After a night's sleep, some morning coffee, a gently prodding yet compassionate note from a friend, I was able to regain the focus that had been so skewed last night. On the ride to church, I was able to do some thinking, and I came to some pretty profound realizations.
First, what happened last night was I got triggered. My past stuff got brought right to the surface in a very uncomfortable way. Once again I was a scared kid in the schoolyard, pushed and shoved by kids who fit in and laughed at by everyone, with no one to step in and protect me. Once again I was being bullied at home, humiliated and shamed, screamed at and threatened, and nobody -- no other parent, no grandparent, no aunt, no cop, no neighbor -- came to my aid. I would go outside afterward, knowing that the neighborhood had heard me scream and cry and be ashamed that I was bad and had been punished and they all knew. If I could hear their dinner table conversations in a summer evening from my bedroom, I knew they could hear me screaming and begging from inside my house.
The time I speak of, I was 11. It sucked.
So I was triggered by the idea of an adult who, in my mind, could do something to stop a kid from being bullied, but who did not.
And then there is the other side of that coin.
I am not a huge fan of the concept of sin, but I will use it in this instance.
The sins that weigh heaviest on my soul are the instances in which I could have stepped in to stop a bully but I did not, for whatever reason. I think I have told the story here about a young kid who wanted to wear an outrageous t-shirt to a political march, and some adults took him aside and pressured him to change his shirt so as not to offend anyone. They used their positions of authority as adults to bully this kid into conforming to what they thought he should be. I didn't intercede on his behalf, and it has eaten at me ever since.
So what I've got is a basic case of Freudian reaction-formation: what I cannot abide in myself, I shall loathe in others. I will hold others to a standard that I fail to meet. Ouch.
Oh dear. So it seems that my rage and self-righteous indignation last night are really all about my own shit. Well, ain't that a grand Sunday morning kind of revelation? Hmph.
The question that faces me now, as I begin my path as a minister who must be concerned with people's hearts and not an activist concerned with the often heartless world of politics, has to do with compassion and not judgement. The former will be my job. The latter will not. Nor, for the record, is it now.
How, then, do I arrive at a place of compassion without first wanting to smack someone soundly in the chops? How do I get to a place where I can meet a person where they are and lead them gently to where they can be?
Yes, kids are dying. Yes, this is urgent. But urgency on my part is not necessarily enough to overcome a lifetime of shame and fear in someone else's present.
There is much for me to learn.