Thursday, September 24, 2020

Sanity is No Excuse for Hate

 Last week my blog post was a video in which I shared a couple of stories that disturbed me. They remind me that no matter who we are, we are not immune from behaving in cruel ways. If you didn’t see the video, you can find it here. I want to spend a little time today reflecting on why it is so important that we not turn away from stories that make us uncomfortable.

One of the things I thought about, especially as I read the story of Stephen Biko and the cruelty inflicted against him, plus the government official practices that sought to make black South Africans feel inferior to whites, was that these practices were likely created and enforced by people who considered themselves Christian. Certainly not everyone involved in their creation or implementation would have considered themselves a Christian, but I’m pretty certain that there would have been white churchgoing South Africans who were actively involved in perpetuating the belief that black South Africans were inferior to themselves. And they may have excused their behavior because they were “obeying the law” or “doing their job.”

We certainly have our own history of such belief in the United States. And that belief was held by people who called themselves Christians. Beatings, killings, racial slurs and derogatory thinking about people different than we are does not get checked at the doors of the church. Sadly, it persists today.

We have to be better. We have to do better. Hatred is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. Arrogance and a belief in your own superiority cannot be supported by the Sermon on the Mount. We cannot justify calling other people, who are, like us, created in the image of God, any derogatory name, whether it is “animals” or “heathens.” (And I’ve heard church leaders use both of these to describe others).

A meditation by Thomas Merton entitled “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann” should give us all pause. Merton says this:

One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. . . The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous. It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared.

Merton goes on to say:

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own?

Along with Merton, I wonder how we can fail to apprehend the pain of others as our own? If we claim to follow Jesus, we can neither condone or keep silent when policies and practices developed (and often made into laws) create and perpetuate systemic hatred and demeaning treatment of others. We cannot hide behind sanity. That is not a sufficient standard for Christians to follow.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Choice to Love

We are capable of encouraging life or destroying life. The choice to love matters.


Thursday, September 3, 2020

Armor and Clay Pots: A Reflection on the Story of David And Goliath

 My favorite part of the story of David and Goliath is when Saul puts his own armor on David. The armor was too big and heavy for David to move well, which tells me just how small David really was compared to the soldiers in Israel’s army, much less Goliath.

 When I read this story, I think of Paul’s words in in 2 Corinthians 4:7: But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. We have a hard time admitting that we are clay pots, fragile and easily broken. We encase ourselves in armor—the armor of financial security, moral superiority or respectability—to present a confident self to others. We do not want to be seen as weak and vulnerable.

 Yet it is reliance on such armor that God criticizes when he condemns the lukewarm church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:17: You say, ‘I’m rich, and I’ve grown wealthy, and I don’t need a thing.’ You don’t realize that you are miserable, pathetic, poor, blind, and naked.

What God wants is not our strength or respectability or morality. God wants clay pots—weak, vulnerable, fragile pots—so that we rely on God, not ourselves. Watchman Nee, In The Normal Christian Life, recounts what he said to a man who struggled to please God: “The trouble with you is that you are weak enough not to do the will of God, but you are not weak enough to keep out of things altogether. You are still not weak enough. When you are reduced to utter weakness and are persuaded that you can do nothing whatever, then God will do everything.” . . . A drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself.

When we recognize that we cannot save ourselves, that our goodness and morality and wealth have weighed us down like heavy armor until we are utterly exhausted, we may finally realize that freedom is found in weakness. The very first Beatitude, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, says that we experience heaven here and now only when we live in poverty of spirit, which is the acknowledgment of our own helplessness, coupled with complete trust in God’s strength.

Armor keeps God out. Like David, we have to be weak to know God’s strength.