Galatians 5:22 & 23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
I have to admit that this passage from St. Paul has been a favorite of mine my whole life. It’s not that I have in some way mastered it or think that I’m a great example of it, but it reminds me to raise my expectations for myself, and even for you. I’ve been accused of having a “thin skin” when someone’s rudeness or naughty behavior will be hurt or disappoint me, but I don’t want to let my expectations slip! I’m a textbook Gen-X in some respects, and I always struggle to keep a high level of pessimism and cynicism at bay.
If you want to go and see the list that St. Paul has of the “sinful fruits” (Galatians 6:13-26) you’ll find many of the things we’ve identified and renounced as incivility throughout our exploration of scripture: rage, discord, selfishness, divisiveness. But I’ve never spent a lot of time on the sinful fruits; I know them too well. My imagination is better fed on the fruit of expecting and identifying God in action in me or in you. I want to dwell on those moments when our goodness shines. I like seeing our patience surprise someone, our kindness meet a need, our self-control end a conflict, our love warm a soul, our joy become infectious, and our peace break down barriers and make us a family.
The fruit are a strong reminder that civility is not just what we don’t say, but what we do say. Our faith and spirituality are the same in respect to renouncing some things and embracing some things. Renouncing and letting go of some things can be seen as a bit passive, simply making sure that some things are absent from our lives. Choosing to embrace other things that we wish to manifest in our lives can be a bit more active, even aggressive.
This morning I’m meditating on these on these things that I can embrace, things against which I will never find a law or an obstacle outside of my own heart. I’m going to include a photo with this blog, a six foot goose that my wife and I hand-made and painted for an arts festival a few summers ago. In Celtic spirituality the Holy Spirit is sometimes pictured as a wild goose, and I want God’s presence today in my life to be a goose, to be flamboyant and noisy, aggressive and loud. I want God’s presence in me to take flight.
Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
I have liked this verse for a while; it intrigues me. It was the verse on our church building marque sign for a long time. Gentleness. Is it a lost art? Is it even aspired to these days? Of all the things we’re tracking and trying to develop in our lives, is gentleness even on the list?
I was told as a young Christian that I should be many things, but gentleness isn’t one I can really remember being stressed. I was told to be courageous, convicted, radical, even obnoxious. I was taught that God liked it when I was “in your face” on fire for Jesus! I had to stand out, be set apart, be different, be totally crazy for God… gentleness for the babies. We liked triumphal verses like 4:13, tell me what I can do! I can accomplish anything! The kicker is that my gentleness is your gain! Maybe that’s Paul’s whole point?
I think that conviction exists in gentleness, maybe even more than in radical counter-culturalism. I bet that gentleness opens doors that brashness only closes. I bet that gentleness listens better than harshness, understands more than meanness, and gentleness creates more peace than antagonism. I just bet. I just bet I’ll meet more people tomorrow who need my gentleness than need my jerkiness.
Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
One of the hardest principles of communication that we learned in college was that a communicator must own the response by the listener to the message. We studied cross-cultural communications and more general communications, learning to listen and understand an audience, to fashion our messages to meet the needs of a given context, and to receive back the response to the message. Receiving that response back and owning that response is crucial to dialogue.
When a communicator doesn’t own the response she says, “He just didn’t listen.” Or he says, “She’s not smart enough to understand what I’m saying.” This is a dead-end for communication. To be more personal, I’m guilty of having angrily snapped, “You’re just not listening!” We’ve all probably thrown up our hands at one time or another and exclaimed, “You’re just twisting what I said!”
It’s undeniable that there will be times my words are twisted. It’s going to happen that someone doesn’t listen. The principle we’re talking about doesn’t make me accountable for someone intentionally twisting my words, but it does remind me that I have to look at the response I receive when I communicate. The proverb above supports this principle by affirming that the message and it’s delivery can shape the response, for better or worse.
There are some assumptions about me at work in the Proverb of which I should take note: 1) I should be valuing the creation of peace between us, 2) I exercise a personal choice of how I will answer others, and 3) I know how to be gentle. If I have not valued peace, but instead focussed on defeating or dominating, then I’ve already made my choice and probably won’t even have the ability to respond in gentleness.
What do I want? Do I want to create peace, within the person with whom I speak and between us as human beings? Do I view someone as disposable and therefore not worth the effort to chose my words in a way that creates less friction between us? Have I exercised and practiced at being gentle? Have I bought into other ideas and principles that value my harshness over my gentleness? The answer is probably in the eyes of the person I last spoke with, if I’m willing to pay attention.