I suppose it cannot be a coincidence that the week I am planning a sermon on Matthew 5:38-48 I get an email from my brother Ryan – an Auburn fan currently living and teaching in Boston – with the heading, “Ahh, Bama.” Contained in the email was a link to an article about an Alabama fan who, in a fit of (probably drunken) rage after being defeated in the Iron Bowl, poisoned the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn. You would have to be from Alabama to fully appreciate the significance Auburn fans place on Toomer’s Corner and on the 130-year-old oak trees that are reverentially rolled with toilet paper every time Auburn wins a football game. It is as close to holy ground as you can get as an Auburn fan. Their football temple was defaced, a 21st century desolating sacrilege.
Well, the guy’s been caught. Turns out he called a sports talk radio show and announced he had poisoned the trees, capping it off with a hearty “Roll D*** Tide!” I promise I’m not making any of this up.
It didn’t take Auburn officials long to test the soil around the trees and discover that they had received a lethal dose of poison and probably would not survive. And it took even less time to run down “Al from Dadeville,” and arrest him. Now he’s got a $50,000 bond and a mug shot. If I were him, I would not go back to Dadeville. In fact, I would consider leaving the state as quickly as possible. Already there are people phoning in threats against his person and his family. Again, not making it up.
Full disclosure – I am an Alabama fan through and through. But this is embarrassing, and sick, and really, really sad.
It also shines a light on the ways we – all of us – form unhealthy attachments. It is easy to laugh at the absurdity and tragedy of this story and forget that we too can become so attached to things like political parties, or ideologies, or other people, or various traditions that we lose perspective. A quick scan of the news reveals an entire society that feels as if it is divided into camps of much more consequence than the Tide versus the Tigers.
Into this arena comes a word that invites us beyond these attachments – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” It is an invitation to so radically alter our orientation in the world that we no longer claim our primary identity in these attachments, but instead locate our being in a God who calls us beyond retaliation into a world of peace and reconciliation.
The world needs such a witness from us because, seriously, I’m not making this stuff up.