3 Barriers Hijacking Christians’ Ability to Love Our “Enemies”

Guest post by Jon Huckins 

Empathy-1024x540In recent years, my family has navigated some rough patches; death, cancer treatments, open heart surgeries, chronic disease, etc. Now, I’m certain this isn’t everyone’s experience, but mine has been that in these times of trauma or tragedy, family comes together to stand with one another as we wrestle through life’s crap. We aren’t picking fights, we are crying on each other’s shoulders.

In recent months, our human family has been enduring an especially rough patch.

War.

Racism.

Suicide.

Deadly viruses.

Plane crashes.

Whether in remote villages or urban centers, few have been untouched (in some way) by the realities unfolding.

As I observe our corporate response to tragedy as a human family, and evaluate my own response in the midst of it, I have noticed something disturbing unfold. Rather than rally together as a family navigating a season of trauma, we have used this moment to divide, stir hatred and misunderstanding, point fingers and more than anything, view those on the opposite side of an issue as less than human.

Watching political pundits bark the party line or news anchors posture themselves as authority figures rather than conduits of curiosity, I find myself asking the question, “What keeps us from seeing others as human?” 

And by human, I mean, divine image bearers who have stories, families, pain, hopes, traditions and a unique interpretation of reality.

Here are three barriers that are hijacking our ability to love our “enemies” and acknowledge our shared humanity:

1. Fear

Those of us in the West (and I’m sure many others around the globe) live in a culture of fear. It is a reality of “What If?” What if the robber breaks into my house? What if all of our jobs are taken by immigrants who don’t deserve to be here? What if the terrorists strike my city? What if that person walking on the street (who looks different than me) tries to jump me? What if the stock market crashes and I lose all my investments? What if (insert name) gets elected and everything goes to hell?

The Problem? We spend so much time trying to prepare for the “what if” that we completely miss out on the joy, beauty and opportunity right in front of us. Further, we project our fear on others and undeservedly make them the potential culprit. Because everyone is out to get us, we can no longer trust anyone and our worldview is largely pessimistic.

The Cure? “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do…Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows…Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” — Jesus (Luke 12)

In the end, if we truly believe Jesus is reigning, what do we have to fear?

2. Nationalism

Yes, we live in a country with unprecedented wealth, opportunity (for many) and infrastructure that has done remarkable things domestically and abroad. As I travel around the world, I don’t have to look far to run into people who dream to live in our country. There are so many reasons to be grateful to live here. With that said, it is deeply disturbing to me how inverse our allegiances have become within the Christian subculture. Many, out of reverence to our country, have placed their primary allegiance to the USA rather than to the Kingdom of God.

The Problem? Nationalism is a form of idolatry that we must repent from. Healthy love of country isn’t what I’m referring to. Nationalism is the belief that our country is somehow set apart over and above all other countries which leads to unquestionable support of our nation’s policies and practices even if they come at the expense of innocent human beings on the other side of the globe. Further, we often place our hope in our elected officials rather than in Jesus (who reigns as king of the Kingdom that has come and is coming). It means we — whether subconsciously or consciously — see people who live outside of our borders as “less than.” We may not admit it, but it is certainly the case. If our war machines take the lives of those half way across the world it is somehow easier to justify than if it were the life of one of our own.

The Cure? “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. — Jesus (John 18:36)

May we daily submit ourselves first and foremost to the rule and reign of Jesus, praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

3. Power

The growing distance between those with economic and political power creates a social distance that doesn’t allow us to share tables with those who have differing degrees of power. Often, those in power don’t KNOW the people who their power impacts which leads to decisions that negatively impact those on the underside of power. The flip side is that those without power are willing to dehumanize others as a way to ascend to power. If getting power means values and ethics are compromised (which inevitably has direct implications on human beings), then so be it.

The Problem? Power is viewed as a commodity that can be acquired for our own advancement rather than gift to be given away for the flourishing of others. A utopian view would say everyone is born into an equal playing field of opportunity, but that simply isn’t the case. Those in power don’t plan to relinquish it and those without power will often choose unethical means to gain it.

The Cure? “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” — Jesus (Matt 18)

What if we took seriously Jesus’ words that the first shall be last and the last will be first?

A Prayer for the People of God and our Human Family

May we, the people of God, choose to live fueled by the hope Resurrection rather than held captive by the fear of death. 

May we, the people of God, choose to rightly place our allegiance in Jesus and his kingdom rather than become slaves to the kingdoms of this world.

May we, the people of God, choose to embrace the way of the Cross and freely give away power for the flourishing of others as we join God in the world he is making.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as our human family endures a season of trauma, may your image rise in each of us so that we can offer and receive love in the most unexpected people and places.  Amen


HuckinsHeadShot13Jon Huckins is the Co-Founding Director of The Global Immersion Project which seeks to cultivate everyday peacemakers through immersion in global conflict. He is the author of Thin Places & Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling.

This post originally appeared on jonhuckins.net.

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POLL: Pub Theology Conversation online

As part of creating space online for ongoing Pub Theology conversation, I’m considering a new Facebook group. This will be for pub theologians everywhere to gather at a virtual table, to discuss any number of topics. Vote on the Facebook page with your thoughts. If you think I should consider something other than Facebook, let me know that in the comments.

I’m in the process of creating a new Pub Theology website, so ideally whatever I create can be embedded and accessed there.

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August 7, 2014 · 2:23 pm

Unacceptable: What it’s like to be a Liberal Christian in a Sea of Conservativism

Guest post by David Schell.

NO_LEFT_TURN_signPeople think I moved left because I wanted to compromise with the world, because I wanted to fit in better.

People think I moved left because I was deceived by the devil.

People think I moved left because I’ve been reading the Bible without the help of the Holy Spirit.

People think I moved left because I just stopped reading the Bible.

I accidentally go to conservative churches sometimes and find books by Ken Ham that say I’ve compromised – with the world, the devil, whatever.

My dad sees me as a disappointment and is glad I’m still alive. He doesn’t say it, but I’m pretty sure he thinks that if I died today I’d be in hell. He holds out hope that God will show me the light because I’m still alive.

My Grandma calls me and says she’s heard rumors that I don’t believe in the Bible anymore.

My aunt sends me a Facebook message that her kids, my very young cousins, are praying for me. They’re worried about my soul.

When my conservative Christian friends and family ask me questions, it’s not to find out why I believe what I believe. It’s to fix me or help me realize that I’ve gone off the rails and am wrong.

Other folks have very real concerns that because I don’t share their view of the atonement, I’m not a real Christian.

I’ve gotten tired of arguing about stuff, because it’s always the same argument. It may be new to you, but I’ve had it a hundred times and it always ends the same sad way. Seriously, let’s pass on it. It’s not worth it.

No, seriously. It’s not.

I hear the same tired arguments and Bible verses over and over again. I know them all, I promise. And I have responses to all of them, but you probably won’t like or agree with my responses, so can we please pass on the high-stakes debate? I’d be happy to have a conversation with you about why I believe what I believe if you’re curious, but I don’t want to fight about it.

I’ve fought enough already.

The churches I go to are small, because evangelicalism and rock bands and the feeling that there’s something “real” going on attract more people my age than silence and liturgy and ambiguity.

People think that because I don’t think that the Bible’s “inerrancy” is a fundamental doctrine, I’m not a Christian, or at least I’m on the road toward apostasy. We’re Christians, not Biblians.

When I visit big churches, I consider myself lucky to get a phone call that “might be important” to get me out of a worship service with stifling, repetitive, boring, and theologically dumb (at best) songs.

When I visit big churches, I’m always the compromiser the pastor’s talking about.

When I visit big churches, things that inspire other people’s faith scare me to death and make me wonder why I’m in this whole Christianity thing anyway.

My dad warns me that I’m deceiving people and reminds me that God’s going to have a stricter judgment for me.

Sometimes I try to keep my political posts down so as not to aggravate my conservative friends who share clips about why Obama is the anti-Christ every five minutes. I promise you guys, you only have to put up with him for two more years. Plus, I’m not a big fan anyway – but my reasons have nothing to do with Obamacare, except that I think it didn’t go far enough.

When I comment on pro-Israel posts to mention that Gaza has a higher death count, everybody thinks I wish Gaza would just bomb Israel off the map, or that I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, or that I don’t believe in the Bible, or that I’m just deceived by the devil. It’s kind of a theme.

I see posts from Christians that are against illegal immigration and I get so confused how Christians who are supposed to love our neighbors can stand at the border and tell little children from war-torn countries that Jesus wants them to go away.

I go to a church in a denomination that other churches are leaving because they can’t stand the idea of being in the same denomination as churches that are allowed to perform same-sex marriage. The PCUSA has space for both sides, and while the liberal churches are okay with worshipping alongside those who disagree, the conservative churches have no space for that sort of disagreement about fundamental issues like the resurrection. …Oh wait, that was about gay marriage. Never mind. Like I said, it makes me sad.

I mention that I’m in favor of marriage equality and people think I’m not a Christian.

I mention that I attend a Presbyterian church and everyone wonders how I can go to a church whose denomination allows (not supports) same-sex marriage.

Friends and family members who once respected me and had high hopes for my future are now praying for my eternal salvation.

I have space for my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ, but far too often for my happiness, they don’t have space for me.

I didn’t shift left because it made my life easier. I shifted left because I went to college and learned that the world doesn’t work in the simple logical way that conservative talk-show hosts and evangelical / fundamentalist pastors think it does. It’s complicated. Rush Limbaugh’s logic is missing large chunks of data that anyone who’d taken Sociology 101 would know.

Shifting left has made my life harder. My life would be easier if I suddenly realized that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck were right about Jesus, and John Dominic Crossan wasn’t.

I can’t even imagine how many of my friends and relatives would breathe a sigh of relief if I threw away everything I’ve learned and suddenly “realized” that being gay is a sin, or that the Bible was absolutely true about literally everything it said and had no disagreements within it (a relatively modern view).

But that ain’t how I was raised.

I was raised to stand for truth and justice even if you stand alone, and even if you look like a fool while you’re doing it.

I was raised to speak up when the world around me is cheering for injustice and evil. I was raised to disagree. I was raised to misbehave and stand against the current.

Veggietales taught me to stand up for what I believe in.

Patch the Pirate taught me to do right until the stars fall down.

I even wrote a little song about how “you gotta to dare to be different” that was so bad that nobody but Andrew will ever hear it. Ever.

But I also do it because it helps. I do it because every now and then, I get a message from someone saying that they read my blog all the time and feel encouraged and not-alone. I do it because sometimes I get messages saying “Hey, I read your blog and it got me thinking.”

I do it because I know people who’ve been beaten over the head with the Bible and don’t like God very much right now, and I want to give them hope that maybe they can be whatever they are and God will still love them and maybe they can still be Christians.

I do it because sometimes I’m one of those people.

I do it because I want people who are on the margins of Christianity and think the whole thing might just be nuts to know that things they think is crazy, I think are crazy too, and if I can be a Christian, maybe they can too.

One thing more.

I don’t have it nearly as hard as my LGBT brothers and sisters, or as hard as my Palestinian brothers and sisters, or my immigrant brothers and sisters, or my brothers and sisters anywhere who also feel the ire of conservative Christianity. So I speak up for them.

Because I believe it’s the right thing to do.


David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that’s why his posts don’t come out as often or as angry. David lives in Colorado Springs, CO. This column was originally published on his blog: David M Schell: Theology. Hilarity. Transparency. Pretentiousness.

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UPCOMING: The Doubter’s Devotional

Sample cover

Sample cover

 

Official announcement here of my upcoming book, The Doubter’s Devotional: Daily Readings for Seekers and Skeptics.

I am on the front end of this project, but wanted to let you know that it’s in the works. I’d love to get your initial reactions:

  • What does the title evoke for you?
  • What would you like to see in a book like this?
  • Would you be interested in a title like this? Why?
  • Why might a book like this be needed? (Your quotes may make my proposal and/or the book itself!)
  • Can you think of people you’d recommend a book like this to?

I plan to incorporate some existing quotes/readings and then provide some of my own original reflections on them. Any writers or works you’d recommend or like to see?

Suggestions for content are welcome. Ideas for cover art are suggested – the above is just a mockup.  I have interest from several publishers, but nothing firmed up yet.

Your responses will help as I put together my initial proposal. Right now, I can imagine a Spring or early Summer 2015 release.

Help me spread the word–share on your social media networks–and STAY TUNED!

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Another Holy Week

It is Holy Week. The week we recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. His final week with his disciples. His actions in the temple. His perplexing parables. His final meal. His agonizing last hours. The uncertainty of Saturday. The joy of Sunday morning.

It is a week of central significance to anyone claiming to be, or aspiring to be, a disciple of Jesus. One of my favorite weeks as a pastor. Also one of the busiest.

This year spring break for DC public schools coincided exactly with Holy Week. We decided to head to Florida, even though that meant we’d miss out on some of the Holy Week excitement. Our community in DC is joining a collective outdoor Easter worship service sponsored by a DC area ministry, Restore Together. An exciting collaboration between local churches, seeking to collaborate on issues of oppression and poverty in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’m sad to miss it.

But I needed a Holy Week of another sort. One which involves playing in the pool with my children. Teaching my ten-year-old to play tennis. Finding seashells with my five-year-old daughter. Reading and silence in the quiet cool of a Florida morning. A game of Settlers, after which we have time for… another game of Settlers.

florida_pool

Late afternoon Florida sunshine

So after celebrating Palm Sunday with our Roots DC friends, we hopped in the car and headed south, for a non-traditional Holy Week.

We won’t be joining a Maundy Thursday service, or partaking in a seder. We may have a meal of burgers on the grill and soda instead of unleavened bread and wine.

Our Friday will be good if we can catch a boat ride to do some Florida wildlife viewing.

Our Saturday may be dark, if the weather is cloudy, but it may also be sunny and bright and filled with laughter and giggles.

Our Easter morning may not involve a sunrise service, but it may find us celebrating the resurrection by dipping our toes in the ocean, or tossing a frisbee on the sand.

Perhaps this is a sacrilegious way to spend this particular week.

But now, midway through—as I get to catch my breath for the first time in months, as playing with my kids happens without the interruptions of phone calls or emails, as we enjoy a leisurely breakfast as a family, as my spirit is beginning to feel rested and renewed—I’m thinking this too, is a Holy Week.

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A Palm Sunday Prayer for Peace

Palm-Sunday-2013

Holy Week begins this Sunday. It is a familiar week, beginning with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. But maybe so familiar that we still aren’t quite hearing the full story.

Marcus Borg reminds us that there was not one, but two processions entering Jerusalem that year. Two very different processions. “They proclaimed two very different and contrasting visions of how this world can and should be: the kingdom of God versus the kingdoms, the powers, of this world. The former is about justice and the end of violence. The latter are about domination and exploitation. On Friday, the rulers of this world kill Jesus. On Easter, God says “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the powers that executed him.

Thus Palm Sunday announces the central conflict of Holy Week. The conflict persists. That conflict continues wherever injustice and violence abound. Holy Week is not about less than that.”

In the spirit of the One who came in peace, and in the wake of this week’s continued violence in our world, a prayer for peace. May it bless you this week.


G
reat God, who has told us
“Vengeance is mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from the vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.

Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.

Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again
to make peace even when peace eludes us.

We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.

We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the heart it takes
to care for all the peoples
of Afghanistan and Iraq, of Palestine and Israel
as well as for ourselves.

Give us the depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptations of power
to refuse to attack the attackable,
to understand
that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace–not war–wherever we go.

For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.

And so may we be merciful
and patient
and gracious
and trusting
with these others whom you also love.

This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.
This we ask forever and ever. Amen

A Prayer for World Peace,
by Sister Joan Chittister, of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie
(source)

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To See Beyond All Things

Sunrise in March. Photo by Jon Lubbers

Sunrise in March. Photo by Jon Lubbers

Excerpts on Enlightenment from Joan Chittister. Selections from “Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light.”

Amma Syncletica said: “In the beginning, there is struggle and a lot of work for those who come near to God. But after that, there is indescribable joy. It is just like building a fire: at first it’s smoky and your eyes water, but later you get the desired result. Thus we ought to light the divine fire in ourselves with tears and effort.”

Enlightenment is the ability to see beyond all things we make God to find God. We make religion God and so fail to see godliness where religion is not, though goodness is clear and constant in the simplest of people, in the remotest of places. We make national honor God and fail to see the presence of God in other nations. We make personal security God and fail to see God in the bleak and barren dimensions of life. We make our own human color the color of God and fail to see God in the one who comes in different guise. We give God gender and miss the spirit of God in everyone. We separate spirit and matter as if they were two different things, though we know now from quantum physics that matter is simply fields of force made dense by the spirit of Energy. We are one with the Universe, in other words. We are not separate or different from it. We are not above it. We are in it, all of us and everything, swimming in an energy that is God. To be enlightened is to see behind the forms to the God who holds them in being.

Enlightenment sees, too, beyond the shapes and icons that intend to personalize God to the God that is too personal, too encompassing, to be any one shape or form or name. Enlightenment takes us beyond our parochialisms to the presence of God everywhere, in everyone, in the universe.

To be enlightened is to be in touch with the God within and around us more than it is to be engulfed in any single way, any one manifestation, any specific denominational or nationalistic construct, however good and well-intentioned it may be.

The important thing to remember in the spiritual life is that religion is a means, not an end. When we stop at the level of the rules and the laws, the doctrines and the dogmas—good guides as these may be—and call those things the spiritual life, we have stopped far short of the meaning of life, the call of the divine, the fullness of the self.

To be contemplative I must put down my notions of separateness from God and let God speak to me through everything that seeps through the universe into the pores of my minuscule little life. Then I will find myself, as Abbess Syncletica promises, at the flash point of the divine fire.


Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, is founder and Executive Director of BENEVISION: A Resource Center for Contemporary Spirituality. Her many bestselling books include The Gift of Years, The Ten Commandments, A Passion for Life, and There Is a Season.

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