Holiness in our Midst: Session 97

Holiness in our Midst


Story Circle Prompt: Reflect on one of the Ten Commandments and its meaning in your life.

One Sunday morning several years ago, my pastor, Rev. Mary Jane Button-Harrison of First Christian Church in Ames, engaged the congregation in a spirited dialogue about our “favorite” and “least favorite” of the Ten Commandments. The answers were wide-ranging and revealing, sometimes humorous. In one exchange, I silent agreed with several persons that my favorite was the Sixth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” because, as they said, they could keep this one. At least, they hadn’t shot any one…

Just then, Don Withers, a fellow parishioner, spoke up from his seat in the choir and said that he used to think this way too, until he realized the impact of the “little murders” we commit each day. It was a sermon in a sentence. He named some of the ways we “kill off” the spirits and self-confidence of each other. It was an eye-opening moment.

In researching the origin of phrase “little murders,” I found this exchange, illustrating how the concept can be lived out. It references the movie “Little Murders,” a 1971 black comedy film by Jules Feiffer. The interview, “Oprah Talks to Maya Angelou,” was in the December 2000 issue of The Oprah Magazine:

Oprah: Earlier you were telling me that your life is defined by principles. And one principle you have taught me is that we can’t allow ourselves to be “pecked to death by ducks.”

Maya: That’s true. Some people don’t have the nerve to just reach up and grab your throat, so they just take….

Oprah: Little pieces of you—with their rude comments…They try to demean you.

Maya: Reduce your humanity through what Jules Feiffer called little murders. The minute I hear [someone trying to demean me], I know that that person means to have my life. And I will not give it to them.

Oprah: It’s an assassination attempt by a coward.

Maya: Yes. Some people don’t have the courage to just walk up to you and pull the trigger. If somebody just walked up and said “Boom!”—well, there you go. Bye. But when a person commits these little murders, and then you catch him or her at it, he or she might say, “Oh, I didn’t mean it.” But make no mistake: It is an assassination attempt.

Oprah: What about when a person makes a mistake and says, “I need a second chance?” Do you give them a second chance?

Maya: Well, I have to say yes.

Oprah: But when people show you who they are, believe them!… Because you see rudeness as a little murder.

Maya: Yes.

Oprah: And you also don’t allow anybody to say anything negative about anybody while in your home.

Maya: That’s right.

Oprah: I’ve seen you put people out of your house for telling a racist joke! And you are not the least bit embarrassed about disrupting the whole room.

Maya: I believe that a negative statement is poison…I’m convinced that the negative has power. It lives. And if you allow it to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life, it can take you over. So when the rude or cruel thing is said—the lambasting, the gay bashing, the hate—I say, “Take it all out of my house!” Those negative words climb into the woodwork and into the furniture, and the next thing you know they’ll be on my skin.

Oprah: The same is true with the positive spirit.

Maya: I believe so.

Since I was introduced to the idea of “little murders,” whenever I am tempted to talk down to, gossip about, raise my voice at, blatantly ignore, demean, exclude, put down, or otherwise dismiss another as “the other,” I am conscious of my actions having potential to do grave harm. There are laws with penalties against the killing of physical bodies, but there are also spiritual consequences we do not see for the “little murders” we commit in our daily life. Thanks to Don, the Sixth Commandment now has the most meaning of all the Ten Commandments; it is a useful guide in these Days of Great Divides. 



  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, write a reflection on one of the Ten Commandments. Which one would you choose? Why? 



  1.   Read aloud Session XCVII.
  2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt. 


[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

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