Civility is Newportant

Intemperate language, boorish manners, impatience and hostility toward those of a differing opinion. Then there’s the shouting, shoving, demanding, asserting, accusing, posturing, and condemning — but enough about Congress.

This sort of thing is everywhere and reinforced on television where people choose humiliation and embarrassment as willing stooges of the networks — to act like Huns, not humans — all for a few quid in their pockets.

Our language is so bad that it’d even sound better on talk-like-a-pirate day (which is September 19 this year): “Aye matey, yourn nothing boot a scalawag in your fine breeches and fancy car, but ye’ll want ta move o’er in that scurvy SUV to the next lane and if ye’ don’t step smart, I’ll be keelhaulin’ you quick and raising your knickers on me mizzenmast. Arrrrrr!”

Our city council members are so fed up with one local yokel that they have enacted a new law to limit the saltiness of one’s language when addressing the council during those three minute open microphone opportunities at the weekly meetings.  But there are legal hurdles to be surmounted.

What hope, if any, is there?

According to Emily Hertzer, civil salvation and proper manners are found partly by hosting British style, afternoon tea parties.

A good cup of tea at the right time of day, served in the appropriate way, goes a long way in civilizing the beasts inside each of us. At least that’s the hope of Hertzer, who summers and sails in Newport, Rhode Island. If this Yale grad has her way, the Newportant Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing civility, manners, high tea and everything that matters back to our daily American lives, will change our society by bringing us back to our traditional courtly values. She aims to do this by spreading the word over drinks at the Yale Club, by personal example, and in shops by selling Newportant T-shirts and ball caps, and by making the word “Newportant” part of the American lexicon.

When Newport artist Dr. Love, also known as G. Brian Sullivan, first coined the word “Newportant” back in 1977, it originally meant that which was new and important, of the highest level of originality and inventiveness as it pertained to supporting the unique, wonderful and interesting community of Newport, Rhode Island.

Today, Hertzer wants Newportant to come to mean that which is civil, that which is cultured, that which is well-mannered. She wants Newportant to be more than a word. She wants it to be a national movement and something that will change people’s lives.

Being truly Newportant is all about character. It’s not about wealth, or poverty, bloodlines or fishing lines. It’s about being civil, supportive, unique and caring. You don’t have to be important to be Newportant.

And that’s the meta-message in today’s Epistle. Certainly those who are “called children of God; [for] that is what we are,” are important in every sense of the word (3:1).

But in the eyes of the community and the culture, we children of God may not be so important, we may not be valued for who we are or what we have to offer.

Jesus adds a layer of meaning to the word “important.” He doesn’t use the word “newportant,” of course, but he certainly understood the concept. We are loved by the “Father,” we are children of God. We must therefore behave as children of God. Paul uses the dualism of light and darkness in Ephesians 5 to make the same point: “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (5:8-9).

People who are loved behave differently from those who aren’t. We are loved. We are called therefore to love. This affects our relationship with God and the community.

The message of apostles John and Paul and the essential teaching of Jesus Christ is that we may once have been important — but now we’re “newportant.” We live by a different set of rules than those that governed us when we were merely “important.”

  • We love our neighbors as ourselves.
  • We listen for God’s voice, not our own.
  • We consider ourselves to be subject one to another.
  • We practice kindness and charity.
  • We bear each other’s burdens.
  • We forgive rather than bear a grudge.

Jesus Christ taught us all about proper manners, about proper behavior, and it doesn’t involve ever saying, “More tea, vicar?” Jesus said, love God above all things, and love your neighbor as yourself, that is the summation of the law (Matthew 22:37-40). That’s how we are called to live. That’s where we find the rules of civil behavior.

Love is the message we have heard from the beginning. This is the message of Jesus — that we should love one another as God loves us (3:11). It’s out of love that we treat each other as we should. Civility is merely following the golden rule — treating others as we wish to be treated.

Jesus says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). If you want people to be kind to you, be kind to them. If you don’t want to be cut off in traffic, don’t be the guy who cuts off other drivers. If you want to be let out into traffic, let others out. If you want civil treatment at the grocery store, or in your kitchen, treat others with civility and respect. Even if you don’t get civility in return, keep your cool, and let the civility flow.

Finally, people often express the qualities and tendencies of their parents. It’s the old “apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree” concept. It might not be about bloodlines, but it is about Spirit-lines. We are the children of God. This implies that we — by nature — will express the qualities, tendencies of God our father. That’s what John is getting at with all this talk about sinning, and about the devil. “The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:9-10).

So who’s your daddy?

But you may ask, what if I am civil and well-mannered to them, and they are not civil to me?  Well, don’t let it bother you.  Keep your cool, be civil anyway.  Remember, God is not going to judge you by their behavior, but by your behavior.

It’s not always an easy thing to face rude and boorish behavior — not to speak of unkindness — with a civil response. Newportant people, those who understand that they’re loved, who understand that there is a Spirit-line from God to and through them, will act in love and charity as befitting their station in life — a station secured for them by the cross of Christ. They will act to increase the store of human kindness.

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him” (1 John 3:18-19).