August 01, 2013
Melissa is contributing a series on the intersection of etiquette and the gospel. This is her first post in the series.
I sat across from my friend, Juliana, relieved. As we shared pizza and the sun set over the Hudson river in New York City, we were talking about an issue that has been brewing in my own life as of late: etiquette.
This word, loaded and often misunderstood, has been following me around the last few weeks. It’s been nagging me, until I went to the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library on a rainy afternoon and asked the librarian if they had the book Etiquette by Emily Post. I wandered upstairs, found the call number and winced.
Emily is the mother of modern etiquette and the standard that many still keep to. Need to know how long you have to send thank you notes after your wedding? Ask Emily. (The answer, by the way, is 6 months.) Need to know how to get people to stop gossiping? Ask Emily. (A conversation should never be about someone else, especially in a group…)
The complete, 75th anniversary edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette (16th edition, updated by Peggy Post, her great-grand daughter-in-law) is 845 pages. Still standing firm in my conviction that this last book from my summer reading list would be somehow worth my time, I checked it out. All 45 chapters of it.
When I say the word etiquette, a lot of eye-rolling has taken place. Many eyebrows have been raised. One friend, when I told her that I was making it a summer goal to finish Emily Post’s Etiquette, straight up laughed. She asked me why I would follow old rules that no one uses anymore. Weren’t they a little old-fashioned, daresay pretentious?
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to get through chapters on topics of dinnertime discussion and folding notecards, and I’ll probably just skim the chapters on weddings, seeing as I won’t be planning one for quite some time. But the point of this book is about the little, meticulous ways to be fancy. The spirit of the law in play here is one of a great idea: consideration.
Paul tells us that we are to conduct ourselves in a manner worth of God (Phil. 1:27). And while I don’t take that to mean “follow pointless, fancy rules of society and etiquette in a manner worth of God,” I do have to pause for a moment. What Paul is saying is that we need to pay attention to our behaviour. We are called as believers to make others feel appreciated and loved. We are reminded to be patient and compassionate and understanding.
As seminarians, we are the future leaders of the Church. We are the pastors and worship leaders and youth workers and small-group organizers. And while we want to believe that our head knowledge will come into practice, it is going to take, well, practice. Actions must be thought through. If I responded to every situation with my instinctual response, I might not have any friends. Emily Post was a woman who just wanted us to think and consider our actions for the sake of making others know that we care.
That night over the Hudson, my suspicions were confirmed: I’m not the only one wondering if the old ways of etiquette can be revived. Juliana said to me, “In ministry, if you can’t notice and respond gracefully to people grievances or confront in a kind way, people notice.”
As leaders in ministry, people are paying attention to our actions. We’ve all had that experience of being on the receiving end of less-than-grace, of being jousted by poor etiquette. And it was rough. In the next few posts, I want to think about the theology of etiquette. How do we live peaceably with one another? Does what we wear or say to others, or write in emails really matter? How can we show others that we love them and value them?
I have a hunch it starts with humility, perspective and paying attention to the details of our everyday lives.
Melissa Zaldivar is an MATH student from California. She loves golf, theology, Jewish holidays, people falling in love, Jonathan Edwards, chocolate chip cookies, her adorable niece and telling stories. When she's not filming and photographing weddings, you can find her reading news articles, watching Parks and Recreation or playing Super Smash Bros.
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