Saturday, March 8, 2014
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
My first day in seminary at Boston University in 1988, I participated in a sort of “get to know each other” class. In that class, I told of being diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1976 and being told that I only had a 10% chance of living the next two years, laughed and told them that’s why I didn’t believe in statistics. For the next three years, a woman who was in that class hated me. She said some very ugly things about me, wrote damaging notes to my professors, tried to have me kicked out of school, and did physical damage to my books and papers. I never understood. My professors likewise didn’t seem to know what to do because they had talked to her but to no avail. Mostly I just tried to avoid her. If we ended up in the same class, I would try to transfer to another if it was possible. During all that time, I never said a single unkind word about her, never did an unkind thing to her, and prayed for her almost every single day. After three years as she was about to graduate (I still had a fourth year to go), she started going to therapy as her hatred of me was beginning to ruin her life and put her graduation in question. Then, out of the blue, she invited me to lunch. I hesitatingly accepted and would be very careful about what I ate. At the lunch, she apologized profusely and very sincerely asked me for my forgiveness—which I told her I had already done years ago, but I did ask why she hated me. It turned out that just before she came to seminary, she had married the man of her dreams who fully and completely supported her intention to enter the ministry. Three months before she came to Boston, he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at the same level I had been. He died in four weeks. She had never been able to forgive me for living when the wonderful man she had loved had died. It took her three years and therapy to at least come to terms with it—I don’t know that she ever got over it. You cannot control how over people will feel about you or why, but you can control how you respond to it. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that when you adopt the tactics of your enemy, your enemy has won. Walt Kelly’s immortal cartoon strip “Pogo” contained the famous quote, “We have found the enemy, and he is us.” Christ simply said never to return evil for evil and to love even those who persecute you. I haven’t done all that many things for which I am proud, but my response to that poor woman who hated me so, is one of the things I of which I am proud. It wasn’t easy to have stones thrown at you and to respond with love and prayer, but at least that time and in that place, I did. Christ knew that hatred would kill us from within. You can hate the sin, but you must love the sinner. AMEN.