Living in a World Gone Mad
First Baptist Church Laurens
The Internet giant Google keeps a list called “Ten Things We Know To Be True”. The list is in essence nothing but a set of guiding principles for the company. Though slightly altered for a modern and hip work force, some of the principles are age-old ideas such as the number one truth on their list – “Focus on the user and all else will follow” which is simply another way of saying that the customer comes first. Or, take number six on their list “you can make money without being evil” which sounds to me a lot like “you can succeed without sacrificing integrity”.
In Google’s “Ten Things We Know to Be True” there are also some ideas, however, that are a product of modern times. Consider their 9th truth, “you can be serious without a suit” which goes against the old classic of the business world that we should “dress for success”. Or how about the 10th Google belief, “Great just isn’t good enough” which is their way of saying that they want to set goals that they know they can’t achieve. Though compelling, that’s a lot different from the old adage of setting measurable and achievable goals.
But, it is the third item of the Google list of things that they “know to be true” that I am most interested in today. Their third truth is simply this; “fast is always better than slow”.
“Fast is always better than slow” in 2016, we have to admit that most people would agree with this. We do indeed often see fast as better. The restaurant where we receive the quickest service often rises to the top of our favorite places to eat. The person who gives us quick and timely answers is someone that we often feel is on the ball or ahead the rest. And the friend who always has a response is the one we deem as being wise, intelligent and a leader. We would indeed be tempted to say that “fast is always better than slow”.
And, yet, in our text for today from the later verses of James 1, just the opposite is suggested. In these verses James seems to say this, often times, “slow is far, far better than fast”. And further, James wants to apply this principle to two basic areas of our lives – being slow to speak and slow to anger.
Having lived with these verses for the better part of the past week, I have to say that I like fast service and quick answers just like you do. But, I am also prone to want to be quick to speak and quick to show my emotion. In light of this, I very much appreciate the simple, practical wisdom of James here that there is some areas of life where we all need to take things at a much slower pace.
I also believe that in the maddening modern world in which we all live, work and play, that the advice of James here can make a huge, obvious and profound difference for the better in so many ways. Just think about it for a moment. How much better would our world be if we were slow to speak? And, how much better would our world be if we were slow to anger?
Think with me about these two ideas for just a moment. First, just as James says, what if we really lived quickly to listen and slow to speak? Or said another way, what if we never forgot that God provides us a daily object lesson in the mere fact that we have two ears and one mouth?
One of the nicknames of former US President Calvin Coolidge was “Silent Cal” . There are literally dozens of stories about his affirmation of the importance of being slow to speak. One of my favorites is about the day; President Coolidge was hosting a governor who made an interesting observation. The governor said, “President Coolidge, I don’t understand you. How can you entertain and greet so many people in a day? You interact with countless people and yet by dinnertime, your day’s work is over. If I interact with that many people in a given day, I wind up at my desk until midnight.” “It is really very simple,” Coolidge replied, “you talk back”. (From Bits & Pieces, August 1989).
There is a great truth here. So often, in our conversations with others, in our conversations with God and in our musings about the world we are quick to give our thoughts, our opinions, and our ideas. All we really want to do is to shift the conversation to our side – even our conversation with God. But, so often when we do, we fail to really, truly and carefully hear what others have to say.
When it comes to our listening skills there are some basic questions we must come back to on a regular basis. Do we practice slow, careful and attentive listening to what others have to say? Are we sure that we understand clearly? Do we truly give time for others to express themselves and do we honestly appreciate what they are trying to say?
And, when it comes to God, are we really interested in what God wants to say to us? If we are, do we make space for this, or do we simply say that we want to listen to God only as a way of masking our real desire to do all of the talking ourselves.
One of the powerful examples of this is worship within a Quaker congregation. As Quakers gather, they do so in simple places of worship that is not ornate. This lack of ornateness is a way to focus the worshipper on God not on the building. Likewise, there is no sermon. Now don’t get any ideas here, but, instead of a sermon, the worshippers sit in silence, waiting for and attentive to God’s voice. When someone feels led to speak, they do so. But once they finish, the groups’ returns to silence to again listen for God or to listen for God’s word through what has just been shared through the person who spoke. The silence is broken and the service ends as one worshipper stands, shakes another’s hand and departs.
Now, that may be an extreme and yet most extremes also exhibit some element of truth that we should all embrace. How much better would we hear, if we were slower to speak – to others and to God?
At the same time, James invites us to consider how life would be different if we were also slow to get angry? Again, the starting point is with listening. So often, as someone shares something that we don’t like, we begin to shut down our listening skills as our temper, fury and our inner emotions take over. Indeed, it is incredibly common for our anger to be the result of our not really having taken the time to listen with clarity from the beginning.
Let me say it this way – I am a firm believer that a huge degree of our anger with each other and at times with God is a direct result of our having not listened carefully from the beginning. We first don’t listen. Then we misunderstand. And then, we get angry.
Further, James wants us to see that our anger never gets us anywhere. 99% of the time, anger only set us back further rather than moving us forward. It doesn’t accomplish much it usually only makes things worse.
I think about the old story of the heated meeting that took place one day in an office building. One of the employees became so angry with what he had just heard that he stood up from his seat, stormed from the room and slammed the door behind him. His departure, of course, was followed by a palpable silence in the room before the person chairing the meeting said, “he’ll be back?” “How do you know that?” said the person sitting to the chair’s right. “Because, that’s not the exit, he just stormed out into a closet!”
I also think about a trip with my two brothers and my father to an automobile race one time. The driver that my oldest brother was cheering for had a horrendous start to the day. He crashed twice and was virtually out of the contest before the race was an hour old. With that, my brother got up from his seat and saying, “I’ll just see you all back at the camper”. Two hours later, when the race was finally over, we were walking back to the camper. As we did, I said to my father, “do you think Mike watched the rest of the race on the tv inside the camper when he got there and had calmed down?” “I know he didn’t,” said my dad. “Why are you so confident I asked?” “Because”, he replied, “the camper is locked and I have the key in my pocket!”
In baseball, a ball hit into the outfield, that is hit high into the air only to be caught by the outfielder is often called “a long noisy out”. Like the stories I just shared, this phrase gets at the results of our anger – it generally does nothing but stir our emotion and create lots of commotion while in the end accomplish nothing. It is a dead end. Not a step forward it is often two steps back.
In 2016, in the church, in our families, in our local towns, and in the world, these two missteps are hurting our sense of community as much as anything else. We talk to much and we listen to little. We think our anger gets us somewhere when in truth it only makes things worse. Rather than growing the kingdom of God, these two attitudes lead to its destruction.
Indeed, there is a reason that we have two ears and only one mouth. In this year before us, will we have the wisdom to recognize what that reason truly is? Amen.