Today’s Word from Pastor Tom Kidd…
Maybe you have had those moments when the words of scripture can be pretty disappointing? No? We tend to speak of how the scriptures are uplifting or inspiring or hope-evoking. I mean, that’s what we expect from the Holy Scriptures, right? Well, there have been moments in my life of faith when God’s Word landed in my little world like a thud. Like the time someone said to me, “Man’s anger serves not the righteousness of God.” What? Where’s that? James 1:20. Bummer. You see, righteous indignation, along with humility, are two of my strongest gifts. Apparently, I am now down to one.
I am only partly kidding (the humility part). A long time ago, a spiritual director I was working with asked me one of those really annoying questions, “What do you think your sadness is about?” I was somewhat dumbfounded at the question since I was not speaking of “sad” things at all. At that moment in our conversation I was fully giving myself over to things that were angering me. I was mad, not sad. “Excuse me, I do not understand.” I assumed she misheard me. “What do you think you are so sad about?” That was an invitation into many hours of conversation which opened for me an entirely different understanding of human behavior – sad almost always precedes mad. Life makes us sad, but because few of us have life skills to do “sad,” we learn to do “mad.”
I learned that almost everything which could lead me to a mighty case of righteous indignation was, in fact, born out of sadness. When I think of the death of George Floyd, I become enormously sad. I also get why people rise up in righteous indignation, get angry, want justice (sometimes masquerading as revenge). Or, when the U.N. informs us that food poverty has now reached depths of a new level where 10,000 additional children are now dying each day from starvation, I get sad. At the same time, I understand why people scream in anger at the economic injustice of 50% of global wealth stashed behind the walls of the top 1%, and 76% of the top 10%. Believe me, I understand why anger can rise up and violence can occur.
Yet in my own life I have been led to understand that there was, almost without exception, a “sad” that preceded a “mad.” Sometimes the sad moment was many years prior. I was giving vent to my anger and my precious spiritual director was inviting me into a deeper understanding of my life, and a deeper expression of my faith.
I have been held captive this week by the honoring of Congressman John Lewis. Specifically, my imagination has been stirred by the life of a man whose commitment to non-violence and love for all people was animated not simply as a political strategy, but as a moral conviction. Stories abound about how John Lewis would endure beatings and insults out of love for that person, believing that in the end all people, especially including African Americans, would know social and economic justice. In the end, John Lewis’ vision wins because Jesus wins. I can hear the good Congressman’s voice rise up, not in anger, but as a result of a profound sadness that so many lives are given over to fear and hate that perpetuates a racism that is inherently violent and spirit-killing.
Scripture is full of laments at God’s sadness over our inability to love one another as God has loved us. Our salvation? “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love… he does not treat us as our sins deserve.” Psalm 103:8, 10.
I am going to continue this conversation in next week’s blog: “Sadness Precedes Madness.” During this next week, you might consider engaging in some of your own personal reflection and/or journaling over the question, “What do I do with my anger?” Or, maybe you might find it more illuminating to consider the question, “How does my sadness inform my faith?” I believe the two questions are inherently connected.
I will give thanks this week for the public life of faith of Rep. John Lewis. We have lost a lion for non-violent change. Our life is better because of his. I am sad at his death.
God’s peace, we are closer,
Pastor Tom Kidd