Friday, February 21, 2014

Matthew 7:3-5 and Social Media

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

I have a friend who is forced by virtue of her job to participate in social media, and she doesn't like it. Too often, she sees the nastiness and ugliness and bullying rampant online. People she knows--well-educated, Christian grown-ups--post cruelty and meanness that shock her.

My own exposure to social media is overwhelmingly positive, largely because I'm highly selective and limit my involvement in healthy ways. I'm fortunate in my friends, too, but I will not hesitate to unfriend someone who gets nasty. In over seven years on Facebook, however, I've only unfriended one person.

During elections, I hide people who post political stuff and unhide them a few weeks after the election. It does shock me to see people post really vicious political rhetoric. How is this helpful? How does it further God's kingdom? What would Jesus say?

How would He say it?

The passage from Matthew quoted above gives us guidance.

Plenty has been said about internet nastiness stemming from distance. Because we can't see the objects of our attacks, we lose all sense of propriety and kindness. We judge harshly based on a tiny speck of information, and we run with that in ways that show our hypocrisy, that reveal the planks in our own eyes.

Not long ago, an anonymous high school student started using social media to make our schools a better place by tweeting compliments and positive news. He or she also wrote the school board and administration encouraging them to have a Random Acts of Kindness idea that principals in all buildings ran with. It was wonderful!

One school board member, however, was bothered by the student's anonymity and wanted him/her to reveal his/her name, expressing his request in language that was not entirely tactful and could have been construed as vaguely threatening. It's very hard for me to understand why he is so disturbed by the situation and why he would seek to make an issue of it in the first place.

I'm not alone in being baffled by his attitude. The rest of the board, the administrators, and many others in the community have lauded this anonymous student's transformation of social media into a force for good. Frankly, I feel that his or her anonymity is brilliant. It focuses attention on the deeds rather than the person.

We need more humility in the world.

The backlash on social media against the disgruntled school board member, however, has been unfortunate, disturbing, and deeply ironic. Last fall, I joined a group on Facebook that was created to inform people of good things going on in our community and schools, but the nastiness that has cropped up on that page as a result of this situation and others has turned me off. Personal attacks on the board member are inappropriate and unhelpful.

It's one thing to disagree with a person; it's another thing entirely to indulge in ad hominem nastiness.

We all have planks in our eyes, and if we've make honest attempts to remove them, we learn just how hard it is and how much it hurts. If we follow Christ's teachings and trust God through our own struggles, we grow in compassion for others and their specks. If we actually succeed in removing our planks (praise Jesus!), we should want to remove another's speck as gently and kindly as possible.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If we're ignoring the plank in our own eye while poking painfully and angrily at the speck in another's eye, we push God's kingdom of love further away, we judge without compassion, we make the world an uglier place. Spreading cruelty and viciousness by attacking this board member distracts from the good deeds promoted by the anonymous student. It turns social media once again into the bully-run institution the student is fighting.

Clear your own eye first. Then exercise compassion and kindness toward others. Eventually, we'll all see better.

How have you been a hypocrite? When have you seen others flaws but ignored your own? How have you worked within yourself to overcome this very human tendency? What other Bible verses help you adjust your vision to kindness rather than judgment?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reflections on Proverbs: A Glad Heart

A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance,
  but by sorrow of heart the spirit is brokenProverbs 15:13

Today, as I packed and addressed a birthday package for my niece at the post office, an older gentleman walked by. I glanced up, made eye contact, and smiled. He beamed back at me and quoted, "A joyful heart makes a cheerful face!"

We chatted briefly while he waited his turn at the window, and I commented that God blesses us daily. He said, "He does! I'm 78 and here walking around!"

He completed his business at the window and returned to me, saying, "I give one of these a day, and today, I just have to give it to you. My name is Chuckles."

He handed me this.

When I shared the story with George tonight, he said, "I know that guy! He goes to the Y." He described Chuckles and speculated that he might be a retired minister. Whoever he is, he spreads joy throughout our small town, and what a wonderful blessing he gave me today.

I knew the verse Chuckles quoted, but I didn't remember the second half of it until I looked it up tonight. "A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken." Verses in Proverbs often engage in this rhetorical reversal...mentioning one thing and then its opposite. Just two verses later, we read, "All the days of the afflicted are evil, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15

I thought about these two emotions--joy and sorrow-- and realized that Chuckles has the right of it, going out into the community to share his continual feast.

None of us can escape sorrow in our lives. Just think of the example of Christ. He wept. He knew sorrow and suffering and had his body broken on the cross as one of us for all of us. His pain became our salvation.

No one is immune to sorrow. At 78 years of age, Chuckles has no doubt known sorrow; his spirit has no doubt been broken...repeatedly. But by knowing his God, by trusting Him, by filling himself with that Divine Love, his spirit has also healed repeatedly so he can claim the name Chuckles.

I, too, have known sorrow, stress, anxiety, fear, brokenness. Judging from my massage therapist's comments on the tightness of my shoulder muscles, I am carrying some of those negative things around inside me right now. In the past few days, I've felt lost, confused, and profoundly worried. But despite all that, this morning, I smiled with a glad heart at a stranger in the post office, and God, through another glad heart, gave me candy.


It's not often God smacks us in the heart so obviously, bluntly, unsubtly. When He does, we had best pay attention and be deeply grateful for the gift, the reminder, the blessing. How can we not be glad of heart when we know, especially in the midst of our earthly sorrow or stress or worry, that He loves us, will always love us, will feed us a continual feast?

Rejoice in the Lord always!

Has God ever smacked you in the heart with a blessing? Have you ever felt that gladness of heart at times of suffering, sorrow, or worry? What can you do to be that blessing of a cheerful countenance to others?