If your Facebook newsfeed is like mine, you’ve got some angry (and scared) politically conservative friends and some angry (and scared) politically progressive friends. Today we’re all angry (and scared) as we see the news about another mass shooting. We’re united in our fear and outrage, but soon the blame game is going to start. We’ll soon hear that the recent tragedy is the fault of [Obama, gun control laws, spiritual famine, Muslims, intolerance, narcissism, self-interest, fill-in-the-blank].
Friends, my observation (for what it’s worth) is that even our behavior on Facebook gives us practice in being able to pick up a gun in anger (and fear) and bring it to our workplaces, our families, our neighborhoods, our congregations and our communities. Your “gun” (and mine) may not be literal, but aiming our figurative “guns” at other political parties, other people, other races, other religions, even other sports teams, flexes our muscles of retaliation and revenge (and fear). This isn’t about free speech. We can still celebrate our free speech but we can do so in a way that recognizes that what we have in common is so much more important than what we don’t have in common. Our “free speech” when it is loaded down with the barbs and the bullets of disrespect, hatred, and ignorance bring with it consequences. Sometimes the consequences are simply being “unfriended” on Facebook. Sometimes they are avoidance at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Sometimes the consequences of those barbs and bullets bring loss of life and national tragedy.
I’m not saying that our lack of civil discourse (especially on the beautiful world wide web) is the cause for mass shootings, but I know that it sure doesn’t help us move toward a more peaceful planet.
So, what would it look like for us to flex different muscles? What exercises should we maintain so that our impulse might be to offer a hand of help, encouragement, understanding, forgiveness, and grace to the “other” instead of casting judgement, throwing blame, and living in fear?
The letter of 1 John says that “perfect love casts out all fear.” How can our love be perfect? How can we eliminate that undercover agent of fear that motivates our harsh words, hasty judgement and heinous acts that lead to breaking news stories of tragedy? I don’t proclaim to know the answer to this really difficult question, but I think I know one place where we could start.
What if we were to see our neighbors, coworkers, Facebook friends, family members and even customer service workers beyond the categories that they hold (Republican/Democrat/black/Muslim/rural/poor/service providers/KU fan)? Could we possibly begin to see what we have in common (like our humanity, our sacred worth simply because we exist in the image of God, and our common suffering in life) is so much more than the categories we use for one another? What if we began to talk to “those people” out of love instead of out of fear or judgement or ignorance?
Our words—even our words on Facebook—matter. Can we practice flexing our muscles of kindness, care for one another, compassion and love or will we keep passing judgement on the “other” and bringing our “guns” to work/home/church/Facebook? Can our bullets be bullets of grace and forgiveness, understanding and love?
I pray that you (and I) choose words of life that are motivated by love rather than words that can act as ammunition that are motivated by fear. Ammunition works both ways. Let’s make sure that we’re using the right bullets.