Love in a Strident Age

StridentBy: Jana Greene
If you have a computer, watch the news on TV, hold casual conversations around the water cooler at work, or simply do not live under a rock, you may be noticing the obtrusive, piercing, and jarring way people interact with one another nowadays.

Everybody seems so strident, so harsh and self-righteous and RIGHT about everything, all the time. Worse, from causal conversation to message boards online to Facebook posts and letters to the editor, those same folks lord their views over the rest of us peons who may believe differently. Where does that come from?

If it is not coming from a place of love and compassion, it isn’t of God.

I think the stridency has something to do with the determination that neither God nor devil exists. We make our own rules, and in doing so, have no rules about how to treat one another. The current vernacular seems to be “And in the off chance they do exist (and not just the Almighty Science), they are not the boss of me!”

But as Bob Dylan reminded us in a song released during another strident age, “You may serve the devil, and you may serve the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” When you are your own Higher Power, you are not accountable for hurting others.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

We were all born with natures that desperately wish to be right about everything. Never before have people been so keen on using their own personal opinions to belittle those of others. The explosion of the internet age seems to have renewed our license to do so 100-fold.

Is it wrong to be a man who feels trapped in a woman’s body?

Speaking of a woman’s body, should the life in her womb be considered part and parcel of her alone, or a soul developing separate from her own?

Are you a bigot if you believe in equality for all, rather than special privileges for some?

What about race riots? Am I unsympathetic to consider rioting a crime in itself?

And is it unrealistic to expect that taking guns from a law-abiding people will result in those non-law abiding throwing theirs to the ground?

We all have opinions on all of these issues, some of us very strong ones. You can probably tell how I feel from the way the sentences were worded.

But remember the old adage, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?” It was a ‘thing’ back before folks found offense in absolutely everything EXCEPT offending one another by means of disrespecting them. Disrespect is ALWAYS offensive.

In asserting our oh-so-surely-right opinions about every conceivable subject, we spew vitriol at even people we purport to love. That’s when we lose everything. That’s when it doesn’t even matter if you are right or wrong. You are bankrupt.

In an internet age, it is helpful to refer to an antiquated (but still living) document that gives advice for how not to leave this world in worse shape than when you entered it. In such a strident age – where everything seems topsy turvy – checking the list can be a helpful way to determine who is influencing you when you engage with others.

(I have to check it myself in order not to wreck myself frequently.)

Love never gives up.
This doesn’t mean fight about it until you are right! This means always remain hopeful for resolution and hope.

Love cares more for others than for self.
Holy moly, this is a biggie. We are only on number two on the checklist and already, I’m squirmy. If I love you more than myself, the nature of my need to be right all the time becomes much less jarring.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
In this case, “what it doesn’t have” is the illusion of being right all of the time. I’ve been guilty of ignoring this one in my quest to best the opinion of one I deemed wrong.

Love doesn’t strut.
“Strutting” proudly in Facebook comments or in real actual life is not an act of love. The enemy loves to see you strut.

Doesn’t have a swelled head.
Our heads are just so crammed with ‘knowledge’ in this explosion of information, we forget to leave room for plain old love.

Doesn’t force itself on others.
OUCH.
I’ll venture to bet that in the entire history of the interwebs, nobody has ever said, ‘gee…..I DID see it this way, but now that you’ve forced it down my throat, I now see it THAT way.”

Isn’t always “Me First”.
This is where it gets the stickiest. Because we are born with ‘me first’ natures and then conditioned to groom that ‘me first’ attitude in all of our affairs. The fastest train to true unhappiness is the Me First Express.

Doesn’t fly off the handle.
Flying off the handle includes putting hurtful thoughts directed toward others to keyboard and on a computer screen.

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.
Another tricky one because, by damn….we LOVE to keep score, don’t we? We are really good at it! If you have determined that I am a terrible human being because of something I believe, you will be sure to keep a scorecard every time I screw up so that you can prove to yourself I am that terrible human being.
Doesn’t revel when others grovel.
If someone offends you and disrespects you, and apologizes, you should especially throw that scorecard away. Keeping no record of wrongs means forgiving.

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth.
We all do reap what we sow, of that there is no doubt. Think about that the next time you are tempted to engage with a person who you perceive as ‘goading’ you. Your response will plant a seed. You can plant a seed of your truth without pulling up their whole garden. You can say what you need to say in love. It is a lost art, that.

Puts up with anything.
Short of abuse, of course. If you love someone and their opinions differ from yours (no matter HOW wrong they are!) be patient with them. Love is patient and kind. Not a doormat, but a welcome mat.

Trusts God always.
Choose this day whom you will serve. Because (and this will come as a shock to some of you….) you are not the Highest Power in the universe. If you choose not to serve God, who IS Himself LOVE, you are still making a choice. Serving and trusting go hand-in-hand. He is trustworthy, I promise.

Always looks for the best.
Looking for the worst in people is the path of least resistance, and it is SO easy. But Jesus rolled out the red carpet for the worst sinners, He saw them for who they truly were to His father – royalty. He saw beyond their ideologies and wrong-thinking.

Never looks back.
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C.S. Lewis knew it. I know it, too.

But keeps going to the end.
It’s a process, to be sure. But until I breathe my last, I will keep striving to be less strident and more full of Love. To be rich in it, you know? Not bankrupt of respect for others. Because we all have to live on this big blue marble together by God’s design.

Love never dies.
And at the end…..what end?

The thing about love is that you take it with you. Every kindness, every positive word you give others in place of disrespect, every encouragement – it all lasts forever. It is the only thing that lasts forever. Harsh words sting and rot the flesh until death. But words said in love? They flower and you carry the scent into heaven with you.

When you manifest hatred toward someone because of their beliefs, you too are a bigot. When you manifest disrespect toward another human being, you are bankrupt. You have nothing to draw from to prove yourself either wrong or right – your account is already empty.

Whom are you serving? The obtrusive, piercing, and jarring way people interact with one another nowadays comes from somewhere. God is not at its source.

Now, see….if God is Love itself, there is hope. This is what I love about Jesus. While we were still sinners – obnoxious, self-righteous, strident and rude sinners –  (who perhaps denied his very existence) he died for us. He manifested love. He simply IS LOVE.

Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled….

And this absolute truth –

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

So, how to conduct ourselves until we see clearly? It starts with recognizing that loving others is more important that “being right” about everything. That includes loving the ones who simply don’t care that they are not acting in love toward others.

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.

And the best of the three is love.

*Scripture referenced found in 1 Corinthians 13:3-13 (The Message)