Beyond being nice

I love Canadians — unless a hockey game is involved. I love the way they say, “eh” and “sorry” all the time. It makes me a little envious and gets me wondering with what mannerisms they characterize folks in the US. I heard them refer to Americans as “walking baked potatoes” once on CBC radio, but that isn’t nearly as endearing as saying, “eh” and “sorry.”


Shepherd of the Valley sponsored a service trip over to Whitehorse a couple of weekends ago. We took a crew of 25 people of all different ages to help out a small Lutheran church for the weekend. We learned at the border not to say we were working there. We had folks from 5-years-old up to mid-60s painting, picking up trash, climbing scaffolding, cleaning gutters and washing windows. The church there has about 20 attendees with an average age well over 60, so they appreciated having some younger ones climbing around.

I like to do trips as a congregation. We still call them mission trips, even though the concept of mission has changed in the Lutheran church. We don’t send folks throughout the world to convert or fix people. Our concept of mission has become one of accompaniment. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America website defines accompaniment as “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. In this walk, gifts, resources and experiences are shared with mutual advice and admonition to deepen and expand our work within God’s mission.” In other words, dominant cultures don’t get to appear and show the world how things must be done.

I like trips because they teach us humility. When we sit, listen and hang out with people who experience the world differently, we are as changed as he or she might be. But, I also like trips because it is hard to be nice for an entire week. I would say that being nice is one of the greatest hurdles to figuring out how to love and forgive each other.

Here is where I see the difference between nice and love. Nice comes from the Latin word that means ignorant. I have no idea how the word jumped from “ignorance” to “pleasant” but I think it has to do with a shallowness of experience. Being nice is hiding behind an insipid smile pretending like we all get along, but unwilling to dig any deeper.

Love is actually getting to know people in all their irritating and wonderful fullness. It is committing to the relationship even when you disagree or he grates on your nerves. It is embracing even when she is not as perfect as you once imagined.

Jesus calls us to love. Part of that is walking together in solidarity and part of it is providing the vulnerable space where we get to know, love and forgive each other for who we are and what we do.

I do love the Canadians, but I truly tasted what love and forgiveness meant as our group of 25 squeezed together for that week. We had to let our defenses down and figure out what it means to move beyond being nice into loving.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is the pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.


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