Showing posts with label Folly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Folly. Show all posts

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Speaking Too Quickly/Wisdom

What do you do when you hear something that simply infuriates you? It's hard to know, especially in the moment, so I'm increasingly learning to simply sit on it, bite my tongue, and pray and think for a while before I respond.

Those of you who know me in person can stop laughing, pick your jaws up off the floor, etc.—yes, I know this is a pretty radical concept for the guy who always has a quick response to anything anyone says. Somewhere in the last few years, God smacked me in the head enough times for me to begin realizing that sometimes, a quick response is unhelpful—even if that response is technically accurate. Sometimes people just need to be heard; sometimes I don't have all the facts; sometimes my opinion isn't relevant even if it's correct.

I have had several opportunities to put this new approach into practice recently, both related to the same general topic. In line with the new policy, I'm not actually going to address it in a blog post, at least not directly, for a while. Maybe ever. Any writing I do on the topic will avoid naming names and specifics in any case. Suffice it to say, I have had several friends bring up a situation and some issues that are incredibly near to my heart, about which I feel more passionately than almost anything else—and I cannot respond at all.

Again, those of you who know me well might recognize that this is hard for me. There are in both cases very good reasons for my keeping my mouth shut—circumstances that mean it would not be profitable for me to speak my mind. That doesn't make it any less difficult.

For a long time, I understood the many condemnations of quick speech in Proverbs to simply refer to speaking foolishly. I saw no problem with my own quickness of speech, except where it directly hurt someone. More and more, however, I begin to understand that those who are quick to speak—me included—are rarely those who are quick to listen, quick to understand, and quick to discern wisely. More often, they are those who are quick to judge, quick to assume, and quick to misunderstand. It is difficult to answer wisely, especially in complicated situations—and let's be honest, most situations in life are at least somewhat complicated—without taking time to carefully consider, to ask good questions, and to pray through the situation.

Woe to those of us who are ready to snap off an answer without taking time to consider carefully the implications of that answer.

Sure, it is possible to go too far in the other direction. I know people who are so afraid of giving wrong answers that they simply will not give answers—or at least, not without constant hedging and qualifying and playing devil's advocate until their answer is obscured beyond recognition. We do people a disservice when they ask us for advice and we refuse to say either, "I don't know," or "I think you should do thus-and-such." Either is a fine answer, provided we have given the situation some thought and prayer, but we should stop wasting people's time with halfway-in-between answers.

For my part, in the situations I referred to above, I do have a strong opinion—but it's not one I can give right now. How does that fit into what I just said? Well, there are a few more options: "I haven't had time to think through a God-honoring response, yet. Can you give me some time and I'll get back to you?" is one. Another is, "Look, I don't have enough information." Yet another is, "I'm too close to this to give you a good answer." All of those presuppose that we're seeking to honor God and give legitimate, helpful answers, though—none of the tiptoeing around an answer for fear of offending someone. (Note: if you give one of these answers as an excuse not to simply tell someone what you believe, rather than because it's the truth, you deserve a swift kick in the shin. Tell the truth.)

Honoring God sometimes requires us to remain silent. Other times, it requires us to speak kindly, graciously, and firmly. In one or both of these situations, the time for such speech may come. I will address the broader issue underlying both situations at some point in the future, but when that time comes, it will not be a response built out of my immediate emotional backlash against something that bothers me. The most helpful and edifying responses may involve an emotional component, but wisdom involves both careful thought and considerable prayer. Reacting in the heat of the moment is almost never wise. Yes, occasionally we need to be able to answer immediately—but such moments are far rarer than my proclivity for quick answers would suggest if we took it as normative. (Thankfully, my proclivities are not normative for the Christian walk in any way or area: far too much sin in me for that to be anything but a deeply horrifying nightmare.)

In short: be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath—for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:21). Take time to think things through carefully, and then give people the best answer you're able. Don't feel ashamed of that answer if it was decided in careful thought and prayer. Simply trust God to do his work far better than we are able.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don't Play Chicken With Sin

It's a typically rash high school adrenaline move. Two cars, headed directly toward each other at high speed—and whoever swerves first is the "chicken." If no one swerves, both people die. It's all about pushing as long as you can before fear takes over and compels you turn the wheel—about the thrill of nearing the cliff's edge and skating along it as it crumbles.

I never played chicken with my car. The whole idea seemed dumb to me—why risk life and limb for that sort of pointless thrill? I wonder though, if this isn't exactly what we do with sin, all the time.

Christians who are dating love to ask one question more than almost any other: "How far can we go without it being fornication?" In a broader sense, I think that's often the question we're asking: "What can I get away with?" These are, of course, completely the wrong questions. We're playing chicken with sin, but there's just one problem. Sin never swerves. Either we swerve soon enough—and the temptation to swerve later and later is always growing, because the thrill of almost doing something wrong is so powerful—or we hit the other car, and sin wins.

The approach is dangerous, fool-headed, and one we need to break ourselves of. The longer we play chicken with sin, the more likely we'll fall. People who toy with lust end up in adultery. People who toy with greed end up embezzling from their company. People who toy with gossip destroy friendships and tear apart churches. Pick your sin; the consequences are inevitable. When you play with fire, you get burned.

The question we really ought to be asking is not, "What can I get away with?" but "How can I best glorify God?" You see, it's more than the fact that sin will win every time in our games of chicken. It's that asking "What can I get away with?" is itself sinful. It betrays the real attitude of our hearts: not a desire to honor Jesus Christ as Lord, but a desire not to be punished. It shows that we do not understand the gospel or know God well. In Christ all our sins are forgiven; God's mercy is very great and his love beyond our understanding. If the only question we are asking is, "How much before God punishes me?" then either we are still very immature in our faith, or we are not believers at all.

The more we know God, and the more we understand what Jesus accomplished on the cross, and the more we seek the wisdom given by the Spirit, the more we will learn to love God—heart, soul, and mind. We will do good and hate evil not as a means of avoiding punishment but out of love, and because—more and more every day—we truly do love doing good and we truly do hate evil. We will treasure the things God values and cast off the things God despises not out of some misguided attempt to curry favor but because increasingly we are like him. That sort of radical transformation marks the difference between real gospel transformation and therapeutic moralism with a Christian imprint.

And most of us are playing chicken with sin. God help us.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Disliking Facebook's Like

This post is written in weariness. Expect little of it.

A friend shared a link to a news article about a loved one's death on Facebook earlier today. I wanted respond meaningfully. I could not. I could hardly click "Like" with its little thumbs-up. Think about it: how bizarre is it that a website has standardized and minimized our reactions to things to whether we like them or not?

A comment on the shared item would have been only marginally better. There is something missing in a short blurb of text pasted on a white screen. Had this friend held up the article in the paper in person, I would have reached out and squeezed her shoulder, or perhaps offered a hug. The internet has no comparable communication. There are no internet touches—only internet letters, images, symbols. Everything is fleeting, unphysical, almost unreal.

I like the internet. I use it every day, often for several hours. I spend considerable amounts of time creating content for use on the web—whether in writing or in web design. I enjoy the ways it enables us to communicate with others, with people we would not otherwise be able to stay in contact with. I appreciate the ways I can interact with the lives of my friends even when apart, separated by miles or circumstances. It is nice to know that a friend had a baby, a cousin joined ROTC successfully, or a sibling got splattered in paint on the first day of school.

But sometimes, I just want to give a friend a hug when it's needed. The internet can't do that. For all its promise, and all its already actualized potential, it is in the end as insufficient as a letter—save that the letter has on it the advantages of physicality.

I wonder if, in our rush to embrace the internet, we have perhaps forgotten the necessity of touch for reality to make sense?

For me, at least, ebooks will never replace a book, for this very reason. Paper's very texture carries feeling, weight, substance.

Take some time away from your screen. Go give a friend a hug. Share a cup of coffee. Read a book. Take some time away from electronic signals and spend some time talking in person. Enjoy the internet for what it is—but stop trying to make it do things it will never be able to do.

Someday I will make a real essay out of these thoughts. For now, I'm going to sleep.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Seventeen Magazine Stupidity

I have been busy working on a pair of monster posts going up at Pillar this week, so I haven't been writing as much. A nasty case of writer's block last week didn't help either. Despite my busyness, I felt the need to share one amazing part of my day, though.

I was standing in the line at Walmart, waiting to check out with groceries. The headline of Seventeen magazine (which is pure rot, as a side note) caught my eye: Finally!—the secret to getting ANY guy you want! Now, obviously, they're trying to sell a magazine, and headlines are the place for hyperbole in the art of sale. To some extent, no doubt, they're succeeding: they did, after all, catch my attention despite my best attempts to avoid looking anywhere near the garbage that is the checkout-line magazine-rack.

But really? The final secret, so that a girl can have any guy she wants? Just one short magazine article with some tips, and BAM!—she's a man magnet for whoever she sets her eyes on? Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Robert Downey, Jr., look out: a horde of high school girls are headed your way with head-turning, heart-stopping, ardor-inducing secrets. You may be mobbed by dozens at once, finally being so overwhelmed by falling madly in love with all of them at the same time that you soon pass out from the sheer emotional intensity of it all. High school football captains, attractive nerdy guys, and guitar-players should also be warned: any current relationships you are in are almost certainly doomed if another girl has set her eye on you. If your current girlfriend has read the magazine, too, you are certain to face an onslaught of conflicting, confusing, and calamitous thoughts and emotions as you are subjected to the whims of every woman who finds you passingly attractive.

The sheer inanity of it all astounds even me.