I know my comments might sound snarky to many. With God as my witness, I don’t intend that, but our president’s latest dust-up has me yet again concerned. His repeated words and actions continue to have the (deliberate?) effect of encouraging the divisions that plague us as a nation. I do pray for his administration to help foster wisdom and compassion. (Although I must confess, my prayer hasn’t been as diligently pursued as it should have been.)
Some of his supporters in the church have noted, “We didn’t elect a pastor.” Fair enough. However, the only president who “sort of” was a pastor was James Garfield. He was not ordained but did some “pastor” like stuff. (On an unrelated matter, his presidency lasted less than a year, due to his assassination!)
Still, one need not be a pastor to be a model of decency. He seems to enjoy giving people nicknames—and they aren’t flattering nicknames. Authoritarian language like “the enemy of the people” doesn’t help. I could go on.
Something that continues to be a thorn in my side is the advice of Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, advice which has its origins in the Sufi tradition. He speaks of the three gates through which the words of a wise person must pass.
Here’s the first gate: Is what I’m saying really true? If it’s not true, then, of course, don’t bother. The second gate: Is it loving? Am I about to say something that will build up life and trust, or will it tear them down? And the third gate (and probably the most difficult): Is what I am about to say really that necessary? If it’s not, why clutter up the moment with more words and noise competing for space and attention?
We come to the second gate. It might be true, but is it loving, is it life-enhancing? It is possible to speak the truth, but in a way that is not helpful; in fact, it can be hurtful. It is possible to tell the truth with the purpose of crushing someone, beating them down. The truth can be told with malevolent intent. I call that “the devil’s truth.” It’s meant, as I just said, to hurt and not to help. To the extent it does that, it really isn’t the truth. It isn’t God’s truth.
Then we come to the third gate. Even if it’s true and it’s loving, is it so important for me to throw in my two cent’s worth? Do I (always) need to draw attention to myself? Do I need to ruin the silence? I suppose we need to decide if we are earnestly trying to be constructive or merely engaged in self-promotion.
Based on all of that, I offer my reflections with a bit of humbleness—because Lord knows we are woefully in short supply of it.
[Richard Rohr’s words come from On the Threshold of Transformation, p. 341]