Monday, January 23, 2017
Be Right, or Be Kind?
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” - Ephesians 4:29
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” - Ephesians 4:32-33
These verses from the Bible are challenging me lately.
And whether you are a Christ-follower or not, I need you to understand why.
I’ve sat back over these past months, weeks and days and read the online postings of friends tearing down friends. Pointed quotes and snarky memes, directed at friends, designed to wound, posted in the name of ‘being heard’.
Blocking, unfriending, banning. Friends.
I’ve seen strangers lashing out at other strangers. Over a perceived belief or a poorly worded phrase. Because the screen affords anonymity. Sometimes. But sometimes it goes viral - spreading harsh vitriol that uplifts no one.
I’ve seen media outlets of all descriptions and all sides fostering distrust and suspicion regarding anyone who doesn't agree with their viewpoint.
I’ve read words shared in anger, hurt, pride, defense, outrage, fear, gloating, pain, self-righteousness and condescension….
And before you say - “Well, it’s a social media problem. You should avoid social media if you don’t want to be affected by it.”
Just stop. Slam the brakes on that thought.
It’s not a social media problem.
It’s a heart problem.
Our hearts are the source of the conflict.
Social media, heck - any media - is simply a Roman coliseum experience on steroids where the war is played out for everyone to see.
Because everyone loves a trainwreck, right? Even as we claim to be shocked by it, we all love to witness the horrific spectacle, moving in for the kill, the fight to the death…..of what?
Kindness? Civility? Empathy?
At what expense?
And for what purpose?
So we can be right?
Being right will be a cold comfort on the day you realize you are standing completely alone on the mountain you built of your pride and arrogance.
What I have to say here is for everyone - Christian, non-Christian, everyone.
Christians haven’t cornered the market on kindness, grace and love - these are principles that all of humankind need to live by.
But because I am a Christ-follower, a Christian, I write, think and feel from that perspective. I use scripture as my guide and I depend on prayer to God to focus and ground me. I daresay if I were Atheist, you would expect that I’d write, think and feel from that perspective, would you not?
Of course you would.
And just as many of you would find points of disagreement with the Christian me as you would an Atheist me.
And there would likely be many points of agreement as well.
Our problem lies in choosing to focus on the conflicts - because we have the ability to do so.
But does that make it the right thing to do?
Sure, we have the ability to be hateful with our words and actions, the ability to slander and bully and berate those who disagree with us.
But does that make us better people?
It may make us feel better in the moment, but what about when that victory you feel dissipates? When the triumphant brow-beating you delivered fades away?
Isn’t that a hollow victory when the greater purpose served was in tearing down a friend? In putting a stranger in their place? In teaching them a ‘lesson’?
And what is that lesson exactly?
How to hate? How to divide? How to destroy?
We humans don’t need that lesson taught to us - sadly, it’s innate.
Kindness, grace and humility are the hard lessons to learn.
Because they require putting the interests of others before our own. Putting the feelings of others before our own. They require caring about the collateral effect of our words on others.
Kindness, grace and humility do not require that I agree with all the beliefs and life choices of others - agreement shouldn’t be a relationship definer. But when you can enjoy community and relationships defined by an unselfish attitude you can exist in peace even when your beliefs are as wide as the Grand Canyon.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” - Philippians 2:3-4
Yes, that’s from the Bible too, as I said earlier, scripture directs me. But for those of you who may not read or believe the Bible - how can you say that it’s bad advice?
Choosing to live your life as described here doesn’t make you a Christ-follower, but it sure can go a long way towards making you a better person.
If each of us going forward makes the choice to think before we speak; to stop before we hit ‘send’; to think about how we would want to be spoken to and treated, we can help reverse the hateful path we’ve started down.
Remember I said at the beginning of this post that the verses from Ephesians were challenging me lately?
That’s because everything I’ve talked about here has been a struggle for me too. I’m not pointing any fingers without including myself in the mix.
Just because I follow Christ and try earnestly to live a life that imitates him, doesn’t mean I don’t wrestle with the desire to ‘be heard’. To bite back when I feel attacked. To write snarky, pointed and yes, mean comments and posts.
And I thank God that most of the time he prevents me from causing pain to others by acting on what I want and feel.
If you aren’t a Christ-follower, I cannot and should not hold you to a Christ-like standard, and I won’t. But I do hold you to a standard of common decency and respect for your fellow man. I believe it’s what you would expect to receive for yourself and you would not be wrong.
Christian friends, hear me on this - Jesus clearly tells us that we are to Love God and love people.
In that order.
If you claim to love God yet you are being unloving or unkind or ungraceful or proud or arrogant or boastful or rude - you are not living out your calling.
So stop it.
Remember who you are and WHOSE you are.
We are maligned and mistrusted because we don’t live consistently with what we say is the
truth of who Jesus is.
And we are called to speak that truth in love.
To tell others about the truth of Christ’s birth, life, death, burial and resurrection and that he did it for ALL of us. Everyone.
Just because people don’t agree with or understand our convictions doesn't mean that our calling is any less - the very people who hate us are the ones who need the love of Christ so desperately.
Our timidity has made us vulnerable and weak - if the world around us is unafraid to be bold about what they believe, why are we afraid to be bold about the love of Christ?
Kindness, grace, humility.
Living by those attributes will allow you the space to be bold because it will provide a foundation of trust. The world esteems those who stand firmly within their convictions - even if they don’t share them.
The loudest and harshest voices in the room hold the attention for a while, but its the soft, beckoning voice of grace that draws the hurting and wounded heart. The hearts that only Jesus can heal.
“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way…..”
- Philippians 1:27-28a