Normally in this space I like to meditate on something that has happened in daily life that is not necessarily religious, and then come to some positive spiritual thought that emerges from it. Today, it’s kind of reversed. The image that I saw this week was religious in nature, but the thought that came from it was not positive. I apologize for that, but there is a lesson to underscore in the image.
So apparently, last week some folks in the interior of Ukraine held a funeral service for a fallen soldier. A Ukrainian priest got up and spoke some unflattering comments about Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, and his words ticked off an old Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. That old priest came barging up to the pulpit, and pulled a Will Smith, attacking the Ukrainian priest. When the Ukrainian recoiled a little, the old Russian priest decided to whack the Ukrainian with the decorative cross he had in his hand. That cross, about 18 inches tall, intended to symbolize the presence of Christ the Russian priest brought to the ceremony, became a weapon against another person.
And of course, the flashes of all the people’s cameras went off in the apex of the priest’s swing. And we got to read all about it in the following days. The headline in a Greek newspaper read “Ukrainian Priest Beaten By Russian Priest With Cross At Funeral,” which while technically true, was not the whole story, but certainly left the reader with a sour note. And towards whom? If you’re like me, you probably would blame the Russian priest, and he deserves it, after all, he had the cross, he went up to beat somebody with it. But the rap falls on Christians in general for preaching one thing, and practicing another. We get labelled partisans and part of the problem instead of the solution with images like that one. That cross being waved belonged not just to that Russian Orthodox priest; it belongs to all of us who claim the crucifixion of Jesus as our redemption.
So, when you point your finger at somebody, you have three fingers pointing back at you. Right? So that made me wonder how the rest of the world hears some arguments I might make about politics, or theology? In my assuredness and outspokenness, people are judging Jesus, are judging the Faith, not just me. I’m sure that Russian priest is solid about his convictions. He is sure God is on his side and that justified him lashing out. But look where it got him. His righteous indignation led to an embarrassment for us all.
Proverbs 15:4 says: “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.” How we encourage one another, how we speak life into people rather than trying to crush it, is something that Christians need to be modelling. Particularly in these times. Dale Carnegie said once “Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.” I think that’s very true. And Jesus said “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12: 36,37). Sobering words from our Lord.
Let’s seek to outdo one another with goodness and kindness. And carry our crosses in our hearts, not in our clinched hands.
Trying to listen more than speak,
Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. Proverbs 11:12