The Veneer of Civility

I am not sure how to even start this. Over the past few months of this pandemic, I have noticed a change in myself and in society around me. Maybe you have noticed it too? I am sure if you haven’t been living under a rock that you have picked up on the fact that things are different now than they have been in the past. There is social unrest on so many issues, but if I was to wager a guess the biggest ones on your radar right now would be racism and wearing face coverings.

In the emotional chaos of quarantine, I have been struggling with many different thoughts and feelings. There are times when I can rationally think through two or three different areas of my life in a logical pattern and other times when they all lump into one tangled knot of emotions. I want to speak to someone about a particular issue, but the jumbled knot only lets out spurts of thoughts and eventually just becomes overwhelmed with emotion and I end up crying: leaving the conversation a mess and not getting out anything that I originally intended to say.

Far worse than a disorganized conversation, I feel like my perceptions about situations and people have changed. Since things are different, I perceive that people are avoiding me or are angry at me. In ministry, it feels like I am alone. Like no one else even cares about the ministry that I am doing. There was no real conflict among ministry staff face to face, but I could almost feel the anger and frustration about societal issues coming off people. Their comments on social media about issues where I feel differently made me avoid others or not say anything in public around them. I was silent on social media and silent around others, because I didn’t want any of that anger or frustration to come out directed toward me. (I had read through the comments of people we know; I know you have too. They are expressing frustrations and opinions and usually not in the most pleasant of ways.) Let alone have that frustration mount to the point that I would no longer feel comfortable doing ministry together with these people who I have known and cared for, for years.

The only time when I have had anything like these kinds of feelings was around nine years ago. Nine years ago, we were coming off the most difficult summer of our lives. In May of 2011, our home and community were destroyed by a tornado. After the tornado we lost good friends. We changed churches. Our life as we knew it was forever changed.

We lost friends, because in an instant our lives changed and theirs didn’t. People not understanding how life altering and traumatic the situation had been for us and failing to show empathy because life for them was pretty much still the same, said and did things that hurt us deeply. We, in turn, lashed out and left. You see, the hurt was deeper than it appeared on the surface.

Still that level of misunderstanding and hurting wasn’t my whole story. Before the tornado, I had an anger problem. Some may have said it was just an inherited temper, but it was deeper than that. The majority of people never saw the anger, because I was very good at keeping a good face around others. Look deeper, pick harder, and it would come out and spew on you.

It took a major blow up with family seven months later for me to realize that I had an anger problem that I could hide no longer. I started a Bible study (Beth Moore’s Breaking Free) to help me be free of my anger issues, but discovered that the monster of pride was behind all of the issues I had been facing after the tornado. The pride that I had fed and allowed to grow in my heart for decades had to be killed or it would end up killing me and the ministry I wanted to do.

I could have blamed the tornado and its trauma for making me angry, but to be honest, I feel like the tornado did nothing but expose the anger and pride in my heart. It ripped off the veneer of civility that had been hiding these issues from others.

Since my husband does wood working, I know what a veneer is. It is a super thin piece of nice-looking wood that you attach to another less desirable piece of wood to make your finished product look higher quality than it is. It looks like the bookshelf is solid wood, but it is compressed particle board with a super thin veneer of an exceedingly better material on the outside. Unless you examine the bookshelf, you would never know from the appearance that the product was lower/low quality.

Just in the same way a wood veneer hides the true quality of the product, the effect of the tornado ripped off my veneer of civility and revealed the true quality of my heart. I couldn’t hide those dark things about myself anymore. I was emotionally raw and I couldn’t act like everything was okay, because it was not okay at all. In the end, I felt like I was left with two apparent options: try to hide these sins and blame others / lash out when they arose or look deeply into the root of the sin and repent of it. Repentance took time. It took addressing those sins I liked to keep, and working with my Savior as He removed those things from my life. It wasn’t easy or pretty, but it was needed. I found my Savior and my Prince of Peace in those hard, quiet mornings in the Word.

All of that brings me back to the here and now. Something very traumatic has happened and it hasn’t just happened to my local community or yours. It has happened to the whole world. If you haven’t lost a loved one to COVID-19 in the past few months it can still be assured that you have lost someone else you loved. Cancer, car crashes, heart attacks, suicides, strokes, and old age didn’t stop just because there was a pandemic. What stopped was our ability to grieve communally. Death still happened and we have not been able to grieve properly. There were no after funeral family meals where you could share your favorite memories or friends surrounding you as you cried. If anything, the world kept going and it felt like your loss was invisible to those around you. You were hurting and it felt like no one else cared.

The way it appears to me, is that the pandemic has created trauma in everyone and as a result the veneer of civility has been removed from all of us at once. All of our worst sides have been exposed at the same time.

It is not that you are a racist. It is just that racism has never been a real thought in your life. You never experienced racism or never knew anyone who had experienced it. Since it hadn’t been a part of your life in creating your worldview, you made assumptions about what others were experiencing. What do we do now when we are bored? Social media it is. Your experiences and worldview clashed with other people’s experiences and worldviews. Into the comment section you go – as did everyone else.

People, “friends”, are calling you out as a “racist” when the real issue may have been just been ignorance. You never met anyone else who had experienced racism and talked with him/her about it. You never read books by people who had different experiences, because you never thought about it. All of those things limited your worldview, but no one wants to come out and say those things. It is easier to label you as one thing and disregard what you have to say (or argue in the comments).

It is not that you are a self-centered and won’t wear a mask at Wal-Mart. To be honest, I never cared about anyone else at Wal-Mart anyway. (Not that I would ever say that out loud to anyone.) When it comes down to me caring about others in my local store, it has always been an inconvenience for me. I never thought about if the person next to me had a family member who had an organ transplant or cancer. I just wanted to buy what was on my list and get home. If anything, for me, I would be looking around isles seeing if there was anyone I knew (or who knew me) and trying to avoid them. It was the reason I lived in a community different from where I taught for 13 years, I didn’t want to see students or parents in the store.

The argument for wearing masks is that we need to care about others and wear a mask so we don’t unknowingly spread a disease. Wearing my mask and thinking about it as a way to love others, has opened my eyes to those who are scared and hurting in my local stores: those I normally overlooked. It wasn’t until I looked into Philippians 2: 3-4 and read, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”, in a new light that I realized the arrogance I had been showing in my every day life. The “do nothing” kind of covers everything in life.

It wasn’t that I was judgmental before the pandemic… Oh wait, I was. I am. My pride is here yet again and I take the best of my intentions for my own words/actions and assume the worst in others based on their words/actions. The veneer is stripped and I find myself not just thinking judgmentally about others, but saying it outright. It may only be to my husband, but out of the overflow of my heart, it comes out of my mouth (Luke 6:45). I find myself in my self-righteous corner again, judging others on their social media posts and comments. People who, before this crazy pandemic, I cared for are becoming “idiots, jerks, or bless your hearts” as I scroll through the page.

The list goes on as I look into my heart, stripped clean of its veneer, at the darkness of sin inside. I see the list: approval of others over the approval of God; pride; loneliness; arrogance; fear; hurt; rejection; and loss. I am confronted yet again with the choices of hide and lash out or confess and repent.

I think that we are afraid of repentance. At least for me, that is how I feel most of the time. I am afraid that if I confess something to God, that I know He doesn’t like, He will be angry with me and punish me for it. Like God is a shaming parent who makes you feel horrible for the wrong you do as a part of your punishment. Then there will be a punishment from God. If I keep in my sin and justify it to myself and others, then I won’t have to face up to God with it.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but too many times in my life, that is how I have lived. That is not what I said I believed, but my actions showed my heart. Satan kept me in the shame of my sin and then I believed his lie that God was the one who I needed to avoid. If Satan could get me to feel justified and self-righteous about my actions, even better. Defensive people put up a wall around their hearts where it makes it hard to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to them.

So, what do we do now? Our veneer has been stripped and here we all are as a jumbled mess. The ugliness of our sin is before us and we have our two choices. How do I even repent?

I am currently reading through the Old Testament and as I was in 1 Chronicles the other day, I ran across the story found in chapter 21. It had a whole different feel to it since it started with the words, “Satan rose up against Israel…” (1 Chronicles 1:1). David chose to take a census of this fighting men at the prompting of Satan and it upset God. I had to look into the commentaries to see why a census of fighting men would anger God. It turned out that God only called for that census previously to redeem (buy back) the warriors as a form of worship. God had it done, so the people could give glory to God. David did it, so the people would give glory to David.

David was confronted with his sin and confessed to God his wickedness, but there were still consequences for his sin. God gave David three options: three years of famine, three months of your enemies having victory, or three days of the sword of the LORD – days of plague with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel (1 Chron. 21:8-10). David chose the three days with the angel of the LORD. Seventy thousand people died before God told the angel to withdraw his hand. There were consequences for the sin.

When the angel of the LORD stopped killing, he was at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. God spoke through Gad to tell David to build an altar on the threshing floor. David obeyed. He bought the threshing floor and the land around it and sacrificed to God. David confessed his sin. He accepted the consequences and repented of his actions. Then he worshiped God.

Confessing and repenting of sin is hard. God will forgive you, but there can be consequences for your actions. Those consequences shouldn’t keep you from repentance though. God is not going to be there to condemn you for your actions, He is there to meet you in worship. Instead of God turning His back on you for your sin, He forgives your sin. That debt has been paid in full on the cross. Repentance brings you to the face of God, where you can see Him in His glory and worship in an intimacy that you have never done before. Repentance brings acceptance and forgiveness and that leads to worship.

In 2 Chronicles after Solomon has finished building his temple (on the very same land where David built and altar and sacrificed to God) and has finished the dedication, the LORD appeared to him in a dream. This encounter is recorded in 2 Chronicles 7: 12-22. The LORD addresses what would happen if the people reject Him and walk in sin, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people,”. He goes on to explain what will have to be done, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” (13-14)

Repentance is hard, but it is healing and holy. The answer is simple in context and difficult in action when we come to look at our exposed sins:

Humble yourself

Pray

Seek God’s face (God see what I have done, hear my repentance, speak forgiveness)

Turn from my wickedness and sin

If we do these things, there will be forgiveness and healing. The healing doesn’t necessarily mean physical healing (though it can be when God chooses), but a healing of your heart. A healing in your relationship to Him and an ability to worship God.

If you have been where a natural disaster has happened, you know that God moves in those areas. He will not let anything bad happen without Him getting the glory from it. My story and testimony speak clearly to that. My story with the tornado was one of humility, prayer, seeking God’s face, and turning from my sin. My heart was healed and God’s glory came from that.

We, as the body of Christ, are in an exceptionally ordained time. God has allowed the veneer of civility to be removed from all of us. Not just my community or yours, but in the whole world. We are all open and exposed and can now look at the sin in our hearts. Let us not miss out on this opportunity for repentance. Let us not miss out on a working of the Holy Spirit that will bring healing spiritual healing to the nations. God is waiting for us to turn to Him, so that He can bring about something that screams of His glory to the world.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘the Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him’. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations 3: 21-16

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