ADVENT 2017 — Contempt

I am blogging this Advent from #decolonizelutheranism’s Advent devotional, Shut Up. (That would be the sanitized version)

We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us. (Psalm 79:4 ESV)

How do you lament when you are the cause of your own misfortune? When all you have done has brought it about.

In elementary school — from the middle of fourth grade through the end of sixth, to be precise — I was bullied. Incessantly. And fairly mercilessly. And by just about everybody.

I was miserable and scared.

And I felt friendless and alone much of the time.

It was not my fault. None of the abuse heaped upon me — especially from my fifth grade teacher — was earned. A time or two I got the hackneyed advice “to have friends, you must be a friend” but had no idea what that actually meant. Or how to do it.

I hate how we talk about fault and blame. I remember, back in the late 1990s, listening to a conversation among European leftists on the BBC about the Bosnian War. There was much hand wringing over how to feel about the Bosnians, because they fought back, and thus were not properly innocent victims.

The only proper victims, the only kind you could have any sympathy for, were those who went uncomplaining and unresisting to the gas chamber.

There is only innocence and guilt. Those who are innocent, who have done nothing to earn their fate, we move mountains and drain oceans for. To those who make poor choices, who bring their misfortune upon themselves, who struggle and rage, we owe them nothing. Not sympathy, not understanding, not mercy.

There is no damnation fiery enough for the guilty.

What happened long ago was not my fault, but I have come to believe it was also more complicated than that. I had a responsibility to figure out how to live in the midst of that community, and that community had a responsibility to show me how, and to make a place for me. We both failed. And I paid a terrible price.

Responsibility. We don’t like that word anymore, not when lawyers whisper that any admission puts authorities and institutions at risk. The ELCA had a similar responsibility to show me how to fit in and make a place for me, and they failed. I tried this time. I really did. But I was not blameless either, I made many mistakes, more than was acceptable, and it ended up being easier simply to cast me aside and throw me away.

I am 50, and it is too late for me now.

One of the reasons the story of Israel, the cry of the prophets, so resonates with me is that Israel is responsible for much of misfortune and suffering it experiences. Israel, through Joseph’s clever saving of the world during famine, built the Egypt that would later enslave them. Israel would then go on, whenever the opportunity presented itself, to worship something fashioned by human hands, something that had not saved them and never could. And pay a price for it. Every time.

We forget this. It’s easy to. We’ve turned the story of Israel into a law-giving triumph that ends with Jesus conquering the world, and we sympathize with Israel such we forget their sin.

And why Jesus really came in the first place.

Every lament Israel screams into the emptiness in scripture is a response to the suffering Israel has earned. That makes it no less painful to be taunted by neighbors, conquered by empires, and cast to the four winds. To know you will never live to see your promised redemption.

We forget that the lament of sorrow and pain, the wail for justice, the plea for rescue, is cried out by a people who are not merely unfortunate, but are guilty.

And who know it.

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