Love Rather Than VengeancePosted: August 31, 2014
Love Rather Than Vengeance
SLIDE 3: GO AHEAD, MAKE MY DAY!
“Go ahead, make my day!” “Don’t get mad, get even!” So much of our popular media celebrates revenge. The historic popularity of the death penalty in America is somehow bound up with our love affair with revenge. Conservative fundamentalists of most religious stripes are fond of quoting: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Get even! Israel’s policy of retaliation, the fundamentalist Islamists’ calls for mutilations and beheadings for any number of imagined offenses, and the overwhelming support for the death penalty among America fundamentalists, make it appear that revenge is some kind of religious necessity.
SLIDE 4: SELF-RIGHTEOUS VENGEANCE
I think self-righteousness is at the root religious fundamentalism’s attraction to revenge. If I’m right and your wrong then killing you isn’t revenge, it’s just right. How people can believe they are so right as to justify killing other people is beyond me. I guess allowing ourselves to experience doubt is one of the things that separates faith from self-righteousness. Doubt should also warn us that capital punishment is just too final.
SLIDE 5: BEST SPIRITUAL TRADITIONS OPPOSE REVENGE
The very best spiritual traditions of all religions oppose revenge in favor of forgiveness, love and peace. Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye only leaves the whole world blind.” Joseph, in Genesis, forgiving his brothers, when they were in his power. Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also. . .” And from the literature of Islam the Sufi poet Rumi:
Open your heart like a tray Vengeance wash away and pray The wine of love, when down you lay Your cup of grace, your cup of grace.
SLIDE 6: MOST THREAT DISPLAYS NEVER PROCEED TO VIOLENCE
So if our very best spiritual traditions speak of grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace and love, then why is the notion of vengeance so persistent in the human soul? Deep within the reptilian portion of our brains is our natural fight-flight response. When we are faced with a threat our first reaction is to run away, and when necessary we fight to defend ourselves. Most confrontations between animals are resolved through overt threat displays that never proceed to violence.
SLIDE 7: COMPETITIVE AGGRESSION
Complicating the fight-flight response, however, is the competitive phenomenon of aggression. For predators aggression plays a fundamental role in obtaining food. Other living organisms are killed and consumed. From bacteria to insects to fish to mammals life feeds on life.
SLIDE 8: REVENGE MIXES AGGRESSION AND MEMORY
Aggression is not confined to the hunt for food. Even among herbivores violent behavior can arise as a result of sexual competition. In many species males fight for the privilege of mating with the available females and in many other social species females compete for status and dominance. Aggression alone does not result in revenge. A settling of scores implies memory — the fermentation of anger into resentment and bitterness. The prophet Jeremiah expressed this concept poetically in chapter 31:29 ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ In the Letter to the Ephesians the author advises: Ephesians 4: 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. Revenge then is a complicated behavior that involves calculation and memory and not just a reaction. Like the Arabs and the Israelis where every hurt, every anger is harbored, every grudge is nursed until the two sides can no longer talk to one another about issues in the present without citing a long list of hurts and injustices from the past.
SLIDE 9: PAUL WAS TALKING TO GOOD CHURCH PEOPLE LIKE US
Paul in his Letter to the Romans, however, wasn’t talking to the Arabs and the Israelis, he was addressing good church people like us. Because even in the First Century the people in those early churches were no saints. Paul pastored some very naughty congregations. They shared all of the failings and peccadilloes with which we struggle. Churches are social groupings where human beings exercise their needs for aggression and dominance, people share their needs for acceptance and love, and individuals sometimes get their feelings hurt.
SLIDE 10: THE PROBLEM OF PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR
If all aggression in the life of the church was overt, we would be able to address our problems more directly and above board. But church people tend to specialize in passive aggressive behavior. A good example of passive aggressive behavior in a marriage was shared by a sales clerk.
“Cash, check or charge?” The sales clerk asked, after folding the items the woman wished to purchase. As she fumbled for her wallet, the sales clerk noticed a remote control for a television set in her purse. “So, do you always carry your TV remote?” The sales clerk asked.
“No,” the shopper replied, “but my husband refused to go shopping with me and I figured this was the most evil thing I could do to him legally.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) describes passive-aggressive personality disorder as a “pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to requests for adequate performance in social and occupational situations.” Now most of us do not rise to the level of a personality disorder, but we do see an awful lot of passive aggressive behavior in churches. People want their egos stroked, people get their feelings hurt, and the hostility grows underground, and rather than confronting the problems and clearing the air, because after all we are “nice,” it festers.
SLIDE 11: AFTER ALL WE ARE NICE
And churches are not unique. It happens in families and work places, but because in church we are supposed to be “nice,” we let it fester until it clogs up the works and people just kind of go away. And the great tragedy is that our niceness and inability to confront our conflicts and problems result in communities of faith that fall short of what Jesus has called us to be.
SLIDE 12: JESUS WOULD BE DISAPPOINTED IN THE CHURCH
Beth found a poll on the internet, and who knows how accurate it is, but people were asked the question, “If Jesus suddenly came back to earth today, would he approve or disapprove of modern Christianity?” And the results are striking. Every demographic group in the study overwhelmingly reported about 90% that Jesus would disapprove of modern Christianity, and this is in a time when the figure of Jesus is actually becoming more popular.
SLIDE 3: LIKE POURING POISON IN THE COMMUNITY WELL
No doubt there are many reasons people perceive the church falling far short of the way of Jesus. I believe one of the important causes of this disapproval is the church is crippled by our passive aggressive behavior. If our life together in the community of faith really reflected the love of Jesus, people would be attracted. If our churches were really places of healing and grace, people would come.
So let’s just address one of the most common forms of passive aggressive behavior in social groups, whether it is families, work places, churches or Facebook – gossip. Did you hear what he or she did or said? Gossip and slander are like pouring poison in a community well. We all have to come and drink, but if we locate the latrine upstream of the camp pretty soon the water isn’t fit to drink. Jesus said, “I offer you living water,” but too often our passive aggressive behavior in the life of the community of faith fouls the spiritual water in the well. People come thirsty for new life, but then they discover poison in the water.
SLIDE 14: IS IT TRUE, IS IT NECESSARY, IS IT KIND?
Now as Bill Tucker says, “There is a fine line between sharing news and gossip, and it often comes down to intent.” Or as the old rule of thumb says, “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”
SLIDE 15: THE TONGUE IS A FIRE
Love rather than revenge – let’s remember Paul wasn’t talking to the Israelis and Palestinians, he was addressing church people like us. We need to be forgiving and don’t beat up on ourselves. We have all found ourselves in unguarded moments when we have spoken unkindly. The third chapter of the Letter of James: It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue – it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Creator; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women God made in the divine image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
SLIDE 16: REPAY NO ONE EVIL FOR EVIL
So let us take to heart Paul’s admonition to the Romans: Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Amen.