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Faith and Values: ‘I Refuse to be Your Enemy’

By Paul Graves Correspondent

Last week, I read a one-page article in the June issue of Sojourners magazine that made me wish I was back in Israel. My wife and I were there three months ago, and had not heard of the place highlighted in the article I read. It is a Palestinian farm community that practices peace.

The farm is off the grid. Because Israeli authorities have purposely disconnected the farm’s water and electricity, the Nassar family made ecological adjustments – much like families in North Idaho and northeastern Washington make when they choose to live off the grid.

The big difference is that people in our geographic area make the choice to live off the grid. The Nassar family was forced to live that way. But they embraced the challenge and became stronger.

Another difference between some of the off-the-grid people in our area and the Palestinians is that the Palestinians (a mix of Christians and Muslims, I believe) don’t choose to hate those in political power.

On the walk toward the farm house, the article’s author, Lisa Sharon Harper, tells of a good-size rock that had writing on it. The simple, stunning message? “We refuse to be enemies.” For all of the many reasons they have to hate Israeli authorities, they choose to not see those authorities as enemies. That’s astounding!

Contrast that attitude with our current American cultural hair-trigger impulse to call someone or some group “my enemies.” From national politics to the simplest verbal exchange in the smallest communities, we are enemy-obsessed.

Why? Toward what end?

I have no easy responses, friends. Those two questions are especially troubling to me when “enemies” is a common slur made by people who otherwise call themselves followers of Jesus. Talk about a contradiction of terms.

When we’re tempted to think about retaliation for some verbal slight, or road rage, etc., we lean toward the Old Testament custom “eye for an eye…”. But what did Jesus challenge us to do? Read Matthew 5: 38-29 to find out. It has to do with cheek-turning. That takes more strength than retaliation.

The Idaho primary season just completed last week. I saw enough printed anger and heard enough verbal fear about “those people” (whoever that means) to know that some of us think an enemy is lurking around every corner, waiting to pounce on us.

Now read Matthew 5:43-48. Jesus subversively challenges us to “love your enemy.” What good is it if we just love those we agree with, or who love us back? Jesus’ question is right on point! To love our enemy is so hard.

Jesus-love has nothing to do with romance, with liking, with agreement. It has everything to do with seeing deeply beneath the anger, fear, and the hurtful actions of that other person. Love uncovers a level of being that person may not even know exists inside of him.

I’m talking deep soul. We all – I mean all –get angry, fearful, and those emotions play havoc with our deeper nature. That part of us can be buried beneath the fear, anger, woundedness, so much so that we don’t remember God creates us and sustains us as “good.”

That soul-place is what Jesus calls us to love. I strongly suspect the Palestinians on that off-the-grid farm look hard for that soul-place in the Israeli authorities. They study, they pray, they encourage one another – intentionally, daily – to refuse to be enemies of the Israeli government.

I hope it works for them. I’ve seen it work in our culture, in our communities. So I refuse to be your enemy. Join me.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at

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