Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Big Bully

every valley exalted, every mountain and hill made low
-the desert outside my retreat house-

As I drove along in my car yesterday, I listened to an NPR radio broadcast about the growing phenomenon of "Bullying in Our Schools." Upon hearing this I was immediately reminded of a radio story that I had heard earlier of a young 12 year-old boy. His classmates labelled him, "Gay," and because of that he was subjected to a continuous barrage of endless, nasty bullying - most of which took place on the internet.

The boy's mother had approached school officials who, while sympathetic, essentially said that there was nothing they could really do to stop bullying on the internet. 

One day, while cooking dinner. the boy's mom noticed that the door to her son's room was closed and there was an unusual silence within. When she finally opened the door, she found her beautiful child, an electrical chord wrapped around his neck, hanging dead from a rafter. The story brought me to tears.

Whenever someone has power and uses that power to humiliate, crush and oppress someone else who has less power and is weaker, bullying occurs. Bullying isn't confined to our nation's schools, it happens everyday, everywhere. In the world, our nation, at work, home, school - bullying seems to be ingrained in the character of our humanity.

The dominant race bullies the minority; the rich crush the poor and the weak; citizens bully immigrants and foreigners; the educated bully the unschooled; the dominant religion bullies minority religions...and on and on it goes. Those who have power use it to crush those who have less power or no power.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that God, the supreme source of power, would be imagined and portrayed as a big bully- the all powerful almighty one sitting on a throne, judging and condemning  poor lowly sinners- God, the "Bully of All Bullies."

The fact is that, when it comes to using power over others, we have it all wrong, all upside down. It may well be that the stronger use their power to crush the weak, but that is a flaw in our human condition.  It is not how we are designed. 

The wisdom of all the major world religions and the discoveries of contemporary sciences  all present a   picture of the creation as being dynamically inter-related and woven into one cosmic web. In the natural order, every tiny quark, atom, rock, tree, river, person, nation and culture in this web is significant and intrinsically valuable. 

So when anyone uses power to crush or bully anyone else - it's an unnatural act - an act that violates the principles of creation.

And, contrary to popular opinion, in the biblical tradition, God is hardly a big bully. In fact, the opposite is true. In the biblical picture, God is a great leveling force - bringing down those on high mountains and exalting those in the valleys of life- the high and the mighty and the meek and lowly all on a level plane, all sitting together in a place of equal dignity at the table of life.

There are two beautiful (and illustrative canticles), one from the Hebrew Scriptures, the other from the Gospels:

God raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap and gives them a seat next to kings and princes as everyone inherits a throne. (Hebrew-"Song of Hannah")

God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. (Gospels:"Magnificat")

In the Buddhist tradition we see the young Guatama Buddha born into royalty, leaving behind his throne to live among the poor and lowly, teaching his disciples that every sentient being is to be equally valued and equally respected, all inter-related in one dynamic flow of interconnection.

God is no bully, and we human beings are called to rise above our bullying tendencies. By doing so, we become more fully human. We have it all upside down: The strong are called to lift up the weak, the ones who have a voice called to be a voice for the voiceless. 

A mother came to school officials about the bullying of her "Gay" son. She was told "there is nothing we can do about it." I wish it had been turned upside down:  "we will do everything we can to stop it." 



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