I have this memory that has remained on the top 100 list in my mind since a November afternoon in 1973. I was in the seventh grade that year and school had just been dismissed. As always, I walked home. The long trek from school to home, as I considered the memory, was miles of traversing through neighborhoods, across a creek and several fields. (Just for giggles, I looked it up. According to Google it was actually just under one mile.) I had just crossed from my school onto the elementary school parking lot across the street. There was a noisy crowd of Jr. High kids standing in a circle. I walked up closer to see what was going on. I remember thinking that it might be something “cool” and I didn’t want to miss my chance at being one of the kids, in the know, at school the next day.
As I looked at the faces of the young teens gathered around, I saw wide toothy grins and eyes that danced with excitement. The scene made me smile in response. Then I caught sight of the two shirtless boys at the center of the gathering. They both stood stiff-jawed and slightly crouched, ready to fight! One with his back to me and the other directly across. The boy I was facing looked more afraid than angry. His light brown hair a stark contrast to his bright red face. I knew instantly that this confrontation was not his idea. His forehead was beaded with sweat and every muscle in his body tensed. He didn’t want to fight. He tried to save face by saying things that made fighting sound stupid. The crowd answered back by calling him ‘sissy’ and other similar but much more vulgar names. Someone shouted “fight, fight, fight!” and quickly several more kids shoved their fists in the air as they joined in the chant. The other boy’s back was to me so I couldn’t see his face or read his expression. I could sense he was angry but he didn’t seem to be afraid like the other boy did.
The cheering confused me. The smiling faces confused me. Why did they want this fight? Why would anyone enjoy it? I wanted to walk away but a vague sense of guilt left me feeling like I should stay. I was worried about the boy. He was a stranger to me, but he was afraid and it felt wrong to turn my back on him. Then it happened. The boy whose face I couldn’t see lunged forward and threw the first punch. I heard the sound of his fist as it slammed into the body of the other boy. Not like the sound effects in a movie where the noise exists only to convince the audience a punch took place. This was a solid, heavy, brutal sound that conveyed real pain. I can still hear it. The sound seemed to reverberate in my stomach. The boy cried out in pain. My stomach turned and my heart sank. He tried backing away from the swinging fists aimed for his face but the crowd behind him prevented him. They shoved him forward, shouting, laughing and taunting him. I couldn’t watch. As I turned to leave I caught sight of the large, fist sized, red marks that had already begun appearing on the face, chest and back of the poor boy who had hoped he wouldn’t have to fight.
I walked away as fast as I could, trying not to break out into a full speed run. Away from the thudding sound of fist to flesh. Away from the screaming, cheering crowd. I didn’t slow down until I couldn’t hear it anymore.
Long after, I couldn’t get the face of the boy or the fear in his eyes out of my head. I couldn’t get the sound out of my head. More than forty years later the physical memory isn’t as clear, but the emotional memory is as sharp as ever. But, all these years later, more than anything else, I’m still troubled by the mentality of the crowd. How could anyone be so callous?
Sadly, that callousness is repeated a thousand times in a thousand ways every single day… and not just on school yards filled with children.
What is it about human nature that enjoys a spectacle even if it is at the expense of someone else’s dignity or well-being? We see people being humiliated and hurt in every arena of life and there always seems to be those who view it as entertainment. From the sidelines of a street fight, a picket line and even their computer keyboards, people shout their scathing opinions and words of judgment. Without mercy they pummel others with insults or words of condemnation… some do it with a microphone or a YouTube video, while others, more furtively, by ‘liking’ or reposting carefully curated toxic waste on social media. “Fight, fight, fight!”
I’d love to say that Christians are never like that, but that wouldn’t be true. Pick any controversy on the internet perceived as a threat to the Christian worldview and you need only look as far as the comments section to find an endless supply of bullies either throwing punches or cheering on those who do. It’s a facet of our humanity that seems to completely lack… well, humanity.
Christian, this should not be true of you. We should take no part in the wounding or public humiliation of others. It is wholly beneath us. We are called out of the world and into a life governed by love and peace. Yes, there are things that make us angry. Yes, there are things that we should stand up for and others we should stand against. But we should never come off looking like bullies with a Bible.
Ephesians 4:26 says “In your anger do not sin”
We are at our greatest risk of dishonoring our head when we are angry. The reputation of Christ is at stake when we behave badly while, at the same time, claiming the moral high ground. Christ didn’t do that so why would we? The only people He publicly dressed down were the religious people who thought themselves superior to “sinners”.
Christian, the world has a right to see Jesus when they look at a you.
There is a vast difference between having a judgment and being judgmental. There is a vast difference between being an innocent bystander and the audience of hate.
Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
We don’t get to stand on the Cross and look down at everyone else. They way of the Cross is humility, service and unflappable Love for God, ourselves, and our neighbors. ALL of our neighbors. Even the ones you don’t agree with or approve of.
1 Corinthians 13
13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.