Posted by: alliehope | September 6, 2008

A Jerk-Free Zone?

If I could have one wish for a day come true, it would be to make the world a Jerk-Free Zone. Everyone would be truthful, loving, sincere, gentle and helpful. Sadly, I can’t rub a magic lamp and make that come true–people can be jerks, regardless of what I think or wish. (In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a restaurant cashier. I often deal with people in highly stressful situations, where their jerkiness could be unintentional. They just come across as jerks because they don’t know where they’re going, what they’re doing or (perhaps) how to do it politely. I’m willing, hard though it might be in my smart-assness, to give them the benefit of the doubt).

However, this isn’t about lack of general manners (although heaven only knows we as a society could use a few more of those). This is about rules of engagement for those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers, and how we conduct ourselves in the middle of heated discussions, specifically about politics.

I need to confess that I don’t always follow those rules. Sad to say that my smart-alecky side takes over, and I get snarky, overly critical and sometimes hypocritical in saying “Don’t be a jerk”, when I’m being a big one! So to read the piece by Eugene Cho brought me up short in terms of examining my own behavior, and my jerkish tendencies.

It also prompted an amazing question: how much time do I as a Christ-follower lose in calling others names? It’s been said that the Christian army is the only force in the world that goes around stabbing its wounded soldiers, and sad to say, I’ve got a fair amount of blood on my hands on this one. And how many times have I forgotten the blessed saying of my grandmother (and many of our grandmothers, dear readers): “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?

I think our dear friend James has something to say about this. In his marvelous passage on taming the tongue, he says something that gets me every time: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praising and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 1:9-10, emphasis mine).

This stops me up short, particularly in this context of wishing for a “Jerk-Free Zone”, since it indicates that this is the ultimate jerkiness: we praise God for His goodness, then we rip on the very people He created. Can we make up our minds here? Where are we really going, especially as it relates to our engagement in political issues, which inflame the passions and often trip our jerk-wires, so that we say things that we ordinarily might not?

I think where I’m going here is that anything said, whether in a face-to-face conversation, in an email, in an anonymous blog forum, etc., needs to be passed through the strainer of the four-way test:

1) Is what I’m about to say the truth? (Complete no-duh on this one).
2) Is it fair to all concerned?
3) Will it build good will?
4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

I first saw this on a poster in a classroom at my high school, and it’s in the notes of one of my study Bibles. I bring it up because it acts as a great grid through which to pass what I’m about to say through. First, if it’s not the truth, I need to stop there. Better not to say it. (Like I said, complete no-duh on that one). If it fails to pass any of the other tests, I need to examine why I feel the need to make this comment, and if I feel it still needs to be said, maybe there’s a way, using this framework, to say it without unnecessarily insulting or hurting anyone else.

As I muse on this, it occurs to me that the time lost in insulting others for their positions is also a loss of a chance to witness in kindness and love for Christ. How many chances have we as Christians let pass by to do good for God’s Kingdom because we were too concerned about being “right”, and making the other person “wrong”? How much have we damaged our credibility with seekers with our arguments, sounding so much like the world that they wonder what’s supposed to be so compelling about our Gospel? How many Christ-followers have we wounded in our insistence that we’re “right”, to the point where we’re not even willing to listen to them without framing insults about them?

It’s a sad thing to consider, and one that doesn’t have to be so. We can bring healing, civility and kindness into the political (and other arenas), and be salt and light in the midst of very divisive issues. I believe that this starts with a willingness to listen to the other person, and deal with the issues, not insulting the person presenting their side of the story. If we do this, it will speak far more strongly for Christ, and make His Gospel that much more compelling to seekers, than if we hurl insults, in pretty Scripture frames. (Don’t even get me started on the Bibliolatry that MO betrays!)

I don’t think I’m ever going to get my wish of a “Jerk-Free Zone”. But I can only do what I can do, and that is to make sure that I’m behaving in a Christ-honoring way. And when I don’t, confess my sin and depend even more deeply on His grace to cleanse it away, and continue forming me into the woman He created me to be. Then maybe, just maybe, I can set an example that allows others to see an alternative to insults, divisiveness and jerkiness that seems to beset us all at times.

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