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Feathers in the Wind

January 26, 2017

“Don’t be quick to fly off the handle.  Anger boomerangs.  You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

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“Once upon a time, there lived a young villager who spent his time angrily walking about, day in and day out.  Easily outraged, his life became of pattern of complaints.  Most of his complaints were directed toward his fellow villagers.  Always on the lookout for controversy and strife, he spent much of his time walking about the town, sharing his unfiltered opinions.

As the man grew older, and began to near the end of his days, he looked back upon his life and realized all of the time he had wasted on anger and conflict.  Feeling convicted, he walked into his neighbor’s home.  Knowing that he had slandered this neighbor of his many times throughout his life, he decided to ask for forgiveness.  His neighbor graciously forgave him, without hesitation.  However, just before leaving to return home, his neighbor asked him to do something.  He asked him to go into his bedroom as soon as he returned home and pick up his feather pillow.  He told him to climb onto the roof of his home and cut open the pillow, shaking it and emptying it of every single feather.  After doing so, he asked him to return so that they could speak, once again.

Puzzled by this strange request, he headed home and did just as his neighbor said.   After all, his neighbor had just freely extended forgiveness to him.  This was the least that he could do in return.

Though puzzled by this strange request, the man was happy to be left with so easy a penance. He carefully climbed to the top of his roof, with his pillow in hand.  He sliced it open, and watched as hundreds of feathers were spilled out and swept away in the brisk morning breeze. He carefully climbed down, with his empty pillowcase in hand, and headed straight back over to his neighbor’s home.

Upon returning, his neighbor presented him with just one more request.  He asked him to go find all of the feathers and bring them to him.  

“But that’s impossible,” he said, “the brisk wind has already scattered them throughout the village and beyond!”

“Precisely,” his neighbor responded.  “Though you may truly wish to correct your wrongs,  repairing all of the damage that has been done by your words over the years would be like trying to recover every single feather.  Your words are out there in the marketplace, and in the fields outside of our village, still spreading discord and dissension to this day.  They have blown this way and that.  Attempting to catch them and take them back would be as futile as trying to catch feathers in the wind.”

~ 19TH CENTURY FOLKTALE ~

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My eight-year-old son, Jackson, loves repetition.  It’s comforting to him.

And when he decides that he likes something, he reeeeeally likes it.

Like most folks who fall on the mild end of the autism spectrum, he has some pretty strong preferences.  He has some pretty strong, fixated interests. And he has a strong affection for all things familiar.

As he was approaching his fourth birthday, he was introduced to the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.  I honestly can’t recall where he first heard it.  But, what I can recall is just how much he liked it from the get-go.  It’s a great song.  A classic.  It’s one of those feel-good, iconic tunes that helps amplify the lightheartedness of the Christmas season.  But, why did Jackson fall head-over-heels in love with it?  I don’t really know.  But, I tend to think that it had something to do with the song’s unique give-and-take, back-and-forth structure. It’s a conversation, essentially.  Words overlap.  It’s an exchange of musical phrases.  It’s a charming tune about a man and a woman who are attracted to one another.  It’s romantic.  It’s lighthearted.  It’s fun.   And Jackson fell in love with it.  I can’t blame him.  I love it, too.

One night, not long after he was introduced to it, he asked me to sing it to him as I put him to bed.  So, I did.

And the rest is history.

Ever since that day, on almost every single night, Jackson’s bedtime song request has remained the same.  For almost five years now, that has been the song that I have sung to him 99% of the time, before he falls asleep.  Is it getting old?  Nah.  If it makes him happy, it makes me happy.  I still jumble up the words, and mix up the phrasing from time to time.  But, he doesn’t care.  He isn’t picky.  He doesn’t mind if I sing the first verse over and over…just as long as he gets to hear some portion of the song.  That’s all he wants.  And I’m happy to oblige. As a result of his affection for this song, over the years I’ve become a sucker when it comes to anything I can find with his favorite song title on it.  When I came across a pair of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” pajamas, I had to get them.  I knew Jackson would get a kick out of it.  When I found a hoodie and a welcome mat with the song title on them, I grabbed them up, as well.  All of those purchases have made Jackson smile.

Like I said, when Jackson decides that he likes something.  He really, really likes it.  And the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, just so happens to be one of those things.

Last month, as we approached the Christmas season, I came across an online article about Jackson’s beloved song.  It claimed that its song lyrics promote a predatorial, patriarchal rape culture.  What?  Unbelievable.  Un.be.lievable.  So, I looked into it a bit further to see if this was a stand-alone article or not.  Imagine my shock when I discovered that it WAS NOT.  Someone, somewhere, decided to perpetuate an outlandish conclusion about a charming Christmas song.  It was seen as fresh meat.  The vultures piled onto it.  (Many of whom, by the way, have NEVER spoken out against the blatant, violent, predatorial rape culture that can be found in certain pockets of rap music, for instance.  But, that’s a discussion for a different day, I suppose.)  And, with that, an instant controversy was born.  When I told Bryan about the controversy, he didn’t believe me. It took some convincing.  He simply couldn’t believe it.  He laughed.  Not because it was funny.  Sometimes, you simply have to choose whether to laugh or cry.  Laughter was his choice.

Needless to say, I have continued to sing Jackson his favorite song at night.  Not once have I considered altering the lyrics of his beloved song.  Not once.  If you aren’t familiar with the song, please read through them sometime.  Or, better yet, listen to the song itself.  Imagine the spirit in which the words were penned.  Draw your own conclusion.  I certainly have drawn mine.

My discovery of the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” controversy last month was actually a very fitting end to 2016.  It was a discovery that sealed the deal for me.  It proved that 2016 was the year that America’s newest addiction became painfully evident.

America is addicted.

Addicted to what?  Anger.  Controversy.  Outrage.

Like most addictions, this one is leaving a destructive mark in the lives of the addicts, as well as those around them. And trying to repair the damage is like trying to recover hundreds of feathers that have scattered in the wind.

This past year had its fair share of highs and lows.  One of the lows, for me, was the discovery and re-discovery of this addiction, over and over again, throughout the course of the year.

Let’s take a moment to sift through the past several months together, and recall just a few of the many, many ways that this addiction has became abundantly clear.

~The Harambe Incident.  Harambe was a 17-year-old silverback gorilla who was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a small child fell into his enclosure in late May. The incident was wildly criticized online by many who blamed the child’s parents for the gorilla’s untimely death.  Not only were the parents criticized, but also those who had to make the difficult decision to end his life in order to protect the life of the child.  The first, widespread reaction to the incident?  Anger.  Outrage.  Blame.  What if, instead, the widespread reaction had been one of compassion, and carefully chosen words.  What if, the knee-jerk reaction had first been one of compassion, tinged with sadness instead of anger.  Sadness over just how unfortunate the whole situation was.  Sadness over the fact that a group of people had to make the extremely difficult decision to end the life of a beautiful creature, in order to protect an even more beautiful one. Sadness for the parents who, regardless of any poor judgment that they may or may not have displayed, had to sit helplessly on the sidelines for what must have seemed like an eternity…watching their child being tossed around by a powerful creature…wondering whether he would emerge in one piece.  Compassion.  What if that had been the widespread knee-jerk response?  But, it wasn’t.  Outrage.  Anger.  Vilification.  Those were the responses.

~The Disney Alligator Attack.  I can hardly even bring myself to re-visit this.  But, for the sake of this post, it must be done.While vacationing with his family, two-year-old Lane Graves bent over to scoop wet sand into his bucket on the beach at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort after stormy weather had passed through.  He was building a sandcastle.  His father, who was standing nearby with his wife and four-year-old daughter, heard a splash and turned to see an alligator grab Lane’s head.  He lunged into the water, pulling on the gator’s snout in an unsuccessful attempt to free his son from its grip.  Seconds later, the gator pulled Lane underwater and both disappeared into the Seven Seas Lagoon.  Horrifying.  Absolutely horrifying.  In every possible way.  As someone who has spent time on one of Disney’s resorts with a two-year-old child, this story pierced my heart and left it aching for weeks after I first heard about it. I couldn’t stop imagining our (then) two-year-old Morganne being dragged off into a dark lagoon in the mouth of an alligator.  That’s the stuff that nightmares are made of.  But, for the Graves family, it wasn’t a nightmare.  It was all too real.  And what was the first widespread reaction to this incident?  Anger. Outrage.  Blame.  Why weren’t the parents paying closer attention to their son?  What kind of negligent parents would allow this sort of thing to happen?  Jaw-dropping stuff.  And unbelievable.  Not only were they right there with him when it happened, basically within arm’s reach, but the father also threw himself onto the alligator, struggling with all of his might to save his son.  Can you imagine what that must have been like for him?  What it must have been like for his wife who stood screaming onshore with their other small child?  What is must have been like for Lane’s big sister, who had to watch something that she will carry with her for the rest of her days?  It must have been hell.  Absolute hell.  And, yet, America found a way to turn it into a controversy.  They saw it as another opportunity to condemn, blame, and spout off angry words all over social media.  What if compassion and sadness had been the unanimous response?  Compassion and sadness over the unthinkable tragedy that had just occurred.  What if that had been the one, single widespread response?  But, sadly, it wasn’t.

~Steve Martin’s Tribute to Carrie Fisher.  Shortly after Carrie Fisher passed away last month, her friend and fellow actor, Steve Martin, tweeted the following words:  “When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.  She turned out to be witty and bright as well.”  The internet erupted.  Women screaming about how sexist and objectifying his comments were.  They chose to look at his words through an inaccurate lens, and see something that wasn’t there.  The immediate reaction?  Anger.  Outrage.  Vilification.  Rather than simply seeing it as a compliment about Carrie’s beauty, wit, and intelligence, they saw what they wanted to see.  Out came the hateful words.  Angry words fed off of one another.  One by one, women took a hit of the drug, satisfying anger addictions.  The issue snowballed into a full-fledged attack.  And a man who simply spoke a few words on his friend’s behalf after her untimely death was left to stand and watch helplessly as the feathers swirled around him until a strong gust of wind pulled them in every direction.   As they disappear off into the distance, a tarnished reputation appears.

~Jenna Bush’s Mix-up.  While interviewing Pharrell Williams about his Golden Globe-nominated song from the incredible new film, “Hidden Figures,”  Jenna Bush mistakenly referred to the film as “Hidden Fences”.  Innocent enough, right?  Wrong.  Her mix-up was pounced upon, almost immediately.  Why?  There is another Golden Globe-nominated film that is entitled “Fences”.  It just so happens that both powerful films star black actors and actresses.  Because of that, Jenna was condemned, stating that her mistake was due to a lack of research or concern for black cinema.  She was labeled as a racist and her mix-up was called disrespectful.  I even read claims that her comment wasn’t innocent because “hidden fences are what Hollywood put up to keep out talented folks of color”.  One word.  One mix-up.  Fresh meat.  Out came the vultures.  Out came the knee-jerk anger and vilifying words.  No compassion for an innocent mistake.  Only judgment.  With a shaky voice, tears in her eyes, and her tail tucked firmly between her legs, she got on national television after the onslaught and apologized for her innocent mistake…reiterating that it wasn’t intentional.  As she did, feathers swirled around her, and were swept out the door, outside of her reach.  The labeling had been done.  The damage had been done.  And a young mother was left scrambling to remove the labels and repair the damage.

~The Presidential Election.  Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump.  The most anger-filled, poisonous, outrageous, vilifying election I have ever witnessed.  She was angry.  He was angry.  He attacked, she fought back.  She attacked, he fought back.    The anger escalated to a staggering level.  And America LOVED IT.  Ate.it.up.  Every last bit.  Outrage was around every corner.  Division and strife abounded.  Not just among the candidates themselves, but also among the electorate.  Heavyweight terms like “love” and “hate” started being carelessly thrown about.  One party claimed to have a monopoly on love, which must mean that the other party is the party of hate.  Nonsense.  Those who claimed to be the most tolerant among us displayed a staggering level of intolerance.  Those who claimed to promote peace were starting battles, each and every day.  Nonsense.  By election day, the angry exchange of words had reached an all-time high.  After election day, the anger subsided…right?  The outrage was toned down…right?  Wrong.  It continues to this day. Some would argue that it’s even worse now.  Are you aware that there are slews of people who are actually hoping for our new president’s demise, and waiting in great anticipation to angrily call attention to each and every one of his failures?  It’s as if we’ve reached the point in this country where the desire to be right (in this case – right about a presidential candidate) is trumping the desire to be good.  The anger drug is powerful.  It calls the addict back for hit after hit after hit.  The controversy pill draws its users in every time.  Empty syringes, once filled with outrage, line the streets of America.  The contents are gone.  Injected and running through the veins of many.  How much damage has been done?  How many relationships has this addiction strained over the course of the election season until now?  How many?  Staggering numbers.  Addictions are harmful.  The anger addiction is no different.

I could go on and on, sifting through the top news stories from this past year that reveal, time and again, that the anger/outrage/controversy addiction is all too real.  But, I won’t.  After all, those stories are just a couple of mouse clicks away, for any and all who want to see them.  These days, the feathers spread astronomically quicker, don’t they?  The wind takes them much farther.  This, of course, means that the chance of recovering all of them has decreased dramatically.  And we have social media to blame for that.

Friends, there is a time for anger.  Good grief.  There is.  God gave us that emotion for a very good reason.  A world full of apathetic individuals is a terrifying thought.  Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. hadn’t exhibited righteous anger?  Imagine if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t either?  Or Susan B. Anthony?  A nation void of anger would be a nation void of justice.  The problem is, we are not a nation that is slow to anger.  We are a nation that is incredibly quick to anger.  Angry, strife-inducing words flow freely on our streets.  Outrage seems to be our default reaction.  That, my friends, is not how it should be.

The bible, my guiding light through this life, tells me that there is a time for war and a time for peace.  There is a time for verbal wars to take place.  There is most certainly a time and a place for righteous anger.  But, we must choose those times wisely…and sparingly.

Those of you who know me best know just how outraged I can become when the topic of abortion arises.  There are days when I want to walk up to everyone I see in the supermarket, grab each of them by the shoulders, and scream, “Do you know how many babies are legally killed each day in this country?!?  Do you?!?  3,000!!!  Every day!!!  Does that bother you as much as the dead cat that you just saw on the street as you drove to the grocery store today?!?  No?!?  Madness, I tell you.  Madness.”  Sometimes, that’s what I want to do.  But, I don’t do that.  Because I know that even though it might feel awfully good and cathartic to do so on a regular basis, and even though it might give me a temporary high, I simply can’t walk around doing that all the time.  It would end up being counterproductive.  I would eventually be tuned out completely, because of my approach.  So, how do I channel my outrage?  I engage in civil conversations about abortion from time to time.  I speak out, firmly, when necessary.  I pray.  I donate to Indiana Right to Life.  I support our local Care Net Pregnancy Centers.  I vote for political candidates that will protect the unborn.  And I write.  Openly and honestly, I have written about the topic, time and again.  And I have done so from a place of love.  Deep love for the most innocent, and most marginalized group in our society.  The unborn.

Righteous anger.  It is essential.  But, it is essential that we remain in control of it, rather than letting it control us and impair our judgment and our discretion.

There have been times in my life when my anger has not been righteous.  There have been times that I have crumbled and taken a deep, satisfying hit of the non-righteous anger drug.  There have been times of great weakness when I have thrown myself into controversies, willingly and unnecessarily.  There have been times when I have grabbed the syringe of outrage and let it flow through my veins, leaving me utterly impaired and looking like an idiot.  There have been times when I have sent my fair share of feathers blowing off into the wind.  I am not proud of those moments in my life.

But, what I am proud of are those times when I have allowed myself to experience righteous anger, and remain in control of it.  I am proud of the times when I have managed to exhibit self-control.  I am proud of the times when I have managed to express righteous anger, without sending unretrievable feathers off into the distance.

Jesus’s life, the epitome of a life well-lived, shows us exactly what role anger should play in our lives.   When He erupted with anger at the discovery that His temple had been turned into what He called “a den of thieves”, He became angry enough to raise His voice and overturn tables.  And it made an impact.  He was outraged, and rightfully so.  But, guess what?   Out of all the recorded events of Jesus’ life that are found within the bible, there is only one major incident of Jesus exhibiting anger.  That’s it.  And, even then, it was righteous anger.  It was not slanderous.  It was not vicious.  It was not unwarranted.  Among the many, many stories from Jesus’ life that are recorded, rarely do we see Him exhibiting full-fledged anger.  As we look back over our own life stories, we should be able to say the same, friends.

Jesus was slow to anger.  He exhibited incredible self-control.  Even during His most forceful and convicting sermons, His words were always impeccably driven by love.  Everything He did, and everything He said, was laced with love.  It was well thought-out.  It was wise.  It was deliberate.  It was unselfish.  It was thought-provoking.  No knee-jerk reactions.  No degradation.  No malice.  No slander.  No character-bashing.  No false claims.  No twisted facts and falsehoods.  None of that.

And, most importantly, his anger-infused words and actions never led Him to sin.  His anger was simply meant to serve as an exclamation point to important truths.

Anger, outrage, grumbling, complaints, and slander were not His immediate, default responses to the things He encountered during his time on earth.  Not even close.  My goodness, if anyone had the right to walk around this world angry it was Jesus.  Right?  I mean, we had royally begun screwing up His Father’s world. Everywhere He turned, He saw messes.  Messes that we had created.  But, love, compassion, wisdom, and carefully thought-out responses were His default responses to the messes He encountered.  And, only when necessary, did He put an angry exclamation point onto His response.

How many feathers did Jesus send out into the blowing wind?  Not one.  Not one single feather.

From what the bible tells us, Jesus spent an incredibly small percentage of His time on this earth in a state of outrage.  And we should, too. For Him, anger was the exception, not the norm. And it should be for us, too.  He angered very slowly.  And we should, too.  His feathers weren’t easily ruffled.  And ours shouldn’t be either.  He did not go around looking for fights and controversies.  And we shouldn’t either.  He was concerned with much more important tasks than that.  And we should be, too.  Never did he display a thoughtless, knee-jerk reaction.  His life on earth was marked by self-control.  And ours should be, too.

There is a time for anger and outrage.  But, there is no need to let them be the defining characteristics of our lives here on earth.

The magnet of controversy is strong.  It is.  But, you don’t have to let yourself be drawn into it every.blessed.time.

Anger can give us a high, especially when we surround ourselves with like-minded folks who can share in the high alongside us.  But, make no mistake, it’s a high that can cause much damage.

Words spoken from uncontrolled anger are like a bullet that has been fired.  Once their sound has been heard, they can’t be taken back.  Words are so, so powerful.  They have the power to both heal and destroy.  They have to power to both build up and tear down.  They have to power to both encourage and discourage.  They have the power to both bring peace and create chaos.  Our mouths are gates.  It is up to us to be the best gatekeepers we can be while we walk this earth.  What are we going to allow to escape from our mouths? What kind of a ripple effect are we going to let our words have?  How much damage are we going to cause?  How many unretrievable feathers are we going to send off into the wind?

It has been said that a speech given in uncontrolled anger is the best speech you’ll ever regret.  How true.

We have just a short time here on earth.  Just a short time.  How do you want to spend it?  And what is your default setting going to be throughout your fleeting days?

I don’t know of anyone who, during their last dying breaths, found themselves wishing that they had spent more time bashing others, or spent more time in a state of outrage, or spent more time complaining, or spent more time spewing out unfiltered words of anger.  I know of no one who has done that.

When we stop to truly consider the brevity of life, we are often given great clarity.  Priorities can shift.  Life can gain a new focus.  Friends, seize the day.   Make the most of your time here.  It is so valuable. For every minute you remain in unwarranted anger, you lose sixty seconds of peace of mind.

The more you allow your feathers to be needlessly ruffled, by each and every potentially controversial issue that comes your way, the more prone you are to send handfuls of feathers into the wind.  Handfuls of feathers that can never be taken back.

I could say more.  But, I should probably stop.  Bedtime has arrived, once again, in our household.   I can hear my children rustling in the bathroom upstairs, as multiple sets of teeth are being brushed and multiple heads of hair are being combed.  I will soon hear their footsteps, as they scatter off into their separate rooms.  They will wait to be tucked in.  They will wait for goodnight kisses.  They will wait for bedtime stories.   They will wait for prayers.  They will wait for songs.  I will march upstairs, as I do each night, and I will give each of them what they have been waiting for.

When I arrive in Jackson’s room, I will head over to his bed and sing him the song I have sung to him for five years straight.  As I do, I will stroke his hair and scratch his back.  I will rub his neck and massage his hands.  As the “offensive” lyrics of his beloved song flow freely from my lips, I will focus on loving my boy in the best way I know how, and help him calmly drift off into sleep.  I will focus on making those fleeting bedtime moments of his childhood and my motherhood count…paying no attention to the violently swirling feathers just outside his bedroom window.

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“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends!  Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.  God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.  So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.  In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” (James 1:19-21)

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