A Tale of Three Cities

We were at an impasse, a work colleague and I, needing to resolve a shared problem but with little progress towards a resolution. As I related the situation to my manager, he listened patiently and then shared this helpful insight, “Don’t negotiate as though across the table from an adversary who is the problem; negotiate shoulder-to-shoulder as with a friend, united against a problem you both share in common.” How wise. He was right. I had gotten caught up in the fray of the day, but my boss succeeded in raising my sights above it. Reengaging with my colleague, and now with fresh perspective, we resolved the issues before us. More importantly, we reached a higher level of mutual respect, appreciation, and trust.

Biblical wisdom is knowing what is true and acting upon that truth. The apostle James describes it as “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” We grow in such wisdom not merely by absorbing God’s Word in our minds, but also by living it in our day-to-day lives. It requires intentionality on our part, for James also observes this “pure” wisdom has a very different counterpart: an “earthly, unspiritual” mindset, a “demonic” wisdom without regard for others but intent only on satisfying our own agenda and ambitions.

This is a helpful distinction to understand, for we live among both kinds, be it on a small scale, or large. What kind of “understanding,” for instance, did we see in Charlottesville, where those espousing baseless claims of racial superiority showed themselves far short of such lofty self-assessment through their own acts of ugliness? Where was the love in this supremacy lovefest? Similarly, what can we conclude about those who denounced fascism in Berkeley while exposing themselves through a curious eagerness to employ the brutal tactics of facist oppression? There was lot of hate in that decrying of hate.

How refreshing, by contrast, the wisdom of Houston. What did we see amid waters of unfathomable proportions but people of every color reaching out to people of every color, often risking their own lives in the process? “Submissive … full of mercy and good fruit … impartial.” Who did we see united shoulder-to-shoulder against a common adversary but people of every persuasion serving people of every persuasion, without pausing for a moment to consider their differences? “Peace-loving … submissive … sincere.” We saw no adversaries across the table; there were none.

We ache for the people of Houston, for they have suffered terribly. Yet it is these who have inspired us to honor and awe, for they have lived the wisdom of “love your neighbor as yourself”; they have united together in an era defined by division. If even for a moment in time, they have experienced the beauty of life lived above the fray; they have shown us truth acting out in love.

God, grant us “pure” wisdom that we would know you and join together in you as one. Amen.

[Click here to read today’s Scripture in James 3:13-18.]

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