Read ‘em the Riot Act

The phone rang. It was my boss. Sandy was the Director of Nursing and I was the hospital chaplain. 

“Karl, we have a couple in the emergency room, and she’s about to give birth,” Sandy said. “They really want to get married before the baby comes. I’ve got the kitchen starting on a little wedding cake. Will you come down and do the ceremony? We’ll give them a nice, little wedding they’ll never forget.”

Sandy sounded very excited. She wasn’t ordering me to officiate, but I knew she’d be disappointed in me if I said “no.” 

But what was the RIGHT thing to do? What was ethical? What was biblical? All sorts of thoughts filled my mind.

Immediately, rising to the forefront of my brain was this. “Yeah, I’ll do the ceremony. But I’m going to ‘read them the riot act’ first! They’ll have to swear an oath that they’ll take the responsibility of raising a child a lot more seriously than they’ve taken the idea of marriage!” 

I thought maybe a little scolding, mixed with a fair amount of shame, might elevate their spiritual maturity and parental possibilities in the few minutes I’d have with them. I knew within my heart, however, that scolding and shame were not tools Jesus used, and neither should I.

Apparently, I’m not the only person who has had like-minded thoughts. I’ve noticed during these tense times that many people are not behaving at their best. Here are a few examples:

  • A lady entered her local grocery store without a mask. Confronted by masked employees, who were joined by masked customers, the bare-faced woman was shredded by their loud threats and lectures on public safety. 
  • A man wearing a mask visited his local garden shop. He was accosted by protestors who ridiculed him for being a “sheep” who didn’t know how to think for himself instead of believing the lies in the news.
  • A pastor has been streaming his sermons for almost five months. He’s barely been out of the house, except to pick up groceries from the curbside delivery at his local Target. His wife is in a very high-risk category and would be unlikely to survive being infected with Coronavirus. He’s doing everything he can to protect her. But, a church member called him and chewed him out for how unkempt his hair looked in the church’s streaming services. “Get a haircut—or else!” The parishioner warned. 
  • A member of a church sarcastically bragged on her pastor, “Every week since the pandemic started, he has really stepped on our toes. I can’t wait for him to step on them again next week.”
  • And then, there are the actual riots.

I might suggest, whether you are faced with someone who reads you the riot act or if you are tempted to read someone else the riot act, that you stop and think first. 

So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,

for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12 [NIV]

We are in a time of high anxiety feeding on high anxiety—when what is needed is the non-anxious presence. Calmness bringing on calm. The peace that Jesus brings, as He brings it through you. 

I wish I had known this better back in my early days of ministry. As it turned out, before I said what was on my mind, to Sandy or the pregnant couple, I suddenly thought of a pertinent question. “Do they have a license?” Sandy excused herself and returned a minute later. “Yes. They have a license.”

I said I’d be down, hung up and began to plot my strategy.

Seconds later, the phone rang again. “Never mind,” Sandy said. “They each have a driver’s license.” The wedding was off.

Thank you, Lord, for sparing me from the temptation to dump my righteous indignation on a young couple who needed your grace. Please help me to respond in these anxious days with the grace you modeled and commanded of us. 

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