I’ve noticed that one of the subtle effects of social distancing for 6 months (it’s been 6 months!) is that the less often I see someone I care about in person, the easier it is for me to tell myself uncharitable stories about their motivations, or their feelings toward me.
The less time I spend with someone, the more difficult it becomes to extend grace to them, to think the best about them. Have you noticed this?
I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s translation of the New Testament during morning prayer, and his rendering of Ephesians 4:31-32 struck me this week (emphasis mine):
All bitterness and rage, all anger and yelling, and all blasphemy–put it all away from you, with all wickedness. Instead, be kind to one another, cherish tender feelings for each other, forgive one another, just as God forgave you in the King.
That phrase “cherish tender feelings for each other” really grabbed me. Our love for each other in the church must manifest in more than just our outward actions toward each other, but also in our inward feelings for each other. We are to cherish the tender feelings we have for each other.
So, in regards to my difficulty in extending grace to people in this pandemic, a pathway came to mind: First, I must repent of the uncharitable thoughts I have about others. Then I allow “tender feelings” to arise in me as I connect with the presence and compassion of God. Finally, I cherish these tender feelings, cultivating them by disciplining my attention to focus on them, ruminating on them, not immediately moving on the the “next thing” but allowing these “tender feelings” permeate my being.
It’s a lot like tending a garden: you carefully remove the weeds that inhibit flourishing, and create an environment where the plants receive the sunlight and water they need to thrive. You’re not “in control” of the growth, but you can cherish the plants by cultivating an environment that allows them to thrive.
Cultivating an environment in our souls where “tender feelings for each other” can thrive is a vital part of the work of a Christian leader! As the Apostle Peter puts it: “Love one another deeply, for love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8).
The curated links for the week are below. I pray they equip you engage culture today in faithfulness and compassion.
- We started a new series on our podcast this week: Being a Christian in the USA: Pitfalls and Possibilities. Our conviction that taking Jesus seriously doesn’t mean finding a “midway point” on the left/right political spectrum as it is given to us, but rather moving outside those polarities altogether into the politics of God’s kingdom.
- Speaking of the beginning of a new series, this past Sunday the church that Matt and I co-pastor together in Indianapolis started a new sermon series on the Sermon on Mount that you might be interested in following: “Neither Left Nor Right Nor ‘Spiritual’: The Politics of Jesus.” (We also discussed the sermon in more depth on Facebook this week.)
- Phil Vischer (from the Holy Post Podcast) created a Part 2 to his Race in America video, answer 4 big questions that come up again and again in these discussions. (Here’s Part 1 if you didn’t catch it.)
- Michael Emerson on a double-edged tragedy: massive swaths of the church are dedicated to ignoring and minimizing injustice, which causes many people to think they must leave Jesus and the church to be involved in justice.
- Henning Mankell on the art of listening.
That’s all for now, folks! I leave you with a quote from St. Seraphim of Sarov, a 19th-century Russian hermit:
You cannot be too gentle, too kind.
Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other.
Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.
All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other…
Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace.
Keep silent, refrain from judgment.
This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.
May your glowing heart be shielded today against all evil.
Grace and peace,
Ben Sternke (for Gravity Leadership)
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