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|Polite is Right|
|Dear Half/Time Friends,
Greetings in the name of Christ! As we continue this coronavirus journey, some light is beginning to appear towards the end of this harrowing tunnel. We're also still experiencing more than our fair share of darkness and "are we there yet?" moments during this ride through the mountain.
Praise God the light of Christ has never gone out and the guidance from His Word is as relevant and helpful as ever.
This third Chalk Talk highlights some life-coaching from Galatians 5 which I pray will help each one of us play our redemptive part in the reopening of our country.
We're blessed to be a blessing!
Polite is Right
Chalk Talk #3
Jim Rueb, 10/7/20
It has become politically, intellectually and even theologically fashionable to question or even disparage politeness as a subterfuge for more sinister motivation and goals. Or as some contemporary Christian scholars suggest, politeness is inappropriate and not even biblical. Our current discombobulation never ceases to amaze me!
It’s one thing to rage for a second, flash anger or spew vitriol in the heat of the moment. We all do it, no matter how civilized and emotionally balanced we think we are. It’s another thing however to endorse outrage, to encourage, even to celebrate violence or to discard all politeness to pursue what’s imagined as the most faithful Christian response to certain current events or trends. “After all, Jesus turned over the moneychangers’ tables in the temple courtyard! No?” Yes! But as Joe Biden might say, “C’mon, man!”
Other than the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25), wherein Jesus’ apocalyptic words don’t exactly call us to politeness but to stakes-high spiritual watchfulness, the bulk of Jesus’ encounters with individuals, groups, even powers is rather calm, civilized, and conversational. It’s nudging rather than confrontational even with Jesus’ most urgent challenges (see Matt 5-7 et. al.). And that’s not even mentioning His demeanor before Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate.
I’m just finishing John Meacham’s excellent biography of President George H.W. Bush, Destiny and Power. While reading I couldn’t help thinking of a woman in our congregation in California who had worked in the White House. When I met her, she had just been appointed to an HHS position in the federal offices in San Francisco by then President Clinton. I’ll never forget what she said about the Bushes. “They’re the real deal, the nicest, most wonderful people in Washington.” But to some that was the problem!
On the cover of a Newsweek leading up to the election was a picture of George Bush driving his redoubtable cigarette boat “Fidelity” over the choppy waters in front of his Kennebunkport home. The phrase in the photo with him at the helm in his yellow windbreaker was “Fighting ‘The Wimp Factor.’” Fortunately, President Bush never overcame that “wimp factor” in real life. It was this wimp factor, aka his utter politeness, that accomplished further détente with no-wimps-here China, steadied the arm of a collapsing USSR and kept major allies in the boat for the unification of Germany after a de-walled Berlin. Plus, he made huge domestic progress, which included leading the charge of the polite brigade in getting the ADA passed. No lay-up even in yesterday’s (not really all that) kinder and gentler Washington!
The word, “polite” or “politeness” is a term coined by the third Earl of Shaftsbury in what Arthur Herman in The Cave and the Light calls “one of the most influential books of the early Enlightenment,” Characteristics, (1791). “It came from the word, ‘to polish’” writes Herman, “and Shaftsbury used it to describe the cumulative effect regular social interaction with others has on refining our personalities and smoothing out our basic manners. ‘We polish one another,’ Shaftsbury wrote, ‘and rub off our corners and rough sides by a sort of amicable collision…’”
There’s a lot of collision happening right now. Precious little of it amicable. Even in loving families, in treasured friendships and within the Church at large. Polite conversation over anything but old Archie comics (and even they’re suspect) is often virtually cancelled. The effect? Gerrymandered social interaction. No rubbing off of corners. No smoothing of rough sides. No polishing. Just 50 grit sandpapering, unless you can sneak in a router with no one calling it out. The result? Fatally flawed solutions, a more deeply solipsistic culture and much smaller people. As Dana Carvey, uh George Bush might say, “Not prudent!”
Galatians 5:1ff says this: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh...fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissention, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Sounds like politeness to me. Also sounds like politeness is an unmistakable indication of godliness. Who woulda thought something so benign would be so divine?