One day I decided it might be good to check out a City Council meeting so that I could learn what kinds of concerns our community had and try to address them at our church. The most I knew of such meetings I had learned from the TV show Parks and Rec, and it was surprising how close the satire was when it came to giving the community an open mic. For the most part it felt like I was listening to a bunch of angry people who had been searching for things to be angry about. Everyone who took the mic sounded accusatory and insulting toward the council. Some called specific council members out for long past-sins, just because they could. One person even got themselves pulled out of the room by a police officer because they refused to stop interrupting the meeting on a topic that didn’t really seem to have much morality to it. Time and time again, I was a bit flabbergasted by the insulting tone our citizens took up against our city leaders.
Somewhere in the midst of the anger, I managed to find an issue that our church could try to address. Two or three people had taken the mic to express that their neighborhoods were too dark, which created dangerous situations. Their only solution was to have the city find thousands of dollars to put in new street lights. I knew that was unlikely and a far way off, so I went home and brainstormed what we might be able to do at church to help with the issue. I quickly came up with the idea to use our outreach budget to buy 150 of the brightest lightbulbs we could find and then walk door to door throughout our community and ask our neighbors to put the bulb in their porch light and keep it on at night to brighten up the neighborhood. It might sound petty, but my porch light has basically been on since that day, and you can really tell the difference on the street.
I shot an email to the mayor letting him know I had heard the concern at the city council meeting and that our church would try to help out in this way, setting the tone for more email exchanges to come. He replied gratefully, letting me know about another event they had been considering: the idea of it was essentially the same, but it happened on a much wider scale. Consumer’s Energy would supply us with thousands of lightbulbs to distribute throughout various neighborhood walks on different summer weekends. Since our church had now unexpectedly micro-piloted this program, he asked if I’d be willing to help out with this bigger effort. And so, a few months later, I was co-chairing, “Light Up the City.”
There were two different approaches at play here on this subject. One approach was to complain, accuse, and yell, which did very little to change the situation. The other was to try to find a way to respectfully work together on topics where there was mutual agreement, which led to partnership and action.
When Paul was taken before governmental authorities, he approached the stand with a kind heart and explained his situation with a fairly level-head. He didn’t resort to accusations and yelling, but showed that his opinion could be trusted by treating the authorities as though they were people. Don’t hear me wrong: there is a time to be direct, prophetic, and civilly disobedient—but it’s not every time. There are plenty of times where we can approach the table with respect, recognizing that people in authority are human beings, too. It’s easy to be mad, but it’s fruitful to be kind and gentle. Our tone will often determine if we get listened to or not.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 24:1-23 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.