There was a woman in England known as Julian of Norwich who had a series of visions of Christ in 1373 that convinced her God loves everyone and wants to save everyone. She saw no wrath in God, only love. Julian believed God loves us like a father and a mother love their children.
Julian taught that behind the reality of sin, evil, suffering and hell there is the mystery that she summed up in words she said she heard directly from God.
“All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
I try to remember those words when I am conversing on Facebook with someone who is calling me names. There’s a lot of anger on social media these days – and on the cable news shows and in many other places, especially in stores where masks are required and someone doesn’t want to wear one. Then there’s the whole “Black Lives Matter” divide and Biden supporters versus Trump supporters.
And there’s me yelling at the deer in the back yard for eating my tomatoes and petunias. She seemed hurt I would take it so personally. Her big doe eyes touched my heart and I forgave her for only doing what comes naturally. But I was livid in the morning when I discovered she had come back in the dark of night and ate everything down to the roots. I am still plotting my revenge. We all have our breaking points. I wish I could send her an angry meme …
I confess there are days when I forget my Jesus-loving baptized self and let my reactionary anger color a response to a Facebook friend who dares to disagree with my point of view. When I catch myself I remember John Wesley’s three simple rules for followers of Jesus.
“Do No Harm, Do Good and Attend to the Ordinances of God.”
It’s the first one that judges me most. I wonder after every angry exchange, did I do harm? Were my words needlessly hurtful?
It’s necessary to speak plainly about the issues of the day, to take a stand against evil. Wearing a mask or not wearing a mask, racial prejudice and violence, are life and death issues. Jesus cleansed the temple and had other moments of righteous anger. But I’m not the Messiah, so I pray desperately for clarity about the issues that arouse such hot anger – and for gentle not-searing words to express it.
Words have power and can wound others more easily than we know. Once off the tongue, or posted into the vast infinite social-media ether, they cannot be rescinded. Yes one can apologize and I have done but how to do better?
My colleague James Eaton tells how he learned to do better with his teenage daughter.
“When my oldest daughter Amy was 17, we were constantly fighting. There were tears, there were raised voices; there was a kind of tension even in between the tears. The issue we chose most often was her curfew. One day we had to drive three hours together to look at a prospective college. We got to arguing there in the car and then there was a long angry silence.
“And I realized something; I realized I was losing my daughter. I was winning the war, yes, but our relationship was going to be a casualty. I thought about that for a few miles and then finally I began to tell Amy how much I loved her, and that it wasn’t that I didn’t trust her; it was that I worried when she was out late. She talked about feeling like I didn’t trust her and that she loved me as well. I don’t remember everything that was said; I remember by the end we had learned to speak tenderly to each other and the war was over.”
May Jesus help us all to learn to speak tenderly.
John Sumwalt is a retired pastor and the son of dairy farmers. He is the author of “Shining Moments: Visions of the Holy in Ordinary Lives.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reach him.