Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Serving Enemy Pie

Last Sunday during my message on the relationship between Jesus and Judas, I read from the book "Enemy Pie" by Derek Munson. It's a clever and poignant story about a boy who learns the most effective recipe for turning a No.1 enemy into a best friend. In a nutshell, it's the gospel in the form of a children's story about the power of love and friendship. Jesus sums up the message of the book when he says, "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."

If you're like me, I had for years read the command to love your enemies and thought to myself, "Well that's easy to say, not so easy to do Jesus!" Because it probably goes without saying that one of the most difficult things to do in life, if not completely counter intuitive, is to love the very people who have hurt us or are trying to harm us, or both. But this interpretation of moral high ground is founded on the assumption that what Jesus seeks is that we love our enemies from the inside out, that to love our enemies means we dig deep and find within ourselves a change of heart, a feeling of good will toward the stinkers of the world.

But reading the "Enemy Pie" story has helped me to see that maybe that's not what Jesus had in mind at all. Surely it is a noble and admirable act if you can muster up love toward your enemy from the inside out, that you are so transformed by the love of Christ that a fountain of compassion and forgivenesss erupt from within you toward those who have hurt or betrayed you.

I'm just not one of those people.

But what if even Jesus understood that such transformation was more exception than the rule? That he wasn't just calling for an exceptional display of saintly willpower but something more akin to a power of resignation? In that case, maybe what Jesus was alluding to was not unsimilar to what the boy's father had in mind. The boy's dad was wise and told his son that in order for the pie to work, you had to first be nice to your enemy for a whole day.

Many years ago as a pastoral intern learning to work with couples and learning to be a new husband myself, the best advice I ever got had to do with those times when the fire has gone out in the relationship. When you've lost that loving feeling. Yes, you can hope the feelings just return by themselves. But what do you do when that's not the case? How do we get the romance back when the feelings are no longer there? And this is what works: "Act as if." The key to making your way back to love is to "act as if..." Act as if you care and the caring will return. Be nice to your spouse, admire her, affirm and appreciate her. Certainly, it's preferable (and more romantic) when the feelings come gushing out from within that lead naturally to affection, admiration, and respect. But what if they don't? That's when you have to "act as if." Sometimes the feelings are there and the deeds follow - great, that's how it should be. But at other times, the deeds have to come first, with the hope that the feelings follow. And as studies have shown, the feeling often do arrive! (John Gottman, University of Washington research scientist on marriage and family writes extensively on this subject in his book, "The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work").

In "Enemy Pie," the young boy takes his dad's instruction to heart and begins to treat his enemy with kindness...only to be surprised when the strange feelings of enjoyment come upon him: "This is not working, he says, I'm not supposed to be having fun with my enemy!" The boy "acted as if" - and his feelings toward the enemy had changed. By the time it came time to serve up the "pie of poison," the boy no longer had a best enemy, but a best friend.

I'm wondering if that's not, at least in part, what Jesus had in mind when he said those impossible words, "Love your enemies." Sure, we can hope feelings of forgiveness and goodness are present first before moving toward loving action. But in doing so, I also think we can run the danger of waiting forever for those feelings to materialize - and end up never doing anything. But what if we understand Jesus' words as the call to act first, to actually love our enemies precisely because we don't, when the feelings of love still escape us? Maybe what Jesus knows is that if we risk to act, our hearts will follow. "Act as if." I realize this is not a guarantee. Nor something to be tried in every situation. Nor easy. I realize this is still impossible without a touch of grace. But at least it's a movement, at least it is a step in the direction of love.

I can't help but think that when Jesus asked his disciples to prepare the Passover meal, a meal that would become the Last Supper, it was his version of serving up "enemy pie." With his betrayer present at the table, Jesus offers Judas the bread and wine just as he did the other eleven, in a last-ditch effort to keep him in the circle of love. Jesus does this knowing full well that what he is serving is not enemy pie at all, but a meal of grace. In Jesus' eyes, through this one act of love, Judas wasn't an enemy, but friend.

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