Taming the Green-Eyed Monster

“How’s the conference going for you?”

 “Actually very well. When I started coming to these, ten, fifteen years ago, I felt so out of place. Part of it was shyness, of course, and part was just being in the midst of a crowd of people giving papers and talking about books and ideas. But, honestly, that wasn’t the main thing.”


 “The main thing was that I was measuring myself against these other people, and I felt insecure. They were all so smart, they knew tons more than I did about ethics and Christian thought, and I knew that I just didn’t measure up to them.”

 “So what’s different this time?”

 “I’m surrounded by lots of people giving papers and talking about ethics, lots of really smart people, and it’s exciting just to be here.”

“You now feel part of the group?”

“No—that is, yes, I know a lot of people now, but I also know, still, that many of them are super brilliant, and I’m not. What’s different is that I’m just enjoying who they are and the excellence of what they’re doing. I’ve stopped being anxious about me and am finding a lot of enjoyment with them.”


There’s something about our human action that each of us has to learn. Part of “my” action is when I step back and allow you to act. Suppose you are playing viola in an orchestra. There are times for you to act, to play, to play well. There may be occasions where you stand a play a solo. But there are other times when you rest. “Rest” here is a technical musical term: your rest is when other instruments play without you. But because you are part of the orchestra, their action, which you allow by resting from action, also is part of your action.

Part of a person’s action is to step back and allow other persons to act. And enjoy it.


This is what Saint Paul was telling the Corinthians about the “body,” the church. Each part of the body is important.

Beware the green-eyed monster, the monster of envy! He makes us think that the only important thing about ourselves is what we do ourselves, whereas, it’s just as important to allow and enjoy others’ doing what they do well.


Out & About. I spoke about friendship at Holy-Trinity-by-the-Lake’s “theology on tap” program, Wed. Jan. 9. (I welcome invitations to speak to parishes!)

I will be teaching Christian ethics at the Stanton Center this spring: five, monthly, Saturday-afternoon classes at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. More info here: http://www.episcopalcathedral.org/stanton-center/ The first class is January 19.

“Good Books & Good Talk”: Sun., Feb. 10, I’ll lead a seminar discussion of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel of 2004, Gilead. This is a faith-soaked novel of moral complexity set in the American Midwest, with themes of abolition, pacifism, father-son relations, love and friendship. Anyone who reads the book is welcome to the conversation at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.



    I became an Episcopalian in college; only then did I learn that the season of Christmas begins (i.e. doesn’t end) on Christmas Day. Quickly I adapted to my new awareness that “it’s not Christmas until it’s Christmas”: I declined to reply in kind when someone wished me a merry Christmas. My local vicar told me that he would get phone calls from well-meaning Baptist ladies on about, say, January 1, telling him that he may not have noticed but his Christmas decorations were still out on the church lawn. “Yes,” he said of course, “it’s still Christmas.”
     Today I am uncomfortable with my earlier, rather too smug, self.
     For today, in the world we actually live in, there is an allergy even to uttering the word “Christmas.” The school holiday is a winter holiday. The background music is “All I want for Christmas is you” or “The weather outside is dreadful” or “I’m dreaming of a white . . .”  One doesn’t hear about the shepherds or the silent night or the angels we have heard on high. They’re gone, banished to an embarrassed storeroom where we keep things to which we no longer want to admit publicly.
     So I say, bring it on. I’m happy to say Merry Christmas whenever anyone wants to say it to me. Now. Last week. Halloween. Whenever.
     Why “merry”? It goes back (it seems) to the 12th century, where it was used to indicate that something gave pleasure. “Merry Christmas” as a wish means: may Christmas give you pleasure.
     And that means, methinks, may you find pleasure in the celebration of the Incarnation. May the Word of God’s taking on our human nature be something that gives you delight. May you in fact find delight in Jesus himself.
     Which is a very good wish indeed. So let us all say: Merry Christmas!
     Out & About. My fall theology lecture—on rules and exceptions, with particular attention to euthanasia and assisted suicide—is now up on the Incarnation website. You can find it here: https://incarnation.org/classes/moral-rules-and-personal-exemptions/
     I will be teaching a Christian ethics class in the new year. It meets on five Saturdays (once a month), from 1 to 4 p.m., with the first class on January 19. This is with the Stanton Center, and the classes will be at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. You can find more information here, including a registration form and a link to the program director: http://www.episcopalcathedral.org/stanton-center/   I can send you a syllabus if you drop me a line.
     The “Good Books & Good Talk” seminars will continue monthly, with the next one on Sunday, January 13, at 6 p.m. The text is C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, and anyone who reads the book is welcome to the discussion at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.


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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: