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picture of fruits of the spirit passage from the book of Galatians in the Christian Bible

Notes to Myself: Commitments for Talking Politics with Care

picture of fruits of the spirit passage from the book of Galatians in the Christian Bible

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” ~Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

Monastic rules of life have drawn Christians through the ages to the spiritual disciplines. New monastics often look to one of the most well-known – the Rule of Benedict – and then write their own rule of life to order their lives in community. I have never been terribly successful at thinking of the Christian path in terms of discipline. In fact, at the mention of living the spiritual life “by the rules,” my inner self goes running for cover.

However, the fraught reality of public discourse in our time demands more discipline and less venting, more intentional, measured speech and less passion. In fact, it requires every bit of spiritual discipline the Christian can muster (and then it pleads for more from the Holy Spirit). Amidst the ever-widening crisis of public discourse, I have found it necessary to set down a rule for myself about speaking to and around my children. We all have steam to let off these days, but heaven knows we all need to speak with a little more care.

I have found three motivations for this care-filled speech at work in me, nudging me to speak with intention. First, I understand the pastoral office to be a listening office. This is ironic, I know, since few other professions boast 15 to 30 minutes of public speaking to a more-or-less willing audience every week. Even as I must preach the audaciously good news of Jesus without apology, I must also use language that does not blindly parrot phrases from political parties, denominational in-fighting, or other popular influences. And yet, to pastor is to move people along the path toward God and the Kin-dom of Heaven (the place where, in Christ, we are all kin to one another). The pastor is always inviting and always listening, so she must choose her words with care.

Second, I confess that I deeply want to avoid alienating people. This internal motivation is possibly the least important of the three, but nonetheless the most pressing to me. It is a desire for everyone to continue belonging to one another, especially when and where I am in charge. As a natural-born mediator (conflict avoider), I have little capacity for conflict when it might lead to alienation. I am not the first minister who likes to be liked, but this is a character trait which must be examined daily to be transformed from approval-seeking to the truer virtues of kindness and gentleness.

The third motivation involves my children, and to some degree, older generations of my extended family: I want to maintain open dialogue with my children and my family’s elders. One day my children will disagree with me on some of life’s most important issues. At that point, it might be too late to begin trying to mind my manners in discourse. I hope to have spoken in such a way while they were young that dialogue will still be possible when I am old.

Given these motivations, I would like to share with you my commitments for participating in public discourse, particularly related to political speech: Read more

A lined paper notebook sitting open to blank pages on top of some soil.

The Words

The Words
Fall 2017

A lined paper notebook sitting open to blank pages on top of some soil.

The blank page.

 

That they do not come is

a trouble to me,

And that trouble—at times stacked

carelessly among other troubles—

accuses me, like other aspects

of a self-doubting mind,

Of negligence to my vocation, of

insufficient time spent

on any given task.

 

And yet, I might not hear the

Call, proper, in time at all, but

only in retrospect,

As a song sung back from the end of all things,

to their beginning,

my ears picking up only

a faint melody

in any given moment,

which is, itself, troubling.

 

When I was laboring to birth a

child, I was permitted

To trust myself, to sink down into

myself long enough

and deeply enough

to get something born.

 

But, day to day, cries from the

surface dissolve the thoughts

before they are born

onto the page, their

intentions never

ripening, clarifying, or even

declaring themselves fully,

even to me.

 

“No one knows the hour, not

even the Son of Man.”

Indeed.

 

The surface, the moment, calls,

and thus is not given

what it needs,

A woman delivered of the words.

Words and Water

water bottleI was first introduced to the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto when I watched a fascinating movie/documentary called What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?.  Dr. Emoto studied the effects that various words and prayers had on water.  He discovered that when thoughts and words were directed at ordinary water, the crystals that would form when the water was frozen changed — positive words resulted in beautifully shaped (healthy-looking) crystals, while negative words resulted in misshapen (sickly looking) crystals.  Considering what he found through his experiments with water, and considering that the average person is made of around 70% water,  Dr. Emoto has suggested that our words and thoughts and intentions and prayers affect us in the same way as those water crystals: our health and our peace is greatly impacted by the words and thoughts that surround us.

Recently, a group of young clergywomen and I reflected on various negative comments that we have endured in our ministries.  The comments ranged from the ridiculous to the undeniably evil – and everything in between.  Accusations of being uncaring and unloving hurt.  There is no way around it.  Rarely does it mater that the person who is saying such things to us or about us is merely projecting their own anxieties about themselves onto us — their words still sting.  Broken promises can cling to us like lint on our favorite black dress.  Selfish demands can weigh us down like that extra bag of groceries that we have to carry up three flights of stairs.  Even the craziest of complaints can keep us up at night, stressing over how to respond to people and situations that they simply didn’t teach us about in seminary.

After sharing numerous stories of the discouraging comments that haunt us as we go about the work of answering God’s call (once again, being reminded in our sharing, that we are not alone), one of the clergywomen asked about the positive comments and experiences that we have enjoyed recently.  Those comments ranged from the simple to the profound – and everything in between.  It is amazing how much of a difference a simple “thank you” can make.  Words of blessing and gratitude can bring much-needed healing on days when all else seems to be falling apart.  Rarely do the people who share such hopeful messages realize how much their words mean — their words can soothe troubled spirits and hearts in ways that can only be understood as gifts from the Holy One.  Sincere compliments can comfort us like a handmade quilt on a cold winter day.  Expressions of genuine gratitude can lift us up like a free-flying kite on a breezy summer day.  Even the smallest of notes or mentions of thanks for what it is that we do or who we are can give us the nudge that we need to push forward, celebrating God’s goodness and taking joy in God’s calling day by day.

After presenting a synopsis of Dr. Emoto’s work in the movie, What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?, one character says this to another: “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If thoughts can do that to water, imagine what our thoughts can do to us.”  We have all faced harsh, hurtful words from others – and, if we’re honest, many of us have faced harsh and hurtful words from ourselves, too.  It is easy to focus on the negativity that is thrown at us.  It is tempting to let the criticisms and judgments sink into our souls, contaminating our spirits.  It is no wonder that there is so much sickness and burnout in the church and world today!  But the positive words that we share with one another can cleanse and purify.  If thoughts filled with hate and spite lead us to have heartburn and panic attacks, imagine what effect positive thoughts could have on our health and well-being!

In the Sacrament of Baptism, we pray a Prayer of Thanksgiving — a blessing of love and gratitude — over the water.  What if we spoke those same prayers over one another?  What if we would actively seek to bless the around 70% of ourselves that is made of water?  Would we be transformed?  Whether or not Dr. Emoto is right in his assessment that words and thoughts can affect water, I don’t know.  Whether or not Dr. Emoto is correct in thinking that – because of our water content – we are influenced by the words and thoughts that we read and hear, I don’t know.  And yet, I can’t imagine that it is that far from the truth.  Whenever I let the negative talk play like a broken record in my brain, it is not long before I begin to see and feel the effects: insomnia, sour stomach, elevated blood pressure…  But, when I remember and embrace the positive talk – writing words of affirmation and hope on my heart and mind – I feel those effects, too: increased inner peace, joy, calm, and happiness.  Words of love and gratitude can change everything — and always for the better!

Somehow, we need to remember the words that are spoken over those baptismal waters — especially in those moments when words of hate threaten to overtake us.  We need to keep the words of blessing that we hear from God in our hearts.  We need to recite those blessings of love and gratitude to one another.  We must speak words of grace in our workplaces and homes and places of Sabbath rest.  We should bind the words of affirmation that we hear on our hands and fix them on our foreheads.  We should write words of hope and post them next to our computers and use them as the wallpaper on our cell phones.  If we surround ourselves with messages of love and gratitude, I can only imagine the positive impact that would have on our lives, our ministries, and the world around us!