For decades, even before I was born, the Muppets have interjected their own comedy with two bitter old men, Statler and Waldorf. They sit on the balcony of the theatre and make snide remarks. They are not generally kind. They seem to care about their ideas of excellence, but they don’t ever actually help.
They seem, insofar as they may like anything at all, though, to at least like each other’s company.
Statler and Waldorf remind me of the internet, and the all too often good advice, “Never read the comments.” Whether it is a news story, a someone’s YouTube video, or people sharing photos on Facebook or Instagram, the negativity is overwhelming.
These bitter people were not just fictional puppets. They know can light up our phones with notifications, wherever we go, 24/7. Fun fact: The creators of the Muppets had already noticed it.
I once wrote a blog post about depression and Christianity. I was stunned when it went viral and thousand of people shared it on Facebook. As hundreds and hundred of comments were made, my amazement only grew. So many total strangers offering love and affirmation, saying they have felt the same way too and yearned for someone to put into words their feelings. And so many total strangers, knowing only the smallest sliver of my story, feeling free to call me a liar, a fake Christian, and worse. There are plenty of critics we can sit with if we choose to.
The author of the Psalms tells us not to “sit with the critics.” There is a time to say, “This is not right.” Not all complaints, not all criticisms are the same. Our critiques, whether about personal taste in the arts or moral judgments in politics, can come either from a place of genuine caring or a place of bitter crankiness, a place in which nothing anyone else does will ever be good enough for us. I suspect most of the criticism and complaint most us make each day fall somewhere in between.
But in this Bible verse, the problem is not with identifying or “calling out” injustices. The Bible itself is overflowing with those who complain about how things are. In many cases, God told them to. We call them prophets. Jesus himself, seeing the exploitation and sacrilege in the temple screamed that it had become a den of robbers.
The problem is “sitting” with the critics. If something in the world, whether in how our friends are treating one another or how our politicians are running our country, is wrong, we should still not sit with the critics. We should get up with prophets. The easier part is saying “This is wrong; I don’t like it.” An important part. A necessary first step. But we won’t change the world by staying on step one. Sitting together and complaining makes us feel better, sometimes, but it does not make anything else be better.
Perhaps we can strive to make our critiques be prompts for our creativity. Don’t just complain about how others treat us. Treat them better. Don’t just complain about how the media portrays certain people or situations. Write better stories. Don’t just complain about what the powerful “they” are doing in politics. Get involved in politics.
The truly happy person does not sit with the critics. Let’s get up with the prophets. Let’s change this world. We’ll all be happier.
God, you know my thoughts better than even I do. I am tempted to complain, and to sit still, maybe angry or sad or tired in my complaints. But even when they are right, sitting with critics does not make me happy. It does not make others happy. Help my complaints become creativity. Where I am wrong, help me creatively see things in a new light. Where I am right, help me creatively be your hands and your mouth to do and say the positive things that will make it better. Amen.
The Reflectionary is a series of short reflections based on one or two verses of each Sunday’s lectionary readings (the lectionary is a calendar of Bible passages used in Sunday services by hundreds of millions of Christians around the world) by the Rev’d Jean-Daniel Williams, the youth and young adult minister for the Montréal-Ottawa Conference of the United Church of Canada and the Anglican-United Christian Chaplain at McGill University in Montréal, Québec, Canada.