Elders was typical: scheduling and a devotional and a little talk about what we need to be doing. Same with board - nothing big or particularly bad happening (we always have problems since we are also a landlord - we have a few small apartments we rent out, partly as a public service (they are not expensive) and there are always issues of non-payment or damage or similar. Right now there is a bedbug issue.... and there's always the question of, how far do you, as a church, go to try to collect, for example, back rent from someone who 'shot the moon'? We had a case where we wound up pretty much eating a thousand dollars because (a) we figured we could take the person to small-claims court but they'd be unable to pay, ultimately and (b) it might cost us more in goodwill than what we'd ever see)
Anyway, in the closing prayer at the end of the meeting, the minister made some comment about the weights we have on our hearts and our shoulders, and asked for us to be given the grace to bear that weight lightly. And yeah, I feel that. Right now I don't have a *lot* of responsibilities other than to myself (keeping the house clean, keeping up with exercise) but....yeah. And there are other weights, just what is going on in the world and what feels like meanness or rudeness that are bubbling to the surface in maybe unexpected places and from maybe unexpected people. (And that's a reminder to me: whenever I am out in public, I am in part a representative of my university, if anyone anywhere I am even remotely knows my face. And so I darnsure better behave well. Even beyond the whole idea that screaming at someone who has challenges and is probably doing their best is a jerk move for a human. And yeah, except for my worst days my reaction to a situation of someone struggling to do their job would probably be to take a deep breath, step back, maybe repeat my request a little more slowly, and wait.)
And there was another thing making the rounds - I am not going to link the video at all, because frankly *I* found it upsetting to watch and I don't want to subject y'all to it - but of a man who was apparently upset because someone turned him down because he was short? Or who had said in her dating profile she preferred taller men? I don't really know because I couldn't get past the angry tone of voice and the f-bombs he was dropping. And he was doing it in a bagel place, right out in public.
And okay, this is where I admit I'm a bit of a coward (or maybe prudent, hard to tell these days): If I were somewhere like that and someone started screaming and ranting and giving "F-yous" and the like....I'd nope out of there. Even if I'd paid for food already and hadn't got it yet. Even if it was a grocery store and I was leaving the food I needed to buy and I'd either have to go back later, or go hungry. Because I never know how to interpret anger. When I hear someone using a particular tone of voice and hurling "F yous," I'm afraid that fists will be the next thing thrown. Or worse. And I remember reading some security expert (this was at a time when people were more fearful of things like terrorist bombings than now; that fear seems to have died down a little) making the comment of "don't go to places that are stupid." Meaning, don't go places with large crowds that could potentially turn fight-y, don't go places that seem like a "soft target" if you can avoid them. And also the idea of "leave a place if it becomes stupid" and I think my noping out of a restaurant or bookstore or whatever if someone starts raging on a curse-filled rant is the definition of a place becoming stupid.
(I remember once at the bookstore, some guy kind of went off on the cashier. I don't know what about. I was walking towards the cashier with my stuff, when I heard the tone of his voice I kind of melted back to an area between bookcases where there were several heavily-stocked bookcases between him and me....you know, just in CASE. I think eventually a manager calmed him down and propelled him out the door but yeah.)
Anyway, yeah. It does feel to me like ugliness in the world is increasing. Maybe it's just there's more of us and we're bumping up against each other more. And also, with social media - of course that was where I saw the guy's rant - you see that 0.05% of the population who just probably should not go out in public.
And someone else commented that "it's possible that guy was just having an 'off' day, don't be too hard on him" but honestly? There's having an "off day" and there's "terrorizing the sensitive people within a 30' radius of you" which is what that guy would have done to me - I'd have left the place and likely never have gone back if I could avoid it, because of the bad/scary memory. And while yes, people have off days (I have them), I also don't think we should necessarily give bad behavior a pass on those grounds....we need to be better.
(I'll also note in passing: while I generally don't LIKE harsh language, I mostly tolerate it when I hear it. There are two things though that I regard as "unforgivable sins," at least if someone were to use them against me or someone I loved.
The first one, and the worst one, is saying "F*** you" to somebody. Because I interpret that as the ultimate insult, the "you are lower than the dust on my shoes"* sort of thing
(*A friend of my father's, who had worked for the oil industry and had spent time in the middle-east and pre-Gaddafi Libya, said that you absolutely never ever showed the sole of your shoe to someone in an Arab-culture nation (and maybe more broadly: Islamic culture? I could be wrong on that though) because it was considered the ultimate insult, that you were literally saying "I regard you as less than the dust on the bottom of my shoe" which brings new meaning to the shoe thrown at President Bush and also the news images of people in Iraq beating their shoes on a photograph of Saddam Hussein after he was arrested...)
The other one is using...well, the c-word to describe a woman. Funny, I don't have quite the same discomfort/compunction about a similar synecdoche used for a man, and....well, I probably should. I admit my tendency most of the time is to use "jerk" (which, despite the origins of it, has become kind of a nonspecific word for someone behaving badly, man or woman).
(This may also be related to my difficulty in expressing anger to other people. I can get angry at situations or THINGS (I actually called my lawnmower an "a hole" the last time I used it, when it jammed on the very last pass) but expressing anger to people, even when I am angry about something they did, is difficult for me)
But yeah. If someone says "F you" to me, or to someone I care about, I'm gonna think hard about my relationship with that person. I would most likely forgive them, but I know I'd be a lot cooler towards them after it. (And yes, I know some people use that kind of language as banter and jokingly/almost affectionately, but *that is not my personal experience* just like teasing someone you like is not part of my personal experience, and I cannot get comfortable with it).
But anyway. There does seem to be a lot of ugliness in the world and while there hasn't been a recent violent outbreak of it (thank goodness), still, a lot of the time I feel myself wanting to do something to make things better, and feeling frustrated and sad because I really can't do anything....all I can do is so small and so limited.
Anyway, still thinking about that "weight on our hearts and shoulders" this morning when the daily devotional I get e-mailed to me came in (This is one from the United Church of Christ; it tends to be more "progressive" in tone than some. I don't agree with every devotional and I admit some of them are more political than theological, but they do make me think). And I really liked today's - not so much because it made me think but because it summed up something I've felt, off and on, pretty regularly. "When works don't work. And while, yes, the theological hook is the old "works vs. faith" debate (and the writer solves it in a different way, though not so very different, and it's actually similar to something the minister noted in his sermon this past week*)
But this line:
I am less concerned about faith dying for lack of works than with faith being critically wounded, left crawling across the floor and gasping for breath because of works. Because there’s only so much we can do. Because sometimes our works don’t work....A friend’s heart of gold has been so thoroughly shattered that she can no longer pray or sing or trust. She has turned the other cheek so often that her head spins, given every shirt off her back, and walked ten thousand extra miles. More work will not save her faith or heal her heart.
And while the goldness of my heart is debatable...well, I've been that "friend" where I tried and tried to make things better, and all I wound up with for my trouble was more hurt and more pain and YES losing the ability to sing or pray. And I think it is a very modern American thing to believe that if you just work a little harder (or trust a little more, or whatever), things can be *fixed,* and the truth is, they can't, there's nothing you can do to fix everything, and perhaps you need to content yourself with "I'm not making things worse." (You can't take the fear out of the cashier that was instilled by the guy who screamed at her and threatened her, but at least you can decide not to make it worse, and you can decide to be polite to her)
But yeah. And I suppose it's another question of theodicy here: "Why, sometimes, when decent people pray for some situation to improve, and do all they humanly can to improve the situation, and it still gets worse? What are we to make of that?" Because in some branches of American Christianity (particularly some of the mainlines and some of the Progressives), there is very much an attitude of "do everything you can to make this earth a better place" and it can be frustrating to do a lot and....well, still have things happen like the person you gave multiple chances to make up back rent to you leave without paying the last month, AND their boyfriend kicks in the front door of the apartment, and they are unhappy when you tell them you are keeping their deposit to pay for part of the door replacement....to bring it back around to some of the very mundane issues we dealt with in the meeting.
And I don't know but I do understand why....who was it, Peter and John? Wanted to stay up on the mountain after the Transfiguration, and build huts up there, and not go back down into the messy world of people demanding healings or needing food or arguing arcane theological points or whatever.
(*Namely, that the line from...Galatians, I think it was .... that is ordinarily translated as "having faith in Christ" meaning the individual is "saved" because of their faith, it could equally well (given the Greek) be translated as "the individual is saved because Christ was faithful" and the idea being that none of us is good enough on our own, even if we have strong faith....and in a way, that's comforting, as someone who's spent periods of doubt as well as of faith, and having heard people tell me stuff like "if you had stronger faith, you wouldn't worry so much" which I think is absolutely not how it works and really isn't helpful)