By Carl Carter
Sometime in the 1400s (or maybe not) a wandering minstrel (or maybe somebody else) worked up a little ditty about how Adam spent 4000 years in prison (or something) as a penalty for stealing an apple.
At the time, it was pretty well accepted in the Christian churches that Adam and Eve had to stew in bondage until Christ came and did something to free them. Now, many Christian churches teach that all humans deserve an eternity in hell over an apple stolen by somebody a long time ago, but that we can get off the hook and make God happy by eating wafers and drinking wine and pretending we’re munching on the dead bones and drinking the blood of Christ.
My priest, Jack Alvey, may take issue with the details of my soteriology. But that’s OK. I don’t pretend to be sure about this stuff.
All the same, we sang about the stolen apple in church this morning, and will again today (5 p.m. on 12/9/18) at our Lessons & Carols service at Church of the Ascension in Vestavia. It’s actually a happy sounding little tune, and if you don’t think about it too much, it’s fun to sing and listen to.
It’s clearly a ridiculous thing to believe or sing about, but we do it, and it probably made perfect sense to people in the 1400s. But when people who are full of fear and anger act on beliefs of which they are certain, you can end up with things like inquisitions.
I’ve been thinking about it in the last few days as we’ve seen the increasing tensions over the apparent police shooting of E.J. Bradford, a black man who seems to have been trying to be a “good guy with a gun” at the Riverchase Galleria. Protesters are trying to shut down businesses in the area to pressure them to press the city and state officials to hurry up with the video and full report of the shooting.
They’re certain that the police shot an innocent black man, and to be honest, I think they’re probably right. So we have righteous indignation and angry calls for justice.
But certainty scares the shit out of me, especially when it’s paired with righteous anger. Bull Connor was certain that black people were inferior, so he blasted children with water cannons and threw them in jail. I spent most of this year trying to talk to people about ending the tax on groceries, but in the end, they wouldn’t vote for me because they were certain that hordes of central Americans were going to crash through our southern border with guns, diseases and evil intentions. I don’t know what one has to do with the other, but that’s how it went down.
Fear, anger and certainty never mix well together. When combined, they always lead to something bad.
It isn’t always about violence, either. People who are certain that extreme tax cuts pay for themselves just passed a tax bill that will wreck the economy about the time my granddaughters are getting close to starting their careers.
Certainty combined with anger makes us hurt people for no reason. Cops who have read statistics on black crime get scared when African American men are involved, and they seem to shoot quicker than they would at a white man. That kind of stuff happens with collective guilt – or collective anything. Once we see a person as a category, it becomes very hard to keep a clear head about what that person did or didn’t do.
At least that’s what I think. But I’m wrong a lot.
Distrust is obviously at the root of the impatience to get the facts out. I get that. Hoover cops don’t help matters by using the n-word when dealing with protesters. Am I certain this has happened? Yeah, pretty much. I’ve been told this by friends who’ve always told me the truth before. But I’m trying not to be angry about that, because my anger won’t make anything better.
And so I’ll tell stories and I’ll sing, because if I get the song wrong, nobody will get hurt. And I do it believing that in the long term, justice will happen.