Looking for my enemy

I was in Atlanta last weekend with my older son to watch him play a couple of soccer games. Not being a sporty person myself, I have had to learn a lot about the world of competitive sports over the past decade or so. But I’m not just referring to the rules of the game (although I definitely came in without knowing anything about “offsides” and “corner kicks” and “slide tackles”). A big part of my education was trying to understand the psyche of the players and fans.

 

For instance, it’s common for parents from Team A to suspect that preferential treatment is being shown by the referees to the players of Team B (“Come on, Ref! How’s that a foul?!”), but to feel entitled to the exact same treatment for their own players (“Finally! You have a yellow card! Use it!”). It’s cuckoo.

 

I usually tell myself that the only reason my son is on this team and not that one is basic geography. Same age, same sport, different cities. That’s it. Those boys on the other team aren’t our enemy. And although I might like to throttle those screaming parents from the other team, they aren’t my enemy either. Neither are the opposing coaches and the referees. But when we get angry, we humans seem to want to find someone to be angry with. We want a villain. That kid who just fouled my son will do, or maybe the referee who didn’t call it the “right” way. Something like hate boils up in us and comes spewing out. It’s not pretty, folks.

 

Jesus had a lot to say about how to regard those you’ve labeled as your enemies. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (NLT)

 

When Jesus stood on a mountainside and taught those words to the large crowd who were following him from town to town, he was giving them one example after another about how to be an alternative to what the World offered. He told them that God blesses the poor and the humble and the persecuted. He told them to be salt and light—to be different.

 

Jesus wasn’t necessarily referring to my conduct during a soccer game or our behavior towards others during this election season, but it’s applicable all the same. It’s a waste of time to villainize those around us. Friend or foe, we are called to love them all anyway.

Disagree to Disagree

I don’t get to read as much purely entertaining fiction as I’d like. They’re like dessert for me, so I don’t ingest them as much as the vegetables I end up reading and studying instead. But with our recent Fall Break trip to the mountains, I decided to treat myself by reading one of my favorite authors.

 

I read a book about a group of people taken hostage by a bank robber. (FYI: This was not a Grisham-like thriller. It was a charming and funny, character-driven story set in Sweden.) The basic idea was that these eight people with dissimilar personalities and established prejudices and heavy emotional baggage are thrown together in a traumatic situation, and they come out on the other side not as strangers, but as something more like family. They experience a potentially life-or-death situation, resulting in a new understanding of those people who lived in a different “universe” (though they all physically live in Sweden) than them.

 

I have been stewing over this story since I finished reading it a week ago. I keep thinking about if it’s really possible for a person’s entrenched perspective to change. Can years of hurt and misinformation actually move aside for a new view to form? What do we do with people we disagree with? Especially when it’s something we think is important and central to our entire moral code?

 

Dr. Christena Cleveland thoughtfully lays out the issues with division in her book Disunity in Christ where she devotes a lot of time discussing perspective divergence or what she calls the gold standard effect. “Basically, the gold standard effect leads us to believe that not only are we different from them, but we are also better than them…When we adopt a unique group identity and surround ourselves with similar ingroup members, we essentially create our own alternate universe in which we believe that the standards, ideals, and goals of our ingroup should become the new ‘normal’.” She explains that most of us like to live in homogenous worlds where all the people think and act and vote the same as us. And when our Gold Standard view is challenged, there is often hostility. (And when it’s challenged on social media…watch out! Sparks will fly!)

 

We’re living in period of heightened division, and as much as I’d like to think it will all clear up after November 3, I feel like these hurt feelings and angry comments will still be hanging over lots of relationships like a dark raincloud. Someone much smarter than me should suggest how to repair these divisions across our country, but in the meantime, I have a plea for those of us who are a part of the body of Christ.

 

Just like those fictional characters in the Swedish novel I read who survived a life-or-death situation and came out different people—realizing they were more alike than different—those of us who claim to be made new by the One who lived and died for us should be willing to love each other without hurting each other so frequently. Strangers, acquaintances, coworkers, friends and even those who worship at the same church are tearing into each other on social media because they don’t agree.

 

Here’s my advice, the next time you begin to type a comment which tears down the person who posted it have a conversation with yourself. Maybe it can go a little something like this: “Wait…Is this comment I’ve formed in my mind using my own Gold Standard going to punch this brother/sister in the gut? Is it a personal attack? Is there some motivation behind this person’s post which I’m unable to see? I was in a life-or-death hostage situation with this person and by the blood of Christ and God’s overwhelming mercy, we both barely made it out to the other side. If what I’m planning to say is really that important to me, I’ll call this brother/sister up and talk about it privately. Otherwise, I’ll move on. I realize that’s a lot more work than a hastily written 10-word comment displayed for all to see my brilliant assessment of recent political events, but I am not lazy. Looking to Christ’s example, I am a servant.”

Alarming

I can’t think of anything more confusing than suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, unless it’s suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night while you’re away from home, sleeping on a pull-out sofa in a strange hotel and the fire alarm is blaring up and down the halls.

 

This was my recent experience, and I’m still recovering from it. Our 9-year old’s first response was “I didn’t do anything! It wasn’t my fault!” which it wasn’t, but I sure would like to know what he was dreaming about at 1:45 am. This information might be very revealing.

 

My husband, our two sons and I hopped up and threw on shoes before shuffling down the stairwell with the rest of the hotel’s sleepy occupants. We all stood in the parking lot, huddled in groups and waiting for the fire trucks to arrive. To entertain myself, I played a favorite game of mine which I call “Look How Everybody Thinks Differently.” Though it was a chilly 40-something degrees, several people were wearing only shorts and t-shirts, and some were even bare-footed. Others had jackets or blankets draped over their shoulders. One couple emerged outside fully dressed and pulling wheeled suitcases toward their car. They are my first suspects in The Case of Someone Pulled the Fire Alarm. Some joked, others fumed, but most seemed to assume the alarm signified no real threat to any of us.

 

The fire truck arrived with only lights flashing and no siren, a sign that this was going to be speedily resolved and we’d be happily snoozing away in no time. But moments after the alarm was turned off and we were back in our room, the alarm started back up again. Beeeeep, beeeep, beep it repeated every 25 seconds, followed by a 4 second break, a more clipped beeep, beep, and then it started all over again. (I know this because I counted.) More than an hour after it began, the alarm finally stopped and, if we could also stop the residual ringing in our heads, we could fall asleep.

 

It seems we’ve become overly comfortable with alarms. More often than not, we ignore the warnings because they come way too frequently, or we find that it’s easier to assume that it’s just a drill. Murder hornets and melting icecaps. Wildfires raging in California and derechos blowing through the Tennessee Valley. Widespread racism, harassment in the workplace, child abuse, identity theft…I could go on and on, but it’s too depressing and I might have to curl up in a ball, making it really difficult to type.

 

Reading the Bible gives me insight about being watchful but in a way which won’t drive me to the fetal position. 1 Peter 5 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (NIV)

 

I see four steps to follow as I attempt to up my Watchfulness Game: 1) From a place of extreme humility, acknowledge that God is in control. 2) With the knowledge that this All-Powerful God cares for me, transfer my worry to His mighty and capable shoulders. 3) Realizing that the devil is watching and ready to pounce, be equally as alert. 4) Sustained by my faith and backed by an army of fellow believers, refuse to follow the devil.

 

With God’s help, I can be prepared and watchful without giving up the peace He promises.