"I am a friend of all who fear you, who walk according to your precepts."
The other day I came across some magazines in an old box out in the garage. One was from 1981, with a feature story about the 1st Space Shuttle launch. One was from 1986, with a feature entitled "A Letter to the Year 2086," talking about life in the world in the 1980s. And the other was from 1988, with a lead article about the Space Shuttle Discovery launch, returning the U.S. to space for the first time since the Challenger explosion.
Do you remember the 1980s? Reading through these magazines was like a trip back in time. Oliver North, and the Iran-Contra scandal. Michael Dukakis and the 1988 presidential election. In the 1st magazine there was an article detailing Ronald Reagan's first days back after the assassination attempt. The advertisements are quaint, with their o-so-modern Buicks, the cigarette ads, and even a few ads for "Ultra-modern word-processing computers" that pack up into a large suitcase.
Of course, one of the most prominent issues in the 1980s was the Cold War and our enemy, the Soviet Union. It was an obvious, well-known fact, that the commies over there were bent on our destruction, that they were just waiting for a chance to nuke us all to oblivion. Movies like Wargames and Red Dawn reinforced the fact that "those guys" were soulless, godless, mindless cretins, prone to violence and murderous rampages. Any number of spy novels portrayed Soviets as Evil personified. They were the enemy, they were to be hated and feared, they were to be kept at bay by any means necessary. (Granted, movies like "Spies Like Us" painted a slightly more nuanced picture, but you get the idea).
This was the Truth. I remember a poll taken amongst high school students across America in around 1986. Over 75% of those polled believe they would see a nuclear war within their lifetime. Of course, we knew we would never start one, being the good guys and all, so the implication was that, at some point, the Evil Empire would finally try to destroy us, and we'd find ourselves in a grand battle to defend Truth, Justice, and the American Way.
Then the Iron Curtain fell, the Soviet Union disintegrated, and, in rather confusing fashion, Russia became an ally of the U.S. The threat moved way into the background, and, eventually, we found new enemies in International Terrorism and Iraq.
So, a funny thing happened recently. We've become friends with a family in Gig Harbor; they've attended our church a few times and become friends with many of our people. Last June we spent a wonderful summer evening with them, enjoying a BBQ dinner and s'mores over the burn pile. They are wonderful Christian people, committed to their church, to the Lord, and to ministry.
And here's the ironic part. They are originally from Ukraine. And in the 1980s, Yuri was in the Soviet army. And he was a Christian at the time. He served because everybody did, but he served as a Christian. And he had no intention of invading the U.S., killing our children, or raping our women. He was not, in fact, a soulless, godless hellion hoping to come over here and destroy everything good, decent, and fair. He was attempting to survive as a Christian in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Which means, of course, that my worldview wasn't exactly accurate. That, to be honest, my 'enemy' was actually my brother. That the man I believed to be evil incarnate was instead a man filled with the Holy Spirit. That my enemy should have been my friend.
So let's not be too simplistic, and pretend that the Soviet Union was entirely made up of kind, gentle, god-fearing folks who were simply misunderstood. Anybody can read "The Gulag Archipelago" and recognize that a lot of evil did take place in Russia's history. Certainly, they had their leaders who wanted to rule the world, to see Communism spread from pole to pole. Being a Christian (or a Jew or a farmer or a woman) wasn't easy or encouraged during that time.
But still. . .looking back, it was probably sinful to look upon the Soviets as one mass of evil ooze, as our mortal enemy, when in reality there were many Christians (and Jews and Muslims) among them, simply trying to live their lives and support their families as best they knew how.
Where is all this going? I'm not sure. There may not be any universal truth at the bottom, other than the fact that I came face-to-face with the creature who stalked my nightmares, and found out he was really my friend. That, in Christ, we were one, and that I had been guilty of labeling him as "the other." That it hadn't occurred to me to think kindly toward, to pray for, to embrace him (even if emotionally), because I believed the propoganda.
Makes you wonder. A few weeks ago I was in a conversation with a man who was utterly convinced that The Muslims were Evil, Soulless Cretins hell-bent on world domination and the destruction of everything we hold dear, that they are the sworn enemies of Truth, Justice, and the American way. He had seen PROOF that EVERY Muslim was part of a worldwide conspiracy to subtly infiltrate our society, and that SOME DAY, even in a few generations, they would RISE UP and SLAUGHTER US in our sleep. We must REMAIN VIGILANT, he told me. It surprised me how much his rhetoric exactly echoed our language in 1986, only then it was the COMMIES instead of the MUSLIMS.
And yes, I get that there were Christian Commies, but the idea of a Christian Muslim is an oxymoron. But still. . .are we going to sit here and throw mud and bombs (verbal or otherwise) at those with whom we disagree? Are we going to continue to live by propoganda and stereotype? Or, as God's people, are we going to recognize that, even among today's 'enemy' there may be men or women who, someday, we will call friend?