Wednesday, March 13, 2013

We are all the children of Cain

I was in a hurry to find a parking spot and get a little shopping done. Let me say I was in a big hurry.  But the parking lot was filled.  I drove up and down the rows—desperate to get my shopping done and go home. I was getting more upset by the minute.

Then I noticed the brake lights of a car pulling out. I also noticed a car closer than mine was standing ready, lights signaling.  I quickly signaled also.  And charged into the vacant spot, applauding myself for beating the other car.  I was the winner.

But I was the loser. I had taken a parking spot that didn’t belong to me. I didn’t ram the other car, but I took whatever means I had to win.

Trivial?  Not at all. When we take what we want when we want it, time after time, it becomes part of our nature. Being set aside is not acceptable. We live with the pressure to win. I hated myself for my action. But my need to park seemed most important.  I was following societal protocol. 

Consider this: The coach who can’t produce a winning team is a reject.

The business executive who can’t show a winning balance sheet doesn’t last long.

The TV show that doesn’t make top ratings is dropped.

The pastor who doesn’t make a church grow is voted out through a vote of “non-confidence.” 

The wife who isn’t an asset to her husband’s career is discarded for a newer and fancier model.

Once you the internalize the need to remain on top at any cost – it has the potential for greater anger -- and eventually, violence.

I use the word “violence” deliberately, for all violence is the same, writes Jacques Ellul, whether physical or psychological. They are on a continuum.  Both are life-destroying. Both break relationships. 

Jesus taught that anger is the same as murder, lust the same as adultery--strong words that got former President Jimmy Carter into trouble once.

Violence is as common as dandelions in spring. 

If you have an inconvenient pregnancy, you choose an abortion.

If you’re against abortions, you shoot the abortionist. It happened in our city just a few years go. 

If the infirm are taking too long to die, you neglect them.

If things go wrong at work, or your favorite football team loses, you bang the wife and kids around, or at least holler at them until they’re terrified. Statistics show that domestic abuse increases after a big national game. 

Children take weapons to school to defend themselves against bullying.

When nations or ethnic groups disagree, they slaughter one another.

 “We shoot to kill,” householders warn in today’s  gun rights era.  We are becoming a country armed against ourselves. For many people, violence, shoving people to the bottom by any means  is their way of keeping the world in order. 

Psychological violence comes in many forms, including verbal abuse, gossip, slanted reports, clinging to secrets as a power play, becoming manipulative.

What does our society admire, almost worship?  People with big mean mouths who can neatly cut someone down with a few well chosen labels or phrases. Secretly we wish we could do the same.  

It’s okay to call political leaders the choicest derogatory words in our vocabulary.  It’s a righteous act, patriotic, to show we have strong convictions.

And here’s another point: To condone one kind of violence means condoning all kinds.  When we condone abusing someone with words, we condone hitting that person with a club. Once we start bullying it is hard to stop at just words.

In ancient times, according to Genesis, Eve gave birth to two sons: Cain and Abel. The first became a farmer, the second a sheepherder. Both men brought sacrifices to God: Cain possibly a sheaf of wheat, Abel  a rack of lamb. 

We are not told why God favored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s, but we do know that Cain became angry and killed his brother. He used violence to keep his world arranged the way he wanted it—so he could remain the winner – this time with God. 

Our society has come to believe Cain’s method of dealing with his problem is better than Abel’s.  The violence of Cain will take care of everything. Violence answers all problems.

I believe we are all children of Cain, because we all have Cain’s problem: wanting to get the parking spot when we want it.  

However, we need to read the rest of the story.  God placed a mark on Cain – a sign of God’s grace.  But he also told him he could choose  his actions.  He was a free moral being. He could let sin in or keep it out. Being violent or not violent is a choice—always. 

The writer of Genesis  uses a vivid word picture: “Sin is crouching  at your door.” It is like a wild animal, wanting to get in.  In John Steinbeck's classic East of Eden the servant Lee makes a compelling argument with Cal, one of the twins who are the counterpart to Cain and Abel, about  the glory of human choice when it comes to violence. 

The American Standard version reads “Sin is crouching at your door... but you must master it.” Lee  argues that “must” in the Hebrew is actually “mayest,” (timshell). He wants Cal to know that He has the choice to follow sin or not.  

Choice “makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course....”  

He adds that the human soul is always “attacked and never destroyed” because of the possibility of choice.  To  Lee the human soul is a “glittering instrument.” 

“Thou mayest...” versus "thou must...." 

Choice cuts the feet “from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.” 

When I took that parking spot, I was weak and lazy.   I was one of Cain’s children. But I can choose to yield to keep my soul "glittering."  

We have the choice. We are Cain’s children.  That is his legacy.

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