By James M. Decker
“Be nice to someone who is hard to love.” This was the lesson of a children’s sermon I heard at church this past Sunday. The teacher asked the children to love not only their friends and family who are easy to love, but encouraged them to also reach out specifically to someone who is a little harder to love.
I got to thinking about it and adults need to hear this message too. We should all work on reaching out to those who are harder to love. After all, in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says “if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them...But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great...”
You don’t get any credit for loving people when it’s easy. Anybody can do that. You get credit for loving people when it’s hard. Not only is it a core Christian concept, it’s the American way. The story of America is built on plenty of people who were a little difficult, a little unpopular, a little hard to love.
We all know the story of the Pilgrims who established the Plymouth Colony to escape religious persecution in Europe. Did you ever stop to think about what that story really meant? Their Puritan beliefs made them hard to love by the English, so they had to seek new life in the New World. Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were also colonies established to welcome Christians whose faiths had clashed with people elsewhere.
In 2019, our politicians love to use symbolism from Texas history for their own designs, but they tend to sell a Disneyfied version of Texas history, with sanitized heroes nobly battling a tyrant in the name of democracy. Texas history is full of heroes, but we should never forget that these men were not superhuman men of perfection. They were flawed humans, just like us. William B. Travis came to Texas to escape his mounting debts in Alabama and his hot temper helped escalate the pre-revolution Anahuac Disturbances. Jim Bowie was a treasure hunter and borderline pirate. Sam Houston was in search of redemption after drunkenness and failure left him ostracized in Tennessee. They all came to Texas in search of liberty and opportunity, and when circumstances required, they rose up as heroes.
Let us also not forget the poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, describing the essence of those who emigrate to America:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Sounds like a group of folks who might be a little hard to love.
Our rural communities were each once part of the American frontier. The history of the frontier is of a wide-open place where anyone—immigrants, aristocrats, nobodies, and somebodies—could seek out opportunity and with hard work and the right amount of luck, carve out a new life regardless of the good, bad, and ugly of their past. The frontier was chock full of people who were hard to love.
As we strive to improve our rural communities, let us never forget that. Let us remember that each of us might occasionally be the one who is kind of hard to love. Let’s reach out to those who are hard to love, so that others will do the same when we need it. Let us also be let us be communities that are welcoming to those who might be hard to love. It’s what we are commanded to do by Christ and it is the very spirit of Texas and of America.
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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.