The news recently has celebrated the antics of Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater, who pulled off his version of "Take this job and shove it." He made his grand exit from the plane (and his employment) by shouting a series of expletives, opening the emergency escape door, deploying the escape chute, and sliding down to freedom. The two beers he took with him added a dramatic flourish. But more notable is the public reaction to his clearly inappropriate behavior. Nationwide people are celebrating his misdeed. Television, radio shows, blogs, Facebook and Twitter are burning up with support for him. T-shirts hail him as the next folk hero. Money is pouring in for his legal fees, while lawyers fight for the privilege of representing him. I’m waiting for the manufacturer of whatever beer he took to give him an endorsement contract. Mr. Slater made a great understatement: "It seems like something here has resonated with a few people."
Hollywood has given us many scenes of rage against the world, but none have "resonated with a few people" as much as the historically significant movie "Network." Remember news anchor Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) shouting, "I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!"? That catchy little phrase was quoted for months in 1976 when the movie first came out. That same year, the terms "stagflation" and "misery index" played a significant role in the presidential election. These are the times in which we live.
Such angst and misery are not unprecedented, however. First century Palestine was a place of economic and political oppression on a much grander scale than we are experiencing today. The emperor declared peace, defined as the consolidation of power and the absence of opposition. But for the people of the empire, there was no peace. The defiance of "I’m not going to take it anymore" went away with the suppression of the Maccabeean revolt. Instead, they hoped for God’s strong arm to institute peace and justice on God’s terms. Though the words would not be codified for 900 years, the sentiment was "O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel."
Emmanuel did come, but he redefined what it meant to be the Prince of Peace. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Mt. 10:34). He was speaking of the division that necessarily comes when each person is compelled to decide for himself or herself whether or not to believe and prepare for the Kingdom. The peace Jesus opted for was not the serenity of family unity, but the assurance of God’s sovereignty in a world of chaos and brutality. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid" (Jn 14:27). Ironically, Jesus said this as he was facing a less-than-peaceful death.
There is a lesson here for all of the Steven Slaters who rage against the world. Jesus offers a real peace which has always been difficult to grasp. It is not the absence of conflict, or the abundance of possessions. It is not a friendly work environment, or job security. It is not peace by medication or isolation. It is not the peace of a nation that puts off tough choices, purchasing today’s comfort with their children’s futures.
The peace of Jesus is very different from what we usually accept as peace. His peace is the kind of healing that only takes place after the scab is torn off, the puss allowed to drain, the balm of Gilead applied. It is the peace that comes when we discover that blessings flow even when the paycheck stops. It is the tremendous power we feel when we learn to hustle like it all depends on us, and pray like it all depends on God. It is the serenity we feel when tribulation teaches us what we are made of, and that this too shall pass. May the peace of God be with you.
The Rev. Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.