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Brother Shadwick

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When I was about 14, my family started going to a new church. It was still an Assembly of God church, but it was not the one in Columbus, Ohio we had been attending. This one was in Delaware, about the same distance but in the opposite direction. We were living near Sunbury, Ohio at the time. I don’t remember why we switched churches, but I think it had something to do with our former pastor leaving. The church in Delaware was small, maybe 35 or 40 members, so when the 10 of us started going, of course we were going to have an outsize impact. The pastor, Brother Moore was a young, sincere man, and the congregation was made up mostly of middle aged and older folks. I’m sure our family alone doubled the number of kids attending.

Fifty years ago, churches had Sunday School followed by Worship Service every Sunday morning. Sunday School was a time of instruction, mostly for teaching kids, but most churches of my acquaintance also had adult Sunday School classes, but the folks who attended were mostly people with kids who were bringing them to be taught. The format was usually less formal than public school. Classes were small. There were often kids from 3 or 4 grades mixed together. Still, you were expected to listen to the teacher teach, not interrupt or talk in class, and generally behave yourself. At 14 I was really good at that, having attended church since before I could remember.

My Sunday School teacher at Delaware Assembly of God was a man in his 40s named Brother Shadwick. (In the Assemblies of God of my youth, every adult was either Brother or Sister from the pastor on down.) Brother Shadwick was short but wiry; he looked like a fighter with close-cropped hair, big ears and a bulbous nose, thick lips, and one of those sallow complexions that would go beet red when he got angry. He proved also to be proud and ignorant, always a dangerous combination.

Our class was in a small room off the fellowship hall. There couldn’t have been more than four or five of us. I don’t know if Brother Shadwick took an instant dislike to me, or if it was our first skirmish that made me his enemy. The lesson that day was about Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Brother Shadwick was trying to set the scene. He told us that fishing boat Jesus and the disciples were in was very small, about the size of a row boat.

I raised my hand.

“It must have been bigger than a row boat,” I said. “It held Jesus and twelve disciples and their fishing gear. Jesus fell asleep in the prow. How could he sleep in the prow of a row boat?”

Brother Shadwick looked daggers at me. He stopped the class and had us all bow our heads. He prayed that God would forgive my sins and overcome my rebellious spirit. I was embarrassed, of course, but I also knew that I was right and the Brother Shadwick was wrong. Rather than admit to being wrong, he had treated me as if I had done something shameful. I knew I was not rebellious. In fact I was a compliant child, and I resolved to keep my mouth shut unless I was called upon.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I was a 14-year-old boy. There is no other age when boys are more obnoxious. I was certainly not immune. I was no doubt tactless and cocky. But I was not interested in how he felt having his word questioned by a mere boy. I was interested in truth, and it mattered to me that he was changing the story to suit his own preconceptions. But after that incident I was wary.

Some months later another incident occurred. Our class had been combined with another, and we now met in the fellowship hall where there was more room. My younger sister, Lani was in the class. There may have been as many as a dozen students. This time the lesson was from Jonah. The story of Jonah is bizarre even compared to other Old Testament stories. The feature most people remember is that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and survived inside it for three days, but that is not what makes it truly bizarre. Taken as a whole, it is a story about the compassion of the God of Israel for people who were not Israelites, who were in fact enemies of Israel. The last sentence, which God addresses to Jonah as a question, makes the point explicit:

And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals? (Jonah 4:11)

Brother Shadwick claimed that this meant that the people of Nineveh were savages, unable even to tell their left hand from their right. He compared them to people living in mud huts, eking out a living at subsistence farming. Sitting there listening, I kept thinking, “I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to say anything.”

Then Brother Shadwick looked straight at me and asked, “Isn’t that right?”

What could I do? I pointed out that Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire, that they represented the dominant political power in the region at the time, and that the verse probably referred to children rather than to the entire population of the city. Brother Shadwick turned red. My sister rushed from the room to find our mom or dad. I found out later that she thought he was going to hit me. He did come toward me and stand over me. But he did not lay a hand on me. Instead he resorted once more to prayer for my rebellious spirit because I had dared to know more than he knew.

I do not know what resources Brother Shadwick turned to when he was preparing his Sunday School lessons. Perhaps he thought, as many people still think today, that he needed no resources but his own understanding to make sense of stories that were hundreds of years old. I was not so self-assured. My family had encyclopedias, bible dictionaries, study bibles, and alternate translations. When I read the bible, I referred to those resources to help me understand. I still use such helps when I read the bible.

Two more incidents help illuminate Brother Shadwick’s character. Both occurred shortly before my family left the church. The first was that Brother Shadwick got into a fight with a co-worker and was badly beaten. His nose was broken, and he came to church with his face heavily bandaged. He sued his attacker and lost. The judge decreed that Brother Shadwick had provoked his attacker, so no compensation was due. The second was a confrontation between Brother Shadwick and a new pastor who had come to set make things right at the church. I don’t remember what it was about. I just remember Brother Shadwick standing nose to nose with the pastor, flushed with anger, his hand balled into a fist and spitting his words between clenched teeth. He still had bandages on his nose. The pastor regarded him with absolute calm but refused to back down. We left that church, and it closed for good not long after.

Some people would have been soured on church forever by these incidents, but I was fortunate in several respects. My parents knew me well. They knew I was not trying to cause trouble or show up Brother Shadwick in front of the class. They didn’t berate or discipline me for standing up to Brother Shadwick when he said things that revealed his own prejudices, especially when he asked for my opinion. I also knew that Brother Shadwick was not best representing the character of Christ in these episodes, so they did not make me question God’s goodness. Besides, I had my own relationship with Christ, and he sustained me even when others who also claimed to follow him misunderstood me. So I bear Brother Shadwick no ill will. I hope he has found peace and been delivered from his anger.

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Love Your Enemies

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“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 children 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 5:43-48.

Love can mean so many things. I might say, “I love my wife,” or “I love my kids,” or “I love tacos.” In each instance I mean something different by “love.” So what does Jesus mean by “love” when he commands his disciples to love their enemies? I think this passage offers some clues.

I have written elsewhere that the core of love is respect. By that I do not mean esteem. Respect does not have to regard a fellow person as good, but it must regard them as a person, capable of making decisions, keeping promises, and adhering however imperfectly to their own standards of right and wrong. Love regards every person as bearing the stamp of their Creator. Since every person is made in God’s image, there is within each one a template for being the person God intended. Love seeks to activate that template. Love is an advocate for the image of God within each person. Of course, there are some people who seems to us irredeemably evil, the image within them so fractured and tarnished by willful rebellion that every kindness, every good turn, seems wasted on them. Yet it is not often up to us to make that determination. Jesus calls us to love even the most wicked, not with affection or admiration, but with respect for their humanity. He calls us to treat them with the same impartial kindness that God has toward both the evil and the good, giving sunshine and rain to both, neither favoring the good with better weather nor punishing the wicked with darkness and drought.

This call goes against our own inclination and even against our sense of fair play. Should not the wicked be punished? Should not the righteous be blessed? Should we not love those who love us and hate those who hate us? How can we uphold justice in the world without opposing those who cause injustice? Indeed, we must oppose injustice yet do so in love. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a sermon about loving your enemies, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” So if we want a more just world, love is imperative; we have no option but to return love for hate.

So far this has been theoretical. How do we apply it to real enemies? How do we apply it to President Donald Trump?

I would like to propose a few guidelines by which you can measure your own behavior to consider whether it is loving. Most of us are unlikely to be in a position to actually do anything of real value for Trump or anyone in his administration. We all have attitudes and opinions, however, which we express with words. Our words reflect what is in our hearts. If it is love, then our words, even toward the President and his associates, will be loving.

The Issues, Not The Man

Stop ad hominem attacks. This includes name-calling and character assassination. Every day I see posts on my feed, not just memes but well-researched, thoughtful articles about Trump’s policies (or lack thereof), yet the comments are nothing but acrimonious names or supposed descriptions of Trump. I see him called “idiot,” “piece of shit,” “knuckle-dragger,” and  “orange cheeto,” I see speculations on the size of his brain or whether he has testicles. There is no way that such remarks can be construed as loving. You may be angry at Trump’s policies, his shameful behavior, or his many, many lies. Fine. Attack his policies and behavior, and expose his lies. It is loving to correct error and declare the truth. It is loving to advocate for the oppressed and excoriate their oppression. It is not loving to denigrate the oppressor.

Wish Him Well

Some Facebook friends have expressed a wish that Trump would die or fall ill or be declared unfit to serve as President. Some have hoped he would be assassinated. Such desires do not spring from love but from hate. Jesus implied that hate was the moral equivalent of murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Love never rejoices at the misfortunes that befall an enemy. It is unfailingly kind. Of course, the best one can wish for an enemy is a sufficient change to make them a friend. I do not know if Trump is capable of such a change, nor does it seem likely, but it is something to pray for.

Pray For Him

By this I mean sincere prayers for wisdom in governing, decorum befitting a President, and all the other graces and competencies that would make him a better President and mitigate the ridicule to which he is subject. Of course, a certain amount of ridicule goes with being President. When Obama was President, he even made fun of himself. Trump, however, desperately needs a sense of humor, and that is surely something to pray for. I know it’s hard not to want him to fail, but failure is not bad just for him; it’s bad for the United States and even for the world. So pray for his success—not the success of bad policies, but for wise policies to succeed. Pray that he will take his duties seriously and consider the repercussions of his words and actions before tweeting.

Of course, there are other things you might do, but these should give you an idea of the direction love wants to go. Love your enemies.

 

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Vain Repetitions

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I was reading in Tremendous Trifles by G. K. Chesterton and twice came across places where he referred to repeated patterns (as, for example, on wallpaper) as vain repetitions. The phrase, of course, comes from Matthew’s gospel, just before Jesus introduces a model prayer that has come to be called “The Lord’s Prayer”—though it would be more accurate to call it “The Disciples’ Prayer.”

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. —Matt 6:7 (KJV)

It’s hard to find in the Bible any examples of people petitioning God for the same thing more than once. Abraham’s prayer for Lot comes to mind. Elijah’s prayer for rain. Jesus’ prayer to skip the cross if possible. Paul’s prayer to be delivered from a thorn in the flesh. Paul, in particular, tells his readers that he prayed three times, as if it were something extraordinary.

It is the practice of heathens, says Jesus, to repeat the same prayer over and over in hopes of finally being heard by distant and disengaged deities. But his disciples have a God who is also a Father, one who anticipates their needs before they even ask, eager to act on their behalf. To him they can just pray simply, without affectation, without elaborate reasonings, without self-justification.

Just tell him what you want; he already knows anyway.

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