We keep saying, “We love Jesus,” but it is more as a God-figure than someone to imitate. (Sunday)
Throughout the first five centuries people understood Christianity primarily as a way of life in the present, not as a doctrinal system, esoteric belief, or promise of eternal salvation. —Diana Butler Bass (Monday)
Over the past few decades, our Christianity has become obsessed with what Christians believe rather than how Christians live. . . . But in Jesus we don’t just see a presentation of doctrines but an invitation to join a movement that is about demonstrating God’s goodness to the world. —Shane Claiborne (Tuesday)
Have you ever noticed the huge leap the Apostles’ Creed makes between “born of the Virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate”? Falling into that yawning gap, as if it were a mere detail, is everything Jesus said and did between his birth and his death! Does the gap in some way explain Christianity’s often dismal record of imitating Jesus’ life and teaching? (Wednesday)
Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life, physical and concrete, like we are. A Jesus we can imitate in practical ways and who sets the bar for what it means to be fully human. (Thursday)
History is continually graced with people who somehow learned to act beyond and outside their self-interest and for the good of the world, people who clearly operated by a power larger than their own. (Friday)
Practice: Love Your Enemy
To you who are listening, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. —Luke 6:27-29
One of the hardest things to understand with the dualistic mind is Jesus’ command to love your enemy. I’m often asked, “How can we love Al-Qaeda or ISIS (Islamic State or Da’esh) or the Westboro Baptists from our own hometown?”
First, I want to point out that violent, fundamentalist religious groups use God-talk constantly: “God is great. This is for God. I’m a martyr for God. I’m on God’s good side, but you’re going to hell.” Their words and behavior are rooted in dualistic thinking where everything is clear-cut, black and white, good and bad. This is religion at its worst, entirely lacking in inner experience. And so, we can imagine how someone might say, “God is great!” and pull out a gun to shoot thirty people or shout hate speech, having not experienced God as infinite and inclusive love.
I want to be honest and up-front about this. We’re dealing with a lot of low-level, dualistic thinking—in Christianity, in Islam, and in every religion at its immature levels. People use religion to cover their own malevolence, hatefulness, fear, and anger. It’s not just Islam. Christianity has been doing this for centuries. But we’ve got to do better.
How can we do better? To begin, we might put ourselves in the other’s shoes and imagine why someone is so hateful. While working in the Albuquerque jail for over a decade, I met many men who had been raised in a punitive, authoritarian, absolutist way, often with an absent or abusive father. Understanding another’s story can teach us compassion. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t set some healthy boundaries. But it does open our hearts and help us recognize that other people are victims, too. They’ve been wounded, too. Yet they are still objectively an image of God, created in God’s image.
As you’re able to open your heart to your “enemy,” allow God’s love to flow through you to them. Picture their face and send them warmth and tenderness. If this is a struggle, begin by focusing on someone that is easy for you to love, for whom you feel natural affection. Then broaden that circle of compassion to friends, acquaintances, and strangers. No one is outside the embrace of God’s loving presence!
For Further Study:
Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (HarperCollins: 2009)
Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? (Thomas Nelson: 2012)
Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019)