Loving Your Enemies … Sorta

“He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.”

-Walter Lippmann.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” -Psalm 133:1

Blah, blah, blah. So I’ve been looking at the love your enemies passage trying to find loopholes (because, as you know, that’s what Jesus would do. He was ALL about the letter of the law and not the spirit of it). I’m bouncing back and forth between verses like “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28) and the expert in the law asking for loopholes, like “who is my neighbor?” (and getting the Good Samaritan parable for his troubles). So in fully “expert in the law” mode, I’ve rationalized that it’s easy for me to live in unity if I cut off relationships.*

This is a simple workaround that JUST skirts those pesky “carry his coat an extra mile” type sentiments that define what it means to go out of your way to love your enemy. I’m all about convenient theology. Look how easy this is: you only have to love your enemies if you’re around them, ergo, don’t spend time with them! Oh, I can “pray” for them (for the double win, I can proclaim that I’m praying for them and look twice as spiritual).

Unity is as simple as the relationship in front of you which means you have to be in their presence to love them and that’s its own commitment. I have little enough time for the people I love today.
True unity means to deny the values of our culture, our sense of independence, our sense of self-reliance. And there are plenty of valid reasons to not pursue unity: our own sense of rightness, our own woundedness (even hurt feelings from people not pursuing you), doctrinal differences, or even apathy. All perfectly valid reasons to cut off relationships (and even allow your heart to hardened).

To love our enemies is the most mature form of love and the hardest crucible to test and refine what it means to live out one’s Christianity. In short, it’s the crux of what it means to love. It means we have to die to ourselves, our wants, and our egos. Conjuring love up doesn’t work (the same way some folks like to conjure up “forgiveness”). Acting loving isn’t enough.
But I ain’t there yet.

Don’t get me wrong, for the bulk of us, we define enemy as someone who says mean things to us or unfriends us on Facebook, but nonetheless, let’s wallow in our convenient spirituality. It sure beats doing the hard work of continuing to pray for God to change our hearts. Anyway, I’ve got no lost love for people I don’t like or no longer wish to be around.

This message brought to you by the Broaddus Institute of Theological Convenience, where the inmates run the asylum.

*Think of it as a break up with all of the attendant feelings: All those years we spent together, all the good times and feelings, all wasted now, overshadowed by fighting and ill will. Was it something I did? Am I in the wrong here? And the thought, in hindsight, that maybe I should have left a long time ago.

Blessed are the Peacem–ack!!

A one to grow on conversation:

“Daddy, why don’t we talk to so and so anymore?”

“Sometimes life happens. People get mad, hurt each other, or misunderstandings build up to where relationships get damaged.”

“Have you tried talking to them?”

“Yes. A couple of times. Sometimes talking just makes things worse.”

“You need me to talk to them?”

“I appreciate the offer and how your heart works. I’d like to just say that making up is ‘easier said than done’, but really, sometimes adults just … act stupid. Sometimes it’s hard to make the leaps of faith required to bring reconciliation. It’s hard to writing a letter of healing to those who might not forgive you or to make a call to people who have rejected you.

“One of the hardest things you’ll ever learn how to do is to love without expecting love in return or to give without the expectation of receiving. But you know what? Each attempt leads us closer to a glimpse of our Father. Each attempt shapes us into the people we would like to be.

“From our weak and very human perspective, some damage may not be recoverable. Ultimate healing and forgiveness are always possible, but sometimes it may not happen for a long time. And I know that for me, I’m not there yet.

“Today I nurse hurts and need time to heal. Today I don’t trust in love enough to love and risk boldly. Today I don’t live in the light enough to know peace. Today I live in the shadows of self-rejection in the tension of still wanting to be liked. Today I … WOULD YOU QUIT HITTING YOUR BROTHER?!?”

Sally Baffles Me

I suppose I’m long overdue for an update on my life as some folks have been wondering. To be straight, we’re still working through things, taking life together day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month.

After going very public with our situation, I mentally braced for the worst: expecting the relief of public humiliation, the security of the pillory. I’d go to church, sit by myself, then leave. Only in the last two weeks have I even taken Communion. I was accused of wearing a look which came across as arrogance or impenitent. It’s not like I can claim that a charge of arrogance would ever be misplaced with me, but ironically, the look has been that of a person ashamed to be seen in the church. Ashamed to be seen with his wife. Ashamed to be seen with a community he served so hard and betrayed so dearly. A person entirely uncomfortable with the idea of people loving him and with the idea of people forgiving him. It’s one thing to talk about it and know about it, it’s entirely another thing to experience it. And the whole thing has me … baffled.

Because after we blogged, prayers came in from around the world. The horror community wrapped itself around us. Meals were cooked for us. Folks dropped us notes which were not only really appreciated, but carried us through some dark moments. There were those who dropped everything to come sit with us. Those who planted themselves firmly in “my cave” not only to hold me to account and keep asking me the hard questions, but to make sure I got back up, dusted myself off, and keep on the path of becoming who I am meant to be and live.

I don’t know what to do with any of that. I seriously don’t know what to do with or how to process the love shown to me. Which brings me to the title of this blog, though I might be better off saying that love baffles me. Sometimes I feel like a kid being force fed medicine: being held down, thrashing about like the most uncooperative of patients … while those surrounding me patiently love me back to health.

There are times when the shame and guilt threaten to overwhelm me, days when I was drowning in it. And it became easy to believe that God had washed His hands of me or that was too dirty and guilty to be in His presence. It became easy to forget that the Doctor was in, and He came for the sick, to treat the wounded (even those with self-inflicted wounds). He then reminded me that I was right where I’d always been: in the cup of His hand, showing me what it means to be loved.

Love stays right there with us even during the ugly and dark times. Love sees the person you are meant to be and helps moves you along toward becoming that. Love doesn’t let you off the hook, nor does it want you to define yourself by your sin or failures. You can’t outrun love.

There are times in our lives when we don’t listen to our hearts, to what we know to be true. We may betray ourselves. Our friends. Our family. Our community. God. We become lost. There’s no way to undo the mess I’ve caused in people’s lives and the hurt Sally has had to go through, all the damaged relationships surrounding us, all the broken Shalom, all of the betrayed trust. There’s no way for me to go back and undo years of bad choices. Lord knows I wish I could. Just like I know that forgiveness takes time. All I can do is attempt to live a life of repentance.

I still find it difficult to believe in and listen to love. And there still may not be a happy ending at the end of this story. But I have learned this much: in chasing after a dream, it’s easy to miss the beauty and love in front of you. And I pray to one day be worthy of it.

Forgiveness Takes Time

Sometimes I wish I were one of those quick to forgive people. How when I feel dishonored, disrespected, or disavowed, or otherwise holding onto memories of someone’s mistreatment of me, I can just go “I forgive you” and all of the hurt and ill will just vanishes. It’s like we feel this tacit pressure from other Christians. They hear our struggles with the pain of our situations—the anger, the hurt, the sheer pain of it—and confuse that with not being able to forgive. Almost as if we aren’t forgiving on their time table or that a good Christian would have forgiven by now. Or faster. Or better.

I know many folks who when confronting, for example, their poor relationships with parent, are encouraged that they just need to forgive and move on. Then they say some magic words like “I forgive you for how ever you have hurt me” like some sort of general waving of a magic wand and I’m left frustrated. Because I know that forgiveness has to, needs to, happen, but blanket-type forgiveness doesn’t work because the heart remembers details.

So when we’re hurt, we’re hurt specifically, and sometimes it can seem that we’re being slow to forgive when actually we’re doing the hard work of processing through the emotions of being hurt. That we simply aren’t finished, we have to keep forgiving them. How quickly our hearts mend depend on how willing we are to work through it.

And let me tell you, I’ve been known to hold a grudge or two.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22

This passage continues to haunt me. Sure, most times we read this passage and go “okay, we need to be able to forgive a variety of screw ups from the same person.” And then we nudge our spouses. I wonder if another way of looking at this is the sometime need to forgive a sin a multitude of times. That as we process a particular hurt, and pray over it and the person who perpetrated it, that we might have repeat the process when the sting of the situation rears its head again.

On the spot forgiveness works with smaller slights, but deeper wounds require more, especially if they tap into a familiar one. Sometimes we have to ask if part of what has wounded us is us carrying something else with us from the past that we are connecting to this present person or circumstance.

The human reality is that—barring a miracle of God—it may take years to work through the process of forgiveness. (Actually, I think any time there is forgiveness it is a miracle of God.) And that if we are still angry or sad when we think about the person, how it’s probably a sign that we aren’t through with the process of forgiveness. That we haven’t been finally released from it. And that’s part of what forgiveness is about, freedom from the things which hold onto us.

Yes, it’s harder to forgive the unrepentant, those who don’t acknowledge their wrong, make no effort to realize their fault, and make no attempt to deal with things. But God wants us to love our enemies (and this sometimes includes friends who have hurt us). Restoration of relationship is a different matter. One that has to be decided on after the process of forgiveness because, frankly, some relationships are toxic and shouldn’t be restored.

I also have to wonder when the Bible says “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15) if it’s not referring to the natural by-product of not forgiving as a hardened heart. A hardened heart can’t feel the love nor the forgiveness a faithful and just God has to offer, it has walled itself off. Whereas pursuing forgiveness is agreeing with God that there needs to be healing and trusting Him to heal us through the process.

And sometimes it’s a hard, long, messy process.

Church Eats Its Own Part II: No Room for Sinners Here

People fall.

I don’t even think of it as falling any more. We screw up, it’s what we do. The measure of our faithfulness isn’t in how many times we fall down (or how creatively, because believe me, some days it feels like I have an entire Research & Development wing devoted to finding new ways for me to screw up), but in our ability to get up, dust ourselves off, and keep going.

Yet too often, the Church eats its own. It’s like we make a sport of trampling over the fallen as if that’s part of their punishment and our holy duty to do so. We assume the authority to judge whether another is doing ministry the way God wants, living lifestyles in line with how “Christians should act” (because there’s only one mold apparently), and being spiritual the way we should (again, back to that one mold).

No wonder so many niche ministries have such a defensive posture when talking to their brethren. They recognize that it’s easier to think ill of our neighbor, that they don’t do ministry right, rather than credit them with not only wanting to do ministry, but appreciating their ability to do things you can’t and reach people you couldn’t. There’s lots of room to be the body of Christ, yet too many folks want everyone to be a toe. Listen to how different church people treat each other when they disagree. We can’t have a generous orthodoxy, where one party doesn’t have the sole key to how things are interpreted, but rather we not only slander but dehumanize our brothers and sisters.

Heaven help you if you actually sin. Again, love and forgiveness should be our calling cards, but we can be a murderously intolerant lot. I’d daresay there is a hatred in how we treat folks sometimes, especially those we’ve deemed fallen/sinners. The thing about fallen folks is that now their façade is gone. There’s no longer that need for pretense, you are what you are, it’s been revealed to all (and in truth, it now makes you … no different than the rest of us). Our treatment of “the fallen” should be where we shine most, being a hospital for the sick, demonstrating the grace, the redemption, the inclusion, and the power to transform and heal as a community comes along side them.

Basically people, I know I’m going to “fall” (we’ll just my regular lifestyle hiccups as mere stumbles). I know I’m going to let people down. I know that I will struggle. And when I do, I want a community to come alongside me, allow me to be broken, and then help restore me in love and grace. That’s what I’d like to see out of a spiritual community.

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Church Eats Its Own Part I: Devouring our Pastors

I’ve discussed the idea of how the church typically responds to fallen leaders. It’s a tough thing to wrestle with. There are some behaviors which should “disqualify” you from leadership. On the other hand, you still have gifts and you are obligated to use them. Being close friends with pastors, and now having fallen into a church leadership role despite years carefully avoiding such a role, I can say that it’s amazing more pastors don’t “fall.” Or at least burn out at a rate similar to public school teachers.

They are set up to fall and we create the bullseye. For a start, protestations aside, there is a trap for them to be perfect. We tend to put them on a pedestal or in front of us rather than beside us or allowed a measure of grace. I understand that part of that is the role they play of speaking into our lives. Any time we grant someone the right to speak into our lives with authority, there is an assumed elevation to them. Ironically, as intuitively natural as that may feel, we don’t do that with our friends. My friends have earned the right to course correct me if they see me going astray, but it doesn’t mean that they have to pull some sort of rank in order to do it.

Speaking of friends, I’ve been stunned by how lonely the role of pastor can be. They don’t seem to be allowed to have close friends. It’s like they can’t effectively pastor people who know them too well. The corollary to that is that folks don’t really allow their pastors to be real around them. Even in my role as “facilitator”, I’ve had to distance myself in some of my relationships because some folks, usually the more “churched” people, have very restrictive ideas about how church leaders should be and act (the two big complaints leveled against me: 1) I’m too fun. Apparently there’s something inherently not to be trusted in someone who’s having too good a time within his religion. And 2) I’m not afraid to have a drink. Look, you deal with church people all day and see if you don’t want to toss a couple down).

So now we’ve created a situation of isolation among the leadership so they are operating on a high wire without a net. Then we chew them up when they fall. Let’s take a “lesser scandal”, for instance, say a pastor becomes addicted to painkillers after an accident. We are quick to shoot our wounded and turn our backs on our fallen brethren. As if any sin automatically disqualifies them from leadership and exercising their gifts. You would think that if the church’s greater mission is to be a part of a ministry of reconciliation, there would be more of an emphasis on being about forgiveness and restoration.

Don’t mind me. Just venting, I guess. Had to hear from too many “I’m not gossiping, I just had a few observations” folks today. And now need a drink.

Forgive Us our Trespasses

We are a second chance, forgiving culture. It doesn’t matter if you’re leaving stains on dresses, dangling your kid from balcony windows, taking steroids, or pitting dogs in combat. We’re quick to forgive. At least if you’re a celebrity, what about the rest of us?

There is a line in the Lord’s Prayer that goes “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” At least part of the idea of forgiveness is that it frees you. I’m not sure who said it, it may have been Oprah, but it is said that “refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die.”

To move on, you have to have closure. It doesn’t mean you forget the offense: trust has broken, and all sides need to learn from it. However, asking forgiveness also opens dialogue. It takes courage to forgive another. Even moreso in those occasions when you have to forgive people who haven’t asked for it: there are times when, in order to no longer be a victim and to not let another have the last word over you or your life, you have to forgive those who have harmed you.

We’d like to see some sort of contrition when folks ask for forgiveness. The “I’m sorry”/”I’ve wronged you” is the first movement in the symphony of forgiveness. It’s important to express an understanding of our guilt.

Another movement involves repentance. When Tim Hardaway repented for his “I hate gay people” admission, deeds had to follow. He turned his back on his old way of doing things since repeating his mistake would only numb him to them. He sought re-education on his ideas, admitting fault, failure, and inadequacy. Because asking for forgiveness is humbling. You are at someone else’s mercy in view of your life and you realize that you aren’t in control.

Forgiveness is a gift. Forgiveness is a journey. Forgiveness is never easy, but we all would want a second chance.

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Friday Night Date Place – Break Ups Part III: Forgiving

(Or “Did God mean I have to forgive them, too?”)

(a.k.a. Keepin’ the hate)

I’m very quick to forgive, or to offer apologies, when offense is given or taken. Forgiveness is an emotional lubricant and a learning opportunity, at least for me. As mentioned before, it’s important to me to get along with people, and I am genuinely horrified when having given offense, most especially the unintended kind. But long-term forgiveness, when, for example, someone has a change of heart, can be a real challenge for me.

How often have we gotten out of a relationship, a bad break up, and it not been clean? He did you wrong. She cheated on you. He hurt you. She tore out your heart. Somewhere along the line, the two of you got lost in a spiral of betrayal, anger, hurt, and even hate. Then we wear the scars into our next relationship. However, at some point we have to wrestle with what it means to best love one another. This includes forgiving one another.

During the grieving of the relationship, the mourning time allows us to process the hurt and lessons of a relationship. We often think of forgiveness as something that someone who has done us wrong must ask of us. It is much harder to offer forgiveness to the person who has wronged you, especially if they haven’t asked for it or won’t hear it; but forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.

It is tempting to hold on to the anger, resentment and the sense of betrayal that may come with a break up, but you can’t keep holding onto things that happened in the past. It only leads to problems with the health of your future relationships. It’s like we get stuck in an emotional rut.

Scripture teaches us that we must forgive, because Christ forgave us. India.Arie sings “If Jesus can forgive crucifixion; surely we can survive and find a resolution.” I do not know if we can ever recapture our friendship, but we can ensure that there is no resentment between us. Forgiveness does not happen in a moment. It’s a process. Today, I choose to begin that process. The completion of that journey will not happen tomorrow or next week, but hopefully soon.

There are times when we are called to be a peacemaker. Let’s not forget that our former Significant Other was a part of your life. You carved out time for them, carved out space for them, they became part of your routine. Sometimes we have to villify the other person in order to move on, or more precisely, have a sense of moving on. We burn the bridge so that we don’t, or aren’t tempted to, keep going over and over it again. Yet it may be more healthy for us to forgive in order for us to move on.

Look, forgiveness is a choice, not always an easy one, but “forgive and forget” is a lie we tell ourselves. You’re much better off believing in forgive and remember; forgive and learn; as long as you forgive and move on. Moving on, any kind of transformation, is a process and the power of forgiveness and love is in the process: starting with absolute honesty (confession), owning up to what you have done, your part in things. Acknowledging that what you have done doesn’t define you. And then letting it go, as forgiveness opens the door for a new beginning.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean a restoration of the relationship. Sometimes the loving thing is to walk away. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18) As much as I’d like to conveniently toss out the words of the apostle Paul, we’re to try our best to live at peace with one another.

Jesus’ forgiveness is a living parable that teaches God’s forgiveness is not dependent on our worthiness, ability, or even our deeds of repentance. It is completely a product of God’s grace. “I, even I, am the One who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake; And I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).

You’ve been forgiven (by God) and need to move on. Forgive them and move on. And don’t forget to forgive yourself. And move on.

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