Tag Archives: Schadenfreude

Getting it Out

Getting it Out (CaD Ps 58) Wayfarer

Then people will say,
    “Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
    surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
Psalm 58:11 (NIV)

My buddy, Spike, and I have a friendly on-going conversation about baseball. Spike is a life-long fan of the New York Yankees. He even tried to get me to be a fan in our younger years. He bought me a subscription to a Yankees fan magazine one year. While I will always appreciate and respect his passion, he failed to convert me.

In baseball fandom, the Yankees are that team that everyone loves to hate. It’s the same kind of schadenfreude that America has had for New England Patriots the last ten years. Baseball, however, is a much older sport and the animosity runs much deeper. The Yankees are a team that everyone loves to hate, and when it comes time for the postseason I believe that there are millions of baseball fans who, next to their favorite team, will cheer for “any team but the Yankees.” Spike argues that having a team that is the Darth Vader of the sport is actually good for the sport and that the Yankees serve a legitimate and healthy purpose in this. I’ll leave that argument for meaningless conversation to have over a pint at the pub.

Still, I have noticed that in the passion and emotions that sports stirs up in people, it is common to have that rival, that enemy team, about whom you feel intense negative emotion. And when you lose, again, to that hated rival you curse them and secretly hope the worst for them even though you know it’s silly and rather meaningless behavior for an adult in a world where there are legitimately other things we should really care about. Nevertheless, sometimes like screaming into a pillow, it feels good to exorcise those negative emotions. It reminds me of a friend of Wendy’s and mine who, as a mother of young children, admitted that some days she sneaks out into the garage to scream profanities that she just has to get out.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 58, is part of a genre of ancient lyrics known by scholars as “imprecatory” songs. To “imprecate” means to “call down curses on another person or persons.” It was a common practice among cultures in the Ancient Near East. For modern readers of the Great Story, imprecatory psalms can be tough to stomach. The language, anger, rage, and emotion of the lyrics are raw. In one verse of David’s lyrics, he asks God to make the wicked like a stillborn baby who never sees life.

Two things I noted as I meditated on David’s lyrical curses in the quiet this morning. First, the focus of David’s curses are wicked, rich rulers who rig the system and don’t care anything about the poor, the needy, and the socially outcast. He’s cursing the injustices of this world and those who propagate them. It’s really the same anger we’ve seen in protests and riots this year.

The second thing is that David is taking his righteous anger, rage, and emotions to God in song. He’s not taking out vengeance himself. He’s not violently taking matters into his own hand. He’s not rooting out the wicked who inspire his rant and executing them which, depending on the time this song was written, he had both the authority and ability to do. Like a young mother screaming F-bombs to her minivan in an empty garage, David is exorcising his emotions to God, who is neither shocked nor surprised by our emotions.

In that way, I think Spike has a good point that it’s good to have a bad guy on whom we exorcise those negative emotions. Along this life journey, I’ve come to acknowledge that I can’t avoid anger. Even Jesus got righteously angry, and Paul told the followers of Jesus in Ephesus not that anger is wrong or bad, but what we do with it. Psalm 58 and the imprecatory psalms were the ancient Hebrews way of getting it out. And, on this post-election morning, it’s not lost on me that there may be many people who need to exorcise some negative emotions in a healthy way.

Spike has often told me “it’s not an official World Series if the Yankees aren’t in it.”

If you’ll excuse me, I think I left something in the garage.

A Seat at the Table

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.
Luke 14:7-9 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I was honored to be invited to a special banquet. I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to attend such an occasion again in my lifetime. The banquet hall was enormous and it was filled with some of the most powerful individuals in the world, including politicians, diplomats, and celebrities. The speaker’s table on the stage, by the podium, was a who’s who of the most elite individuals I was used to seeing in the news almost every day.

The individual who had invited me was a person with a certain amount of social status in certain circles. I was just a young man and a nobody who was shocked to have even been allowed to be there at all. So it was, that I shouldn’t have been surprised that when we approached the ticket table and my host asked for our tickets, my host was given a ticket with a table and seat assignment. My ticket, however, relegated me to stand in a line outside the banquet hall with a throng of similar nobodies. I would only be admitted if some VIP didn’t show up.

I can remember being really disappointed and embarrassed. I had felt so honored to be invited, and now I felt so humiliated to have to stand outside while my host enjoyed the banquet. I also remember my host’s attitude upon realization of the situation. The subtext of my host’s words felt to me like: “Well, sucks to be you. Good luck! Hope you get in.”

The banquet was well underway and many of the guests were already finished with their meal when the door opened and an usher pointed to me. I was led through the sea of tables to a table right in front of the ballroom, just a few feet from the podium. I was given the seat of an international diplomat who hadn’t shown up for the banquet and had the privilege of a front-row seat to hear some of the most incredible speakers in the world.

After the banquet, I met back up again with my host who was clearly frustrated. Their guaranteed seat was at a table at the very back of the banquet hall. They could barely see the stage and podium. To be honest, I felt a bit of schadenfreude at that moment. I kinda still feel it as I retell the story.

That experience came to mind this morning as I read Jesus’ words to the guests at a banquet. Be humble. Let others have the seat of prominence. Be willing to wait in the lobby for an open seat.

“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In the quiet this morning I have to confess to you that my attitude wasn’t so humble as I waited behind the banquet hall door. I felt anger and disappointment. The end of the story, however, taught me an important lesson that I’ve never forgotten.

Shades of Schadenfreude

[Jonah] prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
Jonah 4:2 (NIV)

As I get older, I’ve grown to enjoy etymology, the study of words and their origins. I find it fascinating how these building blocks of communication become part of our everyday conversations, and how they wax and wane in popular usage. I also find it fascinating how cultures ascribe certain significance, power, and meaning to certain words, while others don’t. Our kids in Scotland have a few great anecdotes about uncomfortable social moments when they discovered that a word they used, which has a benign meaning in the States, has a very different meaning in the U.K.

There is a word I first noticed a few years ago, and I’ve found that it’s growing in popularity: schadenfreude. It’s a compound German word that comes from the root words meaning “harm” and “joy“. It means to take pleasure in another’s person’s misfortune.

There certainly is a natural and rather harmless way that we enjoy seeing the bad guy get his comeuppance. I was one of the many who watched the entire series Game of Thrones. The series was masterful in creating really bad characters who I wanted to see come to a nasty, bitter end and was happy when it eventually happened.

At the same time, there is a dark side of schadenfreude that I feel like I’m witnessing more and more in our current culture. It’s not enough to disagree with another person’s political, religious, or social worldviews, we have to publicly call them names and post antagonizing memes on social media. Just last night I found myself shutting off social media and walking away. I realized how mean-spirited the posts were that I was reading and it wasn’t having a positive effect on my psyche or my feelings towards others.

In today’s final chapter of the story of Jonah, we finally learn what was at the heart of Jonah’s mad dash to flee from what God had asked him to do. Jonah didn’t want God to be gracious and merciful with his enemies. Jonah wanted to wallow in schadenfreude and watch his enemies, the Assyrians, suffer.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus took five common statements about matters of relationship and then told His followers He was raising the bar. Jesus’ expectation for me as a follower is that I behave in a way that goes against the grain of common human behavior:

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.”
Matthew 5:43-47 (MSG)

Reading Jonah’s story this week has caused me to do some real personal introspection. You can see it in the common ways my posts have ended the past few days.

As I was reading about the etymology of the word schadenfreude, I learned that many cultures and languages have a word that means the same thing. I recognize that there is a relatively harmless pleasure that I take when my favorite team’s rival loses. C’est la vie. I don’t, however, want to wake up someday and find myself in Jonah’s sandals. Following Jesus means loving, even those people who wish to see me suffer; Even those who actually act on it.

“Forgive them. They don’t realize what they’re doing.”

God, make me more like that.