Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Be Our (Evil) Guest

This year has gotten lots of us down. More shootings, more bombings, more hollow words from greedy politicians, more extreme legislations, more us-versus-them, more fear. People have drawn their political lines, and those with different views are seen as dangerous to our very survival. And somewhere in all that, it is still the Year of Mercy.

We all know to love our enemies. But we also know how hard that is. They stand against us. They actively undermine us. They want to see us fail. How can I love someone whose worldview is so distant from my own? How can I love someone who not only refuses to love me back but seeks me harm? G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.”

I really hate when current politics is compared to Nazi Germany, but a recent trip to the Holocaust Museum has put Nazism on my mind. I see parallels to the early 1930s. And I ask myself: how would I have responded then? How am I responding now? We all know it’s right to speak up for the marginalized and oppressed. But should we vilify and shut out others in the process?

How would I have treated my neighbor who voted for the Nazi Party and believed Hitler would revive Germany to glory? Or the cashier at the store who is afraid of Jews overrunning the neighborhood? Or the boy signing up for the army just so he can shoot communists? Do I stand up and tell them how wrong they are, how uneducated and prejudiced? Then I get to walk off, feeling superior. Or should I engage, try to understand where the depression and fear and anger comes from? I should treat them as people, scared and lashing out in destructive ways, but people with real experiences and real feelings. Being nationalist or racist or corporatist doesn’t stop someone from being human. And being maligned and ignored will not change their minds. Being shown attention and compassion might. Loving your neighbor means seeing the whole person, not just the political bumper sticker.

Jesus ate with sinners. It didn’t mean he approved of their sins or that he stayed silent when seeing injustice. But he did sit down to dinner. I might have to grit my teeth or close my eyes, but I know should invite the Nazi neighbors to dinner too. Love is an action that requires practice. It requires climbing uphill—showing love to someone who might not show love in return, who might mock you for your weakness, who might continue down a destructive path anyway. It doesn’t always feel good or get the desired conversion of your enemy. But you do it anyway because it is the right thing to do. “Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.”

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