Imagine that I’m whispering to you. Or, at the absolute most, imagine that I’m talking in a very soft voice. There’s enough yelling going on out there, don’t you think?
The Christian corner of the Internet is getting a bit too loud and brash for me, despite the fact that I am not one to shy away from confrontation. I don’t go looking for it, but I’m not afraid of it, either.
Many years ago (and I’m still whispering, here) Jesus gave us (and by “us” I mean people who have decided to try to follow his example) clear instructions, telling us how to respond to one another when we think we see someone doing something that doesn’t sit well with our interpretation of what it means to follow Jesus. I think Jesus was on to something. Here’s what he said, as recorded in Matthew 18:15: “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you.”
I’m still whispering, and I’ve given consideration to the fact that you may think I’m stretching things here. But, I believe the principle of what I’m about to say has merit, and what I have to say is about the between the two of you part of that verse.
I think it might behoove us (and I’m still talking about the same “us” as before) to make better use of the Direct- and Private-Messaging functions on our social media platforms. Or, maybe we can consider email. Or a phone call. Or even an invitation to tea. I believe Jesus knew we’d do and say things that might offend or alarm or disappoint or even scare each other. I think he knew there’d be times where we might disagree with one another. I also think he meant for us (that same “us”) to find a way to live together as a witness to the world of what love really looks like, because, without love, we’re nothing more than the creaking of a rusty gate. It’s a good thing the bible often uses images of oil to represent the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
The world is watching us (still whispering, here). It’s watching when we tear each other apart, even when we mean well, and when we are passionate, and when our hearts break for what we believe to be a wrong done and a grave offense committed. But what if we are crossing the line with our public oppositions and corrections and justifications? What would change if we took a step back and heeded Jesus’ instruction to work it out between the two of you rather than as a public display?
And here I’d like to quietly raise a glass to many of you on the receiving end. I’ve seen great things accomplished when grace governs the moment. I have seen the beauty of people of faith rising above the temptation to respond in kind when being berated in public forums for all the world to see. God’s grace is sufficient, indeed.
As people of faith, we are charged to lead in a more excellent way. Let’s whisper more often. Let’s pray first and act later. Let’s honor God by working out our differences just between the two of us, rather than in the arena of public opinion. Let’s let love hope the best in each other and for each other. Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to oil our rusty creaking and cover us with grace. We are a light, set on a hill. We are the salt of the earth. The world is watching. Let’s be worthy of that.
Some questions for you: Have you ever been involved in a public, online argument? What was that like? What did you learn from that experience? Do you think I’ve lost my marbles, here? What difference might it make to talk with one another, one-on-one and in private, rather than in public, on the Internet, when we disagree?
I love this. Very early on in blogging I realized that online arguing was a road to nowhere. For awhile, I let that scare me off from ever writing about anything that even hinted of controversy. And while I still shy away from controversial topics, I’ve learned now to handle them more gracefully. I’ve found that when I offer grace in my writing, people are more graceful in their comments. And when I am approachable and gracious, not prone to shutting anyone down who may hold a different viewpoint, people are more willing to take disagreements to a more private forum and continue the conversation.
Some of the greatest challenges of my faith have come in the last few years when people responded to me in private and we hashed out our differences on a more personal level. More often than not, we didn’t come to see things eye-to-eye, but we respected each other. And when respectful dialogue takes place, both people grow.
Respect. Such a novel idea. 🙂
Ah, yes. Respect. I’m hearing Aretha Franklin in my head, now, on this Thursday morning. I agree with you. I haven’t seen those online arguments lead to anything that makes them worthwhile. They wear everyone out and make us look bad.
One of the best experiences I’ve had in the body of faith was when someone came to me, one-on-one, to tell me I had offended him and why. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but he respected me my speaking to me in private about it. It made a big difference, and I will always hold him in high esteem because of it.
Yes! I have a friend that comes to me frequently on Facebook to challenge my thinking on spiritual matters. We have different world views, so we don’t always find a middle ground, but I love the conversation and I respect him so much for not pushing me in public. This keeps other people from feeling like they need to defend me, it keeps me from jumping on the defense, and in the end he has really pushed me to dig deeper into matters of faith and my theological approach to culture and society. As exhausting as it can be to feel like I’m constantly being challenged, I respect his willingness to come to me privately, and we’re both open to hearing one another’s opinion, and to learning from each other.
Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me…
I love Aretha. 🙂
I’ve worked hard to stay out of them, so I agree – a big #nobueno to public online shouting festivals between people of God. And might I add – speak your piece “in love”. You’re preaching a good word this Thursday morning Ms. Deidra. Have a great day.
A hashtag! Yes! #nobueno
I’m with you. Love wins every time, doesn’t it?
love it! #nobueno
Most of the time, okay all of the time, it’s worthless. I find out more of my sin and depravity in the mix…. I’m humbled in the end.
It is. It’s worthless. And you’ve spoken a mouthful here, Traci. More ugly is exposed than we may care to admit. I want to aim for beauty. Who doesn’t want more beauty in this world?
Amen friend! I just wrote about that in a facebook post this morning. We share the same heartbeat…
Trust me, I’ve learned more about myself and how I need to change in pointing fingers and others over the years. God’s grace is so gentle… I want to be the same!
Thank you. AMEN. blessed are the peacekeepers for they…..
Boney finger wagging and big sticks, hmmm. Not a fan.
Yeah. Not a fan at all.
I think we need a separate typeface or at least an emoticon for “easy there, try to remember I’m speaking softly.”
I’m so happy for you to have this conversation here. I do believe in the power of private conversations, and in the safety (for everyone) of hearing voices instead of reading pixelated letters on a screen. I’m convinced that Jesus laid out the process of Matthew 18 because it would work. I think especially in this time, where it’s too easy to type before we think or pray or put ourselves in another’s place for even 13 seconds and where that magical typeface doesn’t exist and so our most heartfelt, soft pleas come out as screaming billboards, we need to come back to it as a practice.
But. (I know. I shouldn’t ever “But, Jesus…” But I’m going to.) And I don’t think it’s an argument with Jesus (or with you 🙂 ), but a question, because this is what I wrestle with. When the “offense” is a public one, and hurts others in a public way simply by being said, or being said in a particular way, it is difficult for me to leave that alone, because there are those essentially without voices who are being wounded and further oppressed and beaten down. And while we work behind the scenes, this painful thing stays out in the public space to continue to do its harm, and those without voice come across it and find the double offense: 1) the thing itself and 2) the silence of those who have voices (seemingly) saying nothing about it, which looks a whole lot like being complicit in what was said.
So here’s my question. Because I need to remember that questions are far more helpful than definitive proclamations any day: what can we, in the spirit of the oil that he really wants to have pouring between us, do with that?
Thanks for asking the hard questions here, and saying the hard things. Always happy to hear your voice on these questions.
Oh, yes, Lyla! (that’s a quiet exclamation mark)
I guess I’m talking about the very first interaction. So that, instead of having that awkward, public offense, we can figure out a way to avoid that step altogether. I have, however, been thinking about what to do, once the deed has been done (so to speak), and I have a lot to say about that. But, it all boils down to grace. I do think we can disagree in love. I think we can protest without violence. I think we can raise the level of the dialog. But, honestly, I also think there comes a point where enough is enough and it’s time to walk away.
Just this very week a question was posted on a Pastors Network I joined on Linkedln and as the comments began to emerge I noticed that one side was not being heard so I joined the conversation with a respectful, state my thought comment and clicked send. Within minutes comments filled with disrespect, judgment and hurt were directed at me. These were from people who had never met me, they didn’t know my journey but I had now found myself having to defend my call into ministry. I was hurt and perplexed as I was being accused of disobeying God by becoming a pastor, by those who had also answered the call at sometime in their life. But God soon soothed my weary soul and I clicked out of the conversation. I remembered that the only One I need to answer to is the One who breathed life into me and calls me His child, His beloved.
Jill, I’m so sorry that happened to you. Thank you for this reminder about the way God heals us, and reminds us that we can absolutely click out of the conversation.
This is so beautifully and gracefully stated, Deidra. I have learned a lot from you as to how to conduct myself in public forums, and though I still have A LOT to learn, I want to thank you for setting a good example.
Of all the beautiful, true things you said in this post, this is the one that’s resonating most with me: Let’s pray first and act later.
It seems like a no-brainer, eh? But far too often I act and then backpedal like a crazy woman praying my head off. I think perhaps if I prayed first, I wouldn’t get myself into some of the situations I’ve been in.
Good, good word here – thank you SO much for speaking up. Love you (but you already know that!).
I’m still a learner, on the journey. I still get heated and offended, and I want to throw something, every now and then. Amazingly, this grace thing works so much better. Go figure. When I remember to choose the path of grace, it always amazes. It’s not necessarily easy, but it works.
Love, right back to you!
Um, Amen. That is all. Except, Amen again.
Sandra Heska King
I often find it hard to enter a fry because I don’t really like conflict. (I meant to say “fray” but decided not to edit that.) When it comes to wounding one another or frying each other in the name of Jesus… I think that must make him so sad. We don’t always know each other’s back stories… and it’s not our job to convict (in every sense of that word), right? We’re all wrestling our way through this life… we need each other, and we don’t need to be the ones to prevent others from entering the race at all. They’ll know us (and Him) by our love, yes?
Love it when a slip of the key says it better. 🙂 It can be a fry, for sure. We are all wrestling our way through, aren’t we?
One of the verses that drives me (in addition to the Matthew 18 passage) is the one that says, “They will know we are Christians by our love for one another.” Not by how many pews we fill, how right we are, how many days we volunteer, or how many missions trips we take. Love for our Christian brothers and sisters is the distinguishing mark that is supposed to set us apart. So, yes. I want more of that. Can we try for more of that?
Sandra Heska King
So much Amen! Honestly – if it breaks my heart to read those public online ‘conversations’ (read: debates or wounding, accusing, canabalistic arguments) imagine how it must break His. I am a lover of scandalous grace… and the full on Truth – both of which are always to be wrapped in Love Himself! I try not to engage… to not be easily offended… to keep in mind 1Cor6 and how so often, when in public, we forget how many others are watching and what bad press we may be spreading around. I try to error on the side of grace. (and then, praise God for the block/delete/mute buttons if needed –for the safety and sanity of others as well as for myself!)
Thank you for pointing me to I Corinthians 6! I looked it up, and now I’m just going to leave that tab open in my browser for a bit. So good.
be heard, nor
cursors or screens –
on the flip (though) years ago i was led to lay down a heavy burden by an online truth speaker. we took our conversation private and she led me to freedom by way of the cross. judgment aside. onlookers, naysayers away.
it’s a hard balance, the
heart’s need, the soul’s
intent – anger lashes out
discontent, but love
binds. again and again.
Stunning, Darlene. Thank you for this. And for sharing the flip side, as well. Thank God for love and for grace, and for all the ways they give us wings to rise above.
Maybe it’s my age…but I find myself saying …why…why…when I see these wrangling of words…and it baffles me that we think there will be a good out come…I am whispering…the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome… All things are birthed from relationship…first and foremost our relationship with God…and any real and helpful conversation is really going to happen in relationship… This social media world sends mixed messages…it can build a false sense of that kind of relationship that gives us the right…instead of a gift to speak into each other’s lives… Therefore there is a lot of trampling going on…i really believe these are disussions need to happen between two or more people …in a shared respected place. Thanks Deidra!!!!
You are wise, sister. What you’ve said about the mixed messages social media sends is so right for this conversation.
Many years ago, I read a post by someone about this sort of thing. It was back in the day when timelines were still called Facebook walls. This article was about people posting articles and other things on her wall. She said, in essence, “This is my wall, please don’t put things up there. You wouldn’t come to my house and start putting posters up on my living room walls, would you?” I read some of the things people say to one another online and I wonder, “Would you say that, just like that, if you were sitting in that person’s living room?”
Well, I love you. 🙂
suzannah | the smitten word
But if the internet is an appropriate avenue for sharing ideas, why shouldn’t it be an appropriate avenue for responding to those same ideas? Public ideas invite public responses, and many of these disagreements aren’t comparable to the sorts of interpersonal conflicts that are most faithfully resolved in private.
Such a great point, Suzannah! Thanks so much for raising it. I agree with you, and I’ve seen some lovely conversations unfold in the public forums of social media platforms. When I first started dipping my toes in the water of social media, I remember saying, “I see God on the Internet everyday.” I still do. Even when people don’t see eye-to-eye, I have seen some beautiful examples of give and take and grace and love. It’s inspiring, really!
I didn’t mean to infer there is never any good that takes place when people disagree online. I wanted to address, more specifically, the exchanges that escalate and that include name-calling and finger-pointing and rallying the troops in opposition. Hopefully, this response helps to make that more clear. And, thank you again for raising the question here today.
Love this. I have a friend that has reminded me through the years, “to trust the Holy Spirit at work in them.” It has served me well in allowing me to step back, pray and wait to see what I should say or do. Oftentimes it’s nothing, other times I am lead to speak truth, to rebuke, correct etc… but these things are never to be done in public and always in private.
When I fail, because I do fail, I must then publicly admit that failure and ask for forgiveness, in fact I often apologize publicly and privately.
That’s a great word, Sharon. That reminder to trust the Holy Spirit to work things out in and through and for that person. I’m going to hold onto that.
The idea of public apology is a gift. Thank you, also, for offering that idea here.
So very well said, Deidra! Thank you for sharing… Will share this post on my page. Thank you for the reminder!
Thanks for reading, and following!
All the yelling out there makes me want to disconnect completely. That and the fact that I came out of a fundamental background where the idea was that everyone (save our congregation) was out to get us, misinformed, and lacking any form of truth. In the 30 years since they served up our family for Sunday dinner, a meal I’ll never forget, I’ve struggled to know my own mind, speak from my heart and discern a different shaped truth.
Some of the uglier public conversations have sickened me and I have to re-visit and re-forgive some old heartbreak again and again.
God brings women from that congregation and others as well to my doorstep as I serve them in my small hair studio and speak a softer truth into their lives because that’s how cool God is. Matthew 18 was a favorite of our tribe, I appreciate this conversation and find that your site makes me think and feel bold things!
I do think God is a master of the plot twist. Having those women come to you to get their hair done sounds exactly like something he would do.
I’m so sorry for your experience all those years ago. A friend reminded me yesterday of Romans 8:28, and how God can turn everything around into good. I don’t know how he does it, but I believe he can, and he does.
I like what Karrilee said about the block/mute/delete functions, and how they help us all keep our sanity. 🙂
Grateful for the grace of this, Deidra.
Lynn D. Morrissey
Deidra, I greatly appreciate this post, written lovingly, prayerfully, quietly :-), and thoughtfully, with measured reason and grace. There have been blogposts over the couple years that I have become familiar with the forum to which I wanted to respond at length or with which I have strongly disagreed, but have realized that the forum, while positive in so many ways, lends itself often to the sound-bite, sans benefit of personal dialogue–give and take, back and forth, question and answer, prodding and thinking . . . and sometime just time to let things settle and ponder about them for awhile before commenting. And I might also add that the forum is completely devoid of eye contact, body posture, etc., which can often be clues to meaning. (Hence the emoticon–which still hardly cuts it). This Internet means of communication can be one-dimensional in some respects. And then there is the question of really understanding a person’s full story (even if you were to speak in person)– to fully comprehend her worldview, her perspective and upbringing, etc. We make snap judgments, because we have nothing but this fairly inadequate means of one-dimensional kind of communication. There is also an immediacy about this Internet world that I find doesn’t always lend itself to deep interaction, but a more shoot-from-the-hip response. All that said, though I do appreciate its many benefits and the lovely people I’ve met because of it, so I stick with it. I have often followed your suggestion to employ the email and the phone call, when I realize that even while I may live in another state and can’t have that cup of tea, these forms of communication at least allow for further elaboration and give and take, when questions or points for needed clarification arise. I think that that is Biblical advice you’re giving. Also, when disagreements exist (which they inevitably will), a tone of Christian civility and love is paramount in the words we use online. I think we can speak truth and not back down on our convictions, but speak truth in love and grace. I will share with you a dialogue I had on a blog where I tried to give more than the proverbial sound bite in my responses. All that said, though, in the end, I don’t think either one of us came to a clear understanding of the other. And, as I expressed in that dialogue, we did, in fact, not know each other. We’d never even met, so how could we possibly, deeply understand? I made the attempt, as did he, but I’m not sure that in the end the dialogue was ultimately productive. I will provide the link, should you wish to read it. And if you don’t want to read the WHOLE THING!!!, I’d direct you to the very end, to his last comment, and my short and long ones. It’s at the very bottom of the list of comments. And Deidra, I would add just one observation to your wisdom . . . a dear friend of mine (now with the Lord) who was a prolific award-winning poet (author of more than 80 books of poetry and 25 works of fiction and non-fiction) said this on his blog (he’s referring to poetry, but I think it can apply to blogging, books, etc.)
“When a poem you’ve written is given public exposure, it can open you up to adulation and garner you a personal invite, from Lorne Michaels, to fill in for Mariah Carey or Smashing Pumpkins, on Saturday Night Live. But more than likely, publication will subject you to undeservedly scathing criticism and moral condemnation. And if neither of these extremes occurs, your poem will attract absolutely no attention whatsoever, from the twelve and a half subscribers to the magazine in which it appears, typo-warts and all. Just remember, once in print, you’re fair game. And if your self-esteem is not shrouded in Kevlar body armor, you’d better find a place to hide, either from your detractors or your disillusioned psyche.” He was not a Christian when he wrote this (he came to the Lord near the end of his life), so maybe he would have said it a little differently. I don’t know. But I think his point is well-taken. As Christians, we should respond in grace when we disagree. But in the end, as the author, when you write for public consumption, and you open up that comment box, you are asking for opinions. We may not like the opinions that are expressed, and we may encourage commentors to make them in a Christian way (with which I am hardly disagreeing) . . . but, when you go public, you’re fair game, in the sense in which I think my friend was saying it. As an interesting aside, he wrote a powerful poem championing a well-known abortion provider, with which I strongly disagreed. I took him at face value that what he said was fair game. I prayed about it long and hard before sending him a respectful letter and two poems of my own which completely counteracted his opinion. I ran it by my pastor first, who felt my friend’s viewpoint was “:fair game” because he’d put it into print. My pastor also felt I spoke truth in love. But after my friend received my letter and poems, his attitude to me changed completely. He would barely speak to me when we saw each other. I was devastated and in some ways wished I’d never sent it. But there is something in writers that compel us to share truth. We just can’t seem to put a lid on that. (In fact, God encourages us not to). So while I hated what had happened to our relationship, I was glad that I had expressed myself to him, and did so privately. There is a happy ending, in that we became very close before his death, and he welcomed me as a friend and a Christian. Deidra, I thnk I sent you my Christmas newsletter, where I shared our story. Anyway, the point of my most circuitous “aside” is to say that there is a way to respond that is appropriate, but if it doesn’t happen, then we have to decide whether to “take it” and move on and either keep the comment box open or close it. Hope I am making sense, and I am so grateful to bloggers like you who have somehow seemed more patient than the patriarch Job in reading my ramblings! thank you so much!
I am writing this response before reading the comments in the thread you linked to. I have to go out and wanted to be sure you knew I’ve read, and deeply appreciate what you’ve said here. You always make me think more deeply, and you point me higher. Thank you for that.
You are right. Writing publicly does set us up for whatever comments will come. I guess I’m surprised at the relentlessness and disrespect I’ve seen lately. Perhaps I should give it a rest, realize this is the way it goes in this world of ours, and press on for myself, in the best way I know how. As a pastor of mine used to say, “If you don’t anything to become something, don’t give it any attention.” So, thank you for these thoughts to ponder.
My friend wrote a post the other day in which she said, “We’re always upset about what things mean about us.” My prayer, after reading your comment, will be to ask God to show me what I think all this yelling and bickering means about me. Again, thank you, Lynn.
Here’s a link to my friend’s post, and, when I get a chance, I’m going to read that comment thread you referenced. http://www.simpleandsoulful.com/blog/2015/2/27/were-never-upset-for-the-reasons-we-think
Lynn D. Morrissey
Deidra, am just seeing this. I always so appreciate your loving tone and respectful response. I agree with you, which I think you detected from my post–especially the idea of going privately to someone. I don’t have the Scripture passage before me, and I thnk it is in reference to when someone sins against you, but I think the spirit of it applies to disagreement as we;;….or something that is going to take more than FB or blog sound-bite responses to reckon with and wrestle about. Regardless, whatever we say should be said in grace and love, with a caring tone. I would add that we don’t compromise truth–Jesus wants us to speak it, but always, ALWAYS to speak truth in love. Truth is not always easy–just as I didn’t mince words with my dear friend over what I felt about abortion and that I felt he was wrong in championing Dr. Tiller. Especially since I am post-abortive and Christian, I felt it incumbent upon me to share a different perspective, since he’d made his own views public. But I went to him privately–in the sense of sending my views by post. And I tried to do so very respectfully in tone. I also sought another opinion (my pastor’s) before I mailed my letter and poems to him. Christians are always to be truthful, loving, and gracious. And I see this mean-spiritedness not just onlne, but in conversations, in protests (I think of nasty name-calling in prolife lines , or “gun-rights” protests, etc.–not always, of course. But I just mean I have seen news clips of people shouting expletives, etc. Even in Ferguson. The majority of protesters were quiet and respectful, but others were boisterous). I can’t tell you why Christians, in particular, are going the way of the world. I also agree with you there. Speak truth in love. I think that is the best counsel I could ever follow. And, of course, my point about my poet’s friend’s counsel that I quoted for you was not that just because you publish you’re fair game to insults. No one should ever be insulting. It’s not right. But the point I was making is that once you’re out there, you’ve opened yourself up to it. So if it comes, and It probably will, you’ve got to be tough enough to take it. It’s then that it helps to remember what Christ took–all the name-calling, blasphemy, insults, hate. Wow, can we even imagine that? I hope you get a chance to read the link I sent. As I said, I think it is an example (from both writers’ viewpoints ) to attempt civil discourse; I’m still not sure it was effective. In part, I thnk it’s the medium–you just need the advantage of face-to-face conversation and time. Ok….ENOUGH, are you are gonna kick me off this blog. Thanks for putting up w/ moi!
Lynn D. Morrissey
Thank you Deidra. I read it. Hmmm….we need to speak truth in love to ourselves, too, right? A journaling prompt I like to use is “What’s going on?” There are layers–always layers–and so often reactions (one way or the other) are surface. I love to dig deep with my pen. 🙂
I am happy to join this whispering, gentle conversation. I, too, am tired of the extreme edges of finger-pointing and hobby-horse-riding. But I’m also open to some honest, searching disagreement, if it’s politely done. So maybe I land in the middle. I absolutely abhor argument for the sake of argument. But asking good questions, seeking to get to the truth together? I think that’s healthy and helpful. Thanks, Deidra, for your lovely, irenic spirit — something which, in certain seasons, seems in terribly short supply on the ‘Christian’ internet, doesn’t it?
Yes. I hear you, Diana. I think there is much merit in the power of good questions and honest, sincere, helpful dialogue. When things devolve, however, into name calling and finger-pointing — especially in the name of Jesus — I have to wonder what’s behind all that?
Irenic. I’m adding that to my vocabulary list. 🙂
The most hurt I have ever experienced came from a once close Christian friends subliminal facebook post in November of this year. My name was not attached but it was absolutely to me. I can still hear the words, “posing as profound” “nauseatingly concerned about your character” and “fraud”. There were a few other subliminal posts. Certainly, there are things we all need pointed out to us that maybe blind spots in our Spiritual journey and I’m all for truth telling….with grace, and face to face with a heart of love and sticking with one another. Nothing has hurt worse and continues to hurt my soul than those words from behind a screen.
I don’t know why we hurt each other so deeply. All these months later, and you still remember the words. I’m so sorry, Karen. I pray you feel whole again, soon, and that you find something better on the other side.
Thank you Deidra.