Mar 14, 2021
I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like the feeling of knowing I’m wrong or worse in the wrong or even worse still having wronged another. It’s uncomfortable, it’s unsettling, it can be shame-inducing, and it rarely brings out best selves.
Usually, when faced with even the possibility of reckoning or rumbling or repenting of the logs that are in our eyes, we humans do what? Yep, we point out the spec in the eyes of our neighbors. We judge. We condemn. We point our fingers. We blame.
If something goes wrong, we want to know whose fault it is. We discharge our discomfort and pain in what is called blame.* Rather than reckoning and rumbling with the emotions we have, we bounce the hurt off like a rubber. And that old playground adage: I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever is said bounces off of me and back onto you gets magnified until with our (shame) shields up we are bouncing hurt all over.
There was this time— okay, there were many times— when I could not find our precious angel of an indoor cat, Pangur. I looked but she was lost and not found. And the first words out of my mouth are: “Tim, you let Pangur escape” … sigh… “She’s right here, babe.” How many of your go to that place? Something goes wrong and you discharge your pain onto another.
I do this. We do this. Humans do this. (gestures of Genesis 3 - taking and biting a fruit and them being ashamed). (with finger pointing) — The one You put here, that one gave it to me. (tsk/ugh). Me? The serpent deceived me. Blame.
From the beginning, in an effort to craft some control in our mind’s narrative, we blame.
The ancient Israelites when they were wandering in the wilderness, they did this a lot — with each other, with God. The struggled with relying fully on God’s provision; they constantly complained and attempted to craft control for themselves. We heard about one of the more sssstrange consequences from one of these moments today.
In another moment, in a point of early concession to our need to put our (ugh/ick) onto something, we hear about the goat (Leviticus 16:6-10) presented before the Lord to make atonement over it and sent out into the wilderness of Azazel. A goat onto which they could bounce their hurt and take their blame. The King James Version translates this as “scapegoat.”
Can you see this tendency? In the world around you? In your neighbors and loved ones? In yourself?
At Trinity, in our staff and worship team gatherings, there is a goat. It’s a bit fun and funny — in the way that humor has the power to pierce our armor in pastoral ways, but we have a small goat and when you push on it, it screams. (push the goat) For me, it is quirky in all the right ways, and is an outside and visible sign and reminder that if I have the desire to blame something or someone— blame the 🐐. Whose fault was it that the wrong bulletin was posted for the 11:15 service or the wrong name included in a pray? Rather than blame my darling husband who was not even at home at the time because all sorts of reasons that made sense in my head — go for the goat. You get the idea…
It is a bit silly to actually blame a plastic screaming goat. And it is not only silly but also unloving to actually blame another. As Brene Brown says, “blame has an inverse with accountability.” We blame/judge/condemn in part because it is uncomfortable and painful to reckon and rumble with our own emotions, see our own eye’s logs, and examine our own sinfulness. This Lenten work of self-examination and repentance is hard.
And sometimes… when we are finally ready to face those fiery dragons… we hope no one is in around to see. We are like those primordial people hoping they can hid out in the garden and God won’t see them. We are like Nic at night… like Nicodemus coming to Jesus under the cover of darkness when no one can see his imperfections and when no one can hear his confessions… I get it. Jesus gets it. When Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus about those who “do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed” he is speaking to a man who did not come during the light but in the night.
Owning our stuff is hard. Owning it before others is even harder.
Honest? Accountability can only ever get us so far. Does it have value, absolutely — it is a spiritual practice through which our lives can and are transformed more and more into God’s likeness. It is good and hard and holy work, and I hope and pray that you join me in it.
And yet, let me be clear, no amount of work that we do can or will ever do will ever be enough to right the wrongs we have done. There are not enough serpents and scapegoats and spiritual practices in the world to take on the amount of blame, judgment, condemnation, and sin we discharge.
And so, just as the sacrifice that took on the sins of the people, just as Moses lifted up the servant in the wilderness, so too the Son of Man was lifted up. We cannot make this right but our own doing or the result of our works. God made this right. And moreover, God’s making it right — God’s righteousness does not come out of a place of blame or judgment or condemnation but out of love.“By grace you have been saved.” “God so loved the world…” the whole of the world, even those Nicodemus-es who do not come in the light, even those impatient in the wilderness, even those who blame one another in the garden, even those of us who are wrong, and in the wrong, and have wronged others… the world. God so loved the world…
As so as we continue in the hard and holy work of reckoning and rumbling with our own emotions rather than bouncing our hurt onto others through blame, as we continue to ongoing work of self-examination and repentance, my prayer is that as we continue to strive to follow Jesus’ way of love, that we know and experience the depth of God’s love and grace for us.
*Brene Brown in her work on Rising Strong teaches on the many ways we offload hurt on another, including blame. Here is her short youtube video on blame: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZWf2_2L2v8