A Look in the Mirror
I wanted to hear something timeless, something sturdier than knee jerk emotion. Since the election, I’ve heard so many words spoken out of fear, anger and betrayal. I’ve heard myself saying them. Mostly within the privacy of my own home, but still. I don't want to feel this way about my country, especially on Veterans Day - when we rightly honor those who have risked their lives on our behalf.
So I did as I’ve been trained to do as a Christian. I went to the Bible. I went to our Daily Office readings – the schedule of Scriptures set out for us in the Book of Common Prayer. It was tempting to go searching for something that would justify my anger on behalf of the women, minorities and immigrants suddenly made much more vulnerable by the choice our country has made. If you look hard enough, you can find a Bible verse to justify just about anything. One of the virtues of the Daily Office is that it doesn’t let us get away with that.
Here’s what we have today from the epistle of James:
“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” (1:19-21)
Not exactly what I wanted to hear. Anger isn’t useless, of course; when channeled properly, it can fuel us to work and persevere for what we say we believe. Besides, there aren’t any “shoulds” on our feelings; we feel what we feel, and shame over those feelings is a waste of energy and time. Still, I wanted to be rewarded for my righteous anger – not told that anger held for too long inevitably becomes self-righteous.
Nor did I want to hear that I need to start by putting my own house in order – that the sordidness and rank growth of wickedness I see outside of me are inside of me too. Who wants to be told to go look in the mirror, when it feels so much more satisfying to skip the introspection and go back out on the battlefield? Don’t worry; we are not being called to passive navel-gazing or indulgent self-exploration here. Immediately following this call to meekness (or humility) is a call to action:
“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget, but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.” (1:22-25)
The point isn’t to stare into the mirror forever; it’s to look and remember what we see as we act – so that we can find some of that same humanity in the faces of those with whom we disagree. Perhaps our feelings of fear, anger and betrayal (for those who feel that way now) aren’t just useless distractions; perhaps they’re points of connection and compassion with those who have felt betrayed and forgotten by their country for years. Perhaps our actions on behalf of those we now feel are in greater danger will be more effective – once we’ve recognized our own capacity for selective sight.
I’ll close with words that, if not timeless, are a lot sturdier than whatever we’re all feeling at this moment:
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 820)
From our lips to God’s ears,