President Trump, loose talk and 2019

January 8th, 2019 / By: Gary Ledbetter | Editor / comments

Do you have a “maybe not” file? By whatever name, this is where sermons that go nowhere, blog posts that sound crazy, letters you’d never want the recipient to read and other ill-formed ideas go to season. Mine contains the half-written frames of scores of columns I decided weren’t ready for prime time. Some of them just faded out as I tried to develop a thought, others became less attractive as I imagined readers who might be needlessly wounded by my words. I’ve deleted some of them as hopeless but a few I imagine might one day be redone into something I’d publish.

Social media offers fewer opportunities to rethink our great ideas. I’ve deleted a post or two from my Twitter accounts and Facebook page, cringing at a mistake I made or dumb thing I said. But I’ve never called people hateful names in these media. Maybe I was blessed to be beyond my “everything I say must be broadcast” stage of life by the time social media was invented. More likely, I’ve seen some sinful language of mine in ink on paper once too often and it’s made me less enamored with knee-jerk responses.

As we turn toward year three of the Donald Trump administration, some few of the brethren are still beside themselves that he was elected. No problem with that opinion, as an opinion. But exasperation clearly tempts us to cross lines. I do get that. We Americans are not restrained people. “I disagree” or “I think you’re wrong for the following reasons” just doesn’t get you much attention. We are tempted instead to call people “fools” or “charlatans” or “carnal Christians” as I have seen done already this year. That does get attention I suppose. In despair or guilt I’ve seen more than one person advocate for unity or kindness or humility to be revived in our national, and Baptist, dialogue. I agree in some limited ways but think saying it is harder than it even sounds.

My “maybe not” file is the old school equivalent of deleting a post or email without sending it. It’s the electronic version of a trash can, or just shutting my mouth. A maturing person learns that not everything he thinks should be expressed to anyone. The longsuffering Mrs. Ledbetter can testify that not 10 percent of my wacky (but accurate) ideas are ever shared with anyone else. What she may doubt is that a fairly small number of these gems are even shared with her. I have opinions about everything and I think you probably do as well. Tighten your filter as I daily try to tighten mine.

It changes my thinking to do that. If I don’t air out my every thought, I find myself dwelling less on the unworthy ones. Giving bad thinking or attitudes less time results in recognizing them and rejecting them more quickly. If I don’t say every judgmental thing that crosses my mind when I’m cranky, I am offended less often (which becomes a new thing) when someone rejects my opinion. Perhaps as a bonus, I find that I talk less and don’t as often seek to be the dominant opinion in the conversation, even when I am right.

If we desire unity, less acrimony or even more disciplined use of social media from others, this seems a good place to start. This is far from an original idea and it’s more often expressed by my generation—those who were middle-aged by the time these megaphones where handed out. But I’m not asking for a tech fast or even more consideration and kindness from those around me (in a vague, worldwide, electronic way). I’m saying that all of us have some experience regretting something we’ve said. All of us have seen the need to just shut up on some occasions. I don’t believe my ideas will get better or that I’ll be less of a boor or bully by merely trying to say better things in the same quantity as ever.

If you doubt that this will work, try an exercise with which I’ve had some experience. When you carelessly offend someone by email, social media or opinion column, apologize to them personally. It’s a humbling, even humiliating, experience. Doing it makes me not want to do it again.

We’ll see some outrageous things said and done as our endless election cycle start to get louder this year. It’s likely we’ll see our brothers in Christ say some sinful things, or at least ridiculous things. It’s not necessary that we ridicule the ridiculous or rebuke sinners with whom we have no personal relationship. Of course publicly expressed ideas are fair game for disagreement and rebuttal, but be careful when “you are wrong” just seems inadequate: “You are wrong, fool” only seems better. I’ve been on both ends of that impassioned rant and know that nothing except the name calling is remembered in such a conversation.

Simply, make this year, this election cycle, a time when you rise to fewer provocations, craft fewer zingers and take up less bandwidth. Try saying better things, sure, but start by saying fewer things, James 3:2.