Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Love Your Enemy....Yes, Even Him

Every day, each one of us faces the very real possibility of facing great violence in our culture today. There is no doubt that the violence being meted out toward innocent people is on the rise. But with each act of violence lies an opportunity. Each one of us also posses the very real opportunity to show our world that violence does not necessarily perpetuate more violence. Within each of us are emotions that are not always good indicators of how we should react to the external. When facing violence, to ourselves or those we love, anger, fear and panic are normal human reactions. But are these reactions good or even justified? When looking at the world from a cultural perspective, our answer would be assuredly yes. We're taught from a very early age to answer violence with violence, anger with anger and to despise our enemies. We're taught that our enemies are inherently evil and hating evil is righteous. I would agree that hating evil is justified, and an attribute of most faith communities. However, is an enemy or evil action always to be equated with evil itself?      

Just one day after the stabbing of 14 students at Lone Start College in Cypress, Texas, reactions are being made clear. Whether in the media or in your own personal communities, you are more than likely beginning to see exactly what most people feel about such a horrific tragedy.  Quite naturally, most people are reacting with emotions such as anger, sadness, disgust and fear. These reactions are normal, understandable and quite human. But when our emotions reach the threshold of reaction, we have a choice to make, and that choice could result in actions that reveal two very diametrically opposed pictures. One picture is cultural and socially acceptable. One that is expected and justified from most perspectives. The other picture is one that is counter-cultural, not very socially acceptable and completely unjustified and considered wrong from most world views.

"I have no sympathy for this evil SOB."  

"This loser. This scumbag. This pathetic animal, deserves no justice or sympathy." 

"If students were allowed to carry concealed weapons, this piece of crap would be dead!"       

"He's lucky guns aren't allowed on campus, orhe would of been brought out in a body bag."

"Kill him. Save taxpayers money!"

"Typical Obama supporter."

"Just when you think your life is bad, think to yourself, that could be my son."  

"Finally, we have the name of the freak." 

These are comments about the 20 year old stabbing suspect that I've collected since yesterday, and each one came from people who claim to be a follower of Christ. Some of these are from people that I know personally, and others are comments that I either overheard in public or read on message boards. Each one rose from a very justifiable place: anger, frustration, sadness or fear. Each one came from a place that most of us find ourselves when faced with the worst our culture has to offer. Each comment was real. Human. Acceptable. Expected. Good. And from the perspective of the Kingdom of God, each one is completely Un-Christian. 

When reading the Gospels, it's difficult to hear the words of Christ and justify many of our human reactions to violence in the world today. The teachings of Jesus were opposed and considered radical in His day. They were considered socially unacceptable, blasphemous and in many cases evil. Some of the things that Jesus taught were considered outright ungodly and perceived to be the complete opposite of what people of faith believed. Jesus' teachings were ridiculed, sneered at and dismissed as insanity. When we look at His teachings today, as well as much of the New Testament, it's easy to see that not much has changed in comparison to how our culture views such things.

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. ... " - Luke 6:27-36

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," - Matthew 5:44

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them." - Romans 12:14

"Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." - Romans 12:19-21

"Blessed are the peacemakers....Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." - Matthew 5:9 & 11

"If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." - John: 8-7

"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." - Matthew 26:52

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." - Matthew 5:21-22 

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” - John 13:34-35

"Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world." - John 18:26 

No. His Kingdom is not of this world. His Kingdom calls us to something different, as He taught when He walked the earth. His teachings were not socially acceptable. His teachings were radical. He was rejected as a teacher and called a heretic, ungodly and to be from the devil. His teachings were counter-cultural and rejected by most of the religious leaders. His teachings were considered insanity and to have had no validity to the people of faith. When we read the Gospels, it's easy to see that things have not changed that much in 2013. 

When faced with the most evil manifestations in the world today, we each have a choice in how we react to the human emotions that we have. We can react with anger, fear and frustration. We can return violence with violence and perpetuate the hate that arises from evil, or we can choose to follow the words of Christ and promote something different. For His Kingdom calls us to love when faced with hate, exhibit compassion when others ridicule, to promote peace when faced with violence, and to bless when our natural reaction is to curse. His Kingdom calls us to be different. His Kingdom calls us to manifest how things are suppsoed to be, not how things are.          


Monday, April 8, 2013

Living Psalm 88: A re-post from 1/23/12

I'm living Psalm 88 today.  No other explanation could paint a clearer picture of the depths of depression that I find myself in. Read Psalm 88. Psalm 88 is a Psalm of lament. It's a picture of despair that seems to have no end or resolution. At the time of his writing, the Psalmist knows nothing but sorrow and is consumed by overwhelming grief. It's the only Psalm that apparently does not end with some kind of resolution between God and man. It ends as it starts, with the Psalmist engulfed in utter desperation and lacking of any hope. No light bulb goes on. No rainbow springs up in the distance to lift his spirits just a bit. No ray of light to illuminate the darkness. Silence. He turns to God in his pain, in hopes of an answer for the dark state that he find himself in. Silence. God doesn't reveal a nugget of theological truth that causes him to break out in songs of praise and thanksgiving. There is no reason for his pain. No explanation for the silence from God. No answer for the perpetual anguish that the he finds himself in. No hope. This is what depression feels like. 

Depression is very heavy on me today. I live with depression. Not as much as I did many years ago, but I still struggle with depression from time to time. That time is now. It always comes back with a vengeance. Depression sucks. I have no inspiration to write today and motivation is non-existent. I'm writing this in the hopes of you extending me grace. My mind is consumed with a fog that is going to prevent clarity and attention to grammar. That is one of the side effects of depression. The fog consumes, thick with confusion. I'm currently unable to keep a coherent thought within my mind. It would be a nightmare to have a cup of coffee right now. So please forgive me if this is not a literary masterpiece. My minds races with dozens of thoughts that are overwhelming me, and yet I can't focus any single topic. 

It seems that a lot more people have been seeking to know what depression is all about these days More people who don't deal with depression are seeming to be asking more questions and trying to understand how this disease effects others. Maybe more people are dealing with depression in those close to them. Maybe it's just becoming more common. Maybe the stigma is waning a bit and the discussions are opening up. Recently someone asked me to describe what depression is like. What better time to describe the pit than when you find yourself at the very bottom of it, right? I usually don't share this side of me. Usually I just isolate myself. You won't hear from me for a while. My blog will not be updated and I'll draw inward. But here it is. Full color. High def. No editing.       

I didn't sleep well lst night. Most of the night was filled with nightmares and dark dreams I woke up this mourning at the end of a particularly eerie dream. You know the kind that leaves you feeling icky the next day? Nothing really specific about the dream seems to reveal anything to me. The setting was just dark, funky and gloomy. That feeling seemed to have attached itself to me when I awoke. It's been stuck on me, clouding everything I've attempted to do today. Yeah, I've put on a smiley face and tried to "fake it until I can make it", (I hate that expression. No doubt invented by some chipper motivational soul who means well, has no comprehension of what it's like to experience depression for even one day). Was it the same one who coined the phrase "Too blessed to be depressed"?  That makes me nauseous.

Depression is unmoving. It just sits there, like oil stuck to the sides of and old steel drum. Water just beads off of it. I could scrape it out, but it would just make a bigger mess, and I've convinced myself to just deal with it. As always. You've mourned the death of someone close to you, right? Remember that feeling? That's depression. No, I'm not being melodramatic or exaggerating. That's what it feels like, but with no explanation to it's cause. Mourning for no one. Nothing. Just mourning.         

Anxiety and panic usually begin to set in when I'm in the depths of depression. I feel the urge to run. I feel the urge to drive somewhere, but have no destination. It's like running or driving down a tunnel that has no end in sight. You can't see anything from the right or left and all you can hear is a deep droning sound. My ears are ringing, even as I type this and my heart is racing just a bit more. All I can think about is what others think of me. How apparently incapable I am to function at full capacity. I beat myself up, and any previous victories that I've had quickly become failures in my mind. I discredit anything I've accomplished and assume that I've just fooled myself through my entire life up to this point, as well as everyone else. I'm not a writer. I'm not a minister. I'm not a good husband and I've failed as a father. I know. In reality, none of this is true. But in the midst of depression, it's extremely difficult to see anything else. Reality is twisted and distorted. Warped. You wonder who this person is as you gaze in the mirror. I wonder who this is typing these words.

Another companion emotion of depression is anger. Anger comes in waves and in many ways more welcome than depression. Anger feels more controllable and more powerful. Depression just makes you feel weak and out of control. I often get angry with God, and today is no different. I feel like smashing my fists through a wall, in hopes that He'll see how much I hurt. As if God needs a physical demonstration. I walked this morning, feeling isolated and alone. Almost an hour I walked with my dog Dexter. He pants. I pray. I talk out loud and sometimes raise my voice at God. People must think I'm mentally ill, and maybe I am. I just wish that one of them would stop me an ask what's wrong. Do you ever just long for someone to put their hand on your shoulder and say, "It's OK."? Never underestimate the power of the human touch, especially when you feel nothing. I feel cold and completely alone. The clicks of Dexter's nails on the concrete remind me of a clock. The seconds ticking by, reminding me that times stands still while in the depths of depression.   

Recently, I told God that I hated Him. Not because of who He is, or what He's done in my life, but because of what He seems to have not done. I assume that God can handle me saying that. Teenagers often tell their parents that they hate them, right? They come back and apologize and mom and dad know they don't mean it. I told God that I didn't mean it. He knows. But I felt it. I wanted Him to hurt like I'm hurting. Maybe I feel hatred toward God because I feel hatred toward myself. What is self-love? How are you supposed to love yourself when all you want to do is flee from the person you've become? It's a paradox.   

This morning I read the words of Psalm 88. I'm living Psalm 88.But in the midst of depression, I hold onto faith. Faith in a God that has pulled me out of deeper pits. Although I feel life ebbing away, I know that it will be restored just as quickly as it's slipped away from me. I take solace in knowing that things have been much worse and I survived. Like the Psalmist, I'll continue to call on the Lord "every day" and keep bringing my petitions before Him. I'll shake my fists at my Maker and raise my voice to Him. But I trust Him. I know that joy will come again, because I've tasted it before. I've reveled in it. Possibly, that's why the depths of depression hit me so hard. When you've tasted the goodness of God, and been taken to higher planes of living, the distance back down is even further. We fall, but rise again. I will. I always do.