Thursday, November 7, 2013

i am you and you are me and we are kind of jerks

When I told you about the guy who jacked my car, what did you think of him?

If you had to rate the carjacker and yourself on a scale of one to ten (with ten being good and one being bad), who would you put closer to ten: you, or him?

Probably you, right? After all, when was the last time you stole a car?

If I could bottle the energy we spend trying to feel like we are better than someone (anyone) else, I think I could light up all the darkness everywhere, forever. This seems to be a universal human instinct. It is everywhere, and it provokes us to every kind of ugly thing: from fistfights, to wars, to divorces.

It comes from fear, and is birthed by the belief that the best way to prove that we are lovable is to show that someone else isn't -- at least, not quite as much. We deserve better than they do, we think, because we are better.

And so we scour the world, looking for someone to look down on.

This, I think, is what we mean when we say that we want justice. I think we want those idiots to get what's coming to them, because it'll provide one more layer of proof that they are idiots, and we are better.

So my car gets stolen, and then I find a bunch of laundry in the trunk. The Cops say throw it away. My dad needs a belt, so he eyes the one in the laundry bag. I try on the shoes, and then ask my friends on facebook if they want a pair of 38/32 Aeropostale jeans. Everybody laughs and thinks it's funny, and someone comments and says they were probably stolen, anyway. The dude's a thief, right? He left his parole sheet in the pocket of those jeans, so he must be a hardened, incorrigible criminal. Everything he owns, he has undoubtedly stolen.

Because of this, I'm justified in doing whatever I want with those clothes, right? I mean, this dude's cost me hundreds of dollars. He's cost me time. He's cost me emotional pain. He deserves to lose his stuff, right?

But wait a minute...

These are not my clothes. These are not my shoes, or my laundry basket, or my hot-pink bic lighter. These are not my things at all. I did not buy them, and they were not given to me -- not really.

What about "stealing is wrong"?
What about mercy, grace, and love?
What about "do unto others as you would have them do unto you"?

Forget justice: what about these principles -- the ones I like to yammer on about on this website?

While you may argue that I would be justified in taking them, aren't there some things that are more important than justice? And do I really want to live in a world where an eye is taken for every eye lost?

It's never just an eye. 

The dude jacked my car, and everybody thinks it would be best if the cops caught him and locked him up. And sure, yeah, that might keep him from stealing someone else's car for a while... but seriously?

A young man who has not had my advantages costs me a couple hundred dollars and some inconvenience, and I get to feel all righteous about the thought of him maybe losing a few years of his life over it? Shouldn't I want more for him? Shouldn't I love him better than that? Shouldn't I want the truth to reach down inside him and change him, free him -- turn him into a young man who instead of destroying lives, rebuilds them with love? Shouldn't I want that?

I do. I don't. I do. 

Even after I had decided to call his parole officer and see if he was willing to act as an intermediary to return this young man's property, I still wanted to hang onto the hot-pink lighter. It's just a lighter, after all, and this kid stole a lot more from me than that. He used it to light and smoke a cigar in my car, and I hate the smell of smoke. I have a right to that lighter, and to justice, and to...

I trail off, tired of the sound of my own righteousness.
Tired of justice.
Tired of everything.

Some kid's been ripped off by life -- "stabbed by Satan," as K'Naan would say. Chances are statistically very high that he did not have a loving father like mine. He didn't go to private schools like I did and receive an education, a degree, and a love of learning. So he feels that the powers and principalities of this world have ripped him off, treating him as less a person than he really is. He knows he's better than all that, so he sees some pretentious white a-hole's car parked outside some pretentious white-person playhouse and he thinks, "I'mma have a little fun."

He is absolutely responsible for his decisions, yes. But still... if not for Grace, and years of others investing in me, I too might be stealing cars and God knows what else. Jeans, maybe.

So I am tired of justice. I am tired of the sound of my own righteousness. I am tired of a well so deep, I don't know how we'll ever climb out.

Maybe saying "no" to justice for this dude will provide a rung.

For him, for me... for you.



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5 comments:

  1. WOW, this might be one of the best posts I've ever read. It's so against the grain of how we're trained to think, but as a follower of Jesus I think this is precisely the sort of heart shift I should have when treated unjustly. Of course it's much easier for me to agree with this in a comment than it is to live it out, but I pray my actions will match my beliefs when I face similar circumstances. Thank you for writing & sharing this.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Kaysi. I don't actually behave like this very often, myself :)

      But if my writing can't aspire me toward something better, then what's it even for?

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  2. I never would have thought about the clothes that way. I love having my brain flipped. I'll be chewing on this one.

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  3. I haven't done a survey, of course, but it seems to me that most of my fellow conservatives whom I hear making policy statements about personal responsibility or how one has to earn one's keep by the sweat of one's own brow, if they note their own backgrounds, as they often do, speak of the fine parent or parents whom they looked to as examples in their youth. I'm glad that you included in this what you said about your own father and how likely it is that the chap who jacked your car didn't have such a role model. It is immensely easier for those raised under righteous examples to make righteous choices themselves. Every—and I mean every—habitual offender I see in the criminal justice system had a jacked-up father or no father at all.

    Nice post. And a tip of the hat to Elizabeth Esther, as it was her Saturday Evening such-and-such that directed me here.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Virgil. It's good to know there are compassionate, thinking individuals inside the criminal justice system who are hanging in there, working to make it better. Keep it up!

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