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.

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.

Ambassadors of Love

Many people call themselves Christian and we often refer to ourselves as a Christian nation. Have you ever wondered how some people can call themselves that? Or rather, how some folks can do some of the things they do and cloak themselves in religion or the Word of God?

On the flip side, there are a lot of folks who cloak themselves in the veil of religion to simply justify their biases. In other words, they have a belief/predisposition then seek to undergird said belief with Bible verses; bringing their vision to their faith and creating dogma around it.

Which is why I don’t tend to dump on Christianity when a “Christian” does something kooky or Islam when a “Muslim” does something contrary to their tenets. There are folks who call themselves Christian, Muslim, Wiccan or what have you whose actions clearly run contrary to the beliefs of those faiths.

We’re all eikons, image-bearers of God, created to relate to God, to relate to others, and to govern the world as such. Christians, in particular, ought to be ambassadors of God. Take that seriously, to reflect God, His love, His holiness.

Too often we run around as if we have diplomatic immunity, a get out of hell free card, that places us above everyone else. Instead, we ought to be the first servants. I think that’s what being missional boils down to for me (and how my faith makes sense to me).

If there’s a “fear” to my faith that I keep coming back to it’s that I take very seriously Christ’s words when He talks about people doing things in His name and when they finally come to meet Him, He tells them that He never knew them. Cloaking myself in His name and missing the point of my religion … that’s not the kind of Christian I want to be.

What defines how you see yourself in your faith?

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A Lesson on Love

Today’s lesson comes from writer extraordinaire, Douglas Clegg:

Love is a transformation. Everybody who’s inside it knows about that transformation.

You can’t help but look at the one you love as if they’re the most beautiful, wonderful, best person on the planet. It’s not blindness. Your vision has transformed — and gotten better.

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Horror and the Fear of the Lord

Have you written on the topic of the fear of God Himself related to horror? … As a teen I read a lot of King’s storytelling, thought some was trash and some powerful. More mysterious and powerful was H.P. Lovecraft of which I read some in undergrad … I believe a great creative mind from a true biblical paradigm could do horror.

We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), yet we’ve rather lost the idea of what it means to have a fear of the Lord. To our modern minds, we have difficulty reconciling the ideas that if Jesus Christ is perfect love, then there is nothing to fear of the Most High (I think I understand the reasoning, if you look at salvation as a “legal transaction, with Christ taking the penalty for our sins onto Himself thus we have no judgment to fear). Or, because of the God is love/love casts out all fear (seeming) dichotomy, that somehow you can’t have faith and fear at the same time. I don’t believe that to be true. In fact, I want to look at the relationship between horror and a fear of the Lord.

At the root of what it means to “do” horror is the idea of fear. Part of the cathartic experience of horror is out exorcizing of some of the things that scare us, that shadow of fear that we live our lives under. Ultimately, horror is about the fear of death and horror is excited by the reality of evil. We fear for our lives and the lives of those we love. We live in fear of good being consumed by evil. Frankly, evil should be feared. Even with the full reality of Christ, we still live with the consequences of evil all around us. A mother killing her children. Religious fanatics blowing up buildings. We seek a context of understanding for that which makes no sense. A lot of what horror attempts to do is make sense of evil. Evil is irrational and uncontrollable; true acts of evil are so irrational that conspiracy theories make sense.

Matt Cardin, in the preface of his horror collection Divinations of the Deep, posits that “the deep”, the primordial chaos, can reveal much about God, ourselves, and the true nature of our reality.

“We encounter the deep, so they say, in the dark mysteries of life: in horror, pain, nightmare, disillusionment, and death, in places where light and reason seem to be absent, or to have only a precarious foothold; at the seams of the universe where sometimes a thread comes unraveled and a ray of darkness shines through, and the light does not overcome it. To seek such glimpses and to ask such questions is always dangerous, however, because we can never know in advance what form the answers will take.”

So it struck me the other day that maybe we’re too quick to sing I Stand in Awe of You in our worship times. We may sing it, but we don’t believe it. For one, we’ve lost our ability to be awed. Secondly, we’ve forgotten that God is a dangerous terror. We want a God we can control and understand. By losing the idea of what it means to have a fear of the Lord, we end up trivializing God. Fear and love are connected because when we lose the fear, we lose love. I’m speaking of a healthy fear, one rooted in how important that object is to us, how much the object of our fear/love means to us as well as how little we can control them; and how much we fear life without them.

Even though fear and love are interlinked in both the Old and New Testament, fear is often overlooked or undermined in much contemporary Christian spirituality. Evangelicals assume that fear is the opposite of love. They rarely consider that fear is the complement of love. Godly fear that complements love is not simply terror or a sense of profound awe. Fear arises from the perceived inability to control an existential object. For example, we fear a lion when no cage exists between the animal and ourselves. Without the bars of a cage, the lion is beyond our control.

We often sense, if not experience, and existential terror. A gnawing emptiness that claws at our souls. A darkness, the deep, that threatens to suck the joy for all aspects of our lives, that can lead to a spiraling sourness to life that makes us want to crawl into bed and never get out. Some philosophers call this a “God-sized hole” that we try to fill with all manner of distraction, from the pursuit of materialism and the trappings of success to family and relationships.

Yet the terror, the ache in our soul, remains.

Even should we turn to God, we sometimes find our spiritual walks dissatisfied, as if somewhere along the path we missed, or lost, something vital. Maybe that sense of “terror” or awe of seeking a relationship with something larger than we can conceive of with our finite minds, something beyond our measure and control. And we need to cling to it, working out our salvation in fear and trembling.

We must maintain and nurture a “delightful terror” and “trembling fascination” toward God. God is the ultimate existentially relevant object over which we have no control. God is absolute in this regard; there is no other reality more existentially relevant to our lives – no reality over which we have less control. For this reason, we must fear God in order to truly love God. We cannot control God, therefore we must fear God.

And live in light of that fear.