Most days, I am downstairs first. I start the coffee, get the papers off the porch, and turn on the radio. One day when the radio came on, I heard a woman’s voice say, “So that just goes to show that it’s hard to be mean when you’re naked.” Full stop: it was the concluding line of a Story Corps episode. Amused and curious, I turned to other stations and searched the Internet, trying to find hear the story with this odd punchline.
By the end of the day, I still had not found the entire story; however, by then I had thought so much about meanness that I felt no need. Few of us like to own up to meanness, but things get more uncomfortable if we call it condescension, a put-down, name-calling. And there is meanness by omission: stinginess, indifference.
Meanness does not make the ranks of the seven deadly sins, but as the antithesis of the Golden Rule, it seems as good as any other measure of wrongdoing. Meanness only requires an assumption of superiority and the wish, for whatever reason, to shine a light on another’s shortcomings. If instead that light shines on my own exposed flab and flaws, I can hardly lob shots at anyone else.
I think of Lent as a time to bare ourselves. We need to remove the sense of entitlement, the arrogance. We need to unbutton and discard our egocentricity and defensiveness, throw out any long-nurtured grievances. Then get rid of the underclothing, the indifference, jealousy, and spite. Finally, let’s empty the drawer of accessories: sarcasm, derision, judgment, gossip. At last, there we are, exposed, humbled, no better than anyone else.
Stripped of all pretense, we can only hope that God will, in the words of the hymn, “reclothe us in our rightful mind.” Then we will look at others and see their strengths, not their flaws. We will feel empathy, not scorn. We will have time; we will be generous. We will have taken a first step toward living the Golden Rule.
Appointed readings for today: Daniel 9:3-10, Psalm 79:1-9, Luke 6:27-38