Monday, February 11, 2013

Getting Cheeky and the Illusion of Safety

I turned a bad moment in fourth grade into a worse moment by getting cheeky. My gym teacher kicked me out of class for unnecessary roughness in game of Mat Ball. I reacted to a perceived injustice--getting called Out when I thought I was Safe. I pushed and screamed and earned a seat in the hall. When my teacher came to address my nasty attitude, I poured more fuel on the fire. I called her a bitch. No matter that she was a student teacher. No matter that I muttered the phrase under my breath. I was wrong, and I learned a few lessons that day.

  • Bad breath carries in school hallways;
  • Student teachers have feral ears and menacing eyes;
  • Retaliation is a gross sport.
More than once I've wished I could travel back in time and encourage the cheeky, childhood version of myself that getting the last word does not reform the world. (I have to remind myself now.) Injustice will reign in spite of my snappy comebacks and counter punches. The principle of lex talionis does not produce a more just world, but one of bruised cheeks and gaping smiles.

Jesus challenged the common practice (and animal instinct) of retaliation. His wisdom sounded counter-intuitive. "Do not resist an evil person. Do not punch back. Don't cling to your possessions when being robbed or stripped by immanent domain. Give more and go farther than anyone asks of you" (para, Matt. 5:38-42).

Jesus sounded more like a modern day Mennonite than militia men in my neighborhood. He would not have jumped on the campaign trail to protect the Second Amendment. He would have been too busy walking the Via Delarossa.

Sadly, we're more inclined to fight for our rights than the "exceeding righteousness" demanded in the Sermon on the Mount. I can understand. Muttering in the hallway has always been easier than walking the extra mile. But Jesus doesn't call us to sit down and defend ourselves. He call us to run with abandon. Safety is not guaranteed for Christ followers.

Reflections on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (5th in the series of 6 antitheses)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Yes and No and Little White Lies

My mother-in-law says 'Yes' when she means No. She says 'No' when she means Yes. Since her stroke, we have learned that her words do not always align with her intentions. Yes and No are a guessing game. Marcie is an aphasic; she cannot help herself.

I, on the other hand, have full control of my word choice and intonation. I can say 'Yes' in several languages and to the tune of numerous pop songs. I can type No on a myriad of digital platforms, employing a variety of fonts, colors, and MODIFIications. And I can lie with ease.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exposed the human tendency to deceive. In his day, the oath provided a verbal guise for dishonesty. To give credence to one's promise or pronouncement, a person would call heaven or earth to stand witness (Matthew 5:33-37).

33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

The Pharisees, Jesus' legalistic opponents, were notorious for manipulating oaths to embellish their claims (Matthew 23:16-22). They swore on temple gold to cover their lies. Jesus saw through their ploys, and sees through our forced smiles, online personnas, hollow greetings, and awkward laughs. To Him, every deception sounds like an oath on our grandmother's grave. Empty.

Sadly, as much as I know this to be true, I still deceive. Last week, my sin reared its ugly head. Someone asked about my due diligence on a project. I answered with the swagger of a politician. "I'm waiting for a reply." Technically, I spoke truth--I had not heard back--then again, I had never asked in the first place.

My diligence was overdue, but I didn't want to admit it. (In fact, if I were truly honest, I should not have offered to help in the first place. I knew I'd struggle to complete the task.) Hating to disappoint, I deceived. A greater crime, no doubt.

Yes and No sound simple enough, but they are hard words when we stare into the face of someone whom we may disappoint. We want respect and affection. We may win favor with a few false statements, but we cannot sustain friendship in a field littered with lies. Jesus knows best: Honesty is the only policy.

Reflections on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (4th in the series of 6 antitheses)