Do not get angry with your neighbor for every injury, and do not resort to acts of insolence.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Sirach 10:6 (NRSV) – October 23, 2014)
Today is the feast of St. James of Jerusalem, also called James the Just, also known as the brother of our Lord. He is revered as the advocate of tolerance for Gentile converts (see Acts 15:12-19). Of note is the apparent fact that he was not a follower of his famous brother until after Jesus’ Resurrection; one imagines that getting a visit by a deceased-but-risen relative who claims to be the Son of God would be a hell of a conversion experience.
Anyway, this lesson from ben Sira is not from the lessons for James’ commemoration, but its admonition to patience and toleration for the foibles of one’s neighbors, even those which might cause injury, seems fitting to the day. Unfortunately, fitting or not, patience and toleration are not the trademarks of our age, are they?
We live in an era of social conflict which is, if not created by, supported by the social media we thought would overcome such divergence. Library shelves are filled with science fiction novels in which instant and wide-spread communication was predicted to be the panacea for political confrontation, the mechanism which would foster peace and mutual respect, the technology which would usher in utopia. Those rosy speculations have all turned out to be bullshit, however.
Along with the social media has come an increase in “tribalism,” in purity tests for membership in social groups, in litmus tests for political candidates, in raised voices shouting past one another. And the social media technology of algorithms making machine-logical decisions about which messages their human consumers would be fed is pushing the tribes and social groups further apart, raising the volume of the shouting. Some cloud-based calculator is deciding whose voices I hear, whose pictures I see, whose news-feed I read; that coldly logical “thinking machine” is deciding that I only want to hear the voice, see the pictures, and read the news that bolsters my prejudices, and so that’s what I hear, see, and read. Whatever the “other” tribe is hearing, seeing, and reading, I’m not . . . and what I am, they’re not. And so we have no meeting in the middle or anywhere else.
So much for peace and mutual respect, so much for toleration and utopia.
We need to turn off the machines; we need to divorce ourselves from the algorithms; we need to start listening to one another without the filter of calculating machines. We need to be less angry about perceived (often mis-perceived) injury. We need to heed James’ call to toleration.
A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.