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Fighting the good fight

It was a bright, sunny Sunday. I had just entered the lobby of a well known senior care facility where my dad was receiving physical rehabilitation.
Seated in the lobby were several people who had gathered around a middle-aged man who had what appeared to be a serious eye injury. And we’re not talking about a little Bob Costas pink eye here, we’re talking a quality shiner with a potential for stitches.
As I walked by the group, I caught part of their conversation.
“Wow, what happened? Did you fall?” asked a concerned voice.
“No, I got into a fight at church,” was the victim’s reply.
I’ve never wanted to stop and hear the rest of a conversation so much in my life.
A fight in church? That’s not supposed to happen, is it? Well, in theory, no. Church folk are the kindest people on the planet, right?
The good news is, during the 58 years of my somewhat sheltered life, I’ve never actually witnessed a physical confrontation on church property. Your experience might be different.
The bad news is, there are more ways to fight than reshaping someone’s facial features. And whether we like to believe it or not, we church folk are quite gifted at some of them. Most of them are verbal.
There’s an old, unwritten Southern edict that if you follow the name of a friend or acquaintance with the phrase “bless their heart,” you are then free to verbally rip them to shreds.
Example: “That Ethel Hoffelmeyer, bless her heart, doesn’t have the brains God gave a gnat.”
I heard a good example once at a church covered dish dinner. “Poor Mabel, bless her heart. She couldn’t boil water without burning it.”
The addition of the phrase “bless her heart” sprinkles sugar on the stinging nature of the comment, but at the same time makes it open season on the intended target. We’re now welcome to skewer poor Ethel, Mabel or anyone else we like with the addition of those three simple words.
The same three words used alone can be just as lethal. When someone looks directly at you, shakes their head, and says “Bless your heart,” you’ve just been labeled an idiot.
The next weapon in the arsenal of successful church fighting is the smile. There’s lots of smiling in church, but throughout my life, I’ve been diced into tiny pieces by people who smiled at me all the while.
Smile warfare is a particularly dastardly maneuver. The recipient is seldom aware that they are being annihilated. Often, in fact, the battle is over before the subject of the attack realizes it has begun.
I had a teacher long ago who was particularly good at this form of warfare. Her smile never wavered as she verbally pulverized you.
There’s also the “eye burn.” I received those on numerous occasions from various Sunday school teachers, and deservedly so.
They didn’t have to say a word. I could feel the fires of hell piercing my very soul from each pupil.
I’ve saved perhaps the most diabolical form of church fighting for last. It involves the use of isolated scriptural verses or passages to score a knockout punch in a debate.
A writer I respect recently penned a phrase that describes this technique perfectly: Clobber Verse Warfare.
Clobber verses are designed to do just that; clobber the recipient with random bites of scripture carefully selected to do one thing — win the battle. Never mind the context, everyone can be a biblical scholar with a pocketful of clobber verses.
Now, before our sensitivities get the best of us, we should remember one thing. We’re human. And conflict is as natural as spring rain.
I seriously doubt the disciples of Jesus got along all the time. Peter probably complained loudly about Matthew’s smelly feet and rotten singing, bless his heart. And Andrew probably mentioned to Bartholomew more than once about James’ incessant talking with his mouth full, bless his heart.
And here’s something else to chew on: There’s a better than even chance that long ago, your church and my church got started at least in part because someone didn’t get along very well with someone else.
So, maybe even our bickering has a place in this world.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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