I just got off the phone with a Buddhist who had been watching my videos and said he called to compliment me for my newfound humility and openness to others, and to encourage me to read his favorite Buddhist author. I thanked him for calling me, and kindly assured him that I was contented with my Christian faith. His tone quickly changed saying I was conceited and narrow minded. I reminded him that he called me on my home phone, was a stranger to me, and presumed to be in a position to discuss very serious issues with me. I encouraged him to have these conversations with people who knew him and are interested in his faith, but that Gayle and I were getting ready to work out before a day of appointments. I repeated that I appreciated him taking the time and making the effort to call, but that I do not discuss these types of matters with strangers on the phone. He retorted that we as human beings were all connected, said Christians are just like the Taliban, called me a few names and abruptly hung up.
So much for peaceful harmony.
Right now I am tempted to rail against angry Buddhists, absurd generalizations about Christians, and grown men who should have listened more closely to their mothers. But I won’t. If I were a better Christian, his call would occasion thoughts of grace and mercy toward all. But I want to protect my time with Gayle, and because I’m too fat and need to exercise, sour clouds overhead make me feel like an idiot for even answering the phone. Instead, I’ll rehearse Mom’s advice and pretend my caller should have known: “Mind your manners and think about what you say before you say it. After all, no one cares as much about what you think as you think they do.”
I respectfully answer my phone as much as time allows, and generally enjoy talking with callers. Yet I don’t recall ever calling anyone without either knowing them or being invited to call. But if you are tempted to call someone with whom you have no personal relationship, these ideas may be helpful:
1. Just because you have seen a news report about someone does not mean that you know them, have the right to an opinion about them, or should believe that you even know the truth about their story. The news story you saw has been interpreted through the reporter, producers, editors, and refined for context. If you contact the person covered and express yourself, you should probably be embarrassed for being naive.
2. My point is when people believe the projected image, they are often misled. Just about every public figure is cautious with the press because the press so often gets things wrong. Many journalists are lazy and incestuous, which means they seldom dig to find truth, struggle with nuance, and freely repeat what other journalists have said or written, accurate or inaccurate. I have become convinced authentic journalism is dead when I read what they have written about me. Most Influential people, corporations and advocacy groups hire professionals to help inform the press. They use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs to convey their messages unfiltered. They hire public relations experts, publicists, agents, and marketing firms to grasp at some control over how they are portrayed. Sadly, this too can be exploited by people to create a perception that is based neither on truth nor fact. Too often facts are selectively chosen to create a desired impression. Few are innocent of these schemes. It’s often the gullible who confuse public impressions with truth, and the exploitable who foolishly believe and respond, thinking they know. Don’t let this be you.
3. We have a responsibility to judge if another person is within our chain-of-command, otherwise it is seldom any of our business. There are four chains-of-command that warrant our judgment:
a. Family. Most of us have family members for whom we are responsible. We are responsible to judge them in order to serve them. I have five children, and it’s my responsibility to judge their driving abilities, their academic progress, their social skills, and the way they respond to peers, church, and civil authorities. Their relationships, financial management skills, and attitudes are all my business because I am their father. Since I am committed to their success, my judgments of them are birthed in duty, saturated in love, and focused on their success. When I judge negative behaviors, it’s redemptive. When I judge positive behaviors, it’s celebration. Just as my heavenly Father judges me because he loves me, so I judge my children because I love them.
b. Workplace. If you are in a position of authority at work, you have a responsibility to evaluate those who work for you. Every leader has a responsibility to achieve specific goals and objectives, which leads to a myriad of judgments. In contrast, employees get to choose who they want to work for, which requires judgment on their part. To apply to work at Ted’s Montana Grill in an affluent neighborhood is very different choice from wanting to work at Ted’s Bar and Grill next to an adult bookstore and a methadone clinic. We all get to make judgements up and down our chain-of-command in the workplace. As customers, we have the privilege of judging which businesses we’ll patronize and which products we consume. Every day we choose between Wal-Mart and Target, Tide and Cheer, McDonalds and Burger King. Judge correctly.
c. Civil Government. We all have a responsibility to judge during the election season. As a 56 year-old citizen who has voted in every election since I was 18, I don’t judge elected officials based on news reports or their speeches. Political speeches are prepared by political operatives or public relations managers, so I take them with a grain of salt. I judge based on my fundamental philosophy of governance in contrast to theirs, and their record of service. If they are a new candidate, I’ll note their political party affiliation, their associations, and their actions. Once elected, I respect the process and am supportive of whomever is elected until the following election season. I don’t hassle them while they are in office, I respect them. It’s the wisdom of good manners.
d. Church. I work at St. James Church and serve in the role of Sr. Pastor. I and the other leaders get to judge who cares for the children in the nursery, who leads worship, who pastors the youth group, and who ushers. Wise judgments are our responsibility. Since St. James Church is a local church, people contemplating coming to St. James get to judge whether or not they want me as their pastor, Jonathan Johnson as their worship leader, and Shobie Spear as their youth pastor. We are not a para-church ministry, nor are we part of a denominational structure. As a result, we don’t ask the general public for financial support nor do we report to a national office anywhere. Consequently, people with manners living in Toronto, Canada would not presume an opinion about Shobie Spear being a youth pastor or Jonathan Johnson being the worship leader. In the same vein, I don’t have a judgment on the way the Catholic church chooses its bishops or the way the Mormons manage their ministry funds. I’m neither Catholic nor Mormon so it’s none of my business unless I join them or am seriously contemplating becoming a member. Here in Colorado Springs, I don’t have an opinion about the process Woodman Valley Chapel or First Presbyterian Church uses to choose its pastors, because I don’t attend or fund those churches. I repeat, it’s none of my business. But since they are in my community, I do care, but my role isn’t to offer my random opinion, but instead to be supportive of them. Good manners.
The angry Buddhist demonstrated poor manners by calling me and judging me. I have the right to judge his call because he called me at home, and I have authority in my home. He has no chain-of-command authority in my life, has no relationship with me, and no spiritual authority in my life. Since he is not a parent or an older sibling, he has no family authority in my life. Since I don’t work for him, he doesn’t have any workplace authority. Since he is not a government official, he has no civil government authority, and since he doesn’t attend and isn’t contemplating attending St. James Church, he has no church authority in my life. He is a human being, thus worthy of respect . . . to a degree, which is why I answered the phone and listened. But he hadn’t earned the right to be heard by me on major life and spiritual issues.
Mom was right. Manners are important. Judgments help when in order.
It’s liberating to know we don’t have to have an opinion about everyone and everything, and that we can live happy lives with unspoken thoughts. I rightly judged not to let a phone call dominate my morning with my wife. He thinks that proves I’m a bad guy. I think not.