Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Toning down the rhetoric

In writing this post, I am getting that 'hypocrisy vibe alert' for I know that have been as guilty as the rest in participating in the to be mentioned behavior, but as of late, I have refrained from the behavior for the most part. I say for the most part because the St Louis Cardinals underachievement is rising to new heights.  The problem though is angry rhetoric.  There seems to be no shortage of it.  There seems to be no arena in which it is not just common but is now the norm.  Within the halls of our churches, the halls of governance, the halls of industry and finance, and within the lives of everyone, especially the famous, we feel the right and necessity to castigate at will.  Whether it is US representative telling a whole group of her fellow Americans to go to hell, the in kind responses to her, the accusations leveled at bishops for being too this or that,  the ripping apart of some starlet's personal choices, the constant stream of abuse we level at any authority figure, or any group to which we do not belong, we have turned our society into a dysfunctional group of busybodies where looking for anyone else's faults is the norm and displaying them for all to admire as if it were a museum gallery exhibit  is the goal.  The great melting pot has turned into a saga that makes the Lord of the Flies look like the Von Trapp family.  We have become a society of Mrs Kravitzes screaming "Abner, Abner" with such frequency that it feels like cat claws on a chalkboard.

Disagreements are a part of life.  How we should proceed as a country, as a church, and as a parish will always be there.  Each of the three have guiding principles that act as parameters for behavior and direction.  For us as Americans that guide is the US Constitution and its attendant amendments.  We may disagree  on its application.  But that disagreement can be handled civilly.  Do we actually think that yelling, name-calling, accusations and counter accusations about motivation will help anything?  We can really believe the cacophony of mobs will bring any peace?  Mob rules have never ended well, whether it is the French Revolution,  the Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler, or even the bitter fruit we are seeing rising out of the Arab revolts in which minorities, particularly Christian minorities (Egypt, Iraq for example) are being persecuted.  There are ways to settle differences peacefully without bludgeoning each other to death.  There is no necessity for us to resort to hateful rhetoric, destructive behavior, or anarchy to get our feelings known. There is a different way. For we Catholics, it flows from our Catholic Faith.

As the country has the Constitution to ground the discussion, so we have the teachings of the Church and the Gospel.  Whereas we can amend the Constitution over time, the beauty of Catholic teaching is that it need not be amended, only applied.  The basic tenet of Catholic teaching is simple, it flows from the only commandment that Jesus gave us: Love one another! We are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor (that is anyone) as ourselves. Love, when used in the New Testament, is almost always translated from the Greek word 'agape', which means divine love.  What separates divine love from the other types of love is that it is completely selfless, attending to the needs of another.  Agape is willing to take on personal sacrifice and suffering for the good of another, to bear wrongs patiently, and show kindness. (cf I Corinthians 12-13). All of the Church's many teaching all flow from the question as to what does it look like to love God and our neighbor, recognizing the two are inseparable. Thus, it is from that vantage point of agape that we enter into discussion.  We also need to realize that discussion is more often not about persuading others to act as I see fit all the time, but to learn why things are where they are.  This is especially true when it comes to why the church does things the way it does and teaches what it does.  So many times we come in with our guns half cocked waiting the opportunity to fire instead of coming in with an attitude of understanding.  How we think this will produce anything but ill will and division is beyond me.  When we come in with the predisposition that the other party has intentionally wronged me and personally attacked me, there will be no room to listen or act fairly.

Therein lies the genesis of the problem.  This need for hateful and divisive rhetoric comes from a very dark place in the human soul: that the world must circle around me.  When we feel that it is everyone else's job to do as I want and see things as I see them, it is an obvious tip off that agape is not where I am coming from.  It is clear that my base is looking out for me and not for the other.  We can get so wrapped up in vested interests that we have no option but to feel frustrated and thus launch into hate filled rhetoric, presumptions of another person's malevolence, or personal attacks.  It is easier to deal with someone else's greed than to deal with my own, to decry someone else's inflexibility rather than deal with my own, and to be enraged about someone else's disrespect than to deal with my own.  If we hope to move discussion beyond such things, it will be in taking the focus off of 'me'. When we can look at problems and dilemmas from a vantage point of what is best for us or in what will be helpful for others, it will open our eyes, tone down the rhetoric, and open our ears to another.  When we address the true wrongs that we see, and we must, it always must be from the vantage point of inviting the person doing wrong to conversion of heart.  True conversion never comes from the end of a gun or the business end of a bat.  It does not come from accusations, yelling, taunting, or other un-christian like behavior. It comes from a genuine love and concern for the person, in wishing and wanting good for them.  Will it always work?  No.  But that does not excuse us from doing so.

The bottom line is this: Do unto others as you would have them unto you!  If you would not like your every fault and failing laid out for all the world to see, then don't do it to someone else!  If you do not want presumption of malevolence when you do err, don't do it to someone else!  If you want people to listen and understand, then afford others the same!  If you want people to treat your selflessly, then do the same for them!  If you wish to be the recipient of agape, then be the giver of it as well.  Whether that is within our families, workplaces, schools, parishes, churches, businesses, or governance, if we are true to the faith we claim, then agape must be our starting point for any discussion or correction.

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