“An emotional triangle is any three members of any relationship system or any two members plus an issue or symptom.” Edwin Friedman
I’ve felt such a hesitation to write recently. Anything I consider posting feels like either reactionary political commentary or, on the opposite extreme, complete avoidance of reality. How do you comment on anything without some response to what is happening daily in Washington DC? It feels like there are only two options; to add to the enflamed, anxious political discourse, or to pretend it doesn’t exist. Both feel terrible.
My heart is heavy over the effects of this past election, over the building confusion and despair, over the lack of predictability for what tomorrow’s news will bring. But deeper still, I feel a deep worry about the emotional state of our own hearts as we lose ourselves in the angry responses, the vitriol, and the accusations. We’ve stopped listening to ourselves, let alone each other. There is an energy behind the issues we type, post, or share that we are not paying attention to. We get numb to it. Soon it is like the air we breathe. If we don’t pay attention to it, I fear, we will be incapable of responding intelligently and with wisdom to the deep concerns of our day.
One of my favorite stories in scripture is Jesus with the woman caught in adultery. It isn’t in the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel, but it sure sounds like him. We need to study more than just what he said. We can learn from what he did. I’m reminded of Dallas Willard’s statement that Jesus was the most intelligent man that ever lived.
In this case, he is being tested by his opponents, the Pharisees, who have caught a couple in the act of adultery but have dragged only the female before the mob. Interesting. They are ready with rocks to carry out the law themselves. Jesus is asked what to do, not because they need his insight, but because there is no response he can make to the angry masses that won’t backfire on him. Either he condemns the girl to death to the satisfaction of the mob, or he extends mercy and grace and trivializes not only her sin, but the law itself.
During the chaotic scene, Jesus pulls out his phone and starts texting somebody. Or maybe he is just looking something up on Wikipedia. Scripture isn’t clear. Actually he bends down and writes in the sand…but same thing. Whatever the case, it isn’t what they’re expecting. They start fidgeting. What’s he doing? The energy starts to dissipate. Jesus, subtly, refuses to be pulled into the anxiety of the mob.
In his timing, without looking up, he simply states, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Do you see what he’s doing? He is, step by step, defusing a bomb. He begins with the environment itself. It is triage. There is an order to this. The sin is not trivial, and yet, in this story, it is the least of his concerns.
The energy behind the mob is his chief concern. He pauses to disarm the false urgency. To take a breath. To allow for actual reflection. Only then does he proceed to the next level… to their own pride. He states, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…” In the quiet space Jesus has created, he unleashes a bomb. It is too much for the mob. One by one they leave.
Sometimes it feels like our computer screens create a similar environment to that of our cars. The distance or space allows for the ugliest sides of us to slip out like road rage. Someone cuts us off and we react with anger and profanity. Someone types something that hits a nerve and we immediately lash out. We strike back.
As our anger flares, our egos take over. We feel righteous. To condemn creates a false sense of virtuosity. The problem is them. They are the enemy. They are the one to be feared. If I can identify the sinner, then suddenly I am without sin.
This is why scripture tells us not to judge. Because we are so bad at it. We can’t help but make it about us. Subjectivity almost always overrides our objectivity. It feels so good to condemn.
Jesus pauses to create some space to breath. He confronts the self-righteousness and the mob dissipates. He is finally ready to talk to the accused. He asks, “where are your accusers?”
“Then I don’t accuse you either. Go and sin no more.”
This is how sin is dealt with. Jesus so wisely separates the behavior from the person. It isn’t she that is condemned, but the action itself. It is beneath her. It is harmful to her. “You are better than this.”
The fact is, Jesus loves her. Not in a way that trivializes sin, but in a way that brings hope. It doesn’t condemn, but points to a greater good. That is the way of peace.
As my mouse pointer wavers over the post button, I remind myself to do a little reflection. To ask a couple of questions.
First, is this a reaction? If so, wait. Wait a day. At least wait til the morning. See if it still feels the same.
If it does, then secondly, what is driving my response? Am I trying to fit into the inner circle? Am I trying to prove my own innocence or superiority over another? In other words, where are my attachments? What is the thing behind the thing?
And lastly, am I speaking truth in love? Either extreme falls short. Truth without love causes such deep harm. Love without truth is…as Lewis puts it, soft soap. But speaking truth gently and courageously brings healing. It brings life. It sets before the other a greater vision. This is what draws us forward…a greater conception of the good and the offer to step further into the love and vision God has for every single person on earth.
What would Jesus post? Words that heal. Words that build up. Words that refuse to puff up the self. Words that cut to the heart, but in a way that affirms God’s loving vision and purpose. These aren’t simply words to follow, but a character for us to imitate. Maybe it isn’t that complicated after all.