Trying Not to Misinterpret Christ

First: On Sunday we will read, among other things, the Parable of the Lost Coin. I learned something a few years ago that helped me understand it. Click HERE.

pancakes syrup

Love your enemies. (Luke 6:27)

Many people misinterpret this divine commandment like this: Christ preaches a sublime, otherworldly way of looking at things. Everyone knows both that this is the most beautiful doctrine ever and that in actual fact no one can follow it.

Because, in the real world, things get messy. God, of course, knows that. So we need Christ’s teaching to try to keep our ideals elevated. But then in the rough and tumble of actual events, we need a more practical approach. Christ meant to give us spiritual goals, for private cultivation.

The pivot point upon which this misinterpretation rests, I think, is this: When we get right down to it, what are the most fundamental facts?

No Signal staticHow about:

You have to fight to survive. Enemies lurk around most corners, and they have countless tricks up their dark sleeves. Beauty dies and fades away. Chaos overtakes order. The only place where anything noble can really dwell is in my own head, or in the heads of my like-minded friends, to whom I cling for dear life against the cold winds.

Christ teaches us, though, that these are not the fundamental facts. We don’t know from cold winds really. Because we cannot even conceive of the nothingness that would overtake us–were it not for the real fundamental fact.

The fundamental fact actually is: Everything exists because of the love of God. Why is there a today, when there could not be one? Reality could be a tv with a “No Signal” message bouncing around the screen forever. That could be it.

But it’s not.

Things exist, like pancakes and guitars. Today exists. For one reason: Because God is waiting, with infinitely patient love, for us to turn to Him, love Him, praise Him.

Every day He makes for that one reason. As far as He is concerned, what happened yesterday really doesn’t matter. Yesterday wouldn’t have existed if He hadn’t made it, to be sure. But He made it to be a today, not a yesterday. And now that yesterday is a yesterday, God is prepared to forget all about it. That, in fact, is why He made today. Yesterday was not perfect, so forget it. Today can be better. Today we can love. Today we can live in the truth.

That’s why it exists. That is the most fundamental fact. There is one decisive difference between planet Earth, equipped with leaves, a moon, spaghetti and people smiling with white teeth—one difference between this and nothing, between this and the eternal “No Signal” message—one difference. Eternal, omnipotent love.

Loving our enemies does not mean living in a dreamworld, a fantasy, a counterfactual delusion. No. Not loving our enemies means living in a dreamworld, a fantasy, a counterfactual delusion. When we wake up to the fundamental fact, we love our enemies. Because it is immediately apparent that any other approach is really quite pointless.

Titans of the Underground, Naked Emporers

Astor PlaceIn 1956 a five-alarm fire consumed the Wanamaker’s Department Store in New York City.

Firefighters doused the burning building with their hoses for days.

They sprayed so much water that it flooded the subway station below.

The earth underneath one of the railroad beds collapsed, and a train sank five feet into the hole. Thank God, not a soul on the train was injured.

It was July 14, 11:50 p.m.

At 12:02 a.m. on July 20, the subway began operating through the Astor Place station again. Everything had been completely repaired in five days and twelve minutes.

It was a miracle of decisiveness, engineering efficiency, and wholesome pride.

John Catoe and Jim Graham
John Catoe and Jim Graham

I thought of this when the following happened yesterday:

The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority Board, chaired by D.C. Councilman Jim Graham, voted 4 to 1 to renew the contract of Metro chief John Catoe.

At that very moment, FBI agents were in the office of Councilman Graham’s chief of staff Ted Loza, collecting evidence for a bribery case against him.

The day before, Graham had said that Metro has been subject to demonic attack this year.

“We’re having the heavens open, and all manner of demons have been unleashed.”

He really did say this. Councilman Graham said it when he was asked by a reporter whether or not Catoe should have to take any of the blame for the fact that Metro has become a tragic laughingstock.

devilPerhaps the venerable Councilman was just being poetic when he chalked the problems up to demons from heaven.

Hopefully the man is aware that God and the good angels are in heaven, and the demons are in the other place.

Hopefully he knows that demons tend to focus on enticing people to commit sins, like taking bribes or attempting to “marry” someone of the same sex.

On the other hand, fatal subway crashes, endless delays, surprise station closures, and other signs of managerial incompetence are usually atributable to human error.

…For the record, my disapproval of John Catoe’s regime began two years ago, when he instituted the following public-address message in the stations:

We have a lot of escalators in our system. You’ll notice that most people stand on the right side. And while you’re riding, hold the handrail for your safety. Enjoy your trip, and thank you for riding Metro.

This is not an effective message. It is an effete message.

But Catoe did not want to insist that anyone stand to the right. He didn’t want to give an order. He thought doing so would only encourage Type-A personalities to rush through stations in a furious hurry on the left.

Call me a Type-A personality if you want–call me something worse–but I do not think “stand to the right” is a suggestion. It is like the eleventh Commandment. It is escalator Rule Number One.

To review:

1956 in New York: The I.R.T. has a subway station which has been flooded by the Fire Department, and there is a train sunk into the roadbed. Everything is fully repaired and operational five days later.

2009 in Washington: John Catoe does not want to encourage rushing. It is the deadliest, most bogged-down year in the history of Metro. The WMATA Board renews his contract and gives him a standing ovation.

metro car