Friday, August 24, 2012
Speaking and Listening With Grace
"Consider ships: they are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body it boasts wildly. Think about this: a small flame can set a whole forest on fire. The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us.... Brothers and sisters, don't say evil things about each other..." (James 3: 4-6 and 4:11). James knew what many of us have come to know: our tongues can get us in trouble. As I consider both the nature of public conversation as well as the way many of us are inclined to speak to on another both in the church and among our circles of friends there is a great tendency to let our tongues speak with words and in tones that create destructive fire rather than with words and in tones that foster an atmosphere of God's grace. Warren Smith, a college and seminary professor of mine, used to encourage his students to read books with sympathy for the argument being made before allowing ourselves to read with criticism for the argument. His point was, you can't fully understand the argument until you have read it with sympathy. Can you imagine our world if during a political election year our elected officials and the entire society spoke and listened as if we were mutually learning together how best to address the problems that face us? Instead we see leaders pouncing on momentary lapses of judgement or the most poorly worded arguments in order to paint the opposition's worldview and personal character as far worse than they truly are. And they do this because we respond well to it... This is not only true in politics, but also in life and in the church. How often do we stop listening when we hear something that we think we might disagree with? How often do we speak in ways to sound dramatic and biting rather than uplifting one another with love and grace. Among denominational leaders there are always discussions about what the church does well and not so well. Unfortunately these conversations tend to focus on what the church does not so well, and the language used is often sarcastic and mocking. It is one thing for the church to laugh at its failures and move on towards perfection and quite another for us to get so down on ourselves as to fail to remember the grace in which we stand, the power of God to which we testify, and the lengths which God has brought us thus far. This is also true in our personal lives, is it not. A wise person has said, "Once you can laugh at how you used to be, you know you've grown." That is true so long as the laughter is filled with the grace of forgiveness. If we are to speak to one another in grace, perhaps it begins by speaking to ourselves in grace. God has loved each one of us in our most unlovable states, surely we who are created in the image of that loving God can find it within ourselves to speak to one another in loving and up-building ways if for no other reason than to extend the grace that has been given to us. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, "The peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise." Loving words will lead to loving relationships, which will lead to loving engagement in our community.