A quote on Facebook this morning posted by a friend: “Everyone you meet is fighting battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
Buddhism teaches that we should always be kind to everyone because we don’t know why they may be lashing out or being rude. People act wrongly due to ignorance, they say. So much wisdom in this. I have been in the presence of some pretty serious violence against others and I have to say that I think that the Buddhists are absolutely right. The proof in my pudding is in the many, many stories of redemption that I have heard and read in my lifetime.
I can’t really get my brain around whatever my Christian theology was trying to tell me about what redemption means. Something to do with Jesus, I was told. It happened when he died on the cross. Or was it when he rose from the dead? Or was it when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles? Whatever! That doesn’t have much meaning for me. I heard it in religion class and in the words of the priest from the pulpit or in the many theology books I read in college. It is all a bunch of gobbledygook to me.
The stories I am thinking about are ones like the one Charles Dickens gave us about Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge was an ignorant man, indeed. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t smart. He sure had the smarts to run a successful business. He was ignorant because he lacked the life experience to know what the people right under his nose were going through, most notably, his employee Bob Cratchit to whom he paid wages so scant that he couldn’t support his family. Scrooge was oblivious to the medical problems suffered by Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim. He was guilty of what all of us are when we look out at the world but don’t really see. He certainly was ignorant of the link between his scant wages and the suffering of the Cratchet family. He was making a profit and that was his only measure of success.
Along came the three ghosts whose job it was to wake Scrooge up about his past, about the current situation, and about the possible future if he didn’t change. He was forced to take an inventory of the way he’d chosen to live his life and what he found disgusted him. The beautiful thing about this classic is that Scrooge moved beyond this awful moment of truth. He decided to change. He decided to become the man he wished he had been in the past. He was given a very special gift and that is he woke up to the fact that he could not change the past, but he could change the way he treated his employee from this moment on. He faced the past, rose to the moment and that would change his future. This to me is what redemption is all about.
I want to suggest that after all that soul searching, Scrooge could have chosen a different path. He could have pushed away the revelations of the ghosts. He could have blamed Cratchit for his poverty by accusing him of being lazy or for not managing his finances well, like Scrooge. Today we call that blaming the victim.
Another path he could have chosen was to find an outlet that would help him pretend that all is well. Alcohol would have met the criteria or he could have thrown himself into the luxurious life he certainly could afford. He could call his friends and treat them to a cruise to Europe.
He could have even used religion to justify his actions. It wouldn’t take much to find just the right chapter and verse in the bible to show him how correct he was in the way he ran his office.
Scrooge didn’t choose all those other paths. He chose to change. The dictionary’s definition of redeem is “to buy back.” One might say that Scrooge was bought back from a mistaken idea or set of beliefs that was sending him down a destructive path, destructive to Cratchit, for sure, but also to Scrooge himself. He was, after all a crabby old man who was incapable of having any meaningful relationships. One of the painful realizations he faced was that he’d let go the one woman he’d ever loved choosing his work over her.
If one were Buddhist, one would say that he was living in a state of ignorance all those years. And his Christmas Eve night experience was one of waking up. I think this is what Jesus meant when he was talking about those who look but do not see. The end of the story is what Scrooge became once he could really see. If you have seen the story performed, you could not possibly miss the fact that once he began to live his new life, he was giddy with love and happiness.
Where once Scrooge was once blind, he could now see.