A few weeks ago I left an important meeting and when I got to my car and looked at my reflection I realized I had something stuck in my teeth. After a brief struggle it was dislodged and after some forensic maneuvers on my part I determined that it had likely been there for hours. I found myself wondering not just why that wee bit of kale had taken the road less travelled, but also why the many folks I had interacted with that day hadn’t said a word.
I know there are many reasons we don’t say things to each other. We might not comment on the spot on someone’s shirt (or the teeth thing) because there is a cultural understanding that we look beyond those sorts of things. There are times we keep silent because we know that what we might say would make matters worse.
There is another silence, however, that has permeated our culture. It comes from worshipping the Idol of Niceness. This is deeper than the whole “if you can’t say anything nice” mantra, because it really isn’t about concern for the other. This idol represents our need to be seen as being “nice”.
The church is supposed to be nice. It’s not supposed to upset the status quo, or talk about racism or blatant inequity. It’s not supposed to choose sides. The church supposed to be a place of tranquility where we don’t talk politics, or economics or world events (except maybe the Olympics… as long as we don’t get too political). The church is supposed to be that place where we can find peace away from all of those conversations and debates.
This is where we get into trouble.
This is where niceness becomes a form of idolatry.
I understand the desire for church to be a place not of this world, where we can find the energy and peace we need to tackle another week in this world. I mean, isn’t that why we call it a sanctuary? Here’s the thing…
In order for it to be a sanctuary, it needs to be a place of peace for all people.
It can’t be a sanctuary, if the only folks who can claim it as such look like me.
Jesus never asked us to be nice.
Jesus asked us to love.
Those two ideas aren’t the same.
The Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse meets the day after Valentine’s Day. We’ll hear a bit about the Poor People’s Campaign. We’ll undoubtedly debate a few things. We’ll tell each other if there is kale in our teeth. We’ll be civil and spirited and passionate because we will love deeply. We will hold each other accountable to our ordination vows. We will not worship the Idol of Niceness…. but will instead worship Jesus the Christ.
If you can be there, I’ll look forward to seeing you. If you cannot – please hold us in prayer. Help us to speak the truth in love in all things.