Believe me, monsters are real. Since the beginning of time monsters have showed up clawing, crushing and consuming all that is good in the world. People first start seeing monsters when they are children. Monsters hide in the dark closets of our bedrooms, creeping around the corners of our consciousness. Scary, hairy and horrifying creatures that force us back under our covers.
As a child I was curious about the monsters living in my world. I especially wanted to learn more about these shadow creatures that manifested in the hearts of people in leadership. As a little girl, my monsters took on the form of white, male, Baptist pastors. Church after church my family served became a Gotham-like city of corruption. The pastor, who was always a white man, would often behave monstrously – stealing money, sleeping around and stabbing innocent victims with violent theology from their pulpits of power.
“Watching male pastors abuse power, devour victims and destroy communities was a call for me to take action, but also to take caution.”
These monsters haunted me like hounds in the night. For decades no hero rose up and fought against them forcing me to become the hero I never found. Like any normal adolescent, I read ancient stories of heroes such as The Odyssey. I wanted to be like Odysseus – the hero, neither villain nor victim, captain, crusader and strong superhero – always on a voyage fighting against the gruesome monsters of his day.
Jesus says “love you enemies,” and I say, “Christ, of course I love my enemies. I love to hate them.” Heroes love to hate monsters, for without a monster to conquer, who would feed our egos? We get addicted to the fight against evil, the ongoing binary battles between good and bad. The hero is good. The villain is bad. However, let me quote a truth voiced by Harvey Dent in the film The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain.”
Dying is the hero’s easy way out. To live long enough to see your enemy’s monster mirrored in your own soul is the greatest voyage of all. After 30 years of fighting the monsters of corrupt white, male pastors, my monster finally revealed herself. In my third year of pastoring a Baptist congregation I have been forced to take a deeper look at the monsters I loved to hate.
The Greek monster called Scylla has captivated me of late. This nasty dragon-like creature had six vicious, barking dog heads that ferociously bit off the heads of men as they sailed by the shoreline. But Scylla, like all monsters, was not born to live like a leviathan. She was once a beautiful maiden who was corrupted into an ugly monster.
One day a sea god fell in love with this beautiful maiden. When she did not return his love, the sea god went to a sorceress in search of a love potion. After telling the sorceress about his devout love for the maiden, the sorceress fell in love with the sea god. He, however, did not return her love.
“Loving your enemies means seeing your own shadow creature reflected in their eyes.”
Distraught and disappointed, the sorceress became jealous of the maiden, so she tricked the sea god, giving him a poison instead of a love potion. He rushed back to the woman he loved and poured the poison into her bath. Instead of returning his love, she turned into a hideous monster.
Perhaps, monsters are merely victims of broken love – human souls warped and wounded.
Loving your enemies means seeing your own shadow creature reflected in their eyes. When I saw my monster mirrored in the life of white men, my hate turned inward. Watching male pastors abuse power, devour victims and destroy communities was a call for me to take action, but also to take caution.
The foul odor of rotten, monstrous behavior is never far away. I used to believe the stink of corruption that reeked around me was because I was surrounded by these types of men. But then one day I found myself sitting in my pastor’s office all alone and the smell of decay and death was strong.
I often wonder if the scent of death clung to the cross Christ hung upon. Could Jesus smell the wounded and warped monster nailed to that tree? But then Jesus, rather than becoming the ferocious beast, the monster formed by brokenness, chose love. Through the pain, through the poison of corrupt power, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
The cross is a mirror, a reflection of the violence against souls that gives birth to deadly monsters living in dark closets of damaged hearts. But rather than covering our eyes beneath the covers of fear, shame, guilt and hatred, what if our hearts broke open?
What if the monsters we love to hate became people we love to help? Maybe then the world and perhaps even our own soul would be saved.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a series of reflections from our opinion contributors written for Holy Week.