A Failure to Encourage

In yesterday’s post, I imagined what it might look like if we followed the advice of the author of Hebrews and made a habit of getting together, i.e. showing up at church on Sunday.  In seminary, we learned that 90% of ministry is simply showing up, but what about the other 10%?  Our author goes on to describe the antithesis of “neglecting to get together” as “encouraging one another.”  Like his admonition to show up, this is sound advice that the author is giving his community, and by extension, us: sound advice that we fail to follow.

You see, Christianity has a huge, self-inflicted, PR problem.  Christians tend to be awful to one another.  Take, for example, this week’s 24 hour news cycle, social media, over-reaction du jour:

The Starbucks Red Cup Catastrophe of 2015!

If you want to see what a failure to encourage looks like, then follow the conversation thread around Starbucks decision to use plain red cups this (ridiculously extended) holiday season.  Here’s how every one of these self-inflicted wounds happens, be it Gene Robinson in 2003 or red cups in 2015.

  1. Something happens.  In this case, it was the launch of Starbucks’ annual holiday cup, this time with no symbols, no patterns, nothing but the green Starbucks logo on a plain red cup.
  2. Someone gets offended.  Here it was (allegedly) conservative Christians who saw it as another salvo in the War on Christmas™ and (again allegedly) called for boycotts and protests.
  3. Some responds. Liberal Christians began to talk smugly about the foolishness of their brothers and sisters in Christ: suggesting that they had their head in the sand about the bigger problems we face.
     Adoption seemed to be a favorite meme this time around.
  4. Someone else responds.  Moderate Christians took to the airwaves to self-righteously decry the smug response of the liberal Christians and point out how it would have been better to stay out of the fray at all.
  5. Steve writes a blog post.  Here I am, typing with righteous indignation about the self-righteous moderates venting about the smug liberals who are frustrated at the offended conservatives.
  6. Jesus loses.  Meanwhile, the rest of the world looks on as Christians fail miserably at encouragement by gutting each other as foolish, smug, self-righteous jack asses and say, “Can you believe the hypocrisy of those who claim to follow Jesus?”  The task of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ becomes exponentially more difficult every time we fall in to this unfortunate and predictable pattern.

So what should we do instead?  Just as we need to relearn the habit of regular worship attendance, we need to also reclaim the habit of encouraging one another.  As James puts it in his letter, we need to learn to act with gentleness born of wisdom.  That is to say, we need to learn to stop and think before we react and speak.  We need to resist the temptation, that comes straight from the pit of hell, to look down our noses at our sister and brother in Christ.  We need to remember that the other we are fixing to disparage is a beloved child of God, deserving of our encouragement, care, and compassion – a neighbor whom we are commanded to love.  Encouraging one another might only be 10% of the job, but it has a huge impact on how the world sees us.  Let’s always err on the side of love.

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