Friday, May 20, 2016

Loud and Clear

I am reading a fascinating book on child development and the author points out that very small children have a hard time understanding that just because they think something is true, it doesn't follow that everyone else feels the same. Most of us grow up to realize that other people have their own perceptions of the truth, though, let's face it, we secretly think that if other people were as smart or as knowledgeable as we are they'd agree with us. Some people however seem to feel strongly that only their point of view is legitimate.

Sadly a lot of people who feel this way are very committed to their political party and/or their religion. And when you think of religious fanaticism you may think of the Dark Ages. So the person we are honoring today is a breath of fresh air.

Alcuin of York was an English deacon who was a scholar, teacher, and poet. On a trip to see the Pope on behalf of the English king with the wonderful name Elfward, Alcuin met the Emperor Charlemagne. He was asked to join a group of scholars who were part of what is called the Carolingian Renaissance. That's right, in the middle of the so-called Dark Ages, there was a flowering of learning and the arts. Alcuin actually educated the Emperor's sons as well as Charlemagne itself.

But what endears Alcuin to me is that he got Charlemagne to abolish the death penalty for paganism. Alcuin said, “Faith is a free act of the will, not a forced act. We must appeal to the conscience, not compel it by violence. You can force people to be baptized but cannot force them to believe.” So in 797 Charlemagne ended the practice of forcing pagans to convert on pain of death.

Religion is about ultimate values and so it is extremely hard to change people's minds. But if you really want them to dig in their heels, get belligerent with them. Unfortunately the only people who will convert when faced with force are usually those who were lukewarm about their original faith and are making the change for purely pragmatic reasons. They are hardly likely to become model members of their new belief system.

I prefer doing what author Madeleine L'Engle said about the matter. “ We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

It is said that St. Francis told his followers to “preach the gospel always. If necessary use words.” That's a challenge all Christians should live by. Can people tell you are a follower of Jesus just by what you do? Do not just your words but your every action reveal your love for God and for every person made in his image? Do they show the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

You can motivate people by fear. In fact, it is a easy, lazy way of getting people to act, which is why a lot of politicians and certain religious leaders use fear. Fear literally bypasses the rational part of the brain. But as Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

You can motivate people by hate. Focus on what disgusts or angers people and then demonize your opponents. Make them out to be less than human. But as Ezekiel writes, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his ways and live...” (Ezek 33:11) God does not hate anything or anyone that he has created. It is we who have so often rejected his love. Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” So to whom should we show God's love? Everyone we encounter. And how should we do so?

There were no mass media in Jesus' day. There was no standardized sign language. Yet somehow the deaf learned of who Jesus was, what he preached and what he could do. And he was able to heal them so that means they put their trust in him. Jesus communicated God's love so perfectly that even the deaf got the message.

You are the only Christ some people will ever encounter. Live your life so that even if they could not hear, they would see Jesus in all you do. That will speak louder than all the words in the world. 

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