righteous anger and walking a mile in the shoes of the other

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Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

righteous anger and walking a mile in the shoes of the other

i’m thankful to be a part of a faith community that is actually a community. no doubt, we’re far from reaching the zenith of what that means (to say the least), but i think we’re getting a few things right. we do life together. we share meals. we meet the needs of people who cannot themselves. we engage in open and honest dialogue. we challenge each other to be more like jesus.

of all those things, i think the last one—challenge each other to be more like jesus—is the linchpin of all the other things i listed. without a constant urging and encouraging to explore what it really means to be jesus, we wouldn’t be able or compelled to do the other things.

a couple nights ago at our weekly gathering, i certainly felt both challenged and encouraged to engage others more like jesus.

if i haven’t described it here before, our weekly sunday night gatherings at eikon consist of a shared meal (prepared by different people each week) and a teaching/conversation time. while i really love to teach and preach, one of our values is that i’m not the only voice that is heard during those times. so, over the course of the last few months, i’ve literally only spoken about 3 times. each week, a different person from our community (or beyond) leads the teaching time. in that time, we’ve been working our way through some of the most fundamental values of jesus (like nonviolence, sacrificial living and gender equality…to name just a few)

a few months ago, we asked various people to teach and “assigned” topics (to people who we thought would have a particularly helpful point-of-view about the topic). we gave relatively specific topics, but instructed the teachers that they can nuance the conversation in whatever way they felt compelled. this past sunday, kim roth led the teaching time, dealing with the topic of “righteous anger”.

it was, unexpectedly, one of my favorite nights we’ve had in awhile. i feel very passionately—or more to the point, righteously angry—about a number of issues (many of which i’ve expressed with some frequency on this blog). i tend to have very strong viewpoints and generally don’t hesitate to share those views (if you haven’t noticed…). in my passionate viewpoints, i can often unintentionally (or sometimes, if i’m honest, intentionally) villainize the “other side” (although i don’t think “other side” is a helpful term…but that’s for another post…).

last night, kim led us in a couple great exercises and subsequent discussion. we began, in groups, by making a list of things that we think are justified points of anger (i.e. what do we feel justified in being angry about). our group listed things such as war, poverty, rampant capitalism, inequality, co-opting of religion by politics and violence (to name just a very few). she then instructed us to make a corresponding list that took into consideration what the “other side” saw as their justification for being opposed to our strong feelings. in other words, we were to pause and see the flip side of our most strong-minded beliefs.

the exercise was invaluable, as it forced me to stop and proverbially walk a mile in another person’s shoes. at times it was tough. for example, it’s truly difficult for me to see any justification whatsoever of poverty. i’ve heard more than one person misuse abuse matthew 26:11, but it’s just a flat out bad argument/interpretation that grasps at straws. on the other hand, as we worked through the list, i generally found it much easier than expected. even on topics that i feel most strongly about and most tend to villainize the other side about—like war/violence/killing, for example—i found it relatively easy to put myself in their shoes. why? because i know real life human beings who have those points-of-view.

i realized that when i attached a face to an issue, it was no longer an objective, distant issue, but a humanized reality/relationship. just the other day i, in a roundabout way, blogged about this (see my discussion about people i know who object to gay marriage) and, not surprisingly, had several responses, mainly on twitter and facebook, of objection and misconstruing my point (including some textbook adventures in missing the point).

the reality is that i know many people who simply have very legitimate reasons for their passionate beliefs that run 100% contrary to my equally passionate beliefs. let me unequivocally state that, yes, in fact, sometimes people are just wrong, but sometimes they simply see it another way and have very valid reasons. [further, i would ask, what if they are wrong? how does it/should it change our response/relationship to them and our command to love them?]

let’s take the death penalty, which is one of my most righteously angering issues of all. i think, as a follower of jesus, there is absolutely no justification for it. i intensely struggle to see the “other side’s” point-of-view, but as i’ve come to learn, many good people who claim to follow jesus see it as a modern day eye-for-an-eye type of situation (among other things). i truly don’t understand that viewpoint, but i can see the path of their logic and viewpoint.

as another example, i can get downright indignant about legalism, and more than many other things, i know quite a few people who are extremely legalistic. do i think they’re engaging in—as referenced earlier—adventures in missing the point? absolutely. do i think they’ve chosen the path of the pharisees instead of the path of jesus? absolutely. but are they bad people? absolutely not. are they opposed to grace? absolutely not. do they believe they’re being the most like jesus that they can? absolutely. do they think that living by the letter of the law is living by the spirit of the law? absolutely. i certainly don’t see the scriptures in those ways, but i see where they’re coming from. i know them and can attach a face and heart to the issue.

throughout the exercise, as we went through our list, i literally kept imagining people in my life who feel oppositely of me—some of which i have literally had to remove from my life because of how unhealthy our relationship had become. it made the exercise much easier and actually put me at ease, instead of getting worked up as i thought through viewpoints that are oppositional to my deepest passions.

so, my takeaway (and point in rambling on here) is to encourage you to pause and consider the “other side”. why do they push back on you? what are their motivating factors for their beliefs? what has led them to arrive at their viewpoints? how can you see past “right” and “wrong” and see their heart? how can you build a dialogue of mutual understanding?

all these questions aren’t grounded in some kind of utopian thinking, but, as people who follow in the way of jesus, it should lead to at least an attempt to build community and mutual understanding. in the end, we don’t have to agree, but we are called to love and create generative friendships and behave in ways that honor and look like jesus.

so, may you go in anger…but mostly peace and friendship and understanding. 🙂

3 Comments

  1. Kimberly says:

    Thanks! May it inspire many fruitful discussions (and conflict diffusements) in the days to come!

  2. bonnie says:

    Let's look at the "legalism" paragraph, because it makes me the angriest.
    You wrote, "do they believe they're being the most like jesus that they can? "
    This is what gets me. What Jesus? Not the Jesus I know. Are there different Jesus'?

    You also wrote, "what if they are wrong? how does it/should it change our response/relationship to them and our command to love them?"
    Within me loving these kind of people who preach the wrong Jesus is more like an "oh, how sad" kind of love. What would you want/expect it to look like?

    I live among a handful of legalists (legalites?) in my daily life, and so far have chosen to show them as much love (kindness, gentleness, submitting to one another) as is required to function, but generally stay out of their way.
    What kind of love are we talking about here?

  3. bonnie says:

    PS: it isn't your paragraph that makes me angry. Legalism is "my most righteously angering issues of all."

    Was that a dangling participle in the first comment? ; )

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