(Thinking about Proper 20B, particularly James 3:13-4:3,7-8a)
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. (James 4:1-2a, NRSV)
It's been a week of poster children for bad behavior in public, hasn't it? I almost hate to think what's coming next. Don't like the way the election turned out? Yell at the President. Don't like who got the award? Take the microphone away from her!
Don't have what you want? Knock the next guy over to get it.
We have so much liberty and so little sense.
I'm planning a program for youth group in a couple of weeks that I've titled "Live Facebook." My idea is to have the high schoolers use newsprint to create a mock Facebook page that we will use as a tool for group-building. Their first question: are you going to look at our Facebook pages? They don't want grown-ups to see–well, I'll be cautious and kind here, maybe they don't want grown-ups to see what their *friends* write on their walls.
I'm not sure whether to find it discouraging or something of a relief that people in the first century needed as much cautioning as we do against anti-social behavior. I'd like to think we've progressed until I hear about movies that try to convince women that traditional systems are not oppressive, or I see the President's image combined with that of Heath Ledger's Joker pinned to a telephone pole in the town where I'm working.
As reported in numerous places, among the signs at the 9/12 protest was the caption "Communist Czars." I didn't have to double major in history to know that the Czars and the Communists were not on the same team.
When we become angry that he has what I want or she gets what I need, when we drop into that place that reason never knew, the den of that primal yen for supremacy that I won't even credit to animals because it is SO human, we do things we ought not do. We say things we ought not say. We lose control. We grab the microphone. We threaten the line judge. We point a finger and shout.
Or we may just get mad and turn it on ourselves.
My daddy used to say not to say "mad," to say "angry." But it is madness, that boiling inside us, the madness that drives us to act against others, possession by the primitive within us, the terrified, the hungry, the desperate. And despite our efforts to evolve and to individuate and to mature and to improve, those parts of us never quite burn away.
Every one of us needs the reminder that we are one moment's self-control away from a word or an action we might regret. Perhaps that makes it easier to forgive Joe or Kanye or Serena. I hope it makes it easier to forgive ourselves. But that forgiveness doesn't need to come as acceptance of the bad behavior.
The James passage ends this way:
Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.
How we do that may be different for each of us. On this Monday morning, I'm going outside. I think I could use a cleansing dose of fresh air and sunshine. I could use a little physical toil–there is weeding to do–as I come out of the den I created for myself over the past few days.
Yes, I've been in that place myself. I managed to keep it quiet, or to share it with people who could help me understand it. I brought it into consciousness. I had trouble giving it over to prayer. Sometimes we need other people to do that, I find, and they must have, because it got better. I'm trying to understand the message in my powerful reaction to something that isn't really about me. I'm trying to work through it by seeking a better understanding of what God wants for and from me. I'm trying to draw near, or nearer, anyway.
The image of Joe Wilson and Kanye West came from HuffingtonPost, and the Serena Williams picture from ABC.com.