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Civility… a lost art… God’s Command

I’m not a big fan of billboards.  They are an eyesore… a blight on the landscape… a distraction for drivers… shall I go on?  But the other day I saw one that I liked so much I took a picture.  When push comes to shove… don’t.

What a good message… a needed message in our current culture.  But is anyone listening?

On Sunday, March 27th the viewing public had a front row seat to what happens when push comes to shove.  A comment by comedian Chris Rock, on stage at the Academy Awards, won him a hard slap from actor Will Smith.  “The Slap” has gone viral, with an almost unanimous denouncement of the violence that broke the cadence of the Oscars.  Even Will Smith, the perpetrator of “the slap” wrote in a tweet,  “Violence in all forms is poisonous and destructive."

My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable.” I am thankful for the quick and unqualified response across the nation to “the slap.”  Violence is poisonous and destructive as we have seen repeatedly in the last few years, from city streets to the steps of the Capital, from school board meetings to protests turned south.  We should be horrified as the lack of civility in our society plays out in violent ways again and again.

But sometimes we get so focused on the ‘shove’ that we miss the ‘push’ that is equally offensive.  On Sunday night, the ‘push’ came in the form of a joke at the expense of Jada Pickett Smith, the wife of Will Smith.  Jada is an actress in her own right.  You might have seen her in The Matrix, The Nutty Professor and The Equalizer.  Jada is known for her poise and beauty, so you can imagine how devastating it was when she began to develop Alopecia, an autoimmune disease that attacks hair follicles.  Beginning in the spring of 2018, Jada began to lose her hair, in clumps.  By December 2021, the condition had become so severe that Jada chose to shave her head.  While there have been actresses who have chosen that extreme look as a fashion statement, Jada was forced to that extreme unwillingly.  As an actress and the wife of an actor, she still had to maintain a public life, with her bald head on full display.  That’s where Chris Rock comes in with an insensitive joke about her bald style… just ten words and one number… crossing the line from funny to humiliating.  That ‘push’ seemed so innocent to those watching that they laughed, adding to the humiliation.  We might be tempted to join that crowd, arguing that the Smiths are public figures, they make their living off being public figures, so they are fair game for such ‘pushes’.  They should accept the ‘push’ as just the cost of fame.  With that attitude, the ‘push’ is justified while the ‘shove’ is criticized.  No surprise, when Chris Rock took the stage on Wednesday night, after his ‘push’ and Will Smith’s ‘shove’, the audience gave Rock a standing ovation.

All this leaves me wondering what happened to our civility.  I wondered the same when I watched the lack of decorum in the Presidential debates, and the disrespect couched as “tough questioning” in the confirmation hearings for the new Supreme Court nominee.  That lack of civility shows up in our emails and our thoughtless comments to store clerks.  We feel justified to say what we think before we vet those thoughts.  You would hope that Christians would live up to a higher standard because we know the Savior.  We ought to be the example of a better way, but too often our behavior mirrors the society in which we live.  We have become thoughtless in the words we choose.  The book of James reminds us of the destructive power of the tongue.

The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.   It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire.  James 3:6 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings,  who have been made in God’s image.  James 3:9

Jesus reminds us that we will be “called to give account for every careless word [we] speak.”  (Matt 12:36) In contrast to the uncivil ways of this world, the book of Proverbs reminds us:  “Kind words are like honey- sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (Prov 16:24) With the image of sweet honey in mind, I pray that we will heed God’s Word that comes to us from St. Paul: “Let your speech always be gracious and seasoned with salt.”  (Col 4:6)

With you, learning how to mind my tongue for God’s glory,
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