Text: Luke 6:17-31 (blessings and woes)
On Halloween, many of us wear scary costumes. We dress up as one of the dead — a ghost or vampire — or as a witch, goblin or another monster.
These costumes confront our fears of death and so prepare us for the difficult but gracious task of remembering our ancestors on All Hallows Day. On Halloween — which is the eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day — we pretend to be a figure that scares us.
In effect, Halloween turns us into one of the enemy.
This aspect of Halloween reminds me of the slogan “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The slogan was made famous by cartoonist Walt Kelly in his comic strip Pogo. On the first Earth Day in 1971, he showed the lovable possum Pogo walking through the swamp that is his home with his friend Porky Pine. But to their sadness, the beauty of the swamp has been ruined by garbage. Looking at the devastation Pogo says to his friend, “Son, we have met the enemy and he is us.”
We may fear many external enemies, but Pogo suggests that the enemy is us.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his friends to love their enemies. As with Halloween costumes and Pogo, I hear this statement as a call to see our own reflections in our enemies. The enemy we fear may reflect an aspect of ourselves we can’t acknowledge. Loving our enemies is not only a way to stop violence. Coming to know our enemies in compassion can also be a way to understand and transform ourselves.
The current election campaign in the United States is pitting many groups against one another. Last week’s episode of the NBC comedy show “Saturday Night Live” confronted the divide between Blacks and Whites in a sketch called “Black Jeopardy.” It was a twist on the famous TV quiz show with a host and contestants who are Black and where all the winning questions reflect stereotypes of African-American folk wisdom.
In a second twist, SNL guest host Tom Hanks played a contestant named Doug who is a soft-spoken man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. As a working-class white guy in a Donald Trump hat, Doug is completely out of place on “Black Jeopardy.”
But as the game progresses, Doug surprises the host and the Black contestants. It becomes clear that he has similar cultural tastes, interests and life experiences to many Black people.
I laughed at the skit, and I liked how it showed affection growing between three black people and a poor white man. In today’s political climate, they are supposed to be enemies. But over the course of the game, they realize that they share similar attitudes and life conditions.
The split between Blacks and Whites in the current Presidential election in the United States could not be more complete. More than 95 percent of Blacks are projected to vote against Trump. Voters like Doug who are White, male, over 50, and without a college degree are expected to overwhelmingly back Trump.
Given the passions unleashed by the election, it might appear that Blacks and Whites are enemies, as are American citizens and refugees, men and women, and Christians and Muslims. Happily, the sketch suggests that the enmity between these groups is not well founded.
The sketch reminded me of the notion that everyone we meet can become a mirror into our self. People we like may possess qualities we yearn for. People we dislike may mirror qualities of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge.
Blacks and Whites in today’s America do not often get a chance to know each other well. But when they do, the SNL sketch suggests they have a lot in common. Given the right conditions, they can become friends and allies.
People in Europe and North America may agree with racist politicians that the world’s 60 million plus refugees are our enemies. But when we look at refugees with compassion, we can see in them a reflection of our ancestors who migrated to another country for safety or opportunity. Refugees are just like us, people who deserve help instead of fear and condemnation.
Not everything we see in our enemies will be things we like. I consider racist politicians like Trump to be enemies. But if I look at such leaders with compassion, perhaps I can see reflected there my own racist prejudices, my own thirst for power, and my own sense of wildly exaggerated superiority.
With grace, I pray that I might use the energy in these shadow parts of myself to fuel grief, repentance, and humility.
Trump wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico and to bar Muslims from entering the United States. But when countries like the US reject such racist ideas, the power of hatred on both sides is challenged.
Poverty and war cannot be solved by treating refugees as our enemies. Instead, when we love these so-called enemies, we discover common hopes and dreams that can unite us and give us a better chance to build God’s realm on earth.
Every refugee who drowns in the Mediterranean trying to flee terror, poverty and misery in Africa or the Middle East represents both a crime against our sacred values and another argument for those who promote racism and hatred. Every refugee who finds safety and welcome in a richer country represents both a beloved child of God saved from death and a blow to those who promote hatred, whether in Europe, North America, or the Middle East.
Jesus teaches us that hatred breeds hatred and love breeds love. When we love our enemies, we help to douse the fires of hatred.
Many of our ancestors discovered this truth when they turned their backs on imperialist rulers and embraced their enemies. They are among those I will honour All Saints Day this November 1st.
Tomorrow on Halloween, I hope we might see something of ourselves in the scary costumes that come to our doorstep. Let us embrace the parts of ourselves that we fear with compassion and so transform hatred into love.
Finally, on November 8, I pray that ordinary Americans will spurn racist politicians. May they view the many refugees of the world with compassion and recognize their own broken and blessed souls in them.
May it be so. Amen.