Religion

Masterpiece Theater: Look Past the Cake-Shop Vendetta and Toward Kindness

Jack Phillips at work at Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., in 2017. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)
Everyone is a masterpiece, and most everyone suffers. Find a meeting ground. Lend a hand.

Do you ever take a look around when you’re commuting or running errands? There are a few reactions you can have. Overwhelmed. Annoyed and frustrated. Rushed. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these. Or maybe you’re simply amazed. A few weeks back, I was part of a conversation about gratitude, and one man noted that, on the way there, he had taken a step back and looked around more than he usually does. And he noticed “how there are no minor characters.” Everyone, you might say, is a masterpiece.

I thought about that in the context of Jack Phillips, the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, who had to go all the way to the Supreme Court last year to fight for his religious freedom. He didn’t want to participate in a same-sex wedding. This isn’t about ugly intolerance. It’s about living together. Judging by the rainbow flags in business windows and flying alongside the Stars and Stripes many places this month, there are plenty who would be happy to. He wound up in the news again this week because now someone is making a point to sue him for refusing to use his skills to celebrate a gender transition. This has been rightly named harassment. But it is so much more, too. It’s below us.

The U.S. Catholic bishops had their June meeting this month and voted on some measures that still seem insufficient for policing bishops who do wrong. But the most important thing they did this month is publish Rebuking the Devil. It’s a collection of some of Pope Francis’s thoughts about spiritual warfare since he has entered the international scene. I’ve long thought that the June Friday when Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict consecrated Vatican grounds to St. Michael and St. Joseph was probably the most important day of his papacy. He was pointing to some of the most challenging obstacles before the Church and society: problems of evil and of fatherhood.

The human person is caught up in the confusion, and instead of helping one another to see, encouraging one another along the way, we are dividing and hating. It manifests in a contempt for one another that so many seem to be picking up on lately — in many new books, authors are trying to bring people to some kind of cease-fire, one that would not whitewash our differences but make for a meeting ground where needs are acknowledged and gifts are recognized. When Pope Francis seems to rant about division, this is what he’s getting at: not letting the human get strangled.

These clashes are just going to continue in the days and weeks and years to come, revolving around the word “discrimination.” You see it in schools, revolving around foster care and adoption, and, yes, even cake shops. This is where our commitment to freedom and religious liberty in particular is being tested, but it’s more than that, and that may get to the heart of why some people find it inconceivable that we should even be having a substantive debate about religious liberty right about now. They don’t see us love one another. Loving one another has to do with what Pope Benedict once wrote in a letter on God as love, and the love of God lived in the lives of Christians: “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.”

Whatever does this mean, given the fundamentally different understandings about the human person that we have today? Certainly not insisting that politics and law be the conduits of radical and even tyrannical change. Not ending relationships but nourishing them in the common areas of lived experience and meeting needs.

When you do look around, you start to notice more the pain, even chronic, that people are in. They often walk with it and struggle through it right in front of our eyes and we don’t take the time to notice. Notice. Notice together. Give them a hand. Lighten their loads. In many ways, harassing a cake-shop owner over a message he won’t create is a luxury we really can’t afford. There are much more important things to be working on together. Finding those meeting places might just be the makings of a modern-day masterpiece that makes our politics and culture and people’s lives better.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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