It was an ordinary Friday Morning, January 22, 2016, to be exact. I was straightening up my kitchen, doing meds and trying to make some resemblance of order on the counter where everything gets stashed, when a story came on NPR’s Morning Edition. I was half listening, half off in another world when something caught my ear. For real!
The announcer was talking about acts of violence that were blamed on ISIS, when there is no verifiable connection between the perpetrator(s) and the ISIS organization. The phrase that caught my attention was this: “The attacks dubbed as ISIS-inspired in this country have tended to be the work of what law enforcement officials call ‘classic injustice collectors.'” (Dina Temple-Raston) (*See link at the end of this post if you wish to read the entire story) The commentator went on to say that these are people who have been nursing various resentments for years, and when someone or something happens to push them too far, they “re-invent themselves, using whatever cause will give them a greater sense of purpose as well as . . . publicity.”
“Classic Injustice Collectors.” That phrase stuck in my mind as I reviewed some events that I’ve been spectator and party to over the last months, and with a pang I realized that it is that business of “injustice collecting” that often plays havoc in my life and in the lives of people I love. As people of principle, it’s easy for us to accumulate the injustices of our world and the circles in which we move, and to have a sense of being called to bring justice. Especially if it is people we love.
Let me hasten to add that there are injustices of the world that we ought to address. The poor, the prisoner, the alien, the defenseless and enslaved. We should never hold back from doing what God has moved on our hearts to do. But there are many other things that I’m reminded of with vivid (and regrettable) clarity. There have been so many situations where I have chosen to let my feelings run away with me (“I’d rather be mad!”) or wanted my own way enough to withdraw (“If you don’t play my way, I’ll just take my ball and go home!). Over and over again, it’s easy to think that people are being insensitive or intentionally hurtful when in fact they are just unaware of how a particular thing might be looking to us and might be unaware of what it is that we desperately want or need.
And yes, that can be hurtful, too. To think that people don’t care enough to find out what it is that we need, or how we feel or where we are vulnerable can really add to our sense of inadequacy, unimportance or injury. And so, we collect the injustices like it’s our job, tallying them up, holding them seethingly in our hearts and then, one day when no one, (maybe/probably not even ourselves) is expecting it, it all comes pouring out in the name of a cause that it somehow felt right for us to align ourselves with. And people are surprised at our venom, confused by our alleged motives, frightened by our rampage and bewildered in the aftermath. (Where did that come from, and why?)
I find this especially hurtful in the Family of God, but I’m suggesting it is nearly as prevalent here as in general society. We are “Classic Injustice Collectors” with a spiritual twist. And sometimes it’s so easy for me to justify what I am feeling with a Biblical injunction or instruction. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a part of a church family. About how easy it is to carry a grudge quietly or to be so thin skinned that almost anything can set the wrong way with me. And this morning, again, I was thinking about the words of Jesus when He said that we are to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, bless when we are cursed, pray for the ones who persecute us. And the words in Corinthians when we are instructed to give up our rights for our brothers and sisters and that we are to forgive.
Forgive. That’s the word right there. The only way to living free of the bondage of having to collect is to forgive. Where else in all the world is there a word that encapsulates a loosening of chains like this one? I looked up synonyms for this word and some of them are extravagantly descriptive. (“dismiss from mind” “bear no malice” “wipe slate clean” “allow for” “bear with”) Words that would change the state of my heart as well as my outlook if I were to just live there!
I honestly believe that it’s impossible on our own. And when I say, “that’s what GRACE is for,” I know it sounds trite, overused and simplistic. But it’s still Truth. God’s GRACE, extended so freely to us, is the means by which we extend grace to others, offer forgiveness, live in forgiveness, and empty out that collection of offenses.
We all have things that we feel we have to have, or we want deeply. I really like it when I can feel understood. Even if someone doesn’t agree with me, if they understand where I’m coming from, that feels good. There are a few other areas that are very important to me, and I’ve written and re-written this paragraph as I’ve tried to defend myself against past charges. It suddenly occurred to me that I was collecting offenses again, as I thought about complaints that have troubled me that I wish I could somehow straighten and disagreements over petty things that I’ve allowed to fester in this old heart. Some of these are as old as our marriage. Some are a recent as this week. Will I never learn?
And so, tonight, once again, I turn a heart that knows the darkness of the suffocating blanket of offense to the light of God’s truth and the blaze of His Holiness. May He shed light and truth and peace into those corners where old affronts and injuries (real or imagined) cower, awaiting the chance to rear their unseemly heads. And may the freedom wrought by their dispersal be that which will lead more than this Delaware Grammy Home.
I’m not able to do this. But I know the One who is.
For this and for so much more, my heart gives grateful praise.