Sermons

Learning From Enemies, Part II

Ancient Testimony ~ Luke 6:27-36

July 19, 2009

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Many of you left last week’s service and said, “Okay, okay, I agree. We should love our enemies. But I don’t love my enemies. So is this just another version of Protestant put down theology? Another shoulda if I coulda?” Good points. Plus, you wanted me to be specific. What’s an enemy? What’s love? Well, gird yourselves for some expansion (if not answers...).

For many Protestants, God is not still speaking. God is still spanking. Setting up too high a bar. Telling us we are bad. God is still sneering, “You don’t love your enemies? Ah. You are bad.” Not so much has changed in 500-plus years of the Reformation. We were unworthy under Catholicism, and now we are unworthy under Protestantism. There are even more parallels. We had missionaries in early Protestantism and we have missionaries in late Protestantism. Perhaps I am still a missionary, trying to show you the good, true, and right way: love your enemies, be good to those who hurt you. Missionary theology abounds on the Christian Left. If you don’t love your enemies, you are no good. If you on the Christian Left don’t convince the American imperialist government to love their enemies you are no good. Plus, the catastrophes of the day are your fault. We have switched heathens: they used to be the Burmese; now they are the American public. We have to convert them and make them more better, more good. We are still in home improvement mood.

Today I am going to be so basic that I think you will have grounds for new concerns for next week. What is an enemy? An enemy is someone who could hurt you, who could even kill you. Yes, you have enemies. They are ruining the air and the earth. They are also fighting wars to hang on to that privilege. Are you doing that? Yes, to the extent that you’re not combating it. Yes, you are an enemy of earth and many of its peoples. God is still spanking.

This is a wolfish theology of obligation in sheep’s clothing. You will be worthy of God when you get better. You will be worthy of God once you have the right point of view and once you convert others to the right point of view. Right now you and God are enemies. You’re not worthy of God; therefore, God is still spanking you.

What is love? Love is the other and you as one. Love is respect for the right and wrong in you and the right and wrong in the other. Love is joyous abandon of the need for self or other to be perfect. Love is mutual. It flows into us and out of us. Because of love, we have ways to be more than right or wrong. We can partner with Jesus, even expand his view; He said we are to love our enemies.

I belong to and sort of believe in a God-who-is-still-speaking God, not sneering and not spanking. Yes, I am aware that some of you would enjoy the still spanking God and I choose not to go there today. Even that cheap but good joke would involve me in the cliché of demonization of other Protestants. You know that cliché, right? We here at Judson are the Good Prots. We can make a good still spanking joke because we have the higher sexuality. We are the Wise Prots. The Avant Prots. Those other Prots are pathetic. For all we know, they are anti-sex. We are pro-sex. Therefore, we are good and they are bad. Demonization is an equal opportunity employer and happens as much on the Left as on the Right. I fear the missionary impulse is deep, if not the missionary position. I fear the unworthiness is deep. It is not shallow. We have a demonization default position. It is patterned within us. I am good because you’re bad. And I am bad because I am not good enough. I am obligated to be better if I am to be worthy. The fact that this theology is downright boring has nothing to do with the subject. It is a strong Protestant pattern that we could just call the missionary position and be done with it.

I believe God is calling us to another way, through Jesus, into a thing called love. Love is not just for the palatable but also for the unpalatable—and for us that means our enemies. Think Rush Limbaugh. I’m asking you to love him. Think those who condemn a wise Latina. I am asking you to love them. I appear to be on a gazillion feminists listservs—historians, theologians, etc. The second the Supreme Court hearings were over, there was a kind of explosion in my e-mail. Hundreds of women were screaming on-line: “I could never be a Supreme Court Justice. I could never have kept my cool as Southern white men told me I was discriminating.” People went on to come up with great ideas for castration, beheadings, and other not so nice demonizations for the senators who thought female Latina experience was somehow less compelling or consequential than masculine Anglo experience. Jesus is asking us to love those who cause us to explode. Jesus is especially calling the poor and the female, the less and the light, to be more loving than they are more justice seeking. Doesn’t seem fair but it’s true. Think of the Civil Rights Movement, if you want. People who had been slaves were forgiving of people who enslaved them. That is how change happened. Or think of those who are anti-gay. Oh, ouch. I am asking you to love them as well. Do check out State Senator Tom Duane’s speech on-line about this very subject.1 It is gorgeous.

By the way, that man who beat you once—you are to love him. That man who murdered your neighbor—he is not your enemy. As Jesus would say, “What good is it to you if you love those who love you?” In other words, how is that working for you? I hope you heard me say last week that I saw nothing simple here. Nor do I know how to do it. My default mode is standard Good Prot, as in the more sophisticated blaming that we don’t love our neighbors. I want to convert you to love, without knowing how to do it myself.

I think this is a general religious problem, not one confined to Protestantism or Catholicism or even Christianity. I see the same pattern of obligation to what’s right and doing what is right—and the concomitant oppressions—as Abrahamic and Enlightenment wide. The same pattern of right-thinking and right behavior, leading to unworthiness, which then leads to indifference, non-action, or defensiveness, is present in the secular Left. You can hear it all summed up in that one phrase, “I am not racist.” “I am not a crook.” “I am not a sexist.” These moral cul-de-sacs come right out of right-thinking. The only thing that matters is that we are not wrong. We go to war over it.

Just to make the issue large enough, I think of president Sarkozy of France telling women what to wear on their heads. He, of course, is right. Right-behaving, right-thinking, right-acting. I think of Jews and the Middle East. The question is not peace but who is right. Religious peace is not about the right side winning. Nor is political peace finally about the right side winning. Peace, religious and political, is not just détente. It is not just lining up on our right sides. Peace is the presence of justice, the presence of joy, and the kind of thing that happens when we forgive our enemies. Peace happens when we are open and affirming, not just open. Peace happens when we affirm our differences, our different rights and wrongs, in that field Rumi described as being “out beyond” these constructs.

Even Moslem women think in this right and wrong set of categories. Look at a recent occurrence in Sudan: the police arrested 13 women in a raid on a cafe in the capital, Khartoum, and flogged 10 of them in public for wearing trousers. The women were detained by officers of the public order police, which enforces Sudan’s strict Islamic law in public places. One of those arrested, Lubna Hussein, a journalist, said she was challenging the charges, which can be punishable by up to 40 lashes. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. I know it seems unfair to ask a woman who has been flogged for anything more, but I want her to say that she is worthy of love and knows how to love, as well as saying, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” I want her to object to being the object of someone else’s morality and to say she deserves and can give love.

What Jesus says about loving enemies is a place beyond right and wrong. It means loving those whom we think are wrong. It also means loving that part of us that has been wronged by meshuganah thinking.

It also means something more than knowing we are right. We can know we are right and not have anything resembling love in our hearts. In fact, the more we chase being right, the less love we have. Love is that soft, wet heart, thudding, beyond the rock wall and the old worn armor. Something cracks, like a china plate, in our breast, and we realize that all of our self-justifications matter less than the truth that God loves us and we can love each other.

Your plea for specifics gave me a wonderful week. Thank you. I spent the week with clergy in San Francisco teaching a course on public ministry, bulleted as “Where have all the Coffins and Moodys gone?” What was fascinating was how seriously at war the clergy in my class were with the lay people in their congregation. Message: I would be Bill Coffin if my laity weren’t so insufferable. I would be Howard Moody if the times were different and my lay people weren’t so insufferable. Oh, dear. Terrible thing to say, right? But demonization is default mode because we can’t bear the grace of God. No one and nothing gets in our way of doing what we need to do—not our unworthiness, not our inferiority, not our lay people—and not, as in my case, my inadequate intellect to be a minister at Judson. What gets in my way is not my unfulfilled obligations but my neglected grace. I could love you more if I were more in touch with grace. If you were more in touch with grace, you could love me more. We wouldn’t have to demonize each other but we could sanctify each other, unworthy that we are. I do work for you. Clergy do work for lay people. You do employ me. The bread on my table comes out of your pockets. Of course I am afraid of you. Does that mean you are my enemy? No, but it is easy to do what I did this week and think of lay people as enemies.

I’ve taught that course for three years now; people seem to like it, and it is a way of moving public ministry into the 21st century. I argue that the Coffins and Moodys are in the classroom, that the people who attend are doing public ministry, and they love the assertion. They also want to spend the whole week telling me how hard it is. “You have no idea what my lay people really want” “You have no idea how hard it is to get a recession crazed Left out of its own privacy.” “You have no idea how resistant my lay people are to change.” If I hadn’t been teaching for twenty years, I would think of these comments as interesting; instead, I think they are quaint. They are the same thing Warren experienced when he traveled for Amnesty International in the 80s. He was the program director for Amnesty in the Midwest. At around 4:00 a.m., he would head to Midway Airport to be picked up a couple of hours later in Des Moines or St. Louis or Fargo. There, the small Amnesty chapter would announce to him, “Just be careful. People here are not like they are in Chicago. In fact, this place is the most conservative place in the entire country.” Each place would win the contest for most conservative. That way they didn’t have to be in charge of themselves. Nor would they have to touch the hot fire of love and grace, those forms of tenderness beyond obligation to be good. There we rest in not being good enough and we become good enough to love each other. We stop fronting with our resumes and front instead without humanity.

Anyway, spending a week with clergy from around the country was great. Each of them had the worst lay people in Christendom. I mean the worst. The most intransigent. The most difficult. The most insecure. I could go on. I didn’t even enter you all in the contest of worst lay people because frankly you didn’t have a chance. You are much too good to be worst, which of course gives you a serious disadvantage in understanding the gospel about enemies. You see, to have an enemy requires demonization. You have to declare someone bad, and if you can’t declare someone bad you are almost lost before you begin. So, sorry, I do apologize—deeply—for not being able to enter you in the worst lay people contest, but you didn’t have a chance. Not a chance.

So, strike one for the practical, concrete approach to enemy loving. First of all you have to be bad. Very few of you are bad enough to qualify.

Which puts us into a terrible situation in a hate-filled world. We don’t have very good reasons to hate each other. We share power. We share responsibility for this place. It is not totally my responsibility how things come out here over the next few years. Nor is it yours. It has to do with whether we can resist the game of mutual demonization that appears to be the last dregs of Protestant ministry. I will disappoint you. We will not always agree. We will fail each other. That is what will happen. And the great tenderness of grace will result in a larger tenderness of love, which will make us successful. We will love the enemy part of ourselves and of each other.

Looking outward—and back to my promise to each of you that I would be as concrete as possible—NYU seems to be our favorite enemy. We have had them for so long as such a good enemy, to us and to the community, that it must be hard to give them up. But I see no reason why we continue to need an enemy. Or why we ever needed one.

Same thing with the fun we had with Michael Jackson last week. One of you got to tell the other that his generational gap was showing because one of you had heard enough about Michael Jackson. I thought that was one of the best moments in my nearly four years with you. Somebody just got up, stood up, and said, I think I’ve heard enough about Michael Jackson. Now that may not be the higher demonization of the enemy and I may really need to have one of you as my enemy, but truthfully, I see no reason to turn somebody whose generation gap is showing or who has heard enough of Michael Jackson into an enemy. Nor do I see what it gets me to turn Michael Jackson into an enemy. So what’s with the entire enemy making? I love that phrase: How is that working for you? Last week I argued that enemy making was not working very well for me, or us, at all.

I mean, what difference does it make if immigrants get health insurance in Massachusetts and California or not? Do we need to exclude someone just to keep the health insurance system working? Apparently. Even more apparently, the Obama administration seems to be interested in exchanging enforcement for legalization. What a dumb, pre-Christian idea. Who does it really hurt if immigrants, who do pay taxes, do get health insurance? Why does there have to be somebody who doesn’t get something it to make it work? The scarcity mentality here is directly related to the enemy mentality, which is directly related to the obligation. If you were just good enough, God could love you. If you were just good enough, you could love God. If you could just convince other people to be better, to get over their heathen ways, then grace, mercy, and love would abound.

I don’t think so. I think grace, mercy, and love do abound. There is plenty of love, grace, and mercy. There are too many enemies. Hating them is getting us nowhere, absolutely nowhere, absolutely nowhere at all.

Once, during a little league game, my son Jacob backed into home plate, fell down, and scored the winning run. For real. He was eight or so, panicked on his way home, almost there but fearing that the kid on second might have a good arm, and so he headed back to third base. He was backed into home by the third baseman, fell down, and the third baseman lost the ball. Jacob fell backwards and he scored the winning run.

In this little parable, I see the theology of nonviolence, better known as loving our enemies and being good to those who hurt us. When we finally exhaust our rightness and our enemy’s wrongness, when we finally stop thinking our enemy’s arm is quicker than our legs, when we finally learn to love each other, it will probably be because we fall down backwards into home plate. We will be so exhausted by being right. We will be so confused. We will probably look really funny. Everyone, including God, will probably laugh their heads off.

Amen.

 
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