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.

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Looking Beyond Mere Letters

“Doom to you who buy up all the houses and grab all the land yourselves – evicting the old owners, posting No Trespassing signs, taking over the country, leaving everyone homeless and landless.” Isaiah 5:8

What does this look like today? 

Gentrification. The real estate market. Monopolies. CEOs who are paid multi millions, while their employees barely scrape by. Indian reservations. Black neighborhoods and schools. Wall Street. Agesm, where the elder looks down upon the younger. Certain denominations (like the PCA) requiring their ministers to have an M.div, knowing full well that people of color rarely have the financial means to pursue such a degree (especially when it comes to the seminaries that these denominations trust, such as RTS,  where financial aid is not available). Lawmakers who make $180,000+ a year, and limit programs for those who make $25,000 or less, and tell them, “This is America, the Land of Opportunity.”  Corporate lobbyists. Apple, Walmart, and the like getting massive tax breaks despite being billion dollar companies. 

We must learn to look beyond the mere letter of the text, and grasp the heart and spirit of its meaning. Jesus was the MASTER of this!!! “You’ve heard it said…but I say…” 

Because Isaiah’s text continues later: 

“Doom to you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness in place of light and light in place of darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Doom to you who think you’re so smart, who hold such a high opinion of yourselves! All you’re good at is drinking – champion boozers who collect trophies from drinking bouts. And then line your pockets with bribes from the guilty while you violate the rights of the innocent.” Isaiah 5:20-23

I’ve seen verse 20 used a lot by Christians who want to accuse other Christians of backsliding. “You want homosexuals to have civil liberties? That’s calling evil good!”

Is it? 

Meanwhile, these same folks vote for legislators who steal civil rights from people just because they can. My current home state of North Carolina is so ethnically gerrymandered, it got national attention! “This is unconstitutional!” was met by “Obama is such a divisive President!” What the what?!?

I’ve heard the argument that socialism leads to laziness.

Does it?

Isn’t that more of a smokescreen to cover up the real reason you don’t like universal healthcare and college tuition? It’s “your” money? Never mind the fact that you send your kids to public schools, have a bank account, or have insurance (all of which utilize a form of socialism). 

It’s easy to use this verse to remove the speck of dust from your brother’s eye, when there’s a whole blanking building sitting in yours. All because “sin” has become “bad stuff,” like murder and theft, and not also “good stuff” done for the wrong reasons.

Just this week, on two separate occasions, I’ve heard Christians defend their love of God, by propping up all the things they do for him. “I have been a minister for 25 years!” “I’ve been in prison ministry!””I do biker ministry!” Propping up their own resumes as if God is giving them a standing ovation! Not once taking into account that Jesus and the prophets more often than not throw resumes in the garbage, because they see right through them!!! “You didn’t do that for Yahweh! You did that for you! Your heart is far from me!” Which is promptly met by a, “How dare you judge me! You can’t say things like that! I am FILLED with the love of God!” It happened to the prophets. It happened to Jesus. It still happens today. 

I always want to respond, actions speak louder than words! I have yet to meet a well respected Christian who had to reassure people of their love for Jesus. It tends to go without saying. 

Challenge for the day: What are you propping up to appease your conscience, and appear good? What do you hope people will pay more attention to, so that they’ll take you at your word, rather than your lifestyle? What do you call good – in yourself, in the church, in the culture – when, if you do some research, is pure evil?