Opinion: A useful ‘filter’ for holidays and beyond

An Indiana church, with help from other religious organizations, has paid off a massive medical debt for 6,000 families.
An Indiana church, with help from other religious organizations, has paid off a massive medical debt for 6,000 families.

Credit: Rhomphaia/Via Pixabay

Credit: Rhomphaia/Via Pixabay

I was thinking -- filters are good things. Each morning when I drink my coffee, I am grateful for the coffee filter that keeps my coffee smooth and tasty for the savoring. We live in a world of filters -- from our home heating and cooling systems to our automobiles, there are filters all around us. They are for our protection and comfort. There was a dear woman in one of the first churches I served that used to say, “If you think something, you might as well say it out loud.” I learned later that was her way of giving herself permission to be cruel and careless with her speaking.

I am grateful that God gave me a filter to keep me from saying everything I think, aren’t you? I wish some folks had a stronger filter because they seem to say just about anything to anyone. However, I must confess that, on occasion, things will slip through my filter and then I hear myself think or say, “Did I say that out loud? Oh, my!”

Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton
Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

I am grateful for my filter except when my filter works against me. This concerns me these days. I/we seem to receive everything we see and hear through the filter of our experience and beliefs. Which, I suppose, is how it is mostly supposed to be. But here is the thing: How do we know when our filter is causing us harm? How do we know when our experiences and our belief systems have been, or are, unhealthy? For example, you and I can see the same political advertisement and come away with two completely different conclusions and emotions. Who is right and who is wrong?

My fear for us as a human race is that we are “filtering up” our minds and “digging in” our heels. We have become so convinced that “we” are right, and “they” are wrong that we have discontinued our “listening to” each other and increased our “talking about” each other. We have decided it is best to spend our energy on proving “them” wrong and “us” right at the expense of spinning the truth to our truth and not the truth. The Apostle Paul was so convinced that his Pharisaical ways were the ways of truth that he held the outer garments for those who believed their truth to be the truth when they stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

There seems to be a lot of stoning going on these days -- with a lot of cheering and garment-holding. Christians believe it took an encounter that was beyond human capacity to cause the truth to become known to Paul and for it to be let loose in him. This beyond-human Truth blinded him and then empowered him to see as he had never seen before.

This is my wish for us this Christmas. What am I missing this Christmas? What are you missing? Where are our filters causing blindness and stunted spiritual growth and maturity? Why are we so uneasy this Christmas? Is it external or internal?

May we have a peace-filled Christmas. And may we see unlike we have ever seen before. Merry Christmas everyone.

The Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton is executive assistant to the bishop for the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church. This piece was originally shared via email with the conference’s clergy and church leadership. Rev. Walton ended that email essay with, “Always thinking.”

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