Pastor Tim Smith: It seems we have become less tolerant of one another

Joseph Bulmer

Believe it or not, I find supermarket shopping therapeutic!

That said, I normally do our weekly big shop either late at night, or preferably, first thing in the morning, when all is quiet on the Waitrose front, and I usually find my gentle sunrise saunter around the aisles of Asda an enjoyable and calming experience.

However, not everyone finds a visit to their local food emporium to their liking.

According to a newspaper article I came across this past week, a mum was left traumatised and in tears following an encounter with an over-zealous checkout assistant at her local store.

Apparently, her shopping was being scanned swifter than she could bag it - and she claims the checkout operator was 'very aggressive and disgracefully rude' when she asked them to slow down.

By all accounts, since the restrictions associated with the pandemic have eased in recent times, rudeness is something that many shop assistants, restaurant staff and others in the service industry, say that they themselves have been on the receiving end of.

Writing in the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine, journalist Amanda Mull relayed the findings of a recent Federal Aviation Administration survey in the United States, which observed that, less than six months into 2021, airlines reported more incidents of rude and unruly passengers than at any time since it began collating such data back in the mid-1990s.

A flight attendant on Southwest Airlines lost two teeth, the result of a passenger punching her in the face; a Delta Airlines flight had to be diverted because a passenger threatened to 'take the plane down'.

Several airlines have delayed bringing back the sale of alcohol on board, due to the added danger of people getting drunk and disruptive.

It seems that one consequence of the separation and isolation from others we’ve all experienced in the past 18 months, is that we have become less tolerant of, and more irritated by one another.

The 19th century English poet Robert Browning, once described how it feels when someone really annoys you, in a poem entitled 'Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister'.

The poem is written from the perspective of a monk in a Spanish monastery who is continually irritated by another monk, named Brother Lawrence.

Everything that Brother Lawrence does seems to aggravate and rile the author of the poem.

He can’t stand sitting next to him at mealtimes because of the way Brother Lawrence gulps down his orange juice, the way he talks about the weather, and because of the stupid questions he asks.

All this and so much more gets on the poet’s nerves.

The piece ends with the irritated monk exclaiming to Brother Lawrence: “Grrrr, you swine!”

The truth is that none of us are immune from experiencing such irritation.

There are those who simply rub us up the wrong way.

But we also need to remember that to some people, we are the person who irritates them.

The Bible tells me that for every one of us, the antidote to all this aggravation and exasperation we cause each other, that the Lord needs to repeatedly jab us with, is agape, which is the Greek word the Bible uses to describe the divinely inspired love for other people that will overcome all our feelings of infuriation and irritation.

Such love, Scripture reminds me, is a work of the Holy Spirit in my heart and life.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love,” says the apostle Paul at the beginning of Galatians 5:22.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 13:5, we’re told what this Christ-like quality will look like in my relationships: “Love has good manners, is not rude, and does not pursue selfish advantage; it is not irritable or resentful.”

In relation to this life-enhancing quality, the theologian William Barclay writes: “There is a graciousness in Christian love which never forgets that courtesy and tact and politeness are lovely things.”