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I almost got flattened by crazy drivers the other day — not once but twice.
The first near-miss occurred in the parking lot of a burger joint, where I dodged an SUV barreling toward the exit. Less than an hour later, at a gas station, I was walking toward my car when a pickup truck speeding through the station missed me by about a foot. Before I could recover from the shock of the moment and think about reacting, the pickup was gone.
You have your own nightmare stories about bad drivers, I’m sure. My larger point is this: Many folks no longer seem to care enough about others to observe the basic rules and courtesies that separate civil society from anarchy. From highways to law and order, from politics to media slugfests, from online flamers to breaking in line at the supermarket, examples are endless. And they range from the mundane to the deadly.
In Chicago, 54 people were shot — count ’em, 54 — over a single weekend in June. Ten of the victims died. Some of the shootings were gang-related, but others reportedly were caused by minor arguments or somebody “disrespecting” somebody.
Perhaps the saddest manifestation of the antisocial disease that now permeates our culture is not rudeness or violence, but the indifference that leads so many neighbors to ignore each other’s existence. Is this the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he wrote about our God-given rights in the Declaration of Independence? I don’t think so.
It isn’t just a matter of the cultural coarseness and “incivility” many have decried. The center cannot hold in a society where people don’t even pretend to care about each other. Sooner or later, things fall apart.
Heading into what promises to be another summer of discontent and division, 72 percent of Americans “think that poor behavior has gotten worse in recent years,” according to a national poll conducted in April. Solid majorities of the adults responding to the poll were turned off by what they see and hear in public, in government and politics, on the roads, in schools, in Hollywood, on television, in sports, on the Web.
“We, as a people, pay a price for the jerks among us,” writes Roger Simon of Politico, a multimedia news outlet. “Nearly half of all Americans say they are ‘tuning out’ of government and politics, 46 percent are tuning out of opinion pieces and editorials in the media and 38 percent are tuning out of news coverage and reporting.”
But let’s be honest. Too often, the “jerks among us” … are us. I’m preaching to myself, but you are welcome to join me at the altar of confession if you feel so inclined.
If Christians succumb to the culture, if we hurl (or murmur) insults and disdain rather than loving the unlovable and practicing kindness to strangers, what distinguishes us from anyone else? We have become useless for God’s work, even destructive to it. Scripture calls us not to be conformed to the world but transformed by God’s Spirit.
“It is clear that America needs a spiritual awakening. Our country is awash in all kinds of lostness, including mean-spiritedness in conduct and speech,” wrote former Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt last year. “The fruit of the Spirit works in the life of the believer to create, among other things, long-suffering, gentleness and self-control. The word long-suffering is more than mere patience; it is a long-fused patience with people. The Apostle Paul urged us, as believers in Jesus Christ, to let our speech ‘always be with grace, seasoned with salt’ (Colossians 4:6). …
“[N]ever underestimate the power and influence of one voice. When we exercise civility in our public and private rhetoric, we bring glory to our Lord, enhance our credibility as men and women whose lives have been transformed by God's grace and create opportunities to share the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ with our lost and dying world.”
An effective missionary deeply studies the culture he wants to reach and searches for ways to communicate Christ within it. Eventually, however, he challenges that culture to transform itself through the power of the Gospel.
In our culture, one of the most countercultural things you can do is to yield the right of way, whether on the roads or in relationships. A soft answer to wrath is downright subversive. Turning the other cheek? It’s as revolutionary as it was in Jesus’ day — and just as powerful to change minds and hearts.