Visceral Reactions!

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. (James 1:19)

We are all pretty opinionated, are we not?

Each of us take our own experiences, reasoning, education, tradition, culture, authority structures, and worldview and incorporate it into views on particular matters. What is equally amazing is how different many of these opinions can be, even if they originate from the same sources. For instance, politics in America is a grand example of the myriad ways that people understand the concepts of liberty in a democratic republic and apply them in practical (and not-so-practical) ways. People and politicians are passionate within the framework of the Constitution, liberty, sovereignty, and freedom and yet the application is extremely different. Politics is but one example. Sports, Spirituality, Religion, Scientific theories, demographic affinities, and common interests also spur us on to impassioned stances.

Unfortunately, what I see among us today is a society filled with people reacting viscerally based on what they already feel impassioned about. I say unfortunately because I think visceral reactions, while a very real temptation for all of us, never help the situation.

Look at Social Media. Quick quotes and pictures that may inspire some do nothing but infuriate others. Comments quickly devolve into a TYPING SHOUTING MATCH between two sides that talk past each other. Often I see discussions by two people who I know to be good, educated, and logical people resort to name-calling or storm off from a conversation huffing and puffing about how the other people were just being stubborn (oh, the irony!). Such response is even a temptation for me.

Just recently I read an article that sickened me on its stance on gender roles in marriage. I understand there are different views, particularly different views that even use the same authority of the Bible that I believe in yet come to contradicting conclusions. Yes, I fall on one side of the argument, and so I feel strongly against what I see to be faulty use or reasoning on the other side. However, I try not to respond out of this initial visceral reaction. When I read the comments section for a story, my initial reaction, whether positive or negative, often abates to the stark realization that all people are subject to the same base ability to attack or summarily discount another person. Such responses show a passioned stance on their own views while dismissing or worst, labeling a person something terrible! Regarding the article I read above, people were responding in a way that said things like "how can they call themselves Christian" or reducing the argument to fit their selective use of sentences. Don't get me wrong...I felt very strongly that the author was very erroneous on the subject, but this in no way gives me the excuse to excommunicate them from my understanding of the universal church based on this initial reaction.

Debate and discussion are good. Entertaining other opinions is essential, if nothing else than to solidify the stance and belief that you already hold. Viscerally condemning an opponent is simply not acceptable. Emotions, while a major part of who we are, are not what should control us.

Use politics as an example. President Obama and Mitt Romney elicit strong support from those who agree with them and unmitigated attacks from those who disagree. Yet, is not the way forward, the solution, somewhere in the middle, in compromise? Getting everyone to agree on everything is unobtainable through purely human methods. Even force and coercion eventually lead to revolution and rebellion.

I am not advocating for us to be any less opinionated. We believe what we believe. Often what we believe means we must believe something else is not true while our belief is true. Justice, mercy, and love are worthy or impassioned support! Passion and emotion is necessary to holding any set of beliefs even if it is as simple as being an Indianapolis Colts fan and so there is no better football team out there!

But, this does not mean I can belittle, libel, slander, or excommunicate someone who is a New England Patriots fan, or the team itself, out of emotional hatred or ill-will. Good natured rivalry - like Go Army! Sink Navy! - is a perfect example. I truly wish that Army would destroy Navy on the fields of friendly strife any and every time they play in any given sport, competition, or classroom, but there is a mutual respect and common purpose which unites us.

Unfortunately, society is not characterized by such an attitude anymore, whether you are young or old. There are no pointing fingers at whom this temptation applies because it afflicts us all. We love to unthinkingly support those who affirm something we agree with, and immediately condemn those who state something different. Discourse and understanding is lost in the midst of rhetoric and selfish reactions!

Luckily, I believe there is a way forward. It can be found many places, but is summed up nicely in the Epistle of James.

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.
You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.

If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us. (James 1:19-27, CEB emphasis mine)

Pause and let this passage sink in.

Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to grow angry.

We must do what we hear. Listen and not forget. Anger does not produce righteousness.

Devotion is worthless unless we live in accordance with His ways.

So when we disagree on what philosophy best describes the marriage relationship, we must not forget the Fruit of the Spirit. On either side.

When we disagree on economic policies, we must remind ourselves about what is at the core of these policies be it profit, self-interest, prosperity, growth, mercy, love, and justice for the least of these (for all of us!).

We must have humility, which means we recognize differences and come together towards a solution in the midst of them...while still holding to our belief. Sometimes our beliefs may change, and this is true of all of us. Other times, we can be confirmed in our belief and move forward with measured confidence.

But we need to listen, measure a response, and engage in wise dialogue with others. Both those we agree with and disagree with.

We need to not post a comment on Facebook trying to rile up visceral responses. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is the old "count to ten when something makes you angry."

Actually, I truly believe we need to bring all things before God and give them over to Him prior to responding. We need to take every thought captive, embracing our emotions and how they make us feel, but also recognizing reconciliation, peacemaking, and kindness towards others.

Pause. Reflect. Pray. Give the benefit of the doubt.

Recognize the issue behind the visceral reaction.

When I went through basic training at West Point, I quickly learned I was going to get yelled at simply for being a New Cadet. When the instructors and leaders were screaming at me, I had to stand there and take it without reacting. What this taught me was how to quickly discern what I messed up and what correction was needed to fix the problem, and then just let them yell. Sometimes people just needed to yell, but it did not help solve the problem. By honing in on this, I was able to not react emotionally, which is exactly what the instructors were trying to get out of me - a rise, so that then they could do more to me for lack of military discipline. I became able to see the issue, respond evenly about my correction, saying "Yes Sir" and "No Ma'am" as appropriate and not escalating the situation. Such a posture served me well throughout my time at West Point and as an army officer because it cut through the visceral to the issue, and allowed resolution and peacemaking to build up the situation instead of resulting in the downward spiral of quarreling.

I believe that just such a personal measured response is what we need in our society. Young and old. Republican and Democrat. Fundamentalist, Evangelical, and Liberal Christian. Atheist and Muslim. Colts fan and Patriots fan.

May we be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry.

May we recognize the pathway to solutions of justice and mercy over the cacophony of visceral reactions and rhetoric.

May we learn to put what we believe in its proper place amidst our convictions and live out what we believe in a manner consistent with those beliefs and giving others space to do the same.

May we allow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control to overwhelm us in our interactions with others.

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