Maybe you're looking in the wrong place, or maybe it's not what you expected.
I don't know about you, but I've been around Christian community my whole life. I've gone to church, Christian schools and some kind of small group for almost as long as I can remember.
Being a Christian since I was 6 or so and growing up in a Christian home has its advantages and disadvantages. I battle my own cynicism from seeing so much mediocrity, apathy and straight-up hypocrisy in groups of people who say they follow the most extraordinary, passionate, honest Person who's ever lived. But this hypercritical view I have of the church also highlights the good things in my eyes. For example, this movement of justice that so many Millennials have made a part of demonstrating their faith to the world is spectacular. So many people are living out Jesus' teachings about caring for the poor. In the context of Christians who demonstrate an active love for the poor, the words "Jesus loves you" are starting to have some force to them for people who may not have considered our faith as loving.
But if you've been in the church for 21 years like me (or less, if you catch on faster than I do) you've noticed the trends that have come and gone, as well as some of the attractive and less-than-attractive traits in the body as a whole. I've been noticing some things lately in the church and in myself that are of the less-savory sort.
I have spent much of the last nine years talking about social justice and the call to demonstrate sacrificial love to the world by relieving the suffering of the poor and oppressed — specifically, helping in the fight to end modern-day slavery through my fundraiser "Loose Change to Loosen Chains" and my first two books, Be the Change and Lose Your Cool.
As I've pursued this goal, I've noticed a double standard in many people's lives, including my own. And I've become concerned. Concerned that while great progress is being made in the area of helping people halfway around the world, I'm seeing less civil and kind behavior in many people's personal lives. Basically, I think we're a generation in conflict with ourselves. We have 20/20 vision about the issues "out there," but I'm concerned that we are forgetting to look "in here" — inside our hearts and minds where character is created. What if we're a bunch of activists who are spiritual anorexics? Could it be that we're spending a lot of time being busy with our world-changing projects and forgetting about the spiritual transformation that may take even more time, more dedication and more discipline? And, in the process, our personal lives don't reflect the world-changer, compassion-driven labels our social media pages may declare.
It seems to me that we've become a bit careless with our words — some of us at least. We call names, disparage people, and our conversations are tinged with meanness and lack of respect in our closest personal relationships.
Think of all of the typical roommate arguments.
Sometimes, in the middle of a semester, replete with difficult professors, relational drama, and no sleep, it's easier to say things like: "You never do the dishes!" "You always leave your socks on the floor!" "Why are always so loud when you come in?"
While any of these statements could be true, the delivery (using the words "always" or "never") can hurt or at least make friendship and earning the right to be heard, very difficult.
It's easy to hurt those closest to us with our words. It's easy to let familiarity breed contempt to the point that we wound casually in arguments with friends, family, boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses. All the while, doing our acts of service farther from home, among those we don't know well.
Princeton professor Dr. Cornel West has said that "justice is what love looks like in public." Perhaps a private display of justice is chivalry and civility — private justice as opposed to social justice.
Chivalry — sounds a bit outdated, doesn't it? When you hear it, you may think of men opening doors or pulling out chairs for women, or maybe of rules for courtship or dating. That's not what I'm talking about.
I'm a bit of a history geek and have spent some time studying chivalry in a historical context. I've crafted a code from 10 of the principles some knights actually lived by. A code that, if lived out today, would change us so dramatically that those around would have to take notice.
- I will not go on this journey alone.
- I will never attack from behind.
- I will practice self-control and selflessness.
- I will respect life and freedom.
- I will fight only for the sake of those who are unable to defend themselves, or in the defense of justice.
- I will honor truth and always keep my promises.
- I will fear no evil.
- I will always follow the law unless it goes against what is moral and good.
- I will live and die with honor.
- I will never abandon my quest.
Make no mistake; this code of honor is more than a list of rules. I'm tired of hearing lists of what I should and shouldn't do. What I should and shouldn't eat or drink. What I should and shouldn't watch, touch or say. Chivalry isn't about those rules. Instead, it is about how we should be — the internal transformation that takes place as we open every area of our lives to be conformed to an image that is not of this world: the image of an amazing, terrifying, all-consuming and all-loving God who gives without limit and sacrifices without end. This is where we will lose ourselves and find a code that is higher and longer lasting than any pledge we may make. And it's more meaningful than just being friendly.
Too many Christians are taught to focus on being pleasant and polite rather than being kind. Since our early teens, many of us now in our 20s have been told how to behave. Young women are often under pressure to "act ladylike," while young men are ordered to "be gentlemen." At times, the pursuit of being more like Jesus can take a backseat to being proper and nice. That's a problem, since being "nice" is just external behavior. True kindness is of the Spirit. It's internal, and it's lasting. Not just Southern politeness like we talk about in the U.S., but enduring transcendent love that drives deep to the soul.
That means actually being kind to people because you want to be, because the Spirit within you compels you to be, not because they can do something for you, or because you are supposed to be kind.
Here are some ways to get started:
- Practice active listening. Pay attention to the people around you and how they are feeling. Ask them about how they're feeling (but don't be annoying).
- Remove the words "always" and "never" from your vocabulary. Both can be offensive and are not usually true.
- Look to the example Jesus set. He asked people questions; He told them stories to get them thinking. He’s the Christ, but he was accepting of everyone, from children to prostitutes; from occupying soldiers, to his closest friends. And when He disagreed with someone, He did it in love.
- If you want to be a kind person, practice kindness. The more you practice, as long as your motivation is grounded in a desire to demonstrate love to people and not in moralism or legalism (being a "good person") the more kind you will become.
I hope you'll enter into this journey with me. Male and female — married and single — putting aside our presuppositions about who is to act first, and each pursuing the higher calling of chivalry and civility. It won't be easy. I have not even come close to living out all of these principles, but I am committing to the process.
My sincere hope is that you will join me.
Copyright 2013 Zach Hunter. All rights reserved.