Dress for Success

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord – has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  (Colossians 3:12-13, NRSV)

For a very short time I served as a chaplain to a fire company and EMT (Emergency Medical Technicians) squad.  I didn’t do a whole lot, but whenever I went out on call I had to “gear up” the same as everyone else.  The protective helmets, coats, gloves, boots each served a crucial purpose, and none were expendable — even though they were cumbersome and uncomfortable.  I think of “suiting up” in such a fashion every time I read this short passage from Colossians.  Having worked for over twenty years in conflicted congregational and conference settings, I know how important it is to go into such situations fully equipped.  What I have come to believe is that this should be the “standard uniform” for all spiritual leaders, not just those facing conflict.  Our churches need to be safe, healthy, affirming environments where people can learn and grow.  If that is ever going to happen, it will be because the leadership is appropriately attired and accessorized.

Note that Paul doesn’t assume that compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience come naturally to us — we need to “put them on” — to clothe ourselves.  And clothes that we don’t wear often can sometimes feel very stiff, uncomfortable and foreign.  New clothes need to be broken in — we need to take time to let them conform — to become normal and natural.  We need to be wearing the “costume” of Christian leadership constantly, not just at opportune times.

Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience need to be viewed as verbs — action words, not just nice ideas or feelings.  True compassion is more than just sympathy or empathy — it moves us to act.  Biblical compassion generated sharing, caring, giving, helping, sacrificing, and going where the need was felt.  There is nothing passive about compassion.  Kindness, likewise, moves us to BE kind to others, especially the stranger or the foreigner.  Showing kindness only to those who are kind to us doesn’t cut it.

Humility may be the greatest challenge in our Western church culture today.  It means that we literally view others as better than ourselves, and it is the antithesis of judgmentalism and exclusion.  We live to serve should be our mantra.  Openly accepting another human being, even when you think that person is wrong or sinful may be the one thing we simply cannot learn to do in our modern church.  To allow someone else to “win,” to be validated, to be affirmed when we think they are evil or misguided?  It isn’t the American way!  We must conquer those with whom we disagree.  We must win any and all arguments at all costs.  We must show everyone else the error of their ways.  And when the dust settles?

Meekness doesn’t fare much better.  Meek means weak, wimpy, cowardly, and embarrassing to most modern thinkers.  Who wants to be meek?  Soft-spoken, calm, quiet, shy people exist to be taken advantage of, right?  Ah, but the non-anxious, non-competitive, non-violent presence is exactly what our contentious and convoluted world needs most.  The complexities of human community require someone to stay grounded in love when everyone else goes off half-cocked.  We need to anchors to hold us fast in stormy times.  Meek doesn’t mean weak, but grounded.  The meek do not demand their own way.  They don’t blame and accuse.  They refuse to insult or attack.  They are a witness to Christ’s Spirit of reconciliation.

Patience — or what the Greeks called “far-feeling” — is an almost super-human tolerance for disagreement.  For those who teach, patience means holding fast to what is good and right and true and not getting defensive when others don’t see things the same way.  Beating people into submission is not the same as welcoming people into the family.  True faith isn’t a debate to win.  Our job is to scatter the seed — to offer Christ wherever we go — knowing that some will fall among the weeds, the stones, on the footpath, but also some on fertile soil.  You can’t rush the natural and organic progress of planting and growing.  Impatience won’t make things better.

Human beings are difficult at worst, imperfect at best.  What good does it do us to get mad at each other?  What do we gain by attacking one another?  How does turning disagreement into debate, conflict, and outright war going to help us become the body of Christ?  We all sin and fall short of God’s vision for who we should be, so we had better learn how to forgive each other — and ourselves — if we ever want to become the people God needs us to be.  Forgiveness isn’t just a nice idea — Paul makes it a mandate.  To learn to say “I’m sorry” and mean it may be the most important lesson we can learn in the short-term.  And not “I’m sorry you’re so stupid,” or “I’m sorry you’re a jerk” — we can’t be sorry about other people.  We need to be sorry that we fail to clothe ourselves appropriately as Christ’s own body.

My challenge and my wish is that each United Methodist congregation would make a commitment to pray, study and reflect on what it would take to be clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  I would encourage us all to create a covenant of forgiveness — holding one another accountable in love.  If our congregations could become centers for kindness and compassion, what a glorious witness we would provide to a broken and contentious world.  If we could be humble and meek and patient, what a counter-cultural alternative we could become to our “reality TV obsessed” society.  If we could become know for our forgiveness and acceptance, what an oasis of grace and love we could be.

11 replies

  1. Just thought you might like to know that I preached this on Sunday — not exactly, but using the concept. It really resonated with the people in my church — mostly young. I am not Methodist, but I figured you wouldn’t mind — I named you as one of my sources and printed your website address in the bulletin. I hope some of the people in my church start reading it.

  2. Readers of this posting will find much to chew on in this week’s Day One sermon by Rev. Dr. Wiley Stephens, “Blindness of Heart.” His text is the healing of the blind man (John 9:1-41), and he deals (in his own style) with many of the ideas/insights Dan frequently asks us to consider. One tidbit: there are 2 verses of revelation and 39 for reaction from the Pharisees and others. Dr. Stephens also notes we need to be one in the Spirit. “There is diversity of understanding, but unity in love.” And one last bit, “Newness is a reminder that things are never completely in our control, that we don’t know as much as we thought we did.” We are not called to draw a circle smaller than the one God draws.

  3. Dan – another wonderful blog. I use that scripture when I talk about becoming a Clown Minister. I talk about putting on my clown outfit, as putting on humility (clowns are the lowest of the low – the doulus), kindness and meekness.

    Yes – it is a struggle. Christianity isn’t for wimps – it’s hard work but so worth it.

    I don’t think we teach enough what it takes to be a Christian. Some people seem to think that one just magically becomes Christian when they accept Jesus as savior. Becoming Christian is a process – one where we need to learn to follow Christ, to model our behavior after Jesus so that we can be “little Christs”. It is a lifetime process – working toward perfection!

    • Thanks for sharing this. There are so many wonderful experiences of “coming to Christ” and the journey that follows. I wish we could validate one another in our different experiences, though all too often we want to make “one right way” normative for all people. It breaks my heart when one Christian devalues or discredits the faith of another Christian, simply because that person isn’t “born again,” or “slain in the Spirit,” or “washed in the blood,” or dozens of other equally valid, but often hurtful, one-size-fits-all experiences that one tries to impose on the other. Would that we could all view ourselves as “fools for Christ” and accept the mantle of humility!

  4. It would be nice if everyone was compassionate, patient, etc. But putting on these things does not happen over night. It’s hard to go from hopeless to hopeful, from impatient to patient, from heartless to compassion. Do we wait until the heartless learn compassion before we let them in the church? Or do we let them in and live with them and their inevitable screwups as they struggle to become compassionate? If we do the latter, the church, by its very nature, will be messy, imperfect and all-too-human. If it’s the former, well, people like me would never be welcome. Praise God for the broken, messed-up church.

  5. Do you actually think there is any hope for the United Methodist Church, or any Christian churches? I think about the churches I have been part of. None of them were good at compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, or patience with our own members let alone strangers or people we disagreed with or didn’t like. People speak awfully to one another at my church and they fight about any little thing. I sometimes leave promising never to return, it gets so bad. Please tell me there’s hope, because I am beginning to believe its too late.

    • Mary,

      I live in hope. I think people want to be good and kind, but many aren’t being helped in that direction. We can be pretty mean-spirited and petty in the church, but we can rise above our natures and be pretty wonderful as well. I simply think we can’t take for granted that people will be compassionate, humble and patient. We do need to “put these things on” and learn to live them. Maybe compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience aren’t natural to us, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t become second nature — we just need to teach and preach it more.

      • we just need to teach and preach it more

        And we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to work through our teaching and preaching.

        I don’t assume you disagree with that Dan, but sometimes we talk as if all that is missing is exertion and earnestness. Sometimes what is missing is the Holy Spirit.

      • No, but what IS often missing is awareness, intentionality and desire. My lament is that many people don’t even try. Many United Methodists not only don’t pray for the Holy Spirit to empower and transform — they don’t even believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the church any longer (let alone, working in their own lives). I talk about the Holy Spirit regularly in this blog — in fact, I harp of the gifts of the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit and our need to take them seriously and to cultivate them. But God isn’t going to force any of this upon us. If we are to become fruit-bearing witnesses to the compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience that our world desperately needs, it will be because we make a commitment to do so.

  6. Brother Dan

    Quite a twist on the initial perception of “Dress”
    and, again — S P O T O N !!!

    Keep ’em coming !!

    Lenten Blessings…….

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