A Rat’s Nest of a Problem

When I was growing up I had long hair. Everybody had long hair. But long hair is like freedom, it has its costs and it requires maintenance. Quite often I had what I call a Rat’s Nest in my hair:  a big wad of a knot in the back of my head that resulted from sweating at night, tossing and turning, not using proper conditioner,… it was intractable, which means it was not easily resolved or fixed.  I could have cut all my hair off but I wanted long hair…and being able to keep long hair if you want it, is a good example of freedom.

I’ve read a lot recently about institutionalized racism.   Well, I’m going to have to look up on Merriam-Webster to find out exactly what “institutionalized” means.  For now, however, I am going to call it a Rat’s Nest of a problem because that is more descriptive and easier to visualize.  It makes it more “tractible.”

The way I got rid of my rat’s nests, was to put a solution on it like vinegar (to sort of soften things up) and then I would sit in front of the TV and slowly work the knots out one small strand of hair at a time.  It took several shows but I eventually got them all out.

The only way to sort out seemingly intractable problems is to soften the situation and to take your time working  out the mess…one strand at a time.  You could throw the whole thing out but that would likely result in destroying somebody’s freedom.

Having a nice word with several syllables like “institutionalized” is okay but simply applying a word to an issue…even a big word… does not improve the issue… unless of course there is a standard method of fixing an institutionalized thing.  But, I don’t know what to do with institutionalized things other than throw out the institution…and you really don’t want to do that.

Last year, a ‘gentleman’ was given the title of  “Humanist of 2015.”   (I’ll leave it up to you to look up who it was.). He was quoted as saying something about how organized religion was like a major problem in democracy and the sooner we got rid of it the better.  Well, my response to him was, “Just how do you propose to get rid of organized religion…or disorganized religion, for that matter?  You can outlaw religion, and that has been tried, but the believers go underground and persecution makes faith grow stronger.  Or you can annihilate the believers, and that’s been done, too, and genocide is always good for democracy, don’t you think? ”  I recommended, at the time, that this humanist out vote the extremists or, better yet, join their ranks and try to adjust their extreme viewpoints from within… but I digress …

My point is this:   while it is useful to come up with terminology that helps encapsulate an issue so that it is easy to address quickly, simply giving it a big word, (a big title, a big label) only serves to make it more abstract or abstruse or obtuse or any other word that most people don’t know.

Call it what it is:  a rat’s nest…  a complex, gomming together of abuse, dirty practices, mismanagement, neglect, and struggle which damages something natural like hair or people or lives.

The only way to resolve the issue of racism is to deal with it the way I dealt with my rat’s nest:  first you have to soften the situation with something like vinegar.  (BTW, vinegar is what they gave Christ to drink while on the cross.)  For racism, instead of vinegar, use what Christ gave us:  love, forgiveness, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  That will loosen up a lot of the dirt and the residual stickiness of the past.

The Holy Spirit makes it easier to work out each knot, one strand at a time…one issue at a time..one event at a time…one confrontation at a time.

When you’re out in public at Walmart or Target or the IGA or Quality Foods and you pass by someone of a different race, say “good morning;” ask “how are you doing?” and wait for an answer.  If they need help with their groceries, help. Carry a bag.  Show them…demonstrate that there’s more in this world for them than anger from a member of your race.

Addressing racism one strand at a time is a very important point so I will repeat what I mean:

Every instance of racism (or sexism, or extremism, or terrorism) on your street, at your work, on television, or from another city or another country, is just an individual strand and needs to be addressed individually.

When you gom them all together into a big generalized issue that you label with a big multisyllabic word like “institutionalized,” you are making it abstract…you are detaching yourself  from it, and you are making it seem intractable and it is NOT.

Besides, terms like “institutionalized” make it sound like the fault is the institution; “systematized” or “systemic” makes it sound like the fault lies with the system.  Institutions and systems are abstract entities governed by rules and perceptions.  To change the rules and perceptions, you must change hearts.


And, remember, you can not legislate love.

So, one strand at a time…one heart at a time.  Every heart and every event is a separate strand.

This may seem unrelated at first but follow me here:  I am enlisting the help of a very strong spiritual healer to help address the problems of a loved one.  I was asked to pray for this loved one because he needs to get a job. But I know that before he can get a job, he needs to deal with his mental illness, his alcohol abuse, his rage issues, and a bunch of other resentments and stuff.

When I described all this to the spiritual healer he pointed out that each of these is handled in a different way… they have different demons associated with them and there are different ways of handling those demons.  In other words, there are many strands to my loved one’s life that need to be handled individually …and separately.

You’ve heard that patience is a virtue.  Patience IS a virtue. But do you know why patience is so important?  It is not just because it makes you able to wait on God, (and it does and that’s good), but because you need patience to deal with seemingly intractable problems… because quite often they can only be handled with patience, one strand at a time.

Racism is a rat’s nest; my loved one’s life is a rat’s nest.

I have another loved one who struggles with disorganization;  her life is a rat’s nest and I am helping her separate all of the disparate parts of her life so she can address each one …one strand at a time.  Otherwise, all of it gommed together seems intractable…it is too overwhelming.

My neighbors live a rat’s nest life; they have legal issues, financial issues, medical issues, addictions, abuses, …  Until they start handling these issues one strand at a time, the seemingly intractable nature of their rat’s nest life will continue to overwhelm them and nothing will improve.  Taken one strand at a time, these issues are resolvable.

These people are important…all people are important…and when anyone has a gom of problems that looks like a rat’s nest, they need to work it out one strand at a time.  But don’t forget the vinegar: the love of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit…for the balm on the issue that will help work things out.

It will happen; I’ve done it enough times to know.  And with every strand you pull out, thank God for that one.

Thanks be to God and to God be the glory

2 thoughts on “A Rat’s Nest of a Problem

  1. What a great solution! Our pastor has been teaching on the Fruit of the Spirit…..today was kindness. He said much the same thing as you. We were also challenged to treat those around us with kindness – even those we don’t think deserve it. Thank you for being a bright spot in a dark time.


    1. Thank you, sweetie. I am currently unravelling the rat’s nest of my daughter’s apartment. She has ‘organizational issues.”. She is ‘housekeeping challenged.’. Over her sink is a sign that says, “I understand the concept of cooking and cleaning, just not how it pertains to me.”. That seems to have become her Creed, at least the cleaning part; she’s an excellent cook. I know this because there is evidence of her last month’s meals throughout the apartment. Once we beat back the filth and clutter, we will work on some systems and routines…one strand at a time.

      Liked by 1 person

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