“The God I was told about in church, and still hear about from time to time, runs about like an anxious schoolmaster measuring people’s behavior with a moral yardstick. But the God I know is the source of reality rather than morality, the source of what is rather than what ought to be.” – Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
A couple of years ago, for reasons that neither of us remember, my husband read Little Big Man, by Thomas Berger, out loud to me. The following year, for reasons that neither of us remember, we revisited the activity and my husband read aloud Stoner, by John Williams. A novel that the New York Times hailed as “a perfect novel,” we found so depressing, we quickly moved on to Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter in order to cheer ourselves up.
And because I love nothing better than hearing my own writing read aloud and for reasons neither of us remember, my husband is in the habit of indulging my ego, he generally reads my blog postings to me after I post them.
We’re going to be changing that tradition. Because last Saturday, I posted something that, fifteen minutes after it went online, I realized was a BIG FAT FIB!
I yanked the posting, but not before it hit the email inboxes of I don’t know how many subscribers to Marian the Seminarian. My sincere apologies to those of you who have already read it. I can’t give you back the five minutes you wasted, but maybe if you send me your mailing address, I can send you a Starbucks card or something.[i]
For those of you fortunate enough to have missed it, the essence of the posting went like this. I had had a bad day. One of my Facebook friends posted something I found personally offensive. She and I got into it on Facebook. I let her have the last word and spent the next two hours composing a saccharinely self-righteous blog post about how I was going to work on the problem of me. No hard feelings toward my friend; just a wonderful learning opportunity, informed by the book of James.
Which was, not to put too fine a point on it, utter bovine excrement.
Because as my husband was reading it to me, I realized that I had no intention of working on “the problem of me.” I had no aspirations of making nice with my friend; truth be told, I’m thinking she and I don’t even need to be Facebook friends anymore. So, why, why, did I post something so sickeningly pious?
Well, isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do? Aren’t we supposed to affirm the moral high ground, embody the best of human behavior, and model the purest of Christ-like attitudes and actions?
Now that I’ve had a few days to think about it, I think the answer is: not necessarily. Not if our integrity is at stake.
The fact is that what passes for morality in our culture is often nothing more than manners. Morality is all about what we do. Because it’s all about us, morality can obfuscate and, at worst, justify an awful lot of nasty shit.
The kind of nasty shit that my friend posted to her Facebook page. The kind of nasty shit that says that civil rights trump human rights. That some Americans are more worthy than others to express themselves publically and to vote lawfully; to choose their own lifestyles and life mates; to exist. That people living outside acceptable white middle-class behavior norms are bad; perhaps, even demonic.
The kind of nasty shit that Christians all too often try to remedy with niceness, correct behavior, and correct belief.
Last weekend, I fell ass-over-teakettle into the twin temptations of morality and piety. And even though it only took me fifteen minutes to recognize what I’d done, I’m afraid some of you wound up on the receiving end of an orientation I simply don’t ascribe to.
Good behavior for good behavior’s sake is not going to save our relationships, our world, or our souls. However, exercising our integrity might, even in its least attractive guises. Because God does not inhabit morality. God inhabits reality.
In this situation, integrity for me means disengaging from the Facebook field of battle with my friend. But I’m not ready to apologize to her; frankly, I’m not sure I should. The least I can do right now – to stop escalating the conflict – may truly be all I can do in the end.
Thankfully, God is accustomed to working with “the least” of these.
[i] This, too, is a BIG FAT FIB!
© Marian the Seminarian, 2012