Introducing the Civil Language Project

By

The language of division tries to get enough people hostile toward enough other people so that the provocateur gains power. Too many in the political class, too many faith-based leaders and faithless skeptics, too many wealthy bosses and elite technocrats speak this language of division. Far too many average citizens speak it, too. If it goes on, eventually each person will have gained just enough power to be everyone else’s enemy. We must not tolerate such a hell on earth.

There is a better language out there. People are using it and flourishing. Rather than division and power, it seeks out unity and love. We need to rediscover that language and speak it with urgency and power.

Who is speaking this better language? It is happening right here among the Rabbit Room community, where C. Christopher Smith and Robert Pattison are discussing Reading for the Common Good at the Art House. It is happening on the pages of national news, where Michael Gerson is calling average Americans to step up and be the leaders they wished they had. It is happening on stage, where Switchfoot and Lecrae are “Looking For America.”

That is such a minuscule list of examples of the language of hospitality and grace. There are thousands more stories about authors, songwriters, preachers, educators, and average folk speaking empathetically into the world’s current tense moment.

The Civil Language Project is an idea. It percolated here in the Rabbit Room forums, originally inspired by a speech David Brooks delivered to leaders of Christian colleges and universities. Brooks told those assembled, “Everyone, religious or not, is on a road to a holy place. You guys have the language. The rest of the world needs it.” By extension, “you guys” clearly includes Rabbit Roomers and any Gospel-infused user of language in the public square. The Civil Language Project is an attempt to respond to the challenge, “the rest of the world needs it.”

But do we need another movement? Doesn’t Q Ideas and First Things and the Christian Makers have this covered? Probably. Though something that personally strikes me is the ease with which I can comfortably hand off cultural engagement to the pros. The movers and shakers and influence makers can handle it. I will just cheer them on.

Who can predict if the Civil Language Project will turn into much? Here is the hope. Be it few or many, some amount of people will respond. You? You will write, sing, preach, teach, and converse in a manner that seeks pathways to unity.

In the weeks to come, myself and some others will be reflecting on this project. Not only on the Rabbit Room. (Elsewhere, I wrote about Confession Instead of Accusation.) Look out for the hashtag #SpeakUnity and feel free to use it yourself. Like Gerson suggests, “While waiting for leaders, perhaps the most practical and hopeful path is to become them.” May we do so with grace and hospitality.

Dave is an author, educator, and advocate of living simply. Dave has spoken nationally and internationally about simplicity. He has appeared in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, the London Times, and The Guardian, and has been a guest of the 700 Club. His book The 100 Thing Challenge (HarperCollins, 2010) tells the story of his simple-living journey and the worldwide movement it contributed to. Dave holds an M.A. from Wheaton College and a B.A. from Moody Bible Institute. He works at Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in San Diego with his wife and three daughters.


11 Comments

  1. Sara Shull

    How can there not be 100 comments (1000!) excited about this. I love this idea – this direction – and the light this could shine into the world is something to get excited about! I’ve been thinking a lot this week about language being used increasingly as a weapon and how the current words being thrown around are creating false images of reality and painting all the world with a wash of despair, anger, darkness. I have so many thoughts already swirling around about this (jumbled and unformed) that it was an unexpected breeze of fresh air to find this post today.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about this!

  2. Chris Lovie-Tyler

    Hi, David.

    I’m definitely keen to see civil language used on all sides, but I’d also be keen to see some discussion of what we mean by division and unity, because, clearly, from a Christian perspective, at least, not all division is bad, and there are limits to unity.

    I liked your article ‘Confession instead of accusation’, by the way. That’s a good approach.

  3. David Michael Bruno

    @guynameddave

    Feeling uncomfortable with “hero” @pete. I have been impressed by how difficult it is to keep my heart and month focused on unity. It is scary to be publicly voicing the Civil Language Project because it is so darn hard to follow through at times. This week has been a UGE challenge. If not for grace…

    Chris, I confess I’m not entirely sure how to answer your question. It would be great to have you and others jump in and explore answers. Several thoughts come to mind. One way to view this might be to consider what comes first. Theologically, love and grace and welcoming and unifying actions always come first. With love in his eyes, God called the people he created, “very good.” There is prevenient grace; the sun rises on everyone. All are welcomed into Christ’s Kingdom. Christians always are encouraged to begin relationships with unity, and to seek reconciliation and peace when unity is challenged. Rather than beginning by defining boundaries and establishing positions, perhaps the best way to start relationships is on the common ground of our humanity and God’s loving grace.

    I have more thoughts, yet would love to encourage you and others here at Rabbit Room to jump in with yours. My sense is that the more we discuss this charitably, the more it can take shape.

  4. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Maybe I should say I admire the heroic effort you’re undertaking 🙂

    This is the key, right here:

    Theologically, love and grace and welcoming and unifying actions always come first. With love in his eyes, God called the people he created, “very good.” There is prevenient grace; the sun rises on everyone. All are welcomed into Christ’s Kingdom. Christians always are encouraged to begin relationships with unity, and to seek reconciliation and peace when unity is challenged. Rather than beginning by defining boundaries and establishing positions, perhaps the best way to start relationships is on the common ground of our humanity and God’s loving grace.

  5. Chris Lovie-Tyler

    Good thoughts, David. And this makes sense to me:

    “Rather than beginning by defining boundaries and establishing positions, perhaps the best way to start relationships is on the common ground of our humanity and God’s loving grace.”

    I guess I was just thinking of obvious scripture verses like:

    Matthew 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

    2 Cor 6:14 “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

    1 Cor 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

    There is a sense in which Jesus and the Gospel are divisive, and in which we cannot be united with the world. But that’s different from the kind of (unnecessary) divisiveness you are talking about. I guess I just mean it’s good to define terms so that we don’t, in our attempts to be civil, remove the (necessary) offense of the Gospel or fail to recognise the limits of unity with the world.

    I just read this, and I think it spells out the distinction well:

    The Gospel is Offensive But You Don’t Have To Be

    And, I haven’t actually read this book yet, but Os Guinness as a fantastic author, and I suspect his book The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It might be good reading material for this discussion/initiative.

  6. Chris Lovie-Tyler

    Sorry, I tried to be tricky and apply hyperlinks and italics to the text without noticing the a link/italics icons in the tool bar. Doh! Maybe someone could tidy that up for me?

  7. Tony Heringer

    @tonyheringer

    Dave,

    I agree wholeheartedly.  It is wonderful that the Rabbit Room has been a leader in this movement.  This community teaches me the art of artful conversation.

    Cheers!

    Tony

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *