‘Conspiracy of Niceness’

Terry Walton


I Was Thinking…

My younger brother taught me a phrase several years ago as I was complaining about this and that.  He said “Do you want some cheese with that ‘whine’?”  I’ve not forgot it.  There are moments when all of us can lose focus and when we do the path often taken is the path of whining and complaining.

In her book ‘The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century’ Joan Chittister writes “Complaining and complacency are the two evils that community life most abhors and can least afford.  Any community, any group is poisoned by people who criticize constantly and exert themselves little.  Benedict warns against them both… “Don’t keep them,” he insists.  Better to do with fewer and do the life well than to swell the numbers of a group with what will eventually corrode it.  It is a hard lesson in a culture that measures it success in numbers.”(Pp.260-261)

She’s correct…that is a ‘hard lesson’.  It has been my experience that church communities can harm themselves with the philosophy I call ‘the conspiracy of niceness’.  We spend so much time being nice to people that really need a firm kick in the seat (figurative not literally, though I’m sometimes tempted literally) that the church suffers and the gospel is weakened in its expression to the world.  Why is weakened?  Because ‘dysfunctional and unhealthy’ people often demand a lot of our attention and time, that’s why.  Time that could better be offered for constructive and creative ministry for our hurting communities and world.

Do you get weary of people who want to complain and whine?  Are you exhausted with those who want to blame everyone else for their issue(s)?  It is life draining to live in an environment of pettiness and smallness.  It is no wonder that Jesus told his disciples ‘shake the dust off their sandals should a town not receive them’.  Jesus knew cities and communities of all types with the personality of ‘whine’ were not in the present place of being solution people…they were problem people.

Don’t misunderstand.  We are to be people of grace and understand none of us are who we hope to become.  However, we are not to be people of ‘cheap grace’ who suffer abuse from those who are stuck in their unhealthiness.  Sometimes we must pray them into the hands of another person or community.  That very prayer and action might be what God will use to love them into his heart of truth and insight.

It is a hard lesson but it might be one of the most important lessons for the church today.

Always thinking…

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