Not only is my landlady loud, messy, and difficult to live with, she’s also absolutely convinced of her own intelligence and altruism. Except she probably doesn’t know what either word means, as per a short exchange we had when I first moved in:
LL: “So you’re a writer. What do you write?”
LL: “What’s that?”
Me: “Uh … well, stories, you know. Novels and such.”
LL: *blank expression* ” … novels?”
I could detail any number of various disgusting and/or exasperating, inconvenient, or hypocritical mannerisms I’ve endured, but the more I think on it, the more I wonder what the point would be. Sure, it would be funny, because a lot of her issues are—let’s just say “colorful”. But aside from satisfying my own desire for a little retribution, all it would do is drag down someone else’s character for the sake of my own pettiness.
So she can be a jerk. Aren’t we all? As an adherent to Christian principles I must acknowledge that I too am imperfect, and equally so. In the grand scheme of things, we’ve both been selfish. Maybe not regarding the same things, and maybe toward people of different positions in our lives, but selfishness is selfishness. Wrong is wrong. While many in our increasingly secular society choose to look at the Christian Bible as fiction, as something non-literal, even in the church it seems to have lost its identity, instead being used for semantics and political posturing rather than real philosophy. And it’s a shame that we’ve come to view it strictly on the basis of divine inspiration or secular refutation. Why is it we can respect the writings of Heidegger or Sartre or Nietzsche while rejecting the work of religious thinkers, of those prophets, disciples, and kings who were each of them philosophers?
But that’s another topic, and I’m in danger of going too far afield. My main point here is this: judgment in the Bible is a recurring theme, including the reservation of it for divine hands, and if there’s anything that both society and the modern church seem to have forgotten, it’s that we have all fallen short of perfection. As Christians often quote, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We don’t have to agree with everything that others do, say, or believe, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to resort to rage, or to militantly swing the religious bat at whatever comes near us. I don’t propose we roll over and stop fighting for what we believe in, or stop discussing the truth and worth of scripture, only that we need to do it in a manner consistent with what our sacred text—our life-guide, the philosophical work of our earliest scholars and greatest teacher—teaches us about life. What good is it otherwise? There’s too much ego floating around, especially in this culture of mega-churches where the personalities, rich pastors and musicians, eclipse any chance one might have at seeing anything even resembling God.
So for me, here’s the rub: while I had a big fight with my landlady, feel entirely justified in my position, and really want to vindicate myself by detailing everything that happened (so everyone can see not only just how much this situation isn’t my fault, but also how much I’ve had to endure), I’m forced to acknowledge that this the wrong reaction. Being mistreated is only half of the equation, and while there’s likely nothing that will cause it to cease from rankling me on some level, forsaking retaliation has made the situation feel a lot less awful. If I use this space to deride someone, what does that say about my ability to learn from the experience? What does it say about my understanding of the significance of removing the plank from my own eye, casting the first stone, tying my tongue to a sense of responsibility? I could go on and on through the book of James, or into Solomon’s writings on wisdom and the folly of quick anger, of being argumentative—I too often suffer from both. I began this by poking fun at my landlady for not knowing the definition of some common words, yet I myself seem to have forgotten the definition of decency as Christ taught it.
I don’t have to agree with the way I’ve been treated, nor say that I’m perfectly happy with the way things have been; but there’s a roof over my head. I was able to save the life of a beautiful stray dog who has since returned warmth and love to me. I’ve had the opportunity to help other people and animals in the community on several occasions, and have learned much about how others perceive and treat the lives that come in contact with their own. This particular situation hasn’t always been pleasant, but I’m a better person for it.
So instead of the rant I was so looking forward to, I’ll just say this: pick your roommates carefully, and your landlords even more so. Few things in daily life are more damaging to one’s mental/emotional climate than a home without peace, and few things frustrate one’s own attempts at peace so much as giving in to anger. “Being right”, in the end, is a pretty hollow victory unless you can be right by the merits of a worthy and charitable action. Whether you agree or disagree with treating the Christian Scriptures as a source of divine wisdom, I think we can all get behind the fundamental philosophy of James: “the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Nobody, especially not God, is going to guarantee you a frustration-free life; but in the search for peace, the best place to start looking is where you’ve helped to create it.
[This post originally appeared at theflyingmonkeyapparatus.com.]