IMPRESSED, CONVICTED, AND CHALLENGED

A couple of weeks ago I read an introduction to the writings of the 16th century Catholic Francois Fenelon and a few of his writings. While I appreciated the samples I read, I was impressed, convicted, and challenged by the observation made by Robert J. Edmonson that “Fenelon won the hearts of the Protestants with his gentleness and moderation.”

I don’t know of too many leaders, writers, politicians, and other public figures in our day who would be described by the words gentle and moderate. But shouldn’t all Christians be noted for showing moderation and gentleness in their discourse?

As I thought about the idea of gentleness a couple of Bible references came to mind. I looked the word up on BibleGateway.com and think these three are especially pertinent:

Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Matthew 11:29, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

The basic idea of moderation is prevalent in the Bible for followers of Jesus. An explanation of moderation is the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behavior or political opinions and in a way that is reasonable and not excessive. It may not be exactly the same thing as self-control, but it is close. I find it interesting that the final two fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23 are gentleness and self-control.

Impressed by how Edmonson said Fenelon won the hearts of Protestants, I was also convicted. Edmonson’s characterization of how Fenelon won people’s hearts “with his gentleness and moderation” reminded me that those two words would probably not be used to describe me by those who have heard me discuss and debate a variety of issues.

I was not just impressed and convicted by Edmonson’s insight, I was also challenged to be more gentle and moderate in my teaching, discussions, and disagreements. Reflecting on both Jesus’ self-description in Matthew 11:29, and the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:2, I’m thinking a key to being gentler and more moderate is cultivating humility. My sense is that pride is the engine that drives a lot of us to be lacking in gentleness and moderation in our conversations.

Having written what I have so far, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting being gentle and moderate requires people to compromise their convictions. I think it means we do what Paul urges in Ephesians 4:15 in terms of “speaking the truth in love.”

One more observation from Edmonson sheds light on the risk of showing gentleness and moderation. Defining gentleness and moderation with a new word, he notes “Fenelon’s restraint did not pass unnoticed among more extreme Catholic factions, who blocked his nomination as bishop.” Does that mean that those who are gentle and moderate and show restraint will pay a price from those are contentious? Possibly.

Again, I am impressed, convicted, and challenged. And I hope you are as well.

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CAN WE ALL GET ALONG?

Many people are familiar with Rodney King’s question asked in light of riots and unrest in Southern California on May 1, 1992, “Can we all get along?” It seems the answer is obvious, but my sense is that even if we can’t, most of us would agree we could do better with our conversations, discussions, and debates.

In my reading the past two or three weeks I have noted thoughtful observations from a variety of authors, that if put into practice, would greatly improve the quality of our discourse. All the authors I will be citing are writing from a Christian perspective about how Christians should interact, and Christians certainly need to hear what is being said, but the points made speak to all our interactions regardless of with whom we are speaking or whatever the subject.

The initial quote that grabbed my attention was in an article by Mark Galli in Christianity Today concerning disagreements among believers about biblical interpretation. He suggests, “We are not asked to be right but to be faithful to the truth we believe God has revealed to us. And to be charitable toward those who believe God has led them to a different conclusion.” While Galli is writing to people who believe the Bible, his basic point about being charitable to those who think differently than we do covers a lot more than just Bible interpretation.

A second article from Christianity Today by Mark Alan Bowald is about the death of longtime professor of historical theology at Yale Divinity School George Lindbeck and what evangelicals can learn from him. Bowald relates Lindbeck’s answer to a question about what holds evangelicals back: “Their unwillingness or inability to be self-critical about the ways in which they undertake and express their commitment.” Again, while Lindbeck was talking about Christians, his point about an unwillingness or inability to be self-critical covers a lot more than just matters of faith. A second lesson Bowald underscores evangelicals might learn from Lindbeck is to be more generous towards those who come from other traditions. I hope it is obvious how this lesson also has a much wider application.

What struck me last week was a couple of comments from John Dickson in his new book A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus. Encouraging readers to take a strong stand in certain matters, he also implores “but do so humbly and graciously.” He concludes the paragraph by cautioning that we should not make our case with smugness on our part or with disdain for those who do not agree.

I realize I am not the first person to raise this matter of how we talk with, to, and about one another. Lots of articles have been written as well as entire books dealing with the subject. As much as I wish we all would get along, I don’t think we all will ever completely agree on much. I think the authors I have quoted give us some real challenges for our discourse and interactions with those with whom we disagree in the Christian community as well as at large.

Part of the reason I am writing about this and citing these observations is that I needed to hear what these writers are saying. How about you?

Do we need to be more charitable to those with whom we disagree? I do.

Do we need to be more self-critical about the way we express ourselves? I do.

Do we need to be more generous towards those who come from a different background? I do.

Even when taking a strong stand, do we need to be more humble and gracious? I do.

Do we need to guard against being smug and/or showing disdain for others? I do.

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(Photo courtesy of the boy’s grandmother, my wife–staged!)

 

ARE YOU TALKING TO ME?

Usually the question “Are you talking to me?” is confrontational, but in asking it this morning I mean it. Like I have done the past several years, I am again reading the book of Proverbs during the month of January. There are 31 days in January and 31 chapters in the book, so I read a chapter a day. The last verse in yesterday’s chapter and two verses in the first 13 verses of today’s chapter got my attention.

The last verse yesterday, 17:28, is a verse I have always liked and often quoted: “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” When I read this I thought of all the people I know who could benefit from it if they would just listen to it.

When I read 18:2 this morning, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions,” I remembered the last verse from yesterday and then thought about the current state of political discussion on TV, Facebook, and in Washington. I said to myself: “many of those people could certainly benefit if they would take this verse to heart!”

Eleven verses later I came to “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” That reminded me of what I had read a little earlier so I went back and read verse 2 again. I was right, the two verses relate. Then I remembered what I had read yesterday, went back to 17:28, and thought “these three all relate.” I looked the verses up in a couple of other translations and what I thought was confirmed. The GNB rendering of Proverbs 18:13 is especially strong: “Listen before you answer. If you don’t, you are being stupid and insulting.”

I was thinking about all the back and forth I read and hear from pundits, politicians, Facebook posts, and other discussions and how great it would be if those people would read and put into practice these three verses from Proverbs.

Then I had an epiphany. The reason I read the book of Proverbs each January is to learn and put into practice its wisdom. I’m not reading Proverbs to be reminded of the foolishness and folly of others, I’m reading this book of wisdom to have my own shortcomings pointed out and to be instructed in how to do better.

And so I asked the question, “Are you talking to me?” Perhaps I should listen more and more carefully as well as talk less.

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photo credit: marneejill <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7675787@N06/30590978751″>Donald and Hillary</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;