The default setting in American public life these days seems to be anger. It’s an odd way to limp into the season of colorful eggs, flowers, butterflies and bunny rabbits — all signs of Easter, of springtime, and life beginning anew.
Those symbols stand in contrast to town-hall shout-downs, bricks thrown through windows, spitting, threats and epithets.
Vice President Joe Biden dropping a celebratory “f-bomb” within earshot of White House microphones. Leaders raging in violent language, then expressing surprise when others respond with violent actions.
When Texas Congressman Randy Neugebauer shouted “Baby killer!” during a speech by Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, it brought back echoes of the “peace” activists who used that phrase and others to antagonize U.S. servicemen returning home from the Vietnam War.
Neugebauer later apologized, but like South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson of “You lie!” fame, he immediately began running campaign fundraising ads capitalizing on the behavior he just claimed to be sorry for. To be sure, Stupak is cashing in on the incident, too.
You could say those guys are apologizing all the way to the bank. If there seems to be something backwards about that to you, join the club.
I’d say we all could use an Easter recess, like Congress, to re-focus tired minds and embittered hearts.
At the center of Easter tradition is someone whose listeners frequently addressed as “teacher.” No matter your faith tradition, or lack thereof, his words are a mirror we can hold up to our lives and perhaps learn something by what we see.
In his most famous message, called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered guidelines for living known as The Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful …,” “Blessed are the peacemakers …” and all the rest that many of us learned in Sunday school, but routinely abandon in our daily thinking and behavior.
In a culture that embraces winning at all costs, that encourages us to put ourselves first, we practically have turned those familiar phrases around 180 degrees.
Blessed are the poor in spirit? Instead, we say blessed are those rich in self-confidence, for they will climb the ladder of success.
Blessed are those who mourn? We say blessed are those who show no sympathy, because sympathy is only a sign of weakness.
Blessed are the meek? We say blessed are the assertive, because they will get to the front of the line while others have to wait.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? We say blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the latest gadgets and fashions, for buying them supports the economy.
Blessed are the merciful? We say blessed are those who show no mercy, for when others stumble, it’s their chance to leap ahead.
Blessed are the pure in heart? We say blessed are the worldly wise, for they will enjoy life’s pleasures.
Blessed are the peacemakers? We say blessed are those who divide and conquer, for they will be re-elected.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness? We say blessed are those who effectively play the role of martyr, for they will rally the faithful.
A few years ago, Yale Law School student Amelia Rawls wrote a column for the Washington Post, pointing out something she had noticed about being surrounded by America’s “best and brightest.” They were high-minded and high-achieving, but they weren’t always nice to be around.
“Some of these students will denounce world hunger but be unfriendly to the homeless,” wrote Rawls. “They will debate environmental policy but never offer to take out the trash. They will believe vehemently in many causes but roll their eyes when reminded to be humble, to be generous and to ‘do what is right.’
“It is these people, though, who often climb America’s ladder of success,” she continued. “They rise to the top, partly on their own merits yet also partly on the backs of equally deserving but ‘nicer’ people who let them steal the spotlight. Before they, or we, know it, they are the politicians and corporate executives subverting the very moral positions they espouse. They are the (frighteningly) many figureheads who purport to be leaders even as they embarrass our country and mar our history books.”
Christians call this Holy Week. In Jewish tradition, it is Passover — the commemoration of the release of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. What if we could shake off some of the bondage of anger that shackles us today? Each of us holds the key to that chain.
It’s spring. Consider the lilies. Play nice at Easter recess. Pick a beatitude, any beatitude, and make it your own. I don’t know if our political system can change, but I am confident people can.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org.