Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Paying Attention

One of my seminary professors said something which has stuck with me: "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."  It's a difficult line to walk, anger.  I sometimes find myself getting angry when I don't know the whole story: when someone drives in a reckless fashion; when I hear an off-handed, careless comment; or when I see litter dropped within yards of a public waste bin.  But maybe that driver is a distracted father who has left work because his daughter was sent to the hospital after a fall at school.  Maybe that comment is an inside joke, a term of endearment between two longtime friends.  Maybe it's as simple as the waste bin having been ransacked by a squirrel.  There are many occasions when I have been angry, but better knowing the one at whom I was angry would have inspired compassion instead of anger.

But anger isn't always uncalled for.  Anger can be a totally appropriate and just reaction.  Saint Augustine of Hippo said, "Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are."  Where war has raged for days and weeks and months and years and factions push against each other just to feel a fabricated sense of security.  Where mutilation of women is commonplace and used as a tool of oppression and fear.  Where people are judged and excluded because of their innate identity, facets they are unable to change.  Where the powerful use their resources (often borrowed or extorted) to settle grudges against those who question their authority or policies.  These are just a few examples, and the Spirit may be speaking to you differently about some of the things I consider to be unjust, but that's where community comes in.

God wants us to know each other and be a part of each others' lives; if we were all the same, there would be no reason to be in relationship!  Jesus is human because God wants to be in relationship with us in the same way that we are with everyone else.  Human relationships are of the utmost important to God, so much so that Jesus had all our vulnerabilities and surrendered to our desire to crucify him!  But Jesus was resurrected, and so shall we be.  Our relationships are eternal: with ourselves, with God, and with each other.

So patience is not enough where injustice is found.  We cannot simply ignore the horrible things that are happening to our neighbor (near or far).  We are in eternal relationship with other people, all God's creatures, and all of creation.  They will not simply forget their suffering, and we are freed by God's love to be justly angry at the injustices they experience.  As Saint Augustine wrote, our hope that God's love will reign everywhere should give us courage to speak out, to act on behalf of those being treated unjustly.  If only we would pay enough attention to the relationships with which God has blessed us, we would have no end of cause to love, to hope that God will make manifest the humanity for which Christ surrendered his life.  Are you paying attention?

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