Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sticking out our tongues and going “Neener, neener” isn't helpful: Turning swords into honeycombs

As kids we all learned the absurd childish retort for being called names:“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Eventually we kids grew up to learn that this is far from the truth.

Whenever I hear one person call another “Jerk!” (or worse) I cringe. Especially when the name-caller is a fellow follower of Christ.

Why? Because we who are Christians know that all people are created in the image of God. Sure, God’s image in us is flawed by sin, but name calling doesn’t help spread the Good News.

So, Christian or not, it isn’t cool for one image-of-God-bearer to call another image-of-God-bearer a jerk, or worse.

Words can cripple and kill from the soul out. Yet still, we freely lob insults and word-grenades around like candy tossed at a parade.

The name-maiming intensifies around the particularly hot topic of politics. This intensity really ramps up around elections, like the one we’ve just endured.

Now that the voting results are in, the verbal guns continue to come out blazing as insults, false accusations, innuendos, spin, and suspicions are splattered everywhere.

As if any of this is productive!

You dirty, no-good, crazy, son-of-a-@#$&@, lousy evangelical!

In his new book, Vanishing Grace: Whatever happened to the Good News?, Philip Yancey exposes how many Americans view evangelicals. He references surveys by Ellison Research of Phoenix that reveal:
“Evangelicals were called illiterate, greedy, psychos, racist, stupid, narrow-minded, bigots, idiots, fanatics, nut cases, screaming loons, delusional, simpletons, pompous, morons, cruel, nitwits, and freaks, and that’s just a partial list....” [Emphasis mine.]
It’s not just evangelicals who get mindlessly blasted like this. Sadly, these labels and worse get tossed around by a lot of people aiming them at a lot of other people.

You’ll hear these slander-bombs going off in church, at PTA meetings, on the road, at the football game, in the grocery store, on the street in your neighborhood, and in the news.

But you’ll especially hear them in politics.

Republicans toss them at democrats. Democrats toss them at republicans. Liberals toss them at moderates. Moderates toss them at liberals and conservatives. Tea partiers and independents toss them at everyone.

Ironically, a lot of the yelling revolves around accusing “them” from refusing to cooperate with “us.”

And we wonder why very little real work gets done in D.C.

Civility and understanding are impossible when verbal grenades are blowing everyone to bloody bits.

It needs to stop. We can do better.

Emerging from the bunkers to shake hands

We need to behave and play nice. If it won’t happen at among our elected leaders, then it needs to start with us at the grassroots.

Instead of viewing each other with contempt and mistrust and telling “them” to reach across the aisle, “we the people” need to set the example.

Peace in any conflict doesn’t happen until someone risks taking the first step in the midst of conflict. Peace comes at a cost to the initiators who have to be the first to lay down their weapons.

Seeds of peace are planted when we change our perceptions of one another.Adversarial ways of seeing each other will not bring us together, promote understanding, or produce civil discourse:
  • If we view others as a target, we’ll take pot shots at them.
  • If we view others as an enemy, we’ll seek to defeat them.
  • If we view others as stupid, we’ll ignore them.
  • If we view others as wrong, we’ll always fight them.
  • If we view others as bigots, we’ll be on guard against them.
  • If we view others as hostile, we’ll pounce on them.
  • If we view others as pompous, we’ll discount their value.
     
Get the point?

Jesus offers two antidotes to counter these antagonistic views:
  1. The first is the traditional “golden rule” that says simply, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12, ESV). You know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s pretty easy to understand.
     
  2. The second brings it a little closer to home and is given in the form of a command, not a suggestion or guideline: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV).
     
This isn’t simple stuff. It’s a lot easier to hate than love. Revenge and slander are easier than reconciliation. Unity can be messier than discord.

Laying down our verbal weapons and coming out of our bunkers makes us all vulnerable. But being vulnerable is the only way to get to where we need to go.

Even the strongest, healthiest families have to work through issues when they come together under one roof for the holidays. That’s just the way it is with us humans.

But the strongest and healthiest families got to be strong and healthy by listening to one another, caring about one another, respecting one another, accepting one another, overlooking faults, bearing with one another, and learning to live with differences of opinions.

We need to do the same as a nation, starting with the neighbor we can’t stand or the co-worker with the crazy ideas or the outlier with the odd tastes in music or those in that “other” political party.

We all want to be treated with respect & taken seriously

In the third episode of the TV show Madam Secretary, sensitive documents are leaked revealing that U.S. government workers have tagged world leaders with insulting descriptions in memos. These revelations lead to serious rifts in relationships between the U.S. and important allies.

These careless and demeaning words could lead to nuclear powered sticks and stones being brought to bear.

The Secretary of State, played by Téa Leoni, defuses the situation and then orders a “decree” to be sent to all 31,822 staffers in her purview stating, “From now on I expect all correspondence at every level of confidentiality to be civil and respectful, worthy of the office being represented.”

I’d like to see such a decree actually implemented, in Washington, D.C. and beyond, on memos and mouths!

This should be standard operating procedure in all walks of life in all communication, verbal or written.

Especially for those of us who claim God as our creator, Christ as our savior, and the Holy Spirit as our empowerer.

A much less hostile and far more positive discourse will emerge simply when we stop labeling each other with derogatory adjectives such as “illiterate, greedy, psychos, racist, stupid, narrow-minded, bigots, idiots, fanatics, nut cases, screaming loons, delusional, simpletons, pompous, morons, cruel, nitwits, and freaks.”

In fact, Proverbs 12:18 cautions that “rash words are like sword thrusts” while promising that “the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

If there’s one thing we need as a nation, it’s healing.

Proverbs 16:23-24 offers path forward stating, “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (ESV).

Let’s lay down the swords and bring out the honeycombs.

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If you’re a democrat, how do you view your republican friends? If you’re a republican, how do you view your democrat friends? How do you talk about others with whom you disagree? What kinds of emails do you forward to your friends? What steps have you taken to increase civility and respect in your circles?

Some justify name-calling by pointing to Jesus’s calling the Pharisees “serpents” and “vipers. Is this really a legitimate argument for insulting others?

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