Jacqui took the phone call (it was my day off): “Who is responsible for the church poster facing the A59?” As she passed me the phone, I recognised the usual visual warnings. So I quickly put on my heavy duty flak jacket, my Kevlar helmet with antiballistic visor, my mind racing.
Is this a complaint against the church parading its sectarian message in a public place? Or a Christian worked up over the choice of text as too bland? Maybe someone from the planning department concerned about the size of font? Who knows?
So I was stunned to hear that this woman from Maghull actually phoned to thank me for the way the poster has spoken her over the years. Each day she drives to St Bede’s School to be encouraged by this short verse from the Bible (no more than eight words – people are driving, after all).
However, just to get the balance right I received an email that evening complaining about the church bells from a resident of Long Lane.
It does seem that people are quicker to complain rather than compliment. And the effect can be corrosive.
Some years ago I went to church house to speak to the person responsible for the training of curates to say that there were some parts of the course that were falling below expectations i.e. I went to complain. Just a relatively small, well-argued and sensitive complaint, that is. But I recall how his face dropped. Subsequently he would avoid me in the car park. It was a case of straws on a weary camel’s back.
The ratio of complaints to compliments may be as high as 9:1, at least that was the experience of Jesus when he healed the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). Only the one went out of his way to say thank you! Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” At that point in his journey Jesus needed the encouragement. I guess the other nine were too self-absorbed in their sudden change of status.
So as Christians we are called to live with gratitude in our hearts (Colossians 3:16). That has to be the default demeanour for anyone who has been so richly blessed by God. So Paul writes “Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.” (Colossians 4:5 Message).
I guess if each Christian went out of their way to encourage by simple acts of kindness, which includes expressing appreciation, we may actually get the message that we are loved and valued by God not just for who we are but for our efforts, however weak and faltering, for the Kingdom. So Paul begins his letter to the testy Corinthian church: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”
I assume that when Paul says always, he means always – which has to be a major achievement for the apostle given all the hassle these contentious Christians gave him. For the simple reason he loved them. And so he found it painful to challenge some of their practices, not something he enjoyed doing. For wherever he could, Paul always praised. So must we.
And now off to my very first granddaughter school assembly! Another rite of passage. Whatever, she will be brilliant. Of course.