September 13, 2015
Rev. Dr. Amy Ruth Schacht
cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
Remember earlier this summer when all the news and facebook and social media was about Cecil, Zimbabwe’s beloved lion, who was killed by a US dentist? Do you remember back then, what your response was? Do you remember all the outrage?
A quick review: A dentist from Minnesota, Walter Palmer, perfectly legally paid $55,000 for the right to hunt on property in Zimbabwe. He ended up, perhaps accidentally, killing a beloved lion Cecil who may or may not have been lured off the protected preserve, and whose collar may or may not have been visible. But the uproar wasn’t over what was legal or not; it was the ethics of big game hunting. And the world judged him harshly. And I’m guessing that some of us did too – I know I did.
Because it seemed really clear cut, didn’t it – Of COURSE we were morally outraged and righteously
angry that someone would do such a thing for sport. It sure seemed unambiguous when we heard about it: This was just wrong, that with enough money you could hunt and kill some of the biggest and rarest animals walking this earth.
Then I was hit hard by these lines from Proverbs: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing, and fools hate knowledge?” Because this week, along with preparing for this sermon, I listened to Radio Lab’s podcast called “The Rhino Hunter,” addressing this very issue. And I realized, “Ouch. I have done it again.” The unbelievably complexity of the issue left me befuddled, scratching my head, wondering what was right, what was wrong, and what compromises are acceptable because we live in an imperfect world?
Once again, ancient scripture nails it: Because time and time again, I think something is clearly right or clearly wrong – I form an opinion and hold it pretty firmly, and don’t realize I only know half of the story – If that much.
We assume in this information age, who could be “hating knowledge?” Well, lots of people, ourselves included – Like when we assume the experts are wrong – that dedicated, educated, smart scientists are making up climate change. We hate knowledge every time we assume what we hear on FOX or MSNBC is the whole story. We hate knowledge when we assume commentators are dealing in facts, when they are really offering opinions. When we allow other people’s prejudices, fears, and stereotypes to dictate truth. When we only really listen to what will confirm what we already believe, and dismiss what challenges our beliefs. We hate knowledge every time we take politicians, the internet, and facebook at face value. And we hate knowledge when we think we are immune - We don’t have prejudices and stereotypes! Our opinions about right and wrong are well-reasoned, based in objective research!
This is a hard hitting passage – It reminds us we’ve walked away from “fear of the Lord,” which, in this context, really means we’ve walked away from humility. I didn’t even think twice about whether there was anything justifiable about what this dentist did when he hunted and killed Cecil. I just knew there wasn’t!
It makes sense, that our brains jump to all these conclusions and opinions and judgments, and we aren’t even very aware of it – It’s how our brains cut corners to save energy. But what happens is that then, our stereotypes unconsciously take over, and we end up hurting people – Because we blame them 100% for their troubles, assuming if they had just made good choices, they wouldn’t be in trouble. What’s wrong with people?
It’s so easy to assume we understand other people’s circumstances, right? We know what’s right and what’s wrong - If everyone just made the right choice, they wouldn’t end up: in poverty, or hungry, or dropping out of school, out of work, or facing eviction, or bankruptcy or losing electricity, or their home. And our hearts harden.
Or even the universal experiences known to many of us: We assume people should be finished grieving the death of a loved one at least after one year – What’s wrong with them that they can’t get over it? Or that once the cancer diagnosis is clear, everything should be great! Why aren’t they happy? That since our parent died at 90+ after a good long life, there’s no reason to be distraught. That once a loved one returns home after a long absence, all will be just grand. And yes, more personally, I have heard my family shouldn’t be sad our kid left for college because they are just down the road. Our brains are constantly judging people even when we know better, even when we don’t know, even when our judgments are based on incorrect assumptions.
It might seem odd to draw parallels between outrage over Cecil the lion’s death, Wisdom calling in the street, and how we judge other people. But Cecil is such a great clear-cut, non-partisan example of how we jump to conclusions, about animals, and about people. This is what I learned from Radio Lab:
Long before anyone knew who Walter Palmer was, Radio Lab’s podcast’s team was investigating these conservation group, which auction off permits to the highest bidder for the right to hunt and kill big mammals. The money spent is unbelievable, and goes right back in to conservation efforts. This system provides huge financial resources to keep the big animal preserves open, protecting the animals – Yes, the same animals that paradoxically, could now be hunted – But in very limited, controlled, circumstances, and only a handful a year.
I listened to Jad and Robert from Radio Lab question another big game hunter Corey Knowlton, who won the auction to hunt the endangered black rhino. And I was humbled. Because now I don’t know what to think, other than to recognize how embarrassingly simplistic my righteous indignation was. Which is what listening to the whole story usually does for us.
Bottom line – It’s complicated. It’s very, very complicated. It usually is. These large animal preserves need a money; a lot of money; money that the Namibian and Kenyan and Tanzanian and Zimbabwean governments don’t have. Money that people in this country do have – apparently, just lying around. And they won’t just give it to the parks; they want something in return – The thrill of the hunt. Not only that, the black rhino that was just hunted and killed was a rogue older male, past reproductive age, responsible for killing other young rhinos. So in some ways, a good thing? What to do, in such a world as this?
The reality is, in this world of information, we don’t have the time, energy, mental space, to figure out all the ins and outs of any situation. Thankfully, as Christians, this walk to follow Jesus is not about the more you know – Because we live in a world where we can’t always know enough. But faith is not about how much you know, but how wise we are – And wisdom is about compassion and humility.
This passage from Proverbs has Wisdom, a feminine incarnation of the Divine, crying out from our streets: If we keep judging people for their circumstances, we will end up killing ourselves – Because no one will have compassion for us if we’ve shown no compassion for others, especially those crying out in our streets. Our hearts will continue to harden.
Here’s an example: There are certain stereotypes the world has of the kinds of people who need the services LARS provides – We all know those stereotypes, right? People who end up on their doorstep, month after month needing help, or those who show up day after day to Elizabeth House needing a hot meal. The common denominator is
“They must have done something wrong; made a bad choice.” But every now and then, we hear a story that challenges us, and makes us humble, and reminds us our first response, because of our faith, every single time, no matter what, is compassion:
Listen to Leah’s experience with one family at LARS: (synopsis of one couple, living in car because owner of apartment was foreclosed and they were evicted; she had Parkinson's and went on disability; he had to stay home to help her because his job didn't pay enough to also pay a home health care worker; they went to LARS who found them an affordable place to stay and him a better paying job.)
To have wisdom is to listen to the cries around the world, and respond with compassion. Not judgment. To understand this walk is not easy for anyone, everyone has a story, everyone has hardships and burdens we cannot even fathom. That most people are doing the best they can, the best they know how. No one needs more judgment; everyone needs more compassion. Even you, even me, even Leah and all the people at LARS struggling to help as many people as possible, even the people who show up needing help. The refugee, the homeless, the terrorist, the rioter. The only response, even in spite of ourselves, the only response for us as people of faith, is compassion. May we listen to Wisdom crying out in the streets, and heed her call, in Christ.