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What are Your Ground Rules?

 What are your ground rules?


Watching the news cycle is increasingly difficult not only because we’ve elevated opinion over fact, but we’ve also allowed vitriol and anger to run unchecked. As a person of faith, sacrificial love is the mark of the Christian. So much so, that the late Francis Schaeffer made this observation:


“I have observed one thing among true Christians in their differences in many countries: What divides and severs true Christian groups and Christians - what leaves a bitterness that can last for 20, 30, 40 years (or for 50 or 60 years in a son's or daughter's memory) - is not the issue of doctrine or belief that caused the differences in the first place. Invariably, it is a lack of love - and the bitter things that are said by true Christians in the midst of differences.” (emphasis mine)


The church as a whole, in the U.S., is failing this test. Observable deeds of love have been replaced by self-justifying words and deeds of anger, hatred, and defensiveness.


In recent meetings with international partners, I have heard that fewer international students feel that the United States will help them grow in to the people they want to be. This is indeed sobering.


Yet, part of that truth is related to the unrestrained nature of the commentary. The unwillingness for many to simply stop when something awful comes to mind before sending that tweet, that social media post, or that snide remark out in the world. Let me put it another way: are you violating your own ground rules? Do you have lines drawn that show you where your descent in to hatred and bitterness starts?


As a human being, I have had to take the news and tweets in smaller doses. The lack of love combined with the lack of restraint is toxic and acts like a stain that is increasingly difficult to wash out.


So, a few weeks back, I jotted down a few ground rules for myself and to put barricades up on the side of the road, that allow me to travel within the lines on some things. There are five of them and they are as follows:


1.       "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles"--Proverbs 24:17

In other words, please don’t take any joy in the downfall of another or in the misfortune of another human being. Rejoicing when someone experiences humiliation, shame, or pain is just an exercise in what Philip Yancey calls “ungrace,” or what Francis Schaeffer says is “Upon God’s authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are Christians on the basis of our observable love….”



2.       If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them. – Dalai Lama


Simply put: trying helping someone out and if you don’t help them—then Do. No. Harm.



3.       An angry person starts fights; a hot-tempered person commits all kinds of sin. (Proverbs 29:22)


Eugene Peterson, in the Message, puts it this way: “When a leader listens to malicious gossip,
    all the workers get infected with evil.” (Proverbs 29:12).



4.       “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”—Henri Nouwen

You cannot go to where it hurts and be hurtful at the same time.


5.       From the Westminster larger catechism

“The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.”

Ok, re-read this last one. Kind of cool, don’t you think? Defending the good name of another, though, will take some ground rules, lest you get sucked in to the vitriol that is seemingly pervasive and permissive.

I printed these out and posted them near where I write and where I work on my computer. I review them weekly, partly because I can get angry, unloving, and I need reminders. Another aspect was an anecdote from the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. He used to pass out rules on how to protest. These non-violent marches were difficult and yet, if violence met with violence, hatred wins. King refused to leave things to a reactionary pose, so many of the marchers underwent training to carry a better message.

As we seek to self-govern a country that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, we may need a few post-it notes to guide our discourse. If no else needs them—then, I’m confessing that I do.

Tags | forum | Grace | listening | world
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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.