Monday, October 29, 2018

If Evil is a Hole (A Challenge of Eradicating Hate)


The challenge right now is that, if Augustine is right, evil is a hole. A tear in the fabric. And you cannot tear out a hole. I mean, you can, but only by tearing out the good fabric around it, erasing every good row surrounding the hole. Burn the sweater. Sacrifice the innocents. Even then, you didn't tear out the hole, you tore up the project. You just started over, which is its own kind of hole, or at least constitutes an invisible failure to undo the hole; the emptiness the hole contained still there, made normative and set free.

Eradicating others is hate. Eradicating hate, then, if it is to be the worthy task we believe it is, demands a thoughtful and dedicated subversion of the verb's common usage; demands a new imagination.(1)

"Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that," said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It helps me to consider the eradication of holes. To eradicate a hole is to mend torn cloth, is to pick up dropped stitches, is to reach out across the chasm of disorder until fabric touches fabric again and, there, go to work. Hard work. Good work. It is not work without conflict or accountability, but the work includes these for the purpose of making old things new and making whole things out of holes.  God knows this work is tedious. God knows this work has costs. God calls this work love, says it's patient. It is God's way with us, with me. Holiness is at once our calling and God's gift.

It helps me to remember that we are one fabric. Sometimes I see it, maybe we sense it, but I do not in a given moment have on hand the most true word for it. Others supply attempts at proper names for the fabric we might be. Words like "American" or "patriot," but approaching refugees expose the limits of false words like that, words that fabricate the essence of the fabric, that fabric which is not less than God's love for each of us, and all of us, together; that fabric made known as we discern the ways we belong to each other because we belong to God, which truth I have gleaned, to the extent I have gleaned it, through the love of the one whose garment was seamless.

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(1) Expanding on the idea that "eradicating hate requires subversion of the verb's common usage:" The Rev. Fleming Rutledge once lamented that the church jettisoned too soon military language in our hymns and elsewhere (think, Onward Christian Soldier). The loss, she says, was our ability to reclaim that language in ways subverted and redeemed by the crucified King. As we use our language of fighting and eradicating hate, we must never forget that we are participating in that delicate work of subversion and redemption. My friend Deanna recently unearthed and shared a hymn by Jan Struther that provides a beautiful illustration:

When Stephen, full of power and grace, went forth throughout the land, 
he bore no shield before his face, no weapon in his hand; 
but only in his heart a flame and on his lips a sword 
wherewith he smote and overcame the foremen of the Lord.

When Stephen preached against the laws and by those laws was tried, 
he had no friend to please his cause, no spokesman at his side;
but only in his heart a flame and on his eyes a light
wherewith God's daybreak to proclaim and rend the veils of night.

When Stephen, young and doomed to die, fell crushed beneath the stones,
he had no curse nor vengeful cry for those who broke his bones;
but only in his heart a flame and on his lips a prayer 
that God, in sweet forgiveness' name, should understand and spare.

Let me, O Lord, thy cause defend, a knight without a sword;
no shield I ask, no faithful friend, no vengeance, no reward;
but only in my heart a flame and in my soul a dream, 
so that the stones of earthly shame a jeweled crown may seem.



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