Tuesday, June 11, 2002


In an LA Times article about the president of Fuller Seminary, the reporter recounts this story:
[Richard J. Mouw pulled] into a parking space at a Vons supermarket in La Cañada, only to have another driver jam on her horn and make an obscene gesture.

Mouw was sure he hadn't done anything to earn her ire. The spot was open; he had not seen anyone going for it. Still, in deference to her fury, the 62-year-old philosopher walked over and said he was sorry to have upset her.

"You don't know what kind of day I've had," Mouw says she told him, and then she started to cry. For Mouw, an ethicist and scholar steeped in the teachings of Reformation theologian John Calvin, the encounter was a metaphor for the times: Under the weight of life's pressures, some people are falling apart in public. And civility, which Mouw describes as "public politeness," has become a rare commodity.
Mouw gives a suggestion for cultivating civility:
Civility may be in short supply in 21st century Los Angeles, where motorists get honked at for obeying the speed limit. But Mouw believes that civility, like art appreciation, can be cultivated. "The family meal is the primary workshop in civility," he says, "where [sometimes] you sit with people you're angry with, and you hang in there for 45 minutes because you can't leave the table."

Today, many Americans "graze" rather than eat at the table at a designated time because family members are busy pursuing their own interests and schedules, he observes. To Mouw, this requires people to make a point of finding ways to ask, "Is this the real story we want to be writing about our lives?" Churches, he thinks, could play a vital role by acting as "families" for people without families, by opening their doors for weekly suppers, reminiscent of simpler times.
The question that struck me was, "Is this the real story [I] want to be writing about [my life]?" right now—a question I can ask about many aspects of life.

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