Monday, February 22, 2010

You want me to love who?

Before I continue with my thoughts on faith, I want to take a brief excursus to offer something that is currently on my mind. My hope is that it will spark friendly discussion, or at the very least introspection.

Tonight I had the privilege of hearing Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak. It is rare that someone's mere presence can command the respect of a room full of hundreds of people with varying backgrounds and ideologies. It is rarer still that this respect is extended even when the message delivered is difficult to hear. And it is nearly unheard of that this respect should remain when the person's words offend some of our most deeply held convictions.

And yet this is essentially what I witnessed tonight. I saw a foreigner tell a room full of red-blooded Americans that what they have called just and warranted is really only a higher form of revenge. That their ideals of national pride are in fact (dare I repeat it?) immoral. That the correct road, the road to real healing, is a much narrower and more difficult one. Could it be that those we have called our 'enemies' are actually the ones we are to love?

And yet, those who received this hard word--to their credit--applauded it. Doubtless, there were many who harbored doubts about his implications, who bristled when he got too specific in his examples, who were made uncomfortable by his boldness. To be transparent, I was one of those people. I thought things like "How dare him bring up 9/11...," "We had good reason to respond the way we did...," "There's more to it than that...," "Homophobia isn't the same as racism...," "But all religions aren't the same...," and a whole litany of other such thoughts.

And in thinking them, I totally missed the point.

I missed the fact that going immediately to these rehearsed answers (while they may even be true and valuable) I ignore the thrust of his message and refuse to recognize the pride in my own heart. The issue here is not one of politics or issues, however much we may like for it to be. It is one of love. Of motive. Of tolerance (in the true sense). Of our very humanity.

Tutu brought this point home well with the story of a woman he knew who was severely injured when a man from a particular 'liberation' group tossed a hand grenade into the room where she was dining. After the woman's long recovery, in the midst of great physical difficulty and pain, she remarked that she'd like to meet her attacker. That she'd like to forgive him. My attempt to avoid tears was broken by her next comment: "I hope he can forgive me."

What a radical idea loving one's enemies is. There is something about it that moves us to applause, even though it breaks us. Especially when the message comes from one who has lived it. Let us not forget in all this the originator of this message; the only One who lived it entirely. Everything about Him offended the leaders of His day. His politics were 'dangerous,' His theology surely unorthodox. The words He spoke were hard. And yet He loved so well that even His executioners were moved to admit, "Truly this man was the Son of God."

Jesus' message was not one of nationalism, or of dignity, or of getting what we are entitled to. It was, and remains, one of self-sacrifice, even for--especially for--those who least deserve it. What an inhuman concept.

Truly this man was the Son of God.


  1. Racism and homophobia come from the same places as nationalism, sexism, hatred of creeds, ageism, anti-intellectualism, elitism, etc. ad nauseum. It is an elevation of the particular "I" above the demonized "they" instead of the universal "we."

    You'd best check yourself if your first reaction was the categorize hate as though one were more defensible than another.

    Otherwise though, a great way to look at it. This is the one part of Christian mythology more than any other that ought to stand out to all humanity as the greatest lesson to be learned. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, and even He ought not take it. Forgiveness, reconciliation, and the furthering of the family of man are the hardest, simplest, most necessary parts of mankind's existence.

  2. I really was affected by Mr. Tutu. I'll have to admit, I was nervous when he started to talk about 9/11. I applauded when he said that we had spent billions of dollars on the war when that money could have gone to ending world hunger, but I was so frightened that something bad was about to happen. That may sound silly, but you understand that this is a very touchy subject.
    What do you think of what he said about ignorance being the ignorance of ignorance? I am still pondering that but I seem to be stuck.

  3. mmmm. That's really good stuff.

  4. Thanks for the comments! I will say, however, that though I welcome comments of any kind, and I have opened the ability to comment to anyone for this purpose, I do prefer that commenters use their names or some account (Google, etc). Thanks.

    You say, "Racism and homophobia come from the same places as nationalism, sexism, hatred of creeds, ageism, anti-intellectualism, elitism, etc. ad nauseum. It is an elevation of the particular "I" above the demonized "they" instead of the universal "we.""

    I totally agree. Taken in context, I don't believe you'll find me claiming otherwise in my post. When I cited my thought of "Homophobia isn't the same as racism...," it was in order to set up this thought for correction in the next paragraph.

    That said, I do of course take issue with your use of the term "Christian mythology." I'm not sure what this is supposed to add to the discussion. Christianity is pretty clearly not synonymous with mythology. Perhaps you could clarify what you mean here.

    Also, you make the comment that though vengeance belongs to the Lord, "even He ought not take it." This is a misunderstanding of God's relationship to morality, as it assumes that we stand in a position to judge God's actions morally. This is not in fact the case, but I plan to cover it in a future post, so I will not do so here. Thanks again!

  5. I'm glad you decided to blog about his speech, and this topic in particular. I think it'd be unwise to push aside the total life experience of a man who's lived through things we can't imagine because we don't agree with his politics, or the specific examples he used to clarify his point.

  6. Amber: I think what he said was something like "The only intolerance is the intolerance of intolerance." Maybe that helps.