There was something I saw a number of weeks ago that is still lingering in my memory.
I was driving along one early Sunday morning, with my two sons in the back of the car—I think they were playing (aka, arguing) about Pokémon, or something—when I came to stop at a red-light.
Whilst stopped, some movement at the corner of my left eye drew my attention to the curb-side. And there in their monochrome tones, pecking away at some yellow, dried-up vomit, where two Magpies.
I need you to visualise that in your mind’s eye.
It’s not a pleasant image. But it sticks. Or at least it did for me. It’s there, imprinted on the back of my eye lids.
I keep contemplating this scene, like there’s some hidden meaning, or even layers of meanings, buried within it.
Maybe the whole episode was some kind of acted parable?
Or better yet, think of it like some living Banksy portrait. If the famous, thought-provoking, protest painting, street-artist had embellished this on the side of a bus-shelter, it would draw crowds, find itself all over social-media and have us all interrogating it for its message.
I know a feast of vomit isn’t as pleasing to think about in comparison with Banksy’s famous rioter throwing a bunch of flowers. But art is art, right? Regardless of whether its medium is that of black spray-paint on rendered brickwork, or black and white feathers aside splattered part-digested matter.
Here it was in the flesh; Living art, trying to say something, calling me to think.
Two Magpies, scavenging the chunks from the dried remains of humanities regurgitated self-indulgence.
Of course, there are clear ideas that could flow from this about our relationship with the surrounding ecology. And those things are important things to think about. But something else has struck me recently. Something which is more connected to our treatment of each other.
I’ve been a Twitter user for five years now. But there are days when I just want to flush the whole concept away.
Especially those days when it feels like people are just feasting on each other; gorging themselves on an individual’s shame, devouring reputations because of opinions shared, gobbling down on the perceived succulence that is someone else’s tabloid mess.
Sometimes, this feels justified. After all, people can say and do things which are extremely offensive, irrational, and dehumanising. So there will always be the need to speak out against injustice and to become a voice for those who have been silenced or abused or oppressed or objectified. There will always be a time for exposing bias, evil, supremacist and destructive thinking and behaviour.
But there are times, when reading through Twitter (and other social sites) that the motive for our speaking seems to be less than a concern for the real issues.
There are moments when, instead of trying to destroy an insidious idea, we’re actually just seeking to destroy someone. Not to mention the times when we also voice our delight in seeing their destruction at the hands of others.
The thing is, most of the people I follow on Twitter are Christians. And it scares me to see how quick we are to feast upon one another; and how much some of us appear to enjoy it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above this compulsion. I recognise within myself that latent desire which sometimes flashes forth; a desire to see someone fall flat on their face; a desire that then produces within me some perverse delight at seeing someone else become a target of ridicule.
But this isn’t right.
We can’t make the world beautiful through ugly means.
I’m not saying we should be silent regards such issues as inequality, racism, poverty, patriarchy, war etc.
But it feels, with the language that some people employ, that we’re just out to scapegoat and crucify somebody.
And it’s not limited to the right side of the debate or the wrong side. The Scapegoat tactic is employed by those who find themselves on the “conservative right” and the “liberal left” (btw, I dislike both these terms, but they are terms people use). Even those of us who dwell in the “muddled middle” find ourselves sometimes taking the easy poke at someone else.
There’s an obvious irony in all this; it appears we Christians seem to relish in the spectacle of a public execution. Not all of us, I know. But still far too many.
We seem to be very apt at actively seeking for someone to sacrifice, and deficient in seeking to be a martyr.
I’m not sure of the motive for this is. When I read between the lines, the only motive I can pin it to—a motive that might be subversively working within us and that isn’t easily acknowledged or admitted—is that we are trying to fatten ourselves—increase our own public platform—by feasting on the rejection of another.
The opportunistic Magpie in each of us, spies the chance for an easy meal.
We all have issues that we are passionately advocating for/against. But should we ever be passionate about seeing the destruction of another?
I’m not asking for silence, but for considered speech. Before you tweet, ask yourself who you are tweeting for. After all church, the rest of the world is watching, and how we treat our “enemies” (real or imaginary) catches there attention.
I am, by no means, perfect. I find myself in my own spiral of inner conflict. I’m an amalgamation of contradictory opinions, ideals, philosophy, scientific thought and theology. I am a project; a pilgrimage in progress. I can, all too easily, look back on myself and see some of the ridiculous/dehumanising/uninformed views that I once held, which, by the grace-work of God and the wisdom of others, have been slowly worn down and transformed. God knows how much I would slap the person I was seven years ago if I ever had the chance to come face-to-face with myself.
I was once an enemy of many things that I now support. And I suspect that my views will continue to fluctuate. So maybe I need to extend the past me some grace? Wouldn’t I be in need of the same grace from my future self?
But when I look at the way discussions take place today on social media, I often see no mercy for the person in the wrong. The old me would have been too scared to speak into this fray with fear of being torched instead of being taught. The present me suspects the same reception. I sense that I would easily become the sacrifice on the altar of someone’s idea of making progress or of sparking a “revival”. However, this kind of sacrificial act doesn’t persuade or convert the enemy, it just burns them up. It reduces the opposition to ashes, leaving no means for transformation and grace.
The truth is that it is impossible to make friends of enemies whilst continuing to treat them like targets.
Contrary to popular belief, we’re not all phoenixes; we don’t all rise in a new form from the ashes of our defeat. The fall, the defeat, the humiliation isn’t 100% guaranteed to make us realise the errors in our thinking and lead us to agreement. Sometimes the fall burns, and scars, or causes our hearts to callous and our stupid ideas to become entrenched.
My own mind has changed on a lot of things over the years, and I now question a lot of thinking that I once held sacred. And yet this change in me has only taken place because of those who have invited me to peaceful conversation. It has never happened where I have been thrown under the wheels of their vehicle for progress or revival.
Maybe the real sacrifice required of us, is us and not them? It’s a harder offering to give. Maybe what we require is the ability to listen and understand, and the patience to reply in a loving way that seeks to turn those who obstruct us into the champions of our cause and not into the trophies from a day’s hunt.
I’ve still some way to go in this. And I’m certainly not claiming to be innocent.
But I wonder what it would be like to see a spiritual revival, or a change in the justice system, or a transition to a more economically fair world, that didn’t have someone else’s proverbial head on a plaque?
I don’t want to be a Magpie. I don’t want a carrion nature. I don’t want to be part of the spread of hatred, demonic accusations or scapegoating.
What about you?
My prayer is that our stomachs would swell with the real food of working at peaceful living and reconciliation, and that we would not grow fat on the rejection of others.
“Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples”
–Jesus, John 13:34-35 (NLT)
Header image is entitled “To Fly or Not to Fly”, by BozenaFatygaArt
Tristan Sherwin is the author of Love: Expressed