Note The TroublemakersFr. Barnabas Powell
There’s a strain of thought in modern society called “good trouble.” It started gaining more widely known during the Civil Rights era of our societies move away from this notion of “separate but equal.” Of course, this notion was easy to dismantle because “separate but equal” is ridiculous on its face!
But I was intrigued by the notion of “good trouble” because I think it holds some important insights into human interaction and community building. The idea of “good trouble” comes from the reality that sometimes going good runs into the darkness of our times. For instance, standing up to the “back of the bus” rules based on race is “good trouble.” Evil societal norms should be confronted by “good trouble.”
BUT, we start stumbling when we falter on the idea of “good.” What is “good trouble” to one, is anarchy to another. Where do we draw the line? How do we discern if “troublemakers” in our midst are actually good for the community in the long run or merely destructive? Sadly, we don’t spend nearly enough time contemplating this. And that means that society cannot embrace the wisdom of change and further disunity is the result. We are witnessing this happening in our own day.
But what if there were some wisdom to help us discern between “good trouble” and “troublemakers?”
Look at our lesson today in Romans 16:17-24:
Brethren, I appeal to you to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I would have you wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil; then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastos, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
What the Apostle is warning the Roman Church about in the Epistle is the dangers of allowing wounded people to set the agenda for the community. Paul warns the Romans that these injured people are motivated by “their own appetites” and using “fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.” You see, these wounded people have an insatiable desire to “build their team.” They need to be confirmed in their “rightness” to continue to avoid confronting their own pain. This makes a lot of sense. Who really wants to confront their own darkness? It is so rarely a “pleasant” experience.
And the whole notion of undisciplined appetites gives us a powerful tool to discern when the troublemakers are actually destructive to themselves and to the community. If you see a passion being enflamed rather than controlled, then that is not “good trouble.” It’s destructive and needs to be marked as such. A perfect example is the damb=nable notion that we should be free to indulge all our sexual desires as a matter of our own identity. This blatant destructive immaturity cannot bear intrinsic good and always leads to destruction. Advocating for unrestrained desire is never “good trouble.”
But what is at stake is the health of the community, and that needs the attention of the faithful as much as any single person in that community. Sometimes the “seed” from the Sower falls on hard ground (see Matthew 13:10-23). And, while that is sad and pitiable, we must not forget the seed that falls on the good soil and neglect the growing souls while we pour endless attention on the perpetually unhappy.
How are you dealing with the woundedness in your life and the woundedness of those around you? Are you being gentle with those who oppose themselves? Have you poured so many spiritual resources into someone only to see that work disappear into the “black hole” of their despair? Are you a source of conflict in your community? The Church wishes all to be healed and come to peace, and sometimes, the best way to bring someone to that place where they discover their own darkness is by recognizing they simply are not in a place where they can hear the truth.
No one is ever a “lost cause.” That would mean their “lostness” is more powerful than God’s grace, and that ain’t possible! But there may be a season of life where they need to be alone with their pain and woundedness to come to the place where they can ask for healing. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is believe people when they say with their words and actions “I don’t want you or your words.” OK.
During the reign of Emperor Licinius in the 4th century, he was determined to force the Christians to recant the Faith and come back to paganism. As this c0-regent (he was “emperor” of the Eastern Roman Empire, while St. Constantine was emperor of the West) ordered Christians to be tortured and killed, a number of Christians in the Armenian district heard of the coming persecution, 45 of them went forward voluntarily to the local procurator, Lycius, and boldly proclaimed they were Christians. Lycius had the men tortured and imprisoned with increasing torture in hopes of turning the believers from Christ. These men refused, and, the night before they were beheaded, an angel of the Lord appeared to them and told them their suffering was at an end and they would soon be in the presence of Christ. Two of the guards guarding these holy men saw what happened and converted to Christ right then and there. These heroes of the Faith practiced the “good trouble” of faithfulness to Christ without expecting their situation would be free of consequence. But their faithful lives speak to us today about the great joy of faithfulness no matter what the cost!
Today, be a source of peace and healing in your home, your community, and your world. Practice the grace of peacemaking and gentle love, even in the face of rejection. And, perhaps practice the loving grace of distance when the other is simply not in a place to receive healing. Allow the wisdom and discernment of the Faith to help you mark those who just want to cause trouble and how to live out your faithfulness as a Normal Orthodox Christian in times of chaos and darkness.
P.S. You were chosen from on high as an army of sacred ranks, O forty-five Martyrs of Christ. You contested for the glory of Christ, and by your struggles defeated polytheism. We glorify Him Who glorifies you.