less “ui”, more “os” – a reflection on James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

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Epistles / Lectionary / New Testament / Year B

The following is a reflection on James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a, the epistle lesson appointed for Proper 20 B according to the Revised Common Lectionary.


gentleness in the epistle of straw. Taken on a farm in West Virginia. Photo by Rick Morley.

One day Steve Jobs was walking through the Xerox corporation, and he saw something that helped him change the world as we know it: a computer with a graphic interface. Xerox was experimenting with how people interact with their computer, what we now call “user interface,” or “UI.” Graphic interface was revolutionary. No longer did people have to interact with their computer with code or numbers.

They could touch a button. An icon. They could touch it and things would happen.

Jobs walked away from Xerox with the idea and he ran with it. He was so obsessed with UI, that he famously said that he wanted icons to be so beautiful that people would want to lick them.

As cool as interface can be – and especially now that we’re not only pushing buttons, but we’re swiping, pinching, and talking to Siri – what really drives a device is its operating system. It’s the operating system which provides the core functionality that allows us to interact with it. Most of us don’t see the OS itself, we just see the different ways that we can use it and manipulate it.

User Interface don’t just excite us in technology, but I’d argue that UI is what we spend most of our time on in the church today.

We spend time on bulletins and prayer methods. We obsess over the church website and presentation of the sermon. We have committees on communication, and outreach, and facility management.

small straws

Click on the photo above for a version of the Prayers of the People, inspired by the Epistle of James.

And, these things are fine. In fact, for an organization, they are necessary. We need to help our members interact with their faith and their church, and we need to reach others who have yet to walk through our doors.

But, what about the OS? At our core, what drives us? What makes us tick? What is it that informs every decision and interaction?

This is what James gets at in the third and fourth chapters of his epistle.

And his answer, is surprising. Astounding.

If I were producing an Apple promo video, I’d say it was “revolutionary.”


Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom…But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

James, writing to a church in conflict urges gentleness. And, why? Because its OS. Gentleness is meant to drive our faith, our assembly, our relationships.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.

He says that when something is going wrong within our churches, it’s because of the cravings that are inside of us.

This isn’t UI. This isn’t a matter of tweaking the bulletin or Robert’s Rules of Order.

It’s a matter of having gentleness at the very core of our understanding of God, our relationship with each other, and our common faith. And, it’s a gentleness that’s “willing to yield.”


And why? Because, believe it or not, we have a gentle God, a gentle Lord. Our Good Shepherd. Agnus Dei.

Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15)

Yes, there are times to act, to “stand firm.” Yes there are moments where we need to defend the faith, and rise up to aid the oppressed.

But, at our core we need gentleness. We need to be a gentle people. And we desperately need to be gentle with each other, and with those who need to experience mercy and grace.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella

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