"By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things." --Galatians 5.22
I miss gentleness. I am wistful for tenderness. I grieve the loss of them, in the world generally, but more particularly in the Church.
I am weary of the politics of outrage.
I am tired of pundits; I miss saints (even though I mimic of the behaviors of the former, exponentially more than I do the latter).
I live in a perpetual avalanche of words, with no regard for tone, a world full of sound that lost its appetite for music.
I've been eating fast food opinions three meals a day, and my soul is starving for the nutrients only found in the fruit of the Spirit. I'm not looking for Eden, but unfortunately in this industrialized, technologized age, we have precious few gardens, at all. And where we do have them, chemicals and pesticides have mutated whatever fruit that remains, so that you often don't know what kind of fruit you bit into--until the toxins are already surging through you.
These are the days when our technologies have made human-to-human contact easier and more numerous than ever, and have yet radically de-personalized us. We speak to avatars and to tiny images resembling persons; we interact with any and all kinds of people, in a way. But we do not interact with them as daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers. We get to each make our own public address, without addressing anyone, in particular.
In such a de-personalized world, you can't determine fruit by whether or not people hold what you deem to be the proper idealogical or theological position, be it right or left. You have to listen a little closer, to see if there is fruit. I watched a "debate" the other day where theological conservatives hosted gay Christians. The gay Christians were gentle, tender, kind, courteous, and respectful in the face of a constant onslaught of condescending remarks and leading trap-door, "gotcha" questions. On the other hand, I watched a twitter exchange the other day where younger, progressive Christians tore into a respected, mature Christian peacemaker (roughly twice the age of any of the critics) simply for participating in a panel discussion where there was not proper ethnic and gender diversity. Neither the right nor left of any side of any issue gets to hold the copyright on the fruit of the Spirit. Conversely, speaking to the Church, in particular, you can hold an awful lot of differing positions under the canopy of orthodoxy (broadly speaking, within the apostles' creed)--and still bear bad fruit.
Pardon my language, but the capacity to be an a**hole transcends all tribal identities and ideological, theological systems. Thankfully, grace does too, even if she is currently on hiatus from life in the public square.
At worst, this might sound like a call to be polite at all costs. I appreciate politeness, but it will never change the world. Perhaps the only kind of grace that could have no chance of changing much of anything, are social graces. I am Southern enough to know how to carve anyone up, while maintaining a veneer of politeness. Being polite, on its own merit, changes next to nothing, and is not a thing worth contending for.
Neither am I saying there is never a time nor a place for outrage. There are plenty of things that we witness that are worth being outraged by, from police brutality to African Americans, to the horrific shooting of a news reporter and cameraman on live television yesterday, to the fact that there is an appetite to watch the footage replayed online, after the fact. I would respectfully contend that not all outrage is created equal, however. My outrage, for example, as a middle class white man, is not worth nearly as much as someone who actually lives under the thumb of any sort of real injustice (though not to brag, but in my demographic, we are positively brilliant at turning ourselves into martyrs). I would also note that outrage, as expressed by a politician, is far more likely to be a rhetorical device, than a genuine emotion. Outrage can, within the right boundaries, be an actual vehicle for social change--but it should require some sort of license to carry.
On the other hand, real gentleness is always prophetic. Tenderness is the Spirit's work, and therefore a radical agent of social change. When everybody is shouting over each other, the sound is exactly the same, even when people hold absolutely polar positions. You can tell the fruit of the Spirit apart, in Paul's phrase, "by contrast."
*** If you want to hear the difference prophetic tenderness makes, listen to Krista Tippet's interview with Jean Vanier, the founder of L'arche. I return to it often, when I need to come in out of the storm. How different would the world be, if more of our voices sounded like...this?