Monday, June 14, 2010

Oil Spills and Blame

The mess in and surrounding last month's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has caused a lot of people to do some evaluating and introspection, but most of this is going on silently within the individual. Outwardly, it seems that the only option in responding to the horrors of the dead animals, the economic calamity, and the loss of human life is to find someone to blame. As could be expected, most people are blaming BP or the President, or both. But in any case, very few people with the ability to speak out on the matter have responded with anything other than anger and threats towards the party believed to be at fault. As I've processed the situation from afar, my mind has taken towards analyzing this blame onslaught and why it has become such a predictable response to any negative outcome or event in people's lives.

My mind has drifted to my own world, the world of being a follower of Jesus, and how/if blame should fit into my response to anything in the world. I know that I am called to seek justice for the oppressed, and to seek things that are pure and loving. I know that there are obviously bad things caused by people with bad intentions. But I am having a lot of trouble in finding ways that blame can be a kingdom building response.

From my observations, when a Jesus-follower responds with blame, it is mostly tied to anger. For many years of my 'christian life' I was taught that blame was a way to show your disapproval for non-christian things. The high birthrate amongst single mothers was the fault of women being being more promiscuous than they used to be. Issues with gang violence was blamed on the saggy pantsed, rap-music listening young generation. Home foreclosures were due to people being stupid with their money and buying more home than they could afford. Why each of these statements has a degree of truth to them, I believe that blaming people for their decisions is a smoke screen that gives off the appearance of piety and religious devotion, but is actually a cheap substitute for the revolutionary kingdom instituted and described by Jesus.

If we look at Jesus' life and his interactions with people, he undoubtedly came across people that made mistakes. The disciples were idiots at times, he hung around with sinners of all shapes and sizes, and he encountered the results of poor choices/behavior at every turn. And yet, we don't see him responding with blame in these situations. The adulterous woman about to be stoned has always been used as an example of how we have no right to judge another for their actions. But even deeper than that, Jesus' response of grace and renewal shows that his purpose is not in making sure the poor decision maker gets identified. His love for the woman and his desire to see her be all that she was created to be is the underlying theme. What purpose would it have served for him to blame her for being in the position in the first place? I have a sinking feeling that if I were in Jesus' situation, I would have had the urge to tell her that if she wasn't acting like whore she wouldn't have to worry about being stoned. Why is that?

I think that blaming people for things make us feel like we're above bad decision making. It gives us an opportunity to show the world that we are above such things and that being a christian has given us the wisdom to see the results of our behavior. Its almost as if we're saying "How could you do something so awful? Oh right, you're not a christian so you probably to bad stuff like that all the time," with the conclusion being "you need to turn to Jesus because you're obviously terribly deficient in some way." I think we see it as a way of being 'evangelical', of reaching out to spread the gospel. By spotlighting the moral gap between ourselves and non-Jesus people, we are showing others how much they need a savior, right?

But Jesus didn't act this way. He forever destroyed the mistake-blame complex of humanity when he instituted his kingdom. Gone was the need to point out others faults in favor of building people up. His message of true love, regardless of mistakes, is part of what makes it all so revolutionary. He knows that we are prone to doing horrible things, but he loves us anyway. Does he want us to stop doing those things? You bet he does! But he knows that getting to that point requires the individual to understand their real value in spite of the mistakes. He knows that people make mistakes and do bad things because they are trying to fill a hole in their souls. They're missing out on the beautiful being that they were meant to be, and they're settling for a cheap opiate instead. So, blame doesn't fit in with the equation. Blame highlights their faults, and therefore insinuates that without those faults, Jesus will approve of them. If they would only change, they can experience the good life. But the good news says that the hole in their souls can be filled by something pure, perfect and accepting. And the most ridiculous and revolutionary part of it all is the fact that Jesus WANTS to do this for them! Yeah baby!

So why do we blame? I think its because it makes us feel good. It makes us feel self-righteous and it gives off the air of devoutness. It makes us seem devoted to Jesus because we 'stand against' the things that are not of him or his kingdom. We're acting as his purifying agents here on earth, and so Jesus must be pleased with us, right? The only problem with that is the reality that when we are acting this way, we are closing off our hearts to grace and compassion. In saying "what you're doing is wrong and that is why you are where you are", we are closing off the flow of love that Jesus has called us to draw from him and distribute to others with reckless abandon. We simply cannot blame and and understand at the same time. Blame turns the other person into nothing more than the personification of their actions, and therefore makes them evil and wretched beings, undeserving of love. All the while showing us to be the same. I know that many christians have the attitude of "I am showing them love by pointing out their sinfulness. By showing them how bad they are and how far they are from God, they will see the need to come to him." Although this argument sounds logical, it wasn't the method that Jesus used to draw people to him. The sad thing is that, I think, most of us use blame and condemnation as a substitute for the true kingdom life because we don't want to get our hands dirty. Its far easier to condemn from afar than to get into the middle of people's problems and risk losing our own comforts and lifestyle. The best place to understand this is to look at the Pharisees and how they formed a life that looked righteous, but underneath was just as, if not more, messed up than those they claimed to be superior to.

So if we are the messengers of a Jesus who is chomping at the bit to put other's hearts at ease, we should aim to be agents of that good news. When something is wrong, even if it is anti-Jesus and sinful, we have no right to go about blaming and shaming others. In doing that we are delivering a different message, a different gospel all together. Our blame needs to be replaced with a deep understanding of our own faults and our own acceptance at the same time. That will cause us to look deeper at the person who has done wrong. We will begin to see them as Jesus does, with a soul deficiency that has an amazing cure! We will burn with a desire to see them become whole again. We will begin to see their sinful actions as a symptom of a greater problem that is caused by a lack of love and acceptance that WE have in overwhelming abundance! When we treat the sinner's symptoms from the inside out, that is when behavior changes. To think that changing behavior first is part of God's plan, we are guilty of following a false gospel. A gospel in which we are better than others.

So when we encounter something wrong, let us strive to be agents of love and peace. Rather than blaming, lets seek to understand why the other person felt the need to do what they did. Lets look deeper to find the scared and incomplete person that is behind the action. Only then will have the opportunity to show the world what we have. Only then, will the revolution spread like wildfire.