There’s been some *stuff* goin’ down in the blogosphere this week. A certain combative pastor from the west coast has been critical of some other emerging pastors. It’s been reported and discussed over in Graceland. Many are winking at the whole affair. The swords were rattling and got loud in the ears of a good brother from the northland.
All the discussion got me thinking about how us humans handle criticism and critique. Cause, you know, nobody really likes it. It’s no fun. If we’re honest, none of us like to hear it. Even under the best of circumstances. But (as you may have noticed if you’ve been around here much lately) I’ve been doing some painting. It’s given me a chance to meditate on this quite a bit. Two things came to mind as I thought about criticism and critique in the church at large … 1 Corinthians 13 and my sainted grandmother.
Now stop thinking of 1 Corinthians 13 as a wedding scripture and just read it … read it and think about what it says to us about how to treat each other. Not how to treat a lover, but your brothers and sisters.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I thought about this in terms of my grandmother, my Grammy O. My Grammy O was one of my very favorite people ever. There probably was no one more different from me in my family than my Grammy O. But she and I were also quite close. Now she was brought up in a very proper British home and felt that good manners ought to be followed just because. I was a child that needed a good reason for everything. I believe that I tried everyone’s patience. Church was an important part of my grandparent’s life because it was a social expectation. I believe they had a faith, but it was also part of their social routine and moral code to participate in church and the structures that it built in their lives. My mother (their daughter) rejected the church and many of the pointless social rules that went with it as she and my father raised their family (my brothers and I).
When I was growing up we *cussed* frequently and with some abandon in my family. We used God and Jesus’ name in vain often. There wasn’t any point in keeping them holy because no one in my immediate family believed in God. The summer that I was 10 I went to spend an extended period of time with my grandparents and my mother spoke to me before I left about my grandparents and their beliefs. She reminded me to keep my cussing down and to use other words if I needed them. Words such as “jeesum crow” and “gosh darn it.” I worked very hard at monitoring my language with my grandparents. But quite early on in the visit I was reading in bed one evening and my Grammy came up to kiss me goodnight. She sat on the edge of the bed and spoke earnestly with me about how she knew how hard I was working to make her and Grampy happy. And she knew it was difficult. But it was also disturbing to them that I used these new words too, because, well, they knew what those words STOOD for! At ten I was mystified. What on earth was I supposed to do?
But here’s the thing. I still remember that scene 36 years later as clear as a bell. I’ve heard countless discussions on why people need to keep their speech pure. Why what comes out of a person’s mouth makes them look good or bad. Blah blah blah. But what sticks with me and makes me think year in and year out … is my grandmother’s loving countenance, speaking to me gently with love. It was her loving criticism and critique that continues to this day to make me think about how I want to present myself to the world. It doesn’t always change what I say or how I say it, but it continues to make me think.
Now I italicized some bits and pieces of 1 Corinthians 13 above because they stand out to me and bits and pieces that are pertinent to how a person might be in relationship with another person in order to critique and criticize someone else. But I wonder if perhaps the time for criticizing and critiquing others is when we are in community with them. From this point on … that includes me.
To end with a prayer by an Irish bard of this era:
Always pain before a child is born
Still I’m waiting for the dawn
Take this mouth
So quick to criticise
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss