As I was thinking about how there seems to be a preference in the church to be nice, rather than to be candid, I read a letter to Dear Abby from a woman who wanted to end a friendship.
She had felt hurt by something a woman in a pair of friends had said to her. Her desire was to withdraw from the friendship and say nothing, because she doesn't like to be confrontational.
She was advised to tell the former friend that she felt they had grown apart, but to tell her what had been said that caused her pain.
Too often we prefer to back away from relationships rather than to confront. We prefer niceness to candor. As Christians, we are instructed in Ephesians 4:15 to "speak the truth in love." We're also told to share our joys and burdens with each other in the church. That, to me, is the essence of what church means.
Our culture values compliance. We're not to make waves. Yet when some disruption occurs in our lives, we cannot truly go back to how things were before. There needs to be discussion, candor and forgiveness. One of our Confessions asks for time for "amendment of life."
If someone confronts us with something hurtful that we did or said, our first impulse may be to say, "I didn't mean anything by it," or to indicate that the other person is being too sensitive. However, if we can learn to say instead, "tell me more," there's a chance we can be reconciled. Pretending that nothing happened and being "nice" can never take us to that place. Community is disrupted, and we live artificial and superficial lives.
We know we're made to trust and be trustworthy; made for true friendship. The woman who wrote to Abby doesn't want to be confrontational. In that case, the "ex" friends will never know what happened. I'm thankful that one of my most valued friendships weathered a misunderstanding. To confront is to be "forehead to forehead." I was confrontational. The friendship lasted until the death of my friends.
"Nice" doesn't come off so well when we look the word up in the dictionary. It comes from roots meaning "stupid," "foolish," "ignorant" and "not knowing." Although later definitions are more positive, I don't find the that word has the depth and gravitas important church words need.
Jesus doesn't strike me as being nice. He was authentic and truthful. His should be the pattern for us. Honest dialogue can lead to understanding and forgiveness. Ignoring a situation and pretending never can.
The Rev. Dorothy Price Knudson is retired from active ministry in the Presbyterian Church, but still preaches regularly and Congregational and Presbyterian churches in Eastern Oregon Presbytery. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should call Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312 or email her at email@example.com.