Civility

Upon some much needed reflection, it appears that a good deal of my frustrations over the last many months might be reduced to a word: civility. Or rather, they are due to a serious lack thereof. A couple examples:

As I was walking to church this morning I was passed by traffic going in the opposite direction. Amid the flow two vehicles stood out. The front vehicle appeared to be driving normally. The rear one was about one meter off the front one’s bumper and the horn was blaring for a good fifteen seconds. I’d argue that this is normal today, but not at all civil.

As I watched this scene, my immediate thoughts (which I voiced aloud to myself) were along the order of, “What the hell is your problem, guy?” That I immediately jumped to that is probably pretty normal in our society, but my reaction was not, in a word, civil.

I have had significant difficulties in some key ministerial/professional relationships. I, to the best of my abilities, approached these difficulties with humility. I addressed them Scripturally. I was given the proverbial “freeze out.” The order of the day has been to simply ignore me in hopes that I will just disappear, or at least shut up. It points to a lack of civility. To be sure, in a relativistic society such as ours, this is a fine course of action. If you don’t like what you’re hearing from source “A,” simply tune them out and listen to sources “B” through “G.” It’s at least expected. But it’s nowhere near civil.

Merriam-Webster Online notes that “‘civil’ often suggests little more than the avoidance of overt rudeness.” It’s really not that much to ask that one might not be overtly rude. And yet it’s so common that, at least for my part, I expect people to be rude and am surprised and pleased when they are not (let alone when someone is overtly polite!).

The relationship to which I referred above, in which I am ignored at best (but more often intentionally shunned), is as painful as anything I’ve ever experienced. I feel betrayed by it, honestly. I expect Law and Gospel to inform such a relationship. The lack of civility is symptomatic of a short circuiting of that Law and Gospel somewhere. It’s likely the Gospel that isn’t brought to bear in such a mentality. Without the Gospel there is no forgiveness, and if that’s the case then all one has is a grudge, whether for real or imagined offenses.

But you know, it’s exhausting. Holding a grudge is exhausting. Being on the other side of the grudge is exhausting. Living life on the edge of anger is exhausting. Tired people get more and more tired and the fuses shorten and shorten. Tempers erupt more frequently and due to littler things. It’s a vicious cycle.

There is a moral obligation to break that cycle. I’m sure that the personal benefits are many. But I’d argue that people have a moral obligation to each other to break this cycle. Step back from that edge. Let God’s Word have free course to do what it does in you: tear down your flawed notions of personal righteousness and build you back up again by the Gospel. And treat one another well, out of the humility that God’s working in us produces. Admittedly, my image of this is of a somewhat utopian society where we truly act as our brothers’ keepers and consider one another better than ourselves, but I’ll honestly settle for a lack of overt rudeness–just some simple civility.

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