Embracing Our Enemies

“You’re blessed when you show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”             Matthew 5:9 (The Message)

“As the morning casts off the darkness, Lord, help us to cast aside any feelings of ill will we might harbor against those who have hurt us. Soften our hearts to work toward their conversion and ours. Amen.”                                             (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

Making Peace is Frickin Hard!

Peacemaking is not the easiest of tasks. It involves taking two sides (maybe more) who are estranged, and making it so reconciliation can take place. It is not, as Miroslov Volf points out in his book Exclusion and Embrace, merely moving the oppressed out from under their oppressor, and exacting justice on those oppressors. This, he warns, very often leads to the oppressed becoming oppressors themselves, which means that oppression has been allowed to continue, just in a different name. Such “peacemaking” is better understood as retaliation. “They did it to us, so we will do it to them.” This is also called warfare. 

Volf, being Croatian, does not write about reconciliation and peacemaking from inside a bubble, as I would. I can point to history books, and documentaries, all while living comfortably in my little rural town in North Carolina. Volf saw his country torn apart by civil war. He saw two sides gather in the name of God, and pillage, rape, and kill each other with genocidal viger. The things I saw on tv as a teenager, happened in his backyard, so to speak. So whenever he speaks about reconciling enemies, he doesn’t mean two sides that just don’t get along,  he means enemies. 

Enemies Are Relative

Of course, if we’re talking about peacemaking and embracing our enemies, it’s helpful to know who our enemies are. I’d also venture that it’s helpful to know if they are an actual enemy, or nothing more than a perceived enemy. For instance, in my younger, more brash days, any Christian who didn’t share my specific beliefs — within an undefined perameter, mind you — I considered a heretic! (Sorry, Rob Bell.) To borrow from On Distant Shores by Five Iron Frenzy, “And off of the blocks, I was headstrong and proud. At the front of the line of the card carrying high brows. With both eyes fastened tight, yet unscarred from the fight. Running at full tilt, my sword pulled from its hilt…Casting first stones, killing my own.” 

But  if experience is any kind of teacher, I’ve come to find that “enemy” is a relative term. (Once again, if that enemy is an actual enemy.) We don’t get to choose our enemies. Nor do we know if and when we’ve met one. But they are relative nonetheless. For some, an enemy is someone who simply makes life a little more challenging. These enemies don’t pose a threat to anyone; however, they are just harder to love than most. And frustratingly, folks who have these types of enemies, are the ones who just love to quote Jesus at people. “Well Brother, I hate that that’s happening, but Jesus said to love and pray for our enemies.” (Yeah, easy for you, buddy. The only thing you’re dealing with is hiding your frustration. Meanwhile, I was just abused by my pastor.) I remember posting a status about this once, and a missionary buddy of mine commented, “Yeah, while some people are dealing with bruised egos, I walk passed corrupt local police who are dressed like soldiers, complete with automatic weapons. Loving them is not simple.” 

Thankfully, there are people throughout history who have endured far more than said bruised egos. Volf, as I mentioned above, if not personally, saw it in his countrymen. Likewise, there is Corrie ten Boom, who was a Holocaust survivor. She once said, “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.” And lest it be said that that was easy for her to say post concentration camp, she once told a story of meeting one of the officers responsible for her daily nightmares, years later, and with much internal struggle, still managed to forgive. 

Why Say All This?

What’s the point? Well isn’t it obvious?!? Particularly in the United States, we are living in a time of absolute lunacy. Forgiveness is a foreign language, and at this point, may even be banned as a threat to the country! But forgive we must! Especially if you claim the Name of the Divine Interupter, who forgave and gave his life for the very people who unjustly arrested and murdered him. On a Roman cross no less! 

We are living in a time when all one has to do is say one criticism of their opponent, and that opponent flies off the comment section handle, and projects every form of vitriol they can conjur. Conservatives are more guilty of this than liberals these days; but liberals, you’re guilty all the same. 

The Big Idea of Forgiveness

Whether we are conservative or liberal, climate deniers or protectors, Christian or Muslim, we are all human. We are interdependent of one another. Conservatives don’t have all the answers. Liberals don’t have all the answers. Christians (being one myself I can say with utmost certainty) don’t have all the answers. And Muslims are tired of being blamed for every little bump in the night. 

Conservatives, you don’t get to call every opponent a liberal snowflake just because they challenged your thinking. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work with liberals to make this world better. 

Liberals, you don’t get to write off all conservatives as brainless morons because they deny climate change. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work together. 

There really are bigger, badder, more wicked threats out there than bruised egos. And while we’re busy calling each other names on social media (yes, I do it too!), those threats are rolling on. People’s rights are being stolen for no other reason than their sexual orientation, or that their skin color is different than their lawmakers’ (here’s looking at you North Carolina General Assembly!) 

There is a scene in the Outlander Series where Jamie Fraser, who earlier on had been brutalized by his enemy Black Jack Randall, and as he (Jamie) is helping his own daughter forgive her enemy, he comes to his own realization, Black Jack is only a man. Yes, he did terrible, terrible things. But he was only a mortal man. Not only that, but forgiveness is not a one time event, but rather many events over time. 

Whoever your enemy is, no matter what they’ve done, they are only mortal. Life is worth far more than spending it hunkered down in bitter hatred because someone doesn’t agree with you. 

Forgive as if humanity depended on it. 

More to come on this very difficult subject later.

Protest

Protest:          

 (Noun) A statement or action expressing disapproval of or  objection to something.               

(Verb) Express an objection to what someone has said or done. 

If you’re like me, ever since November 9, 2016, your Facebook newsfeed has been filled with images and articles about protestors. Being that I’m friends with both sides of the aisle, I see posts that both praise and condemn these protests. The ones that make me laugh the most, are the videos of dudes with a certain shade of neck, sitting in the driver’s seat of their vehicle, screaming about how these pitiful little millennials are so sensitive that they can’t handle the outcome of the election.

( I’m not even kidding. They are literally the exact same video, just with a different “driver.” A white guy wearing sunglasses, says a few things nice and calm, then gets right up in the camera, and screams out his opinion. Then he says a few more things calmly, and then goes right back to screaming into the camera. Like seriously dude, I think you need a Xanax or 20!) 

Given that these anti-protest posts have become so commonplace, I wanted to share a few musings. 

1. For folks who are so displeased with protestors, you sure do protest just as much as the people you condemn. By the very definition of protest, you are a protestor. You are expressing an objection to what a group is doing and saying. But I would counter that the difference is that those protestors know what they are protesting, while you only appear to protest a perception. 

2. Make sure you know what you are objecting to! I hate to make a blanket statement, but without fail, every person who is telling these protestors to stop protesting, are calling them “whining liberal millenials who can’t handle the outcome of the election.” This is simply not true. In fact, I would counter that if that is what you think of the protestors, you have not done due diligence to actually learn the truth about their message, and why they are protesting. And until you do so, you are objecting the actions of a characture that you have drawn up, and not reality. 

(To be fair, all of us can learn to communicate better, so that our message is clear. As one of my college English professors said, communicate in such a way that it is impossible to be misunderstood.)

3. Do you even know your own country’s history? America is a country founded on protest!!! What was the Boston Tea Party? Protest accompanied by strategic acts of vandalism! What was the Declaration of Independence? A written notice of protest! What was the Revelutionary War? An act of treasonous protest! If we had lost, we would probably still be subjects of the Crown, reading about the colonial uprising of 1776. What was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation? A presidential protest. What was the Suffrage Movement? Protest. What was the Civil Rights Movement? Protest. Whole cities were economically crippled due to sit-ins and boycotts. How did we get a minimum wage, a two day weekend, end child labor? By protest!  As you object to protestors, you are using rights afforded you by the act of protest!!!

Let me finish with this: Vandalism is not protest. The videos you see of people smashing windows and setting cars on fire are vandals, not protestors. As Trevor Noah said, “Be careful that you don’t become what you are protesting. Protest is like sex. You can be loud, you can go all night long, but the moment something starts to burn, you should probably stop.”

So let us march on!