Not long ago, I suffered a petty injustice. To make it worse, I was maneuvered or manipulated into a situation where I was offered two unpalatable choices. I decided to take the more generous path and put the matter behind me. I went on with my life. In the grand scheme of things, the whole situation was tiny.
Yet the experience rankled. I found myself getting furious thinking about it. I was angry that the episode was handled so ungraciously and furious because I felt I had been "played." And more furious when I contemplated that I was "played" over something so small.
I had realized awhile ago that the person I labeled "the antagonist" carried a vein of anger under a smiling facade.
I could say that I've been that person -- and I'm sure I have and that we all have at one time or another in our lives if we're honest with ourselves-- but I don't want to go in that direction.
What struck me as I've thought about this was the viral nature of anger. This angry person was transferring his or her own pent-up rage to me. I've noticed that angry people do this, trying to alleviate their own anger by radiating it out or transfering it to others. We spread rage quickly by wronging others because we've been wronged, by retaliating, by gossiping.
I was reminded of the Westboro Church. This "church" came to Westminster. Md. when I was working for the newspaper there. The Westboro people protest at the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq to publicize their belief that the Iraq war is God's judgement on the U.S. for tolerating homosexuality. They were due to protest at the funeral of a young local man killed in Iraq.
As religion reporter, I went to their Web site to find out more about them. The Web site spewed hate. It wasn't religious at all. It was the rantings of people filled with toxic levels of anger.
As we discussed the Westboro group in the newsroom -- the kind of language they were using to describe gay people as well as their plan to disrupt the funeral of grieving parents-- we grew angrier and angrier until one editor said "if I had a gun, I'd go and kill these people."
At that point, we realized we were being infected by their hate and becoming the thing we loathed. They were, with extreme efficiency -- a Web site and some foul language -- transmitting their anger and hostility to us. We were quickly turning into them.
Jesus understood the power of anger and hate to radiate outward and spread. He must have seen this phenomenon often in occupied Israel in the first century. He recognized how destructive it was and also that it could be--always--overcome with love. Love could radiate outward. Radical forgiveness could stop the hate in its tracks and replace it with a spirit that would allow all of us to become more fully human/humane.
So I decided, as an act of will, to love the person who'd wronged me. I made a choice not to get sucked into the vortex of hate. I didn't react or say any of the things I could have said. I kept my lips zippered.
I knew, however, that I would need grace not to harbor a grudge.
So I prayed for grace.
As it happened, this same person very recently did something generous and uncalled for to help me. Suddenly, I felt lighter, as if a weight I had been lugging around had lifted. I felt a surge of genuine good feeling toward this individual that was not merely an act of will or smug moral superiority. I felt grateful I had turned the other cheek and not said a word. I experienced the grace of knowing that demonstrably imperfect people can do things that are kind and good.
I know such stories don't often have a happy ending and that working through the injustice when the pain is not alleviated is much more difficult. But I wanted to celebrate this story and its good outcome.