Wrath Turned Away


An interesting thing happened on Twitter last week.[1]

I’ve followed the actor/comedian Patton Oswalt for a few months now and, while I personally[2] think he could tone down his profanity, I also find him amusing and quite insightful.  Following one of Oswalt’s posts insulting President Trump (rather profanely), a man named Michael Beatty, a Trump supporter, replied by insulting Oswalt.  In a familiar social-media pattern, Oswalt responded with another joke, and a lot of Oswalt’s fans then piled on earnestly and angrily.  Such is life on social media.

Then it all took a strange[3] turn.

Oswalt could have moved along.  I mean it’s social media, where one expects to be trolled and where the life expectancy of any conversation is less than three-score and ten characters.[4]  But Oswalt didn’t move on.  He lingered and, looking back through some of Beatty’s earlier tweets, learned that the Vietnam veteran had recently been hospitalized for diabetes-related sepsis.  Faced with a $5,000 healthcare debt, Beatty had set up a GoFundMe page.  Again, Oswalt could have moved on, and no one would have been the wiser, but, again, gloriously, he didn’t.

Oswalt immediately made a $2,000 donation for Beatty and invited others to do the same.  Beatty has been “dealt some [bad] cards — let's deal him some good ones. Click and donate — just like I'm about to," Oswalt tweeted. Within 24 hours, donations stood at $35,000,[5] and currently the fund is at more than $47,000.[6]

The dollars are great, but the actual human interaction is even better.  Beatty responded to Oswalt’s tweet and gift with another tweet of his own: "Patton. You have humbled me to the point where I can barely compose my words. You have caused me to take pause and reflect on how harmful words from my mouth could result in such an outpouring."[7]

What Oswalt did was big, really big, biblically big, even.  There’s something divine and miraculous in it.  Oswalt chose a path that stretches back through millennia and miles, through Jerusalem and Galilee.  It’s been around pretty much forever, but it’s always surprising.

It’s grace.  And it’s a strange and powerful force.

It’s also a choice.  Sure, snark[8] begets snarkiness, but grace also begets graciousness.[9]  We can volley our cleverness back and forth and never engage the human being across the way, or we can “pause and reflect” and discern in the other the image of God.  Patton Oswalt paused, reflected, AND acted.  He made a beautiful choice and set loose the grace that can transform and heal.  I’m going to guess that sometime today, or maybe tomorrow, you and I will have a chance to do the same.[10]

In Christ, Rev. Mark Westmoreland

[1] OK, just how often something interesting happens on Twitter is a matter of debate, but this, in my humble opinion (and my opinion is all that really matters on social media, right?), was definitely interesting and even, dare I say, hopeful.

[2] See footnote 1 for my very perceptive comment about what really matters on social media.

[3] By social-media standards

[4] See Psalm 90:10 (KJV) for the source of my very clever biblical allusion.  See footnote 1 again for why I can call it very clever.

[5] From CBS News (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/patton-oswalt-twitter-troll-gofundme-30000-blade-trinity-michael-beatty/)

[6] https://www.gofundme.com/help-after-sepsis-and-hospital-plus-recovery

[7] Did you notice the words?  “You have caused me to take pause and reflect,” Beatty wrote.  Wow.  Pausing is good; reflecting is even better; but put the two together and you’ve got something beautiful.

[8] On “snark”: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/snark

[9] “Grace begets graciousness” are words I first heard from Dr. Fred Craddock.  You’ve already heard them from me here a couple of times, and I promise you will hear them many more times.

[10] For an even 10 footnotes: I invite you to take a moment and enjoy Patton Oswalt at his best, improvising a few years ago during a guest appearance on “Parks and Recreation.”  He plays a citizen filibustering during a city council meeting.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYNDssdsVnM