Monday, February 12, 2018

Who is our enemy?

(Please excuse the ramble...I'm still processing this through.  Your thoughts, as always are welcome!) 
         As I continue to reflect on the conversations I've been having with others around what it means to "love our enemies" one thing becomes especially clear to me.  We all define that word "enemy" differently.  I've heard people talk about "enemies" as people who hold power and use it in ways they believe to be wrong or hateful towards others. Enemies, then, can be politicians who are doing things that harm others, or they can be people we know and interact with personally.  If an "enemy" is anyone who injures others, some will have faces and names and others won't. Many people have told me they have no enemies.  But for others, enemies are very personal: specific faces and experiences come to mind of people who have done personal injury to that person or to a loved one.  I think how you define "enemy" will change how you learn to love that enemy.
        Personally, I undoubtedly define enemy differently depending on the context of the conversation as well as the person with whom I am speaking.  Still, if someone were to ask me if I believed myself to have enemies, I would have to say "yes".  There are people who would choose to do me or those I care about harm; there are people who have, intentionally, chosen to do me or people I value harm; and there are people who, out of a sense of revenge, anger, hatred, or fear intentionally hurt me, or other people that I value.  For me, those are the people I identify as "enemies".  If you intentionally seek to hurt me or other people whom I value, you put yourself in that category.
         What does that mean for me?  Well, it doesn't mean I hate you. I choose not to hate my enemies  because that would be "returning evil for evil".  It also doesn't mean I will try to "get you back" because that, too, is against what I believe and against what I practice.  I take the call to turn the other cheek very seriously - not just for the other person, but because I believe I allow the "enemy" to do more damage to me if I allow them to infect my soul with anger or hate.  I won't go there.  Some may say, "well, then how are they an enemy?"  For me, that term is helpful because it helps me to name the reality of these people in my life, and the call for me to work towards something different. Again, I do not and will not choose to treat them as such.  But it does me and my family no good to lie to myself about the intentions of some people with their harmful words or behaviors.  I am certain that some would/will label me as less than "holy" or less than "whole" because of the very labeling of others as enemies.  And perhaps they are right. When people like the Dalai Lama, Ghandi, MLK, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, or even Mr. Rogers use the term "enemy" it is always in the context of building bridges with those folk, getting to know them, seeing them as the real people they are, so that they might be transformed from being enemies into being something else.  But they are better people than me. The call for me is to strive to love and work towards bridges with these people.  But I am also all too aware that I do not have my heroes' gifts of being easily able to transform those relationships, or of being able to cross those bridges easily.  For me, naming them as "enemies" sets before me the call and challenge of working to love that enemy.  The term does not let me off the hook, it calls me to work harder to transform those relationships and to cross those bridges.
       Again, I have to recognize that I cannot successfully do this with everyone.  When I can't turn an enemy into a friend, "the other" becomes simply the object of my prayers: prayers for transformation of hate into love, of fear into trust, of greed into generosity: prayers for healing; prayers for wisdom; and prayers for reconciliation.  Mostly I pray that I might be given the wisdom, courage, strength and insight so that I can do my own work towards healing and reconciliation in these difficult situations.
      I wish there were no enemies.  But until the world has been made perfect, there will always be a need for us to face that which is hard.  For me, that starts with the call to love our enemies.