May 3rd “A Cat’s Temptation to Bite and Scratch”

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

As you probably know, Meg and I have a black and white “tuxedo” cat named “MacDuff.”  Most of the time, he is very affectionate and prefers to sleep in our laps or close beside us.  He will even play fetch from time to time.  On the other hand, MacDuff is still a little predator.  We joke that he thinks that he is a panther.  Unfortunately, when he gets into occasional moods of attack, he often attacks our hands.  What is really difficult is when he tries to pounce on our feet as we are walking through the house. If you watch him getting ready to pounce, you can tell that he’s excited.  Very often in his attacks, he gives every indication of being happy.

If you have any experience with online communication like the websites named “Facebook” and “Twitter,” you will see many verbal attacks that look almost gleeful.  Instead of self-restraint, people will attack other people and ideas from every angle.  There are the people who say offensive things and offended people who fire back at them.  There are also many people who try to share their thoughts and feelings in a meaningful way, but they still get attacked. No matter the stance you take, someone may attack you for it.

Some people find value in these services because they can keep in touch with family and friends.  They can share life events on the big scale or the small scale.  But it’s a lot like living in one of those Wild West TV shows of the past.  No matter what nice things happen in Dodge City or Tombstone, there is the inevitable bar-room fistfight… or a gunfight down the center of Main Street.

Some people will argue that it is a good thing that so many people get to vent their anger and frustration online, but I think these online squabbles are making life much more contentious and difficult in our daily lives.  It was much better when people vented in their letters to the editor of the local newspaper.  Since it wasn’t instant, it gave people more time to cool down and consider their words.  It also benefited from being less anonymous.  Then again, there was also an editor with some grasp of reality, the law, and the rules of civil discourse.

This kind of behavior is addictive.  If you vent your anger and dis-satisfaction every day, you actually become angrier.  If you take joy in saying something clever against an idea or a person you don’t like, it is making you more of a predator.  You can justify yourself by saying that you are winning people over to your point of view, but, even if you are, you are also strengthening your opposition.  Think about how boxers train; they get better by practice in attack and defense.

It is fine to support the good and productive things you believe in, but if you take joy in attacking those opposed to you, you are on a slippery slope into mob mentality.

Here is an example of mob mentality from the Matthew 27:15-26:

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.  At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas.  So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”  For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.   While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”   But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.  “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.   “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”  All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

There is something beautiful about large gatherings of people fed and taught by Jesus, but there is something very ugly about crowds like the one who cried for the death of Christ.  When crowds are built up to a frenzy of anger they are capable of terrifying behavior.  The common theme to mob mentality has nothing to do with race or creed; the common thread is the primal instincts of predators.  We like to think of humans as docile creatures in ancient times, but we have a love of attack that can bring us a terrible joy where we leave behind our humanity.

Many parts of the internet are showing signs of mob mentality, by giving us freedom to vent our anger and frustration.  But it really isn’t “venting” or” letting off steam. ” Instead we are blowing air on the glowing coals of our inner demons.  Instead of being an example of how Democracy works, it is showing that the spirit of Democracy can be defeated by hatred and partisanship.

So, please give a thought to self-control.  I know it can be hard.  I stay in touch with family and friends on Facebook, and it sometimes takes an effort to not be provocative or become defensive.  Instead of saying things that are political, I am trying to post more pictures of my cat and quotations that have special meaning for me.  If I feel myself slipping back into a confrontational mode, I think I will give up on Facebook entirely.  But for the moment, I am still trying to maintain a voice of reason and compassion.  But even as I say that, the voice of reason isn’t usually heard over the noise of the Wild West fistfight or gunfight.  I will probably give up on Facebook pretty soon.

As for MacDuff the cat, Meg and I are trying to help him overcome his most violent outbursts.  We understand that he is a little predator that would like to have a chance to pursue prey, but we are trying to help him to control his urges so he will stop scratching up our hands.  We love the little guy, and we know that some scratches are bound to happen, but he is a house-cat and needs to learn a little more self-control.

I’ll close with the Bible verse I posted on Facebook, yesterday:

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,

and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,

and discerning if they hold their tongues.

Proverbs 17 27-28

Blessings,

Pastor Rick