June 25, 2008

She Hung Up on Me

2008 1518 page5 capt is difficult to find a courteous person today,” someone said, “who isn’t trying to sell you something.” But we Christians should be courteous, it seems to me, for Jesus’ sake. Even under the most aggravating circumstances.
The day before had seen Paul unjustly assaulted by a mob in Jerusalem, with people “throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air” (Acts 22:23). And who should be called upon to explain such outrage? Not the dust flingers, but Paul!—before the Roman military commander stationed in the city, and in front of 
members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, summoned to the barracks.
What happened next I find eminently instructive for Christian courtesy. Paul had no sooner opened his mouth to explain why he’d been the target of ruffians the day before than the high priest, perceiving blasphemy, ordered someone close by to strike him on the mouth.
Perhaps wiping blood from his lips, Paul shot back: “‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!’” Then learning that it was the high priest to whom he’d just spoken, Paul immediately went into apology mode: “‘Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.”’” (Acts 23:3-5).
2008 1518 page5Paul’s behavior should give pause to those among us who dash off insulting messages to pastors, teachers, conference and union presidents, and other leaders among us. We may be highly displeased with actions they’ve taken or things they’ve said, but are there not ways to get our points across without rudeness or insult?
And how are we in our communities? Do people know us for our calmness, our respect, our courtesy? And in the home—how do we behave there? Singing skylarks when we leave the house, are we pigs behind closed doors? “There is beauty all around,” says an old song, “when there’s love at home.”
Whether we’re dealing with others in the home, in the community, or in the church, courtesy should be our modus operandi. Said Ellen G. White: “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one” (Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 189).
Someone called our office back in May, upset about something I’d written in the current Sabbath school lessons. Taking pains to emphasize that she was “Doctor [so-and-so] calling,” she was very peeved I was not in the office to take her call. (I would have been in the air that very moment flying back to Washington.) “What do you mean he’s not in the office?” she demanded of my assistant’s answering machine. “It’s past nine o’clock in the morning your time, isn’t it? What do you mean he is not there?”
Briefed on the incident when I returned, I was into my softest voice when we called her back, walking on eggshells, as it were. But the moment she came on the line, it was clear she was in no mood for pleasantries of any kind. What she immediately wanted explained was what I meant when I wrote that “Jesus seemed to.” What could I possibly mean by that?
I couldn’t say, of course, without some context. But my request for an example of the offending expression (which I thought reasonable) deeply frustrated her. “You wrote the lessons, didn’t you,” she said testily, “and you’re calling me without knowing what you wrote?”
As she calmed down a bit (at least, so it seemed over the phone), she began talking about the power of Jesus, sentiments with which I fully agreed. When she paused, I told her so. Then I continued: “How come I’m agreeing with everything you’re saying, Dr. ———, and yet . . . ?”
I was not allowed to finish. She hung up on me.
The unreasonableness of this caller might make this seem an exceptional case. Still, it illustrates the need for that common grace we call courtesy. Courtesy, consideration, kindness, empathy, politeness, civility, good manners—these are qualities that should characterize everyone who claims the name of Christ.
Said Paul: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, . . . that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:6). And in the words of Erastus Wiman: “Nothing is ever lost by courtesy. It is the cheapest of the pleasures, costs nothing, and conveys much. It pleases him who gives and him who receives, and thus, like mercy, it is twice blessed.”

Roy Adams is associate editor of the Adventist Review.