Love

Ethnophilia and Holy Week

Photo by  Markus Spiske  on  Unsplash

Often racism is thought about in terms of what it hates. Speaking to, acting toward and building structures against others on the basis race are among the different ways racism is discussed. Racism is an evil that needs everyone to work to eradicate, but racism is like many things: it evolves.

Of course it does not evolve like an animal might evolve to keep feathers, but it does evolve in the way ideas develop and change in order to be more palatable to society. Hard forms or racism are quickly called out, as they should be; however, there are softer forms of racism that are just as toxic. The problem is this toxicity, at first glance, sounds like a good. It is called ethnophilia.

An ethnophile is someone who loves and admires their own ethnic group, nation, or culture. This sounds like a good thing. Who would not desire to love their own? But love of own group has the dark side of hostility toward those not in the group.

So the ethnophile can talk about how wonderful their group is and even say things that sound loving but in fact are anything but. “Love the sinner and hate the sin” might be a classic example. The expression indicates that there is love for the other but really the love for the other comes at the cost of hating. When love and hate mingle there should be concern because I don’t have that high of a view of humanity. I think humans will err on the side of hate over love.

It might be argued that Holy Week was set in motion by the ethnophile, Judas. Who loved his own kind so much that he betrayed the savior of the world. Holy week was propelled by a people who loved their own kind so much they called for the crucifiction of Jesus.

If love for your own comes at the cost of hurting, killing or otherwise enslaving those out of your group, then we may be under the sin of ethnophilia. Or as Jesus said on the sermon on the mount: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Truth as Unity

Recently Rev. Tom Lambrecht wrote a wonderful article laying out as he sees the larger conversation in the UMC and LGBTQ inclusion. His thesis is that one side places Unity over Truth (the progressive position) while the other side places Truth over Unity (the conservative position). This is a wonderful article because it highlights the very false choice that is often presented to our denomination. While he is writing from a conservative side, the same false choice is presented from the progressive side. It looks different but it sounds the same - we either have Unity or Truth (in the progressive position Truth permits full LGBTQ inclusion). 

I submit this is a false choice. The reality is in the story of Jesus: it is not Unity or Truth, but Truth as Unity. Just as the Truth of Jesus is both human and divine or just as the Good News is both for Jew and Gentile - Truth is whole and unified. It endures. Unity has always been at the very foundation of Truth and to split it is to follow the adulterous woman (Proverbs 7) rather than woman wisdom (Proverbs 8).

Truth has a way of incorporating seemingly paradoxical positions all the time. Look to the natural sciences, a tree can be dying and putting on new life at the same time or that a platypus is a mammal but lays eggs. Consider the mystifying paradoxes in physics. Look to the teachings of Jesus (first will be last, last will be first; loose your life to gain it; etc.) And who can overlook the fact that human beings are walking talking paradoxes (Christianity says humans are both sinner and saint to speak of the paradox of human beings). 

The more we put out the false ideas that the denomination upholds either Unity or Truth the more we entrench ourselves in our own egos and messiah complexes. The more we think that our side has Truth or values it more than the other side the farther away we push the very Truth we claim to have command of.

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Behind all the rhetoric of our denominational leaders and thinkers about the nature of our situation is a genuine lack of love. That is it. We just do not love one another. Since we do not love one another we do not trust one another. Since we do not trust one another we impose our own sense of justice to a situation that barely (at best) connects to us. We just cannot stand the idea that there is someone who bears the same name I bear (United Methodist) and is doing something that I cannot abide with. So even if we are miles away from the matter and it has nothing to do with us at all, we impose our opinion. We use all sorts of justifications to merit our opinion, but the reality is it is all a mask. We use our language to mask the fact that we have frail egos and we cannot imagine being associated with "those people". (See liberals who oppose Trump or conservatives who oppose Obama at every mention of their name as an example of two groups of people who cannot stand being associated with one who bears the same name: American.)

I am embarrassed by many in my own denomination. I am embarrassed in my own actions. But just as I cannot split myself from myself, so too the Truth cannot be split into neat little categories. Truth as Unity is the way Truth has always been. But, hey if we want to divide up Truth so we can each feel better about our own little kingdoms, egos and pride then we will never make a single Disciple of Jesus Christ - only disciples of our own selves. 

"Community is a consequence."

Plough is a quarterly magazine that my wife has subscribed to now for about six months and it the type of publication that makes you proud of the print medium. Within the Winter 2018 edition, there is an essay from Philip Britts entitled The Gods of Progress. Britts wrote this essay after World War II and so it makes one wonder why it is up for the 2018 conversation, but it is among the more timely essays of our time. I hope you would take the time to read the essay and would encourage you even more to subscribe to Plough.

Here is pull quote worth considering:

"Community is not a system for solving the economic-social problem. Community is a consequence. Many such communities have been organized and have failed to stay the course. Community is the consequence of people being kindled with the glow of love.
Photo by  Joris Voeten  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joris Voeten on Unsplash

I submit that when thinking about community, it may be helpful to think of a fire. The smoke is the by-product of the fire, but smoke allows the fire to be discovered by others. It is the flames of love that build the smoke of community. And just as fire is lit by flint and steel, so too love is lit by the flint and steel of humility and curiosity.

Community is a consequence of love which comes from humility and curiosity. 

Loving The Enemy is the Problem

Peter Rollins recently gave a wonderful reflection on the Liturgists podcast episode entitled Enemies. I will paraphrase one of his ideas - loving the enemy is the problem. 

Here is what I think he is getting at. 

Photo by  Nina Strehl  on  Unsplash

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Jesus said that we are to love our enemies. This is noble and the call, however, rather than loving our enemies we have a love for the enemy. Put another way, rather than showing compassion and loving kindness to those we call our enemies, we love having an enemy. We love having someone/something in our lives that we love to hate. We love the enemy, and that is the problem.

By having an enemy we are able to rally our tribe. We are able to motivate people with fear of the other. We are able to define who we are by who we are against. In this way, we love the enemy. 

So it is not too far off the mark to say that President Trump loves President Obama, the media and Hillary Clinton. Trump loves the enemy. Likewise, progressives love President Trump, the NRA and Steve Bannon. 

Notice that in Luke, Jesus calls us to love your enemies not to love the enemy:

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6)

Until we repent of our need to love the enemy, or put another way, until we hate the idea of having an enemy, we will continue to be pulled apart.