One day recently, I noticed a disagreement between a store manager and a customer. It became very heated and polarized literally as I watched it unfold.
The whole situation could have been handled better. What was so disappointing was the way that the manager immediately got angry, impatient and accusatory with the customer. It was completely unwarranted. His behavior made the entire situation so much worse, not better. Something so minor had somehow devolved into a big deal. Why this particular manager chose to handle it this particular way is beyond me.
I’m guessing that most of you are really not surprised. We see these types of hostile situations all the time. And of course, negative comment greatly outweigh positive ones on the internet. Why all the anger? Why the short fuses? Why the extreme impatience? Why all the aggression?
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope but do it with gentleness and reverence.”
This is what we hear from Peter in his first letter to the Christian communities in Asia Minor. Peter is making sure that they understand the importance of always sharing the faith in the way Jesus shared it with him — with gentleness and patience. And while Peter seems to be addressing this one particular issue, he knows very well that gentleness and patience are not things only required when sharing the faith.
No, he knows that gentleness and patience are two of the hallmarks of following Jesus. He saw these two things displayed over and over again through the actions of Jesus. He even saw him be gentle and patient with those who condemned him and those who executed him. This is simply who Jesus was.
For many of us, when something doesn’t go our way we immediately find ourselves in anger mode. We get ready to pounce, ready to insult, ready to chastise and ready to mock. Gentleness? Well ... that seems to be the exception, seems to be the attitude we adopt only when everything is going perfectly. It seems to me that many of the qualities we see readily in Jesus aren’t really valued by a good portion of our society.
Gentleness? Many of us would rather be on guard against others walking all over us.
Kindness? Many of us only save that for those who are kind to us.
Generosity? Many of us aren’t too willing to part with things that we worked hard for.
Mercy and forgiveness? Many of us would rather hold a grudge.
Reverence? Many of us see only bad in others and don’t even look for the good.
I know that paints a pretty bleak picture. It’s just that if we don’t recognize that we as a society are growing coarser and less civil, angrier and less gentle then we’ll never become the people God created us to be.
How do we embrace the attitudes of Jesus? How do we live as he calls us to live? On our own it would be impossible. But we’re not making this journey alone. Living a life full of love and goodness and generosity is only made possible because of our loving God. This is a God who is not at a distance, but is one who dwells with us and in us through his Spirit.
It is this living God who can transform us in ways we can’t imagine, transform us into men and women who resist our urges to lash out, to get even, to judge, to ridicule, to get angry at every little thing.
This is not something “extra” added to discipleship, not something we can simply discard if we so choose. Rather, it is as essential to a life of faith as are our beliefs.May we start this day pledging to be and committed to being a little kinder, a little more patient, a little more forgiving and gentle and merciful.
If we all did that — imagine what the world might look like. God doesn’t have to imagine it. He imagines it all the time. May each of us do our part to make it a reality.