Yesterday afternoon I had the chance to listen to a young man from my local congregation give an excellent sermonette on the subject of friendship. I have often tended to lament the difficulties I have found being friendly with those people I happen to be around on a frequent basis. Being somewhat shy and awkward by nature, especially in person, I fret over whether I am friendly enough that I make it easy for other people to be friendly to me, or if I place barriers before others that make it more difficult than necessary for them to be friendly and gracious to me than otherwise. If it is difficult for me to feel comfortable, a fact that comes out frequently in some way or another . I would like to feel, whether I am correct in this feeling or not, that I do not possess any sort of extreme unfriendliness or hostility towards other people that would prevent easy conversation and genuine respect for them and for their own thoughts and feelings and the expression thereof. I suppose I cannot be a just judge of my own cause, but that is my belief. If we are to wrestle with our disagreements and our issues with other people, they must be on the table. If there are hindrances to our comfort and peace, it is good to have them openly acknowledged and admitted, that we may deal with whatever awkwardness exists as kindly as possible, as respectfully to everyone involved as possible.
The sermon yesterday was one that I wondered deeply the extent to which it was directed at me personally. Like the last message in its series , it dealt those who have suffered terribly from traumas in their life and may have a difficult time letting go. Specifically, this message sought to address the problem of anger, of taking out one’s past problems on other people. While I would not consider myself a particularly angry person, I must admit that there is a problem with conflict in my life and that clearly I do not handle that conflict as well as I ought to, or it would be less omnipresent in my life. He discussed the problem of anger often coming out sideways in critical and sarcastic comments, and in indirect dealing with frustrations, something which I do find to be an issue with me given my frequent sarcastic wit and the fact that I greatly struggle in dealing with problems and disagreements with other people. Despite my own fond wish to dwell in peace and harmony with my physical and spiritual family, all too often that has not been the case, to my shame. The solution that the speaker advocated was fasting in humility before God, something which I must admit I have often practiced, with little result as of yet. If I am sensitive to the existence of difficulties in my life and if I have long grieved over my awkwardness in dealing with others, I have found it difficult to address such issues openly in such a way that puts both myself and others at ease.
This morning, as I got up to write this, one of my friends in Arkansas posted a message from his pastor, a deeply thoughtful and intellectual man whom I greatly respect. This message had dealt with the thorny and difficult aspect of authority within God’s church , and had prompted someone to attack him with a spurious false accusation as a way of deflecting the need to address the message as such and the reminder that it is ungodly to seek division and to give a blanket rejection of authority. Like many people, my own personal interactions with authorities have often been fraught with a great deal of personal difficulty. I am continually aware of the possibility that others may use such authority as they possess in ways that are hostile to my own well-being and personal interests, as I have often experienced, but I am also aware that most authorities do not wish to do so, but are most concerned with the recognition in word and deed of the legitimacy of their own authority, and are prone to be hostile only to those who seem on some level to threaten themselves. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, I have often seemed to threaten authorities by my guarded skepticism and by my prolific facilities for self-expression, and for my compelling need to justify and explain myself. Being aware of the difficulty is not to solve it.
All of these messages are related to each other in the sense that they deal with areas of great personal struggle in my life, the struggle to relate better to others in my life, whether as friends, brethren, or as authority figures. When we have difficulties with other people, it is our tendency to justify ourselves, often by condemning others. This tendency is especially severe when we ourselves are insecure about our own dignity and reputation and honor, and feel it necessary to defend ourselves at any cost, lest we should lose any sort of legitimacy by the admission of any flaw or error, no matter how minor. For this reason authorities who themselves feel insecure are often very quick to attack others who ask questions and ask for reasons, and so matters of attitude, or apparent attitude, often trump questions of truth. Despite my own complicated relationships with those around me, I have a great deal of sympathy, and perhaps even empathy, with the parent who struggles to explain the reason for such and such discipline, or the minister who struggles to defend his authority in the face of independent-minded members who bristle at any exercise of authority, or at governments who feel at risk from the desires and opinions from their own citizens or generally law-abiding resident aliens. Even if I should myself from time to time run afoul of those around me by triggering their own immense insecurities, leading them to justify themselves in vain, I am aware that justification is not merely something that is found among those who arrange themselves in opposition to me, but rather a universal human tendency.
Indeed, I am all too painfully aware that I share this universal human tendency for self-justification myself. I see it everywhere in evidence when I examine myself and the fruits of my own labors. I remember when my father died that it was as source of great personal grief and misery that he never apologized or owned up to what he had done or sought my own forgiveness. Given the large number of situations in life that would be greatly bettered if the other people involved were more willing to apologize, I wonder and reflect within myself if I am someone who is particularly difficult to apologize to. Is it so hard for people to own up to their mistakes, their awkward and proud silence, and their insecurities because I make it difficult for them and make them feel as if they would lose all respect with me for now and for all time if they admitted any sort of fault? Do people feel as if they need to defend themselves fiercely lest they should be entirely run over by the strength of my indignation and glory in the mistakes and errors of others? Am I so critical myself? I do spend a great deal of my own life involved in the criticism of writings and other cultural artifacts, and it is all too easy for such criticism and the justification of myself as an expert capable of making such criticism well to spill over into my treatment of others or into the fears, however unfounded, that others may have of me.
How is it that we set an environment that allows for others to apologize and to admit their own faults in such a way that does not threaten their dignity and the legitimacy of their authority? How is it that we demonstrate ourselves as gracious and friendly people who can help put others at ease, and how do we become the sort of people who are easily put at ease ourselves, thus making others more comfortable by our own comfort? I wrestle often with these questions, and ponder such matters within my own mind. Seeing as I have to be around people frequently who do not put me at ease and seem to show little concern for my own comfort, I nonetheless do not find myself so selfish that I wish to respond in kind, for others may simply be as much at a loss of how to act comfortable as they may be at a loss in simply caring about the feelings of others at all. And if I care a great deal for others feeling comfortable around me, as greatly as I care about my comfort, certainly these wishes are not always easy to communicate, especially where a great deal of awkwardness exists between myself and others. So often in life we may feel that others are particularly proud when they are only greatly shy and timid. In that light, how do we act that we are more kind, so that we may find ourselves not so different from those around us after all, and therefore that there should be no need that we should so often be estranged and hostile to those around us?
 See, for example:
 See, for example: