Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Turning the Other Cheek

Turning the other cheek: not for the faint of heart.

There are plenty of troublesome passages in the Bible. I'm not talking about stuff that's hard to believe. I'm talking about stuff that's hard to do, even for true believers. One such passage comes from the Gospel according to Matthew:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Another, in much the same vein, comes from Luke:
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:27-30)
People are not predisposed to act this way—not even Christians—and so mostly they don't—again, not even Christians. It would take an enormous amount of courage to return only love, forgiveness, submission, and prayers to one's persecutors, knowing full-well that one was going to receive only more persecution, cheek plucking, and pants stealing in return.
It would take an even more enormous amount of faith to presume that God would see to it that things turned out otherwise. God makes no such guarantee. God only promises eternal life to those who believe and keep his commandments, and it seems, based on these two troublesome passages of Scripture at any rate, that He makes the same promise to our tormentors. Who in their right mind wants a deal like that? I think the answer is obvious—tormentors and persecutors.
I bring this up because I have been thinking about my tormentors these past few days. I have four principal nemeses, and I have written extensively about them in this blog. They are, in reverse chronological order:
  1. Bill Clifton – division president at my last job – the guy who fired me.
  2. Fritz DelMonte – corporate CFO at my last job – the guy who had me fired.
  3. Quentin Parks – CFO at Albatross – the philandering smoothie who not only let his girlfriend influence company policy, but also to weigh in on the list of candidates for a sweeping final reduction in force.
  4. Rod Chandler – director of accounting under Parks – the anal retentive self-promoter who initially proposed me as a candidate for lay-off because he saw me as a threat to his continued ascendancy in power and influence.
Often better when someone else does it.
I still think about them all with some regularity, although, thankfully, with less frequency than when all their tormenting was still manifest in fresh wounds. Two weeks ago, The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time according to our Catholic liturgical calendar, the passage from Matthew that I quoted above, was included in the readings at Mass. Our pastor preached his homily on it, as he was supposed to do, and drove home the necessity of praying for one's enemies with some force. As a devout believer, one who doesn't think that religion is all about feeling good or making easy choices, I was forced to consider it.
I considered it for two days, and then started doing it. It wasn't easy. I didn't expect it to be, but neither did I expect it to be so wrenching. Still I managed. I prayed for Bill and Fritz and Quentin and Rod by name every day. I added them to my morning regimen of thanksgiving, reflection, and supplication. I asked God specifically to bless them, to prosper their endeavors, to heal their afflictions, and to lead them to heaven. I did allow that if He felt the need to smack them around a little in the process that would be okay, but it would be entirely up to Him, and He certainly shouldn't feel so compelled on my account. I may attempt heroic levels of holiness on occasion, but I am not perfect. This was the best I could do.
Five days later I got a call from a recruiter about a job opening. It wasn't a particularly good job—low pay, long hours, insufficient resources, and supervisory management that was, in the words of the recruiter, 'a bunch of thirty-year-old type-A's with Big Four accounting backgrounds who really think they're hot you-know-what.' Oh boy! Was this my earthly recompense for praying for my enemies? Was this my God adding wholesale to my blessings because I undertook to be perfect as He is perfect? Was I getting an advance on the reward I assumed would come due in the afterlife? The jury's still out, but I think not...and here's why.
The recruiter wanted some references to forward to his type-A clients. He didn't want the ones I'd already given him. I'd given him friends and peers, department heads I'd worked with who thought I was bright and personable and a good team player, people who had come to me for accounting related decision making support and got good service from me. The recruiter wanted direct supervisors from my last job. He wanted the guys who had fired me. I didn't want to give him the guys who'd fired me because I suspected they would not be the kind of references that I would need, even though they had promised after a fashion that they would do me no wrong.
Bill might be an okay reference because he'd told me that he would miss me when I left. He'd also told me that I was one of the smartest people he'd ever met. That kind of thing wouldn't sound too bad unless he also felt compelled to say that he thought I was weak-kneed and lilly-livered when it came to enforcing policy or that he'd like to snatch me out of my car at a traffic light and beat the crap out of me, either one of which was a distinct possibility given Bill's proclivity for overstating his case.
Fritz, on the other hand, probably thinks that I am a dumbass. He never said so, but then Fritz is not the kind of person who says exactly what is on his mind. Fritz uses subtlety to get other people to understand what he thinks so that they can relate it back to him in more forceful terms. Then he tells you what the other people said as if it were evidentiary. Fritz may think I'm a dumbass, but that is a kindness compared to what I think of him. Too bad the type-A's aren't going to rank my references according to what I think about them.
When it comes to references, you can be wronged by an ill-timed pause or a poor choice of words. You can be culled from the herd by accident, so it's an easy matter for somebody who wants to do you injury to nuance a response to accomplish just that. Nobody has to say exactly what they think. They just have to hem and haw a little, or drop a hint. When there are hundreds of applicants for every available job, it doesn't take much to take you right out of the running. I didn't want to give the recruiter Bill and Fritz as references, but I didn't see where I had a choice in the matter.

Occasionally...way better.
By praying for my enemies, I had turned the other cheek, something that God apparently wants me to do, but something I hadn't really intended. 'Be careful what you pray for,' a good friend once warned me, 'because when you get it, you will be tested.' By asking God to bless Bill and Fritz, and to prosper their endeavors, I had in effect asked Him to increase their influence over me. I had given them another shot to ruin my life, as if the wreck of their first go-round hadn't been enough. I haven't heard back from the recruiter, so it remains to be seen how they do.
Another thing that remains to be seen is whether or not I continue to pray for Bill and Fritz. It was a hard enough thing to do before. Realizing that they still had power over my circumstances was like feeling someone's dank breath on the back of my neck when I thought I was alone. The trouble is that I don't know if I created this situation by trying to be a better person or if the whole matter is just coincidence. Am I being tested...or just screwed? Do I stop praying and make it go away, or do I continue to pray and perhaps get a better seat at the beatific vision? It's not an easy choice. If it were easy, there would be more saints than sinners.


  1. I often think about those loving thy enemies and turning the other cheek comments. I was brought up without religion, so I can only consider them from a personal perspective. For what it's worth, I think that a small dose of this mentality is wisdom, and too large a dose is foolishness.

  2. The other side of that line between wisdom and foolishness...I think that's where saints live.


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