I start out every morning with a cup of tea, a couple of bites of whatever I can force down for breakfast, my morning supplements, AND (most important for me!), my morning prayer and daily liturgical readings from the Bible. While reflecting on today’s readings, St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians had one line that really jumped out at me, “…encourage one another and build one another up…” Wow, what solid and positive advice from St. Paul, who was, by the way, a most incredible man in so many ways – while doing his usual, overly zestful work of rounding up those (what he saw as) pesky, early Christians, and either dragging them off in chains or having them killed, he experienced a dramatic conversion, and after recovering his eyesight, turned all of his zeal and energy to promoting the teachings of Christ and spreading the Gospel far and wide, especially to the Gentiles. (And, he wrote amazing, run-on sentences with very few commas, like the one I just came up with, that have since caused lectors around the world to pass out while trying to catch a breath when reading from his writings……pant, pant, GASP!) Just keep St. Paul’s story in mind – when God is searching for you, and calling you back to His will for your life, He will stop at NOTHING to get your attention!
So, getting back to that line from today’s readings, “encourage one another and build one another up,” just imagine what the world would be like if we all followed that sane and sensible counsel! In our world today, the majority seems to be listening to the opposite advice, namely, “discourage one another, and tear each other apart.” I could take another long side trip down the road of discussing where that opposite advice comes from, but I think we can all figure that out on our own.
We have so many avenues these days to tear people down. Our political parties play a huge role in pulling us farther and farther apart. When a national government reaches a point where they have their fingers in every pie, the government becomes a tool for each individual’s dreams and desires, and life gets tricky, with our representatives striving to make constituents happy enough to continue voting for them, while also being forcibly courted by big business lobbyists. It makes for a sticky and divisive (and, expensive!) mess. In our modern culture, social media sites abound, and it is far too easy to sound off on any and all topics, without any use of prudence or discernment (two very important tools implemented regularly in healthy relationships). On those sites, we have our Republican and Democratic leaders trying hard to tear our country apart at the seams. We also witness daily (if we can stomach daily use of such social web sites and/or a daily check of the headlines) individuals who take it upon themselves to rip apart (usually with the use of hateful, foul, and/or abusive language) a person’s opposing viewpoint.
Just the other day I saw a post that someone shared about the conditions in Houston, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Someone decided to post something about all the locals who have helped out with rescuing stranded animals. In order to get their point across, this person chose to compare these compassionate, heroic efforts to the members of PETA, who, according to this post, were nowhere to be found. I’m reading this and thinking to myself, “Is this based on fact? Does this person know that PETA was making no effort whatsoever to aid with the rescuing of animals? And, even if they weren’t there, why did you need to go on the attack against that organization just to point out the worthy job that these good-old-boys were doing?” Why, I wondered, would this person choose to share good news by going on the attack of a group she obviously holds in great disdain? Was that necessary to share the story? And don’t confuse me with a PETA enthusiast here, because I think this is one organization that has gotten way too big for its britches! But, even with that personal mindset, this post bothered me. I’m sure that adding in the negativity got this person way more views and comments. Was that her goal? Out of curiosity (which killed the cat, by the way…), I started to read just a few of the comments and soon realized that she had stirred up a hornet’s nest, so I ran for cover. And this way of communicating and interacting is common practice, like we’ve all done our daily reflection and what it laid on our hearts was, “Stir up hatred and division wherever you go, tear people down, make sure you tell everyone what you hate and how much you hate it, striving to bring more people to your side while pointing out how stupid and worthless those on ‘the other side’ are.” How crazy is that?!
Let’s just make a decision, you and I, to stop it right here. Let’s make a pledge to control and limit our negative reactions and comments and posts. And, let’s refrain from feeding off of such things. It’s so trendy these days to search out healthier food for our bodies, driving to farmer’s markets and farm drop-off points and ordering from expensive markets, just to give our body real food and better nourishment. How about this novel idea…let’s find healthier food for our souls, too. Let’s follow the advice of St. Paul, to encourage and build each other up. We don’t have to agree on everything – that’s impossible for us, anyway. But we can be kind and nonjudgmental, and choose not to lash out (with words or posts or lawsuits or any kind of whiny, spoiled child behavior) at everything that comes our way. Let’s do as President Lincoln (and, apparently many other politicians in the past, based on an opinion piece in the New York Times archives, “The Lost Art of the Unsent Angry Letter”) used to do. First of all, we can avoid the posting of negativity, and responding/arguing on such posts, on social media sites. (I have it on good authority that President Lincoln never did that…hee, hee!) And, we can take up the habit of writing angry letters…on paper, then putting the letters in a file for a week or a month, and then reading them again. By that time, our initial anger will have dissipated. This habit, dear readers, would perfectly exemplify proper discernment and wisdom and compassion and mercy and charity…all of which we need to heal our world, one tossed- away letter at a time.