Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Enemies? Love? Loving enemies? Definitions and challenges

      I speak and write constantly about the call to love our neighbors, and yes, even our enemies, as ourselves.  This is central to my faith, central to what I believe we are supposed to be about: offering love even in the face of hate, non-violent protest in the face of violence, empowerment in the face of oppression, justice in the face of greed. I believe nothing as strongly as I believe that this is our primary call: to respond, always, with love.
     Many of my parishioners hear this as a political message, and in many ways it is.  I don't think there is room in our faith to tolerate, let alone condone the "isms" (which are forms of hate, the opposite of love) that we see so rampant in our leadership these days: the sexism, the racism, the heterosexism, the nationalism, the "this person/people is better than this other person/people and therefore is more deserving, more worthy of resources, well-being, survival, safety, care" thinking.  We are called to stand up to all of that, to say "no" and "enough" BY loving even our enemies and modelling something different, by choosing and insisting on something different.  But this causes confusion.  Some tell me it is impossible for them to love those who are creating such pain and injustice for our brothers and sisters.  After all, how can they feel love for people who espouse hatred and entitlement with every decision they make and every word they speak.  Besides, they ask, isn't loving the same as condoning?  Isn't loving a passive thing that says we tolerate abuse and injustice?  Isn't forgiveness about letting go of what has happened and giving more chances for that abuse to occur again?
      No!  No, no and no.
      First of all, love in this context, is not about a feeling.  It is not about liking the other.  It is an action and a choice, every single time.  I find it just as impossible as anyone else to like what is happening or to like the people who are greedy, self-promoting to the cost of others, and hating/judging of other people.  I can't like them.  But I still believe in the call to love them.  So what is love?
       Love to me is "working for the highest good for the other."  And while I realize that this, too, could be confusing, I will try to offer some clarification here.  "The highest good" for the other is not riches beyond belief for one person while other people in the world are starving to death.  The highest good is not happiness and ease for some while others struggle daily, often working several jobs simply to put food on the table.  I believe deeply that as long as any one person is without, is struggling, is in pain and does not have what they need to live, that all of us are lessened, that every one of us is less than whole because of it.  The "highest good", then for everyone, is for each person to have enough, to have what they need, to be able to live full, healthy lives.  I do not see it as in anyone's best interest for them to be able to amass riches beyond belief while others don't have their basic needs met.  I believe strongly that the highest good for those who have too much is liberation from their greed and extreme wealth even as the highest good for those who have too little is to be able to have enough.  I believe the highest good for those who live in their fenced in, security ridden houses is to create a world where those walls that keep others out are not needed because each person has what they need and doesn't need to threaten those who have more.  I also believe the highest good for any one person is not allowing them to be abusive or harming to others.  How can it be good for you to be allowed to be a bully?  It is for your highest good as well as everyone else to be stopped from bullying and harming others.  I could go on.  The point is that wanting the highest good for any one person means wanting the highest good for all people.  To me this makes things easier at some level because I believe people having what they need really is best for everyone.  Easier, I say, but still not easy.  It is still hard to respond to hatred with love.  It is still hard to respond to injustice with nonviolent action.  It is still hard to refrain from judging or condemning and instead to work for the best for everyone.  But that is the job, it is the call, it is what we are to be about.
        In another blog post I want to talk about this more personally.  But for now, I will just repeat that to me, this is the call; to love our enemies, personal, political, economic: individual, group, national - to love them all as ourselves.