Monday, June 3, 2013

Progressive Christian Social Media: Is It Truthful? Is It Kind? Is It Necessary?

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.
-I John 4:18-19

The other morning I had five or so religion posts in my Facebook feed.  The messages largely ran in the vein of “You awful haters out there don’t understand love, justice, and compassion the way real Christians like me do.”  Sadly, I find that online progressive Christianity seems to be as fearful and as anger and stereotype-driven as the familiar caricatures of fundamentalism.  The language is peace and justice, but the subtext is too often the fear of the other and an appeal to the right-thinkingness of the progressive in-group.  Friends,  Sister Bertha Better-than-You is a turn off whether she’s wearing a button from MoveOn or from the Family Research Council.  That is unless your goal is to gain the hearty agreement of those who already agree with you at the expense of hardening the lines of division.

One thing for which I will always be grateful from my 16 years working for the Quakers is experiencing their very serious commitment to loving everyone.  Friends are far from perfect, as they will readily attest, but they take very seriously their beliefs that, ultimately, no one is an enemy and that “There is that of God in every person.”  Foregoing demonizing those with whom one disagrees is a tall order to be sure, but this focus on looking for a future in which we all stand together redeemed and whole radically alters one’s perspective.  It was certainly quite an eye-opener for someone with a particularly cutting mouth, a love of mockery, and who very much likes to win.  I am afraid that, for the most part, I failed to be transformed, but the principle maintains its power in my thinking, especially when I think about speech in the public square.

Too much progressive Christian rhetoric in social media centers on trumpeting our own rightness and winning the likes and shares of those who agree with us rather than in changing hearts and minds.  We all do it and I am painfully aware of how many more likes I get for writing about politics than about some obscure saint, but, as someone who sees a lot of liberal and conservative religious diatribes coming across my screen, the only difference between the two is usually in the buzzwords.  The level of vitriol is about the same.  We dig ourselves deeper into our own little holes and push others further away.  That will never lead to a future where the lion lies down with the lamb and the child shall play on the hole of the asp.  It won’t even lead to a future where we can be civil to the guy next door with the wrong bumper sticker.  

One of my mentors when I first began working for the Quakers would say that we should run our words through the three sieves before we speak them.  (She had more than one occasion to make this point to me.)  The idea of the three sieves has several versions and attributions, but I remember them in what I think is the way that SaraSue put them to me.  Before we speak, she would say, we must ask of ourselves is it truthful? is it kind? is it necessary?  To put it another way we must ask:

1.  Do I have my facts straight or am I actually uninformed or consciously bending reality to match my rhetoric?

2.Am I saying this out of genuine concern or to wound?

3.Does saying this help the situation, especially if I am saying it in a public forum? 

When I was a communications director, I kept a piece of paper with the sieves thumb tacked to the wall behind my desk.  I still missed the mark, but that little piece of paper made me write or say something better many times.  The world and the internet would be better places if we all did even a moderately better job of this.  I have certainly let my own standard fall now that I am not a spokesperson for an organization or a member of a religious order.  

We seem to be on the verge of becoming a nation of people living in bunkers connected by fiber optic cable to like-minded people living in bunkers of their own.  After all, why go talk to the people at the bar down the street, who believe Lord-knows-what, when there’s someone in New Zealand who agrees with me on everything and likes, shares, and comments on all of my posts?  I am afraid that is generally a sign that love has not cast out fear--the fear of being wrong, the fear of having to change, the fear of leaving our comfort zones.  Too often, progressive Christians want to live in the purity and unanimity we find so appalling in our more conservative co-religionists, whom we make into straw men in our posts and memes.  

What if instead, we measured our words and our tone and tried to talk to rather than about each other?  And, rather than contributing to the polarization asked, “Is it truthful? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”  At the very least, what if instead posting our latest rant on our Facebook wall for the whole world to see, we sent it to a friend as a private message and did our part to cut down on the internet’s smog of smug?  These are small things and nothing that our mothers and grandmothers didn’t try to teach us, but they might make a bigger difference than we think.  

How would your day be different if the next time you logged into Facebook you only read two or three angry posts about the state of the world instead of six or seven?  The residual effects of all of that frenetic righteousness out there may be ruining your day more than you realize.

As is often the case, Tom Lehrer said something similar both first and funnier:

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Our Lady on Saturday: Sancta Maria

Lady Altar, Abbaye de Fontfriode.

Holy Mary,
Help the suffering:
Strengthen the fainthearted;
Pray for the people;
Entreat for the clergy;
Intercede for all women
Vowed to God.

Marian Antiphon at Vespers for the Season from
Pentecost to Advent in the Cistercian Breviary