Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (I John 3:11-24; 4:18) transports me to the 1972 presidential campaign trail, where the media bus included all your run of the mill mainstream reporters, plus one extremely weird oddball, a self-proclaimed gonzo journalist. At some point in my high school career, my love of Rolling Stone magazine led me to discover Hunter S. Thompson and the book that emerged from his coverage of the ’72 race, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. I devoured it, along with every other book of his I could find. Something about his writing struck a chord and resonated with me and a couple of my ne’er do well friends. He was the perfect anti-hero for a group of mischief makers who indeed loathed the pomposity of over-achieving heroes our school regularly celebrated. We loved reading lines like In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity. We saw a lot of that final sin, all around us. In one of Thompson’s later books, Generation of Swine, he makes a humble confession about his life’s work: Maybe this is all pure gibberish—a product of the demented imagination of a lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate who has found a way to live out where the real winds blow—to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whisky, and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested . . . Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll. At some point in my life, this disposition of loathing, a feeling I had plenty of experience with, became cumbersome to me. It was indeed pure gibberish, and didn’t fit anymore. I can think back and remember how easy it was to find people to loathe – maybe because of the way they talked, or their ambitions, or their musical tastes, or their hairstyle. And even after recognizing the need to shed the Hunter Thompson anti-hero mentality, I can remember times throughout my adult life when it has seeped back in, when I have found loathsome people crossing my path. There were those fundamentalists during seminary days. There was that couple who represented everything contrary to our values and pushed all our buttons in the church we co-pastored. There were those administrators who seemed so incompetent and ill-suited to the job during my tenure in higher education. I confess; I have the propensity to crawl back into the guise of gonzo on a fairly regular basis, to channel the clever wit and the hateful heart of Hunter S. and indict all those in our world of thieves who are succumbing to the sin of stupidity.
And then I read John’s epistle. Again. And again. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. . . There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out fear. Whatever jollies we get from entering into that space of loathing, of bashing, of cutting down, of hating, they are deathly jollies. For us to have civil dialogue around ideologies of conservatism and liberalism is a good thing. To have respectful conversations around the proper role of government is needful. To debate the merits of Ayn Rand’s laissez faire philosophy versus the collectivism of John Steinbeck is useful. But to personally loathe those who embody ideologies contrary to our own, to wallow in sarcasm and use names or nicknames intended to denigrate, to engage in the kind of hateful “gotcha” politics so common today, is a kind of death. On the other hand, if we are able to love, to hope for and seek the best for those we disagree with, to treat them with dignity and respect, to honor them as human beings, to have compassion on them even in the midst of democratic competitions for votes, then, the evangelist tells us, we have eternal life residing in us.
So, in my prayer life, I have to fairly regularly engage in the kind of breathing prayers where I exhale the deathly toxins of fear and loathing, and inhale the eternal life oxygen of understanding and compassion. That’s not to say that all of the spirit of the late Hunter S. Thompson is toxic to me. There’s still a part of his free-wheeling disposition that I admire and find resonant, in a good way. Loving others can be incredibly risky and edgy, and life in this mode can be a wild ride. In this regard, I appreciate another of his famous quotes: Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” Indeed. Let the good times roll.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.