Musing Part I: Have We Lost Our Civility?

The year was 1975 and I was teaching a sixth grade religion class at Sacred Heart Cathedral School in Newark, NJ.  I always invited the students to volunteer to say the prayer at the beginning of class.  This one day, one of the boys named Grant raised his hand to lead us in prayer.  We blessed ourselves with the sign of the cross and waited for Grant to start his prayer. Grant said one word, “Love, Amen.”  I thanked him and till today wonder what was in his heart and mind.  I’m moved to think it was something profound.

Our subject was the Bible. I proceeded to ask the question, “Why don’t some people read the bible?”  Grant excitedly raised his hand again and when called on said, “because they don’t want to change.”

This story is a perfect segway to musings on civility.

Today in my morning meditation, I read a passage from a sermon given by a Lutheran minister and public theologian, Nadia Bolz-weber. She titled it, “Our Bodies are Wholly Holy.” In her message she referred to our bodies as “individual containers of the holy.” This statement gave me pause and my mind immediately went to a conversation I had with an HR colleague of mine more than 20 years ago. We were having a cup of coffee and somehow he started to talk about civility. His face portrayed concern as he spoke about how he thinks our country and the world around us are losing our respect for each other. We are forgetting what it means to be civil.

I remember the title of the book that Bill referred to me, “Choosing Civility,” © 2002 by P.M. Forni and immediately pulled it off my bookshelf. It’s a small book and rich in content. Each page in and of itself can be a reflection. I skimmed through the pages and pondered on some of the lines I underlined and highlighted. I didn’t have to go far before I realized this is a must read for me again.

According to Forni, “Being civil means being constantly aware of others and weaving restraint, respect, and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness. Civility is a form of goodness; it is gracious goodness.” It goes beyond just words. It encapsulates every word, action, and way of being we choose to live.

Going back to what Bolz-Weber states about our human bodies being containers of the holy, I’d like to go back and reference Gn.1:27 in my own words, “So God created humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God we are created, male and female God created us.” If we are created in God’s image, how is it that we can be so disrespectful, hateful in our words and actions?

Our daily exposure to this lack of civility can cause depression, health problems, and often results in disparaging conversations with others. Many relationships have been torn. We do not feel free to express our opinion without fear of being an outcast. We become defensive. Have we forgotten that we are made in God’s image? Are our containers of the holy broken? Do we find ourselves in a state of resignation?

I end with this quote from the book. “…the crucial measure of our success in life is the way we treat one another every day of our lives.”

Who is this God we reflect to the world?

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