I know a man who, when he lost at sports as a young man, would sometimes verbally abuse his family. He tended to talk too much and too loudly. In a way, he was an extremist. But as he really worked to temper his thoughts - to be more loving and truthful - he became more pleasant to be around.
His experience makes me think of something the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, "We protect our dwellings more securely after a robbery, and our jewels have been stolen; so, after losing those jewels of character, - temperance, virtue, and truth, - the young man is awakened to bar his door against further robberies" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 201).
Many people may think of extreme behavior not so much in terms of the man described above, as in terms of the religious fanaticism that manipulates boys and girls to detonate themselves as suicide bombers, or that plans retaliatory violence in the name of religious doctrines. Nevertheless, convictions that are far from moderate, or temperate, are common today in politics, religion, and sports - in daily life around the world.
Still, the birds keep singing. That's the thought that crossed my mind as I drove past lawn posters with strident political messages, on my way to vote this morning. We have a pair of beautiful Baltimore orioles hanging their little bag-nest from a tree branch in our yard. I thought if they could read these signs, they might stop singing. But since they can't, they continue to favor us with their liquid, lilting melody.
I remember from an ornithology class that many birds sing to establish and protect their territories. That strikes me as a wonderfully civilized and moderate way to set boundaries and exercise personal preferences. More tenors. Fewer terrorists. It reminds me that ways exist for us humans to resolve local and international conflicts with less extreme rhetoric and violent behavior.
But perhaps this is where ornithology has to give way to the teachings of Jesus. To me, the bedrock of his teaching was love for God and our neighbor. And he taught a special kind of love - a love for God that rises above the extremism of mortal attachment.
This love molded Jesus to be kind, as well as thoughtful and reasonable. He was so attuned to God that he consistently yielded his thoughts and convictions on every subject to his Creator. This yielding constantly kept him from becoming extreme in his own self-will. Jesus showed spiritual judgment in amazing ways. He healed the sick and the sinning, and stilled a violent storm. He was on a ship with his disciples when a storm broke out. Several of them were fishermen who knew the Sea of Galilee well. They feared their ship would go down - that they were finished. But Jesus had spiritual poise that enabled him to sleep through the storm until his disciples woke him with a cry for help. Jesus silenced the tumult with three words: "Peace, be still ... and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:36-39).
To me, Jesus proved the storm's origin was not in unstable atmospheric conditions, but in unstable mental elements, such as hate, envy, malice. Unstable weather was an effect; he addressed causes. I believe he so clearly accepted the allness of God that he understood that even the environment was under God's temperate control. He dealt, through prayer, with the mental roots of extremism, and calm prevailed. And, in the words of Mary Baker Eddy, "... the atmosphere of the human mind, when cleansed of self and permeated with divine Love, will reflect this purified subjective state in clearer skies, less thunderbolts, tornadoes, and extremes of heat and cold ..." ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," page 265).
The man at the beginning of this article learned that he could cultivate a kind of spiritual discipline. It's a little like playing the piano. You learn the right notes and practice them over and over until they become second nature. In a similar way, you can continue to learn from God which tones of thought are loving and truthful - that promote moderation, and lessen tendencies toward belligerence and self-will. When you and I insist on thinking better thoughts, they become more ingrained in our character and they're more easily expressed in actions. Then it becomes clearer that God subjugates nobody to harmful extremism.