Category Archives: hope

Uncomfortable Love

This post is a contribution to the February Synchroblog “Loving Your Enemies”. Check out the links to all the other contributions to the February Synchroblog listed at end of this piece.

As a follower of Jesus I have to take the instruction to love my enemy seriously.

The biggest problem I have with loving my enemies is that I’m uncomfortable with it.

It doesn’t feel good and it’s hard – really hard – and it’s not fun either.

Sometimes I try to water the instruction down a little and make it more palatable.

I say to myself “loving your enemies doesn’t mean that you feel all warm and fuzzy about them” or “loving your enemies doesn’t mean you have to invite them over for dinner” or “loving your enemies is a process” or “you don’t have to love your enemies the same way you love your friends”

And while all of those things may be true I don’t know that grabbing on to disclaimers gets me any closer to loving my enemies.

Other times I declare, “I don’t have any enemies!” because if I don’t have any enemies I don’t have to worry about loving them – but we all have experienced being hurt by someone and enemies come in many different forms.

And finally, if I get really honest with myself, I want to know how far forgiveness and love have to go.  What does it mean to love my enemy? What does that actively look like? Does that mean I let people take advantage of me? How does my passion for justice co-exist with compassion for my enemy?

I don’t have a lot of answers but over time I have discovered a few things – some good and some not so good …

sometimes understanding my enemy helps me to love them

unfortunately most of the time loving my enemy doesn’t change them

loving my enemy helps me remain free of bitterness and negativity

loving my enemy takes more strength than hating my enemy

hating my enemy takes more energy than loving my enemy

preparing my response in advance can help me love my enemy

loving my enemy does not mean that I don’t oppose what they do or say or believe

loving my enemy is uncomfortable 99% of the time

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Even with what I know I am almost always constantly just at the edge of chucking the whole idea of loving my enemies but something or someone usually seems to come along to give me a little encouragement to keep on trying.

Sometimes it’s a story like the one of 14-year-old Malala who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a bus in the Swat Valley. She made a full recovery in England, and became a remarkable, brave voice for the rights of women.  When Jon Stewart interviewed her he asked her what her reaction had been when she found out that the Taliban wanted to kill her. Her words have taken up a permanent residence in my heart.

“I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, if he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well,’ and I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

Malala’s story reminds me that loving my enemies is about aspiring to something good and right. That loving my enemies promotes peace and goodness for all.  That loving my enemies does not mean I am weak but takes all of my strength and courage.

But if I’m honest I have to admit that there are days when nothing inspires me.

Some days I just feel tired and weak.

On those days, when I can’t find any sane reason to keep on loving my enemies, when I am crushed by those who seem to be the most unloving and unkind, when I feel the weight of fear and anger becoming heavier than hope and love, when I am wrestling with what it means to stand up for the oppressed and at the same time to love the oppressors … on those days I utter the only line I can remember from a prayer penned by a Serbian priest during World War II …

 “Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.”

The words come from a prayer written by St. Nicolai of Ochrid, a Serbian priest, who was arrested by the Nazi’s during World War II. As the story goes he was betrayed by a fellow priest. As he sat in prison, anger began to consume him, leading him eventually to pen these words:


Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

What helps you to practice the uncomfortable act of loving your enemies?  

Here are more blog posts about Loving Your Enemies:

A Social Justice Story

This post is part of the October Synchroblog: What is social justice?  I’ll add a list of all the other contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

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“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” -Cesar Chavez

Social justice is difficult to define. I heard someone say that there have been whole books written about social justice which never offer a concise definition. And so you can easily understand why I feel inadequate to offer up a definition. However, I am compelled to share a story with you that I believe has the definition of social justice written between it’s lines.

This story is true and it was written by my friend Hugh Hollowell who leads a ministry called Love Wins. Hugh is a perfect example of what it looks like to work for and practice social justice.  He inspired me to become a person who is aware of injustices in the world and to be brave enough to fight against injustices in word and deed.

She Call Me Bobby by Hugh Hollowell  

Several folks have wanted me to talk about what I do day-to-day.

“I don’t get it,” one correspondent said, “You just talk to the homeless? About what?”

Well, I do more than just talk to folks who are experiencing homelessness, but that is a big part of what I do. I want to show you how one such conversation went down just this morning.

Note: The way we talk, the choice of words we use, all of that is part of our story and part of who we are. Life on the streets is not pretty and it is not polite. Many in my position clean up the language when reporting what is said, but I have chosen to leave it.

*****

I was on my way to use the Internet at Morning Times (a coffee shop and, most days, my office) when I saw a gang of folks I know over by Betty’s van. I stroll over. The mood is solemn.

“Hey guys,” I said, “What’s going on?”

Everyone murmurs and shuffles, looking at the ground. I notice that one older guy everyone calls Slim was sullen and weeping.

“Slim,” I said, “How’s it going?”

“Bad,” he says. “I went to give plasma this morning like I always do on Fridays. This time, they wouldn’t give me any money. Instead, they told me I’m HIV positive.”

HIV. For most Americans it no longer means what it once did. However, these folks know that, if they get it, they probably won’t have access to the life-giving drug cocktails and cutting edge treatments. They all know someone who has died as a result of being positive.

For them, HIV spells death.

Having already heard this story, the crowd begins to melt away. I’m uncertain if it’s out of a desire to give us some privacy or a desire to get out of the cold– in any event, it was welcome.

I have known Slim for about two and a half months. I have helped several of his friends with job applications and have let them use my computer to check their email for messages from family. He knows me to say hi, but he has never really opened up to me. He is much older than most of the street folks, perhaps 50 or so. He told me once in conversation he had been homeless for seven years.

“They tested me, like they always do,” he begins to explain. “They test you every time. They wanted me to sign a paper saying I had HIV, but I ain’t signing shit.”

After several minutes of conversation, I managed to extract the following details.

That morning, Slim went to sell plasma. Many who are currently homeless do this as it is the only thing many of them have to sell. You lay on a cot and stare at the wall while they insert a needle in your arm. After they take blood from your body and extract the plasma, they put the blood back in you. They sell the plasma to the various bio-med places for research and pay you $20 – $35 and you can expect it to take about two hours. If you are a regular donor, they pay bonuses and an extra $5 every third visit, they say.

The routine tests on his blood for HIV showed positive. He was told he had to sign a statement saying he knew he was HIV positive. He refused and left – he later reveals that reading is not something he does well, so he has a fear of signing anything. Understandably, he was in shock by the time I heard this story, so the finer details were a bit harder to nail down. As near as I can tell, he had no second test and no referral to any health care options.

“You need to go to the Health Department,” I said. “You need to know for sure.”

Slim is crying. “It’s Christmas, man. I don’t need this.”

It goes like this for about 10 minutes, when I realize that Slim doesn’t have the two dollars for the bus to go out to the Health Department. I assure him I can spare $2.

“Will you walk with me to the bus station?” he asks.

“Be glad to.”

We begin to walk toward Moore Square Station, the central hub for the transit system here in Raleigh. Slim is beginning to calm down. He has the two dollars that I gave him clutched in a death grip in his hand.

“You are a nice man,” Slim says. “I know you help Sam and Julia out with clothes and help them, let them use your phone. I tell everyone what a nice man you are. I would ask to borrow your phone, but I got no one to call.”

“No one?” I said.

“Well, I got a Mom, but I haven’t talked to her in four years. I want to call her, but I’m scared. I’m afraid she don’t want nothing to do with me anymore. I done bad things.”

We talk about his Mom for a bit. It turns out she lives in Maryland and the family has endured one too many broken promises, so they no longer talk. I urge him to call because four years is a long time. He promises to think about it.

“You’re a nice man. Why you so nice? I mean, you help us out, you talk to us… I ain’t nothing, man. My own Momma don’t want to talk to me, you don’t even know me and you help me. Why you doing this?”

I hesitate. I know folks who would see this as an opportunity to swoop in, tract in hand, tell them about how Jesus will solve all their problems, fix everything. I try to imagine what Jesus would say.

“I care about you guys when it makes no sense to, because Jesus loved me when it made no sense for him to,” I tell Slim.

He perks up, looks at me from the side of his eyes.

“Jesus?” he said.

“Yup. Jesus,” I said.

I think I have lost him now. He surprises me.

“I know Jesus loves me – my momma told me,” he said. “But that Jesus, he is a motherfucker.”

I have no idea what to say to that.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Oh yeah. The thing about Jesus is, he don’t cut you no slack. Jesus is hard.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

We’re at the blue section of the transit station, waiting on the bus. The air is cold on my ears, the turbulence from the exhaust fumes pressing my jeans against my ankles. The two dollars has managed to disappear. After a lengthy search they turn up in a coat pocket.

“Thank you for doing this,” he said. “I don’t want to die from HIV.”

“Well,” I said, “we are not even sure you have HIV. The first step is to find out for sure.”

We agree to meet up this afternoon in Moore Square about dark so he can let me know what the verdict is. While we are working out the details, the bus pulls up and the doors open, a line of patient commuters waiting to board.

It’s one of those moments – they happen sometimes – when I think God tells me just the right thing to say.

“Slim,” I said. “What does your momma call you?”

He smiled, remembering. “Bobby. She call me Bobby.”

“OK, Bobby,” I said. “I will see you tonight.”

He laughs that I use his name. “Do you think Jesus cares I have HIV?” he asked.

“If you have HIV, then Jesus would be heartbroken,” I said.

“You gonna pray for me, aren’t you?” he asked.

I assure him I will. The breath is almost knocked out of me as he tackles me in a spontaneous bear hug, tears running down his face.

“If it is OK, I gonna pray for you too,” he said into my coat.

Then he turns, embarrassed at the sudden emotion and steps onto the bus.

As he waves to me from his seat two thirds of the way back, the bus pulls away, the exhaust kicking up leaves that swirl around my feet as both our tears dry on my coat.

If you want to know more about Hugh and Love Wins and how to get involved and help go here.

Check out the rest of these posts about Social Justice:

Better Than Hope

This post is a contribution to the January synchroblog which is being done in partnership with Provoketive Magazine.  The theme is Hope.  You can go to Provoketive Magazine and read all of the synchroblog posts and I’ll also put links to each person’s individual blog post at the end of this post as they become available. No matter where you read these posts I strongly suggest you check out Provoketive Magazine! It’s a very cool online space that features pieces on faith, life, justice and culture.  I love the look and content!

I grew up hearing how great and necessary hope is, which is why I was so shocked when I first heard about the notion to “abandon hope.”

Last year I participated in the tradition of choosing one word as a sort of theme for the year.  My word for 2011 was Awaken.  I chose Awaken because I wanted to pursue the practice of being fully present in the moment. In my efforts to learn more about being fully present I ran across the Buddhist idea of “abandoning hope.”

Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, wrote, “One of our deepest habitual patterns is to feel that now is not good enough.”  Chodron encourages us to abandon hope and put our energy into being where we are. She informs us that as long as we are putting our energy into the desire for something or someone to be different (which is what hope leads to) the present moment will be lost.  When the present moment is lost we lose opportunities that can only be found by staying in the moment that hope wants to sweep us away from. When we are swept away from the present reality to a vision of an imagined future we lose answers and solutions and healing that we can only know when we stay and face our pain and our fears.  If we are caught up in hoping for a future result we cannot embrace the present moment.

A famous Buddhist saying is “Hope and fear chase each other’s tails.” In other words, hope and fear are intrinsically connected – you hope because you are afraid of what is happening or not happening – without fear hope would not be needed.  The present – which is demanding your attention here and now – may not look appealing and yet it may have something deeper to offer you than a hoped for future. The idea is that this method of befriending our present concern affords us a clarity of action that we can never gain while trying to avoid or rid ourselves of our pain and fears.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t have a positive attitude. And there are certainly times when hope allows people to take that next step and behave “as if,” despite all evidence to the contrary.  But abandoning hope isn’t really about being negative.  Abandoning hope is more about detaching ones self from success or failure.  It isn’t about giving up in a way that would make you stop working or striving.  It is a kind of positive giving up that not only has the potential to reveal to you what it is that makes you more fully alive but at the same time affords you the ability to put even more effort and energy into whatever that is.

Thomas Merton, the late Christian mystic, advised a friend: “Do not depend on the hope of results … you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.  As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself…”

We typically have a purpose for everything that we do.  We want to succeed at accomplishing our goal and not fail.  That is fine.  However, what happens so much of the time is our thoughts of success or failure begin to become more important than what we are doing and how we are doing it.  The fear of failure causes us to become more rigid, less compassionate, more impatient, less creative, more cautious, less willing to take risks – all because we cling so desperately to a successful outcome.

WOW!  This new way of thinking about hope was making sense to me.  At least enough sense that I wanted to try to put some of this stuff into practice, so over the past year I have tried to merge what I was learning about hope with my pursuit to be more present in the moment.

Where did all of this new thinking about hope lead me?

Well, I still find myself hoping as a reaction to fear or worry.  But at least I am usually aware of that happening and can stop and focus on remaining in the moment – letting myself experience the feelings more fully – being more aware of myself in the present moment (Buddhists call that being mindful or waking up).

And I still find myself performing a task or doing work with a goal in mind but at least I am getting better about the goal not overshadowing the action.  As a result I feel less attached to outcomes and more interested in the value of what I am doing and how I am doing it.  I don’t know if I am accomplishing as much but I think what I do is a higher quality, more enjoyable and unique.

My problems have not all disappeared because none of this stops life from happening.  The hope and fear continue to return because the practice of letting go of hope and fear is hard to embrace. But I keep training and practicing and the more I train and practice the more I am able to lessen unnecessary suffering and worry.  I believe that I am more present in the moment and that the more I wake up the more compassion I have towards myself and others, the more creative I feel, the more risks I am willing to take, the more discernment I seem to have about what I should spend my time and energy pursuing.  It’s a process and honestly I feel like I could let all the progress slip away without much notice if I don’t remain vigilant but all in all I think I am discovering something better than hope.  I think I am discovering now.

* * * * *

Below is a list of all the posts and participants in this month’s synchroblog.  There are two links for each contribution listed.  The link on the title of the post will take you to the Provoketive Magazine site where all the pieces are posted and the link on the author’s name will take you to their personal blog.  I encourage you to not only read these wonderful pieces about “Hope” but to also check out the contributors personal blogs.  

The Trouble With HopeJohn Ptacek

Hope = Possibility x ImaginationWayne Rumsby

Little RemindersMike Victorino

Where Is My HopeJonathan Brink

Hope for HypocritesJeremy Myers

Now These Three RemainSonny Lemmons

Perplexed, But Still HopefulCarol Kuniholm

A Hope that LivesAmy Mitchell

Generations Come and Generations GoAdam Gonnerman

Demystifying HopeGlenn Hager

God in the Dark: On HopeRenee Ronika Klug

Keeping Hope AliveMaurice Broaddus

Are We Afraid to Hope?Christine Sine

On Wobbly Wheels, Split Churches and FearLaura Droege

Adopting HopeTravis Klassen

Hope is Held Between UsEllen Haroutunian

Hope: In the Hands of the Creatively MaladjustedMihee Kim-Kort

Paradox, Hope and RevivalCity Safari

Good Theology SavesReverend Robyn

Linear: Never Was, Never Will BeKathy Escobar

Better Than HopeLiz Dyer

Caroline for Congress: Hope for the FutureWendy McCaig

Fumbling the Ball on HopeKW Leslie

Content to HopeAlise Wright

Hope: Oh, the Humanity!Deanna Ogle