Negative Nancy

A Most Unwelcome Homily

Last Monday, my Kindle Fire announced a new post was available in my Google Reader (which I need to just delete and move on, but it’s tough) and the moment I glanced at it in my feed, I knew I didn’t want to read it. There was nothing in the title that was would cause offense, and I wouldn’t be following the blog if I didn’t enjoy the posts. However, despite the seemingly benign nature of this post, I was consumed with dread at thought of reading it. Was it a premonition or just a lazy bone? Who can say? I just know that I did not want to read that post!

So, I did what all good Catholics do when we there is a particular task we are avoiding and it’s right smack in the middle of Lent: I forced myself to sit down and read that article. And I was right–it was a message I did not want to hear.

Throwing the First Stone by 8 Kids and a Business is a transcript of Father Eric Mah’s homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent. Read it if you dare. Here’s a particularly unsettling excerpt:

The French philosopher René Girard has spent much of his career studying the particular psychology – and even spirituality – of the mob.  And he basically says this: human communities – whether we’re talking about families, towns, cities or even nation states – are typically characterized by a sense of tension, rivalry and conflicting desires.  In other words, there’s only so many things to go around – we all want the same thing – and so, we fight!  And so, again, there’s this ongoing sense of tension and conflict within the community.

Now, the question arises: how does a community deal with this sort of problem?  Well, according to Girard, one of the classic ways in which we deal with it is that we tend to scapegoat.  And scapegoating is essentially this: the town – the community – or the mob finds some person or some group upon whom they can project their own sense of tension and violence.  And so, the violence that would otherwise destroy the community is now channelled and transferred onto the scapegoat.

And what does this do?  Well, oddly enough, it does seem to effect a kind of peace and unity within the community.  In other words, we do tend to bond and come together – precisely through our common hatred of a particular person or group.  The down side, of course, is that it’s a very phony and unstable kind of peace – because it’s ultimately based on something that’s actually very evil.    

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, this has been a long time coming. I have just been waiting to be scolded for this since, oh, Junior High? There was a situation where there was tension and unrest in my little circle of friends. This went on for some time before one of my friends was brave enough to say something. She was, therefore, declared the source of all of our problems and was shut out. The next few weeks, those of us that remained bonded like we never had before. There was no more infighting–but it was an uneasy peace, because I could not escape the reality that we had obtained this new strength by standing against one of our friends.

I’d love to say my worry stemmed from my love for my friend, but it didn’t. I was mostly concerned that I would become the next scapegoat. We all had our turn, I think, and learned nothing.

Of course, I don’t have to worry about such things anymore since I’ve crossed over into adulthood, right?

After going out with a friend a few months ago, I came home in a cloud of frustration. “We’re not really friends!” I told Scott, “She just wants to talk trash to me about XXXX and I don’t want to anymore!” What upset me most was that I was so easily led into temptation and said horrible things about people I love very much. And whatever for? I knew the answer: ENVY. That’s the big one. I envy what someone else has and I need someone to blame for what I lack. Envy leads to gossip leads to scapegoating and where does it go next? Scapegoating is a poor foundation for relationships, but how many relationships do we have that are based solely on tearing others down?

I decided to take a step back. If I can’t control my trash talking with certain people, maybe we should spend less time together until I can. I blame no one but myself–I know what is good to say and what is destructive, but I react so very poorly to temptation, it makes me sick.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin. What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if [I] do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

Romans 7:14-20

I want to cry and scream in frustration when I read this passage. In the moment, when my frustrations are boiling over, it seems just to point a finger, but almost instantly, I’m filled with regret. I’ve driven a wedge between myself and the ones I love, and by my poor example, I’ve lead others astray. Worse still, I’ve also turned my back on God. All so I could blame someone for something that was never really their fault.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

That homily cut like a knife, but we need a knife to cut the cancer from our hearts sometimes.

Categories: Chasing After God, Negative Nancy | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Screwing Myself into the Ground

A few weeks ago, I had a mild temper tantrum down at The CellPhone Store where I work. We’ve been working short-handed, and that day, we had someone from another store coming to help out, but I didn’t know who it would be. I was talking about it with a co-worker, and somehow came to the conclusion that it was going to be someone in particular that I did not like. As our conversation went on, I did what I always end up doing. Without any foreknowledge of what was going to happen, I decided to skip the formalities of finding out and go ahead and get angry about it. My day was going to be ruined, after all, working with this intolerable person all day. Why do we even have someone so incompetent on the payroll? Why must I, of all people, be forced to deal with this?

Suddenly I stopped myself. I had no idea who I would be working with, but here I was, getting angrier by the moment. My co-worker said she tends to wallow in undue anger also, and that her son refers to it as “screwing yourself into the ground.” I’d never heard that expression before, but I found it horribly appropriate. When I sit and allow myself to get angrier and angrier, I have indeed screwed myself into the ground until I’m stuck and can’t be moved.

Anger seems to be a hump I just can’t get over in my spiritual walk, and it stands between me and God.

Remove anger from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh. For youth and pleasure are vain. Ecclesiastes 11:10 

What is anger, after all? A friend of mine went to a training class at work where they discussed anger. The class was asked to describe anger as if they were describing it to an alien who came from a planet without emotions. The definition they came up with: I didn’t get my way. That’s what anger is. I didn’t get my way and I’m going to throw a hissy fit over it. I would argue that when I’m angry, there’s always a logical, rational reason for it. I am never angry without cause and if I get upset it’s because I am passionately committed to seeing justice prevail.

My husband would say I’m having a hissy fit because I didn’t get my way.

And there is no anger above the anger of a woman. It will be more agreeable to abide with a lion and a dragon, than to dwell with a wicked woman. Ecclesiasticus* 25:23

Anger in and of itself is a wretched evil, but it gets worse. The longer I stew over some wrong, and the more I screw myself into the ground, I am planting seeds that grow into grudges and resentment. These are spiritual weeds that choke out love and mercy and every good fruit of the spirit.

Anger hath no mercy, nor fury when it breaketh forth: and who can bear the violence of one provoked? Proverbs 27:4

Something I’ve recognized as I try to put away anger and let go of grudges is that I don’t want to. There are reasons why I’ve held a grudge. My anger has always been provoked by the unacceptable behavior of others. I have a right to feel the way I do!

But it separates me from God. It separates me from my brothers and sisters. It stops joy and patience and love and mercy from blooming in my heart. I’ve been praying to let all these little things go that have hurt me, and I’ve been praying to want to let them go, but it’s hard. I never think to pray for grace when my blood starts boiling; I’m so consumed by my emotions, I think of nothing else. There have been times I felt that my soul would never be free from these grudges, because I simply do not know how to forgive.

Remember the footsteps in the sand poem? This is the part where God has started to carry me. Over the last month or so, I’ve felt a strong tug on my heart to let go of old grudges, let old wounds heal, and stop collecting grievances. Through much trembling and crying, I’ve handed over old baggage. God, I said, I don’t want this anymore, please take it from me. Amazingly enough, the old wounds started healing over. However, I ran into a bit more trouble with the newer wounds. Especially the ones that still get poked at regularly. The person who looks down his nose at me, the co-worker who blames me for his mistakes, and all those little wrongs throughout the day.

I started to slip a little in my mission to learn forgiveness, so I looked for a prayer to help me get back on track. I posted Daily Prayer: To Forgive Others on Wednesday night, along with Thursday’s Mass Readings, but I didn’t really sit down and read the Mass Readings until Thursday. When I heard Jesus tell the story of the servant whose debt was forgiven, but didn’t forgive his brother’s debt, I was floored. Clearly, forgiving others is of the utmost importance. But how? I work in service, how can I avoid collecting little grievances against customers? Have you dealt with upset customers lately? They’re unpleasant and rarely ever right! And my co-workers! And the family! I can’t get away from it!

I know it sounds cliche, but I started thinking about how attitude is a choice. The way we react to outside stresses is a choice.

As I went about my day today, I kept reminding myself I was choosing joy over anger and frustration. When a customer started threatening me, I took a deep breath and said sternly to myself, “I’m not going to get upset about that.” When a co-worker said something I found to be appalling, I said, “I’m not going to pass judgement on that.” All day, sometimes out loud, I declared that I would not allow these seeds into my heart. “I’m not going to worry about that….I’m not going to let that bother me….I’m not going to spread that gossip..” I was amazed at how easily the temptation to screw myself into the ground passed. It was only one day, granted, but I can only do one day at a time, and today was blessed with grace.

But the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness,…mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

I’m not going to tell you I’ve got it licked. I’ve done nothing but make a choice, and I have faith that God will give me whatever graces I need to draw nearer to Him. I’ve got a long way to go, there’s no denying it. This is just going to be one of those times when there’s only one set of footprints.

*  One of the seven Deutero-Canonical books, missing from most non-Catholic Bibles

Categories: Chasing After God, Everything Else, Negative Nancy | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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