The views expressed in this post are personal reflections from an individual who is a part of our church.
“Mr. Clark, is there anyone you just hate?”
It was 7th period and Eric was done with his work. Freckled and frumpy, Eric is one of the brightest kids in my junior English class. His mind is usually percolating with something, and now he was ready to let it out.
“I mean someone who just makes the bile rise in your stomach when you see their picture?” Before I could gather my thoughts he went on. “Cause my best friend’s girlfriend is just an awful person. She knows his insecurities and uses them to manipulate him. You wouldn’t believe what she did today during lunch…”
After a few stories of this 17-year-old girl’s terribleness, Eric paused and looked at me, and returned to his original question. “So is there anyone you just hate?”
Just that week, through God’s providence, I had been ruminating on an old quote attributed to Plato:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
I offered it to Eric as sort of a life-philosophy, one that would be especially helpful when dealing with the pettiness and insecurities of high school. We even talked about the deep wounds that are often beneath our hardened surfaces.
He thought about it, then said, “Nah, she’s just an evil person.” But as the bell rang I noticed the anger was gone from him face.
I don’t know if David Gungor had this quote in mind when he wrote Brother, the stirring—at times breathtaking—album that grabbed my attention last year, but the theme echoes throughout. You could say the whole album is an interpretation of Jesus’ earth-shattering command to “Love your enemies.” And it comes at a moment in time when “enemies” has taken on a whole new meaning and intensity. With the rise of ISIS vilifying Muslims, the rise of secularism vilifying the liberal elite, and the rise of Trump pitting Christians against each other, the album feels prophetic. At one point during The Brilliance concert, Gungor turned the mic around and let the 300 people in the audience sing “When I look into the face of my enemy I see my brother.” In that moment you couldn’t help but feel an otherworldly beauty, but also a heavy weight. It was a tension Gungor seemed to be after.
The Brilliance, with its minor chords and nuanced lyrics, is not what I think of as traditional “worship” music. But it certainly is biblical. Most worship music emphasizes how great God is and how much He loves us, and rightly so, but very seldom does it allow us to marinate in sadness or doubt. The Brilliance seems to take their cues from the Psalms, though, which are full of “negative” emotions along with the positive. At one point during the show, the audience was actually singing “Give me doubt.” The context of the song was a reaction against spiritual and theological pride, but the lyrics were still a bit jarring to sing. And yet I found a deep sense of truth, of God’s presence, in that uncomfortableness. The same was true two others songs, “Run” and “Does your Heart Break,” that spoke overtly to the moment. Gungor, after qualifying “Run” with his love for his local police, sang, “Run, black child, run / The man with a badge has a gun,” followed by similar verses to the “alien” and “Muslim.” The song’s effect was to take me out of my shoes and force me into other peoples’. And politics aside, what could be more Christ-centered than empathy?
But above all, the concert was a conversation.
It was a conversation between beautiful art and worship. In perhaps the most profound moment of the night for me, the cellist played a Bach Cello Suite and I closed my eyes and felt the wordless notes penetrate deep inside me, the Holy Spirit moving me to an awareness of God’s presence through them.
And I think the more we have these conversations, and the more we see our brother in our enemy, the more God’s Kingdom is at hand.
It was a conversation between the eternal truth of Jesus’ words and our toxic political and social climate in 2017. Who is my enemy right now? Is it a Christian-values-eroding liberal elite? He is my brother, love him. Is it my Trump-loving-blind-to-the-facts neighbor? She is my sister, love her. Is it a jihad-sympathizing Muslim? He is my brother, love him. Is it my best friend’s manipulative girlfriend? She is my sister, love her.
It was a conversation between faith and doubt, between hope and despair, neither side excluding the other. Yes have faith, the evening said, but acknowledge your own shortcomings, that you may not always be right. Yes have faith, but listen, really listen, to others, and don’t demonize those who lack it. Yes have hope, but don’t pretend that hurt and pain don’t exist, in your life and in everyone you meet. Yes have hope, but allow your heart to be broken, because through that breaking comes new life.
It was a conversation that Fort Wayne needs—that I need. And I think the more we have these conversations, and the more we see our brother in our enemy, the more God’s Kingdom is at hand.