I preached yesterday. We've been in the midst of a Fruit of the Spirit series (Galatians) and yesterday's pickin' was gentleness. I had alot I wanted to communicate, but I don't feel it came out very well; one of those Sundays when the words were angels you had to wrestle. Maybe I can be a little clearer via the keyboard.
These are words from Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America:
We are divided between exploitation and nurture…a division not only between persons but also within persons…The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s is health – his land’s health, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s. Whereas the exploiter asks of a piece of land only how much and how quickly it can be made to produce, the nurturer asks a question that is much more complex and difficult: What is its carrying capacity? That is: How much can be taken from it without diminishing it?
When it comes to gentleness, I believe Berry's words to be excellent guidance for us. I would equate the "deeds of the flesh" with exploitation and the "fruit of the Spirit" with nurture. Words like "envy" and "jealousy" and "immorality" all have to do with efficiency, whereas words like "love" and "peace" and "faithfulness" all have to do with care. When I'm living a life apart from God's Spirit, then I'm treating myself and others from an exploitive stance. There's a bottom line and it looks like this - "how much can I/you produce and how quickly can you/I get it done?" That can obviously happen in the workplace, where deadlines and revenues rule. It can not so obviously, but just as deadly, occur in my home and also within myself.
Berry poses a question that is "much more complex and difficult" - the kind of question that comes when you're dealing with a living being as opposed to a mechanism. What is its carrying capacity? And with that question, as complex and difficult as it may be, I believe we get glimpses of what it means to have a spirit of gentleness. It's a question we are to ask of the people we're in relationship with and it's also a question we are to ask of ourselves. In other words, there's a gentleness with others as there is a gentleness with ourselves.
What is my wife's carrying capacity? Do I know the answer to that question? Do I have a hunch? Am I living with her in such a way that I have a feel for what she's able to handle/carry in a given situation? If I ask more of her than she can carry, then I'm not being gentle with her; I've replaced nurture with exploitation, care with efficiency. And, per Berry's last sentence, she ends up being diminished or belittled. She knows it and I know it. You can usually tell when someone has been diminished by looking in their eyes, the windows of the soul.
I can do that same thing with my kids, my friends, my parents, my work associates. And yes, even myself. Am I aware of my carrying capacity? Do I have a sense of what can be taken or given with diminishing myself? Remember, these are complex and difficult questions; you cannot answer them quickly or efficiently. Please don't hear me advocating some "be easy on yourself and take the path of less resistance/work" - that's not what I'm trying to communicate. There may be times when I'm asking too little of myself and diminishing myself in a negative way; I have much to offer, yet I'm hiding this little light of mine under a bushel. In that case, a spirit of gentleness would have an encouraging spur to it and it might come from a faithful friend, someone who truly cared about me.
There's much to this. That's probably why I couldn't express it all in a sermon or even a blog post. The world we live in operates out of a spirit of exploitation of people, places and things. But you and I are called to live by a different spirit, one that seeks to blow a nurturing breath in us and through us. It's a narrow way filled with complex and difficult questions. It is not efficient. Let me repeat - it is not efficient.