Do not succumb to the disease of cynicism, for it will justify all of your worst instincts. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Out beyond ideas of right and wrong, there is a field…. where even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense. I’ll meet you there. – Rumi
Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who deny, demean, or oppress you. – Jesus
So, I meant what I said. “I want to have a meal with my enemy.”
There was an awkward silence after I made that statement at the conclusion to Part III of my message this past Sunday, “How to Save the World.” And, to be honest, it felt a little awkward saying it.
Then the band kicked in with Trevor Hall’s song, “Unity:”
Take me to the table where we all dine together…
I just want to melt away, in all His grace
Drift away into that sacred place
Where there’s no more you and me
No more they and we, just unity
Then, on Monday we all took advantage of a national holiday in honor of the civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some took the day off for cleaning and putting away the last Christmas decorations. Some maybe took a friend out to lunch or a movie. Some participated in the Women’s March, while others marched for justice and fairness extended to all regardless of race or religious affiliation. And still, some marched for gun ownership and the right to bear arms in public. It was a day of deeply mixed emotions.
Then someone emailed me Monday evening, “So, are you seriously talking about sitting down to supper with someone who hates you, or denies your worth? I’m supposed to just pretend that nothing’s wrong with someone’s oppressive, inhuman, misogynistic, racist, or mean-spirited behavior toward others?”
A good friend of mine who watched the service online also emailed, “Why should I eat with someone who refuses to hear me when they find out who I voted for? Why would I want to sit down over a meal with people who think I’m stupid or shallow or selfish?”
To be clear, everything’s wrong with being oppressive, inhuman, misogynistic, racist, and mean-spirited. And the fact that my friend Jacob’s political leanings are completely opposite mine, and that his NRA membership has often provided some very interesting and connective conversations, is an irony that somehow escaped both of us at the time!
I have to admit that I identify with what author Luis Alberto Urrea wrote, “It’s ridiculous and, in some ways, a folly to say, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ But it is the truest thing that I don’t understand why we can’t.”
I agree. It’s ridiculous, counter-intuitive. It’s such a naïve statement.
There’s a lot of discomfort and fear out there. Anger seems a pretty appropriate response. Defiance. Righteous indignation. Huddle up with your own peeps. And certainly, the last thing a lot of us would find ourselves saying is, “I think I’ll cook up one of my favorite dishes and invite the enemy over for a fun evening of conversation.”
Except that this seems to be exactly what Jesus, the holy idealist, was describing as essentially the way to the Kingdom (or the Kin-dom) of God. “Love your enemy. Do good to those who hate you.” Seems pretty unrealistic, doesn’t it? I mean, “Sure,” Jacob added a little sarcastically, “as if that were even possible. They’re too manipulative, too stubborn. They’d never agree with anything I think!”
John Powell, professor of law and ethnic studies at UC Berkley gets this and says, “That’s the real challenge of a lot of the work of conflict, is that you’re trying to bring about something that does not now exist. That’s the creative act.”
Here’s the way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr addressed these same words of Jesus:
“Certainly Jesus’ words are great words, words lifted to cosmic proportions. And over the centuries, many persons have argued that this is an extremely difficult command. Many would go so far as to say that it just isn’t possible to move out into the actual practice of this glorious command. They would go on to say that this is just additional proof that Jesus was an impractical idealist who never quite came down to earth. But far from being an impractical idealist, Jesus has become the practical realist. The words of this text glitter in our eyes with a new urgency. Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love, even for enemies.”
I have to admit, Dr. King and Jesus and Rumi — they’re all saying some truly inspiring stuff.
But these are just words.
We tend to hear the “love your enemy” invective time and again, and I think we somehow run that through our emotional, fearful, tribal filters, and it comes out the other side as acts of charity. And don’t get me wrong, Christians and the Church ought to be all about charity – food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, homes and shelter for those without… John Wesley’s admonition to, “Do all the good you can…in all the ways you can…to all the people you can for as long as you can.”
But to save the world, to participate in co-creating God’s Kin-dom, this is more about changing our fundamental orientation to life.
I don’t have to like my enemy or those people whose thinking or actions I find confusing, offensive, or reprehensible.
But loving isn’t liking.
Liking is for us. What we find comfortable. Pleasurable. Safe. Even charity is a likable action — something after which we often feel good for doing.
But love is about God, the Kin-dom. It’s risky. Discomforting. And ultimately redemptive. It’s how the very Ground of our Being stands a chance of growing and healing the world.
This is the gift of redemption – connecting in unexpected ways and discovering the stories we share at the heart of our existence. Love is about finding space in our hearts and minds to begin building bridges to our “enemies” and trusting the sacred connection between us.
How do you build a bridge from your heart to another’s heart, across your fear and through another’s?
This will be our conversation on Sunday. Let’s talk about building bridges and the redemptive moments that remind us that the creative urge in all of us is really about connection. The stories we share can open the doors to healing and a deeper wisdom. And it’s the key to how we build those bridges.
This Sunday, January 29, I will wrap up my January Series, How to Save the World, with Part IV – Building a Curious Bridge. Who is my enemy, and to whom might I be enemy? More importantly, how can I be a part of a reality that invites redemptive moments wherever, and with whomever, I am?
Turns out people are already doing just that.
Let’s join them.
Let’s save the world.
This Sunday we get theatrical and practical with actor Jakie Cabe, the music of Black Eyed Peas, Solomon Burke, and Ann Peebles.
See you then!
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven
PLEASE NOTE: three upcoming opportunities for learning and fun…
CRAFT THEOLOGY – 4th Mondays | 7 – 8:30 pm
January 27 | Southside Cellar, 125 S. Main St, Fort Worth Lively, engaging conversations about life, God (the latest shows we’re streaming) Questions? Contact: Tom McDermott, firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting to Know YOU: A Weekend of Self Discovery Through the Lens of the Enneagram
Led by James Patterson | Friday, February 7 | 6:30-9:00 pm | Light meal included | Saturday, February 8 | 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | Lunch and snacks included $25 per person / $40 per couple | Registration required by January 31 https://fumcfw.org/event/enneagram20/2020-02-07/#register
Play! An Improv Workshop
Led by NYC Improviser, Winn LaRue.
Groundhog Sunday, February 2 | 1:00 – 4:00 pm | Room 350 | NO COST | For beginners and advanced players, join us for an afternoon of letting go and having some serious fun!
Questions and Registration. Contact: Gayle Ammerman: email@example.com