The Trap of Cordiality

The Trap of Cordiality

“Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment,” said Scout in the classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.[1] Scout’s description gave me pause. In our crass and quarrelsome culture, a little respect and good manners might go a long way. We need some good old-fashion cordiality.

But are there unintended consequences among polite types of people? I thought of religious circles or Christian families that strive to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control–under control at all times. Courteous detachment could be the kind of cordiality that keeps others at arm’s length.

Have you ever experienced that? I have. Maybe I’ve even done it to others!

Illustration depicting cutout printed letters arranged to form the words think before you speak.

In Marilynne Robinson’s moving story, Home, Jack, the black sheep of the family comes home to his dying father after twenty years. The father, a retired pastor, works hard to say all the right things, to give the benefit of the doubt, to believe the best, but there remains unimaginable tension in the atmosphere. The prodigal son is a sin-sick soul, looking for restoration. He wants to believe he can be a good man. The father wants him to “get saved.” They resort to polite conversation at first, bottling up their history of hurt and disappointment.

Deep wounds form when cordiality prevents real connection—maybe even more so than an outright fight.

Glory, the younger daughter in the story, has also returned to care for her father’s basic needs. She too is longing for healing within the family. She loves her wayward brother, Jack. All the other siblings seem to have perfect lives.

“(Glory’s) father told his children to pray for patience, for courage, for kindness, for clarity, for trust, for gratitude. Those prayers will be answered, he said. Others may not be…So she prayed again for patience, for tact, for understanding—for every virtue that might keep her safe from conflicts that would be sure to leave her wounded, every virtue that might at least help her preserve an appearance of dignity, for heaven’s sake. She did wonder what the neighbors thought…”[2]

Young lonely woman sitting in glass jarSafe from conflict…the appearance of dignity…what will the neighbors say?

I have come to believe these fears areContinue reading

Signposts – Part VI

Signposts – Part VI

We are intricately woven into an orderly framework designed by God. From time to time, we get to see a glimpse of it. Here is another amazing example…

In 2006, Cecil Murphey, one of my writing mentors, told me I should find a copy of Letters by a Modern Mystic, by Frank Laubach. He knew I was working on my book and felt my writing was similar to Laubach’s. Originally published in 1937, the book was currently out-of-print. I gave up too easily.

The summer of 2007, I traveled to Cleveland to help my parents move. My mother and I were sorting through their books, deciding what to keep or give away. I came across several works by Frank Laubach and immediately asked her if she happened to have a copy of Letters by a Modern Mystic. She didn’t think so. A conversation followed:

“Mom, how did you come across this author?” I asked. “I’ve never heard of him, until recently. A writing friend told me to find that book.”

“My mother and father knew him,” she said.

I couldn’t believe my ears. “You’re kidding!”

“You remember John Peters, the founder of World Neighbors?” she asked.

“Sure.” I nodded. “Nana and Pops knew him through their church in Columbus, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “Well, Frank Laubach and John Peters were contemporaries in the mission world. They were also friends.”

“No way!” What a small-world coincidence.

My mother handed me a stack of books for the giveaway pile. “In fact,” she continued, “you were too little to remember this, but those two men came to our house on Maplewood Road. They stayed the night with us.”

“What?” I looked at her straight on.

“It’s true. And Mr. Laubach brought a blow-up globe of the world for you. He inflated it and set you on top of it. You just laughed and laughed.”

I was stunned. Though I had no memory of it, my life had actually intersected with this man. His present felt symbolic to me. Was it chance? Or was it God.

The next spring, my daughter and her husband were packing up their things in Portland, Oregon to move to Montana. I flew out to help. My son-in-law’s mother, Terry, also came. I’ll never forget the moment she walked into their apartment. After exchanging hugs, Terry said that she and her husband, Richard, had been reading an amazing book together. When they finished it, they both thought that I should have the book. The writing reminded them of me. She pulled out a copy of Letters by a Modern Mystic, by Frank Laubach. His son, Robert Laubach, had just released a smaller version of the original book.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. God had my attention now…Continue reading

Signposts – Part IV

Signposts – Part IV

Seated on the right side, I am the only passenger on a 747 airplane. The plane is descending far too fast. It suddenly occurs to me—we are crash landing.

All air is sucked from my lungs.

The plane is frightfully close to the airport building. I wince as the right wing of the airplane hits the structure and breaks off. After that, I shut my eyes. My arms cover my head, and I slump over as we hit the ground hard. The sound of screeching metal on concrete is ear-piercing. The plane weaves right and left, fishtailing wildly. I brace to stop my forward motion. Will the plane burst into flames?

Finally, all is quiet. I am alive. Visibly trembling, I exit the plane.

Immediately, a Northwest Airlines official is there to greet me.

“I’m…I’m so sorry,” I say, between labored breaths. “I didn’t mean to wreck your plane.”

He offers a wide smile and touches my arm. “Not a problem.”

I’m stunned. Millions of dollars have been lost in the wreckage.

He cuts to the chase. “It doesn’t matter.” Pointing toward the hangar, he continued. “We have this for you.”Continue reading