Betty Duffy

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Love and War

Wednesday nights, I teach a Catechism course at my church. Tonight's topic was love. Aside from the fact that I'm really not a good public speaker, and that no matter how I prepare, I end up doing a lot of umming, and forgetting what I meant to say, I left class feeling like it created more problems than it solved.

The book suggested discussing how each of the Ten Commandments are based on love. We covered that, and then for some reason, I felt like I needed to throw in some current events and practical applications for love. I asked the question, "What does love look like for us, for our Parish, right now? How are we loving?"

Freshly versed in the lovingness of the Ten Commandments, a loud portion of the room answered that love means admonishing one's neighbor, boldly speaking the truth in order to save others from hell, and not putting up with people who complain that we are judgemental. And if they can't stand the truth, and they want to silence us, then we might even have to fight for our right to speak it.

It was amazing how quickly the leap was made from admonishing others in love, to having others declare war on us for doing so.

A quiet minority in the room said, "I don't think we should judge." Someone, under her breath said, "I guess this room is full of perfect people."

And I stood there in the middle looking for the words to propose that we can have clear knowlege of right and wrong, and still love magnanimously, without necessarily shaking our fingers at every gay person we meet, for an example.

The loud side of the room said, "But they're so in our face!"

So if a homosexual person walks through these doors right now, and sits down on this conversation, you would feel a need to return a piece of the "in your face" pie, all in the name of Christian love, of course. Or you would say, "Welcome, Gay Person. Thank you for having the courage to walk into this room full of people who are poorly disposed to love you. I'm glad you are here."

As troubled as I am by the notion that Christians should be unable to judge right and wrong in our lives and in our culture, simply because we are not exempt from sin, I am more troubled by the notion that Christian love is about reminding people of the law that's written on their hearts ad infinitum rather than practicing love that feels impossible, loving those who are most difficult for us to love.

"OH! But that's what I'm doing when I admonish!" they say. "I can't let them go to hell! That would be unloving!"

What I know about hellfire and damnation is that Jesus has the power to redeem us, and it is questionable how much power we have to save others from hell.

What I know of admonishment, from admonishing my children, is that the more I admonish them, the further they run from me, whereas the more I love them, hold them close, show them affection, the closer they stay and the more likely they are to listen to my corrections. I wish I could remember this fact in the heat of the moment, when I'm so set on correcting, and they are so set on not changing their behavior, that war breaks out.

War is bad. We do not want war, Christians. War is worse than gay marriage. War is worse than Obama speaking at Notre Dame. If we must do battle, let it be against ourselves and our own personal sin that we are lucky enough to have take place mostly behind closed doors and within the walls of our hearts.

I'm glad everyone is so anxious to become a martyr, but let the martyrdom happen now, within our souls. Die to self and our constant bleeping need to be right, which is so very different from our constant need to be sanctified. That's what I wish I had said.


John said...

I've been thinking about this lately--and I think that loving magnanimously without admonishment is an especially confusing thing for us Americans. As a democratic republic, we the people are the government--the ones in charge. All of us individuals have a responsibility toward our fellow man--a responsibility to make sure that in our society, good is done and evil is admonished. We are all, in a sense, little kings. As Americans, we have to be able to love magnanimously those with which we disagree without shirking our duty to society to still disagree audibly. I think this is a little different from what the loud ones in your class were saying, and I certainly don't think voicing your disagreement instead of welcoming Gay Person into your class is proper for the time and place, but I also don't think we can get by on "I don't think we should judge," when it comes to being good citizens. What do you think?

TheSeeker said...

I struggle with that love/admonish coin. I'd rather err on the side of love though, which is what I usually do with my gay friends. Jesus said "love one another," not "correct one another."

Anonymous said...

Good post, although the amount of admonishing Jesus did was astonishing.

Of course He's God and has every right, much more than we do, but it does tend to undermine the theory that too much admonishment doesn't work. Jesus evidentally thought it would, or why else would he seemingly push the Pharisees farther away by calling them white-sepchulred tombs and such?

My own theory is that, as far as the human nature of Christ, His love for all men really exploded during the time He began to feel bereft of His father's consolations. His cry "watch an hour with me" in the Garden was something that the apostles must have been surprised by. And then when He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!", I can't remember him sahying anything like that earlier in His earlier ministry.

Kate said...

I think there are two key distinctions to keep in mind when you're considering admonishment. One is whether the admonishment that you're about to give will be a fruitful one - thus admonishing, say, your children is different than the general 'finger-wagging' you've mentioned. The first will (hopefully!) catch root; the other is just crotchety Christianity.

The second thing that (I think) makes a huge difference is the motivation of the admonisher. This goes to John & Anon's comments - I think admonishment in mercy is always a good, while if your motivation is your own judgmental righteousness, you've got yourself a Pharisee situation. But think of what sin does to us all - robbing us, sapping us, pulling us from God's love and grace. Christ felt that separation, and it's no wonder that he drew from that even more mercy for us poor sinners who do it to ourselves! (Anon, I had never thought of that connection, and it's really a beautiful one!) Anyway, if it's truly a loving desire to help draw someone closer back to God that is motivating you to admonish them, then can that be bad? It may still make us unpopular, but it seems like that's the way to balance our call to love with our responsibility to name sin when we see it - just to keep our own hearts in the right place while we're doing the naming.

Betty Duffy said...

John, it's interesting the connection you make between a democratic republic and admonishment--because there was something very political about last night's discussion. The baseline of the group's insistence on admonishing wrongdoers, was a political fear that wrongdoing would continue to be made a human right.

I do think we have a responsibility to make sure that good is done and evil is admonished--the stakes seem higher though, for both sides, when we bring legislation into the picture. It is an American problem, and I'm not sure how to get around it, though I think holiness speaks louder than admonishment any day.

I wouldn't say that there is never a reason to admonish (like Kate says, motive is key), but if there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends--where do you suppose admonishment ranks on the love spectrum? Or would "heirarchy" have a less relative connotation than "spectrum?"

I think the question of WHO is doing the admonishing is as important as their motive. Parents have a responsibility to admonish their children with love, likewise Shepherds to their sheep, hence the incidences of Jesus admonishing the Pharisees--though we might recall the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, which admonishes us for admonishing, or at least for seeing the sins of others more clearly than our own. But the incidences in which brother would need to admonish brother in love are in actuality probably pretty rare. For one thing, when we are in a state of sin, we cannot see the truth clearly, or we do not want to see it, or we reject the person who delivers it to us, because we love our sin. People are typically not receptive to admonishment unless they are seeking the truth somehow.

But I do love what anon says about Jesus's love for all men growing later in his ministry, during the Passion and Crucifixion, when he felt bereft of the Father's consolations. Pope BenedictXVI has a quote somewhere--can't find it at the moment--about how the closer we are to God, the more we are able to love others. Maybe he had no consolation, but we know that God is nearest in our suffering. The need to pass judgement on others (different from judging the rightness or wrongness of an action) often feels like the mark of a young faith to me. I struggle with it myself.

Kate said...

To your 4th paragraph, Betty:
That's what I meant in the first part of my comment - if someone isn't ready to accept admonishment, then for you to give it is a barren act, i.e. not loving. In that case, I think your job as a loving Christian is to bite your tongue and just love the person, hoping that through your love God can soften his heart and hopefully he will be able to see the thing he has blinded himself to. I don't think it's ever a person-to-person act - God must be in there somewhere. You as the admonisher are a vehicle for God.

Of course, that way of looking at it is even more problematic for application to politics/governance... no one wants God-vehicles writing law and policy. :)