Civil Discourse

October 9, 2012 Redux in 2016

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Oct. 9 ~ A person doesn’t need to be a hypocrite to hold an opinion differing from your own. #civility

Too often we hear a person maligned as a “hypocrite,” or we malign a person as a hypocrite, when expressing their opinion on an issue. And truthfully, we may be hearing them as very hypocritical. But have we listened well enough and asked good enough questions to understand how they arrived at the position they are espousing, and therefore level such an accusation?

We’re personally involved in the discourse. For me myself, it’s very true that I might be hypocritical indeed should I ever espouse their position. That gut knowledge that things wouldn’t be right for myself in their shoes can mislead me to believing that things aren’t right for them. It becomes too easy to assign the speaker malicious or nefarious motives.

We also often arrive at the conclusion that a person is a hypocrite by selective and easy posturing of ideas and positions into parity or equality. So, we begin by saying that if A = B and B = C, then A = C. This works in mathematics, but might cause a problem in other areas. We go on to say that if Opinion A = Opinion B, and Opinion B equals Opinion C, then Opinion A = Opinion C. It makes sense on the surface.

But in the human mind and heart we have a variety of values and beliefs, and many different experiences. A person may be speaking to Opinions A and B from a certain value and belief, but then speak to Opinion C after adding a second value into the equation. Or, a person’s experience leads them to develop Opinions A, B and C on the same value set, but Opinion B is nuanced out of parity with the others by personal trauma, frustration, pain or relationships.

You can’t know any of this about a person once you label them hypocrite and then have to  bend all of your effort and influence to prove your claim. At the end of the day the person just might be a naughty hypocrite, but it’s not civil to assume that or begin with that presupposition. Civility will draw you into a discourse in which you can know the other and be known, in deeper, meaningful ways.

October 2, 2012 Redux in 2016

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Oct. 2 ~ An opportunity of civility: one who disagrees with you is not necessarily evil or an “enemy.” #civility

*Four years later, this is an important point to be made. We don’t have to hate people who think differently from us. Being different shouldn’t automatically make us enemies, but can present us with an opportunity to learn. This doesn’t mean that I capitulate to other ideas or that lose my right to an opinion, or that I stop opposing ideas that I find destructive. This doesn’t mean that all ideas are equally valid and constructive. Civility will fundamentally change me, not someone who disagrees with me. Civility prepares me for discourse and debate. Lacking a need to hate another person leaves me free to imagine a time when can we work together.

That’s right, not everyone who thinks differently than you is evil, wrong, horrible or an enemy to fight and defeat. Incivility has a way of vilifying the other person and making any type of respectful sharing or discussion impossible.

The opportunity of starting from a place of not judging and condemning the other person allows us to listen better and to listen more fully. Once we decide an opposing idea or person is simply evil, there’s no recourse but to defeat it. If we allow the other person to be whole, genuine, and good, until proven otherwise, then we are able to ask good questions, get to know them, and to engage what they are saying for a better understanding.

In this way, should an idea (and even the person holding it) be found within our civil discourse to be lacking fundmental goodness, honesty or better intent, then we are far more ready to oppose the idea and present a better way. Incivility on our own part will have removed that opportunity.

Civility is the strongest foundation for debate.

October 1, 2012 Redux in 2016!

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Oct. 1 ~ Civility is marked by calmness, clarity, honesty & fairness. #civility

*Four years ago I blogged every day in October on civility, an exercise leading up to the Presidential election of 2012. We’re going to revisit those posts again this year. Join the conversation! Civility is as important a topic this year as four years ago, one we cannot simply ignore. Here’s the first of the posts…

Civil discourse is going to require us to not only “play well” with others, but also to “fight well.” Whether we are agreeing or disagreeing, shrill language, mob mentalities and dishonest misrepresentations of ourselves or others will not move the discourse forward.

Civil discourse will come from a place of calm honesty and thoughtful reflection. Strong reactions and first impressions need to be tempered with review, empathy and most of all, time.

Let’s be honest… it’s fun to be in a mob sometimes. It’s fun to “fly off the handle” and even self-validating when we leap into indignant attack or defense. Unfortunately, derailing civility derails the discourse. You need to “Enhance your calm, John Spartan.” (Demolition Man, 1993)

Praying for Baltimore

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religion jesus taughtIt is most definitely a whole new thing when you’re praying for peace in a nearby sister city, thinking of friends, family and colleagues who call it home. It’s important we are praying. And it’s important we are being peacemakers, even in the distant roles we may have as spectators and commentators. With this in mind, I’d like to offer a few reminders…

Our judgements aren’t needed. I see a lot of judgmental statements flying around social media, accusations and generalizations that are more damaging than healing. As a people of faith, I would ask us to hold to the admonition of James that we “take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (From James 1:19-20) As prayerful and concerned people viewing the hurtful events in Baltimore, our indignation and anger does not further the reconciliation and healing that God desires for the city.

There are peacemakers on the streets, support them! Pray for the peacemakers, talk about the peacemakers, encourage them and share their work. It’s too easy to be angry about looting, and far more difficult and helpful to give support to those in the community trying to be reconcilers. Pray for the family of Freddie Gray as they ask for peace. Pray for local clergy as they march for peace. Sometimes, for us not in the city, this is how are to be fellow peacemakers. If our words and commentary simply incite feelings of division, anger and judgment, then we are working against God’s will in the world. Jesus endorses a reconciling view of life saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (From Matthew 5:9)

Pray the ones you feel least like loving. And while we’re talking about Jesus and about prayer, we are clearly taught that our prayers are not just for the ones like us, or the ones who like us, or the ones we happen to like. Who do you feel least like loving in Baltimore, today? It is the police? Is it those looting? Is it a racial distinction or an economic distinction? Is it a political distinction? Those you feel least like loving should be the target of your prayer, concern and love. This is the way Jesus taught us to live… “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (From Matthew 5:43-48)

Finally, maybe a try a new way to pray. I often begin my devotions with some centering around the ancient Jesus Prayer, “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I will repeat the prayer, meaning it, hearing it, believing it and wanting it. And when I begin to feel the rhythm of the prayer, I’ll start to make some changes. Once the humility of being “a sinner” is rooted in my prayer, I’ll change it to “your beloved.” I’ll make claim the love that is promised to me by God in Christ. Then, I’ll change “Son of the Living God” to something like “my truest spiritual friend and teacher.” Eventually, after various shifts and changes, I’ll be praying for others instead of myself, claiming for them the love of God and presence of Christ. It may eventually sound something like “Jesus Christ, divine hands and feet bringing peace to the world, bless the streets of Baltimore through people of peace.”

Above all, love and pray. Love and pray.
AMDG, Todd

November 2013: Civility in Christian Scriptures

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civility dream october 31 2012If you’ve been around me much, then you know that civility is an issue that interests me. I surely haven’t perfected the skill of civility, but I do try to use it and I appreciate so much when others do the same. Incivility makes me crazy. I’ve preached about civility and I’ve written about civility.

One of the funner things I’ve done was last year when I blogged and twittered statements about civility each day of October. All that is sitting in another blog of mine that’s been mostly inactive since, The Civil Pen. Those statements tended to be original ideas I wanted to convey, along with famous quotes and statements.

I really enjoyed that month of writing. I enjoyed it so much that I’m back for November of 2013. But this time I want to contribute something to the “theology of civility.” Each day of November, for each and every one of the 30 days, I’m going to blog, Twitter and Facebook a passage of Christian scripture, something from the Old or New Testament, that opens up the wonder and grace of civility. We’ll hear from Jesus, we’ll share ancient Proverbial wisdom, and we’ll dig in with other writers from the New Testament who are actively forming and being formed by the earliest Christian traditions.

I look forward to any and all participation from my circles of friends and family. I will try my best to be first and foremost faithful to God, then respectful of the scriptures and loving of my neighbor. I think it will be fun. I will also be preaching a series on Sunday mornings in November tied to some great scriptural themes on civility that we’ll see emerging from the scriptures, things like “control your anger” and “shut your mouth.” One of my favorite themes is that Jesus doesn’t send us out into the world to “win,” but instead to “make peace.”

Ultimately, I do this because I need it. I need to wrestle with these passages. I need civility planted deep in my heart and mind, and having taken root there, to grow into fruit in my life by which my God is both pleased and honored. If I end up boring you, then I apologize in advance. If this resonates and moves with you, if we make some connections that vibrate in your soul and cause us  to dialogue and pray, then I will be satisfied. Either way, I commit the journey to God.

The stuff I’m writing and throwing out there will be available through my Twitter account (@Swirlyfoot) and my Facebook (also Swirlyfoot), and my own blog here (A Faithful Path) as well as our Church in Bethesda Blog. You’re invited to follow along as best suits your tastes.

AMDG, Todd