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When Enemy Lines are Hard to See
I remember as a kid playing with friends. In the summer months I remember dividing up into good guys and bad guys. The problem always happened. When you shot someone with your cap gun, a dispute usually followed, as to whether you friend was dead, or wounded, or Paul, my next door neighbor, would say, you missed me.
Capture the flag was even more an issue as to maintaining boundaries so the opposing team wouldn’t sneak all over the neighborhood to get to your flag. They would climb fences, trample through backyards, just to sneak up from behind and capture your flag. I can see why paint ball developed, because with that blotch on your shirt, there was no denying Billy was toast.
In late 1944 JR Tolkien, who had served earlier in WW1 and fought in the Battle of the Somme, wrote to his Son that he was very disturbed by the way the British press were depicting all Germans as evil. One article said that the German people were all rattlesnakes and that they didn’t know the difference between good and evil. He wrote, what are we saying when we decry the Germans for naming Jews as subhuman, when we do likewise in describing all Germans.
In other words, whenever a person takes to defining another person as evil, he or she is more danger than they know. When we give ourselves permission to treat others as less than human it can take on a life of its own, for it can hang like a dark cloud around us.
Modern psychology understands how easy it is take those things you just don’t like about another as likely aspects of you that you have never accepted. So in loving the enemy often we get parts of us that we have rejected, and in loving the enemy we can end up loving all those parts of ourselves so that there is more of us to bring into conversation and relationship with others.
It is so easy to teach children to hate. I remember sitting across from the kitchen table arguing with my mom who loved to put down Canadian Indians. I said that there were lawyers and doctors and accountants who were from reservations. I knew that she was acting out of a stereotype idea about these folks. I said if you had had your house taken away as a kid and sent to live on nonproductive land, then you also might want to sleep your life away with booze.
When the Albanians were fleeing from Kosovo, hiding out in Macedonian camps by the hundreds and thousands, a Father was catechizing his young son about the Serbs. “Who are our enemies?” he asked. The child seemed confused, so the father answered. “The Serbs are our enemies! They kill our people!” He yelled, and what will you do when you grow up? This time the boy was ready and said what he knew would win his father approval. “I will kill the filthy Serbs,” he shouted back. One day it’s the Serbs, tomorrow it’s the North Koreans, etc. etc. it goes on and on.
Truth be told the axis of evil lies here, there and everywhere. Vaclav Havel, the retired president of the Czech Republic, wrote that during the soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia there were so many acts of compromise on the part of so many people that it became impossible to tell who was a collaborator and who was not. He said the line between good and evil does not run clearly between them and us, but more between each person. Many people were on both sides.
Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn said much the same, “gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor between political parties, but right through every human heart. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even when the heart is overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good remains.”
And even within the best of all hearts there remains a corner of evil. This line runs through me and through you. It reminds us to be aware of drawing lines between ourselves on the good side and others on the bad side. When we cannot hear these things about ourselves without becoming defensive then we are in danger. When we are unable to utter a sincere apology or ask for forgiveness, then we are in trouble. The trouble lies in the fact that we then project that evil onto others and have them represent things about us that we have never accepted.
Two former presidents, Washington and Lincoln, both called the nation to repentance. Repentance is not blubbering and self-loathing. Repentance is insight. That’s what Tolkien meant that the newspaper writers lacked - insight.
That’s the problem with so many of today’s headlines. They label and run without ever providing real insight. We all relish looking at the evil in others because it distracts us from looking at the evil within ourselves. If you have ever seen the movie The Pianist, it might be the best movie on the holocaust. What would I have done, if I had been there? Under pressure those lines between good and evil get blurred.
Some of the guys fighting in Vietnam, especially those in the rear gun of a helicopter gunship, said that when you get swept up into a massacre of women and children, they didn’t recognize the person they had become. A door gunner in a helicopter is a dangerous spot. One gunner said he felt a rage and hatred within himself that he had not known was there. He was more afraid of his own impulses than he was of being in the door of the helicopter.
All of us share in the human condition; that’s what it means when we say all have fallen short of God’s glory that we all are separated from ourselves, others and God and it is only God’s acceptance of us that reconnects us within and to others and to God.
There are times and places where we have to stand firm against evil, but we have to also recognize that we, too, have participated in evil. All forms of evil have a common thread in that evil often becomes the desire that the other not exist.
As Paul says, Jesus came to become our human struggle and there to offer love. Jesus died the death of the one declared to be an enemy.
When reading the 23rd Psalm we hear when I walk through the darkest valley you are with me. The joy of being a child of God is more than anything else the joy of being with God - not just working for God, but being with God.
People often quote the words of Irenaeus: “The glory of God is human being fully alive.” But they generally leave out the words that follow: “And human life is the vision of God.”
Augustine said there are some things to be used and other things to be enjoyed. Things that are the objects of enjoyment make us happy. If we set out to enjoy those things, which we ought to use, we are often led away from happiness.
He said getting entangled in the love for the lower stuff results in losing sight of the real objects of enjoyment. For to enjoy a thing is to rest with satisfaction in it for its own sake. Sin could be understood as using what should be enjoyed, i.e. people, instead enjoying a cell phone, or a thing.
When you say I am happy to be with you, you are saying, I am enjoying you. In Augustine words you saying I am resting in satisfaction with you for your own sake. You are not a means to an end. I have no purpose in the neighborhood, other than to receive from you all the wonder that God brought about just in making you. Learning to treat people as if each day were their birthday.
Working with others to restore community, to be with people, to encourage them to use their gifts, is our work. Being with community occasions love and in that, it imitates the way God loves us.
God is with us Emmanuel, for no other reason than that God loves us for our own sake. God enjoys us. That is the mystery, that’s what our ministry, service and witness must seek to imitate and emulate. Then our efforts to stop violence, which uses people for other ends, i.e. making an impression, getting through initiation into a gang, all this might end in their enjoyment.
Sunday, September 18, 2016