"In the New Media culture, anything good you do is tossed in a pit, and you are measured by who you are on your worst day. What’s the Boy Scout code? Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent. I might be all of those things, at certain moments. But people suspect that whatever good you do, you are faking. You’re that guy. You’re that guy that says this."
I happened to read this article the week after the assigned text for preaching was Matthew 5:38-48, which includes the command to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." These have never been the easiest words of Jesus to understand or follow, but coupled with Baldwin's words, I began thinking about what specifically makes an enemy.
I almost never use the word "enemy" to describe a person, but there are people I may be angry with or distrust or find it difficult to like. How much of that anger or distrust is tied up in my judging them by who they are on their worst day and discounting the good they do? How often do I assume that the things that annoy me about a person are the "real" side of them and the good I see is just an abnormality? (Or, on the flip side, do I always assume the best about a person and ignore obvious defects?)
Baldwin's point is that we often let that initial opinion or the most extreme fact about a person define them for us. I don't think that's anything new, but our modern social media does spread our worst moments faster and farther than ever before. The poorly phrased thing I once said to a couple people is now said on Facebook or Twitter, never to be fully erased. The stupid thing I did before a few strangers at the mall can now be seen by a million strangers on Youtube if someone happens to catch it on their phone. The writer herself makes the same point:
"Still, everyone’s living in public, never far from a camera or a smartphone. And all our unsuccessful gestures get caught — in print, on tape, where they can stick." (Emphasis mine)
The fact is that we are all far more complicated than any one adjective or opinion. We have a wide variety of opinions, moods, and interests and no one of them -- good or bad -- defines who an individual is. (It's similar to those who take the craziest verses from the Bible and say, "See, the whole thing is a joke," but that's another post for the future.) It's easy to forget this with celebrities or others who we only know through the snippets of their lives we see on TV, but do we apply the same thinking to those we should know better? The thing is, I know people are complex (and made in the image of a complex God), but I don't always live that way. I can very often reduce people to a label like shy, super friendly, opinionated, or liberal/conservative and make assumptions (good or bad) based on that one trait.
Perhaps loving our enemies starts with choosing to look past the labels and see them as more complicated, rounded people. Perhaps it means refusing to think that the worst in a person is all that matters or that our point of biggest disagreement is the most important thing in our relationship. After all, if someone were to report on my words and actions on my worst day, I would come across as very unsympathetic. But you might also say I would appear very... human. And that's a trait I share with friend and enemy alike.
“Your dirt removes my blindness; your pain becomes my peace.” -Jars of Clay, "Frail"