Carrying By The Right Handle
In my years of being in and around churches, I've noticed that those of us who call ourselves Christians will say the darndest things.
For example, some of us have the bad habit of waxing all poetic when we pray in public--using flowery, archaic language like "Lord we thank thee for this thine abundant bounty, which thou hast provided for us--in thy mercy."
Translation: "Dear God, thank you for this food."
Others of us love to quote Bible verses for every occasion...
Drive-thru Attendant: "Would you like fries with that burger, ma'am?"
Christian-y Person: "'Man does not live by bread alone, missy!'"
But perhaps the most double-edged thing I have heard Christians say is this:
"I'm just going to 'speak the truth in love' to you now."
Typically, this phrase proceeds a criticism, nasty comment or a rebuke of some kind that is about as far from loving as you can get.
In fact, "I'm going to speak the truth in love," is the Christian equivalent of the old Southern colloquialism "Bless your heart." Which doesn't mean what you think it means... ahem.
The phrase "speak the truth in love" comes from Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, and when it's read in context it's connected to the idea of doing life together as a community of Christ--each person sharing their gifts, and maturing in their faith.
The truth is, when we live in community with one another as followers of Jesus, there will be differences of opinion, and disagreements. And you and I have been granted freedom in Christ to "reason together," and to struggle with our ideas, doubts and questions in this great big community called the Church.
But our freedom doesn't give us the right to be hurtful and hateful.
Lucille Sollenberger once wrote, "Christian liberty is freedom to love and to serve. It is abused when it is made an excuse for loveless behavior or inconsiderate action."
I don't know about you, but I need to take this idea to heart whenever I encounter fellow followers of Jesus, who don't see things the way I do.
I read this great quote today from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who wrote: "Every event has two handles--one by which it can be carried, and one by which it can't."
What Epictetus meant was that we have a choice every time we encounter conflict or disagreement with someone. We can choose to "carry" it by the wrong handle (assuming the worst, focusing on differences) or the right one (assuming the best, finding common ground).
May you work to truly speak the truth in love to those who disagree with you---choosing to carry each moment of disagreement by the right handle. May you use your freedom in Christ to show love and to serve one another with grace, and in so doing show the kingdom of God to the world.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.