I am sitting on the back porch of Toad Hall as I write this. The sky is blue, the air is crisp as it is so often in the autumn, and the first hints of fall colors are appearing in the leaves of trees. A hummingbird has been visiting our feeder but the bees and wasps that gather to lick at the syrup keep driving it off. I chose the cheaper model instead of the one that had little basket-like guards designed to keep insects away. The birds that visit the back yard are like precious gifts of color and grace, so I’ll have to rectify this later today.
I rewrote that first paragraph a couple of times before I was satisfied, changing a word or two, deleting a phrase, adding another. I wanted to communicate clearly. You aren’t here on the porch with me today, and I want to bridge that gap at least a bit in your understanding. The hummingbird feeder is only one object in my line of sight—there is also the bird bath that has drawn a little flock of squabbling sparrows, the lovely pots that Anita filled with a variety of flowering, climbing, aromatic plants, the tall grasses near the garage that are in full display towering above the shorter hosta plants with their massive spreading leaves. At best I can communicate only a little, partially, but I want to communicate as clearly as possible. To do my best to be certain you hear something of what I actually mean.
In the public square I listen to the voices wondering at how poorly Christian pundits and commentators express themselves. Dick Keyes notes that, “many of our neighbors believe that regarding the issues they care most about, Christian people stand not on the side of good but solidly on the side of evil. Being confident that they have a higher moral ground than those who follow Jesus, they feel that can afford to ignore his claims… on many of the issues where our society is morally and emotionally involved, evangelical Christians are considered barbaric and bigoted. We are seen as part of the problem and not the solution.”
I am not interested here to debate whether people are fair to see us that way, or whether we have given them good reasons to hold the perception. Rather, I wish to ask, since this perception of us is widespread, do we speak in the public square with care in order to adequately deal with it? Are we careful to communicate so the listening world hears something that proves their perception of us is wrong? Or do we speak in a way that, inadvertently or not, confirms their worst impressions of who we are and what we believe? Have we intentionally reflected on this issue in order to creatively reflect on how best to communicate in such a setting? And have we developed careful but firm ways to distance ourselves from the voices clamoring in the public square that claim to speak for evangelicals while displaying little humility, disdain for any who disagree, sloppy research, and dire warnings of impending disaster?
Faithfulness in following Christ, who claimed to be the word, requires we take communication seriously enough to care not just that we speak truth but that as much as it depends on us, the truth in all its mystery and transcendence and beauty is actually understood.
Source: Dick Keyes in Chameleon Christianity: Moving Beyond Safety and Conformity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1999) p 12-13.