It was the Buddha, or so I heard, who first said “We become the mirror image of our enemy.” That is, we look like the exact opposite but share the same essential nature which so offends us in our enemy.
I believe that
That’s why the left and the right can sound equally intolerant. We see the principle at work when police begin describing themselves as the biggest gang in town, and when religious leaders who spend their lives fighting the devil or the Great Satan begin to sound extremely nasty.
The mirror-image effect is acted out at work, in communities, on condo boards, in churches, social clubs and myriad other places where relationships, good manners and grace are lost or misplaced.
The mechanics are simple: people treated with intolerance begin displaying intolerance in return, in a mutually-reinforcing downward spiral.
Still, it’s a choice we make.
At one point when I worked at YSM’s Evergreen Centre for Street Youth, a new church-based drop-in center opened just up the street from us. Asked if their presence bothered us, I responded “the more, the merrier.” As far as I was concerned, they could open across the street from us and we would both be swamped with more need than we could handle – always too much need.
I went to visit the newcomers and welcome them. When I arrived the first person to greet me remarked “You really need to be here; this is what Evergreen was like before you ruined it.” The conversations which followed went downhill from there.
The attacks on me were so pointed that I didn’t stay long, leaving before my dark thoughts became angry words.
Later I met with our staff and had two messages for them. The first was a warning, that the new center would be saying nasty things about all of us. Second, an instruction that we would not be responding in kind: I urged them to live out one of the paradoxes of Christian faith, that others have a right to speak ill of us, and we have a responsibility to bless them.
The Apostle James, who likely was Jesus’ half-brother or cousin, wrote “Submit to God, resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” As a young pastor, I had preached a sermon on the text that focused on resisting the devil.
Following the service the chair of my board graciously challenged my emphasis. I got defensive and opened James’ epistle and pointed to the text declaring “resist the Devil and he will flee from you. “Ha,” I thought, “argue with that.”
He did and again with great grace pointed me to the first part of the passage: “Submit to God.”
In fact, what James was suggesting was much the same as the Buddha; if you fight the devil you become like the devil. James understood that if your focus was on God you would have already resisted evil and become a much nicer person. “Graced” people keep graced images at the forefront of their minds and hearts.
Jesus couldn’t be more clear: “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.”
Our impulse, however, is that what happened to us today is the exception, that Jesus was expecting a bit too much to ask me to love this particular enemy. I certainly thought so while smarting from the unprovoked condemnation from the newcomers in street ministry.
It’s hard to live it out, when our reputation, credibility or personality is under attack, even harder still when our way of life is threatened, our livelihood endangered, our values stomped, beliefs swept aside, or our sense of place in the world undermined.
What could be more counter-cultural in this age than loving one’s enemies? Yet Jesus word does not falter: Love all, even your oppressors, even your enemy. And of course, once you love your enemy, regardless of what they think, they no longer are your enemy. Other may label us enemies, but we are freed from responding in kind.
That doesn’t dictate that we never disagree nor argue for our understanding of what is right, just and true, or advocate for principles, philosophies, theologies and praxis we believe in.
What it does mean is that we focus less on defeating an enemy, and more on serving God and reflecting the values, ethics, vision and high principles that spring from faith.
Let us be consumed by love and good, by peace and justice.
Perhaps our mirrors will also then reflect something quite different back to us.
Blessings … Rick
Note: I apologize for the significant delay since my last post. I had planned on taking the summer off but then also became ill in late August. It has taken more time than I imagined to recover the energy to write more.
I Stand for Love
I Stand for Love was written by David Roth, an American singer/songwriter. His music has been covered by Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio, been performed in Carnegie Hall and the UN and carried into space on the space shuttle Atlantis. Anne Hills, the daughter of Methodist missionaries is an American roots and folk singer/songwriter. Her amazing soprano voice has made her one of the best-known contemporary folk musicians. She has performed and recorded with Tom Paxton, Cindy Mangsen and Michael Smith. Both Roth and Hills are known for their great writing and deep spirituality. I Stand for Love is a collaboration for their Rhubarb Trees recording.