It seems almost everyone is complaining about division in the culture, but our loudest hate-speech protesters often behave no better than the groups they complain about. And if we’re honest with ourselves, most of the rest of us have, at least once in a while, been edgier with opponents than we’re proud of.
Try as we might, we don’t love our enemies. We don’t pray for those we dislike. We demand tolerance for ourselves but don’t give it to others.
We don’t practice what we preach.
Enemy Pie, Derek Munson’s ingenious tale about a delightfully devious dad who tricks his son into overcoming hatred of a kid named Jeremy Ross, can help us teach our children and ourselves to give our enemies a chance by spending time with them on common ground. Every year when I read this story to first graders, I’m reminded to practice what I preach about kindness and enemy love.
Because Enemy Pie features a wise dad, it’s a great read for Father’s Day as well.
The genius in this story begins with Munson’s choice of narrator. Enemy Pie is told by the wounded son, who has made Jeremy Ross his #1 enemy for reasons perfectly understandable to everyone following along. The boy’s pride was hurt when Jeremy struck him out in baseball and then laughed at him. When Jeremy had a party on his trampoline, he was not invited. Worse, his best friend Stanley was.
And so, when our narrator (a cute kid who loves basketball and boomerangs) nails a piece of paper inside his treehouse on which he has scribbled Enemy # 1–Jeremy Ross, we know exactly how he feels. We revel in the resentment the act fosters in our hearts as we recall all the people who have wronged us.
And that’s when, in a scene set in the kitchen, our narrator’s dad enters the story.
Dad understands enemies and knows how to get rid of them.
Taking an old recipe book off the kitchen shelf, he squints at a faded piece of paper he pulls from it. “Enemy Pie,” he says with satisfaction, elaborating only that “Enemy Pie is the fastest known way to get rid of enemies.” (Spoilers ahead.)
This part of the book absolutely delights the kids. Dad says the recipe is so secret he can’t even tell his son, which of course opens the mind to all sorts of evil possibilities.
What kinds of things–disgusting things–would I put into a pie for my enemy?
Earthworms or maybe rocks, our protagonist speculates. He even tries to give his dad the gum he’d been chewing all morning. Here, my young audience wriggles with glee. Unfortunately for them and the narrator, Dad gives the gum right back.
But that turns our narrator’s mind and ours to what Enemy Pie might do to enemies. This, too, delights young readers. Will it make an enemy’s hair fall out? Will it make their breath stinky?
Will Enemy Pie make bullies cry? Oh, we certainly hope so!
But then, as Dad finally takes the pie (which looks and smells good enough to eat) from the oven, we learn there’s a pretty big caveat. In order for Enemy Pie to work, Dad tells his son, he will have to spend one whole day with Jeremy Ross.
Now that’s a problem. The prospect is horrible. But if it will get rid of Jeremy for the rest of his life, our hero figures he can tough it out for one day.
I must allow you to discover the hilarious denouement for yourself, preferably with a child at your side.
But you can guess the secret. Spend a day with your enemy–and you have to be nice–and you slowly begin to like him. You have more in common with your enemy than you think.
The boomerang in this story was selected with perfect intention.
I’ve read Enemy Pie more times than I can count, and that boomerang always works on me.
After having read his story to kids in schools across the country, Enemy Pie’s author Derek Munson believes its message is one the rest of us could use as well. “One thing I’ve noticed over the years,” Munson notes: “kids get it. But the adults? Less and less so. Grown ups (myself included) need the message of Enemy Pie much more often than our kids do.”
I couldn’t agree more. There is a frightening refusal in our country to love our enemies, to think in cardboard stereotypes about everyone on the other side of the political spectrum, to see ordinary Americans, our neigbors in fact, who didn’t vote the way we did, don’t think the way we do, don’t believe as we do about God or guns or the immigrant or the national debt or the Middle East or inner city crime, as our enemies.
And we wouldn’t think of spending a whole day being nice to them.
I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ advice in Mere Christianity, that we act as if we love people even when we don’t, because we want to at least grow into love if we can’t muster it yet.
When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.
Each time we injure our opponents with our callous characterizations or mocking memes, we increase the hatred we harbor. We dislike our enemies even more.
Like Enemy Pie’s devious dad, Lewis is trying to help us across that difficult bridge of practicing what we preach. For (at least if we’ve committed ourselves to Christ) we’re also committed to loving our enemies and praying for those who use us, we could begin by simply being nice to them. And since enemy love is truly superhuman, we can pray for grace to love as Christ did, even on the Cross.
Examples of bullies abound and let’s face it: much of our rhetoric signals our desire to make them cry rather than help them understand.
Worse perhaps is that public bad behavior is making the rest of us pretty good at thinking we aren’t a part of the problem.
But we are. We can’t solve the political crisis, but we can begin by learning to love the neighbors in our midst who we’ve been seeing as enemies. We can edit our public feeds to reflect our desire to love.
Enemy Pie always boomerangs on me, making me wonder who still needs a slice of my best pie as a gesture of friendship and peace.
Whether I was invited to their party or not.
There’s nothing like the tenderness of a good, strong dad. Watch & listen to Andrew Peterson and his children perform “Be Kind to Yourself,” (a song he wrote for his daughter):
“Be kind to yourself/Gotta learn to love, learn to love/Learn to love your enemies too.”
Another hilarious and insightful children’s book (this one featuring a wise grandpa): Big Pink Baby Name-Calling and The Invisible Mistake Case. More at Sparrowfare’s Fledglingfare page, including Crow Call: Beautiful Children’s Book for Fathers and Daughters.
Read the complete text of a sweet and simple children’s classic, Let’s Be Enemies: A Vintage Maurice Sendak Treasure, at Brainpickings.
See Sparrowfare’s Civility & Humility page for links to posts on these virtues, including this short reflection: Rutherfraud: How Political Mudslinging Diminishes Dignity.
Photos by Jonathan Farber and Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash.
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