This morning something TERRIBLE happened on my way to Bible study. There I was, driving along, and then all of a sudden, I saw these legs and this body slowly lowering itself down right in front of my face. A SPIDER. What nerve of this creature to drop down in front of me while driving! Who did he think he was? Thankfully, I was driving slowly on a side street at the time, because I proceeded to freak out, flailing my arms around, fidgeting in my seat, looking for the closest thing I could find to get the spider away from me. I proceeded to flick it onto the dashboard, and then grabbed a napkin from my glove compartment, and I squashed that sucker. I squashed him good. All of this happened within a few seconds. But as soon as I squashed the spider, this thought crept into my mind, unbidden: “Why did I have to go and kill it?”
I was bothered by the fact that my gut instinct was to squash the creature who was doing nothing but going about his spidery business, just as God created him to do. As I thought about the question that had crept into my mind, I thought to myself, “I killed it because I’m scared of it.” In squashing the spider, I exhibited a most basic human response – to eliminate that which we fear. I went on to Bible study and left that thought on the back burner, but now it has come back to the front of my mind.
Fear seems to be the great motivator these days. I feel it all around me. And all around me, I sense a desire to squash that which we don’t understand; to squash that which causes us to fear. The rhetoric in our country increasingly reflects the desire to squash that which we fear. There is an ever-increasing polarization taking place – we see this exemplified between the political left and right, we see this exemplified between conservative and progressive churches, we see this exemplified in the struggle to come to terms with our racial history and identity as a country. We see this exemplified in so many arenas of life.
Where is the dialogue? Where is the deep listening? Where are we recognizing and honoring the image of Christ in one another? Those things seem to have been thrown out the window in favor of our baser human instinct to squash one another through a barrage of disgust and hateful words.
James 1:19-20, 26-27 says this: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires…. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight reign on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
It seems to me that the opposite is so often true – we, myself included, become angry or offended quickly, and want to jump in with our opinions or moral outrage, and in doing so, we remove any opportunity to deeply listen to one another. We want to squash our opposition because we don’t want to entertain the thought that we might have something to learn from them. We are afraid of what that might mean for how we live our lives.
For those of us who profess faith in Christ, he calls us to a different path than the path we now find ourselves on as a country. Christ calls us to be deep listeners to one another, and to truly hear the vulnerabilities and the injustices that plague our world, even when we, ourselves, may have little to no personal experience of those injustices. As James writes, true religion is caring for the orphan and the widow – in other words, the least of these. This is not convenient or easy, and it can, in fact, be very uncomfortable for those who are not at the margins of society.
This morning I read an article about the need for white Christians to invest in really learning about racism in our country – past and present. Personally, I believe racism is still one of the biggest issues in our country today, but there is so much contention over whether or not that is true. I absolutely understand the impulse to say that it’s not such a big deal these days – and that is easy for someone like me to say, since I don’t experience the injustices that many in our country do. And for so many of us, we simply want to squash an alternative narrative that suggests otherwise – that racism is still very present. To acknowledge that racism is a real and active evil means that we have to change, even those of us who believe that we do not exhibit characteristics of racism or prejudice – and not just superficially, but deeply. And that is a scary prospect.
I keep thinking about the spider I killed this morning. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had slowed down and taken the time to approach it differently. But I can’t undo it now, it’s dead.
We cannot continue on the path of fast anger and loose tongues, unleashed to squash one another, but we still have time to choose to act differently toward one another and to embrace a posture of deep listening to those we do not understand; to those whom we fear. I too, am learning that I need to take James’ words to heart. All too often, I want to share the first thing that comes to my mind – I want to express disgust and moral outrage over so many things. I want to drown out those with whom I disagree. I want to squash their views and promote mine. But that gets us nowhere good. Today, may we all take these words to heart: let us be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, and may we seek to listen to one another and see one another through the eyes of Jesus Christ.