“The Pecking Order,” is what my father-in-law, Guy Godwin, a retired High School principal, called the tendency for one person or group to try to dominate or lord it over another. The pecking order can be seen in Ferguson, Missouri and it’s everywhere else, too. I saw it as a child at mealtime, especially at holidays, when there was a “Children’s Table,” and we went last. From schoolyard bullies, family systems and birth order, businesses and preferential treatment, or the socio-economic pigeon-holing of the have’s and have-not’s, there is always a pecking order. I want to say, “Like it or not, deal with it,” but I don’t like it. None of us should. I think that it is a pattern of existence that predates society and civilization. It goes all the way back to Lucifer’s attempt to usurp God’s throne in Isaiah 14:12-15. It is found in Adam’s silence when he and Eve were tempted in the Garden. It’s been in every culture since and seems to be an integral but horrific characteristic of human nature. It’s in the animal kingdom, too, and surely brings out the barbaric animal in us.
We like pecking orders because it sets up one of the most insidious patterns of sinful behavior: the “blame game,” and proves my Dad’s point when I thought that I was doing some new, unique, and improved sin as a teenager. He would say, “Son, You don’t think your brothers didn’t try that, your uncles, me, and your grandfathers? There isn’t anything original about original sin.” That might have been my first theology lesson. Yes, there’s nothing original about attempting to stratify society and try to either hurt or blame somebody else. We’re great at being victims, and victimizing. Unfortunately, it’s true. Did Bill Cosby victimize women? Seems so. Did the Ferguson Police Department with its out-of-balance ratio of white-to-black police officers promote victimization? Seems so. Didn’t someone say that perception is reality?
So whether one thinks one side is right and the other wrong is irrelevant. The fallen human desire to have pecking orders presupposes that one race always wants to be higher on the rung of society and the way to get there is to demonize the next lowest, and the next lowest does it to the next lowest, ad infinitum. The problem is that in God’s view all of humanity is simultaneously at the top of the heap and at the bottom in a sense. Every one of us is at the same time a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5), and sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We’re the best that God has to offer and our own worst enemies.
The problem with racism and the blame game is that we can repent over and over again and we’re still stuck in victimization. I’m not saying that we need to let perpetrators off the hook. We need to hold people accountable, but sadly grand juries and street mobs view evidence that we all know is skewed. Every so-called fact has bias, and we wonder like Pilate, “What is truth?” My father-in-law was right. Most mayhem and what’s wrong with the world isn’t about the facts, it’s about the darn pecking order.
Well we could try the communist method and not have a pecking order at all but, truth be told, even in communism and socialism there’s a pecking order. One person explained the difference between capitalism and communism this way: “In capitalism, man exploits man. In communism, it’s the other way around.” Pardon the sexist language, but isn’t it true: the only difference is that you trade one set of fat-cats for another?
How do we move past Ferguson and racism, elitism, unfair judgment, and the pecking order tendency we all have? I suggest we own it, confess it, and repent. We need to admit that our judgments are very often not true, our assumptions are false, and our elitism actually betrays our very weakness. We are all pitiful creatures that need a Savior. The only way to make this world right can’t be legislated, though we can continue to try. The only way to have lasting peace and harmony isn’t through riots and demands. It’s through emptiness and non-violence. I daresay and mean it 1000% – it’s through a come-to-Jesus meeting for all of us. The only way for us to move forward is through self-sacrificial love, forgiveness, and human transformation. In other words, through an encounter with Jesus. Therefore, we pray the Kyrie eleison, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” No more pecking order except Jesus as Lord and everyone as our sister and brother. Amen.