”As soon as I start a dialogue with my self the reality of self as a kind of society becomes apparent at once… I experience more selves when I become aware of inner conflict around decisions… The Holy Spirit of God dwells in your heart and is no stranger to the diversity and conflict there. The Spirit dwells with and among and between all the selves of your self… There is no secret place where the Spirit has no access, nor any inner person excluded from the Spirit’s presence… The Spirit will bring the selves of the self into a unity around the center of the indwelling Christ. The New Self will be a kind of inner community based on the principle of love in which there is room for everyone.”
“What chance is there of loving and respecting others if I refuse to meet and listen to the many sides of myself? How can I be a reconciler if I shut my ears to the unreconciled conflicts within myself… Now I begin to see that the spiritual life is based on a basic honesty which enables me to recognize that everything I find difficult to accept, bless, forgive, and appreciate in others is actually present within myself.”
(Quotes from Martin Smith – Anglican priest, spiritual director, and author)
“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 sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (from Matt. 5)
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We live in a black and white world. It’s a world of good guys and bad guys, saints and sinners, the privileged and the pitiful, the righteous and the unrighteous, the Elder Brother and the Prodigal Son.
And with a great sense of justice and righteous anger, we rise up when the unjust persecute us.
Yet, those whom we hate, we secretly fear.
What will happen if we give them an inch? Will they take a mile, or perhaps much more? Perhaps they will overtake us, and even consume us.
Much of our extremism is born of this fear. And this extremism often breeds an inability to see what lies beneath a nation or even a person we call ‘evil’, a behavior we call ‘sinful’, or a part of us we deem ‘bad.’ Think about the black-and-white extremism behind the war on terror. Indeed, the real terror exists in our hearts, fearful of being consumed, desperate to be right at all costs, and often unable to see the plank in our own eyes.
Ask a young Muslim boy who the terrorist is and he’ll describe a white male Christian man who works on Wall Street, who lives in a home 10 times bigger than what he really needs, who scoffs at people who apparently choose not to be as wealthy as he is, and who believes that his Bible justifies an American Empire that can nation-build at will. Ask a young Christian boy who the terrorist is and he’ll describe a dark-skinned man with a Koran in one hand and a bomb in the other, whose only motive is hate and the destruction of the American way, who despises freedom and would prefer to eliminate anyone who does not look like him.
I’d rather not argue about who the real terrorist is. I’d rather suggest that both are full of terror, terrified.
This same principle works inside of us. The man who comes in to see me struggling with an addiction to pornography and masturbation secretly fears it- “what if it consumes me.” Yet, rather than engaging his fear, he turns to rage – “if only I could cut the damn thing off!” He hates this part of himself. And in his hate, his internal world becomes black-and-white. To counter the terrorist within, he develops a radically extreme security strategy – at all costs, do not let it take over you! He exhausts himself managing his inner terrorist, protecting his inner borders. But, sometimes, late at night, the terrorist strikes back, surging with a death strike of self-terrorism in the form of pornography, fantasy, and masturbation. Petrified and ashamed, he vows to re-double his efforts in the morning in an attempt to protect his internal borders from evil. Both parts of himself – both the terrorist and the righteous security guard – become even more extreme in their inner war.
Here’s a principle: transformation cannot take place in a context of extremism. Or, as Steve Brown, a former professor of mine, likes to say, “Sometimes we need to kiss the demon on the lips.”
I find Martin Smith’s words (quotes above) very, very helpful. We cannot begin to deal with the conflicts outside of ourselves (and even between nations) unless we first deal with our inner conflicts. And in dealing with our inner conflicts, we need the courage to step into places of great terror and fear, places inside of us that we have build walls to protect us from.
Have you ever wondered why some of the most self-righteous preachers and politicians fall? Inevitably, this conflict I am describing exists within them. Along the way, the walls they built inside to protect themselves from places of great darkness and shame show a sign of vulnerability, and an inner terrorist sneaks out. They re-double their efforts to conceal the vulnerability. But, our hearts are not made to thrive in this kind of inner cold war. Eventually, the Elliot Spitzer’s and the Bill Clinton’s and the Mark Sanford’s and the Bernie Madoff’s violate internally the very principles they espouse publicly, giving the terrorist an inch.
Perhaps, the most honest response we can have is: this is me, too.
I’ve seen healing and transformation when men and women begin to love their enemies, even their inner enemies. These unreconciled parts of ourselves which live in extreme conflict cannot thrive. Truth is, the enemy is both the inner terrorist and the inner security guard. And like the Prodigal Son and his Elder Brother, they need to be invited to a feast of reconciliation and redemption. You can only thrive as you become the Father in the great story, as the new and redeemed self led by Christ races out to both the Prodigal and the Elder Sons with an embrace of love and compassion. Transformation begins when you kiss the demon on the lips.
Martin Smith suggests that the spiritual life is built and grown on a basic honesty which admits the truth about ourselves. When this happens, not only are we transformed, but the communities in which we live and love become places of transformation. And like yeast in bread, the Kingdom of God becomes an ever-expanding reality. However, where honesty is lacking, we not only create walls within our hearts and between ourselves, but we create a great divide between ourselves and God. This is why the Christian Gospel takes as it premise that men and women are basically sinful, in need of a reconciling love that cannot be manufactured and managed, that cannot be won by wall-building self-righteousness. Sadly, many of us who claim the name of Christ live unreconciled in so many ways. Put me at the top of that list.
Yet, part of the honest admission required for real transformation confesses that all of this ‘real transformation’ talk, too, is but a feeble attempt to put words around big mysteries. Perhaps, this is why Henri Nouwen found that an image of hands opened, surrendered to God, conveyed what words cannot. When we become exhausted of our dogmatic certainty, and relax the fists which clench our extreme postures motivated by real fear and terror, perhaps the reconciling love of Christ can do something that security strategies and self-management techniques cannot. Perhaps, then, a cynical watching world, divided in so many ways, might even desire to be reconciled to us and to Christ.