I have generally been a fighter. It is my first response when faced with threat—to fight. It is not the reaction that most expect from a priest. But I guess that people do not get to choose our fight/flight reaction. It may be like being left/right handed or even being gay or straight. Acute stress response is programmed by the part of the brain that is pre-human. I am sure it is rooted in our DNA. But because we are human, we are able to moderate how to respond to stress thereby making the natural instinct more confusing.
Even as a small child I was called ‘pugnacious’. It was the way that I could get my ideas heard. And even today, while I don’t get physical, I love a good fight. I learned how to fight with words. And many of us who are preachers have learned to fight this way too. I love a good theological argument. I love turning a topic over in my mind finding good ways to describe my point and the perfect statement that not only describes my ‘side’ but often destroys the other’s argument. Verbal fisticuffs are as much of part of my fight repertoire as any politician or any backyard bully, I am sad to say. I am drawn to verbal warfare. I love to do it; I love to hear good arguments. I love turning phrases over in my head to combat another’s riposte. I love listening to good debate. I love to listen to Rachel Maddow and John Stewart on politics just as surely as I love to listen to the Prophets of Hebrew scripture. And yet…And yet….
Such fight reaction is ultimately self-defeating. And it certainly defeats the message of the Gospel Jesus Christ. I might add that flight is as debilitating to the Christian message as is fighting. It keeps one from entering into relationship. Fight/flight ultimately denies our humanity, our ability to know the other intimately and live peacefully. Fight or flight may be natural to organisms and necessary for our continuance as a species, but it ultimately denies the integrity of the Incarnation—the godliness to which we are called.
Advent began yesterday with that wonderful collect:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of
darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of
this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit
us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come
again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the
dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and
Christ’s coming was the route for God to show us that human life is not about living ‘naturally’. And even though fight/flight is a natural reaction, the call of Christ to live fully into the Incarnation is to overcome our ‘natural’ state. As those embraced by a God who chose to ‘visit us in great humility’ we are empowered by the Spirit to overcome that which makes us bellicose, argumentative, or even competitive. During Advent it is incumbent on me to challenge myself to put away tendencies that take me away from the vision of Peace that Christ embodies. I cannot allow myself to choose to fall into ‘fight or flight’ simply because it an inherent way to live.
The unrest that marks this age cannot continue to be the order of the day. Whether on the national and international level or in my own home, my faith must call me to a different way of looking at the world—not in competitive ‘we-they’ images, but in communal ‘us-us’ metaphors. And as I look at my own vocabulary, it is hard to envision a non-competitive world. What is it about life that says I MUST contend in order to know what it is to be human? I must find ways of looking at and describing the world with images that replicate the deep call to oneness that Jesus’ life proclaimed. The earliest depictions of Christ we have is not the cross or of the King of Glory. Christ was known as a shepherd—one who cared for his sheep.
It is this question that faces me in the first week of Advent this year: How may I make Christ known without it being a competition? How can I find a way to teach Christ without playing ‘one-up’ in my verbal descriptions? How can I live more as if life isn’t a struggle for dominance? May this question be the theme for the Coming of God in my life during this new liturgical year.