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It’s Hard to Love When They’re Trying to Hurt You

Most days, I go for a run. About three miles. Lately, I’ve been choosing a route that takes me along a trail that winds through a public park in the eastern tip of the District.

This past week, my run has been a struggle. Not because of the summer heat, or tired legs. Those things I can handle. My struggle has been with people. Young people. Boys throwing rocks at me as I pass, calling me names. A little girl on the playground who cocked her hand like a gun and pointed it at me, drawing attention to my whiteness.

Yesterday my struggle came in the form of violent ambush. Teenagers lay in wait for me, attacking me with fireworks. They recorded it on a cell phone for later amusement. All I could do was run, duck, and dodge.

Today, I chose not to run along the wooded paths in the park. Instead, I ran on sidewalks and streets. The more visible the better. Throughout my workout, my eyes scanned for threats. My ears listened for footsteps behind me. My body assumed that anyone moving towards me might be a danger.

We’ve lived in this neighborhood for five years. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt targeted. I’m one of very few white people in an area that is 98% African-American. My neighborhood is home to several large low-income housing developments. I stick out like a sore thumb, and people aren’t always polite.

But this last week has been different. Three separate incidents of escalating antagonism and violence while running. But wait, there’s more. Our car was also broken into. Our lawnmower was recently stolen. Last week when I was working from home, teens came into our back yard. Casually, they destroyed one of our stepping stones.

After a week like this, it’s hard to be here. It’s hard to love the people around me. I’m having a hard time seeing my neighbors as anything but a potential threat. After a week like this, I’m tempted to move. At the very least, I could build a high fence for our backyard. Rather than risking the streets, I could get a gym membership and drive miles away to exercise.

I’m not asking for your sympathy. I’m not a victim, or a hero, or anything else. I’m just a middle class white man who would like to be on good terms with his neighbors. Or at least not face taunts, theft, and violence. That would be a good start.

This is a confession. I’ve been trying to follow Jesus for more than ten years, and I still don’t have any clue how to love those who hate me. When those kids chased me with lit Roman Candles, I didn’t have any desire to bless them. When others threw rocks at me and called me names, I didn’t feel anything resembling love. No, the honest truth – I felt hate.

I want to be a follower of Jesus, but I have no interest in being nailed to a cross like he was. Martyrdom sounds noble when you read about it in books. That’s because it’s in a book. It’s a beautiful theory – a lie we tell ourselves to justify horror.

But when Jesus died, there was no cause, no glory, no revolution. Only people who hated him for no reason. Just his decision to submit himself to the Father’s will.

I don’t have that kind of strength. What’s worse, I’m not sure I want it. I’d rather move away, or build a fence, or get that gym membership. I’d rather avoid contact with those who want to hurt me. Let the police handle them. I’d rather do what every rational human being wants to do: Protect myself and those I love.

But what would Jesus do? Surely, somehow, he would find a way to love.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Related Posts:

How Can God Love Both Me And My Enemies?

How Can I Love You When You’re So Wrong?

  • Shawn Pendley

    An important message for everyone, right now. Praying for you this morning. Peace.

  • Maia Simon

    I don’t know if this will be any help, Micah. Anne Lamott’s new book, Hallelujah Anyway, has been a help to me. And I find myself quoting Micah 6:8 in shorthand: justice, mercy, humility. I’ve never experienced what you have described here. But I know what it feels like to have fear and hate when being attacked. Thank you for your ministry.

    Another thing that has helped is remembering that the love we are called to doesn’t necessarily feel good. Love is a discipline. To bless them in the midst of our feelings of fear and hate.

    AND, imo, you are allowed to take steps to protect yourself. Also imo, God needs us to do the work, not to let ourselves be martyred.

    Have you read Scott Peck’s books recently? The Road Less Travelled and The People of the Lie. I read TRLT at least once a decade.

    May love and peace be your ground and your strength.

  • Robin Vestal

    This is something I really struggle with too. I think we are missing the examples in current times of people that are confronting hate with love and showing us ways forward. This may be the time for brainstorming different approaches and thinking about how to handle these situations.

  • charlesburchfield
  • Herb Lape

    I was touched by the honesty of your piece. Like Job, no orthodox pieties but a real wrestling with God for clarity in the midst of pain and confusion. Keep wrestling! You and family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • disqus_IAgR1oQ33k

    I can see you are a thoughtful person struggling to make sense of this situation. I would ask, what might it mean to black people living in this place to see one white man jogging? I can’t say, but if I expand the context of the situation (both in space and time) I might be able to guess where this anger comes from. Does this neighborhood see (or have the people themselves experienced) the fact that the arrival of white people in a historically black neighborhood has often meant the beginning of gentrification and an economic displacement and fragmentation of communities they love? To me, seeing one white man running in a neighborhood has a lot of connotations that aren’t about him personally. He assumes he belongs here. He knows he can call the police and they will help him and likely give him the benefit of the doubt in most situations. Does your neighborhood have a history or dynamic with the police that might infuse your act of jogging with a meaning you don’t intend? If you do want to engage with your neighbors, is jogging the best way to do that? Just a few thoughts to try and frame the situation in terms of what your acts might be saying to people that you might not be meaning to say.

  • Seth Marlow

    are you really just deleting all comments that don’t support you here? are you just going to ignore input that suggests you consider the social/historical context in which this is happening? this is so troubling, and really strikes me as an act of cowardice.

  • Keith Saylor

    Hello Micah. I’m not sure whether this will speak to you. I am certain you know the immanent Presence of Christ … hold that Presence when you are running from those who would hurt you … hold that Presence in each moment and circumstance … in the holding … you will know peace in fear and strength in weakness and that Presence will candle your way. The strength of Christ’s immanent is in knowing peace and strength even as fear and weakness manifest upon the horizon of the soul … As Jesus is recorded as saying: “What I say unto you, I say unto all, watch.”

  • Bonni McKeown

    Dont know the whole story, but It sounds like you’re trying to do this
    yourself, and especially with a young family, it may be putting you in
    too vulnerable a position for it to work. I too live in the hood, on the West Side of Chicago, but the Austin neighborhood is a mixed hood, I’m middle aged, and I’m living with someone who is Black. Generally my neighbors are pleasant and will return a smile. My friend’s car (not mine) was stolen, though. We are not sure why the police havent found and returned it yet.

    A lot of rage is being acted out right now due to years of injustice and economic disparity perpetrated by the System that has benefited us as White people. Not to mention that our govt. itself has become almost lawless. The people in the streets can’t take it out on the greedy perpetrators, so they are taking it out on you because you’re the nearest person that looks like the slavemaster. They don’t know that you’ve advocated on their behalf. Though whites can be crime victims, we are still in a safer position overall in society; if you are poor and Black, jobs, food stamps, medical care, transportation are all under threat. These young men know their butts can be thrown in jail at any moment, for good reason or no reason. For them, it’s almost like–why be on good behavior when you can be punished whether you do right or wrong?

    If you feel led to stay– If you can overcome, for a minute, the fears and resentments that the situation has caused to develop in you, is it possible one day to engage any of your young Black neighbors in conversation? Are there gangs and do they have leaders? How do they view God–and Jesus? Any church or community groups already working for peace and betterment in the hood that you could work with and get some protection with?, Maybe this would help your tormentors see you as an ally rather than just another white guy who has a job and a little money that they dont have.

    Definitely am praying for you.

  • Yiskah Pascha

    When you felt hate, Micah, who or what did you feel hate for? Were you angry at the rocks thrown or the fireworks going off? Were you angry at the young people? Were you angry at system that the young people were responding to when they saw a middle class White guy running in the neighborhood? Did you already have established relationships with the families hurling rocks at you?

    I appreciate this blog post because it shines a very necessary L/light on privilege and when/how once might feel threatened. I agree that it is hard to love those who seemingly wish to hurt you…using the definition of “love” that you seem to have. Jesus wasn’t just some nice guy who was hated “for no reason”. He challenged the status quo and was, therefore, someone to be feared. He was a scapegoat just like all of the prophets before him and Black folks who have been killed at the hands of police.

    You might not want to be crucified like Jesus, Micah, but you still have to carry your cross. Perhaps the definition of “love” that works best in this scenario involves the word “empathy”. Perhaps empathy is your cross to carry at this time, Micah.

    Empathy can be mourning the acts of individualized violence against you and your family AND mourning the fact that some folks live with this violence no matter where the live.

  • Micah, I read this post when you first published it. I have come back to it to see what sort of comments you had received. On my second visit, I realized that I do have something to contribute to this discussion. I will not offer you any advice. Anything that works will come from within you. But I will offer a story of what is possible.
    We had a family friend while I was growing up who would come to the farm in Oklahoma most summers for a visit. Even as a young child, I loved to sit and listen to Alfred Johnson describe the situations he faced in inner city neighborhoods in some metropolis in Indiana, I no longer remember just which. When a number of brothels started up in his neighborhood, he would go out after dark with a flashlight and notebook. Everytime a car pulled up to one of these houses, Al would shine his light on the license plate and write down the number. The drivers invariably would object and want to know what was going on. His answer was always, “If any of our young ladies turn up missing, we want to know where to start looking.” The brothels soon moved away as well as the criminal element that follows such things.
    Alfred Johnson spent his career as an elementary school teacher in inner city schools (after being a director of a CPS camp during World War 2 where he met my dad). After he was retired from teaching, he held “court” in a certain park at designated times where many of his former students and others would come for arbitration of disputes they had with other people. Even though legally blind, his insights into life was an invaluable help to many who would resort to “Teach” when life’s problems got to be too much for them.
    It was my perception at the time that all these things were accomplished in the power of God and not in his own desire to do something beneficial. His efforts were certainly accompanied by God’s power. If he was ever threatened, I did not hear about it. But he seemed to have the ability to speak directly to the problem at hand. Sorry, I can’t provide more details on the life of what was a fascinating man.

    • Thanks for that story, Ellis. Alfred sounds like he was an amazing man.

  • BCZ

    Some humble advice, if you haven’t looked into it yet, is to look into the Stoics. I have found that the perspective and actual lived experiences of these authors provide a powerful set of tools and context to enhance my Christian practice of Love in the face of serious badness… because your badness is nothing compared to the emperor of Rome telling you to please kill your self after exiling you multiple times ;-). Paver stones and lawnmowers are nothing. The tragedy is the pain that those who commit these acts are experiencing and rendering worse with such behavior. It’s hard not to love people and care about folks so out-of-sync with a flourishing fully human existence.

    I also have taken up the martial art of Aikido (at which I am terrible) but this helps me deal with the specific challenges of personal physical threats and the impulses that can hijack my self-control. It also dovetails beautifully with Quakerism.

    Also, I guarantee that if you pull off some cool moves the kids will eventually move from harassing you to idolizing you 😉