Monday, January 9, 2017

The Right Not To Be Upset

The Right Not To Be Upset





Back in the 90s I began a practice I am still following today. In Presidential election years after both conventions I decide which candidate is likely to win. If it is not the candidate I prefer, then I stop watching the news until after the election. 

One year, when we were living in Pittsburgh, I figured Bill Clinton would win. During the time slot of the network news our local PBS station was broadcasting the series based on the James Herriot books, so I watched Dr. Herriot heal halt, blind and lame creatures throughout the fall. I did this even though I had seen many of the episodes before. Then, since the days of Reagan I have watched very little of the debates between the two parties' candidates. This year I watched none. I let the little lady tell me about them.

Why? I found my levels of anxiety increased. The news and debates upset me. So, I created my own safe space. I figured I had no obligation to expose myself to the news or debates if they made me feel bad, so I didn't.

Perhaps I was on the leading edge of a societal trend. There are few rights now more sacrosanct now than the right not to be upset. If something upsets you, the person or event that upset you is in the wrong, and you have a right to understanding, sympathy, and protection. 

If they don't understand your upset feelings, they lack empathy. If they don't sympathize, they are insensitive. If they don't protect you, they fail to fulfill an obligation. Whoever is in authority - the parent, the management, the administration, the government -  has an obligation to get in between you and who or what upsets you. 

Get the coach, who made Junior feel bad about himself and made him run laps, off the field. Make the boss write up and send to sensitivity training your fellow worker who said something that offended you. Shame and isolate that guy with unenlightened views about women. Get that professor whose views violate the current campus orthodoxy out of the classroom. Accuse that person who says unpopular things of hate speech. Make sure everybody understands how self-evident these responses are. Make sure they understand that something is wrong with them if they don't see things as you do.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing seems as common among Christians as it does among the secularists. What would these snowflakes have done if they lived in the centuries before Constantine? What would they have done during the Reformation when not only Protestants and Roman Catholics but Protestants and Protestants talked mean to and about each other? Melted no doubt.



After the recent POTUS election African American evangelical Christians interpreted the election in Biblical terms. One would have thought that African Americans (regardless of Christian profession) in the United States were ancient Israelites soon to live in Egypt under a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph. Did they think that soon they would be back on the plantations? Or that Jim Crow would be re-instituted? That they'd be riding in the back of the bus? That they would have to pay a poll tax? Did the think the 1964 Civil Rights Act and all the laws and regulations that have followed would be undone? Or that their children would be sent to separate and unequal schools? 

Moreover, they were painfully disappointed that their white evangelical (supposed) brethren had voted for Trump. And they were wondering why these same "brethren" could not at least don sackcloth and sit with them in the ash heap to mourn. 

But it was an election! Just an election. Trump won. Hillary lost. Had Hillary won, would I have been justified to do a "Job" and to expect that Black Christian Democrats would appreciate my despair? As a matter of fact, I went to bed on election night rather than watch the returns, fully anticipated awaking to a President-elect Clinton, very possibly a Democrat majority in the Senate, and the expectation my last years would be spent watching the country go to hell. But I didn't expect Jemar Tisby or Thabiti Anyabwile to sit Shiva with me.

Recently absurdity has been trumped by absurdity. At the University of Glasgow theological students are given a trigger warning. If in class depictions of Christ's crucifixion are upsetting to them, they may leave class. The University stated, "We have an absolute duty of care to all our students and where it is felt course material may cause potential upset or concern warnings are issued." God forbid those students should be told that during that gruesome crucifixion the Son of God experienced the hellish wrath of his Father. God forbid that they be told that in that death is all their hope of eternal salvation.

I wish I had gone to school in the age of trigger warnings and my right not to be upset. I wish at Pensacola High School there might have been a warning, "This class involves testing that requires working algebraic equations. If you find this upsetting, please feel free to excuse yourself." Or, "Tryouts will be held today for the elite choir within the choir. If you are upset afterwards, counselors will be available." Or at Belhaven College, "Dr. Durrett ridicules stupid ideas and comments and sometimes gives 'passing' grades like D- -. If this would make you uncomfortable, please sign up for one of Dr. Preer's philosophy classes where you can peacefully sleep." Or at the University of West Florida, "This philosophy professor writes caustic notes on test papers and makes caustic comments when students say dumb things. There will be an alternative class in crocheting for those who would be upset by Dr. Wittgenstein." Or, at Reformed Seminary, "In this class you may be asked to translate Hebrew and/or Greek. If you find this upsetting, you may be excused from taking this class."

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5).

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