Monthly Archives: January 2013

The YouTube Edition of Christian Jerks on Social Media

Following up with my last blog post about how Christians can be real jerks on social media, my buddy Rev. John Rudolph and I recorded an 18 minute conversation about social media and how people, particularly we Christians, use and misuse it. John and his wife Rev. Dr. Melissa Rudolph are co-pastors of the North Carroll Cooperative Parish UMC. They have been really innovative in their use of technology and social media to engage folks in their congregation and of course to a potential world-wide audience, too!

So clear aside the 20 minutes you’d spend messing around doing something else, and get ready for a really cool conversation:

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Christian Jerks on Social Media

Yesterday I saw this tweet from a pastor friend of mine:

I responded with the following:

fighting over internetGranted, the behavior of fellow Christians– and admittedly my own behavior from time to time, too– can be anything but Christ-like. When anyone tries to imagine  the ideal Christian one thinks of graciousness, love, humility, strength, sacrificial. However, we all know how lacking some Christians can be in those departments in our everyday interactions with other people.

But peoples’ behavior on social media takes on quite a different character from their everyday face-to-face or voice-to-voice interactions.

Social media creates a semi-anonymous atmosphere. It’s not completely anonymous because we can see each other’s names (or some semblance of a real name) and a picture. But I think of the people I know in person and on social media. Often there’s a difference. Social media removes levels of accountability, and when they are gone, we tend to keep a shorter leash on our virtual tongues and on our manners.

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to spout off or be confrontational in an e-mail that in person? Just the other day, someone sent me an e-mail complaining about something I recently said. Why not pick up the phone? My guess is that would been too hard. But without my voice or face there, it was all too easy to just shoot off an e-mail. In that forum, they could say whatever they wanted. After a few e-mails back and forth, I picked up the phone and called the person. It’s funny. When I did that, suddenly the words were calmer. Understanding and resolution suddenly became a lot easier, spurred on by the necessity and accountability of actual, live, verbal contact.

So, back to social media, an interaction may go like this… Someone posts something on Facebook or Twitter that I don’t like. I either don’t agree with it, or I find it offensive. So I spout off on it, and before I know it, I’ve become a Christian social media jerk. Debates start. The virtual anger level ratchets up. After a while I know I’m saying things I would probably not say in person with this semi-anonymous face I’m interacting with.

And as for Christian love and grace? Whew… Gone out the window and replaced with righteous indignation, argumentativeness, condescension, and just plain ol’ jerk-face behavior. Again, all this gets magnified in the social media world. I’d never be so “daring” or “candid” in person.

Christians already get a bad rap for being judgmental, arrogant, holier than thou, and in general being short-fused snots. Admittedly, much of that criticism is well deserved. It’s high time that we own up to it, confess it, and repent. But, when all of this behavior gets exacerbated in the semi-anonymous world of social media, it only reinforced the stereotypes people already have of us “good religious folk”, a.k.a Christians.

Now I know what’s going through the heads of my fellow Christian readers, something like, “But Chris, we have to stand for Christ and stand for what is right, no matter the cost. Are you going to let unrighteousness and anti-Christian messaging go unchecked, especially when it has the power to influence so many spiritually wishy-washy people??”

To that I have three thoughts to offer:

1) Do you remember the childhood lesson of “it’s not what you say- it’s how you say it?” So often we mess up, not in the message, but in how we forward the message. We can challenge people without coming across as disdainful, know-it-all jerks.

2) We Christians need to learn the wisdom of picking our battles. Ask yourself what’s really at stake before responding to a post. Is it that big of an issue? Before blasting off some angry post, make sure you think about anticipated fruit and consequences. If what you’re saying is only going to fire up people who think like you and tick off everybody else, what have you really accomplished? Was that a battle worth waging?

3) Ask yourself this question and be brutally honest with yourself: what’s at stake in what I’m about to post, Christ or my own self-esteem? I think people often try to make points on social media to stoke their own ego or to vent their own laundry. Well, brothers and sisters, that approach is exclusively about you, and little to nothing to do with Christ. Remember that Jesus knew when to engage in a discussion and when to walk away. Pray for that kind of wisdom. Believe me, the gospel is at stake.

So to reform ourselves from being online Christian jerks, I’d like to suggest a few behavioral modifications that will go a long way to making for better interactions.

1) Read, listen, and think. One of the most underutilized forms of witnessing for Christ is the ministry of listening, learning, and curiosity. That communicates respect and humility which then earns a listening ear from someone else.

2) Ask open-ended questions without copping an argumentative attitude. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. Misconceptions are cleared up, and– miracle of miracles!- you might actually find points of agreement to go on.

3) Make your points calmly and respectfully. Yes, you can do that. Enough said…

3) Have the courage to shut up and move on. In all the years I have been on social media, I have never, ever, ever seen anyone converted to a point by losing an argument. In fact, rarely have I seen anyone lose an argument because that would require a degree of humble concession, a rare bird to find on social media. So, never hesitate to say, “Thank you for sharing that,” and move on.

So there you have it: Etiquette for Christian Jerks on Social Media 101. Now, I have class 201 to attend…

 

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The Things of Auld Lang Syne

2012-2013Auld lang syne… That’s a Scottish phrase that means “old long since” or “once upon a time”. It’s a way of introducing the things of the past. The New Year’s song that derives its namesake from this phrase assumes a wistful, nostalgic look on “auld lang syne”. I’m not so sure that’s the way people nowadays think of the year that’s just past.

In our cynical age, I see most people all too happy to slam the door on the past year while placing great expectations on the year to come. My thought has always been, How can you do that? How can you just sweep the past out the back door while predicting a rosy picture of the future? Didn’t you do that last year only to get the same result?

I guess that’s the reason I’m reluctant to set New Year’s resolutions. If I couldn’t or wouldn’t set and keep resolutions last week, what’s to say I’m going to be any more successful setting and keeping resolutions on January 1? January 1 is no different from June 18. It’s just another day. Now don’t get me wrong. I do set goals for myself and resolve to meet them. I’ve just learned that there’s no magic to January 1. The magic– the juice of a goal set and kept– is discipline, motivation and accountability. There’s no extra stock of those things on January 1!

Nevertheless, there is significance to January 1, 2013 being the beginning of a new year. It can be just as much a fresh slate as any other day, so why not? What can be different this year from the things of auld lang syne 2012?

There are things I’m going to leave behind in the darker, less dreamy shadows of auld lang syne, and things I will take up with greater resolve.

The Things I’m Leaving Behind in Auld Lang Syne

  • cynicism- I’m done with negative, downcast attitudes, talk, and expectations. Enough whining and complaining about the people or situations I can’t change or the people and things I’m tempted to manipulatively change to the way I want. No more framing things in worst case scenarios. I’m going to shut off and ignore pessimistic, gossipy, slanderous talk. I’m not going to stoke up my self-esteem by criticizing and deflecting blame to others.
  • anticipation– Good or bad anticipation is a crutch I don’t want or need anymore. Who can accurately predict the future? Pundits, weather forecasters, politicians, and doomsday prophets can’t do it. So why fool myself into thinking I’m any better? Instead of anticipating, I’m going to take things as the come, in the moment, one day at a time.

Jesus said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? … Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:27,34)

  • doubt- This would be doubt of myself, of God, and in those I love. Doubt can be an honest time of wrestling and deliberation. More often, doubt becomes a convenient escape. It’s a state of inertia. If I doubt myself, God, or others, I can stay where I am or retreat. But if I turn off doubt and turn on belief, I’m obliged to act on the best of myself, God, and others.

The Things of Greater Resolve

(No, I will not call them resolutions!)

  • hope- Because God is God and is mysteriously immersed in all things to bring about his good and perfect will, there is goodness that can abound in and through all things. No one and nothing is God-forsaken. Therefore there is always room for God-sized potential and possibility. This calls for the patience to wait in hope (versus the cynicism of panicky, got-to-have-it-yesterday impatience). Look for the best and remain grateful for whatever good that comes.
  • faith- This is trust, especially in the things I know to be true but can’t see right in front of my face. So, if I know that God loves me and is faithful, I’m going to trust in that reality, even if circumstances seem to dictate something completely different. (This is completely unscientific and foolishly irrational, I know. It’s also deeply human and divine– Christlike.) If I trust that my loved ones love and believe in me, even when this love isn’t perfectly manifested, then there’s no room to worry about that. In fact, there’s no room for worry, anxiety, or anticipation in the presence of faith.
  • love– Unconditional love for God, for others, and for myself. Love intimately links me with God, with others, and myself with more than just sentiment or emotion. Love is my choice to bless and cherish God, others and myself. In the words of the Apostle Paul,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

I know all this sounds pretty highfalutin and overly idealistic. But these ideals become reality when I make the conscious decision to let go of the lesser things and live into the best things. It’s a steady-streamed progression of fits and starts, humbling victories and glorious failures. But it’s possible!

Faith, hope and love… All the makings of an excellent 2013!

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