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.