Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Peacock Theology from Pope Francis

It seems that Pope Francis’ question, “Who am I to judge?” attracted answers from everyone with access to the internet. Now, I’m as smitten with this humble pontiff as a Southern Baptist girl can be, and I could not be more charmed with the world’s response to his embodiment of Christianity. I’m pretty sure he was responding to a specific question about gay priests, but somehow the idea has taken hold that maybe being judgmental isn’t a hallmark of the followers of Jesus after all. Glory, hallelujah!

The Hebrew Bible tells us that God’s people were originally ruled by judges, but being envious of the nations with kings, they wanted one of their own. The prophets tried to tell them that this was not a good idea, but if we learn anything from the Bible it’s that people never listen to the prophets. If you think they were foolish to envy being under the thumb of a monarch, then you must be of the 11 people in the United States who did not get up in the pre-dawn hours to watch Will & Kate’s vows --- a phenomena made even more amusing by the fact that the USA exists because people were sick of their king. Reading I & II Kings reveals some Israelites who got pretty fed up with theirs too.

Judging others is not necessarily a bad thing. I remember being in an adult Sunday School class when the “Who am I to judge?” topic came up. Considering that one member of the class was a federal judge, it was obvious that some people are qualified and even required to judge others. Sometimes we appreciate this, and sometimes it knocks the luster off our affection. I was a fan of both Steven Tyler and Martha Stewart until they entered the reality show realm-- he as a judge and she as a subject to a ridiculous judge with a hideous comb over.  It just hasn’t been the same with us since.

I’m a study in dissonance when it comes to judging and being judged.  No skill is more easily mastered than the ability to judge the flaws of others. Not only is this skill a delight to practice, it has the added bonus of confirming my own vanity. But I seldom welcome criticism directed at me, not even the constructive kind ---especially not the constructive kind. It’s a tricky subject to address because warning people about being judgmental can come off sounding very judgmental. Take it from the Pope, “the reality of vanity is this: Look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front, 

but if you look at it from behind you discover the truth. 

Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them.” 

Lost Things

Why does finding something that was lost feel so much better than not losing it?

Everyone knows the instant blast of happiness when lost keys show up. My sister in law sent a massive group text with a photo of her lost eyeglasses that she found in her dishwasher. She proclaimed them not just found, but clean! Luke’s gospel devotes chapter 15 to the joy of finding lost things. If there are any universal human traits, this might be one of them.

My most recent lost thing was a snap-on accessory for my shoes. I looked down and saw that one foot looked pretty snazzy, while the other had a sad empty snap where a rosette should have been. It was the end of a day in which I had walked all over my three story building at work. I was retracing my steps sure that any other finder of my shoe-completing treasure would toss it in the trash as an unidentifiable bauble. I had no luck, but I did explain the situation to a member of our housekeeping staff who noticed my search and rescue behavior and asked if she could be of help. A couple of weeks later, I received a call that someone had left something for me in the office. See the photo, and imagine my delight.

If my lost accessory is a present day comparison to Luke’s lost coin, then his lost sheep would be the modern lost pet. Anyone who has ever had a dog or cat go AWOL knows the meaning of anguish. This feeling is so prevalent in our culture that AT&T used it in a 30 second commercial that has only three spoken words, none of which refer to the product being advertised.  It’s a shameless marketing play on emotion, but it chokes me up every time. Grab a tissue and watch it now.

Now, wouldn’t it have been better if Sarah hadn’t gotten lost in the first place? Of course it would, but even the joy of having a sweet dog at home is dwarfed by the joy of finding that sweet dog when she is lost.

Luke completes the trilogy that begins with lost things and lost animals with Jesus’ parable of the lost son known by everyone as the prodigal.  I love sassy shoes and sweet dogs, but the love-o-meter jumps several orders of magnitude when my children are added to the mix.  If there is one story that summarizes the entire Bible, it is this story of the joy of redemption when a precious lost son is found. It’s almost like we’re born knowing this truth. Among the first games children enjoy are peek-a-boo and hide and seek.  The fun of Easter egg hunts and scavenger hunts is what makes us vulnerable for snipe hunts during those awkward adolescent years. People love to find lost things. It may be a coincidence, or it may be God’s message that there is grace for us always, like Sarah, lost or found.

Vandalizing Vandalism

I've always had a particular aversion to vandalism. Unlike thievery or speeding or even killing someone who "needs killing", vandalism has no obvious tangible benefit. I suppose the release of rage is a possible motive, or maybe it's the thought of hurting people by defacing their possessions. It just seems to me like there are more efficient ways of doing either of those things that don't involve the destruction of innocent stuff. So that's where I am on that. But then one day I was on the Ladiga Trail and noticed a small metal plaque attached to a bench. Thinking it was some kind of memorial I stopped to read it. But lo! Someone had taken the time to engrave a paragraph of rant about the liberal leanings of American media and attach it to a wooden bench placed along a wooded trail for purposes of rest and reflection. Yes, I said engrave. How far into the woods does one have to travel to escape the perceived persecution of right wingers? (I know, I know. Halfway. Then one is traveling out of the woods.) After an exasperated sigh and a dramatic eye roll, I decided to pry off the plaque and deposit it in the nearest trash can. Since I don't stroll the trail with a wide selection of tools and because that plaque was glued on with some seriously strong adhesive, I had to resort to plan B --- find a sharp rock and scratch out the engraved words. So I did. All except for the words "Christmas Eve" which I deemed inoffensive to pretty much everyone. Also, if the perp ever returned it would be obvious that the scratches were intentional. Afterwards I realized that I had vandalized the plaque and wondered if vandalizing vandalism is like a double negative that becomes positive or if it's just piling on. Also, who is crazier, the primary vandal or the secondary?