By Dan Ebener
For those of us who struggle with the tough messages of Jesus, the temptation is to downplay such statements as: Love your enemies (Matt 5:44); You cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24); Do not judge others (Matt 7:1); and Forgive seventy times seven (Matt 18:22).
The latest book by Jim Forest, “Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment,” enlightens the way for those who take seriously that three-word commandment: Love Your Enemies.
Drawing from Scripture, Jim offers chapters on disciplines such as: Pray for enemies, Do good to enemies, Turn the other cheek, Forgive, Break down the walls of enmity, Refuse to take an eye for an eye, Seek nonviolent alternatives, Practice holy disobedience, Recognize Jesus in others.
Jim illustrates each of these practices as he skillfully weaves stories of Jesus, the apostles, the early Christian believers, the saints and martyrs, famous leaders and modern-day disciples who try to love their enemies. He quotes freely from the classics and the contemporaries.
An easy read that was hard to put down, Jim’s message is positive and powerful: Love of enemies is not a peripheral command of Jesus. It takes us to the very heart of Jesus. Jim uses the concept of active love to apply this Gospel principle to many situations in life: at home, work, school, church, the playground or the marketplace.
Yes, an enemy might be someone in a foreign land whose people we are supposed to despise, fear or hate. But more likely, it is someone with whom we are experiencing a troubled relationship in our daily lives.
My favorite of Jim’s stories is about a southern Baptist woman named Louise. An escaped convict broke into her home brandishing a shotgun and declaring, “Don’t make me kill you.” Louise calmly admonished the man by saying, “Young man, I’m a Christian lady. I don’t believe in violence. Put down that gun and you sit down. I don’t allow no violence here.”
Louise invited the escaped convict to have breakfast and as she cooked, she listened to his story and they prayed together. When the police came to her door brandishing their guns, she went out to the porch and said, “Y’all put those guns away. I don’t allow no violence here.”
Jim asks us to imagine what might have happened if Louise had tried the opposite approach and turned to violence against this young, scared man. Not only did her active love de-escalate a nightmarish situation, Louise later visited the man in prison. When he was released from prison several years later, Louise helped him get his feet back on the ground. He became a member of her church.
Jim Forest is a Christian pilgrim, prolific writer and peace activist. All three come together in this book. It is clear that Jim has spent a lifetime trying to practice this commandment himself. He has gathered a museum of stories that he tells artfully to drive home his main point: that as Christians, we are all called to love of enemies. Even if it’s hard.
Jim and his wife Nancy live in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.
For more information visit the website: www.jimandnancyforest.
Other books by Jim Forest include:
“All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day.” 2011. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
“Living with Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton.” 2008. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
“Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life.” 2007. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
“The Ladder of the Beatitudes.” 1999. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis .
“Praying with Icons.” 1997. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
(Dan Ebener has been a friend and correspondent with Jim Forest since 1980, when Jim organized a speaking and organizing peace mission across Europe for Dan and his wife De.)