Speaking the Truth in Love

Did they just post that?!

I distinctly remember when a senior parishioner first discovered email. A retired executive, he was enamored with the quickness of response he would receive with someone he was communicating with. And then a shift happened. He moved from his normal discourse of sharing opinions to really outlandish opinions and then to fits of rage. Somewhere along the way it was if he developed an unfiltered persona that was completely disrespectful.
Even after all this time I still find myself surprised at what people post on social media. It’s as if, in the evolution of this form of “communication,” all social norms and decorums (or even a moderate filter for some folks) have been completely abandoned. I think one of the biggest surprises for me is folks that have done so are almost always individuals that, in person, I have never heard express such opinions or use such language.
I’ve wondered a lot about this bifurcation of behavior. Clearly we all have thoughts, feelings, and opinions. The question is, especially when they are directed toward another person or a group of people, what is the healthiest way to express them?
Every mental health professional I have worked with has been clear on the importance of sharing your thoughts, feelings, and opinions respectfully and directly with the person or persons you are addressing. The wisdom is to speak to the person and not about the person to others. When one uses any platform to berate a person or group of people rather than to be in dialogue, the intent is clearly not be in relationship or even conversation. This the mental health professional would likely characterize as passive aggressive conflict avoidance behavior.
Theologically speaking, as followers of Jesus, the fundamental frame for engaging others is the expectation to love our neighbors as ourselves. Consistently, the expectation in our sacred story is that we are to be about the work of reconciliation. At the heart of this reconciliatory work is what Paul instructs: to “tell the truth in love.” And ,as Episcopalians, at the core of our Baptismal Covenant is the promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself” and to “respect the dignity of every human being”.
After I received my third email from the aforementioned parishioner, I called him up and asked if we could get together for coffee. Shortly after we sat down in the coffee shop I pulled up his emails to me and said, “It sounds like you have some things on your mind. How about we have a conversation?” And I am happy to share with you that twenty years later we are still in relationship, yet now when he has opinions about the Church or the world—or whatever—he shares those respectfully, face to face.

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