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Haters Gonna Hate
The Reverend Krystal Leedy
February 24, 2019
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
As a child, I was slightly obsessed with Jesus commandments. Imperative statements are very important to little girls who like to follow the rules. So, when Jesus told me to love my enemies I took him seriously. But as a 6-year-old, I didn’t have a lot of enemies. And I figured that I needed one if I was going to be able to fulfill Jesus’ command. So I did what any logical first grader would do. I took out my elementary pictorial directory and scanned the pages for an enemy. I went up and down that list of names and faces, and I would find people I knew or people who had smiled at me or people who seemed kind and couldn’t help but have warm feelings toward them, so I’d move on.
And that’s when a fellow first grader with blonde hair and a round face came into view, and I decided in that moment that Kristin Brinkerhoff was my worst enemy. I mean look at her with her face printed in grayscale on the glossy paper with her name all next to it: Kristin Brinkerhoff. I mean, I was really laying it on thick. I can’t even say that I truly hated her. I mean, I was 6.
Now I had never met Kristin. I knew nothing about her. I knew her name, and I knew she was my enemy. I kept all of this to myself, but anytime that I was told to love my enemies, I would pray for Kristin Brinkerhoff because she was without a doubt, the worst.
I don’t know where I learned this act of creating an enemy, where Kristin became the object of my disaffection so that I could fulfill the teachings of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but there it was. I hated her so I could love her, or at least so I could pray for her. And it makes me wonder, “What makes an enemy?” A lot of anger, a lot of disgust, a lot of being unable to see them as human.
The act of dehumanizing enemies is not new. We need this survival technique if we are ever a soldier in wartime. The problem is that many of us don’t live in a war zone. We are living our civilian life, but we still have this tendency to dehumanize. We feel like we need to in order to survive.
I have fallen in love with a quote that shame researcher Brene Brown writes at the beginning of many of her books. It’s a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, which gives me hope in the midst of these moments where we fee the need to survive, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
It reminds us on the days when we show up in the arena, fighting valiantly, that there will always be that critic who will yell at you from their protected place in the stands. And it hurts. That critic, that person has a false view of you. They cannot see you for what you truly are: a person trying to do his or her best. And at first blush, we all need that message: “It’s not the critic who counts,” which can also be summed up more colloquially as “Haters gonna hate.” The complete dismissal of negative critique and the saying that the critic doesn’t count, effectively dehumanizes them. At this point, I can’t even call them a person. I have to call them a “hater.” I have to call them “the critic.” So easily in conversation, we don’t even give them the time of day. Haters gonna hate, so I can go back to my life now. The difficulty is that even though we project this nonchalant attitude, I have a feeling that dismissing those people is not quite as easy as we claim. Phrases like “water off of a duck’s back” come to mind.
You know, ducks are pretty resilient little creatures with their amazing oil-soaked feathers. Their down keeps them warm, even while they’re out on the water. And their feathers don’t really stay oily all the time; they have to constantly be tending that armor of oil on their backs. Ducks have to work at keeping the water that will eventually make them so cold that they will die, they have to work to keep water out. Probably with phrases like haters gonna hate. They have this natural ability to upkeep their armor and according to the phrase “like water off a duck’s back,” they never get hurt. Ah, to be a duck.
But we are not ducks. We hurt one another. We get hurt. We have enemies. Haters gonna hate and we’re gonna hate ‘em right back so that we can protect ourselves, hence becoming haters ourselves. Hence becoming a little less human ourselves.
What breaks this cycle of hatred and enemies is not becoming more thick-skinned or all of a sudden gaining the ability to become a duck. There’s not enough armor in the world to not get hit by an enemy. You’re not a duck. They’ll find a way.
A fellow young clergy woman reposted a post on Facebook. What this means is that she placed something on her Facebook page that someone else had written and she commented on it. I also reposted this post on my Facebook page. The original post was from a man named Seth Dunn. Seth writes, “I submit that a woman who claims to be a pastor is (theologically) just as bad as a sex offender who is hired as a pastor.”
The comments on this repost were interesting. A lot of people were ready and willing to offer me support, even my home church preacher. And people show support for one another in all kinds of ways because we cannot control how people are going to care for us. Some people talked about beating up Seth Dunn. Some people talked about dismissing him. One person even suggested that I black out his name. But I couldn’t.
I’m not all that concerned with what he had to say. Syntactically, there’s an extra “a” in there. Contextually, I’m not sure to whom he’s submitting these thoughts. Theologically, it doesn’t compute with my experience of a loving God who calls all people into Christ’s ministry. His argument is completely inaccurate.
But, he hurt my friend who reposted this post. I mentioned that I saw this post on a friend’s Facebook wall. My friend was hurt by his words, as it brought up memories of her own story where she was constently being put down for being a woman in ministry. She began to see the faces of her enemies once again and believing their lies about her not being worthy to stand in a pulpit. I’m so glad she told us. I felt like reposting this was my way of reminding her that it’s not the critic who counts. And haters gonna hate. I posted that to make a claim about the false teaching he presented, and as a reminder for myself that what he says is not true. He hurt my friend; and if I’m really honest, he hurt me too. Seth became my enemy that day, and I couldn’t get his face out of my head.
That’s the difficulty with enemies; they stick with us humans. I’d like to think that Jesus knew that. I’d like to think that there were certain Pharisees that he could see at night just before he fell asleep. I’d like to think that he could see their individual faces too, not just one big clump of Pharisaical enemies. Even scripture struggles to give them names. I’d like to think the writers of gospels can’t help but protect their teacher. And I’d like to think that in Jesus’ obsession with their faces, he spoke these words: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
The beauty of these Christian imperatives is that none of them have to be done with the knowledge of your enemy. Christ does not say, “Invite your enemy out for lunch.” Christ does not say, “You have to believe everything your enemy says about you.” Christ does not say, “You have to place walls around you so that no one can hurt you ever.” No, the faces of your enemies are already with you, and you are called to love them in creative ways, to do good for them in creative ways, to bless them in creative ways, to pray for them in creative ways. So pretty much do all of the things that we practice here in this worship space each week, but do them for your enemies. This is our liturgy. This is our work of the people. To love and pray and do good and bless. And blessing in this passage is the same root word that we would use for eulogy. You’re being called to say a kind thing about this person as though death has separated the two of you. You are being called to breathe out a benediction for your enemy because you want them to be filled with grace and love and you have the hope that one day maybe just maybe you might sit at table together. But that doesn’t start with you pulling out a chair, instead it starts with cultivating a eulogy, a good word.
Because your enemy has a name. And she has a family. And they have hopes and dreams for the future. He eats and sleeps and cries and she was once a child. They have a parent who loves them. Your enemies are not ducks either. They are people.
So, we can go out with your friends, have a glass of wine, and toast Theodore Roosevelt who claimed that it’s not the critic who counts. You can dance to Taylor Swift and claim that haters are gonna hate. We can all put up a little armor because it just hurts too much. But in those moments where we see their face, the face of the person who wishes that we were anything but human, let’s close our eyes, and begin to wish them well and pray for that person. Don’t pray that they die. Pray that they have peace in their lives. That their hearts be softened like the heart of Pharaoh, even if only for a moment.
And if you forget how to love, let me tell you the story of one of the best teachers from another elementary school.
Ruby Bridges was a 6-year-old who didn’t spend a lot of time looking up enemies to pray for. She didn’t need to. She had plenty. She was an intelligent little girl who passed a very difficult test in order to get into a white school in New Orleans. Ruby Bridges, an African-American girl, stands as a quiet symbol of strength in the midst of a sea of white teenagers and adults acting like animals, lobbing insults and yelling at a little girl with ribbons in her hair. She had to be accompanied by federal marshals to enter that school and would many days be taught in a classroom alone.
One day Ruby’s first grade ritual of ascending the stairs into the school was broken as she paused on the steps of the school as she was being escorted. Her mouth was moving, but she couldn’t be heard over the roar of the crowd. Her teacher saw her from the window and she wanted to know what she had said to the people in the street. Ruby told her that she wasn’t talking with the people. She was saying a prayer for them.
All-consumed by hatred and violent thinking, this crowd was not made up of animals. It was made up of humans, humans that had really evil beliefs. Such evil beliefs that it was hard to see them as human anymore. But she could see them for who they were when no one else could, and she did exactly what she was taught at church: she prayed for them. It was the prayer of a prophet with ribbons in her hair that day, using the words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they’re doing.”
So, look into your enemy’s eyes when their face just won’t get out of your head. That’s where you’ll see past all the anger and hatred and violence and the evil beliefs. That’s where we’ll see them the way God sees them, broken, but able to be made whole.
May it be so. May we be so.