Over the last few weeks, I’ve read stories about celebrities, public figures, and the everyday person offending groups of people over something said or done. In some cases, the comments which were made, were done so many years before, and of course said in the context of spite, comedy, or insensitivity to an unknown audience many years in the future. As this is becoming the case for everyone, we are now expected to find three paths of behavior resulting in a simple choice. The first, we can play a character in our own lives and never truly let anyone see who we are, in a subjective attempt to play a game where the goal is moved constantly and we’re bound to lose at one point or another. Second, we can exude a spitefulness towards the game, and in the process, still lose but now we are disliked immensely, except for those who’ve also taken the same stance. Finally, we can choose to walk away from a game which is neither a measure of who we are, what we stand for, or a need to validate to a single human being why we are who we are. These three paradigms, present a challenge for each one of us as we attempt to live in a world, where a prospective boss looks up social media accounts, in order to determine worthiness of employment. Perhaps, those people who wish to dig up dirt on anyone to find any semblance of imperfection. Whatever the reason, we’re seeing lives ripped to shreds in a matter of minutes which took years of hard work and dedication to build. So, when people didn’t wish to offend, but inevitably did, is there more of a need for admonishment of the offending party, or a greater need for the offended to understand context and character instead.
I’ve been blessed in my life with a wonderful family, who fights and grumbles like any other family in this world. However, one thing I noticed was, although we are offended by one another, we get over the offense rather quickly and move on with our days, our lives, and making more memories where possible. Why doesn’t this work for everyone else though, why do we choose to continue to be upset by those around us, or at the very least continue to be offended at every word uttered in distaste or disaffection towards what we hold to be important? I think the problem we’re facing as a society is comfort, which isn’t to say, we shouldn’t be comfortable, but in our comfort, we’ve become sore bored as a society we rebel against anything which pushes us from our comfort. Take for instance, the exhausting utilization of wording to meet the needs of the public, without a realization of hypocrisy which happens because of this need. Black Americans have been called every name in the book some very bad, and some more appropriate to a desire for formality, but none of which ever are a pure description of who they are. Many years ago, the term “African American” was introduced into the lexicon of our vernacular as a means of placation to assert an area of origin, and then we saw this occur throughout races and cultures widespread. It has now become accepted practice to assume the origin of a person by their physical features, and then assume they want to be called by a place of origin. However, my ancestors came from Northern Europe and I have no desire to be called Northern European American whatsoever, and I can’t imagine many other people would like this either. Simply, I am fine to be called American if a moniker of obvious title must be placed. Though, the hypocritical nature of our society rears its ugly head once more. I’ve been called white, whitey, boy, cracker, honky and all nicknames associated with white since I was a kid, but it was simply verboten in my family to doll out the same retaliatory wording to anyone else. The duplicity with having a society which is allows certain members to utilize offensive language as a sub-cultural allowance, but prevents others from using the same language because of this cultural exclusion and offensive rhetoric is a ludicrous notion of duplicity.
So we come to the first of the three paradigms, duplicity, when we act one way with one group, but are completely different with another group. This is to say, we think we can be two or more people and the transition will be seamless. Unbeknownst to us though, most everyone can see through a charade of duplicity with little or no effort. I’ve known black and white people who’ve been appropriate when in mixed company to avoid using words where they would be offensive, but when around like minded individuals, they have no problem using words which are offensive and derogatory as a means of expression. To be clear, they are not right for having two faces and being savvy enough to know when one face is needed over another. It makes them a liar in the context of omission by action. Would people be as nice to us if they could be inside our heads? Isn’t this a question, we should ask, as a general rule to ourselves, when it comes to appropriate action? However, one larger question should be lurking around as well; why do we have such a confluence of different appropriations if one is considered better than another. Stereotypes, exist for one reason or another, they exist because we as cultures and subcultures desire to compartmentalize the people we meet, as if to place and ideological circle around them, and categorize a group as good, bad, indifferent, or hated. Once again, this is morosely wrong behavior, but as humans, we seemed programmed to do it.
Most of our needs to supplant poor behavior with good behavior, comes from a societal pressure to get along rather than bucking a system of objective checks and balances. Though, recently in the last few decades, objectivity for purpose of living good lives has been replaced by subjective pursuits of unfulfilling qualities like fame, fortune, beauty, attention, and power. All of these pursuits have been around since man walked this earth, but they’ve taken on a more sinister turn in the last century. They’ve no longer become a hidden pursuit, instead, we’ve gilded them in a luster and shine which promises everything we ever wanted, and when we scratch the surface, we see the ugly truth of emptiness on a rotten landscape. This lends itself to the second paradigm, the desire to spite the entire world for failing to be what we expected it to be. This is never more apparent than when looking at comments about the Catholic Church and the awful behavior of priests in the past, from the inquisition to the abuse scandal. The vitriol which flows towards the church and those who help guide it, has in some ways taken on a life of its own. However, in recognition of the bad which has been brought on so many innocent victims, a failure to see all the good displayed in the name of Jesus is a misaligned argument. In other words, only attacking what we don’t like, without and understanding of what we do, presents an unbalanced argument and breeds an atmosphere of anger set to destroy us if we fail to resist it. Good news though, God’s imprint rests in our hearts, and resisting the lure of anger and evil is only a matter of will and the desire to do good works.
Anger and resentment, to emotive reactions to a world which seems to be changing by the second into something we neither recognize nor understand. This anger and resentment is born out of fear and a disillusionment of expectation which comes from the pursuits of empty desires our cultures encourages and even pushes us to celebrate. If we don’t accept what is presented to us, the first reaction is shame and ridicule, the second ostracizing those individuals for failing to fall in line, and finally defamation of character and standing as a means to crush them. Some folks, don’t have the power to do such a thing, and wouldn’t want it at any rate, but their expectation disruption causes them to shout and wail against those things which have changed, those things which prevent them from recognizing life as they have always known it to be. Finally, with perceived lack of voice, they hit the media air waves and spew anger onto the virtual hi-ways of the internet cultural forums, media. There they “slam”, “crush”, “destroy”, and create “catastrophe” in their wakes. Though, all of this anger is much like a circle, and never-ending spiral descending down into madness and destruction of both themselves and the society to which they claimed to care about so much. The problem with the anger is, it’s a cancer which will metastasis those areas not already touched by unmitigated anger and if no one stands in defiance, we will all be sucked in.
Finally, our final paradigm, the hardest of them all. Walk away from the cultural expectations and the perceived outrage. Eventually, we all will see, although someone speaks tones of anger, exclusion, or general inequity, we don’t have to accept it. We don’t have to bow to poor behavior, we can simply stand in opposition, but at the same time, will the good of the other. This is to say, we can pray that the light of Christ will shine upon the darkness of their shriveled and angry hearts. This is what the great deceiver hopes we all do, decline the light and shrivel in weakness as he overtakes what is left of us. However, standing up means to oppose those who would deny us our free will as a matter of choice. We don’t have to say anything which would offend another, but if we did, and we apologize, this should be enough. If our actions cause the harm of another, and we are fully to blame, then we do what we can to make what was broken whole again. Relying on someone else to make us sorry, fails at a result of societal implications. It then becomes the fault of another, and this is what got us in this decline in the first place.
When I was taking a class, many years ago, I heard a professor speak about the epidemic of lawsuits which seem to plague our society today. His simple and profound response to this was, “Christians don’t sue” (Matt 18:15-17), understanding the context of life and who we are in this life is a matter of perspective of our desire for eternal life. Which is a fancy way of saying, be careful what you do in this life, you will reap what you sow, and if what you reaped was degradation and humiliation it will be brought back upon you in the same manner. My father, many years ago, was faced with a situation from a less than noteworthy contractor. This contractor built a retaining wall for him, but did a poor job in its construction, and the wall was beginning to shift. My father, considered legal implications with the contractor, but decided against it. In my conversations with him, I counseled him to accept the unfair nature of the event, and we would do whatever he needed if the contractor failed to do what was right. At the end of the day, the matter was fixed without the need of the legal intricacies involved with suing one person over another. However, I do realize this is probably best case scenario, it doesn’t change the fact, to stand up means a disciplined response where we neither fight nor flight from the situation staring us in the face.
Be still your angry heart, contemplate your actions as they begin to boil beneath the surface, and quite the storms which create in you a restless desire for destruction of your enemies. There are those who do wish to offend, those who would like to see nothing more than the utter destruction of all who oppose them, but this is something left for them to sort out with God, not you. You’re not the arbiter of life and the dissemination of proper subjective morals. Instead, you are the reflection of light which God places upon you, but much like a mirror reflecting the light of the sun, when it is moved the reflection is lost. We are much like the mirror, until we can be still and deliberate about our actions, contemplative and kind, compassionate and charitable, the light will never stay with us for long and we will serve to be more annoying to the recipient of the reflection than a help.
I do not wish to offend, I wish to thank. I do not wish to offend, I wish to care for. Offensive behavior doesn’t require defensive reactions, instead it requires silence and contemplation. If some would accuse this of cowardice, I would prompt them to read the Beatitudes, especially “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”. Even Jesus own words to his disciple, “Those who live by the sword, shall die by the sword”. It begins with you, it begins with me, and it begins with our actions to be better. We must look to those people who came before us, and recognize their insistence of standing firm. It isn’t about an offending anyone, it is about walking away from a game designed for your destruction, while entering a world created on life and the love which extends from each and every one of us.
I will confess, after reading the comments from the posts the other day, I was disheartened by the vitriol expressed out of ignorance and malice. I wanted to comment and set the record straight, but I neither had the words to express nor an inkling of just how to do it. I realized, the people expressing their anger were of the second paradigm, and nothing I could ever say would change their minds into something I perceived as being correct. I spoke with my ever wise, wife, and she agreed with my decision, and after sleeping on what I read, I came to a conclusion which put my heart at ease. I was reminded of a phrase from a book, Stephen Prothero, “God is Not One”, where he tells an anecdote about a southern black church and the conversation between the pastor and one of his congregation. The parishioner indicated their lack of belief in God, and with great care the pastor’s response was simple and profound. “That’s ok, he believes in you”. This granule of knowledge put my mind at ease, because it reminded me, we’re all on our own journey to find the light. Some of us, are way off the path, and in their confusion about their life and expectations of life, or rather where the path of light is, they have become anger and willing to lash out at anyone who reminds them why they are despondent.
In our attempts to live our lives to the fullest extent, don’t offend, don’t do anything which would prevent another person from realizing their own path and the light of Christ which they desire as you do. We are all loved by God, and their path is as important as ours. If they choose to be offended by love, charity, and kindness, then this is something they must deal with and all you can ever do is accept what is. What is! A simple phrase to examine for each of us, the cross we bear. Which is an acceptance of not the cross we carry, but the cross we are nailed to, and the irascible ending we must face. Christ, was the first, he hung from the cross, and yet his words were not of despondent hate, vitriol, cursing, or questioning. They were full of love, compassion, and understanding for the very people who wished to experience his destruction. Would they have continued to do so, if they realized he was the Divine God incarnate in man, hanging before them? No, probably not, so therein lies the greatest of human mysteries, if you knew what you were doing was a mistake, would you keep doing it? I would contend, as eternal life matters, “no” you would cease immediately. Everyone is on their own spiritual journey, although they believe they want to offend, I believe if they knew what you may know or what those who have found God’s love knows, is really they do not wish to offend.
In my own life, my offensive actions were brought back to me, and I never wanted to offend anyone. I did though, and as I go through my life, I must recognize when people are saying what truly offends me, I have to remember, either they are in a circular paradigm of confusion and anger, or they are where I once was and need guidance, much like I had to show them a pathway of compassion. I pray God blesses you and your family!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!