Responding to insult
There’s a war going on in Ukraine, students are still going through active shooter drills in our schools for when, not if, that happens, and suddenly we’re focusing no small amount of attention on a tv awards show where one actor slapped another actor because of a personal insult about his spouse who has a medical condition resulting in hair loss. Squirrel…because sometimes we’re so easily distracted. Someone asked me this week if I’m prepared to have someone approach me from the congregation if I say something for which they disagree. I suggested that if that was likely to happen, it would have been last week with the whole “blame it all on my roots, I showed up in boots” moment at the beginning of the sermon. So I feel like I’m pretty safe. You also have a right to expect that I would never insult, even in jest, anyone whether I knew why they had a “difference” or not. But then I’m not in the multimillion dollar entertainment business, so I guess that’s supposed to make saying things about people, or taking their picture at any moment, or otherwise treating folks inappropriately, fair game all the time. That seems a bit strange to me as a person of faith. Humor is one of my go-to’s to make it through this life, and I’m fair game for myself to poke fun of, but nobody else should be the object of that sarcasm.
Having said all that, I don’t believe there is a single human being alive that hasn’t had their feelings hurt multiple times. Sometimes we’re justified, and those who hurt us know they did and meant it. Other times the one we name as hurtful has absolutely no idea that anything they said landed wrong; and we either harbor silent resentment, or we figure out a way to let it roll off our backs and move on, or we approach the person and let them know we aren’t o.k. with what they said. In none of those scenarios have I suggested that someone else do that for me or for you. Being an advocate or an ally is something I fully support and hope I am, in a healthy way, when it’s needed or I’m called upon. Deciding for someone else that they need my protection or need me to advocate without them asking, or me checking with them first is not o.k. Even then, if someone asks me to do an act of violence in retaliation I would refuse because it does not finally resolve the hurt in a way that is healing.
I think the question must be what we want in the ultimate outcome. If it’s simply for the other person to hurt or be embarrassed the way they hurt or embarrassed us or our loved one, I’m not certain who wins. In a quote attributed most likely to Mahatma Ghandi, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” is the essence of this idea. Part of what I hope our “practice” of our faith does, is prepare us to respond to all kinds of difficult situations, allowing God to develop us into responders rather than reactors. We’re unlikely ever to be perfect with that, but regularly practicing prayer, worship, bible study, and having a group of folks we trust who help keep us accountable and to work through hard things are choices we can make ahead of and in preparation for those hardest moments. When we wonder how or if regular attendance in faith communities is relevant – it is only if we choose to practice what we support and partner and learn to do together on a daily basis.
I sit this morning in two different waiting rooms in medical facilities and watch as every age, race, physical ability/disability, ethnic origin, gender, class and every other difference you can imagine make their way through the front doors and head in different directions for the hope of medical resolutions to a myriad of health issues that are unique to every person even if the diagnosis has the same name. The vulnerability of every person walking through these doors, either as patient or as caregiver, is as near the surface as it is likely to ever get. Anxieties and doubts, hopes and healing minds and hands, science and math and knowledge beyond what most of us will ever know, and all of us trying to do our best for one another in such tender circumstances.
I wonder sometimes if we all were mandated to work as a volunteer in a health facility on a regular basis, if the best of our humanity might be called forth in a such a way that our perspectives might broaden and we might become more generous with one another in every other aspect of our lives.
Perhaps we saw the best and the worst of each other at the millionaire gala celebrating millionaires last Sunday night. Insults toward another person are never o.k., violence in response is never o.k., and the behavior following the whole incident by the one attacked was rather miraculously calm. He kept his composure, acknowledged it happened, used words to move the event back into focus, and has chosen not to follow up with any legal action as of this writing. His decision, not ours btw. Perhaps turning the other cheek has not completely gone out of favor.
Minutes of grace to each of us as we live this messy and wonderful life filled with moments of hurt and moments of healing. May our responses of compassion grow as we face into difficult moments, learn from our best and our worst parts of self, and continue to walk in faith for and with one another one day at a time.
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