From The Rector…
I got cussed out by a stranger in the drive thru line at Chick-Fil-A the other week. The silver lining is that I’ve been trying to give up fast food and Chick-Fil-A was my last hold-out; now I really don’t want to go there anytime soon. Also, the other driver didn’t pull a gun and shoot me—so I’m pretty much batting 1000 right now. It wasn’t a great experience though. There is a bit of shame when you are called a b*tch by a stranger or a friend. For an instant you are made into a victim, marginalized, despised, and rejected. It is humiliating. And when it is done publicly so that other restaurant guests and workers witness the outburst, the humiliation is public.
I don’t know what makes people so angry that they feel the need to yell at a stranger. Maybe its hunger or road rage connected to the pressures of a society overly concerned with rates of productivity or tardiness or some deep-seated wantonness that has made the other person feel a little less valued and appreciated than they ought to be. I’m going with that last one, by the way. Even if it is hunger or road rage or tardiness, those things contribute to an already fragile ego state that most of us live in. Regardless, though I was shaken for a moment, the woman who cussed me out was probably already experiencing a bad day and I bet it didn’t get any better after that.
When our self-worth is already in doubt, we can easily find ourselves lashing out at others and less likely to respond to the people and circumstances of our lives from a compassionate place. As Christians, we know we are supposed to be compassionate toward others, but sometimes we find ourselves doing that which we don’t want to do as Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans. We think compassion is easy, that it is a choice—and to some extent I don’t disagree. However, there is a lot of hard evidence that suggests compassion requires training and discipline, just as any other skill, to develop.
Being a compassionate person requires study and intentional practice. Twice a year, I teach a class to cultivate compassion through conversation and meditation. The class is experiential and those who truly commit to the meditation practice often tell me how transformative the course is toward their outlook on life and the way they engage with other people. The basic principle of the class is beginning to understand, identify, and engage with others from our most basic, common denominator: Just like me, you don’t want to suffer. Just like me, you want to know peace and joy.
We are always going to hurt others, unintentionally for the most part. And we are always going to be hurt by others—also mostly unintentionally. We have a choice after the hurt has happened. We can stay focused on the hurt and find ourselves a victim. Or we can reframe the hurt, move outside of our own self-focused experience, and reflect on what might have caused the other person to have hurt us. This other-focused approach makes us less a victim and empowers us to find our own footing again. Couple it with a desire to connect to the person that has caused us harm and we find the path toward reconciliation and God’s greater purposes for our lives—the ability to inhabit the kingdom of Heaven.
After a minute of my public shame and humiliation inflicted on me by being branded a b*tch. I took a breath and began to wonder about the suffering and lack of peace that my malefactor might be affected by. Immediately, my prayer became, “Just like me, may you be free from suffering; may you know peace and find joy.” Not because I am a holy or righteous person, but because of the years of mediation and practice in trying to be intentionally compassionate. Though, of course, what I wish I had done was yelled back, “That’s Rev. B*tch to you!” (Just kidding.)
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord—and maybe try to refrain from yelling at people. The world is a hot mess as it is.
Light and Life,