By Kyle Henderson
“Civil society” has become the newest oxymoron. People do not seem to be able to get along at all, especially if we have ideological differences. Christians are the worst. We focus on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment but rarely on the Great Commitment. Jesus’ way is a practical commitment to civility, to treat others the way you want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). Make a list of the ways you want to be treated.
I don’t want to be lumped into a category so that other people assume they know who I am or what I am based on some label they can attach to me. Because I pastor a Baptist church, people frequently assume they know something about my attitudes toward others; they think they know my politics. They frequently think that even though I don’t have a comb-over and am not wearing double-knit polyester. It is so bad that if I’m on a plane and meet a stranger, I wait as long as possible before I tell them I am a preacher, because it ends so many conversations. Let’s commit to letting individuals be themselves without dumping baggage on them from our own experience.
I prefer someone to listen to me, rather than put words in my mouth. I recently went to a state Senate “hearing” in Austin, Texas. This seems to be a very poor word choice because there was almost no listening in the room. Talking and listening seem to be the core of human interaction. Jesus was a great listener and he encourages us to do the same. The Bible is rich with the language of complaint, despair and woundedness (see the Psalms) so should we be surprised that we are called to listen to things we might not want to hear so that we might have a chance to share things that everyone needs to hear?
I’d rather not be judged by my looks. I don’t like it when people assume because I am a white man from the South it automatically means I am a bigot. I was getting dressed to give two minutes of testimony at this Senate hearing. I had driven five hours the night before to arrive at the right time. I realized that I left my dress shoes at home. I put on my suit and then put on my causal desert boots. I was self conscious all day long worried that people would look down on me for my fashion faux pas. I wanted people to see my heart, my intentions, my thoughts and desires — not my mistake.
I pray people will not judge me by my presenting sins. Everyone has one, right? Everyone struggles with obedience, with living up to the high ideals of Jesus. I’m fearful that people will see my waistline and assume that I am a waste of their time. I come from a family of lifelong dieters and wear my shame every day. I worried that people would hear my incredibly loud voice and chalk it up as another pompous ego.The first words I remember hearing at school were, “Use your inside voice.” I struggle with things with which other people might not struggle. I would rather someone be willing to overlook some of my presenting struggles and see a person who is genuinely trying to live out the life of Jesus.
When someone treats me with kindness or even generosity, I can feel my attitude and life being lifted. Last week I got a warning from a policeman. I was thrilled. I was speeding, my inspection sticker was out of date and my license had expired. I deserved a ticket. I had always been given a ticket before, but this time I got a warning. That policeman made a friend for life out of me.
The followers of Jesus have lived by the ways of Jesus. His way will put the “civil” back into the equation.