Monday Matters (January 23, 2017)


The Blame Game

On the road last year, my wife and I stopped at a gas station. It was cold and we had the dogs in the car, so I closed the door behind me. My wife went in to use the restroom. The dogs were a little anxious so they jumped up on the armrest to watch me pump gas. When Spirit (my blessed dog and spiritual advisor) jumped up, he pressed the button that locked the car. I heard the click and thought: Okay, got the keys here. Oops. Not so. There they were. Sitting on the front seat. Where I left them. Next to the dogs.

I pleaded with the dogs. If they locked the car, surely they could unlock it. I soon realized that was probably not the answer. The interesting thing I noticed about myself is that as I realized we had a problem, I was immediately eager to blame someone. What were the options? The dog? My wife? The designer of the car? The gas station? Congress? The universe? Not myself, of course.

Why am I telling you this? My point (and I do have one) is that so often in my life, when things go sideways in ways great and small, my initial and strongest reaction is to figure out who to blame, who screwed up, who is wrong (unless it is undeniably me). Flip side: so often in life, when things go sideways, my initial response is to figure out how I am not to blame, how I am not in the wrong, a refusal to own my part. (After all, I could have put the keys in my pocket).

When I cross the Jordan and am ultimately made whole, finally healed, I suspect I won’t focus so much on whether I’m right or wrong, won’t reflexively crouch into defensive position, but will think about how to move forward from strength to strength in service in God’s perfect kingdom.

But for now, in this state of imperfection, where I am so obviously a work in progress, I suspect it would be best to think less about being right and more about being righteous.

The word righteous could use redemption. For many, the word suggests a most unattractive puritan piety, as in self-righteous. But in the Bible it suggests right relationship, the healing of things that divide us. These days, those divisions seem to invite us to participate in the blame game.

The Bible is full of folks who play that game. When Adam and Eve get caught taking fruit from the forbidden tree, Adam says the woman made me do it. Then he actually blames God: “The woman you gave me…” Eve in turn says the serpent made me do it. It’s enough to make me pity the serpent. When Cain kills Abel, God asks where Abel is. Cain says: Am I my brother’s keeper? Deflect. Aaron makes an idol, the golden calf out of melted jewelry. Moses confronts him. Aaron claims the calf just jumped out of the fire. Not my fault. Fast forward to Jesus, whose great complaint against his opponents, political and religious, were that they were always trying to justify themselves, rather than looking at what they could do to contribute to justice, mercy, healing and grace.

I’m working on understanding the difference between being right and being righteous. That work comes out in homilies. One Wednesday after I preached on the theme (preacher preaching to himself), a gracious parishioner sent me the poem included below. It shows that it may be best to forgo defensive posture, and think about what will lead to whole relationships and new life, to growth.

There’s a lot that’s messed up on the national and global scene right now. There’s a lot that can be messed up in our workplaces, churches and families. Things go sideways all the time. The clear call of Jesus to focus on love of God and neighbor (even when that neighbor is the enemy) seems to be a way forward. This Monday morning, consider these questions:
How might you chart that way forward, even in predicaments that tempt you to cast blame on others or to justify yourself?
Can you ask: What is my part?
Can you set your default on mercy, not judgment?
What would it take to view yourself not as hero or victim but as learner?
After my wife and I arrived at a place where we could chuckle about dogs in car, realizing that blame was pointless, the two of us out in the cold, a scruffy looking angel appeared in a pickup with all that was needed to open the door. The dogs were set free. And we could move forward.

-Jay Sidebotham

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow in the spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard where the ruined house once stood.
by Yehuda Amichai
From the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:3-10)
The quality of mercy is not strained; 
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven 
Upon the place beneath. 
It is twice blest; 
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
-Wm. Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice


Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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