Have you noticed the mammoth chip some United Methodists have on their shoulder? Just mentioning it makes some people mad. I’ve received eight nasty emails since yesterday, when I posted the not-too-profound concept that anger is a choice and that no one else can offend us; we can merely choose to be offended (Loser’s Choice). Obviously, indignation is viewed as a right or a spiritual gift and not something we control. I can’t even reprint some of what has been written because it uses language not appropriate and it is in the form of personal attack. It actually gives me a chance to practice what I preach. My intelligence, parentage, politics, and the integrity of my beliefs are all directly and decisively attacked. Oh, whatever should I do? Should I reply in kind? I could launch some real zingers. That would certainly teach them a thing or two. Or I could twist their words and ascribe malicious intent and try to make them look evil or stupid. That would sure help the situation. I could simply dismiss them as beneath my consideration. What a witness to Christian charity that would be. One of the statements made was, in my opinion, ignorant and bigoted. I must own that I struggle with offense when races, genders, or minorities are referred to with derogatory and hurtful slang. I do not approve of or appreciate mean-spirited labels meant to demean others. But I still control my response. I can express my displeasure without resorting to insult or attack. I am not compelled to scream or shout and I am not impressed by those who do. This is my whole point: how we respond is as important as what we think and feel. I have not ever said we should simply accept whatever anyone else says to us (a common response to my post yesterday), but that the form and force of our response is critically important to our witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
One gentleman tried to inform me that violence is a tool in the Christian’s arsenal, and that we absolutely must resort to it when certain sinners fail to see the errors of their ways. He argues that those of us with the truth must make those living in sin submit to the power of Christ and that physical violence is used frequently in scripture and this is the model we should adopt. I disagree. But allowing anger to burn to rage at what I consider to be an ignorant application of scripture won’t get us anywhere. If I fight with such a person, I merely reinforce his attitude — meet violence with violence. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The ultimate no-win situation.
Another email asked what I thought we should do instead, and am I really so naive to believe that self-control has any power to change a conflict situation. My response here is that I don’t control the other person; I only control myself. Ultimately, I must answer for my own behavior, and I must be able to justify my words and actions as a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is a Matthew 13 kind of thing — I don’t control the wind or the rain, I don’t have the tools or the time to work the soil or pull the weeds. All I can do is sow the seeds of peace and kindness and tolerance and fairness and hope and pray that some fall in fertile soil. What other people do has no bearing on how I should respond. Turning the other cheek is not a conditional practice. I can be a person of peace or not. I can act like God is love or not. I can also let my ego get in the way and choose to be indignant at everyone who thinks, speaks or behaves in a way with which I disagree. It is up to me. It is up to each one of us.