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Following Jesus

Cornered But Not Trapped

January 5, 2017 by

a cornered rat barring its teeth

Decades ago I played guitar for an inner-city Boston youth group and learned a telling fact that has stuck with me. One evening before the meeting, the kids and I were bantering when the topic turned to rats – live ones, the kind they met daily in their apartments or battled with nightly in their little sister’s room.

The vermin tidbit from that conversation: never chase a rat into a corner. The death-defying survival tactic of a cornered rat is ominous. When forced toward a corner, the rat races into it and catapults upwards off the wall, a living projectile with bared fangs aimed at its aggressor’s throat. Chilling. I fear the survival impulse of the rat lurks, biding its time, within the popular swell of political and social anger we’ve experienced during the final months of 2016.

In his astutely reasoned article, Beyond the Politics of Anger, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks discusses the prevailing political mood in the West:

This is not politics as usual. The American Presidential election, the Brexit vote and the rise of extremism in the politics of the West are warnings of something larger, and the sooner we realize it, the better. What we are witnessing is the birth of a new politics of anger. It is potentially very dangerous indeed.

Which brings us back to rats. When angry, frustrated people feel cornered they too can turn, spring, and aim for the enemy’s jugular vein. Last year’s disenchanted American and British voters did not necessarily think in cornered-rat-scenario terms, but their cramped corners were cannily and repeatedly highlighted during the entire electoral and Brexit campaigns.

I suspect that feeling cornered, without of course the exaggerated fangs-bared response, is more common than we care to admit. In daily life we can feel cornered temporarily by circumstances or by other people; sometimes we feel cornered for longer periods; sometimes we feel an overwhelming corner settle grimly into permanence around us. Because we seem to be entering a fangs-bared era internationally, life can become dangerous for us all if we allow powerful people to calculatedly manipulate us for their desired ends.

It is time we look at our personal corners. Your captivity can be driven by fear, by traumatic childhood experiences, by your own ingrained negative attitude towards others, by repeated negative attitudes towards you from others, by failure, or by your unwillingness to identify and dismantle walls that corner you – such as addiction, emotional instability, or loneliness. As the new year of 2017 begins, it would be wise to take time to creatively picture how you can move out of your corner, decidedly not like a rat with fangs bared, but like a human being: working with others, sharing your need honestly, building trusting relationships, and listening.

a man at an intentional Christian community talking to a local animal doctor

Above all, don’t use your walls as a springboard into anger and hatred; rather, become a person of hope, someone who escapes not only your own corner, but helps others escape the corners that entrap them, as well. Rabbi Sacks points the way:

A politics of hope is within our reach. But to create it we will have to find ways of strengthening families and communities, building a culture of collective responsibility and insisting on an economics of the common good. This is no longer a matter of party politics. . . . We need to construct a compelling narrative of hope that speaks to all of us, not some of us, and the time to begin is now.

About the author

Ann Morrissey photograph

Ann Morrissey

Ann Morrissey lives in Beech Grove, a Bruderhof in England, with her husband, Dave. They delight in the English countryside...

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