It happened again.
Someone I love shared a post on Facebook that punched me in the gut. It wasn’t thoughtful, accurate, kind, or helpful. It made me mad, full of righteous indignation and feelings of intellectual superiority,
I didn’t react or respond because if I’ve learned anything at all in our current political climate, I’ve learned to stretch my reaction time. Take a beat. Pause. Breathe. Wait. Basically, I’ve decided to act right on the internet. Sometimes. Mostly.
I’ve been rolling what she shared around in my head for a few days and I think I’m ready to write about it. Maybe I’m not. But we’ve been here before, right?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a Ted Talk my friend Angie recommended several years ago about the danger of a single story. I chopped vegetables in my little kitchen on Westwood several houses ago and listened. Adichie describes the tendency many of us have to paint all of Africa with a single stroke ignoring nuance and complexity in favor of something easier to understand. She urges us to consider the depth and breadth of people and places and her words hit me in my soul and changed me. I realized as she spoke that I, too, had been guilty of painting all sorts of people with a monochrome scheme. I had painted people with whom I disagreed into the corners I thought they belonged in, labeling them unthinking or unkind or unreasonable and then wrote them off.
I like to categorize people. Safe or unsafe. Uplifting or depressing. Boring or interesting. Smart or ignorant. Kind or unkind. Generous or stingy. Good or bad. Like me or less than me. Or even worse, better than me. I like to fit people into the boxes I choose for them so that I can predict their responses to me and in so doing, protect myself from them and stay one step ahead.
Social media has given a voice and a megaphone to people we would likely have never heard from a few years ago. I wouldn’t have known which of my acquaintances would opt for which emoji in response to, say, an article about Trump’s child separation policy. But now, either by omission or commission, I’m pretty sure I know where most of the people I know stand. I have friends, in person and online, with whom I vehemently disagree about very important issues, like whether or not our country should invest billions of dollars in a border fence on our property line with our southern neighbors. And I think that is pretty heavy knowledge to carry around with us. I certainly feel the weight of it as I scroll, and fight urges to shout at people I knew in middle school with rapid heartbeat and rapid typing behind a screen.
It’s heavy, especially, for those of us who are trying to live the Jesus way. Sometimes, I can feel something like jealousy for my friend Zack who shows up often in comment threads with laser precision. He calls out nonsense, hypocrisy, broken logic, and cruelty, seemingly with little effort. And I always agree with him. And sometimes I raise my fist silently as he types the things I won’t. I imagine what it would feel like to be him, and sometimes I think it must feel really good.
It’s gotten awfully complicated.
After a particularly snark filled internet week that culminated in a series of gently rebuking private messages from a dear friend with whom I’ll never agree about much beyond the Gospel and my big mouth, I took a short break from Facebook to try and sort out what is the point of all this scrolling and sharing, anyway? That little break ultimately led to the start of this space. When I stopped to listen to my own heart and the Spirit’s nudge, I realized that there really are words worth sharing. And social media is the platform. There just isn’t another one, and that’s a fact and so I’ll be sticking around.
So here we are. All of us. On the internet, in front of a watching world, in highly charged and politically volatile times. The stakes are very high, all the time, on every topic.
Jesus reminds us again that the world is watching and our love for each other must be our identifying factor. He doesn’t offer us another option for our ad campaign. Just our love. Our affection. Our tenderness. Our willingness to listen and try to understand each other, to be kind.
Jesus knew how hard it would be to love each other in the age of the internet. He knew the rhetoric would get sharp and pointy. He knew news organizations would build billion-dollar industries on fear mongering and he knew some of us would take the bait and the rest of us would be shocked and appalled and angry. He knew this would be hard and He didn’t offer us another way. Only the way of love.
Love, by the way, never means standing by while someone is insulted or abused. Love never means biting your tongue for the sake of saving face or avoiding needed conflict. May we never be those who stand by while the vulnerable suffer, on the internet or in the real world. And isn’t that line blurry, anyway?
Love is taking a breath, taking a beat, waiting a minute. Love is giving your brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt instead of putting together your case against them to be delivered when the time is right.
I hate the idea of a border wall for more reasons than my fingers have energy to type. And I love people, real people, who think a wall is a fantastic, even biblically justifiable, idea. What is the Jesus way forward in that conflict? I believe people I love are advocating and pushing for an actual barrier to keep out the very people Jesus would have us welcome in. Full stop. What do I do with that? What do I do with the real flesh and blood people with real countable votes who believe I am exactly dead wrong about what God would have us do for this broken world?
Is the Jesus way to say nothing, do nothing, and just pray that justice rolls down like a mighty river? Is the Jesus way to flip tables and type sharp rebuke and let old Uncle whoever know just exactly what you think of him and his politics and his chronic halitosis?
Jesus pulled away to pray sometimes. Maybe that’s what you should do.
Jesus flipped tables. Once. Maybe this is your comment thread to flip.
Maybe not. I don’t have the right to tell you what the Spirit is whispering in your soul, I can only remind you He is whispering.
Jesus spent most of his life walking and talking with the people around him, challenging their assumptions and questioning the lines they drew to keep people in their places. Jesus traveled from place to place with an eye for the hurting and the broken. When he met the woman at the well, he listened to her and spoke the truth and she left her old way to walk in His and she became the first to go and preach the good news to her people.
I don’t know much about much, to be honest. I have misspoken, misquoted, and misunderstood. I have shared articles and new pieces thinking that if only the believers on my friends list (the ones who didn’t unfollow me in 2016, LOL, HEY YA’LL) could read or see or hear THIS piece of information, they would change their minds, change their ways, and then we could all change the world. I have been disappointed and horrified and self-righteous and indignant at their responses. That sure doesn’t feel like the Jesus way. But it’s not as simple as that either, because sometimes the things they say and share and believe in and vote for are actually hurting people. But it’s not as simple as that either, because they believe the same thing about me and my sharing and my voting.
It’s just not simple at all.
It can’t be right to disengage and pull away. There is a broken world, hurting and waiting.
It can’t be right to spend six hours online every day, scrolling and waiting for an opportunity to ZING someone like Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail.
I guess this isn’t a topic I’ll be able to tie up with a nice, neat bow. I’ll continue onward, making mistakes and making statements I’ll have to delete sometimes. I’ll probably have to apologize in private messages again. I’ll probably receive messages that sting my eyes and make me feel misunderstood. I’m getting better at the pausing, the waiting, and starting by believing the best in my sisters and brothers instead of the worst. I guess that’s the fruit of a stumbling life. I’ve been clumsy, my feet and my words sometimes coming down wrong. I’ve hurt people and I’ve certainly alienated some. But by grace, I think I can look back and see that I’ve at least been stumbling and falling in the right direction most of the time. I’m learning about being slow to speak and quicker to listen, even when my nerves and instincts shout other directions.
I won’t be silent on issues that matter.
I will learn to use my privilege to fight for those who don’t have it.
I won’t live a life characterized by hateful rhetoric.
I won’t tear people down.
I won’t keep my finger on the trigger.
I won’t avoid needed conflict online or otherwise.
I won’t go looking for it, either.
I’d honestly love to hear your thoughts. Do you have any guideposts for living the Jesus way online? I have a long way to go, but I want to get there.