Recently, a clergy friend posted on Facebook a complaint about what he perceived to be a hypocritical lapse in compassion on the part of our denomination and its leaders. I don’t know if his complaint is justified or not. What matters for my purpose is the way the comments section spiraled out of control, with both sides pointing fingers at the other: “Who are you to talk? You’re not doing enough to solve the problem!” “No, you’re not doing enough!” That sort of thing.
What struck me is how fervently both sides were arguing that the other side was wrong. I wanted to say, “Guys, can’t you see that both sides are wrong, that you’re all hypocrites—that we’re all hypocrites? None of us is very good at loving our neighbor or being compassionate.”
I remember sitting in a therapist’s office once, confiding in him about a dark episode in my life about which I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. He listened sympathetically, shrugged, and said, “Welcome to the human race.”
Welcome to the human race.
Exactly. We are all miserable sinners. I am. You are. Or haven’t you noticed?
Anne Kennedy has, and she wrote a fine blog post about it yesterday. She said that PepsiCo and United Airlines performed a great service for us last week.
Why? you ask. Well, think about it this way. Part of having technology and ease of lifestyle and a first world context where things basically work is the ridiculous idea that maybe human beings are good. When you’re walking down a shiny grocery aisle picking up the things that you want to eat that aren’t going to kill you, and then you go through the line where you can not only easily get change, you can even get change for a big fat bill without having to argue with the check out person about how that’s impossible, you might be inclined to go home and think that you are good and the grocery people are good and all the people are good. But see, that’s just not true. People are bad. The Pepsi Ad and the United Ugliness show all of us how bad we really are…
See, what’s so beautiful about these two fantastic moments is that they illumine that we are bad and stupid even when (sometimes especially when) we are trying to be good and awesome. Pepsi did not wake up that auspicious morning and say to itself in its tinny multimillion dollar voice, ‘How can I literally offend every single person in the world today?’ They said, ‘How can we get people to buy this gross sugary drink thereby increasing our shareholder whatchamacallit and making all people love us more.” They were trying to do a nice thing.
Likewise, all the people working at United didn’t wake up and think, ‘You know what would be great? Publicly shaming and humiliating and abusing a person who paid us more money than we’re worth for a product we’re not that great at delivering anyway!’…
Finally, bringing her focus back to Holy Week and Good Friday, she writes:
And so God… is able to take all our ‘good intentions’ which lead us directly into the lap of humiliating evil, to bring about the best good ever, which is the salvation of humanity from itself and all its ‘good works’ and ‘good intentions.’ (Sorry about all the scare quotes.)