Some months ago the media were set abuzz by the release of a taped foul-mouthed tirade by actor Christian Bale on the set of Terminator: Salvation. Shortly after the leaking of the tape, Bale called in to a radio show to offer a public apology for his behavior.
Seeing a Hollywood personality model bad manners with co-workers, and then subsequently modelling good manners by apologizing, got me thinking about civility and etiquette in the Christian context. It seems to me that etiquette is kind of like tithing: a very inadequate frame for Christian charity. A bare minimum-and yet how reluctant we sometimes are to meet even this minimum.
The tithe is a tool that helps us see to it that we make some provision for God's church and for the needs of the poor, before we go allocating the other 90 per cent of our income (which we regard as our own, but which is really God's too.) Christian charity is much, much more than giving ten per cent, of course, and if we want to live up to our faith we must take not the tithe but the widow's mite as our example: giving all, generously, sacrificially. But the tithe at least is a tool that minimizes damage to others by keeping our natural selfishness in check. The tithe cannot transform Scrooge's heart, but it does at least pry a bit of cash out of his hands for the benefit of those who need it more.
Similarly, etiquette and civility are a start on minimizing the negative impact our sinful inclinations can have on those around us.
There was not much civility in Christian Bale's foul-mouthed tirade against director of photography Shane Hurlbut, who had walked into the actor's sightline on the set of _Terminator: Salvation_. Some commentators at the time argued that the rant was or might have been at least somewhat-justified- incivility, or said it was no big deal. But I don't think anyone could have called it a politely-framed, respectful rebuke and correction.
As for Bale,he says of his behaviour "I was out of order beyond belief…I acted like a punk…I make no excuses for it. It is inexcusable."
According to Terminator: Salvation director McG, Bale “made amends and apologized clearly and plainly” to Hurlbut, and they continued work on the film together the very same day.
When an offense is committed, etiquette and good manners demand an apology. And it does appear that Bale, having committed an offense against good manners, has subsequently rectified it.
There are several aspects to a proper apology. These include (examples taken from the Bale story):
Fr. George Morelli sums this up a bit more succinctly, with Scriptural references:
“…use unambiguous words. The wrongdoer may say something like: "I have sinned" or "I have done wrong" or "I did (name the act) and I ask your forgiveness." Say this in imitation and the spirit of the Prodigal Son: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, (Luke 15:18).”
We may also think here of Zaccheus, who promised to make amends for all he had done wrong by “restoring it four-fold.”
Bale apologized to Hurlbut and made amends quickly. But months later, Bale’s recorded rant was sprung on the public.
Now somebody else needs to make an apology—the unknown person who released the embarrassing tape, making public something that was not theirs to share and dredging up the unpleasant situation once again for Bale, Hurlbut, McG and the rest present on set that day.
We probably will never hear that one—the actions of this anonymous gossip-monger were illegal as well as unkind. Bale, on the other hand, continues to take his lumps, laughing at himself—"Feel free to make fun of me ... I deserve it completely."
Pursuing good manners, such as in making an apology when needed, is really only civil behaviour. Christian agape requires a great deal more of us. Still, in order to take some first baby steps on the journey to becoming Christ-like, we could do worse than start with civil behaviour. At least this will reduce the impact of our passions upon our neighbours. Then perhaps we can move on to what Saint Paul calls the “more excellent way” of Christian Love.
Addendum: A nice summary of the apology procedure in the online limited preview at Google books for this book, How to Say It: Choice Words, Phrases, Sentences and Paragraphs by Rosalie Maggio.
Donna Farley is the author of Seasons of Grace, Reflections on the Orthodox Church Year, and also of two upcoming books about Saint Cuthbert from Conciliar Press. She is married to Fr. Lawrence Farley, pastor of St. Herman's Orthodox church in Langley, BC.
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