Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Civility Week 24, June 11, 2012

Rejoice always.   - 1 Thessalonians 5:16

   This is one of my fave Bible verses. Some days it’s all I can do to remember to follow Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians.  He sent this advice in a letter to them because they were being persecuted so much for their new Christian beliefs.

    I found it interesting that while Paul was encouraging them to remain faithful to what he had just taught them, he also wanted them to remain joyful.  It’s hard to remain joyful when you are being persecuted.

   It’s not like all those new Christians knew at the time that being persecuted was a good thing, that it would strengthen their faith and not tear it apart. It would take them some time to learn and figure that out.

    We have days when we feel we’re being persecuted too.  Especially when people come at us with all kinds of hateful remarks, words that hurt us or unkind actions.  Paul didn’t tell those new Christians to hate their persecutors. He just told them to stay faithful. AND to be joyful about it.

    How do you stay civil or joyful about life when it seems like you are getting attacked all the time? We see in everywhere, on the street, the news, even in our blogs when comments made by anonymous sources are spiteful or biting.

   As a writer of books, newspaper articles, blogs and newsletters for the last 30 years, I have found out it’s hard to put your name on a piece of work and put it out for the public to read.  While most people enjoy your work or at least continue to read it, there are those few who feel the need to criticize something you write for one reason or another. While I welcome constructive criticism, I abhor the anonymous critics.

   If I can take credit for the words I write and say, why shouldn’t they?

   Several years ago I received a piece of mail. It was signed from “An Anonymous Friend.” 

   First of all, I don’t think there is such a thing as an anonymous friend. How can you be a friend to someone and not let them know who you are? Friends aren’t anonymous. You call people friends because you know them, right?

    So this so called “friend” wrote me a letter which was full of criticisms about a member of my family’s driving skills or lack thereof.  In the interest of ‘being a friend” they wrote, they felt I should know just how badly this person was driving.

    Really? Huh… so now I was in possession of the knowledge that someone out there on the streets was critiquing how all of the members of my family drive.  I can’t begin to tell you how creepy that felt.  My family and I teach women’s self defense and of course one of the main tenets of keeping yourself safe is watching out for people stalking you.  This letter made me feel like that. Of course I know that’s not how the writer meant it, but it put me on edge, not only because I felt put on the defensive about my driving skills, but also why someone would take the time to critique our driving and then write a letter about it. Now, just so you know, we don’t drive for NASCAR or a trucking company. We don’t have the “Tell Me How I’m Driving “ phone number on our car. So we weren't advertising, “Rate Our Driving!”

    I feel the same away about those anonymous comments on blogs or the column in our local newspaper where you can just call in a comment and not post your name.

   Where is the sense in that? How can we seriously think we are helping another person when we won’t even state our name or show our face?

   As Christians, we are called to evangelize face to face, mostly by how we live our lives and also what we preach.  But you can hardly show someone an example of how to live if you have a mask on all the time. You have to show your face.  We all have good days and bad days when we aren’t being the kind of Christian we should.  But nonetheless, we show our faces to others, hopefully most days with plenty of joy.  If we see a speck in our neighbor’s eye, we are called to help them pluck it out. Kind of hard to do if you don’t see the other person’s face or eye don’t you think? Or how can you pluck the log out of their eye with your own mask on?

    For a long time, I went around feeling really rotten towards the person who wrote that letter. I certainly didn’t feel joyful. Why would someone write something like that and not have the decency to tell me who they were?  I was suspect of everyone in my outer circle of acquaintances, was it her? Maybe it was him?

    That’s no way to live your life and soon I realized that one stupid letter was making me paranoid and unhappy. I let some anonymous person, not a friend; make me feel withdrawn and angry.  But I let that happen, instead of remembering to live joyfully I was choosing to be mad and upset at everyone.

   I finally had to talk to someone about the letter and she helped me see how stupid it was to worry about someone who wouldn’t sign their name to something.  Why was I letting that one anonymous person ruin my good mood?

  Like Paul told the Thessalonians when they were getting attacked and upset about all the criticism:  Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.”   1 Thessalonians 16-22

   When I started feeling joyful again, I could push those comments out of my heart and live joyfully again.  Being a joyful person truly helps you be civil towards others. If you can remember the joy in your heart, it can help you deal with unkind words, anonymous or otherwise and isn’t that what being civil is all about? Not reacting with anger toward people who upset you?

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