On the day that Dave Schultz was killed, he had the word “kids” written in marker on his forehead and his hand. A colleague asked him about it, and he said it was to remind him that he was to pick his children up from school that afternoon. The Netflix documentary “Team Foxcatcher” tells the story of Schultz’s murder by John DuPont, heir to that family fortune and self-appointed patron of the United States wrestling team. Dave and his brother Mark were Olympic gold medalists in their sport and trained at DuPont’s facility in Pennsylvania.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
Here again, Jesus calls us beyond the level of love we might think of as enough. We are to love not just God, not just our neighbor and not just ourselves. We are also to love our enemies. In this command, Jesus calls us to a generosity of spirit that transcends loving those who are easy to love. It gives us a glimpse into God’s spirit of generosity and proclaims that we are to dwell in that same place of abundance and plentiful openheartedness.
Years ago, I worked with a rector at a church in Alexandria, VA. It was his custom for the staff to gather at 8:30 everyday to share in Morning Prayer. One day I was late, and I was expecting criticism for my tardiness. Instead, Hal just asked me if I were okay. He wanted to make sure that everybody at home was well and that I hadn’t had any trouble on the drive to church.
Generosity of spirit.
Human relationships author and educator Brené Brown speaks of the importance of such generosity in her work on the “Anatomy of Trust.” She breaks down the various components of trust and assigns them letters that spell out the word “BRAVING.” The “G” stands for “generosity,” and, Brown says, in the case of developing trust between people it means affording others the belief that they are doing the best they can with the resources they have at that particular moment.
At St. David’s Episcopal Church, in Roswell, GA, where I work, we are embarking on a new ministry called “Common Purpose,” which will provide a safe environment for people who disagree about the various challenges facing our country and the world to engage in civil, loving, respectful discourse about these issues. We are framing these conversations within the context of the Baptismal Covenant, in which we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and “respect the dignity of every human being,” among other vows that we take in that rite.
The Common Purpose planning group will be asking participants to enter into their conversations through this lens. It can be misleading to engage in assumptions, as we know; in this case, we will be inviting those who attend the sessions to make the assumption that those with whom they speak are committed to the promises they made in the Baptismal Covenant and are striving to live out those pledges in ways that they believe God is calling them to follow.
As we respond to Jesus’ call for us to broaden our concept of what he expects from us and wants for us, we experience the transformation of freedom and an expansion of spirit not fettered by our self-inflicted views of what others should be doing and whom we will love and whom we won’t. And our relationships and the world are transformed as well.
Toward the end of the Netflix documentary, the Schultzs’ daughter Danielle spoke about how she learned that John DuPont had died. She was on a plane, and a person near her had a newspaper with the headline announcing DuPont’s death, and she asked if she could see the paper.
DuPont had died in prison at age 72. Danielle told the documentary reporter that she was “relieved” when DuPont died so that she wouldn’t have to worry about him anymore, but she said it was “sad,” too. Danielle explained that when her father died, he was deeply mourned and by many people. DuPont, she said, had lived alone, and when he died, people were glad. “It’s sad,” she said.
Now that’s generosity of spirit.
Featured artwork by Molly, age 11