Are you flammable?

I am. I can’t think of anyone who isn’t. When I watch the news and see the injustice in the world, I get hot around the collar. When I hear about the bullying that goes on in schools, and the racist comments that get bandied about on the internet, I get mad. When someone says something disparaging about children, or the elderly, or the disabled, I get righteously indignant. Actually, I take that back – better people than me get righteously indignant. I just get royally pissed. I create brilliant soliloquies inside my mind that are so compelling that the people I am angry at literally fall at my feet in wonder and penitence and sin no more. And when that doesn’t work, inside my head, I put them in fast cars so I can shoot out their tires and send them skidding into giant piles of manure. The worst of the worst die in a massive pile of poo. And then there’s a laugh track. Yeah, I am that arrogant inside my own head, I’m embarrassed to admit.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of legitimately horrible things in this world to get angry about, and I hope that I never get so cynical or so tired that I stop caring about those things. War. Social injustice. Poverty. The abuse of the natural world. These are things that deserve wrath, to move us forward and towards what is right. If I were to become too jaded to react anymore, it would be a loss of my humanity, to be mourned over just as much as if I lost my intellect, or my joy, or my health. I didn’t reach the age I am now just to become someone who is, God help us all, uselessly NICE.

And yet.

It’s much too easy for me to cherish those righteous, furious, punishing thoughts in my mind. They multiply like rabbits, and sometimes I cuddle them like rabbits. They are also pretty trinkets that make large booming sounds that thrill me like fireworks. They wrap around the inside of my head to insulate me from the discomfort of compassion. I almost love them. They give me a false sense of strength, of being a justice-seeker. They steer me dangerously close to Pharisee territory.  When I wander through the landscape of those thoughts, I am always the good guy, and I always correctly identify and vanquish the bad guys. I know this, because in that landscape, all the bad guys look and act nothing like me. Those thoughts are hypnotic, and even when I don’t act on them, they live behind my eyes.

Which brings me to their wicked little offspring – the glare.

Throughout the years, I have liked and loved people who at one time or another told me that they could never enter a church because – and here’s the weird similarity of their statement – “it would go up in flames.” Now you and I both know that the likelihood of someone stepping across the threshold of a church and it spontaneously bursting into flames is remote at best, unless the place is ancient and someone has just thrown a bale of hay on the devotional candle rack.

But upon closer inspection, there could still be a fearsome fire to walk through. Something like this:


I’m not saying that the Queen of England is going to show up at your church anytime soon and lay one of these on the parishioners. But there IS this face in the congregation somewhere, especially if you are differently dressed, or older, or younger, or darker, or fatter, or skinnier, or Other than the rest of the folks sitting there in their seats, self-assigned for the past 10 years. And if I were on the receiving end of it, I would definitely feel a little crispy around the edges.

My guess is that my friends who joke about the conflagration of hell at the church doors are really trying to be tactful for my delicate Christian-skinned sake. They’re not worried about flames, they’re worried about the queenly glare.  Because they’ve already been on the receiving end of it. And it ain’t pretty.

That’s what scares me. That these kind people are sparing me the embarrassment of calling it out. Not that the Queen of England can make that face. But that I can. And have. This look has shown up on MY face. It makes me wonder how many people’s hair I have singed just with a glance, and then, thinking nothing of it, moving on. After all, it was just a glance, right?

I am flammable. Rats. The thought of it makes me burn, but not with anger. With regret.

Is it really such a big deal?  I mean, I’m not robbing a bank here. I haven’t killed anyone. Maybe it’s not a big deal. Maybe it is. Look at that expression and imagine it directed at you after you have just lost a job. Or a relationship. Or your idea of who you used to be. Or something you loved more than yourself. Or your self respect. And you walk into a church thinking maybe, just maybe, there’s something there for you this one time.

And you get this.

It’s going to take me the rest of my life to wean myself off of the pleasures of secretly righteous thoughts, and I have to be honest – I probably will never completely succeed. They are so damn seductive. It takes a lot of maturity to be able to tell the difference between the right kind of anger over what is damaging and evil in this world, and the wrong kind of anger when someone doesn’t live up to my expectations and invades my personal space with their vulnerable humanity. It’s too easy to have flamethrower in hand.

But I’ve got to try. I owe it to – well, myself, and you and God. So I ask of those around me – first of all, please know that my failings are not reflective of the God I am supposed to be serving. I may be Judgey McJudgersons, but He’s not. And secondly, please accept my heartfelt apologies for the heat of the glares that I and others have let loose over the years. Especially the bitter ones I reflected at myself in the mirror and then shot back at the rest of the world. Those are by far the worst. Nobody deserves them. Not even me. Certainly not you.

Yes, I am flammable. You might not want to put your asbestos suit away just yet. But on the journey towards being a real human being and not just a facsimile of one, I promise to not shoot out your tires with my mind.


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