“Blessed are the meek,” said Jesus, and these days that seems obvious to me. If only I had that kind of courage and strength. Later he went on:
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,[e] you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult[f] a brother or sister,[g] you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’[RACA] you will be liable to the hell[h] of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister[i] has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,[j] and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court[k] with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
“You’re a f______ing idiot” is a pretty good translation of Raca! in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5, NRSV)
This is the reading that I constantly come back to as I try to learn to live as a follower of Jesus. Is that even possible? Have you read what Christians write online?
That’s pretty cheap, I know. But I often feel something similar to what the ids are producing online. (By “ids” I simply mean that people write from base instinct, without benefit of ethical reflection or restraint.)
Over the last several years of prayer and study, I have grown past the temptation to simply blurt out online, but I have to admit that I have had little fits in smaller settings. They tend to happen when I am thinking about politics, especially church or national politics, or when reading online, parenting, really anytime I am struggling with other people. And, whether I say it or not, “RACA” in one form or another is what I say.
How can I not? People are foolish. Politicians fail us and common sense. It is easy to come up with reasons why people do not deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. I have scrolls of such reasons in the tabernacle of my heart.
But I have this dad-saying that I use on my children: “We don’t let other people determine what kind of person we will be.” I don’t know where I got this. My dad never said that exact thing to me, though he modeled it.
So my anger and indignation at the world makes me question, “What kind of person am I to be when it comes to the ids of everyday life?”
I am going to presume that I should not merely be an id. [This is where you bring to mind all that Paul wrote about the fleshly person and the spiritual person in Galatians.] The id is the lizard that lives in the base of my brain. The lizard wants to eat, sleep, fornicate, and fight if necessary, run if possible. It is self protective, violent, fearful, thoughtless. Lizards do not do second level reflection.
Beware the lizards! We have become sophisticated in our ways of expressing this lizard-mind, sublimating our base desires into language, actions, policies, and politics. And because we all have that part of our deepest selves lurking in the landscape of our identity, it feels good to hear or see someone else expressing those desires. We like to know who to fight and who to fornicate with; we like to be able to discern good from evil. So we are seduced.
Is that wrong? I know the question comes up when we begin to reflect on the primal nature of our deepest longings. It is the first real question in some way. It is the Garden of Eden question.
The tree presented the Knowledge of Good and Evil as fruit. That knowledge was the temptation, and it led Adam and Eve to know they were naked, to hide from God, to blame the other, to be cursed to toil and struggle even in childbirth, to be subject woman to man, to be cast out.
This story is deeply problematic for all sorts of reasons, but I have come to witless startling time and time again as life has made more sense through it. If you have never read Augustine’s last Confession, it is worth the rest of the book for its weaving of Genesis with the rest of the Bible and the Universe. The Garden is a good place to seek understanding about where we came from, but we Christians are supposed to be a people for whom the curse of the Garden is undone.
Can we not have knowledge of good and evil? Would that even be a good thing? I am relying on Bonhoeffer here to hold me up so I can peek back over the hedge and say, “What did we have before we left?” If it wasn’t good and evil, what did we have knowledge of? The answer has to be our selves, our world, and God.
If by some magic, we could have that mind again, the Fruit of the Knowledge of God, would you eat it? I believe that is what the Bible meant by Wisdom, the knowledge of God in the world and in our selves. That is not too bold. Read Proverbs again or the Psalms. We spend our time deciphering Good and Evil, because that is the decoder ring we have, so we quarrel, dispute, and argue. These very things are in Paul’s list in Galatians 5 as the works of the flesh (lizard-mind).
What are to do then? We know that the world is nuts. Aren’t we supposed to be discerning good and evil? Maybe not. Maybe we are supposed to be discerning where God is, what God is doing, and what God would have us do. That would fit very well with the Sermon on the Mount.
“Do not insult. Do not hold contempt. Do not be angry. Go and seek to be reconciled with another if you have offended them; this is more important than sacrifice.” Can more shocking words be written in our day?
I have certainly offended others. I have insulted and be contemptuous. I have been angry. And I have been them online. We could say that such things are the price of doing business in the world. We could say that we cannot help ourselves. We are only human. But what we mean is that we are only lizards after all.
Jesus cannot expect more of us, can he?
If we are to make the bold claim to be the heirs of the kingdom that is not of this world, we have to be spiritual people, people born not merely of the flesh or the desire of a man, but we must be born again. “To those who believe, he gave the power to become the children of God.” See the Gospel of John. Now that is Good News.
So how do we argue? How do we disagree? We must be strong enough to speak the truth with no additives. We must keep our fear and distrust, our contempt and anger in check. This is the practice of the follower of Jesus.
Ultimately we hope to become the kind of people who don’t have fear, distrust, contempt, or anger. I don’t imagine that you are there. I am certainly not, but we keep turning to the deep practices of our faith, not as an end to themselves, but as practice for that kind of self.
“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” The practice is to be the Sons and Daughters of God in the quiet of peace, so that when everything falls apart, we don’t resort to the world’s way of being, but rather we can be human beings as intended by God, even when doing that costs us our lives, or makes us put up with people being wrong online.
I think the failure of the church in crisis has to do with our loss of practice in peace. We let the peace of our times lull us to thinking that we were at war when we actually weren’t. And then when we, American Christians, face crisis we are spiritually flabby and unable to even identify truth, much less take it up as a sword of peace. We then don’t bring peace at all, but rather we are no different than the “kingdoms of this world.” This is our shame.
We have become like the world, and our cause, though sounding like holiness, is a worldly holiness that looks little different and below the surface is little different than everything else. We are merely defending a lifestyle or a liberty rather than being the people of God.
That’s why politicians can seduce us so easily while not even trying to look Christian. This is our fault though, not theirs. “Can’t blame a stealer for stealing wallets; that’s just what they do.” (Old Crow Medicine Show) We have to return to our senses and grow up as a spiritual people, not merely born again but growing in stature in Christ, like Christ.
Then we won’t be tempted to shout, “You f____ing idiot,” at the people living by their ids, and even more we won’t be seduced by them either. We can speak the truth when others can hear the truth because we have loved them, laying down our very lives for them, serving with humility, and offering peace rather than more of the same idiotic shouting.
This is somehow considered less manly these days or cowardly. But like having the strength to move a bar slowly when lifting weights, it is more difficult and requires a strength of character and courage that is absent the shouting.
Oh, that I had the strength to be humble, the courage to be quiet! This is our practice.