Justification

I am offended.

The note was polite, but to the point.  The writer needed to express something that had been in her mind for awhile.  To be fair, the words weren’t I am offended, but it seems offensive to me.  There is little difference.

Something I have done—language I have used in my business for years—was offensive.  I selected the language.  I placed it in a prominent place in my advertising.

I offended.

I don’t know the person.  Someone else in the church she attends has made numerous purchases from my company over the last few years.  The writer of the note is not even my customer.

And yet, I read the words on my screen and my spirits sank.  What would I say?  How would I respond?

Do you know how easy it is to believe one has been attacked?

Is it not a simple thing to take offense at the one who has taken offense?

My mind, as it does, piled up the words with which to defend myself.  I know how to use the English language.  I am accomplished in the skill of bickering.

I want the chance to justify myself.

Why is that my first reaction?  Is it true for everyone?  When we sense that we have been admonished, do we all want to deflect the blame?

I wanted to look better than I did in that moment.

I knew I could come out on top.  I knew it.

Sleep hardly came that night.  I would present my argument to the imaginary jury I had collected in my head, letting loose with the big guns and obliterating the enemy.  I win!

But, a quiet voice from deeper inside asked a one-word question.  Just one.

Enemy?

With a mental shrug, I’d decide to think about it tomorrow, only to find myself, moments later, facing the imaginary jury once more.

Time after time I built up my defense against the enemy, only to face that one-word question again.  And, again.

Enemy?

But he, seeking to justify himself, replied, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Neighbor.  That’s the word I wanted.  Not enemy.

Neighbor.

And the second is like the first: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)  Jesus said it was the second most important commandment, essentially part of the first.  The lawyer who wanted to justify himself (in Luke’s passage) knew it by heart.

I do, too.  Yet, every time I am confronted with my own shortcomings, my reaction is the lawyer’s.  Every time.

I want to justify myself.  I want to make myself look better.  And, more often than not, that is accomplished by making someone else look smaller.

Seeking to justify ourselves, we reply.

Seeking to justify ourselves, we reply. Click To Tweet

We use words like snowflake, over-sensitive, entitled, and coddled

Or, we use words like arrogant, insensitive, and bully.  

Either way, the result is the same.  We tear down our neighbors to build up ourselves.

Words were the cause of my offense.  My next words would either increase the offense, possibly making me feel justified, or they would begin the healing process.

What to do?

Over forty years ago, a wise man wrote, in his beautiful script, in the front of a new Bible he and his wife were giving to their youngest son.  He knew his son well, having spent nearly twenty years in close proximity to him. 

The words, still quite legible today, were exactly what the argumentative, impatient youth needed.  I can attest that he was more annoyed than overjoyed to read them the first one hundred times or so he saw them written there.

The Preacher said the words, thousands of years before.  Their truth has not faded one iota.

A gentle answer turns aside wrath, but argumentative words only stir up more anger.  (Proverbs 15:1)

I haven’t always lived by the exhortation.  In truth, I haven’t lived by it even a majority of the time.

I’m learning. Finally.

Still—I want to know.

Why do we add offense to offense over and over?

Why is it so difficult for us to bind wounds instead of making them bleed more?

Why is it so hard for us to recognize our neighbors, instead, identifying them as enemies, almost without fail?

Why is it so hard for us to recognize our neighbors? Click To Tweet

In a world filled with hate and vitriol, we—all who follow Christ—are called to bind up, and carry, and treat, with the same love we have for our God and Savior, all who walk the same ground we do.

It’s not optional. 

It’s not.

I’m justified.  By Him.  I don’t do that myself at all; it’s what He does. (Ephesians 2:8)

How I respond to others is how I show them what’s really in my heart—in my very soul.

Gentle words.

Peace.

 

Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.
(from Poor Richard’s Almanac ~ Benjamin Franklin ~ 1706-1790)

 

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
(Philippians 2:14,15 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

More Where That Came From

There’s more where that came from!

The older ladies in the kitchen had it in for Wilma from the start.  She was a cook’s helper, meaning she did whatever they needed done.  From fetching pots and ladles, to carting the prepared dishes out to the serving line, the tiny lady with the energy of a squirrel storing nuts for the winter did it all.  Mostly, she did it without complaint.

From my nearby station, where I washed the pots and pans, I listened to the abuse she took.  Day after day, the cooks, who were the royalty in that little domain, made snide remarks—about her size, or hair color, or mental abilities.  And, day after day, the hard-working lady went about her duties patiently and quietly.  I knew she couldn’t be happy, but didn’t think it was my place to interfere in kitchen politics, especially given that I was a newcomer there.

Then one morning, the cooks stepped over the line.  One of them made a rude comment about Wilma’s daughter.  It was common knowledge that the girl had made some poor decisions, the result being an unwanted pregnancy at an early age.  The other cook started to comment as well, but Wilma ended her long silence in that instant.

It seemed the weeks and months of abuse she had endured were like gunpowder packed inside her, and the comments about her daughter, the match to the fuse.  She exploded in fury.

I can’t repeat her words here.

Within seconds, the kitchen supervisor was out of her office, inviting (with no option of refusal) the ladies into her inner sanctum.  We heard voices raised again and again from the other side of the door, but half an hour later, we were hard at work (or pretended to be) when the three returned to their stations.

For the remainder of that morning, if the cooks spoke it was only to ask for a necessary ingredient to go into a dish, or for a container to transfer the food into on its way to the serving line.  Wilma didn’t utter another word, but scurried about her duties as if nothing had happened.

When it was time for our dinner break, the other kitchen employees gathered around her on the way to the dining room.

“Wow!  Wilma, I’ve never seen you so worked up!”

“I hope everything is going to be all right. They’re not going to fire you, are they?”

“Boy!  You told them!”

Wilma just smiled wryly, her lips pressed tightly together.  It seemed that, perhaps, she had been sworn to secrecy about what had transpired in the office.  When she spoke, it was just to mutter a few words.  It was all she ever had to say about the event.

Six words.  “There’s more where that came from!”

The cooks never mentioned her daughter again, nor did they dare to abuse the slight lady as she went about her duties.  Apparently, they had had more than what they wanted from the little lady’s store.

argumentMore where that came from.

Many years down the road of life from that detonation, I find myself wondering if there is more for us to learn from Wilma’s words than the lesson those cooks acquired the hard way.

Odd.  I’ve never heard the words used in a positive sense.  I’ve only heard them when people have either told others off, or even attacked them physically.  The words are usually said as a warning to beware of lighting the fuse within a second time.

But, one has to wonder—why would we only have more anger and vitriol stored up?  Why would we only promise more of the same when we physically overcame a rival?

Are we so full of ugly things?  How did we get that way?

Surely, there should be more good things where that came from?  Are there more compliments?  More hugs?  More slaps on the back?  More blessings?

I’m just full of questions tonight aren’t I?  

I suppose one could say the questions are mostly rhetorical, meant to inspire soul-searching, rather than requiring answers.

You see, I already know the answers.  Oh, I know.  Perhaps you do too.  You do, don’t you?

From deep down inside, we know what we have stored up.  From the darkest places in our souls, we have intimate knowledge of the nasty stuff—the powder ready to explode, with a short fuse.

It is there.  We have carefully stockpiled it over a lifetime of interaction with folks.

We’ve tamped it down carefully, in preparation for the time when it will be needed.  Packed it tightly in the wadding of our excuses and justifications.  The explosion will come.

It will come.  Unless we do what it takes to render it harmless.

Do you know how to keep a firecracker from exploding?

We might try removing the fuse and leaving it where it’s stored.  It’s not completely futile to do that.  Without a fuse, there is nothing to touch the match to.

Still.  The device can explode when exposed to the right amount of heat, or pressure.  It has exactly the same explosive power it always had.  Exactly the same.

But, there is a simple way to disarm that little explosive device.  So simple.  Get it out into the open air.  Tear open the paper tube.  Let the breeze blow the powder away.  Exposed to the light and air, the destructive components of the firecracker become harmless.

I’m thinking it’s time—for me, at least—to empty the arsenal.

But, I have lived my life as a follower of the Christ!  He began a good work in me decades ago.  He has continued to do that work.  (Philippians 1:6)

What about that?

What about the good things down there?

The Apostle—you know, the one who wrote all the time—suggests that we need to be tireless in doing good if we want any result worth working toward.  Tireless.

The good is already down there.  All we have to do is share it.  And then do it again.  And again.

Perhaps it’s time to make the words a promise.  Not a threat.

A promise.

There’s more where that came from!

 

 

 

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
(Luke 6:45 ~ NIV)

 

To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.
(Sophocles ~ Ancient Greek playwright ~ 496 BC-406 BC)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Softly

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

And, with those words from the Preacher, you already know enough about me to write my biography.

Funny.  I used to think I was the only one.  Today, I look around this brave, new world in which we live, and I observe a tsunami of grievous words.

Surely the only possible outcome can be a firestorm of anger.

They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.  Not my words—the prophet Hosea used them centuries ago.  The truth hits home more today than at any time I can think of.

Daily we see it.  In the public square, there is little civil discourse, only incendiary  agitation.  Names are called, accusations made, and arguments proclaimed with arrogance and demeaning language.  And the other side simply sits quietly and waits their turn.

What?  They don’t wait quietly?  Well, of course they don’t.

co-workers-294266_1280In social media, on television, and through the radio waves, the volume is increased until no one can listen.  The only way to inject a viewpoint into the conversation is to scream at opportune moments.  

Aided by the instantaneous and public nature of our technology, the clamor is amplified exponentially.

The din is spectacular.  And deafening.

And astonishingly pointless.
                              

Quiet communication calms the brawling spirit, but argumentative voices fan the flames.
                              

I still have the old Bible at home and use it frequently.  The black leather cover is frayed and ragged at the edges and the binding is separated.  And yet, the words on the flyleaf still jump out at me every time I open it.  As if it had been written yesterday, the reminder still grips and convicts.

The beautiful script is the handwriting of a loving father who understood, all too well, his teen-aged son.  

The words of which I speak are those of the Proverb which you see at the top of this essay.

My father knew his son.  He knew what I was made of—knew my bent to argument and arrogance.  

I have spent a lifetime trying to tame the beast within, the beast of pride and defiance.  But, like the Apostle who was called the brother of our Lord, I have lost the battle with the tiny tongue again and again.  James suggests there is not one of us who is able to tame our tongue. (James 3:3-8)

But, it must be tamed.  Must be.  And the tools are within reach.  

The wisdom of our Creator is pure, peace loving, and considerate.  (James 3:17)

You see, our Father knows His children and what they are made of.  He knows our bent to arrogance and argument.  

But, He wants better for us.

I chuckle as I recall the conclusion of James at the end of his disheartening exposé on the untameable tongue.  The contrast with the prophet Hosea’s words is striking.  James avers that peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18)

We don’t have to sow the wind.  We don’t have to reap the whirlwind.  That crop is not profitable in any way.

Sowing peace, we reap righteousness.

Sowing peace, we reap righteousness. Click To Tweet

Many of the voices I hear raised in rage today claim righteousness.  I wonder.

Softly, softly.  Our friends across the pond use the term to describe the approach most likely to yield the positive results we seek.

Perhaps we could try that.

Softly.  

Softly.

 

 

 

 

 

Shhhh.  Be vewy vewy quiet.  I’m hunting wabbits.
(Elmer Fudd ~ Loony Tunes cartoon character)

 

People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.
(Will Rogers ~ American humorist/columnist ~ 1879-1935)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

No Such Word

Actions speak louder than words.

I want that to be true.  I want all the caring deeds which were accomplished today to make more of a difference in the world than all the angry, ugly words which were spoken and written.

I want friends to not be angry with their friends who happen to see things differently in at least one aspect of our corporate life.  I want all the stupid, thoughtless statements that have been made in the last week to matter less than a lifetime of doing the things friends do.  I want friends to remember the visits, the meals shared, the work accomplished together, more than any hurtful words that ever came out of that same friend’s mouth.

I fear it will not be so.

I have always believed the original thought above was true.  In the world in which we used to live, it was.  Few men or women put their thoughts into words and fewer wrote those words down to be a record used against them for all of their days.  We talked face to face.  We argued; we discussed; we shook our fingers under each other’s noses.

And then, when we parted, as friends, we shook hands and promised to do it again someday.

Today, we argue with little snippets of written information.  No one listens, no one considers carefully the other’s point of view–we just regurgitate our talking points.  If we need reinforcements, we copy and paste a link to an article a professional writer crafted carefully–for a handsome price.

And we call that communication?

In a time such as this, when our world is abuzz with the latest idiocy from Washington, many have crowded the most popular social website to put in their two cents’ worth.  I wonder, at the end of the day, do we believe we have accomplished anything?

I believe the most unanimity has been achieved recently in the answer to one question on that website.  It is a question asked by the computer program and not by any participant in the discussion.

“Unfriend?”

Even my spell check program doesn’t think it is a real word, underscoring it with an angry red line.  Yet right now it is a verb, an action word if you will, which has been agreed to by untold number of indignant people who think they know now who that person really is, and they no longer like him or her.  Not because of anything the person has done, but because of words they repeated in the heat of a long-distance argument.

I have almost clicked that button recently myself.  I am sick of the constant barrage of opinions, based on other opinions, based on–well, you get the idea.  More than once, I have been poised to unfriend someone I know and care about, simply because of their hurtful or thoughtless words.

I will not.

I spent a little time a few moments ago, going through my list of friends on that social website.  There is not one–not one–I wish to cut off from contact with me; not one with whom I wish to part company.

Do I wish they would stop leaking their arrogant and spiteful words all over my computer screen?  

Of course, I do!  

Do I think those words which are being spoken in a time of stress and social upheaval are the sum of who that person is?  

Not at all!

A friend, with whom I have a normal relationship–normal meaning that we usually speak face to face–walked into my store recently and we discussed much of what is happening in our culture today.

No.  We argued about it.  

I raised my voice and spoke my mind.  He raised his voice and gave me a piece of his.  I shook my finger at him and he held up his hand in protest.  Half an hour later, as he headed out the door to get back to work, we shook hands, and he promised that he would be back.  We’ll argue again.

I’m looking forward to it.

We have been friends for over thirty years.  I know who he is.  I’ve watched him raise his children and love his wife, and I’ve watched him touch people’s lives.  

So, we have a difference of opinion now and then.  What of it?  What idiot throws away a lifetime relationship because of a few words that hang in the wind and then are gone?

The more I think about it, the more I’m coming down on the same side as my spell checker. There is no such word as unfriend.  If it’s all the same to you, I believe I’ll be keeping all of you around, thanks.

I hope you feel the same way.

 

 

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson ~ American philosopher/writer ~ 1803-1882)

 

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
(1 Peter 4:8 ~ NIV)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved