Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Praying for George

At our church (Saint Mary the Virgin in Chappaqua--Episcopal), we change our liturgy with the seasons. And since the start of Epiphany a few Sundays ago, our weekly "prayers of the people" have included a prayer for "George, our president." Which I'm embarrassed to say has caused me some emotional disturbance.

I'm fully on board with the concept of praying for people we are in conflict with. Jesus of course is on record as saying we must pray for our enemies, and I suppose that at least from a political standpoint I would put George Bush in that category.

In the past, I've found it personally very helpful to pray for my enemies. In the case that hit closest to home with me, I spent some time many years ago praying for a boss I once worked for who was pretty abusive, not just to me but to other employees. I was so angry at him that I actually visualized bad things happening to him--a fatal car accident for example.

When I started praying for this man, I found, after a while, that my attitude toward him was changing. I still hated the things he had done to me. But I began to picture him a little less as a larger-than-life ogre who had once held the power of the purse over me and used it to make me miserable, and a little more the way God perhaps saw him--as a petty tyrant, universally disliked and lonely--reprehensible but also somewhat pitiable. Gradually my anger subsided and I found it harder and harder to hate him (as well as easier to pray for him).

Ultimately I was able to forgive him, at least mostly. (Maybe you can tell I still have some work to do on that front.)

So I recognize the value of praying for people I am angry with, hurt by, and even hate. Such prayer is totally counter-intuitive and goes against every instinct, yet it benefits me in the long run. So why am I having so much trouble praying for George Bush?

Having reflected on the question, I've discovered this dirty little secret about myself: That I don't want to forgive Bush for what I believe are all the evil things he has done to our country and to the world. That some part of me enjoys hating him, relishes deploring his influence, and takes delight in sharing snarky attacks on him with other like-minded people.

This part of me doesn't want to pray for Bush because I'm afraid I'll lose the edge of anger and hatred that I enjoy experiencing when I watch the news every day.

This is a dilemma for me because I don't actually believe that hating my enemies (even with good reason) is healthy or beneficial for me. I think in fact it's a bad habit that clouds my judgment and sours my disposition. And of course it goes against the very explicit Biblical injunction to "love our enemies."

Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that a Christian ought to support Bush or even that being a Christian means you shouldn't feel righteous indignation over his evil policies. It's even fine to enjoy that feeling of righteous indignation, the way we enjoy experiencing any intense emotion. (That's why we like the movies--they let us drench our systems in the chemicals that generate powerful feelings without the physical dangers and other consequences that usually accompany them.)

But somehow I have to separate that moral fervor from the temptation to relish my dislike for the man (his stupid smirk! his macho posturing! his arrogant frat-boy humor! his blatant hypocrisies! etc. etc.). Not because it's bad for him, but because it's bad for me.

Easy for me to say--hard for me to do. Like laying off the midnight noshes and other guilty pleasures I can't seem to consistently avoid. Hating Bush is my spiritual junk food. Far from nourishing but oh so tempting.

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