Tag: discourse

Civility, freedom and Christian discourse

After the ‘feast of chickens’ I’m seeing much discussion on whether the church should have engaged in the activity. One statement I read on the matter said this: “What if all those people took a day to serve in soup kitchens instead.” The statement has merit, but it misses something as well. Silence is not always king.

There is a grave lack of civility in our culture. It is completely civil to state one’s beliefs in a matter that is humble and gracious. Current rhetoric about most matters in our country lack civility. To express one’s view of marriage being one man with one women for a lifetime does not mean one is automatically homophobic and discriminatory. On the flip side, one being homosexual doesn’t mean God gave up on them and immediately sentenced them to Hell. God saves all people.

Baptists in Virginia strongly pushed for freedom of religion. The reason: many Baptist preachers were thrown into prison for preaching without a license. From this the first amendment was born. The founders also viewed the importance of religion to speak to the conscience of a society, while at the same time understanding the state should not run the ‘church.’ This lead the amendment’s specific wording. The intent of the amendment was to prevent exactly what certain mayors did.

Christian discourse
While the Gospel is first and central, we must also faithfully teach and uphold God’s Word. Culture does not decide what is sin or not, the Bible does. Yes, the act of homosexuality is a sin. That does not make the church homophobic. Jesus saves all, desires to redeem all, and will make all things new. Homosexuals are welcome to church. Why? We’re all broken. It’s not if we struggle with sin, rather it’s what sin do we struggle with? Truth and love must be tied together, and in the Gospel they are.

The bottom line:
If I had the opportunity, I’d bought chicken too. Freedom is too precious to let people trample on it. A line was crossed that should have never been crossed. I agree with the statement above, what if we all served in soup kitchens. But, I also believe a stance for freedom is vital. Both are important. So, church, let’s do both. We must keep the Gospel first and central. Standing for a biblical view of marriage doesn’t mean we hate homosexuals. (If because of this you do, you need to repent and have the same attitude as Jesus.) Standing for a biblical view of marriage means we strive to live according to God’s plan. There is a difference.

Don’t try to be clever…

A retired pastor gave me this advice: Don’t try to be clever, you can make things worse and people won’t hear what you are saying. This post is part confessional. When you’re involved in teaching, communication and writing you crave being unique. Given our culture, cleverness seems more a vice than a helpful tactic. I’m not saying cleverness is wrong. I am saying the tactic is overplayed. What I’m writing is easier said than done.

Delivery vs substance: Democracy in America (Published 1835-1840)
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America about his observations and predictions of America. One key prediction as I read is book was this: Soon the appearance or things will be more important than the quality of things. This prediction has very much come true. The vice of cleverness is the appearance vs substance. In the end substance endures. Cleverness, once figured out, carries potential to be dismissed.

Action vs silence: The Pensées (Published 1600’s)
Blaise Pascal wrote The Pensees near the end of his life and did not complete it. We often think of his wager, but the central focus of his apologetic was silence from distraction. Pascal endeavored to bring people to the point of silence where they would be forced to listen to their soul and deal with aspects of life that one would rather avoid. We fear solitary confinement for this reason, he states. In America, our greatest fear is being bored, for in boredom we are forced to think and listen. Our thirst from cleverness comes from this.

Complexity vs simplicity: The Scewtape Letters (Published 1942)
C. S. Lewis described in The Screwtape Letters that distraction and complexity is one of  the best tools and tactics against people. My wife brought this up to me as we discussed the protection from leaving and acting with simplicity. This theme is prevalent throughout church history and too often is ignored. Business is the vaccine against intimacy. Cleverness often takes what can be simple and makes it overtly complex.

Captivating vs seriousness: First Corinthians (Published 1st century)
Saint Paul in First Corinthians juxtaposed man’s wisdom vs God’s. Paul’s focus was to speak the Gospel with clarity. He was not defending being uneducated. Things of a serious nature are best spoken with absolute clarity, leaving as little room for misinterpretation. Clarity sometimes is quite complex, as in the book of Romans, or simple an in the letter to Philemon. Cleverness distracts one to the speaker instead of engaging one in the message.

Fleeting vs steadfast: A friend (Still being written)
Harold H. Comings delights me with his wit. Is wit a form of cleverness? Yes. What surprises me about my friend and others who have wit-ability, is they mastered the art of substance, silence, simplicity and seriousness. The foundation of these things lend itself to being witty, and the discernment on how to engage in proper discourse.  The question of discernment is this: How can I say something in a way that it will withstand the test of time? Cleverness often focuses on the now at the cost of life down the road.

The bottom line:
Focus on substance, silence, simplicity, seriousness and steadfastness. These will carry you to the finish-line. You do not need to be a salesmen or a showman to be an excellent communicator. Enduring works and messages contain most of these elements. If God graced you with the abilities of cleverness, humor, charm or the ability to be poetic- use it to glorify God. But, don’t try to be these things and let us not make them the standard of good vs bad discourse. Perhaps conflict in public discourse would be more civil  if we ceased trying to be clever. This would allow us to listen to and hear each other.

Manic Monday: Death by adjectival hyperbole

Whispers are heard loudest in a world of shouting. In reflecting on how we speak, I noticed, for whatever reason, our over use of adjectives and hyperbole. In a world of increasing virtual experience, reality needs to get back in vogue. A good number of us, me included are guilty of death by adjectival hyperbole.

Let it be what it is
The best descriptions are honest and clear ones. Describe something for what it is. Conferences often use death by adjectival hyperbole. The nature of selling things is to describe it well. In such, we do things by ascribing radiant, epic, great and awesome adjectives on what may be just normal. There are times when grand adjectives are proper, and hyperbole prudent. All the time or nearly every time is not such a time. Describe things as they are.

Let history be the judge
Death by adjectival hyperbole is a vain attempt to preëmpt history. At a men’s conference I attended the MC stated: “We’re about to continue with some great and wonderful music…” It wasn’t. A few years later I attended a back woods church hymn sing. The musical quality of the group was lacking. However, it was the most profound worship experience I had. People who had little to nothing, no musical talent gathered to worship their most precious relationship, God. History judges by the substance of things.

Lets be who we are
Let your greatest adjective be you. In history, seldom is greatness manufactured or sought. Gettysburg was epic and a mistake. The Boeing 747 was a result of past failure and basically a hail Mary for the company. The Battle of Bastogne was epic, where men did their job despite being overwhelmed and under supplied. Flight 93 was epic. Grandiose adjectives are best used for grandiose events. The substance and character of a person is found, forged and displayed in adversity. An unknown person or event often influences people to do what is epic. Focus on developing who you are and being a blessing to those around you. This is how great epics form.

Musical interlude, an analogy
We live in a world of ‘shouting.’ Alan Bloom in “Closing of the American Mind,” discusses his issues with rock music. Historically, great victories and religious celebrations were the place for the style and energy of rock music. In essence he thought younger generations were celebrating when there is no victory or substance to celebrate. He was not arguing against rock music, rather demonstrating what he viewed as its proper place. Like Ecclesiastes states, there is a time and place for everything.

The bottom line:
Whispers are heard loudest in a world of shouting. When everyone shouts the virtue of shouting is ignored. Our culture is increasingly asking and trying to discern what is real. The buzz words of genuine or authenticity show this point as well. Shouting is a metaphor for death by adjectival hyperbole. We can be colorful and enticing while still being accurate.

Perhaps now more than any other there is a need for more precise speech. Given our capacity for creativity, we can be precise without being droll, boring or bland. In working on developing who we are perhaps God, in his timing, will allow us to form something Epic.

(especially on Monday)

Civility, Civility, where art thou?

Last Thursday I wrote about my desire for my boys to live in a world of civility. The thought process started when Gavin said thank you to me after giving him a simple treat. I treasured the event. Given the grievous incident in Arizona, my wish for my boys grew even stronger.

Two wrongs don’t make a right
The Bible puts it this way: “A soft word takes away wrath.” I have no wish to take political sides on this blog. Even in irate anger, one can show the civility one so much desires. The political vitriol displayed lately is alarming. It is akin to fighting a fire with gasoline.

Evil and responsibility exist
There is evil and brokenness in life. Even with this, people are responsible for their own actions. Evil or brokenness is the root cause of tragedies such as happened in Arizona. Civility, compassion and graciousness are the greatest weapons against evil and brokenness. It’s what Jesus did.

Two prescriptions of civility:
1) Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger… Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. ~ Ephesians 4:26,29

2) This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. ~ James 1:19-20

The bottom line
We are responsible for our own actions. Anger is not wrong, but we must be prudent and thoughtful in how we exercise and work through our anger. For sure, in public discourse great restraint and gracious must be demonstrated. Truth can be declared without being inflammatory. Restraint isn’t a lack of authenticity or genuineness. Restraint  is an exercise of wisdom and humility. Our culture could use a large dose of both. These are skills I want my boys to have in abundance.

A return to civility

I wish my sons to be gentlemen. Siting in a chair, a warm fire glowing and two boys playing in matching pajamas gives is a moment you treasure it in your heart. I handed a treat to my youngest. He looked up with a bright smile and said: “Thank you, daddy.”  I hope both my boys grow up to be themselves while also exhibiting grace, class and politeness.

Civility defined
Oxford American Dictionary defines civility as: formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech.

Nobility of the past
Too often we view the ignoble aspect of person, time or movement to discredit what was noble. Missing an ideal doesn’t lessen its nobility. Should the Wright brothers have not flown at Kitty Hawk when those before them failed? Discourse and conduct did have a higher air of civility in times past, though I’m sure the past wasn’t perfect.

Acting with grace
Civility develops a focus on others. I remember in high school this kind of conversation: The girl said “You opened that for me just because I’m a woman, didn’t you?” to which the man replied, “No, I opened it because I’m a gentleman.” Civility isn’t sexism one way or the other. It is the polite thing to do. Allowing someone to do something you can clearly do yourself isn’t a violation of equality. It is an act of graciousness and a demonstration of deference. Imagine holiday shopping with this attitude.

Civility speaks
Formality is a language. As society let go of formality it also let go of a language that prevents potential misunderstanding and clear acts of acknowledgment. Another loss is an understanding between public and private behavior. Manners, etiquette and politeness are a key aspects to equality. It is a language of interaction, understanding and wisdom. A return to formality would greatly benefit romance, political discourse, and everyday life. Formality can disagree without destroying a person. It can romance to a greater depth. The language of formality understands that we are not islands unto ourselves. We live among others.

Formal as stodgy, informal as rude
Both formal and informal behavior contain drawbacks. Formality can be oppressive. It need not negate self-expression.  While Formality is often labeled stodgy and informality rude; can we move beyond that? Perhaps the one who speaks quietly is heard the loudest, and within formal discourse one’s self-expression is most appreciated. Put another way: in reestablishing formality, let us not lose the zest of life.

The bottom line:
I hope my boys grow up to be classy and civil while not losing their zest for life or animated personalities. In disagreement may they still be considered gracious, in opposition still known as noble. I hope my boys show charm both publicly and in private. I hope those close to my boys would see my them as treating everyone with respect. I hope they can be true to themselves in both civil and private discourse for in so doing they’ll demonstrate dignity and wisdom.