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How are you communicating?

March 6, 2013 No Comment


by Robert Bugbee

The world around us has changed. Take communication, for example. I heard recently of some young people living near each other, who could easily visit in person, but hardly ever do so. Instead, they “talk” and “listen” through endless texting and social media. Despite frequent messages flying back and forth, a certain distance has set in. A mother of teenagers lamented on Winnipeg radio last week that social media sites can cause feelings of depression, since some “friends” post vacation photos and bragging reports about all they are doing in a way that makes other internet “friends” feel left out or disadvantaged.

Then there’s the whole matter of civility. In the endless pile of comments following your average internet news story, critics of the prime minister or mayor not only disagree with the official’s policies, but call them “heartless” and “cynical” as though they can judge motives. Not to be outdone, the leader’s defenders spit back their own barbs, labeling the critics as “deadbeats” or “malcontents.” (By the way, this is an abbreviated list; it doesn’t include the ugliest words thrown around.)

Even in personal relationships, I’ve seen people rush to name-calling and harsh judgments toward someone, often before they checked out all the facts, and sometimes even without ever speaking face-to-face with that individual, offering a person the chance to respond or explain. Nor is this just a problem afflicting the faithless world “out there” somewhere. You find it among Christian people— including some very active in church, alas.

Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, long-time radio preacher on The Lutheran Hour, said once that there’s nothing in our theology to justify contempt for people. He did not mean, of course, that Christians should weakly go along with every outrageous idea or action making the rounds, nor that you should hesitate to identify nonsense for what it is. His comment reminds me of St. Paul’s plea, “Therefore, each of you should put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour” (Ephesians 4:25). Paul was discussing relationships among believers in the body of Christ. At the same time, it is wise guidance for relating to people in general. You and I do well to reflect on it.

There’s nothing in our theology to justify contempt for people.

You can almost picture the kind of talking Paul is encouraging—where you sit down face-to-face with another person and say what you have to say. At times your words may need to disagree or correct. They may be hard to speak and hard to hear. At the same time, you keep from rushing to insults and imagining you’ve got power to peer into other people’s hearts and judge their motives, since that is God’s business (Acts 1:24), unless their actions make such motives undeniably clear (Matthew 7:16-20).

Speaking truthfully to your neighbour includes more, however! When that person displays positive gifts and qualities, you ought to say that, too, just as readily as you would mention something sinful or wrong. Truthful speaking will carry a dose of humility with it, a willingness to recognize your own shortcomings—the ways you have failed. That never weakens your words toward someone else, even when you have to disagree sharply. In fact, it marks you as an authentic man or woman. See how leaders like Moses spoke with strong authority, not by always insisting on how perfect they were, but by blending their solid conviction with deference toward others (Numbers 12:3)!

We should be into Lent by the time you read these lines. It’s a rich season to focus on Jesus’ sufferings and everything His words and ways with people can teach you. When it comes to communicating, Christians can show their neighbours a bright new way. You can speak the truth about stuff happening in this world of ours, including deplorable influences that won’t benefit anybody in the end. But, following in the footsteps of Christ and His apostles, you can do it with a heart and tone which make clear you’re out to build and help (1 Peter 3:15-16). Go ahead and communicate in this way, through letters to the editor of the local newspaper, participation in talk-shows, or through your own comments on the internet as the Lord opens the door of opportunity.

When it comes to communicating, Christians can show their neighbours a bright new way.

Even if that’s not your thing, personal relationships offer a wonderful chance to communicate under the lordship of Christ. If you can move beyond the typical small talk and self-centered conversation to enter into another person’s life, to take a real interest in what that man or woman is up against; if you can, yes, speak correction when needed, but also warm encouragement and appreciation for what God has given you through that individual, it will go far to deepen your ties to a relative or friend. It can also help transform your church family into a place that lives up to that name, “family.”

Mark my words: People around you will notice the difference.


Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is President of Lutheran Church–Canada.

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