After two and a half weeks in India interviewing women in the slums of Delhi, I was overcome with thoughts and feelings. Couple those experiences with a steady intake of podcasts, scripture, sermons, and other media, and my brain went into overdrive. This resulted in a very, very long piece connecting lots of random dots. To save you some reading time, I’ve separated the blog into four pieces which flow from one to another. This is Part 3. For everything to make as much sense as possible, I suggest you start with Part 1, then head to Part 2, and finally return to read this installment.
Frustrated by all the hopelessness, I was ready for a weekend of rest from all the interviews.
Then a friend invited me to go to church with him.
I was exhausted, but I decided to rally and go.
I’m so glad I did.
The pastor preached on Matthew 5:38-48, which I’ll put here for your reference:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Ok, yes. Hard. So so so hard.
And for the first time in a long time, because of my experiences during interviews, I was angry. I felt like I had enemies. Not individual-people enemies, but big, oppressive system enemies. I had spent the last week annoyed with the other-ness I saw all around me.
And what was Jesus’ charge to us about those enemies?
Those people who are radically, fundamentally different from you? Those people you don’t understand? The ones you think you hate?
Yeah, love them.
Love them actively and fully and sacrificially.
Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I wanted justice. I wanted things to be made right. I wanted to shake and break the system. I wanted to fight, and I wanted revenge.
But we are called to pray for those who persecute us.
It got me thinking about a conversation I had in a South African township months earlier – one held during an impromptu worship night in the living room of my homestay while my host sister was in withdrawal from a decades long addiction in the other room. In a place where people knew hard and pain and suffering personally, intimately.
My friend spoke about domestic abuse, and how she recently felt called to pray not just for the victims, but the perpetrators. The men who are taking advantage of these women.
Pray for those who persecute you.
And so I sat in Indian church, thinking about the oppressors. Thinking about the enemies. Thinking about my identity as a Christian and an American and a global citizen.
And I prayed for Isis.
Not just the refugees and the victims – I’d been praying for them for a long, long while.
I prayed for the guys with the guns. The ones that we have vilified to the point of turning them into super-monsters. I reminded myself that they, too, are children of God. That they, too, are loved. And that they, too, could seek redemption.
I thought about the systematic oppression I had experienced in Delhi, and I thought about my decision to sit and listen and learn and laugh with these women. I felt more sure than ever that this was the right path forward.
Because justice is not revenge. Justice is sacrifice.
Justice is the cross.
In a New Activist podcast I listened to today, I heard justice described as giving authority to those without and humility to those in power.
And that understanding of the way to make things right is so fundamentally different from the way we think about overcoming the worlds’ problems today.
We think about beating up the bad guys and giving our enemies what they deserve. Even with the most altruistic intentions, we lean toward revenge – not love.
Our attitude – the American attitude, in particular – is captured by the quote the pastor used as his sermon illustration. And remember, this is Delhi. In India. Far, far away from the American political world.
(As an aside, I will say again and again and again that our election matters not just for America, but for the entire world. Everyone is watching.)
The pastor read a quote from an interview with Donald Trump earlier this year in which he was asked his favorite Bible verse. He chose not Matthew 5, but “An eye for an eye” – the very law that Jesus made complete in the above passage. Trump went on to say:
“That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us,
And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country. And we have to be very firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.”
And maybe you’re like me and you fundamentally disagree with everything about this sentiment, but you can’t deny that this is how we (as a country) like to act. We act like our enemies are encroaching and we have to do everything in our power to keep them out. We tighten our borders and threaten to build physical walls in addition to the pre-existing bureaucratic ones. We live from a posture of fear.
And then the pastor made the all-important connection when reading this passage in a developing-world, hopeful-immigrant context: “You know those people who are taking jobs and taking money – he’s talking about a lot of Indians.”
This just got very VERY personal.
Because here, in India, they aren’t reading it from the position of power, they are reading those words from the position of an outsider. From the view of one perceived as the enemy.
And they think they are the enemy because we treat them as if they are.
The path forward is impossibly hard, but also so clear.
And it involves a lot fewer walls and a whole bunch more love. It involves friendship and listening and walking alongside. It involves looking our enemies in the face, acknowledging their shared humanity and realizing that perhaps those that we vilified weren’t so hopeless after all. That’s where true change can begin. That’s where we can speak wisdom and love into lives – because we’ve done the hard work of creating a relationship first.
I’m increasingly certain that our goal should be to break barriers instead of build them.