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Interior Freedom: To Love as God Loves, Conclusion





I’ve heard it said that being able to love your enemies spontaneously is the best measure of Christian maturity. Honestly, I find that statement frustrating. It’s still not my natural response to offer love instinctively to those who aggravate and irritate me. Sigh.

 

Just the other day, I saw an acquaintance's post on Facebook explaining why she’s voting for a particular Presidential candidate. She explained that she wasn’t voting for the person but for the party that would protect her constitutional rights. As I read her post, I was curious to see how I would react. It felt like a test to see if any of these experiments on growing interior freedom had worked. Would I react the way I described in the initial blog of this series—by rolling my eyes, feeling disgusted, and turning away?

 

Surprisingly, I didn’t.

 

The first time through her post, I read her reasons (a repost of someone else) where she went down several of her constitutional rights and how this party would protect each one. I noticed that understanding her “why” helped me feel less dismissive and reactive toward her. It made sense, given her belief system, that she would want her rights protected. 

 

But then I reread the statements and recognized a familiar tactic used by both sides of the political divide, as well as many Christian pastors and leaders: the tactic of creating an “all good/all bad” split. This person/party/denomination is all good; this person/party/denomination is all bad. It’s a false dichotomy, and false dichotomies “sell” because they sound so convincing!

 

Here’s why:

A false dichotomy sets up a division between people by placing them into two mutually exclusive and opposing groups. Most important to note, the language used to compare the two groups is:

a)     categorical (this group always does this/that group never does this)

b)     certain (this will happen if we don’t/this will happen if we do)

c)     simplistic (complex issues are presented as simple problems with simple solutions or explanations)

 

Here’s the reality. We all think and speak this way! I hear politicians and Christians, including myself, favor this kind of rhetoric because it sounds so compelling! So confident, clear, and right! Many of the statements in this post used categorical, certain, and simplistic language to set up the false dichotomy that THIS party will defend my constitutional rights and THAT one won’t!

 

I’ll admit that after I read her post and noted the hyperbole and the false dichotomies presented, I was flummoxed. Should I make a comment? Should I challenge her and take her to task? Should I write something about the foolhardy premise of such simplistic beliefs? That’s when I remembered another zinger from the book Interior Freedom by Jacque Philippe. I think it summarizes the point of this entire series.

 

“At times of struggle, we also need to recall that the conversion we should be concerned about is not our neighbor’s but our own.... If we are concerned first with our own conversion, however, we have more hope of making a difference. It does more good to seek to reform our hearts than to reform the world or the Church. Everyone will benefit.” Pg. 75

 

This seems counterintuitive or maybe too optimistic, doesn’t it? To change the world I must first be changed. Okay. So, my first priority is my own conversion. It’s not the only priority. And it doesn’t mean that I never speak out or speak up. BUT it does mean that my first concern is to ask, “What needs to change within me so that I am free to love as God loves?” That’s the starting place.

 

The quote reminds me of the story of Howard Thurman, a mentor and pastor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who trained young people participating in the civil rights movement to respond to racial violence through non-violent resistance. In a documentary, Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story (a must-see!), Thurman taught resisters to practice being spit on, beaten up, and attacked without retaliating. That's learning to love your enemies spontaneously!

 

In a critical essay in the Christian Century, Miles Werntz writes, “In an increasingly post-Christian America, proposing prayer and congregational life for deep-seated issues such as structural racism and violence seems counterintuitive, but only because we are used to seeking policy before personal transformation. For Thurman, policy was unthinkable without the deeper work of contemplative transformation.” Christian Century, Howard Thurman’s contemplative non-violence

 

We live in a time not unlike the 1950s and 60s. If you are as worked up as I am, perhaps together, we can find hope in the deeper work of contemplative transformation. It begins with me and you.

 

“It is an extraordinary source of hope and a great consolation to know that, by virtue of God’s grace working in us (if we remain open to it by persevering in faith, prayer, and the sacraments), the Holy Spirit will transform and expand our hearts to the point of one day making them capable of loving as God loves.” Interior Freedom, Jacque Philippe, Pg. 68. That is a hopeful hope!

 

Prayer: May your grace working within us expand our hearts to love as you love. Amen!

 

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