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Backwards Heart

Cut down tragically by lupus just before her fortieth year, Flannery O’Connor nonetheless was well-known from the success of her fiction. However, a friend of mine recently pointed out that O’Connor first made the headlines at the age of six, when a newsreel crew came all the way from Great Britain to her home in Georgia to film her feat: O’Connor had taught a chicken to walk backwards.[1]

Just before he died, Jesus asked his disciples to love one another. I think he was asking them to do a similar thing as O’Connor’s chicken: to move into the future by walking backwards. I think this metaphor is apt for two reasons: first, moving forward while walking backwards, you don’t know where you are going. Such is true of the life of discipleship by which we walk by faith, not sight. But secondly, walking backwards suggests a counter-intuitive, counter-cultural way of operation. Walking backwards is not the best or most efficient way to move! And yet, it does mark you as different. Jesus said that the world would know his disciples, not by their power or intelligence or fame or anything else but by the way they loved one another. Now that is counter-intuitive, counter-cultural! It might not even make sense!

Recently a mentor of mine, John Trotti, died. At his dad’s death, Trotti’s son, Michael, read excerpts from a letter his dad penned back in 1968. I’d like to share them with you because they speak of this kind of love as moving forward while walking backwards:

The life of love is Life Abundant. The love of Christ is often a pain-filled love, for it involves caring, sharing, and daring for others. Whatever you do, never let go of love and never give up on your fellow human being. We must dare to love, to risk being hurt, to give the other fellow a chance to prove himself good, rather than to try to trap him and show his badness. To love steadfastly in the face of frustration, defeat, rejection, mocking scorn, anger . . . is hard, but the better way. Jesus did not win men by the fist or the sword, nor will you. Hold fast to the better way in Christ. The heart is won by having heart.[2]

This may seem like walking backwards to you. It may not seem the best or most efficient or easiest or most sure-fire way of dealing with other people; but it is true. It is true if we are to obey Jesus’ commandment to love one another, even as he loved us.

In whatever ways you can, I invite you to walk backwards to Moore, Oklahoma. People of faith often ask, “Why?” As in, “Why did this happen?” I would suggest that Jesus answers a different question: “How can we go on living?” Dare to love one another by walking backwards.
“The heart is won by having heart.”

[2] John Trotti; the letter is titled “Mist, Hail, and Sunshine, 1968-1969”

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.


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