Summer Rage

As summer sets in and temperatures rise, there is nothing like a few political hot potatoes on the grill to add to the heat. The meaning of marriage, immigration policy reform, the IRS, voting rights, drones and espionage – matters about which few feel indifferent – are all smack at picnic table discussion before the charcoal is even out of the bag. Without question, we face fundamental questions about where our country is headed and even who we are as human beings.
We celebrate this week the 236th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Our founders, too, asked such fundamental questions, proclaiming their beliefs and first principles in that declaration and enshrining them in constitutional law. Their core values included respect for the life and dignity of every human being, regardless of status, and fundamental freedoms deriving from nature itself and, they did not shy from saying, nature’s God.
The full consequences of this vision could hardly be foreseen or realized all at once. It took our country almost a century even to notice a blind spot in its eye, which relegated people of color to the margins of society, virtually denying their humanity. Most immigrants had to struggle as well. Ironically, though hardly a country in the world has opened its doors so widely.
Whatever the American way may in principle stand for, our words and deeds have not always conformed to our best intentions. It takes candor and courage to admit that hateful stereotyping persists, with victims and oppressors sometimes even switching hats in the course of history. Hardly a soul alive has not suffered at some time from a form of ethnic, racial, religious or sexually related diminishment by other persons or institutions. Nor has any of us been free of a certain discrimination or even outright derision just for thinking or proposing ideas which challenge customs or current assumptions. In recent days, we have even heard colleagues from the highest court of the land virtually call each other haters for a dissenting opinion.
It is not the civil tradition of this country to accuse those who just disagree with us of malice, hatred or prejudice. Reasonable minds can differ. Even if differences should become irreconcilable and lines must be drawn beyond which no compromise is possible, opposition to an idea or concept need not lead to the demonization of its proponent. Scripture counsels love of one’s enemy: hate for the sin indeed but mercy for the sinner.
Jesus reminds His disciples that some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. In other words, the assertion of right and might is not enough to change the minds and hearts of those who may well be in error. This counsel can serve us well in all the social ills we face today where political measures alone are inadequate.
Learning to love and to live justly takes a deliberate and free personal effort to listen to the Lord and accept His grace, which often comes in the form of a discipline so easy to slough off, particularly in summer months. That discipline includes not only the way we choose to entertain ourselves, with whom we associate and how we dress and comport ourselves but also how we speak – of and to one another. Words matter.
More than anyone ever born, Christ had good reason to vent anger against all the outrageous things done to God and creation throughout the ages. He chose not to curse, however, but to bless, including humanity’s less than ideal members who caused Him most to suffer. The best way to avoid a summer of rage, is to drive out the demons of hate with the mind and heart of our forgiving Lord.

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