Shouting Back and Forth

I was caught in a social media trap. Browsing through countless posts by friends, I came across a fairly innocuous “shared” article. Straightforward, to the point, and, by my judgment, fairly innocuous.

Then, I noticed that there were more than 50 comments tied to it. So, I clicked to see what the conversation was about. And that’s when the noose tightened around my ankle and pulled me in.

It seems that a couple of individuals had made comments supporting the theme of the article and expressing gratitude to the one who shared it. But then, for deeper and darker reasons, those two people began to fire insults back and forth at one another.

Seemingly playful jabs at first. More pointed in only a few rounds. Then outright hostile and mean. Others joined in apparent attempts to protect a friend or bolster a point. What had been a misbegotten tirade by two, became a swirling mass of hate for a dozen. And then suddenly, a couple of shouts went back and forth dismissing the opposing sides. And it all sank below the surface.

To what purpose? Shouting, argument, debate. Little is ever won with these behaviors. And now I, too, am a victim of the carnage as I wrestle with my thoughts and feelings about these people — most of them strangers to me.


My observations came at the end of this confrontation. I’ve been thinking about what I might do if I stumbled into its midst? Would I do what comes naturally? Would I enter the fight or perhaps turn quickly and walk away?

Perhaps the next time, a kind word or, even better, a selfless act should be my response. Those things seemingly make us vulnerable. Yet, such things open us and those around us to unfathomable strength.

Kindness. Selflessness. Humility. We all could use a little more of these good things.

How Many Steps Back?

“One step forward, two steps back.” That’s a fairly benign bit of wisdom when it applies to someone else. When it is directed at me or to someone I love, it more fittingly paints a picture of gloom and loss of hope.

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How can we ever overcome the challenges ahead of us when they seem to grow larger every day?

This is the moment to reach back and pull out all of those great one-liners, mottos, and zingers. Tiny phrases, filled with goodness, packaged and guaranteed to lift us and our proverbial ox out of any ditch that ensnares us.

Reassured by wisdom from those who have walked before us, we take one more small step forward. As our foot makes full contact with the slippery surface below, we sigh and smile knowing we’ve done what we can for now. And as we stand straight under our burdens from our new location and look into tomorrow, we notice that our path has grown two steps longer.

Our quest for peace — personally, communally, and globally — is this ever-extended journey. Some days it seems absurd to venture out seeking a destination that seems to move away from us at maddening speed.

Yet, the truth is that every “one step forward” captures a bit of that final destination for us to own and enjoy right now. The “two steps back” merely provide additional opportunity to exercise wisdom, exalt in joy, and experience reconciliation.

Troubles Don’t Last Always

In September 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and directly and firmly addressed the strong emotions welling up within the members of his congregation. Pointing to the tensions of that moment in history, he reminded them of the words that the slaves had sung, “I’m so glad that troubles don’t last always.”

Dr. King didn’t soft-sell the struggles, when he said,

There can be no gainsaying of the fact that modern life is characterized by endless tensions. On all levels of life, men are experiencing disruption and conflict, self destruction and meaninglessness. And if we turn our eyes around our nation, we discover that the psychopathic wards of our hospitals are filled today. Fear and anxiety have risen to the throne of modern life and very few persons escape the influence of their powerful domination. It is probably true to say that we live today in one of the most, if not the most, frustrated generations of all human history. Now what accounts for this tension, this anxiety, this confusion so characteristic of modern life? What is the causal basis for all of the tensions of our modern world? I will say that if we are to find the cause we must look for more than one cause and it’s a plurality of causes that have all conjoined to make for the tensions of our generation.

Now, almost 6 decades later, fear and anxiety still reigns — and, as Dr. King suggested, it’s complicated. This “plurality of causes” is a stew of toxic poisons, constantly twisting and combining to form even weightier problems. Racial tensions, religious tensions, economic tensions, political tensions. Each folds in, one on top of the other.

Ironically, while each of these tensions is easily seen and readily defined by the conflict that springs up around them, those of us who are in a position to do something about relieving the pressure often do so only by singing those old words, “. . . the troubles don’t last always.”

Always careful to promote non-violent protest and action, Dr. King revisited this phrase in encouragement and in anticipation of what would come. Indeed, things are better now than they were. However, many of these complex tensions should be mere shadows in our history. We are well beyond that lasting point.

We still experience the “confusion of modern life” that Dr. King spoke about. Looking inwardly, far too many of us disclaim the sins of racism and intolerance by refusing to see the defective weave of our social and, perhaps, our spiritual fabric. We have built systems that empower those who are already rich and already wield power. Technically, many of these systems appear fair and just. Practically, they perpetuate discrimination.

If that last paragraph caused you some discomfort, I would encourage you to pause and look around. This isn’t about taking something from you. This is about you opening your hand to others. It’s not a hand-out. It’s a sharing of the freedoms and opportunities that every man, woman, and child should have — regardless of race, ethnicity, social position or political affiliation.

Troubles don’t last always. There comes a day when they should end. To those of you who continue to experience these troubles, thanks for helping the rest of us see more clearly. For those of us who are privileged to avoid these troubles, do what you can to end them . . . today. Open your hand.


Friends . . . Actually

Years ago, my decisions about who my friends were or were not were more simply made. I simply avoided you if you said or did things that I found disturbing.

You would think that the same principle would be involved in social media. I fully understand that it can be. I see posts all the time where people “unfriend” others and, if pushed hard enough, completely leave FaceBook or whatever their platform of choice is.

FullSizeRenderI’ve “unfriended” a few people in the past. To date, my standard has been to unfriend anyone who exhibits hate and discrimination in their personal posts. Oh, and anyone who has a fascination with the “F” bomb or taking God’s name in vain. (“OMG! Addicts,” you’re nearing the edge.)  I am “friends” with a wide array of individuals — many of them sensitive to such rubbish. Others are young and losing their innocence to what our greater society has begun to find acceptable. Enlightenment never looked so dark. I don’t choose for my internet spaces to be the place where they get further exposure to such things.

I am close to “unfriending” some others of you. You’re pushing the line by reposting things that you haven’t checked out and that are largely false or misleading. Just writing the word “Truth” by those posts doesn’t make them true. Others of you are posting things that do have truth at their base. However, by watching what you post day after day, I have to wonder if you choose to feature only stories that will escalate violence and hatred. If I unfriend you, it won’t be because of your view of what is right and wrong, but only because of the way your actions are perpetuating bad sentiment and behavior among others.

Because of my life experience, I have been honored to form friendships among diverse groups of people. Politically, racially, ethnically, spiritually. I have been stretched by that diversity and I am grateful. But lest you think that you are on the “right” side of my friend set and that you’re safe from the point I’m trying to make, I want to be clear that I’ve found people on both sides of the dividing line. The desire to incite negative outcomes seems to be an equal opportunity malady. I am not immune either.

I strongly believe that unfriending any of you (except for those who violate my standards about the personal bile and profanity) is not the best answer. No, I’m not keeping you on as friends because I think I can change you. I need my perspective to be broad. I need to have as friends those who think differently, see differently, and choose differently than I do. You make me uncomfortable sometimes. But that’s the point. I see goodness in you. And I hope you can look past my multitude of failings. Friends do that.

In fact, some of the discomfort you’ve blessed me with has caused me to pause and reconsider my position on some things. I’ve changed as a result. Thank you. Other things I don’t agree with have convinced me that I need to find ways to better understand you, because the ideas you are posting aren’t doing it.

My plea to you, my friend, is to be responsible. No matter how badly you see and know an injustice to be, remember that we, as God’s children, as peacemakers, are to be a peculiar people. Don’t escalate violence. Talk. Talk loudly if you must, but respectfully. March peacefully. Help bring change to this broken world. But please help stop this vicious cycle of retaliation and justification of the unholy — from both sides.

I say this as one friend to another.

Quiet Voices – Strong Voices

I struggle with loud.

Loud music. Loud mufflers. Loud conversations.

I struggle with setting.

I don’t understand and, frankly don’t appreciate, responsible adults who lack respect and who talk whenever and wherever the fancy strikes them. At the back of my church during worship. During classes when teachers are desperately trying to use time wisely. At times when the speaker lacks knowledge of the subject matter or a sensitivity to those who can hear her voice.

But that’s my struggle.

IMG_0978I am fascinated by the quiet voice that captures our attention. The words I lean toward to make sure I don’t miss one. The thoughts shared from someone who has carefully groomed the words. The tone that carries a respect for all those close by and an awe for things greater than ourselves.

Despite their quietness, these are the voices that speak to me. These are the thought leaders who command the attention of far more individuals than they ever imagined. Their admonition and their encouragement crowd out the negativity and the violence of our age.

Quiet. Yet, they speak.

We all need to speak. Quietly. Strongly. Whenever we see wrong, we need to add our voice to the other quiet voices that will be listened to. The loud, the boisterous, the profane will grab momentary notoriety. But ultimately they will be dismissed.

Stand up. Share your thoughts quietly. Whisper or write them down if you must. But speak. You are the strength of all things good in the world.