I plug our upcoming Lenten series, the Awakening of Hope. What are the kinds of things we will talk about and explore together? How about - living out our faith in a changing world? Come and join us for the conversation - more info at uccmd.org.
What awakens hope in me?
For our Lent season, we’re using a great book from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and his community, the Rutba house, to talk about hope and spiritual growth and what it means to be church.
It’s gonna be a fun, challenging conversation.
And the question we are asking through our Lenten devotional booklets is - What awakens hope in you?
When I open up Facebook or check major news websites or catch the hourly update via a radio station, there’s not that much good news out there. Disasters, wars, terrorist attacks, threats, division, arguments, anger, hatred, racism, and distrust blanket us, and it’s not a cozy, snugly kind of blanket. Frankly, there doesn’t always seem a lot to be hopeful about.
(And hey, I should be hopeful. I’m a white male living in 21st century America. It don’t get much better than this.)
Where does our hope truly come from? Does it come from current events and how we understand things to be getting better or worse? Does it come from our growing or shrinking paycheck? The state of our family? The size of our church? The number of As on our report card? The amount of politicians that we align with getting into office? Or something else?
My faith is a source of hope for me. In the life and stories of Jesus, I am reminded that ordinary, mundane acts could give people hope, like the way that dude from Galilee hung out with prostitutes, lepers, revolutionaries, lost, poor, doubters, and outcasts, spending time with the hopeless so that they might have a little hope. There was something about Jesus simply acknowledging people, noticing them, reaching out with compassionate hands and an open heart, that made them more whole and hopeful.
And we, who follow Jesus, are to do likewise.
This past week, we had a bunch of homeless men and women and children sleeping at our church as part of the county’s Warm Nights program. It was tough at times, because we also have construction going on at the church. Talk about a recipe for hopelessness. At one point, some of the kids were walking around in their pjs without shoes on, and one of the lead construction guys jumped all over them. “It’s a safety violation - you got to wear shoes!” Things got a little tense.
This lead construction guy comes off a little gruff, as one who works hard but doesn’t always get along with everybody. He cusses frequently as he roams the halls, surveying what’s happening. He has a temper - he seems ready to argue before finding a workaround for issues.
And then, as I heard this past week, out of the blue one morning, without saying a word, he brings in boxes and boxes of cereal for those kids to have a good breakfast.
Yeah, people awaken hope in me. Despite the bad news, despite the way we can cuss each other out and cut each other off, we can also be that tangible hope for other hopeless wanderers. Just like Jesus would want us to be.
I won’t be in Oklahoma tomorrow to be present at one of my high school friend’s funeral, JD Church. It absolutely sucks to know that he is gone, when just a couple of days ago he was doing his normal routine of talking about tv and nerdy stuff and complaining about his job. Life is short and precious.
Here are a few things I hold dear:
- Year-ish - 1984-1985 - JD and I and a bunch of other cool kids in 3rd grade discovered our mutual passion for Ghostbusters. It began for me by reading a ghost story my dad had clipped out of a local paper during show & tell time. JD approached me during recess, excited that I was a fan of all things paranormal too. This was at the height of the Ghostbusters cartoon and toy line. Very fun stuff. We loved it so much, that our little crew began to work, in as organized a way as 3rd graders could, on an official Anadarko, OK chapter of Ghostbusters. Despite trying to spook each other out with stories that we made up, we never caught any ghosts nor managed to build our own Proton Packs. (But never say never…)
- JD’s humor was instantly awesome. He was a smart dude too. We had so many good conversations, so many jokes about Star Wars and other nerdy crap - you couldn’t be around JD without cracking a smile. He and his family threw some great birthday parties and excellent New Year’s eve parties. I remember laughing around one day as we tried to hack AOL to be less annoying on his computer and figure out how to play a round of multiplayer DOOM over landline (never figured that out either). When he was able to harness his sense of humor into his own comedy routine and use those gifts in drama class, you really began to see him emerge.
- JD always struggled with his health and his weight. As kids, we never really understood this, and though I was sure there were hurtful things said over the years growing up, JD persevered and flourished in face of it all. During my freshmen or sophomore year in college, my mom mentioned that JD was recovering from surgery at Grady Memorial, so I swung by to say hello. The surgery was an attempt to deal with his mounting health issues. Once again, despite how tired he was and the pain he obviously was experiencing, it was vintage JD. I remember him trying to overload the morphine drip, jamming that button down like there was no tomorrow. And every time we laughed, it just made the pain that much worse for him, but we couldn’t help it.
- I’ll always have a little “what if” about Okahoma City University. I got accepted there and had a small scholarship to study Computer Science, but ultimately, I pulled out to go to Cameron. JD plunged right in. If I had stuck with OKCU, we no doubt would have had a ton more adventures together.
In the past several years, Facebook let us reconnect a bit, and I really remained so impressed by the things he was doing. He was an awesome podcaster, sharing all things transformers, comic books, and what not. He had a serious broadcasting voice, serious talent, and I wish he had gotten a chance to share it more. Maybe that’s what I thought was going to happen to JD - one day, I would be flipping through the tv channel, and there would be JD reading the news, Ron Burgundy style.
JD, you’ve gone too soon, dude. I know your body wore you down in the end. You fought the good fight. You made your mark. Thanks for making a mark on my life and on so many others. Peace be with you.
Except [the past] has a way of hanging around, demanding we understand it and weave it into ourselves so that we can go on.
Stop Facebook Dumping!
Back in seminary, our ethics class briefly touched upon the internetz as we talked about what it means to be a pastor/minister/leader in our communities and how we interact, positively, with social media. I vaguely remember that we agreed how intriguing social networking was to stay in touch with people, to share ideas, and to engage younger generations, but at the same time, there were a few horror stories mentioned, how candidates for some position got in trouble because of what they shared via their blog or whatever or where their names were found on some remote internet poll in support of some political or morale issue.
Like all things when you talk ethics, it can get tricky fast.
Let’s be real - our comments and posts on Facebook, twitter, Youtube, and elsewhere can do real damage to people, even people we do not see or know.
And, it effects our potential opportunities in life, since employers evidently do google new hires to see how they carry themselves or portray themselves online.
I continue to spend more time reflecting on what I post to Facebook and how I contribute to the various communities I belong. It’s not that I am suggesting that we try to stifle or censor ourselves, especially if we are passionate about something, but we recognize the implicit opportunity to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Loving our neighbor is not just an emotional activity - if we love our neighbors, we make physical, substantial space for them and reorient our lives so that they may feel welcome and affirmed in some tangible way.
I know that’s a lot to possibly consider, so here are a few ways I try to approach Facebook/social media interaction lately. I’m not suggesting I’ve got this down, but I am learning and experimenting.
1 - When tempted to respond to someone else’s political/food for conversation post, ask yourself - is the post inviting conversation? Did they close their post with a question or an invitation to hear other people’s thoughts? If not, don’t post. Move on, even if their post was super offensive to you. If it’s not a conversation, don’t try to make it one.
2 - Likewise, when posting/sharing something, ask yourself this - do you want conversation? If so, make that explicit. End your conversation starter with a question. Ask for feedback. Invite reflection. And you get serious bonus points if you really plan to learn and take serious other comments, not just defend your (probably wrong) position.
3 - Consider, next, what you anticipate as a result of your post. What is your end game? What do you expect to happen after you click share? This is super, super tricky, but it’s also been liberating to me. Here are some common examples:
- Am I expecting my post to transform or change someone else’s opinion/life? If so, don’t post it - this will never happen.
- Am I offering something that might be useful to my family and friends and church members? If so, pay attention to how you frame it like those suggestions above so as to give space to others.
- Are you being secretly passive aggressive and hoping to make the liberal/conservative friends in your circle or list or feed angry? Then, don’t post it. You’re just being a jerk.
- Are you wanting to make the world a better place? If so, why not leave your couch, house, church, and coffee shop and actually try making the world a better place?
- Are you just dumping stuff? Please don’t turn Facebook into a dumping ground. Remember that Facebook’s weird algorithms mean that most people don’t have a clear choice on what shows up on their feeds or not. You’ve probably had stuff show up on your feed that you did not want to see (and may never un-see). Keep that in mind before you quickly hit share.
To be clear, it’s not that easy to answer some of these questions, but this has led me to refrain from clicking share a whole lot in the past few months. If it’s not my responsibility to change people’s opinions and I give up thinking that a blog post shared on Facebook is actually going to make a huge difference, I can be free to have a little more fun and a lot less stress.
4 - Don’t be afraid to delete and walk (click) away. I’ve decided that in the future if someone posts something offensive on my feed, I’m not going to be afraid to delete and just move on. This can seem ingenuous, but it’s also better than spending a bunch of time trying to reason with someone who can’t be reasoned with. But this is reciprocal - don’t take it personally if someone deletes your comments. And feel free to delete your own comment if you think the wording/tone is not what you want it to be. Deletes should be used sparingly, but we don’t have to be held captive by people dumping their junk on to our lawn.
5 - One more small idea - when responding, make your comment match the person your respond to. For instance, if someone responds to your question with a one sentence reply, keep your reply in the same brevity. Don’t cut and paste a wall of text or a series of links to strange websites. Keep it short and in the same spirit as your friend.
6 - It’s good to be gracious. Communicating via email, text, twitter, and stuff can be excruciatingly imprecise. Your comment may be posted in the height of humor and humility, but that can and will be lost. Don’t be afraid to ask if your comment sounded defensive or uncharitable. Don’t be afraid to apologize. Don’t be afraid to clarify. Don’t be afraid to be wrong.
These are not my great commandments. I’ll probably break them often, but in a short time, I’ve felt better about how I have contributed to Facebook and other places. Interaction with human beings is not a science - it is literally a field of uncertainty, chaos, and potential. But a lot of uncertainty can be dealt with when we are honest with ourselves first and consider how our actions can bless/harm those we share this small world with.
Keeping with my own suggestions above, I’d love to hear about your own rules and helpful observations - or pushback on any of my points above. How have you managed to make something useful out of Facebook/twitter?