BEFORE THE BLITZ, 1923
Rev. Rob Lyle, of the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, is preaching on a Sunday morning. The text is from Luke.
"Love your enemies...what is Jesus Christ talking about? He can’t mean this literally. That would be impossible. He must be speaking of some utopian idea, a fantasy…
[Y]ou can’t love people who do evil. It’s neither sensible nor practical...They’ll only do wickedness and hatefulness again. And worse, they’ll think they can get away with this wickedness and evil, because they’ll think we’re weak and afraid. What would the world come to?
But… what if Jesus wasn’t kidding? What if he wasn’t talking about some never-never land? What if he really did mean what he said two thousand years ago? What if he was thoroughly wise to the world and knew firsthand cruelty and wickedness and evil and hate…from firsthand personal experience?... And what if in spite of all that he knew, he still said love your enemies?...
And what if we tried it? What if we said to our enemies: We are the most powerful nation on earth. We can destroy you. We can kill your children. We can make ruins of your cities and villages and when we’re finished you won’t even know how to look for the places where they used to be. We have the power to take away your water and to scorch your earth, to rob you of the very fundamentals of life. We can change the actual day into actual night. We can do all of these things to you. And more.
But what if we say, Listen: Instead of any of these, we are going to give willingly and generously to you. We are going to spend the great American national treasure and the will and the human lives that we would have spent on destruction, and instead we are going to turn them all toward creation. We’ll mend your roads and highways, expand your schools, modernize your wells and water supplies, save your ancient artifacts and art and culture, preserve your temples and mosques. In fact, we are going to love you...We have set our hearts on it. We will treat you like brothers and sisters. We are going to turn our collective national cheek and present it to be stricken a second time, if need be, and offer it to you. Listen, we—
But then he was abruptly halted. Someone from out in the congregation was talking. Are you crazy? You must be insane! A man’s voice. Deep-throated. Angry. Loud. Coming from over on the west side of the sanctuary near the windows. What’s wrong with you? Are you out of your mind?”
Later, Rev. Lyle reflects:
“People don’t want to be disturbed. They want assurance. They don’t come to church on Sunday morning to think about new ideas or even the old important ones. Thy want to hear what they’ve been told before, with only some small variation on what they’ve been hearing all their lives, and then they want to go home and eat pot roast and say it was a good service and feel satisfied.”
DESTROYED PLACE, 1920