What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?
– James 4:1 (CSB)
How often do you examine your motives?
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this recently. I know that it’s unpopular, but I do believe in tone policing, to an extent; there is a way to say something in order to get the message across, however strong it is, while maintaining integrity of self and respect for the other person (which is incredibly difficult sometimes) and then there’s being obnoxious for the sake of stirring the pot. Where that line is, where we cross from attempting to communicate and into poking the bear, is different for each person, for, while we share a common tongue, we are not always speaking the same language.
Tone policing is not the same as deeming a subject taboo. It’s not the same as refusing to engage in conversation on difficult matters. It’s not something that we can do for each other, really, beyond a gentle touch on the shoulder or a low-voiced, calming word. This is all about the individual. There are things that you can say, and ways that you can say these things, that I cannot. There are people who will respond to you who won’t respond to me. Frustrating as this can be (and it is), this is simply part of making our way through this world.
Beyond considering the way a sentence is worded, however, is the deeper issue of why one is about to say or write the sentence, or, indeed, post the meme or link to an article. What is the urge rooted in? What is the goal in sharing?
As I’ve previously written, 2018 was a long, hard year. I had no sense of direction in my writing. The Lord made it clear to me in the days just prior to pulling out a fresh, new calendar that I needed to place my eyes back on Him. That I needed to dwell in and focus on Him and His truth, for this lack of dwelling and focus is what led to the lostness. As I’ve begun doing this – make no mistake, it’s a daily choice – I realized that my motives in hitting “publish” or “send” haven’t been entirely good.
This whole section has in view an acquisitive society, the competition for material things and the pleasure they bring. It begins with the manifold desires of individuals that need to be satisfied; so individuals mobilize, each one, to seize the desired object. When they step outside the self, they engage in competition with other persons, even to the point of fierce conflict. So intense is the desire for possessions that they are ready to commit murder (Barclay).
Possessions are not merely things we hold in our hands. We all, each of us, are tempted by the desire to possess authority and power. This doesn’t always look like stepping on other’s to get the corner office. This can be as simple and subtle as thinking, “Why can’t you all see? Why can’t you admit that I’m right? Are you stupid?”
An attempt to diminish the imago dei in another. If I see them as somehow less-than, then I don’t have to check my words or explore my motives. I can let them have it.
When I crossed over from “there are things that are happening and they are very alarming and we need to talk about them” and into “seriously, you’re a bunch of morons and I don’t like you,” I don’t know. I suspect I went back and forth over that line a few times. Sometimes I would communicate as well as I know how and the discussion would be fruitful. Other times I would poke the bear because I felt angry and the bear is dumb.
Oh, the humanity.
This side of Heaven, we will struggle. We are never going to get this exactly right. Yet we must not shrug and think, “Well, it’ll never get better, so whatever.” It can get better. We can get better. Not perfect. Better. We who have the Holy Spirit dwelling within are not helpless, hapless, hopeless slaves to sin.
There are things happening, in society and in our churches, and they are alarming and we do need to talk about them. In our talking, there can’t be justifying or sugar-coating. But we don’t have to go to war. We don’t have to beat each other with words. Jesus never did and He is our example. He said a lot of hard things, spoke a lot of truth that people didn’t want to hear, but He never stepped outside the bounds of love.
Lord, make us more like You. Teach us to examine ourselves, by the light of Your Spirit, not that we may engage in self-condemnation but so that we may grow into who You designed us to be. Help us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. And when we do speak, grant us the self-control to keep our tongues from lighting a deadly fire. By Your grace, in Your power, and in Your Name, Amen.