the offensive truth

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.08.28 PM

“To the natural eye it looks like the relative strength of two armies fighting on the battlefield determines the outcome of the battle. But the eye of faith should see that this outcome is much more affected by a man standing on a hill raising his arms in prayer (Ex. 17:8-13). Faith understands that the fate of nations may hinge more on whether a kingdom person is praying than the decisions of its leaders (Ezek. 22:29-31).” –Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation

Last week I posted a blog about loving our enemies and praying on our naked knees for those who persecute too and I didn’t predict any pushback. But contrary to my expectations, I received a handful of strongly opposing opinions from a few people in my faith circle. Some said that I spoke too soon after such a tragedy and others said there are exceptions to loving your enemy when they’re as evil as ISIS and thereby I was confronted with the question: Is it plausible that we are given a “free pass” to annihilate men whose behavior has reached a certain height of hideous?

While writing about my ISIS brothers, I was repeatedly clicking to their picture and staring at their shrouds of black and the blades in their hands and I thought that if ever I’ve seen an enemy with my very own eyes, it’s the 21 of them.

Then I went even further and searched web images and articles documenting everything else they’ve done and I had to wrestle again with the famous Matthew 5 words Jesus spoke on the mount, checking and re-checking the verses for caveats: 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Do I still believe it?

Even though I couldn’t–and still can’t–see any caveats to Jesus’ words, do I believe the offensive and hard truth he speaks?

Yes, I do believe it…and while I sit here praying that Someone bigger than me will “teach my heart how to love” larger than the small confines of my flesh, I recognize that by persisting with this simple, powerful prayer I am attempting to decide the fate of my own feelings toward terrorists, even though I cannot choose or judge how a few unified nations respond to them.

Yes, I do believe it…but I also recognize that loving my enemies is an ideal that has never been met by a reality like ISIS.

My ideal is Love, but my reality has never been tested in such an egregious way. I have never  watched the beheading of a son or the burning of a husband or the raping to death of a daughter.

My ideal is Love, but I am much too close to my own humanity to say downright positively that if personally faced with such atrocity I would still be able to respond in the opposite spirit; that I would still be able to look back at my enemy and allow Love to pour from my eyes and skin and speech.

And unless such a terrible day comes, all I have are my ideals and I can only continue to pray that Love may be so in me at it is in heaven, the same way it was in Jesus when he offered forgiveness to his foes while being scourged and bled to death. I can only pray that Love may be so in me as it is in heaven, the same way it was in all the martyrs who blessed their assassins right as the “axe” was coming for them.

(Doesn’t perfect Love also cast out the fear of those who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul?)

So you see? I am just your idealistic friend, the one who sits in a circle of relative safety and beats a methodical fist against her chest and begs the Almighty to teach her how to love. “Teach me how to love <beat my chest> teach me how to love <beat my chest> teach me how to love.” Because if nothing else, I need to at least start with Love (also known as: Jesus) as my entire rubric and hope that he would hold up inside me under the threat of pain or pressure.

And the image Jesus gives me when I’m asking to learn his Loving ways is an image that propels me to the nearest hill where I take a fervent stand and raise my arms high and open my mouth loud to send forth the supplications that might sway souls and whole nations, even more so if we’re all standing and raising and praying together:

Do you see the soft little babies with their bare limbs and clenched fists and how they were born perfect and pure and smelled like milk and new life? I see them and the weight of glory is heavy on their heads and the breath of God moves like a birthright in their bodies and do you see how someone tucked their blameless forms under the blanket of systematic evil and sang them lullabies with lyrics of loathing and lawlessness?

Do you see how they grew up in the bosom of terror, nursed at the breast of hate and were cradled by the arms of violence? Do you see that what God made for good was then ripped apart and infected by an opposing power?

And do you wonder who you would be if you had been born in such a place and raised in such a way?

We do not choose where we are birthed or what social climate we’re conditioned by or who our family is or how they develop and discipline us. It is our birth settings and situations that largely determine the direction we will go in life; were we taught to love or hate?

And if mostly what a child was taught is hate; if their cells and spine and sinew were stitched with hostility, how can we be so easy with our judgement when we might be exactly the same under similar circumstances? How can we so readily hope for a bomb to blow all the “bastards” to so many bloody bits when those bastards could just as easily be us? Out of our same mouths come love and cursing.

But what if we can see them? Then we might comprehend where they’ve come from, what oppression holds them down, what evil is eating their insides up and how the their souls are shriveled to practically nothing. If we can see them, then all we’ll have at the end of the day is a grief so great we can’t breathe and a compassion so vulgar it doesn’t make any sense.

I’ve left my eyes in one place long enough to see them like I’ve looked behind their backs for a hundred years and their history helps me understand: I don’t want to kill them. I don’t want to put a bullet in their brains. I don’t want them to die a thousand tortured deaths. I don’t want to perpetuate a single dark thing to them that they have done to others.

I want them to live in the Son.

I want them to feel the first rays of honest Light. I want them to walk into a single, soul-shocking moment of transcendent Love. I want them to be consumed with a Passion so fierce their rage expires from it. I want to hold them with my two aching arms and rock them to Life with a different song; croon a melody that weaves the heritage of their divine value. I want them to be born fresh again and my hope is that our prayers and wishes and songs would be the contractions that deliver them slippery like baptism into the world once more.

I want to see them as unblemished babies with a brand new language, their first word would be Daddy.

I know my ideals are talking again, but if I’m being absolutely honest with you…what really torments me is the knowledge that they’ve missed their destiny. It torments me that they aren’t filling their space in the body of Christ and representing the part of him that only each of them can.

Look at all the empty spaces and weep.

Weep with me.

Stand with me, too…on a mountain or in a 40-acre forest or we could fill up an empty cathedral instead; let’s plant our clumsy feet here and there or anywhere until we’ve made a way for Love to crack open the most impossibly hardened heart. I still believe in power of Christ to cut through the cosmos and forgive and heal the worst of us; everyone. Holy magic is better than hordes of soldiers with heavy artillery. Do you believe it?

We are the people of another Way and may we be so known in the world as the peculiar ones who open their arms and arteries and aortas for as long as it takes to bring peace on earth and goodwill towards all men.

We weren’t made for the sword. And by sword, I mean: Hate. We weren’t made for hate, but if you choose to live by hate, you might as well have a blade in your hand–go ahead and kiss your tender soul goodbye. You reap what you sow.

And if you reap what you sow, then let us be the blessed peacemakers–the children of God–who pray hungry habitual heartfelt prayers replete with Love, supplications which sow deep seeds that grow transformation across the enemy’s land.

Kingdom come.

{Image by Massimo Faccini via Flickr}

would you like to share?
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail to someone
thank you for coming by!
want to read more?