Civility

Nov. 1, 2013 Civility in Xian Scripture

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from withinNovember 1: Civility begins in my heart, within me, and is my responsibility. 

Matthew 15:10 & 11, “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into your mouth does not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth, that is what defiles you.'”

Quick definition: Civility “polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior”

Let’s begin by stating the obvious: Civility is a term that we don’t find in our scriptures, though it is a good old term. This month-long exercise is not about forcefully inserting civility into the scriptural narrative, and thereby “hijacking” scripture to teach something it doesn’t want or intend to teach. Instead we are going to dig into the teachings of scripture to illuminate the role and action of civility in our daily lives.

My belief is that civility (“polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior”) should flow very naturally from the mouth and life of someone acquainted with our scriptures. Christians, in their imitation of Christ and following the teachings of both the Old and New Testaments, should always be incredibly civil in daily discussions, when interacting with diverse neighbors and even when disagreeing. But we know that’s not always the case. Christians are often some of the most shrill and uncivil voices in our religious, political and social discussions and debates. (In October of 2009 I blogged about my embarrassment that Christians with bullhorns rudely disrupted many of our Muslim neighbors praying for our nation at the National Mall in DC.)

I’ve also heard and seen Christians act and speak with abrasive incivility and then rationalize and justify their words and actions upon religious arguments. They will judge, condemn and ridicule others, or one another, and then say something like, “I’m just following the Bible” or “It’s just what my faith demands of me.”

I believe that Christ and our scriptures show a better, immensely better, way. And so we begin with Jesus confronting those who devalued others (specifically their own parents) and rationalized it away with religious reasoning. In Matthew 15 some religious leaders questioned Jesus about his followers not being very correct in their observation of ritual purity, and he turns the question back on them in a deeper way, asking why they observe religion in a way that neglects the needs of their elderly parents. In the context of our verses in Matthew 15 Jesus is pointing out that people are more important than rules and regulations, even the best rules handed down by tradition and seeming so religious and right. The needs of the neglected parents matter more to God than legalistic excellence in the children. Jesus quotes Isaiah to say that their mouths and lips seem to be praising God and doing the right things, but it’s all wrong because their hearts are misplaced, moved far from God. I believe the teachings of our Christ and of our scriptures consistently show that religious practice and God’s heart are inextricably intertwined with the way we are called to treat others. 

The passage is also a strong lesson that I am much more responsible and identified, not by what I might hear or see, but by what I might say and show. And this is where I must start with civility in my own life: within myself. My being civil is not dependent on someone else, but it’s a responsibility and an attribute of my own life, my own heart, my own words and actions. I hope that as we explore scripture in November we’ll be mutually encouraged and taught in deeper ways how the teachings of our Lord and our sacred texts lead us life-affirming, God-honoring and neighbor-serving civility.

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

Comparing a Sitting US President and Hitler: Uncivil

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I am going to just to say it out loud: Comparing any U.S. President to Adolf Hitler is about the most overused, ridiculous and vapid attempt at humor or political astuteness that can be imagined. It simply serves to embarrass the person doing so, and it serves to move everyone exposed to it a bit further from any meaningful dialogue or engagement with current policy issues. Every President deserves better than this. You and I deserve better than this. It is simply demeaning for us all.

President Hitler CollageIt isn’t funny. It isn’t clever. It isn’t civil. And however well intentioned or sincere a person might be, it doesn’t advance any valid political ideas or highlight any useful policy insight. In the most blunt terms it is a waste of time and extremely disrespectful to our nation’s highest office and any person who might be holding that office.

This is also not a problem of the political right alone, or solely of the political left. This has recently been done with both past President George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama. Both have been vilified by an attempt to connect their actions and intentions to a dictator with whom neither have any political, national or religious common ground. This is a problem of American discourse, not just of one political party or political persuasion. And when followers of Christ engage in it, it becomes a spiritual problem, a spiritual short-sightedness.

Of all of my friends and neighbors who believe that implicating connections and commonalities between their political adversaries and an historical evil such as Adolf Hitler, I ask only this: Find something constructive to do with your time. It might look like this…

  1. Find someone to encourage.
  2. Find someone to help.
  3. Pray for or find a way to better relate to a political figure you feel the urge to vilify or defame.
  4. Pray for and find a way to help the people around the world suffering under political and tyrannical regimes that are actually reminiscent of Adolph Hitler’s abuses and murderous evil.

Comparing Presidents and Hitler: Lame.

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I am going to just to say it out loud: Comparing any U.S. President to Adolf Hitler is about the most overused, ridiculous and vapid attempt at humor or political astuteness that can be imagined. It simply serves to embarrass the person doing so, and it serves to move everyone exposed to it a bit further from any meaningful dialogue or engagement with current policy issues. Every President deserves better than this. You and I deserve better than this. It is simply demeaning for us all.

President Hitler CollageIt isn’t funny. It isn’t clever. It isn’t civil. And however well intentioned or sincere a person might be, it doesn’t advance any valid political ideas or highlight any useful policy insight. In the most blunt terms it is a waste of time and extremely disrespectful to our nation’s highest office and any person who might be holding that office.

I would remind my fellow Christians that disrespect for others is not a spiritual gift nor is it something to which we are called to aspire. We are not called to be disrespectful, but to submit ourselves in genuine honor and concern for others, even to the point of loving one we would consider an “enemy.” (Matthew 5:43-48 “Love your enemy.” 1 Peter 2:11-17 “Honor everyone.” Ephesians 4:25-5:2 “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath.”)

This is also not a problem of the political right alone, or solely of the political left. This has recently been done with both past President George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama. Both have been vilified by an attempt to connect their actions and intentions to a dictator with whom neither have any political, national or religious common ground. This is a problem of American discourse, not just of one political party or political persuasion. And when followers of Christ engage in it, it becomes a spiritual problem, a spiritual short-sightedness.

Of all of my friends and neighbors who believe that implicating connections and commonalities between their political adversaries and an historical evil such as Adolf Hitler, I ask only this: Find something constructive to do with your time. It might look like this…

  1. Find someone to encourage.
  2. Find someone to help.
  3. Pray for the political leader you feel the urge to slander and defame.
  4. Pray for people around the world suffering under political and tyrannical regimes that are actually reminiscent of Adolph Hitler’s abuses and murderous evil.

Philippians 4:8-9

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

A World Without War, Poverty or Gay Jokes

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I pray that my children may one day inherit a world without war, poverty or your gay jokes. Of course, if you yourself don’t tell gay jokes, then I thank you for helping make my prayer a reality. If you do, then I humbly ask you to stop. Cease. Desist.

Last week as I prepared for sharing Mother’s Day on Sunday with my church family in Bethesda I spent a bit of time mulling over the “Honor your father and mother” command. (Exodus 20:12) I was thinking about the honoring of our mothers and how that command is as St. Paul called it, “the first command with a promise.” (Ephesians 6:1-3) The people of Israel were told that if they were a people who honored their parents, it would impact their living long in the land of their inheritance. That’s really a curious thing.

I would assume the payoff of honoring one’s parents might be having obedient, honoring kids yourself. That seems more tit for tat, doesn’t it? Instead, God says that being an “honoring people” will bless the nation and the land, the two will be joined longer and better. That’s a curious blessing.

Of course the idea of claiming a blessing for ourselves as a nation today is a little fuzzy. In it’s original context the blessing was promised to the nation of Israel way off in the Middle East. But St. Paul felt compelled to bring it into the conversation with the Christians in Ephesus. So there must be some kind of active blessing for the Ephesians then and us today for being an “honoring people,” a people who show honor to mother and father.

On mother’s day I was bold enough to assert that I believe that someone who does not honor their mother does not have a very good foundation for knowing how to honor their wife, or their daughter, or themselves. In all their imperfections and broken humanity, we honor the moms who have blessed us and given so much for us. Honoring them includes obedience, respect, appreciation, love and forgiveness. Those are a few of the things our church family identified last Sunday as integral parts of honoring. It’s a good list.

Oh Yes, The Gay Joke

So are you waiting on the gay joke rant? Confused that it’s not even been mentioned? Wondering how it even fits in the discussion? Well, last Saturday, just before Mother’s Day, I went downtown for one of my personal traditions, the Saturday morning cheeseburger. I chose one of my favorite diners; it has one of the old-school sandwich counters. It’s awesome. However, I ended up sitting between two gentlemen who were seated a ways apart, and so conducted their conversation loudly enough to break over the other diner sounds. The conversation ended with a loudly worded joke at the expense of a couple of well-known gay celebrities, and all gay people everywhere. It was a rude joke that managed to give the image of a specific sex act and even make light of life and death, suicide to be exact. They thought themselves boisterously funny.

I didn’t. In fact I lost my appetite looking over at the young son of one of the men, maybe four years old. What would he process and remember from that morning? I lost my appetite wondering if they had alienated and even frightened someone else in the diner who might not have felt the joke was not very funny. I lost my appetite because I was suddenly in a place where it was ok to ridicule and dishonor two people in particular, and a whole group of people along with them.

Have you ever been in an argument and the other person tried to make a joke to lighten the mood, but it more than backfired? We are in a heated national argument right now about the right of our homosexual neighbors to marry in the traditional sense of the word. Does it seem like a good time for ridicule and dishonor? I don’t think so. In fact, even if we weren’t in the midst of our national argument, the ridicule and dishonor would still not have an appropriate place in our diners, our homes, our churches, our mosques, our synagogues, our temples, our workplaces, our schools, or our Facebook pages.

Sitting at the sandwich counter on Saturday I really didn’t care about any particular argument anymore, because we had all just lost, we had become lost, in every sense of the word. If there is a blessing for the land that is made real and present in the lives of an honoring people, then there is most definitely also a curse made real by the lives of the dishonoring. I felt it. It was real. It was tangible.

St. Paul had previously said in that letter to Ephesus, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.(Ephesians 4:29-32)

This should mean something to everyone claiming Christ. It doesn’t matter which side of the argument you’re on, your way of addressing the question matters, and doesn’t change. Whatever you believe you must act and speak the same way. Feeling that you’re right is never a license to act and speak in wrong, hurtful, dishonoring ways.

Time To Step It Up & Pay Up

Just for fun, let’s take these above words of St. Paul and make a tool! Let’s make a diagnostic tool for deciding how we will speak and use our words. Here goes:

Do the words I want to use…

1. Sound or resemble something unwholesome?

unwholesome, adj. detrimental to physical, mental, or
moral well-being; offensive to the senses

2. Build up or benefit someone in need?

benefit, v. to be helpful, useful or profitable to

3. Grieve the Spirit of God?

grieve, v. to cause to suffer

4. Express bitterness, rage, anger or brawling?

Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin,
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”

5. Express slander or malice?

malice, n. desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another

6. Express kindness, compassion or forgiveness?

Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, 
holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, 
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

7. Sound like Christ in action?

John 13:34, “A new command I give you: 
Love one another. As I have loved you, 
so you must love one another.
Matthew 15:17-18, “Don’t you see that whatever
enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then
out of the body? But the things that come out of the
mouth come from the heart, and these defile you.”

Sound like too much work? Sound a bit overwhelming? Welcome to the reality of how powerful and meaningful our words really are. It’s just a bit too easy to use our words in the cause of dishonoring, hurting, expressing malice, anger, and bitterness. It’s far more difficult to keep our words up at the level called for in our scriptures. That’s the cost of bringing a blessing to the land. That’s the cost of bringing a blessing to our nation. Will we pay that cost?

Closing Thoughts

St. James in James 1:19&20, “My dear brothers and sisters, 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.”

St. Paul in Philippians 4:5,  “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:21&22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘You are worthless,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (I have translated the word “raca” in verse 22 to “You are worthless.” This is done after studying the background of the term, it’s use in the Greek manuscripts, and what seems to be the root word of reka in in Aramaic. Other ways of rendering raca as an insult include the calling of a person vain, empty, empty-headed or foolish.)