Christmas might be the perfect time to start a Facebook fight. Hear me out….
It’s been a few days now since the whole internet lost its mind. And if you’re anything like me, you’re probably asking yourself if it’s even worth it. I’ve had a few friends say, “You know what? I’m getting off of Facebook for a while. If you want to talk to me, you can talk to me in person.” I’ve had an interesting vantage point to watch all this Duck Dynasty (I hesitate to even write those words, because people are so through talking about it) brouhaha go down, because A BLOG POST I WROTE about it went viral. It basically said “This isn’t about free speech,” “This isn’t religious persecution,” and “Let’s be nice to each other while we disagree, because if you’re mean while representing Jesus, people will think that’s what Jesus is about. And it’s not.” And then I sat back and watched as a bunch of Christians called each other idiots and morons and fools….
I guess what I wrote connected with a lot of people. I think part of the reason was because it wasn’t attempting to say, “Phil is a bad guy” or “Phil is a good guy,” but because it was trying to provide some perspective. So a lot of people shared it. A lot. And, as just about everyone who shared something about Duck Dynasty found out, within minutes there were often 20 comments declaring who was right and who was wrong. People got angry. And triggered beneath all of that anger and controversy was an important conversation about Homosexuality and Political Correctness and Jesus and Judgment that isn’t going to get sorted right this moment. I believe it won’t be long…. just not quite yet–Especially not when everyone is yelling at each other. The lesson that many people took from all this yelling and uncomfortableness (other than a general sense of Christians be trippin’) is that it’s just not even worth it to say anything. Nobody changes anyone else’s mind. Everyone is crazy! Why even bother speaking up? Next time I’m just going to stay out of it!!!
Sometimes I think that the internet is like a passive aggressive relative at Christmas dinner. We all know that one person–especially around the holidays–who allows everyone else at the table to remain comfortable, as long as we agree to play by his or her rules. It’s that dysfunctional silence after a racist uncle says something he’s aware was wildly offensive, but, with his eyes, dares someone to point it out. It’s the knowledge that if you respond to that in-law’s rant with something like, “Actually, I believe ObamaCare is going to help a whole lot of people, and I think that’s a pretty cool thing,” it is going to be met by such furious and righteous anger that she is going to make things miserable for EVERYONE. It’s quietly enduring a father’s homophobic joke in order to keep the peace. Everyone at the table has been conditioned to know that it’s best to just not say anything at all.
People use these same tactics on the internet as well. If you decide to question social norms or debate the status quo or (God forbid) challenge people’s worldview, people will respond by trying to make things as uncomfortable as possible. What they’re doing is attempting to teach the people around them–with their anger and their insults and their CAPS LOCK–that if you rock the boat, I’m going make sure the fit hits the shan. And it’s even worse online than it is at the Christmas table, because not having to look someone in their eyes allows people to be even meaner than usual. There are people out there (quite a few, actually) who will go through the trouble of setting up a new eMail address just so they can anonymously go onto the comments section of a blog like mine and call a stranger a “faggot.” And we see these sorts of reactions, it starts to look like the problem is just too big. It’s no use. If I speak up and attempt to speak some sanity into all that craziness–If I try to speak some love into all that hate, nothing will change. It’s just not worth it. And the world starts to feel more and more hopeless. And cynicism sets in….
But Christmas is no time for cynicism. Christmas is a time for hope. The Christmas story is a story of speaking love into hatred. It’s the story of a dysfunctional family sitting around a table where everyone has learned that you don’t rock the boat, but having a Father who loved us enough to speak one true Word into that dysfunction, knowing full well what the consequence would be. Christmas is the story of a God who looked at a dysfunctional world and said, “It’s worth it.” It’s the story of a light in the darkness, like a bright star in the night sky. It’s a story of encouragement, and it’s a story of hope for the hopeless.
Over the past few days, I have literally had hundreds of people (whom I’ve never met) tell me about how unchristian and hypocritical and stupid I am (and those were just the comments on my blog. I can’t even imagine all of the stuff that was said on the Facebook comments). I watched as people took an attempt at a call for tolerance and a rational, kind conversation, and turned it into a place for people to take a belligerent dump all over strangers who happen to believe something different than they do. But the most discouraging part about this whole ordeal for me has been the people who tried to stand up for their gay friends and neighbors, and after the dust settled, looked at their decision to speak up and said, “It wasn’t worth it. Next time I’m going to stay out of it.”
NO!!! That is not the lesson to learn from this! Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying that every time someone writes something ignorant or hateful on Facebook, we have to respond to it. We have to choose our battles and be wise, and sometimes wisdom tells us to just keep our mouth shut. If our silence comes from a place of wisdom, that’s one thing, but if it comes from a place of hopelessness–If it comes from a place of cynicism–that is not okay. Not at Christmas. Not ever. We can’t stay quiet just because a bunch of jackasses try to make things as uncomfortable as possible and start calling people names and trying to hurt feelings. These people are internet terrorists, setting off bombs of hate in public places, trying to make us all afraid to say anything of any real importance, and conditioning us all to STAY OUT OF IT.
And “staying out of it” is a very sane response to all this craziness. The sane ones understand that they’re probably not going to change crazy’s mind. But here’s the thing: If the only people who are sharing links, who are posting comments, who are saying what they believe…. If the only people who are speaking up about the important stuff are the crazy ones, then to a giant portion of the people looking on, it’s going to seem like the whole world is crazy and mean and worthless. And it’s not! It’s a world that God looks at and says, “It’s worth it!” And we, the ones who call ourselves followers of Jesus, have a responsibility to speak life into a world full of death. To speak love into hatred. To speak truth into lies. To speak sanity into craziness. And to speak light into darkness. We have a responsibility to not let the only voice that the world hears be the voice of the guy yelling the word “faggot.” We’re probably not going to change that guy’s mind, just like we’re probably not going to change the mind of that old, passive-aggressive aunt at the Christmas table…. But there are kids watching, and we have a responsibility to let them know that this is not how things work.
The last time I saw my father alive was at my family’s Christmas party. His anger and dysfunction and addiction hung in the air like a lead blanket. He could control a whole room full of people with the threat of how uncomfortable he was able (and willing) to make it for them. I know all about the silent approval of dysfunction. When my dad exploded on the room with a litany of offenses that day, we all looked on in stunned silence. When his finger suddenly pointed at my sweet wife, the only response available to me was anger. Looking back now, I realize he was only able to make things as uncomfortable as we were willing to let him. And I was only as offendable as I allowed myself to be. A loving reaction–a strong reaction–A Jesus reaction would have been compassion and understanding and an offering of help. Instead, my reaction was the words, “We’re leaving.” And those words still haunt me….
At the end of the movie “Seven,” Morgan Freeman’s character says the words, “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.” So here’s the last thing I’ll say: If you are unable to respond to ignorance and hatred in a loving way, then please (and I’m talking to myself here too), do us all a favor and keep your stupid mouth shut. But if you are in a place where you are able and have the opportunity to speak life and love and truth and sanity and light into an otherwise dysfunctional world, don’t you DARE stay silent because you think “it’s not worth it.” Not at Christmas. Not ever. It IS worth it.