Stanley Hauerwas: A Prayer for Our Enemies As We Are All Learning How to Hate

love.001We are all learning how to hate. That is to say, we are all being taught everyday how to hate.

I’m serious. Maybe more than at any other time in my lifetime members of our society are fully engaged learners in the art of hating our neighbor.

We live in an era of enemies. Every day powerful forces in our society attempt to stoke our innate fear and anger, and they offer us someone to blame—someone to hate. I’m sorry to say that it appears those powerful forces are getting really good at their jobs.

We are all being manipulated by craven political, media, and financial titans who use fear and anger to move us around like chess pieces. They are playing a high stakes game of king-of-the-hill and their winning strategy has been to stoke any division they can until we hate each other, and blame each other.

So, our society has chosen up sides—mostly left and right. This powerful tribalism is decimating our previously strong social connections, ones that weren’t built on politics at all. Where we used to see quirky friends, we now see sinister enemies. For many of us, our closest connections—families, friends, churches, neighbors—have been inexorably altered, especially over the past 12 months. Riven by opportunistic evangelists of partisan hatred and political division we have been pitted against one another. We are all learning how to hate.

Let me say it as plainly as I can: Your political party wants to teach you how to hate those on the other side. The Liberal Media wants to feed your insecurity and anger until you despise any and everyone who voted for and continues to enable Donald Trump. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the massive conservative media complex are very effectively shaping your every thought for an ideological war against liberal elites. Whites are pitted against blacks. Everyone is pitted against immigrants and refugees. God help you if you are a Muslim American.

We are being manipulated. We are being poked and prodded toward hatred.

The problem, of course, is that politicians today don’t really want to make things better. They wouldn’t mind a political victory. But the real objective is effectively dividing us and teaching us to hate one another. That way we will never consider leaving their camp. Our political leaders declare victory not when their side wins, but when you and I see former friends, brothers, and sisters as our enemies and begin to creep toward hatred for them. When that happens we have formally become part of their reliable “base.”

We are all learning how to hate, and we have very good teachers whose livelihood depends upon our education.

I keep wondering why we all fall for it.

We fall for it because we are tired, bored, affluent and hopeless. We have nothing worthwhile to live for and pretty much everything we need. We fall for it because we have short attention spans and don’t want to study deeply—especially not the arguments from the other side. We have a tendency to blame others, and excuse ourselves. We fall for it because we are all hell-bent on the undisciplined pursuit of more, more, more. And the disciplined pursuit of less seems to go against powerful internal drives.

The surest way to resist the lure of hatred is to desire something else even more—something like love, vulnerability, forgiveness, justice, peace, and the kingdom of God. Only the disciplined pursuit of these kinds of humanizing virtues can controvert the onslaught of hate-training that now saturates our culture.

Another powerful tool of resistance is prayer… hear me out. I think its important for us to spend focused parts of our day processing our lives in the presence of God–voicing our concerns, letting ourselves ruminate on the world with God in the room. Time spent in silence. Listening.

Toward that end I’ve been spending time in Stanley Hauerwas’ Prayers Plainly Spoken. It’s a short book that was marketed more like devotional reading than like the all-out cultural subversion it self-consciously is. Hauerwas brings all of his theological and philosophical means to bear in a set of colloquial, occasional, humorous, and insightful prayers for just about any occasion you could think of. Turns out he has a perfect prayer for this cultural moment. I hope this will serve us all well today:

Forgiving Lord, I do not want my enemies  forgiven. I want you to kill them (as sometimes prays the psalmist!)

Actually, I would prefer to pray that you punish them rather than kill them, since I would like to watch them suffer. Also, I fear losing my enemies, since my hates are more precious to me than my loves. If I lost my hates, my enemies, how would I know who I am?

Yet you have bent us toward reconciliation, that we may be able to pass one another Christ’s peace. It is a terrible thing to ask of us. I am sure I cannot do it, but you  are a wily God able to accomplish miracles. May we be struck alive with the miracle of your grace, even to being reconciled with ourselves.

Amen.

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