The topic was Christmas shopping. I had just returned from my first (and, hopefully, last) foray to the mall and was talking with some folks at church about the experience. Actually, aside from the long lines at the checkout counter, things had gone quite well. Salespeople had been friendly and knowledgeable; fellow shoppers had been patient and polite; other drivers in the parking lot had been courteous. All in all I had found the experience relatively painless. I had to admit that I was actually surprised to find so many people acting in so Christian a manner!
But why should I have been surprised? I understand that most polls show that America is arguably the most religious nation in the world? Shouldn’t it follow, then, that people would act in a Christian manner? But what, exactly, does acting in a Christian manner look like? Surely it’s more than just being polite to people at the mall.
What if I work for the Transportation Security Administration and my team has been informed that we must require people who refuse to go through a body scan to submit to a somewhat “intrusive” pat-down? How can I, as an agent of the TSA, treat people with patience and courtesy?
Or what if my work deals with the issue of illegal immigration? As a Christian I realize that I am called to try to maintain a balance between the legal, geographical, human and spiritual aspects of the issue. But what if the people in question are suspected of being involved in drug trafficking or worse? Are we expected to treat them with kindness?
Which brings us back to my experience at the mall. Our behavior at the shopping mall is important. Treating our fellow shoppers with Christian courtesy as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth is one way to make straight pathways for the Lord.
But there are other, more difficult, ways – other, more crooked paths. “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Mt 3:1-12). What fruits do our actions produce? What attitudes influence our behavior? How do we treat the people we meet outside of the shopping mall?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the Diocese of Green Bay.