On this MLK day, I offer you a random essay I penned 11 years ago. It is heartening to look back on my words, knowing I have softened and grown, moving away from fear and toward a greater love. As a country, a Church, a world, have we all grown? I shall hope so. I shall believe in the great antidote…
“It is five-thirty in the morning. The radio clicks on and my husband and I awaken to the news of yet another murder in the city. Today the victim is a seven year old girl, caught in the cross fire of two men who are enemies. A week later, the news at dawn is of a fire chief and his assistant, accused of a hate crime against an African American gentleman who had been spending the afternoon fishing. The fire chief thought he had dealt well with the enemy. A mosque is blown up in Baghdad; two elderly people are murdered for their money; a young girl is found dead after she had been missing. All the work of an enemy.
It seems as though enemies are all around us.
I feel great sadness at all of this hatred. I struggle with it in prayer, as I sit at the quiet kitchen table. The irony and the gift of the moment is brought home to me as I consider that perhaps those who might be my political enemies are denied this simple pleasure of peace and of a warm breakfast.
Who is my enemy? If I were to take the stance that seems to be popular amongst my fellow countrymen and women, I could be tempted to say that my enemy is a political faction, a terrorist, or someone who’s religion is not the same as mine. As it is, I am hard pressed to name such a person or people, for I do not truly see them as my enemy. Enemy is such a divisive word—one that elicits thoughts and images of hate, murder, injustice. And yet, I must admit that I do have enemies. I do not like to own up to this, for it feels ugly and mean spirited to do so.
Who is my enemy? I can’t really say that I had an enemy until I came into my adult life. Strangely enough, the concept of the enemy took on flesh when I stepped into the role of a professional minister. Since I have entered into ministry, I have found more enemies than I dared dream could be on that horizon for me. This both shocks and amazes me, yet if I probe some of my own responses to ministerial leadership in the past, I should not really be surprised by this. Have I not felt animosity towards those in authority? Have I not reeled under what I perceived to be a lack of pastoral care, a sparseness of Gospel values, and an emptiness of integrity in ministry? My heart knew a call from God to fill those holes, to be “the covenants of promise,” where we as Church seemed to be “without hope and without God in the world.” (Eph 2:12 NAB) Yet it has been in this very desire to answer a call for justice in the Church and in the world that I have come face to face with the enemy.
Who is my enemy? The temptation is for me to point an accusatory, self-righteous finger in the direction of a person who has caused me and others pain. I want a scapegoat. I suppose that is a common response to the gut gripping feeling that tears at us when we feel threatened. But that is much too simple. I need to probe deeper. What is it that is clenching at my heart and soul? Why do I feel threatened? Is my safety at risk? I want to lash out, defend myself.
There is something dark and murky beneath these actions that I take and that are taken against me. The enemy resides in the impetus for the hurt and the pain I not only experience but that I hear about as I awaken each day. The impetus is fear. The enemy is fear.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
We fear to let go of the higher moral ground. We fear change. We fear discomfort. We fear loss of power, authority and control. Life is insane all around us—bombs are blowing up people and cities; war is raging; terrorism lurks like a sick virus waiting to blight life; technology is changing the face of the earth and jobs disappear, lives are scattered like wisps of clouds taken by the wind. We live in fear. Where is there a safe haven from all of these uncertainties of life?
For us who call ourselves Christians, that safe haven is the church, the Body of Christ. The community of faith is a place of comfort where we know the ritual and are sure of who we are in the Lord, sure of who we are with each other. Still, we may find ourselves threatened and fearful in this fellowship of believers. When church ceases to be a community of the Gospel challenge to love and serve the Lord and becomes instead a private fiefdom of moral certainty or personal importance, fear has room to enter in and we meet the enemy.
How often do we allow fear to guide our reactions to the new-comer who might have a different outlook and challenge the status quo, the safe haven? The new is the unknown and fear is nurtured by the unknown. We are wary of changes and are easily threatened. We may even find ourselves harboring fear’s twin sister—hate.
I have done this. You may have done this. We have done this corporately as a country. We have probably all danced this waltz to some degree or another in our faith communities or our neighborhoods.
If the enemy is fear, what is our response to be? Is it a call to arms? Is it a revocation of personal freedoms and rights? Is it free license to slander the new-comer?
In the midst of the battle and as we grapple with the enemy, we hear a quiet, steady voice: “Do not be afraid.” (Mt 28:10) It is Jesus, gently and sometimes austerely reminding us that we need not fear, for he is with us until the end of all things. This has been the loving promise of God throughout the ages. The psalmist tells us, “You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup brims over.” [Psa 23:5 NJB]. In the sight of fear, the Lord prepares for us a wonderful banquet to be savored fearlessly, joyfully. We need not be afraid.
How does one arrive at such a banquet? Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mat 5:43-44 NAB). Jesus did just that. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. These are not just nice words from scripture. They are the call from Jesus. They are the actions that empower the banquet of joy in the sight of our foes. They are the antidote to fear.
Each day as I travel to my parish, I pray for an end to oppression and fear wherever and however it is manifested. I pray for my enemies who seem to be so heavily burdened with fear. If I did not, I might be tempted to hate them, and then I would also spend my life in fear. Yet I am not without guilt, so I pray for their forgiveness of me as well.
As I pray daily, my enemies take on a human face. I begin to feel a twinge of tenderness for their hurts and their fears. I must daily battle the mask of the monster that so easily drops down in front of their humanity and calls me to think of them as less than children of God. Sometimes it is so hard to let them be God’s children. There are days, though, when I find that I can accept the invitation to the banquet and feast in the sight of my enemies, knowing safety and security in God’s arms and presence. It is at that banquet that fear is undone, and enemies are undone as well.”
May you know peace.
May you know love, the great antidote…