that I can live with that, because Andrew is a decent and kind and very much alive person (though I can see his difficult side too; we all have them, as did — very much — David Kuo; as do I). Listening to Andrew speak with passion the other night about his love of Jesus Christ, and his experiences of Christ’s presence, was moving, because so genuine. Hearing of him speak of his own deep suffering as a child and as a young man — stories I hope he will be able to tell one day in his writing, because they were incredibly powerful, and gave me a new perspective on him and why he believes and feels the things he does — deeply reinforced for me the Gospel interdiction on withholding judgment from others. We really don’t know what others have endured, and how they have managed to hope in spite of hopelessness. I found myself back at my hotel room that night praying for Andrew, that Jesus will help him carry the things he has to carry, which to a degree that startled both of us, I think, resemble some of the heaviest burdens I myself have to carry.
If that makes me a squish, well, it makes me a squish. The older I get, and the more I become aware of my own frailty, my own vanity, my own hard-to-govern passions, my own weaknesses, and the more I come to grasp how freaking hard life is, the more inclined I am toward mercy. It’s not out of big-heartedness, necessarily, because unlike my sister Ruthie, I am not big-hearted. I am petty and jealous and quick to anger. My worst fault is my unbridled tongue. Rather, I think any inclination towards mercy on my part comes from a recognition of how much I need it myself.
This is a lesson my sister’s life and death taught me — including, I must say, the mercy she denied me, of being able to finally and genuinely resolve our differences, to forgive and be forgiven. As I’ve told people along the way of this book tour, please don’t deny the people in your life who want to be reconciled with you the chance to do so, to know they have your forgiveness. In The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, I write about being surprised, months after Ruthie’s death, to learn that she still harbored some serious contempt for me, even though I had tried — and thought I succeeded — in resolving our differences. The greater part of my own grief, as her brother, is knowing that she is gone now, and beyond my ability to reach, and to make real and lasting peace with. I mean, I believe she can hear me when I speak to her, but I can’t hear her when she speaks to me, and if she wants to say I forgive you, and to ask me to forgive her for the at times cruel ways she treated me in our adulthood … well, that time passed on the morning she died. And I mourn that, and will every day of my life.
Don’t be the person who makes those you leave behind carry that weight. You can offer mercy. You really can. You, reading this, you know someone in your life who needs to hear you say, “It’s okay, I forgive you.” You know someone who needs to hear you say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” Do it. Please. Life is hard and long. Surprise yourself by the joy of mercy. You never know how it will change the way you look at things. Read Andrew Sullivan’s account of Kuo’s funeral. Did you ever think you would read Andrew Sullivan saying anything good about Evangelicals? If you open yourself up to the goodness of others, you may not be able to agree with them, but you might be able to love them, and to be loved by them.
Remember Brandon Ambrosino’s testimony. I am certain that Brandon Ambrosino is wrong about Christianity and sexuality. But I am also certain that this is by no means the most important thing about Brandon Ambrosino, or anybody else.