“Love is Heavy, but Hate is a Burden” or “The Old Switch-a-Roo”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.index

Love is heavy.

It brings with it many frustrations and tears.

I walk with people caring for aging parents and see this to the fullest.  They are tired, weary, worn.  They love their parents…but it is a heavy burden.

I walk with new parents and see the same thing, after a while.  They are tired, weary, worn.  They love their children…but they’re a burden.

Or parents of children with special needs.  Or adults who work primarily in the service industry.  Or adults who work in social services, or nurses, or educators, or hospice workers.

Or people who do justice work.

Because, and this is a truth about humanity that I think is under-appreciated by those who don’t work daily, one-on-one, with a wide swath of humanity: people suck.

They do; no two ways about it.

But sometimes the general nature of people can get the best of us.  Especially those of us who fancy ourselves as doing justice work.

How easily justice work can turn into hatred.  I’ve seen that too many times.  Justice work becomes full of “us and them” dichotomies when the heart is left unattended.  The unattended heart easily turns to hate over time.  Calcification is the natural state of everything that is left alone.

The heart is no exception.

We like to think that love and hate are opposites.  No; they are cousins.  Love and apathy are opposites.  Hate and apathy are opposites.  Love and hate are cousins who quickly dress alike in their zeal and passion when left unattended.

Love and hate are like those twins you dated in high school.  You’re always wondering if they’ve pulled the old “switch-a-roo” on you.

It does no good to hate the oppressor…MLK knew this in a powerful way that is instructive for us all.

Working against an oppressor must be a labor of love, not a labor of hate.  If it’s not, then pain is just transmitted instead of transformed.

This, of course, is easy for me to say as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, male.

But even there, too, I must be careful.  In my zeal for justice work I can get sucked into reactionary hate against my status and privilege.

I must learn to give up my privilege as best I can.  Hating it does very little to change things.  Only in giving things up can we change them.

Jesus understood this.  “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

As I said, MLK knew this.  He gave up his justifiable hatred for a humanity that moved…moves…too slowly toward justice and peace.

But that’s indicative of a heart attended to.  Attending to the heart is heavy work.

But letting the heart calcify…that’s the work of the dying and dead.

I think the task of justice work these days is to work against systems of oppression while also attending to the heart.

Unfortunately I don’t see it very often.  Too much “us and them” talk coming from liberal circles.  Too much silence from conservative circles.

The radical circles are the ones speaking against justice while attending to the heart.  MLK was a radical, not letting the heart calcify to the point of hate.  I think he knew that, to do otherwise would be to replace one burden for another.

And Lord knows we have too many burdens to add anymore to this world.

Syria and Catch-22’s

The politician in me is worried aboubombs1t the United States (and the UN’s) response to Syria’s (alleged) use of chemical weapons.

We target military sites…or so we say.  We try to do “surgical strikes.”

But I’m a pacifist; these things scare me.

The Christian in me isn’t worried, though.  The Christian in me, the person of faith in me, is absolutely terrified.

I’m terrified at the video on CNN of the child being doused in water to wash off the chemical agents as he convulses (even if this video is not authentic to the current situation…although it appears it is…it is absolutely horrifying).

I’m terrified that many times we target “military sites” and hit schools and children and people doing business.

I’m terrified that a “surgical strike” actually means we’re just cutting out another slice of our humanity in a failed attempt to show power.

I’m afraid that non-intervention will just result in having to ignore continuing genocide while we sing Christmas carols again this year.

I’m afraid that non-intervention will be a stain upon our moral conscience.

I’m afraid that intervention will be a stain upon our future as the wrong people get the wrong weapons that we manufacture, which means that the wrong people will get paid to continue building weapons with no other purpose than to kill other people, which means that the war machine monster gets fed instead of starved, which means…

Death. A lot of death.

I come from a faith tradition that lifts up a “two kingdoms” doctrine when it comes to the world.  Essentially it asserts that the world is ruled by God, and the world is split into two kingdoms.  The spiritual kingdom of God is ruled by grace, while the kingdom of humanity is ruled by rightly ordered governments and principalities (an extension of God’s Law)*, and we live in both simultaneously.  First of all, I’d argue that Martin Luther never fleshed out this so-called doctrine, and that attempts to do so by scholars are largely just defenses for their own political ideals.  In short: I don’t buy it.  It makes me a bad Lutheran, I guess.  But I think it makes me a good Christian, even if I am so reluctantly.

Secondly, if you show me a rightly ordered government I’ll ride my unicorn over the moon.

I think people of my generation (I’m on the millennial bubble with a cursed 1980 birth year) look back at World War II and largely figure it was “just war.”  But when I listened to (the one time) my grandfather talk about flying over occupied China and being absolutely piss-pants scared about what he was doing and how he was doing it, I’m not sure I even know what “just war” means no matter what metric you put in front of me.

I know people shouldn’t be slaughtered.  I also know people shouldn’t fly planes built to kill other people.

I’m terrified because I care about life, and this is a catch-22.

And a church that is radical enough to understand that only God can redeem in any sort of lasting way is a church where our soldiers and our conscientious objectors are both honored and prayed for, and where our loudest shout as people who claim to be of God is one for the catch-22 nature of this whole damned business.

If life is sacred, that means all life.

And I’m typing this as I hold my son, and I see my son in that little boy being doused in a futile attempt to save his life. And I know he’ll die. And I know we can’t allow these things to go on, and yet I also know that fighting violence with violence only perpetuates violence.

And so…yeah, there we are.

And I am wondering what the church will say about this.  Drumbeats for war are antithetical to the message of Jesus.  Watching innocents (or even the guilty, I would argue) be poisoned and killed without some sort of action is antithetical to the message of Jesus, too.

But real sacrifice for the other…the heart of the message of Jesus…who is really willing to do that?

I just wanted to be honest here. This is what this reluctant Christian is meditating on today.  And I know we will, and should, do something.

I just want to lament about that “something”, whatever it ends up being, and stand with Rachel as she weeps for her children.  And your children.  And my children.  And Syrian children.

All of us.

 

*Many thanks to Pr. Mark Williamson in encouraging me to better define and make more distinct the modern formulation of this “doctrine.”  While I don’t agree that it is a doctrine, I shouldn’t cut it short in deference to brevity.

“Beating Swords into Plowshares” or “Yes, I Want To Take Your Guns”

Image

I should be honest.  I don’t want all of your guns taken away.  You can keep your hunting rifles and shot guns; guns you use for sport.

And I know that puts me at odds with some people, even people within my own congregation.

But I want to take away your handguns.  And I want to take away your assault rifles.  And I want to take away your high capacity clips*.  And I want to take away your ability to sell your guns to anyone you want.

I do; I have to be honest, I do.  And there are reasons.

The number one reason is because I’m about to have a baby. And in 2012 we had over 500 homicides in Chicago.  In the past month alone we’ve had half a dozen shootings in my neighborhood, most before 10pm.

I walk to Starbucks before 10pm.  I walk to the gym before 10pm.  I walk to the 7-11 before 10pm.  And when we have a baby, we’ll walk with the baby.

And I want your guns gone because I want my baby to live, along with everyone else who wants an ice cream fix at 9pm.

And I know there are gun safety classes.  And I know there are locks for gun cases, and safe handling procedures.

I get that.  But I also get that we could offer tank-driving courses…it doesn’t mean I’d like for just anyone to be able to buy a tank.

And I understand that we’re having a discussion about rights, and about ownership, and about the freedom to do what one pleases.

But my baby has a right to live.  So does yours. They have a right to walk down the street.  And I’m not worried about you shooting my baby; that doesn’t worry me.  I’m worried about that other person shooting my baby.  With your gun.

That worries me.

And I have to be honest, I’m not sure how a Christian can interpret Isaiah 2:4 without questioning ownership of weapons that can cause death on a massive scale, which I think we can recognize as war:

God shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

The prophet is talking about nation rising up against nation; I see that.  But when you live in Uptown…

…or Kenwood…

…or Albany Park…

…or Inglewood…

…or any place you find dividing lines…

…people choose their nation.  War happens.

And they defend their nation.  Sometimes with your gun.

Or when we have people who have an imbalance in their brain, or who have unending despair to the point of delusion, or who become paranoid to the point of insanity, or who are just plain assholes with nothing to lose, they become a nation of one against the world.

And they defend their nation.  Sometimes with your gun.

And despite what the arguments might claim, I cannot conceive of how more guns make us safer.  I want teachers to teach, not to shoot.  I want playground attendants to watch the monkey bars, not scope out targets.

I want tools to fit the situation.  Teachers teach.  Playground attendants monitor the playground.  They fit the situation. A handgun is a tool for only one situation: killing a person.

They’re designed to do that.

And I’m well aware that a hunting rifle can kill, as can a shotgun.  I’m also well aware (because I’ve hunted) of the amount of time it takes to reload, to use, their bulk…

Not the weapon of choice for someone with ill intent.

As a father, as a pastor, as a Christian who takes Isaiah 2:4 seriously, I don’t want to let you keep your gun.  I’m sorry.  I really do sympathize.  Freedom is important, we must be a free people.

But my baby must be free to live.

And I know this problem is bigger than you having a gun.  It’s about mental health support, and about poverty, and about wellness.

It’s about the fact that we teach violence.  As Isaiah says, “we shall study war no more…” except funding for cancer research by the government versus military spending was roughly 5 billion to 144 billion in 2008.

So please, stop saying we’re a Christian nation.  When this statistic changes we can talk about that claim…

We teach violence with our pocketbooks.  We call it defense, but it is violence.  And I’m not saying we don’t need to defend ourselves; what I am saying is that we should call a thing what it is.

Defense spending is paying money to learn war.

And in learning war, we teach war.

And then we wonder why people shoot other people.

And I’m a reluctant Christian at times because I often hear people make the case that somehow the freedom to buy and sell firearms is connected to the freedom that God desires for the nations.

Read Isaiah 2:4.

Yes, yes, I know there are other scriptural examples of God supposedly encouraging nation to rise up against nation.  But the prophets are the conscience of the people, and despite what historic redactors might want you to read, Isaiah speaks a word of honesty.

We must beat our handguns into something else; we must beat much of our defense spending into something else.

And I know you’re reluctant to do it.  But I’m asking you to do it for my child, and your child.  I don’t care if he/she has the right to own a handgun, but I want them to have the right to live, to go to school, to walk down the street without being shot.

We can start unlearning war.  And perhaps a good way to do that is by making the tools for war unavailable to just anyone.

After all, tools should fit the situation…

*Apparently “clips” are different from “magazines” according to responders (see below).  Needless to say, I’ve only hunted with shotguns, and haven’t had to use these items.