Thursday, May 3, 2012
I'm grateful to be part of a rotation of faith leaders in my town who take turns writing a column titled "Voices of Faith" in the local weekly, The Concord Journal. My entry for this week grew out of a scripture which has held my attention of late, a recent daily prayer post and some thoughts on the blogosphere.
Say Only the Good Things Others Need to Hear
Some folks are increasingly wearied and put off by the tone and level of discourse in politics, editorialized news reports, talk radio and the blogosphere. Somewhere along the way it seems the civility of mutual respect was shown the door and a much lesser form of dialogue ushered in. Spin, half-truths, cheap humor and name-calling often substitute for intelligent debate and informed conversation. A casualty in this is the tree of truth, felled by inaccuracies or even deliberate misinformation. When truth fails, all suffer.
It shouldn’t surprise us that what happens in the larger political arena can have a tendency to shape how we communicate with one another on the local level in town government, in our faith communities, at work and at school, in our neighborhoods and even in our families. Our capacity for civil conversation weakened, we too often take the easier low road which demands much less of us and yields in kind.
It’s against this background that a particular scripture passage has engaged my attention over the past couple of weeks. It’s a few verses from St. Paul (Ephesians 4), a text I believe those of any faith can appreciate without creedal differences getting in the way. Here are Paul’s words: Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things others need to hear, things that will really help them… Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind. In place of these be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you…
These few lines offer a helpful examination of conscience for taking inventory of how we converse with one another: how we speak shapes how we live in the community.
The work of getting rid of bitterness, anger and harsh words invites us to plum the depths of our souls, to root around in the hidden corners of our hearts where old grudges and resentments can easily grow moldy and even toxic. None of us likes to acknowledge harboring such nastiness so searching it out and scouring clean may require a certain intensity of purpose and determination.
Whether evil talk passes our lips might itself be a matter for debate. A good way to get at this might be to consider the other side of the question: do I work at saying the good things others need to hear, things that will really help them? The harsh word often comes to speech rather quickly while finding the helpful word takes time and purpose until it becomes a habit.
The greatest cleaning agent for the moldy growth in our hearts is the cultivation of virtue, of being kind to one another, compassionate and mutually forgiving. This will require a fair amount of introspection and an intention to foster the best within us with the hope of shaping healthier conversations and relationships with those around us.
This is not a critique of strong, studied, vigorous debate based on informed reflection and open to the paths of consensus and reconciliation. The body politic grows and thrives on such exchange. Rather, what St. Paul’s words offer is certain wisdom to richly benefit the social conversation and nurture rather than threaten the roots and branches of the tree of truth.
Let there be, then, some spring-cleaning to get rid of whatever within us poisons our speech and therefore our relationships. Let this be a season for airing out what’s grown stale and musty and for welcoming in the freshness of sharing with others the good things they need to hear, the things that will truly help them.
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Posted by Austin Fleming at 5:07 PM