The Devil Made Me Do It~The Rt.Rev.Michael Beckett, OPI

Flip Wilson as Geraldine
The Rt Rev Michael Beckett, OPI

Those of you who are “of an age” will remember the comedian, Flip Wilson and his alter-ego, Geraldine.  Back in the 1960s and ‘70s,  Wilson turned “the Devil made me do it” into a meme.  He was a hoot!  Momma loved him.  Wilson made frequent TV appearances in the 1960s before starring on his own Emmy Award-winning network TV show in 1970. He also made a slew of comedy albums, if you can remember what those were. You know, records. Vinyl.

Anyway, Wilson would do something outrageous in plain sight, then grin into the camera and say, “The Devil made me do it.” The audience would howl because everyone was in on the joke. We all knew that Flip was exploiting a bit of theology to avoid taking responsibility for his bad behavior. All you had to do was say, “The Devil made me do it,” and you got off the hook with your parents, your boss, your teacher, or your partner. It was a “Get out of Jail Free” card and Flip used it week after week.   (Except in our house.   No matter how many times my brother or I said, “The devil made me to it,” we still got into trouble. Le sigh….)

Wilson’s routine got us all to laugh at the idea that someone could acknowledge that they had done something terrible, but dodge responsibility by making a theological claim. Whether the subject had robbed a bank, cheated on his wife, or played hooky from school and gone joyriding with his friends, it was all the same. It wasn’t his fault because—all together now—“the Devil made me do it.”

This kind of devil-based theology includes an important but unstated message: When I’m a good boy (or girl), you can attribute my good acts directly to me and my sterling character. But if I behave in horrible, irresponsible ways, just blame it on the Devil, who is running the show.

Language is a powerful influence in our lives, not only in how our words affect others, but also in how our words affect US. Words affect the hearer; words affect the speaker. Our vocabulary very much becomes of a part of how we see the world. What we can put into words contributes to our forming a picture of what we see.

We chuckle at Wilson’s emphasizing that the devil made him do it, but we can be just as capable of blaming something or someone else for our attitudes or behavior. “He makes me so mad,” we might hear, or “that makes me so happy” a friend will bubble. The words reflect a worldview that things outside of us control our thinking. The words confirm our belief that things outside of us make us behave one way or another.

However……  There’s this little thing called “free will” or choice.  We all have it.  The ability to choose.  And there’s thing concept called Choice Theory.Choice theory was created by Dr. William Glasser. Choice theory emphasizes the individual’s control over his or her feelings and actions.  Conflict arises because we can only control our own behavior.  The William Glasser theory teaches the concept that all behavior is chosen. 

Choice theory reminds us that other people or circumstances don’t make us do anything. Circumstances may influence our decisions, but ultimately we choose a behavior that we think will best work for us at that moment. Choice theory also reminds us that the words we commonly use can help or hinder our mental health.

This is why Glasser loved verbs, even changing nouns to verbs as part of his desire to make a point. Instead of anger or being angry, Glasser explained how it is better to say “I am angering” or “I am choosing to anger.”   WAIT!  WHAT???  It is interesting how powerful our words can be and how much they can influence our perception of things. Choice theory accepts that angering is an option, we just need to accept responsibility for it and not blame someone or something outside of us for our attitude.

In the Gospel appointed for today, Jesus is being tempted by “the devil.”  Over and over and over again, until Jesus says to Satan, “”Get away, Satan!  It is written:  The Lord, your God,  shall you worship  and him alone shall you serve.”   And so it is with us.  The devil can “present allurements” and can “entice,” but although Flip Wilson says otherwise, the devil can’t make us do anything.

He certainly can’t separate us from God. That’s on us.  Sin is anything that we CHOOSE to do or say that separates us from God.  In the past few weeks, how many of us have said/posted/read/agreed with things that would most definitely not be considered Christ-like?   How many of us have let our personal political beliefs get in the way of acting like the “little Christ” we are called to be?  Sure we can disagree, often vehemently, but under no circumstances can we allow ourselves to allow those differences of opinions to get in the way of our witness for our Lord.  (You gotta remember that even Peter and Paul argued, but they didn’t let that stand in the way of building Christ’s Kingdom.)

Let us not forget that in many cases, we are the only Bibles that many folks will ever read, and we are the only Jesus that some folks will ever see.  It is up to us to see the Jesus in everyone, regardless of political belief, race, creed, color, sexual orientation, whether we cheer for Duke or for Clemson, or anything thing else that can be used to divide us.  We are all of us HIS people, the sheep of HIS pasture, and we have far more in common than we do the things that divide us, if we truly identify as HIS.

As Christians, have we lost our focus of what is truly important?  Regardless of politics, of whether we are ‘blue’ or ‘red’ or ‘rainbow,’ we are to remain focused on the one thing that really matters in this world and the next:  Spreading and sharing the love of and for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  No matter what our politics are, our job, our mission, our focus, has not changed and will not change:  We are called to love and to serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart.  We are called to care of each other, regardless of our politics.  We are commanded to ‘bless those who persecute us,’ and we are called to ‘pray for our enemies.’  We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. (Matthew 25:31-46). 

So what’s it gonna be?  Joshua says it best, I think:  “Choose this day whom you will serve.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

I wish you a holy and blessed Lent.  Amen.