Loving the enemy

My church is doing an in-depth study of the gospel of Luke. One of the most challenging spiritual lessons, on loving your enemies, is found in Luke chapter six, verses 27-36.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Luke 6:27

Jesus explains why we should love our enemies – because God is kind to the wicked and to the ungrateful. Anyone can love their friends. God expects more of us. We are to be merciful to others just as He is merciful to us.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.

Luke 6:32-33

Scot McKnight wrote about loving the enemy is his book, Living the Jesus Creed. He says that the enemy Jesus has in mind is the person who has wronged or wounded us. McKnight says that loving the enemy often begins in the mind and the memory. When you remember that you have been wronged, you can either “enjoy a feast of condemnation, the feast that never satisfies” and thereby let the enemy define you or you can let Jesus define you through grace.

Your enemy may be a person who hurts you. Your enemy may be a person who rubs you the wrong way or pushes your buttons. It may be a person whose interests are diametrically opposed to yours.

It has been fifteen years and I have not forgotten how wounded I was by a conflict with a coworker. We were so different! I have always been hardworking, conscientious, and dependable. The younger coworker was a slacker who always had an excuse for not doing his job. I was put in charge of training him. I couldn’t ignore his negligence of his job responsibilities. Large bills were not getting paid. I complained to the boss. The boss listened to my concerns but never held the coworker accountable. Instead, he acted like an indulgent parent and accused me of being contentious.

This conflict went on for months. I tried to deal with it on my own. I read self-help books. I spoke to a counselor. And yes, I indulged in a feast of condemnation that did not satisfy. I knew that I was becoming the kind of person God does not want me to be. I became critical and unkind to the coworker. I gossiped about him to friends. The conflict brought me to my knees. I resigned from my job but not before wounding my boss by telling him what I honestly thought of him.

McKnight reminds us that in the face of the enemy, we see an eikon of God – a person made in God’s image. Instead of “shrinking the other person to the size of our personal villain,” we should see them as someone whom God loves. To love the enemy is to see their humanity.

With time and lots of prayer, I learned to see the humanity of my enemies. I saw that the younger coworker was not a villain but the product of his upbringing. I saw that the boss was a good man with a personality unlike my own. I knew that I was not above reproach and that God has forgiven me for my role in the conflict. It didn’t define who I am.

Loving your enemy doesn’t mean that you forget that you were wronged. You can still condemn the wrong. But you should remember that God forgave you despite your own wrongdoing. With the grace of God, we can turn the memory of wounds into grace. We can pay God’s grace forward by offering it to others.

Jesus said to pray for those who mistreat you. McKnight suggests praying that God will make the enemy into the person God wants them to be. Lord, as I remember the hurts of the past, I remember how merciful you were to me. Thank you for using that difficult experience to teach me. I pray that you will make A and B into the people you want them to be.

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Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

I will not be silent

I will not be silent
in the face of injustice.
I will stand up 
for the oppressed,
for people of color –
children of God.

I will stand up against
the lie of white supremacy
the sin that begat slavery
the sin that begat lynchings
the sin that begets inequality
the sin that begets injustice.

In this land where
liberty and justice
are not for all
I will protest freely
I will act justly
I will love mercy.

I will be an instrument
of Your peace.
Where there is hatred
I will sow love.
Where there is darkness
I will be light.
I will not be silent.

Pillars of Caste: Divine Will

Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.

Isabel Wilkerson

In Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson identified eight pillars of a caste system. I would describe these “pillars” as beliefs (or excuses) that are used to justify treating one group of people as inferior to another on the basis of something as insignificant as skin color. A caste system is not necessarily based on race. It can be based on gender, age, religion, social class, etc.

The first pillar Wilkerson discussed is “divine will and the laws of nature.” She began by describing the divine justification for the Indian caste system. In an ancient Indian text, Brahma, “the grandfather of all the worlds” was said to have created the highest caste, the Brahmans, out of his mouth or head. The lower castes were said to have been formed out of lower parts of the body – the arms, the thighs, the feet. The “untouchables” were considered so low, they were even beneath the feet of the lowly Shudra, “the servant, the bearer of burdens.”

In America, Christians historically used what has been called the “curse of Ham” as justification for enslaving people with brown skin. If you read the biblical text, the curse of Ham was actually Noah’s curse of his grandson Canaan, Ham’s son. Noah was angry at Ham for telling his two brothers that he saw Noah naked. The curse was not a curse of God and it had nothing to do with Ham or Canaan’s skin color.

Christians have used selected scripture as a pillar supporting the withholding of privileges from women in ministry. One day, when a woman gave the sermon at my church, I saw a man turn to his wife and say, 1 Corinthians 14:34. I immediately knew that he was referring to the verses that have been used to justify preventing women from speaking in church. “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

I have struggled to understand why Paul would write that women should not be allowed to speak. I found a compelling response to the question, Are women to remain silent in the church? in a blog post by Dennis Regling, an evangelist. He wrote that Paul often quoted other people before refuting what they were saying. Paul would use the Greek symbol ἢ before refuting the previous passage. The symbol basically means nonsense! or say what?

Both of these examples illustrate how important it is to use discernment when you hear someone attempt to use the Bible to justify something that you know is not consistent with who God is. Our response should be an emphatic . Nonsense! God created human beings in his image. We are to love one another as we love ourselves, to treat other people the way we want to be treated.

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Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

The Bee’s Knees

I’ve been getting a daily email from Word Genius. Although I didn’t ask to be put on their email list, the emails remind me how much I like to learn new words. Recently, Word Genius introduced me to the word sockdolager, which means 1) a decisive blow or answer; or 2) an outstanding person or thing. Merriam Webster says the word sockdolager (or sockdologer) may be a combination of the verb sock and the noun doxology, a hymn of praise to God. The word originated in the early 19th century with words like hornswoggle and skedaddle, two words that are fun to say. Sockdolager isn’t fun to say but its second meaning has fun synonyms – bee’s knees, crackerjack, and cat’s meow.

While pondering the second meaning, an exceptional person, I thought about Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College who writes Letters from an American. I read her letter first thing in the morning. I think she’s exceptional because she puts current political events in the context of American history for those of us who aren’t history buffs. I admire her dedication to her audience and her ability to write so much nearly every day. I wish I was like that. As another reader wrote, “there’s lots of stuff in that brilliant noggin of yours.”

Books are written about exceptional people and I love learning about them. Because my husband is a history buff, we have books about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others.

I am grateful for the exceptional people in my life. My sister Cindy is an exceptional caregiver. She was a nurturer from birth and was like a second mom in our large family. She works long hours as an RN at a nursing home. Mom spent the last few years of her life in that nursing home under my sister’s exceptional care. Cindy also frequently checked in on Dad in his final years, even going to a doctor’s appointment with him so she could find out about his medical issues. She was an exceptional daughter and is an exceptional sister and mother. She’s the bee’s knees!

Exceptional people are outstanding in their field. Exceptional people go above and beyond what is expected. Exceptional people aren’t perfect but they stand out from the crowd for their talent or their dedication to a cause. Exceptional people motivate and inspire others. Exceptional people are praiseworthy.

In my own job as an accountant, I have always tried to go above and beyond what is expected. I know that I am a valuable member of the team because my teammates frequently call on me for my expertise. There’s a lot of knowledge to share in this noggin of mine!

But I don’t want to be known as an exceptional accountant. I want to be known as exceptionally helpful. I want to be known as exceptionally kind and gentle. I want to be like Jesus. I want to be the bee’s knees.

Father, thank you for the exceptional people in my life. Thank you for the exceptional example of my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

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Photo by Kunal Kalra on Unsplash

Toxins in the Permafrost

After the racial protests of 2020, I began reading to learn more about racism in America. The most informative book I have read so far is Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Part One of the book begins with a powerful analogy. In 2016, a heat wave hit the Russian peninsula of Yamal. So many children were getting sick from a mysterious illness, the authorities declared a state of emergency. Then scientists discovered that the extreme heat had eroded the permafrost, exposing Anthrax, a toxin that had been buried in the carcasses of reindeer since 1941.

Racism is a toxic pathogen. For much of my life, I believed that America had largely buried it. But just as unusually hot weather in Siberia exposed long-buried anthrax spores, rising heat in human hearts exposed long-denied racism in the United States. What reignited the flames? Wilkens pointed to one catalyst: the U.S. Census Bureau’s projection that by 2042, the U.S. will no longer be a white-majority nation.

The prevalence of racism today is often attributed to institutional or systemic racism, the embedded social practices that lead to discrimination against people of color. According to Wikipedia, the term institutional racism was first used in 1967 in the book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. Institutional racism is much more subtle and harder to detect than individual racism. Today many whites quickly condemn individual racism as immoral but are not so quick to condemn the racist practices embedded in our culture.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. visited India, he was introduced to a group of high school students as “a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.” King was surprised and a bit peeved to be described as an untouchable. But he realized it was true; he and other black people had been consigned to the lowest caste in America for centuries.

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it.

Isabel Wilkerson

Years ago, missionaries visited my church to talk about the Dalits, India’s lowest caste, once known as the “untouchables.” We were given clay cups to remind us of the daily oppression of the Dalit people, who aren’t allowed to drink from the same cups as people in the higher castes. The oppression of the Dalits seemed like an other world problem. Now I realize that caste is very much a part of my world. It is not a foreign problem.

In Caste, Wilkerson draws parallels between the unnamed caste system of the United States and those of India and Nazi Germany. As described by Wilkerson, the upper caste consists of white people of European descent, the middle caste is made up of Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, and the lower or bottom caste is made up of black people of African descent. White people have historically been the dominant caste, the favored caste, the ruling majority. Black people have historically been the subordinate caste, the disfavored caste, the powerless minority.

In another powerful analogy, Wilkerson compared America to the stage of a long-running play.

The actors wear the costumes of their predecessors and inhabit the roles assigned to them. The people in these roles are not the characters they play, but they have played the roles long enough to incorporate the roles into their very being, to merge the assignment with their inner selves and how they are seen in the world.

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

White people have become accustomed to our dominant roles. We take little notice of the people in the back unless they try to veer from the script; then we step in and put them in their place. If they protest too much, we silence them.

Caste makes distinctions among creatures where God has made none.

A native of India

The American caste system is a tragedy. As a nation, we have an ugly, horrific history of dehumanizing people based on the color of their skin. And although those of us living today did not create this system, we inherited it and may unwittingly play a role in keeping it in place.

The caste system thrives on dissension and inequality, envy and false rivalries, that build up in a world of perceived scarcity….A caste system builds rivalry and distrust and lack of empathy toward one’s fellows.

Isabel Wilkerson

Today, we can see the American caste system at work in the restrictive voting laws that are being enacted all over the country. I believe that these bills are designed to keep the ruling majority in power. Others have pointed out the symbolism of the governor of Georgia signing a bill that restricts voting rights while surrounded by white men standing in front of a painting of a slave plantation.

I agree with Wilkerson that understanding the American caste system may be the key to dismantling it. In part three of her book, Wilkerson describes what she calls the eight pillars of caste, the beliefs and practices that keep a caste system in place. I will reflect on each of these pillars in future posts.

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Photo by Daniel Born on Unsplash