God Loves a Bully

Over the last few weeks, several teens over the last few weeks have committed suicide.  The pundits and the prophets have been reflecting about the problem of bullying.

To some, the current discussion seems different than the everyday cruelty of a group of teenagers or children testing out their power, their desire to determine who is in and who is out.  It may be how easy technology connects us to each other and makes harming others easy.  Give a teen ager a cellphone, a twitter account and Myspace and it’s hard to avoid the potential for taunting, teasing and emotional brutality.

Most of us have experienced fickle friendships, inconvenient infatuations, and the occasional betrayal, and  the disinvitation to a party.  It’s not just those who played Dungeons and Dragons and ran the math team; the awkward, poor and pudgy.   Even the talented find themselves harassed by the envious and resentful.

But bullying isn’t just a confined to high school or prisons.  A waitress related the story of a internet tycoon who threatened to have her fired waving around a couple dollars, declaring his superiority; the unemployed are taunted by those who shout at them, “can’t you just get a job?”

The teased are offered advice:  walk away; ignore the bully; say “thanks for sharing” and roll your eyes.   But when these become impossible, the victim becomes both enraged and powerless, at which point they turn upon themselves.
The heart of the Christian story is about bullying, although a more academic word could be “scapegoating.”    The victim takes the place of the rest of the class, who is terrified of breaking the rule of power the bully has.    One person bullies and the others follow.

And the consequence of standing up for oneself, or for others, is intrinsically risky.  It requires being strong enough to tell the truth; to resist manipulation; to take the side of someone who is defenseless.   That strength is learned, and it is fostered through love, the encouraging support of family and friends who can’t always be present.

Christians have themselves been bullies.   Our anti-semitism, gay-baiting and alliance with racial supremacists have enabled sorts of Christians to justify all sorts of cruelty.  And yet, it would take a certain kind of blindness not to see that how progroms, gay-bashing and lynching are analogous to the cross.   The cross signifies this:  we scapegoat people, and it does not have to be that way.  Any religion that denies the brutal fact of this all too human tendency also denies our own inclination and power to hurt others, if only to protect ourselves.

There are good reasons for us to turn away from the cross.   To be so humiliated, diminished, embarrassed is to suck the life out of someone; to render them ashamed and powerless.     This is one reason the cross was so offensive to imperial religion.  Jesus remained weak and powerless – all too human.  What kind of God is this?  A bullied one.  And nobody wants to be on that side.

His response, of course, was remarkable.   It was not to punish those who crucified him; rather, he instead said, “peace be with you.”   The mark of those who follow Christ would be fearlessness in standing against injustice; and reconciliation with those who killed him.  We need not be afraid of the bully; we may pity them.  Instead of fear, a transformation – and an offering of mercy.

“I just want to know what it means!”

Perry Robinson, a philosopher in the Orthodox Church, wrote an interesting article Why I am Not an Episcopalian. It’s a fairly sharp response to an Episcopalian struggling with the trinity.

I sure hope that God will not judge me on my theology.  My faith is strong.  My belief system probably needs a little tinkering.   But I’ll still sing what the church says.

The general article, however, repeats the same tired analysis of why TEC is in such bad shape.  Admittedly, he’s amusing:  “TEC – “Don’t believe in that crap?  Neither do we” with KJS is in one photo.   But it is finally unenlightening (although true).

Yes, your average Episcopal priest isn’t a great expert in theology.   I wish more were familiar with the broad panentheism in the Orthodox tradition, and the deeper expressions of recent Catholic theology.  I wish priests were better able at explaining the relevance of the living God known through the Trinity.   When an Episcopal priest denies the atonement, discards the sacrificial language of the Eucharist, or explicitly avoids the readings of Revelation, I’m disturbed.  But Perry misreads the past and seems oblivious to our current context.  Bad theology didn’t simply drop into the Episcopal Church and cause it to go to hell. Continue reading ““I just want to know what it means!””

Mary Daly, RIP

Mary Daly is dead.

I first read her in 1989.  She was fun and exhilarating, even though I rejected her absolutist understanding of gender.   Her fundamental sense of joy and her description for a transgressive, destabilizing laughter continues to appeal to me.  And I think she was right that God is more like a verb.

Daly was mistaken about the relationship between technology and feminism: technology has done much to liberate women, allowing them to be economically independent from men.   Her understanding of ancient religion was fanciful, if provocative.   Mythology was a way of concealing violence as much as it was a form of ancient wisdom.  I also think that “patriarchy” is too vague, at some point, to be helpful.

When I was in high school, I was intrigued by her non-response to Audrey Lorde.  I admit, at the time it was proof she was a selective thinker.  But in retrospect, her non-response was done out of respect for her sister, an awareness that the public sphere was not the location for such a fight.

The Margins

Many of us live close to the margins. And not just the poor.

There are all kinds of margins. Money is an easy one to identify. It is easy feel that we need more. We spend easily, money dripping through our fingers like water. And many don’t even notice it. But we know if we don’t have financial room, and it is tight and constraining.

Some are more so than others: they are only one hospital bill or one child away from poverty: one accident away from financial disaster, or jobless. Those are difficult margins – we don’t have any room or space.

Another margin is time. Westchester is busy. It’s easy to get caught up in the number of tasks we just have to do. We run from picking up the kids to karate to shopping. And as we get more harried, we seek convenience, and then we seem to have less time.

So how do we find just a little bit of space? To have a little cash – just enough not to worry; to have enough time to let the mind be fallow and restful? To allow for some focusing? Well, there is changing the entire system. But aside from that?

It might mean taking a quick break; going on a much needed retreat; insisting on a 1/2 hour walk without an ipod. It might mean taking a morning to try something creative. But resist scheduling; give yourself time to cook, to read, to do what gives you joy. It is in those spaces we become human.

It might mean examining more clearly how we spend our lives. Note the use of the word “spend” as if our lives are themselves commodities, that our time is equal to money. Money can be, however, simply a measurement rather than an indicator of moral worth. I have found that when I journal and monitor my spending and eating and my time, I can make choices that are more joyful. I realize how much I have already.

It takes building a resistance to conveniences, to rushing, to spending, to restoring a sense of what is lovely and beautiful. It often requires saying “enough” or “no” to another task.

It is alright not to rush, to have space. And the antidote is a healthy amount of gratitude. That’s the reason we give to each other, we give to our communities, we give to ourselves. Through giving, we find we have more space to move, a greater ability to discern what matters, sloughing off the clutter that drives us crazy. Through collaborating and sharing ourselves, we’ll find it inconvenient, but more rewarding, and a lot less costly.

For if we’re always trying to have more, aren’t we distracted from what we have which has previously given us sustenance and joy?