Colossians 3:13-15, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
Bear with each other. What a great twist of language that the word bear gets to be an expression of gracefully putting up with each other and a 400 pound mammal that might pull your head off. Maybe civility can feel that way sometimes, like trying to smile in the face of a raging beast? Maybe.
One of the hardest things about the teaching on forgiveness in scripture is that we are so often told to forgive without any mention of waiting for an apology. It seems that when incivility is done to us, our forgiveness is supposed to kick in without even waiting on that other person’s recognition that they need it. Honestly, that’s tough for me. I’ve managed to rationalize this away at times with arguments about not wanting to “enable” their continued naughtiness, but that wears thin after a while.
Someone might be a real bear towards me, and make it hard for me to bear with them through it, but I have to dig deep and find that needed strength to carry my own responsibility to restoring peace. Let’s be clear, I don’t always want to do that! Sometimes I would much rather respond in kind, making it just as unpleasant for them as it is for me. For a Christian it comes down to relating to Jesus and the way he modeled forgiveness in the biblical narrative. His words “forgive them” from the cross didn’t wait on an apology.
I suppose what I want to say today is that it’s ok to struggle with civility, but not to give up. I wouldn’t want this whole month of blogging to just be a “pie in the sky” dream of what things could be if we were all perfect. Sometimes I’m the bear, and sometimes I’m doing the bearing. Sometimes I fail in the civility realm and move from being a victim of incivility to a co-combatant in a contest of incivility. But I’m trying, and if anything I’ll try harder next time.
I’m going to meditate today what I might call cruciform timing, living a forgiveness that doesn’t wait. If I can do that better, civility has a chance to grow in me. If a peace and thankfulness can be rooted in me, and be bounded by love, as the passage today images for us, then maybe a little more bearishness can be tolerated and forgiven. I’m going to splurge and have two graphics today because I think the passage makes a cool illustration. It’s that mentioned peace and love that can make all this possible. That peace and love are layers that help protect the true me when bears attack.
Easier said than done? Yes it is, but so is everything worth working hard to obtain. It’s the same love and peace that protects me that will be extended to one who attacks me. It’s a hope of mutual assured survival.