Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[g] for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
--Romans 12:17-21 NRSV
In my daily email messages to PHCC folks this week, I have been reflecting on the book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott. If you missed the emails, you can read them at the new church blog page on the church web site that Kathy Hendrix and Sara Riggs have set up. I highly recommend Lamott’s writings. She’s a Christian writer who is vulnerable about her own failings, which is a great relief to me, because she reminds me I’m not alone with my many screw ups.
In Almost Everything, Lamott has a chapter titled “Don’t Let Them Get You to Hate Them.” When I saw the title, I knew she had written it for me. She laments the increasing levels of hate in our society coming from all sides, and then she admits to her own difficulties giving in to the partisan hatred so prevalent right now.
“A friend once said that at the end of his drinking, he was deteriorating faster than he could lower his standards, and this began happening to me recently with hate.”
She began to struggle so much with hate, she finally prayed and asked God to help her. God immediately sent two people. The first was one of the kids in the Sunday School class she teaches:
“I asked one of my Sunday school kids if he believed God was always with him, helping him. He thought about this for a moment and replied, ‘Maybe forty percent.’ Forty percent! What if I could reduce my viral load [of hate] by forty percent!”
The second person was Martin Luther King, Jr. She saw MLK quoted on Twitter: ”Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can.” As if for effect, her pastor used the same quote in a sermon soon afterward.
“I thought, ‘I heard it the first time.’ Then at the end of the sermon, wrapping up, she said, sighing, ‘Just don’t let them get you to hate them.’ I have not been the same since. She ruined hate for me.”
Lamott continues to struggle with hate, but she accurately describes the effects hate has on us.
“Hate weighed me down and muddled my thinking. It isolated me and caused my shoulders to hunch, the opposite of sticking together and lifting our hands and eyes to the sky. The hunch changes our posture, because our shoulders slump, and it changes our vision, as we scowl and paw the ground. So as a radical act we give up the hate and the hunch the best we can. We square our shoulders and lift our gaze”
In fact, Lamott writes that instead of viewing the people we hate as objects to destroy, we can begin to see adversaries as “people who are helping you do a kind of emotional weight training, Nautilus for your character.” They help us to surrender our hate in the end. As Lamott notes, when we surrender, we hold our palms forward like “someone is pointing a gun at you” or palms up “begging for help.” Either way our hands are empty, because we have to put down our weapons.
For Lamott (and for me, maybe for you too), she reached a point of hating the way she was feeling—hating the toll hate was taking on her soul.
“Hating the way I was feeling helped me give up Camel cigarettes thirty-two years ago, and then alcohol. It is good to surrender things that poison us and our world. Am I free of such toxicity now? Well about forty percent, and that is a pretty good deal. I’ll take it.”
I wish you forty percent less hate in the coming week.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples