Watch your Buts!

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Buts, we all have them. I’m sure you could imagine all the clever titles that would have fit this essay nicely, but the point is that little conjunction bears a weighty role in our relationships, debates, ethics, and even spirituality. It can bring people together, or it can rip them apart. It’s had some pretty important and famous appearances throughout history. There was that moment in the mid 20th Century when King George the VI, of The United Kingdom, overcame his difficulty speaking and uttered these words:

“Over and over again, we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies, but it has been in vain. We have been forced into a conflict.”

In our own nation, a century before, there was that prophetic admonition made by President Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address:

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

But let’s not forget the much more relevant use of the word for such a day as we are in, given to us by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have A Dream” speech:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

We’re currently in a place where our words are loaded to explode as soon as they are uttered, and our buts are shot at as soon as they reveal themselves. To use a little composition humor (of which I know nothing about), we all have a tendency to be qualifying someone else’s argument as a subordinate clause. We see this in the competition for which sin is the worst or in who cares the most about the most important thing. I’m guilty of it as well, for sure, and it should be handled more carefully. Buts are important. They add clarity and frame beliefs. They create needed hierarchies for a just and orderly society. They serve as the first step of a warning and the initial breath of forgiveness. They’re important, but they’re also divisive at times. Let’s recall some common buts that have a history of controversy:

But until they stop…”

But they’ve gone too far!”

But look what they did!”

But what kind of person would…”

But they’re going to pay for…”

But I’m tired of…”

But that’s not as bad as…”

But that doesn’t matter until…”

But that’s not the same as…”

But you’ll never know what it’s like.”

But you just don’t get it!”

But you’re not listening to…”

But give it time!”

But it’s always been this way.”

But I’m not like that!”

But that’s just the way it is.”

AND (star of the show)

But what about…?”

(And there are plenty of “whatabouts!” There’s racism, abortion, rape, human trafficking, domestic violence, prison reform, the sexual revolution, the erosion of family values, adultery, sexism, the glass ceiling, global warming, pornography, religious freedom, political corruption, police corruption, national defense, the Deep State, freedom of speech, patriotism, nationalism, SJWs, drones, pedophilia, the liberal agenda, domestic terrorism, gun-control, the economy, homosexuality, critical race theory, A.I., the conservative agenda, intersectionality, homophobia, surveillance, transphobia, conspiracy theories, Antifa, Postmodernism, creeping sharia, Modernism, the KKK, the Black Panthers, Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Neo-Nazis, Boogaloo Boys, vaccines, stay at home, the end-times, political ploys, masks, the Coronavirus, the Alabama Crimson Tide (sorry not sorry), and countless other “whatabouts.”)

I think you understand what I’m getting at here. These but statements are all legitimate and meaningful buts, if not the just and righteous thing to say in a given moment. However, they are also statements that can be used to sidestep, evade, browbeat, hurt, stall, undermine, compartmentalize, and deflect. We’re having another painful round of a very old conversation, and this could be a really fruitful time of confrontation, introspection, and growth, but if we don’t watch our buts, we could miss out on the healing and the sharpening, and opportunities to bless one another. Colossians 4:5-6 is always informative and convicting to me, as I’ve certainly been guilty of not speaking with grace to those I disagree with. There’s one more but that speaks to me in this moment. “The world,” as Jesus addresses it, is the consequence of fallen humanity. The world can be nasty and brutal. There’s a lot of violence out there, and in here, in our hearts. This past week has been a difficult one for many of us, because we see the wickedness and brokenness in others and in ourselves. The weeds just seem too thick to get to the flowers, but my Jesus….our Jesus, he looks us all in the eyes and says:

“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NASB, John 16:32-33)

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