Across the Pastor’s Desk: Strive to be gentle and peaceful

Published 8:00 pm Friday, January 28, 2022

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Loren Olson

We have a family friend who struggles with addiction. He will have months of sobriety until something triggers a relapse, and when he’s drinking, he tends to get belligerent and gets himself in trouble. After a recent incident, I was the person the police were able to contact to bring him home. He had sobered up a bit by the time I arrived to get him, and as we began the drive to his home, he asked me, “How can I become a Christian gentleman and man of peace?” What might you have said if someone asked you this question?

We had a good conversation about that, and the conversation prodded me to think more broadly because I think there is growing belligerence in our society. Social media feeds belligerence with unfiltered access, and we hear voices from the extremes calling for civil war, statements that persons would rather die from COVID-19 than submit to the vaccine, or that an obscure academic discussion about critical race theory is ruining our children. (Examples I happened to see this weekend.) With all the belligerent noise from the extremes on the right and left, a lot of us can use a reminder of how to be gentle people and people of peace.

Confucius wrote that the virtues of being a gentle person included righteousness, ritual propriety, wisdom and trustworthiness. Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher, thought that the gentleperson was one who could control desires and impulses and who was able to live in society seeing things as they are, not jumping to hasty judgments, or seeing things through personal prejudice.

Early Christian thinkers continued the dialogue about what it meant to be a person of virtue and character. It wasn’t so much that they added to the ideas of earlier philosophies, but there was more emphasis on virtues of kindness, charity and humility. It is difficult to take an angry, extreme stance toward the world if one is committed to be kind, generous and humble. If we are kind, generous and humble we are going to take the time to listen to other people, understand where they are coming from, and value differing perspectives and a diversity of opinions.

I think often of the Apostle Paul exhorting the Christians in Rome, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom. 12:18) I try to live by that teaching. I’m not always perfect in following that path. I can get into heated arguments about politics, public health or fine points of theology, but most of the time I can walk away still considering the other person a friend. In the end, because of kindness, charity and humility, I still believe that the person who does not agree with me is precious in God’s sight and should be in mine.

Let’s strive to be gentle people and people of peace because in so doing we can overcome belligerence and build up our families and community.

Loren Olson is chaplain for Mayo Clinic Hospice.