Joseph Avenue Christmas is the story of one man's journey to the true meaning of Christmas. Not just the birth of the babe, but the salvation of the soul. Set on the wintry streets of Rochester, NY it is a visit to the heart of that city and the hearts of some of its best and bravest people. From their good example, and the simple lessons of their own lives and faith, a troubled man finds on a dark Christmas Eve an escape from an increasingly failed life.
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Basically, it was just another Saturday night in the ‘hood.
Or whatever they call it nowadays.
One guy was mad at another guy and they had words and threw punches and the one of them dragged the other over a fence and stomped him to death.
Flat out to death.
Then he hid his body in some trash bags.
Welcome to America.
I’d tell you their names, but what does it matter? What does it really matter? Who’s keeping track? Maybe a couple of crime reporters and the people from the district attorney’s office, and the police department, and whoever it is that sells those “Never Forgotten” t-shirts.
And maybe the dead guy’s daughter. And his folks, if he has any, probably they’ll mourn him, like they mourned his sister when she was murdered two years ago, and maybe a couple of people from the block.
But not you and me.
We’ll glaze over at the story of one more black-on-black murder. The guy under arrest was out on parole, and we’ll cuss a bit about that for a moment, about how if he’d been in prison where he belonged the other guy would still be alive.
But that’s a theoretical, crime-and-punishment, legislative sort of issue.
Not a blood splatter on the sidewalk.
That’s not going to sink in.
No matter how much we have to learn from it.
Because this was a Type B homicide. This is the second most common cop throw-off when somebody asks, “Why’d he do it?”
Type A, of course, is “drug related.” It seems like if you die from anything other than a witnessed shark attack the cops are going to call it “drug related.” And usually it is. But every now and then you hear about a Type B, which is “feud.” Or maybe they’ll call it an “ongoing dispute” or something like that.
But it all means the same thing.
And it’s too bad the rest of us can’t learn from what happened Saturday night. Not that we’re going to pull somebody over a fence and stomp him to death. That’s not apt to happen.
But it’s not uncommon for the spirit of anger and contention, a seething hatred, to fester and grow within us.
And it usually starts small, or at least smaller than it becomes. We are offended, we are hurt. Somebody does us wrong. Or at least we think they do. But it ends up not mattering whether our initial anger is justified or not, it only matters that it exists.
And dominates us.
It’s funny, because, at first, being angry is a negative emotion. It isn’t pleasant. We don’t like it. But we quickly become used to it, and almost fond of it, and it becomes our emotional release and our emotional fixation.
Because it’s easier to be angry than it is to be afraid, or sad, or lonely or disappointed. Eventually it even becomes easier to be angry than it is to be happy.
Eventually, the bitter becomes sweet.
Because we justify it, and it justifies us.
And the darkness which is anger, and even hatred, blocks out and pushes away the light that is within us.
Be become the darkness.
And, just like drugs, it takes a bigger and bigger dose, over time, to give us what we want. Anger is never constant, it is always either growing or dying. And most often it is growing.
And it takes on a life of its own.
And our better judgement – our better self – is left in the ashes of the bonfire of hate that smolders and then blazes within us.
We become something ugly and malevolent.
Which is why the scriptures command us to forgive – not to benefit our enemy, but to benefit ourselves.
To save ourselves from a spiteful consumption.
Because, while anger can lash out and destroy others, it far more often destroys us. And sometimes it does both.
Like these guys on Saturday night.
I don’t know how bad they were, or what their dispositions were like. But the one couldn’t rationally have wanted to die, and the other couldn’t rationally have wanted to spend the rest of his life in prison.
And yet that’s where they end up.
Because of anger.
The most poison thing that grows.
Two lives lost to one emotion. Until next weekend, when it’ll be another pair of guys and another loss.
You and I don’t know their names. But we do know their hearts. At least a little bit. We know the heady intoxication of anger, the white high of hate.
And we can either follow it or not.
We can either be evil or good.
It’s up to us.